Each year, we partner with The Literary Consultancy to offer an exciting opportunity for writers in the East of England to get a free manuscript assessment.
TLC Free Reads gives talented writers honest, constructive feedback on their work from industry professionals, providing them with a framework for improvement and helping them to progress their writing.
Congratulations to this year’s winners announced below!
Catherine Cox, Relative Strangers (prose fiction)
Catherine is a Northerner by birth but settled in Hertfordshire in 1989. She has a BA Hons in Politics and an MA in Journalism. She started her working life backstage in theatre but then spent most of her working life in Communication and PR roles in Universities, writing everything from advertising copy to by-lined articles, annual reviews, research reports, magazines and e-content.
Years ago she was shortlisted in a short story competition run by Cosmopolitan, which gave her the confidence to write fiction, but time constraints and competing priorities got in the way of her personal writing projects (although she did have a couple of by-lined features published in Hertfordshire Life). This year has proved to be a writing watershed. When a contract at Middlesex University came to an end Catherine used her free time to complete Relative Strangers, the book she’d been working on for a lifetime; she joined a writing group for the first time and enjoyed the support of other writers (Verulam Writers’ Circle in St Albans); she also benefited from the coaching service offered by Writers’ Centre Norwich, working with the insightful and challenging Katherine Skala.
Catherine is absolutely thrilled to have been selected for this free read. She has one daughter, who is equally delighted for her Mum but didn’t quite grasp the significance of the award until it was explained as, ‘equivalent to getting through to Judges’ Houses on The X-Factor.‘
Claire Wade, The Shame Box (prose fiction)
I was bed bound for six years during my teens and early twenties due to severe ME. My imagination was my only escape. I discovered that whole worlds lay within me and I had amazing adventures despite not leaving my room. As soon as I was well enough I started writing my stories down so I could share them with others.
I submitted my first novel, The Shame Box, to the Hodderscape Open Submission for un-agented writers. One thousand five hundred people entered and I was one of eight asked to submit their whole manuscript.
I love exploring new worlds and asking the question “what if?” Writers get to be superheroes, there are no limits, no restrictions. In my imagination I can be anyone and do anything. What could be better than that?
The Shame Box
Imagine a world where sugar is illegal and baking is a crime. The Shame Box is The Great British Bake Off meets 1984. A matriarchal society has implemented strict food rationing, supermarket weigh-ins, enforced exercise classes and feudal punishments of public time-outs held in Shame Boxes. Olivia Pritchard tries to protect her young family but she is forced to bake cakes for an illegal speakeasy hidden within the local gym.
What starts as a simple way for Olivia to make money soon draws her into a deeper plot. Is it a coincidence or is someone manipulating her to become the face of a rebellion she never intended to start?
Josephine Johnston, [currently untitled] (prose memoir)
In 2009 after finishing my degree in Art History in Cambridge, where I live with my husband and two grown up sons, I thought I’d write up my messy diaries on Word to save drawer space. I snatched an hour here and there, at school drop offs, sitting in a lay-by or a cafe with my laptop, until I’d find work. What I wasn’t expecting was the creative impetus that overwhelmed me and drove me to express my life in a style that was in itself healing – cynical, clinically detached, seen from a bird’s eye view, with a shrug and a chuckle here and there at how odd it all was. As the writing up of notes progressed, it began to take the shape of a memoir. I saw that my life so far subdivided neatly into seven chapters! I had read Andrea Ashworth’s memoir Once in a House of Fire and was instantly inspired to write myself. I didn’t have shocking or awesome events to tell of but my life was most definitely unusual.
The themes I explore are mental illness, superstition, witchcraft and religion. I reflect on the nuanced relationships between these and their effects on human behaviour, specifically my relationship with my mother. It begins with a dreary little town in the north of England in the seventies and life as an immigrant family, on to a journey to a remote Italian village with strange customs and traditions and end up here in Cambridge. Almost half of the latter part of the memoir is based in Milan where my bizarre experiences were difficult to write about as not much happened and so I had to go back and relive the feelings of almost theatrical scenes that took place in a small room in an old tower block, maintaining suspense and interest with just language to evoke atmosphere and emotion. I realised that it was possible to turn the painful and mundane into something beautiful and funny. What followed was a series of vignettes, with no self analysis or self pity, with the messages sitting discretely between the lines. I hope my writing is entertaining and thought provoking.
Karen Angelico, Speaking the Unspoken (prose fiction)
Karen Angelico is a writer of short stories and a member of the St John’s writing group in Bury St Edmunds. Her debut novel, Speaking the Unspoken, is a domestic drama of dangerous passions and unspoken misperceptions. She lives in Suffolk with her family and a black and white cat.
Margaret Bridgman, The Way Out (prose fiction)
Margaret trained in Librarianship and Information Science gaining a First Class Honours degree. She spent the first part of her career surrounded by writing. She worked for organisations as diverse as the Rubber and Plastics Processing Industry Training Board, and the British Tourist Authority. Her husband had an accident at work which forced him into early retirement and they downsized to live at the coast. Margaret took on voluntary work as the Secretary of the local Residents’ Association and also ran a Book Club. Reading books that she might not have chosen herself, and having the chance to discuss them with a group, widened her reading interests and made her wonder whether she could write herself. Margaret believes that people get enough real life in their own real lives and they want something a little different in the fiction they chose to read. As well as writing Margaret finds time to paint and to play the piano. She works part time at the village shop.