As we open for applications for the second year of the London Writers Awards, four of the awardees from 2018, Tice Cin, Iqbal Hussain, Anne Chen and Jamie Hale, chatted to us about their experience on the Awards.
What impact has the London Writers Awards had on your writing?
Tice: London Writers Awards has been life-changing. I mean that with all my heart. Before this programme, I worried that I’d tricked myself into imagining a life where I could write a novel and people would find meaning and enjoyment in reading those words. I felt as though a book was a far too ambitious, far too big thing. Now I feel this sense of confidence that feels quite different to what I felt before. I could be unemployed, procrastinating with the writing process or bogged down with an unruly temp job and know I am still a writer. You’re a writer regardless of your circumstances, as long as you have that writing hut within you (mine has a chimney now, and WiFi).
Iqbal: Without the London Writers Awards, my book, Northern Boy, would never have got to the near-finished state it is now in. I have found the year invaluable, especially the Critical Feedback Groups, with my fellow Commercial Fiction writers. It has amazed me how six writers, of such different books, can all provide such useful and incisive feedback on everyone’s work. I have made writing friends for life. The Masterclasses have given me a valuable insight into how the industry works, and also given me contacts within that industry. The one-to-ones have provided me with a focus, and a trusted and committed adviser who you know is looking out for you. I have never stopped pinching myself since being selected for the Awards, and am just grateful on so many levels for the help and support I have received. To know that so much time and effort and belief has been vested in us makes a huge difference in how I think of myself now – most definitely as a writer first. I cannot speak highly enough of Spread the Word for setting up this incredible scheme, and for helping to give voices like mine the room to breathe and to help me on my way to hopefully becoming a published writer.
What would you consider to be the most challenging aspect of being part of the London Writers Awards?
Iqbal: I have found choosing which piece of writing to be critiqued one of the most difficult parts of the Awards. You instinctively want to provide your best chapters, but that would be defeating the purpose of the Critical Feedback Groups. I also thought that none of my fellow writers in the group would “get” my writing, as it is in a genre that is different to theirs. Yet, I have been pleasantly – and consistently – surprised at how sharp their observations have been, and how their thoughts and comments have helped to sharpen my writing throughout the whole book, and not just in the chapter being critiqued. Exposing your writing before others is a daunting task, especially when it’s in a section that you feel is weak, and yet this has proved to be the most rewarding part of the Awards, having fellow writers help to shape the text into something so much better than I could have done myself. There is definitely strength in numbers!
Anne: I think being open to feedback can be challenging if you have not had any detailed critique on your work before. At the end of my first feedback group with my five fellow children’s novel writers, my mind was in a whirl with so much focus on my manuscript. The feedback was spot on and had raised some points I had not considered at all. It showed me where I needed more clarification and what worked or didn’t work, which has made my writing so much better.
What’s been the best thing about being part of the London Writers Awards?
Anne: There have been so many great things about being part of the LWAs: the support, encouragement and helpful feedback; but the best thing is the feeling you are part of something big and that we are all in this together.
Jamie: The best thing about being part of the LWA is learning to focus on editing my writing as a deliberate part of the creative process, rather than it being an afterthought. This has taken my creative work to the next level, and has also developed me as reader and editor.
What would you say to someone considering applying for the London Writers Awards?
Tice: This programme is not just for someone looking to develop in their craft (which you surely do). It is an opportunity to create a community around your writing that actually makes you feel as though you are a part of a wider change. Sharing within writing groups and feeling as though you’re on a journey with each awardee is very special. We can always call on each other and the WhatsApp groups are so fun. Every success feels a success shared. Apply ready to be part of that community of writers who are creating a diverse body of work that is hard to find in the current publishing climate.
Jamie: I’d say that the awards allowed me to have a step-change in my writing, which helped me establish myself as a professional writer, so if that’s the stage you’re at, you should absolutely apply. Remember that the access fund is there to help you, so if you’re disabled and expect extra costs for doing the programme, apply for support from the fund also.
What’s next for your writing?
Tice: I’m just approaching the finishing line for my novel, a story set between Tottenham and Cyprus exploring generational trauma. I’m excited about the prospect of finding an agent for the book and having my poetry published with Outspoken Press in their Nascent anthology with 3 other emerging BAME poets including Mukahang Limbu.
Iqbal: The immediate challenge will be to do the final edits on my book and then to send it out to suitable agents. The medium-term goal is to think about what book number two will be – although Northern Boy is envisaged as a trilogy, I want to explore different themes and worlds for book two, possibly writing a YA novel about a boy who has a stammer (based on a boy I knew at school), or an adult novel set in the high octane world of a busy word-processing department in a City law firm (write about what you know!). The long-term goal will be to write books two and three in the Northern Boy trilogy, taking us through the main character’s journey at secondary school and then university.
Anne: I am finishing and polishing my current novel, then I will start on the first drafts of the follow-on novels. There are so many ideas I want to get down on paper!
Jamie: My poetry show is on at the Lyric Hammersmith on the 6th of June, and I’m staging it and curating a multidisciplinary showcase at the Barbican on the 11th & 12th of October. I’ve got a poem in an upcoming edition of the Rialto, and am putting the finishing touches to my first collection.
Tice Cin is a poet and writer from Tottenham, North London. Her work has been published in Skin Deep Magazine and commissioned by venues including St Paul’s Cathedral and Battersea Arts Centre. An alumnus of the poetry community Barbican Young Poets, she recently took part in the Barbican’s Art of Change series and has since created artistic responses to various exhibitions at the Centre’s Gallery. A consultant with community project New Muslim Stories, she is passionate about helping marginalised voices reach their potential.
Iqbal Hussain was born into a large, working-class Muslim family in Lancashire. Having studied Mathematics at a small Welsh university, far removed from the cobbled streets of his childhood, he chose to earn a living with words. He worked as a journalist for many years, for publications ranging from The Guardian’s Education supplement to The Young Telegraph. Northern Boy is his first piece of fiction: a warm and nostalgic coming-of-age novel about what it feels like to be a “butterfly among the bricks”. In 2017, Iqbal reached the final stages of the WriteNow scheme run by Penguin Random House. When he is not team-leading the wordprocessing department of a City law firm, he enjoys composing music – no doubt a legacy of his exposure to Bollywood film soundtracks while growing up.
Anne Chen lives in London with her partner and their two children. She is a science-nerd, bookworm, daydreamer and writer. She has been longlisted for the Penguin Random House WriteNowLive inaugural competition, Hachette’s The Future BookShelf competition, TLC Pen Factor competition, came runner up for Bi’an Awards for a short story and recently been to an Arvon course at Lumb Bank. She is a London Writer Awardee with Spread the Word, seeking to champion diverse voices. Anne is currently working on her first novel with follow-up books in the works. She writes fantasy and science-fiction for young adults with a Chinese twist.
Jamie Hale is a poet and essayist whose creative work narrates the agency and urgency of living as a disabled person in the world. Part-human part-cyborg, their dependence on tubes and machines leads their work to explore the intimate connections between the body and nature, medical artificiality and the frailty of the biosphere. They have recently performed their poetry at the Barbican Centre, Tate Modern, Saboteur Awards and the Trans Creative Arts Festival, and have had writing published in Poetry Quarterly, Unite Magazine, and the Guardian. Their solo poetry show NOT DYING debuts in the Pit at the Barbican in Autumn 2019.