A lot has happened to Karen Ross since she saw the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize mentioned on Twitter. Her debut novel, Mother of the Year, which made the 2013 shortlist, is now on the shelves! We asked Karen a few questions about her road to publication.

How long have you been writing for? Have you always had the urge to create stories?

I was always being told off at school for handing in assignments that ‘sounded more like stories than the essay we require’.  I took this as a compliment, but when my teachers put me in the B group for English because I insisted on starting sentences with the word ‘And’, that was a step too far.  I referred my them to the second sentence of the Bible, but the school declined to back down.  A parting of the ways followed shortly thereafter. . .

My first job was as a cub reporter on the local paper:  fine training for any novelist, because you soon learn that every story needs a beginning, a middle and an end. By the time I was in my twenties, I knew that one day I would write fiction, but I was busy with a career that has included broadcasting and copywriting as well as journalism.  One way or another, it’s always been about the writing and telling of stories – and now it’s about expressing story through fiction.

And how did you find out about the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize?  Were you on the look-out for competitions to enter?

One afternoon last March, I was playing around on Twitter instead of working, and I happened to see a Tweet about a writing competition.  The Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize.  What appealed to me was that the deadline was the following day – and there was a prize of £1,000.

Before anyone could say, ‘You’re supposed to be writing a thousand words today’,  I printed out the first three chapters of MOTHER OF THE YEAR, banged out a synopsis, filled in the application form, and made it to the postbox with four minutes to spare.

It really was that random.  So never let anyone tell you Twitter is a waste of time.

It sounds as though you’ve had an exciting time since you were shortlisted! How do you think being placed has affected your writing career?

Thanks to Lucy Cavendish, I now have a career.  And I’m eternally grateful.  I’ve landed the literary agent of my dreams, and my publishers – Ebury Press – have been wonderful, accelerating MOTHER OF THE YEAR through the publishing process in time to have it on the shelves for Mother’s Day.

I’m determined to make it as a brand name author, so hopefully this is the first book of many.  I feel I’m currently in a transitional phase where writing stories is no longer something I do mostly to amuse myself – I want it to become my livelihood.  So I’m working a lot harder than I used to!

Could you tell us how you felt when you heard you’d got a deal?

Everyone who was shortlisted was invited to send their stuff to Gillian Green,  Fiction Publishing Director at Random House/Ebury.  So that’s what I did.

A long silence followed, and I waited as long as I could bear it, before sending Gillian a cheeky email to ask if she had forgotten to reject my book.  She replied, ‘Actually, Karen, I really liked it, and we are discussing further in house.’

A further long silence – which I now realise was actually a very short silence – and we had a deal.  This is where I’m supposed to say I jumped up and down in excitement, right?  But the truth is, that none of it felt real.  The jumping up and down only started when I saw the book cover.

Are there things about the process that have surprised you?

I didn’t realise how many times I would need to go through the manuscript prior to publication.  I lost count of the various stages of revision, editing and proof reading – but there came a time when I reckon I could have recited the first few chapters off by heart.

Overall, it’s been a case more of delight than surprise;  Gillian encouraged me to make the story shorter, and gave me a few pointers.  I lost about 5,000 words without sacrificing anything in terms of narrative or characters, and I was pleasantly astonished when I realised how much faster-paced the story had become.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

1. Never be afraid to start a sentence with the word ‘And’
2. Don’t worry if you were in the B group for English – getting published is a splendid revenge
3. Enter The Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize 2014

Please tell us more about your book, and when it will be available.

Beth Jackson is a national treasure, a television star who has won Mother of the Year award three times in a row – but she’s too busy to see her own daughter, JJ, on Mother’s Day. 
Or as JJ puts it, ‘I often think my mother would prefer colonic irrigation to hanging out with me.’

MOTHER OF THE YEAR takes you on a journey through the mother-daughter minefield.  It also features three-hundred-and-thirty-six bags of sand, a Parson Jack Russell called ASBO, and an elephant that paints.

It’s in bookshops now – and a perfect gift for Mother’s Day, if I do say so myself!  If you’d like an electronic copy, or fancy a free sample of the book, click here.

In this section

Laura Marshall, Shortlisted Author 2016

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"I will always be grateful to the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, as it was really the first step on the road to everything that has happened since" Laura Marshall, shortlisted 2016

More about the Prize