As women writers, we can be quick to talk ourselves out of taking a chance, but year after year our winners say the same thing - "I never thought I'd win! '. The thing they have in common? Taking the chance. 

What would winning our Novel Competition 2023 mean to you? You might be interested to know you only need the first 5,000 words to enter. You might be even more interested to know that previous winner Emily Howes wasn't anywhere near finishing when she entered. 

We caught up with Emily to find out how winning played out for her... 

‘I remember the exact moment I heard I’d won. I’d gone out into the corridor after a lecture to take the call from Mslexia’s editor Debbie Taylor – and a sense of complete joy and euphoria washed over me, a feeling of being overwhelmed by pure delight.

‘It must have shown on my face because my tutor stopped to ask what was going on! I’d been writing for years, but that was the moment I had a real sense of things starting to move at last.

‘Honestly, entering the Mslexia competition completely changed my life. Since then I’ve had offers from four agents wanting to represent me, and editors bidding against each other to publish the novel. The Painter’s Daughters is coming out in February 2024, with Orion in the UK and Simon and Schuster in the US.

‘It all started when I was longlisted. I’d entered the first 5,000 words, but the novel wasn’t anywhere near finished when the full manuscripts of the 100 longlisted novels were called in. I thought I can’t possibly complete it before the final deadline – I’m a single mother of two on a student loan, working on placements – but my writing group practically forced me to make space to work on the book, mainly at weekends when they were with their father, even during a period in hospital. 

‘Deciding to make that last-ditch effort, to get it finished and sent off to the competition – that was the catalyst for everything else that happened.

‘I remember sitting in a café after taking the full manuscript to the post office, and feeling absolutely exhausted – but also quite buoyant, probably still running on adrenaline. And I thought, “Why don’t I send it to a few agents too, as a kind of test?”.’ 

‘I mentioned the Mslexia longlisting in my cover letter and it worked like magic. Nearly every agent got back to be straight away asking to see the whole manuscript, and I had four offers of representation by the end of the week.'

Emily doesn’t have an MA in creative writing and The Painter’s Daughters was her first attempt at a novel. ‘I’d always thought of myself as a sprinter, rather than a marathon runner,’ she told us. ‘So I’d say to anyone, you don’t know what you can achieve until you try.’

If you’re entering the Adult Novel category of our Fiction Competition this year, we need to see your first 5,000 words by 18 September 2023. If your book is longlisted, we’ll need the full manuscript for final judging by February 2024 – so you’d have another five months to get it finished. 

Good luck!



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