How one little short story changed my life… by Isabelle Broom
It was 12.58pm on Valentine’s Day 2014, when an email popped up in my inbox. The subject was ‘Great British Write Off’, and immediately my fingers, toes and everything in between starting tingling. You see, a few weeks before this, I’d just about, by the skin of my pointy chin, finished a short story and entered it into a competition of the very same name. I was happy with it – proud, even – but never in a million years did I think I’d win. When I clicked open that email and saw that I had, I genuinely let out a squeal of delight. It sounds barmy writing this down now, but I honestly felt in that moment as if my life had changed and, as it turned out, that gut feeling was 100 per cent right.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been writing stories. When I was a child, it was scribbled tales about talking pencils and magic rabbits in a big, blue exercise book. As I grew up, I kept diaries, writing down the unfolding dramas of my own teenage life, and later, aged nineteen, I went backpacking around Europe and kept a journal. I read tons and wrote compulsively, and by the time I got to university, I knew that writing was more than a hobby: it was what I wanted to do.
But of course, there’s a big difference between wanting to be an author and actually becoming one, and my major block was always confidence. I enjoyed writing, but I wasn’t convinced that anything I came up with was good enough to be published – and the idea of actually sending anything to someone official was terrifying. Winning the www.booksandthecity.co.uk / handbag.com ’Great British Write Off’ changed all that, because suddenly I had a whole group of brilliant industry folk telling me, ‘Yes, you can write. And yes, you are good enough to be published.’ It was a huge turning point for me, not just in terms of my confidence when it came to writing, but also in myself – the person I’d always known I was, but had yet to become.
When The Wedding Speech was published on the 28th August 2014, the support and feedback I had was incredible. People seemed to genuinely love my little story – one person loved it so much that he optioned it for a short film, which I’m STILL pinching myself over. Part of my prize was a mentoring session with an editor, an agent and a well-established author (exactly the same as the #heatseeker competition, running now) and through those meetings I began to develop a novel idea that I’d had in mind for a few years. I know deep down that I probably would never have written my debut novel My Map Of You if I hadn’t won the Great British Write Off – I would just have procrastinated and started and stopped and restarted and wasted years telling myself that I wasn’t good enough.
I thought about The Wedding Speech for maybe an hour before I sat down to write it. I had no idea how it would end at that stage, I just knew I had a young man, standing in a church, nervous and full of love for his friends. That was enough to get me started, and once I did, something quite miraculous happened – a story was told.
If I was a rocket, then winning that competition was the fuse that got me off the ground – and now I’m whooshing through my life as happy as I could ever be, forever changed and forever grateful to have been given such an incredible opportunity.
It was just one story – 2,500 words, 8 pages, 45 paragraphs, 211 lines, 3 hours – and it utterly, completely and absolutely changed everything. If you’re still only thinking about entering a competition, don’t think – just WRITE. It might just change your life.