12 April, 2023
Novel Fair Success Stories: 32 Debut Novels and Counting…
Author: Tom Jordan
This blog post has been written by our new member of staff, Tom Jordan, Administration Assistant, Irish Writers Centre. Tom is a writer from Dublin. He graduated from TCD with a BA in English Literature and Drama. His writing has been published in the literary journals Sonder, The Waxed Lemon and elsewhere.
Novel Fair Success Stories: 32 Debut Novels and Counting…
So, I’m sure you’ve heard about the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair, right? I mean, I might just have started working here but even I’ve known about the annual Novel Fair competition for years. The “Dragon’s Den for writers,”? Shark Tank for scribblers, no? How, over the course of two days our twelve chosen winners come together with a selection of Irish and international publishers and agents with nothing but their finished manuscripts and a dream?
Well, put simply, the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair is the best opportunity out there to beat the slush pile and reach the promised land, that holy grail – a publishing deal. It is the first step on a long and successful journey that continues to a two book deal, then onto literary awards and movie rights. Success, Fame. FORTUNE.
But, as you really should be aware, it’s been 12 years and counting now, so the question is, what have we got to show for it? What actually happens to all those plucky and courageous Novel Fair Winners once they abandon us here at the top of Parnell Square and set out towards glory and renown?
Here it is. The (not quite*) comprehensive list of Novel Fair success stories.
*Quick disclaimer: There have been 152 Novel Fair Winners since its inception in 2011. 152. And while I have been trawling through the archives for weeks, and weeks, and weeks–152 is a deceptively big number. Please try to remember this if you are one of these 152 winners who hasn’t been included here on our (not quite) comprehensive list. That’s what the “not quite” is for. And also, do get in touch! We would love to hear from you and don’t worry I will only be too happy to get back to work and correct my mistakes!*
First things first a quick slap dash tour of the last 12 years.
A flying start…
The Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair was launched in the summer of 2011 and, like a brand new foal, stumbling and blind, it had to find its feet quickly. With over 570 manuscripts submitted by the November 11th closing date we had definitely underestimated just how many novels there were out there waiting for their day in the spotlight.
Five of our first class of Novel Fair winners went on to be published.
Daniel Seery was quickly snatched up by Liberties press and while they didn’t publish his Novel Fair manuscript, they did send him off to write something new just for them. Eventually they went on to publish his debut, A Model Partner. This is something our judges are constantly harping on about; don’t get fixated on genre or marketability, just write the novel that’s inside of you and the good writing will always shine through. It’s a long process and even our winners sometimes have to go back to the drawing board on their journey towards literary greatness.
Kevin Curran, another winner from Novel Fair number one published his first two novels Beatsploitation and Citizens in 2013 and 2016 respectively. Novel Fair gave him a push and he’s been roaring ahead ever since with short stories in prestigious journals like the Stinging Fly and a new novel due out this year with Lilliput Press! Youth will be released on the 8th of June so keep your peepers peeled.
And that’s not to forget Niamh Boyce whose debut The Herbalist won the Irish Book Awards Debut of the Year. 2012 was pretty good, no?
The next year saw three more of our winners go on to be published AND THEN some of our winners from the year after that only went and got themselves nominated for some seriously big awards.
Rachel Kelly’s debut The Edge of Heaven was up for the Arthur C. Clarke award (the sequel came out in 2022) and Catriona Lally won the Rooney Prize for Literature with her debut, Eggshells.
That’s right, a Novel Fair winner won one of Ireland’s top literary prizes! We were all very proud of Catriona who went on to receive a Literature bursary from the Arts Council of Ireland and her second book, Wunderland was published in 2021.
No stopping us…
A few more years traipsed by with just too much success to type out here (I’m only one Administrative Assistant OK? Check out our full list below) and then one of our 2019 winners Michelle Gallen was nominated for a Costa book award with her debut, Big Girl, Small Town. It’s a great read and we couldn’t recommend it more. You can even hear Nicola Coughlan of Derry Girls and Bridgerton fame read the audiobook if that tickles your fancy.
Another 2019 winner, Sue Divin, was nominated for the Carnegie Medal, probably the most prestigious book award for children’s writing in the UK.
2020 and 2021 saw some more of our winners bringing their critically lauded novels out into the world with the likes of Laura McKenna being shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year for her debut Words to Shape My Name and Olivia Fitzsimon’s The Quiet Whispers Never Stop being shortlisted for the Butler Literary Award. And that brings us up to the present day.
Present day? But that was two years ago. We hear you – don’t worry! We’re not living in the past, publishing just moves kind of slow you guys.
A bright, bright future
Well then, we’ve had a good run of it, no? Time to hang up our boots, pack up the wagon and head off into the sunset? Right? Definitely not. Just look at what we’ve got ahead of us.
There’s not one, not two but FIVE Novel Fair winners due to be published in 2023 and 2024. Five and counting, that is. 2023’s winners are already starting to have success, with Jennifer McMahon recently calling us up with an exciting update (she had just signed with an agent!) and it’s barely been two months since Jennifer and the rest of 2023’s winners sat down in Parnell Square and gushed about their manuscripts… whoops, I mean engaged seriously with some of Ireland’s top publishers and agents.
Year on year we are only seeing the standard of submissions increase and we can barely keep up with the success stories that are constantly being fed back to us. YOUR NOVEL COULD BE NEXT! Imagine, next year when they make me write another one of these, I could be mentioning you and how your post-dystopian-Trinity novel has become the centre of publishing’s latest seven figure bidding war all thanks to Novel Fair 2024.
And, wow, I don’t even have space to mention all of the winners from previous years who are still typing away and tinkering at fourth and fifth drafts while their publishers and agents hound them down the phone. It’s safe to say the IWC Novel Fair is thriving as we move forward into our thirteenth year!
Finally. Here. We. Go.
- Niamh Boyce, The Herbalist (Penguin Ireland, 2013)
- Janet E Cameron, Cinnamon Toast at the End of the World (Hachette, 2013)
- Kevin Curran, Beatsploitation (Liberties Press, 2013)
- Alan Timmons, Here in No Place (New Island, 2013)
- Susan Lannigan, White Feathers, (O’Brien Press, 2014)
- Daniel Seery, A Model Partner (Liberties Press, 2014)
- Andrea Carter, Death at Whitewater Church (Constable, 2015)
- Catriona Lally, Eggshells (Liberties Press, 2015)
- Faith Hogan, My Husband’s Wives (Aria, 2016)
- Orla McAlinden, The Accidental Wife (Sowilo Press, 2016)
- Rachel Kelly, The Edge of Heaven (NewCon Press, 2017)
- RM Clarke, The Glass Door (Dalzell Press, 2018)
- Breda Joy, Eat the Moon (Poolbeg Press, 2018)
- Marion Reynolds, A Soldiers Wife, (Poolbeg Press, 2018)
- David Brennan, Upperdown (époque press, 2019)
- Kealan Ryan, The Middle Place (Mercier Press, 2019)
- Michelle Gallen, Big Girl, Small Town (Algonquin, 2020)
- Eoin Lane, Beyond the Horizon (Blackstone Publishing, 2020)
- Marianne Lee, A Quiet Tide (New Island, 2020)
- Alice Lyons, Oona (Lilliput, 2020)
- Gráinne Murphy, Where the Edge Is (Legend Press, 2020)
- Sue Divin, Guard Your Name (Macmillan, 2021)
- Fidelma Kelly. Sweet Lemons (Poolbeg Press, 2021)
- Laura McKenna, Words to Shape My Name (New Island, 2021)
- Neil Sharpson, When the Sparrow Falls (Macmillan, 2021)
- Olivia Fitzsimons, The Quiet Whispers Never Stop (John Murray Press, 2022)
- Aingeala Flannery, The Amusements (Sandycove, 2022)
- Bryan Moriarty, Sounds Like Fun (Hodder, 2023)
- Declan Toohey, Perpetual Comedown (New Island, 2023)
Soon to be published
- Lauren Mackenzie, The Couples (Hachette) 6th July 2023
- Alison Langley, Ilona Gets a Phone (Dedalus) November 2023
- Orla Mackey, Mouthing (Hamish Hamilton) Spring 2024
- Hesse Phillips, Lightborne (Atlantic Books) 2024
How to apply to the Novel Fair
Submissions to the Fair will be open throughout the month of September 2023 and will include a 10,000-word extract of the novel, as well as a 300 word plot synopsis.
The twelve successful applicants will be informed at the beginning of December 2023 – giving them a week to submit their full 50,000 manuscripts – and will be given the opportunity to attend a day-long ‘How to Pitch Your Novel’ seminar in advance of the Fair itself, which will take place in the spring.
Find out more about the Novel Fair here.