Words: Julia O’Mahony / Illustration: Oisin Butler
Writers have long since been aware that the publishing world is changing, and it’s a sad truth that so many good stories continue to go to waste at the bottom of piles of unread manuscripts. But if you’re onto an idea, and reading this at your desk, head in hands, fear not. The good people at the Irish Writers’ Centre came up with a cunning plan to ensure that the current best voices in storytelling are heard. Following an open meeting at the Centre, and the request of some writers for an opportunity in which publishers and the would-be published would have a chance to discuss ideas, the IWC took the idea to the publishing giants. What resulted largely took the format of the Novel Fair as it now stands, with the introduction a competitive element, in order to truly sieve out the gems.
Now in it’s third year, following a beautiful feat of organisation and dedication from the IWC, the floodgates have opened for your entries. There are no restrictions on content – you simply must not have had a book published in the past. The bad news is that you really do have to have a little bit (10,000 words) of that novel underway – actually written down, (and not on post-its either), and ready to send in along with a brief synopsis. A top secret judging panel then get to work looking over the anonymous manuscripts, and select the twelve best. And now for the magic of the Novel Fair.
When someone first explained the concept to me, I’d envisaged an unforgiving Dragon’s Den style scenario – strolling in chirpily with my whiteboard and marker pens, and then traipsing out using the pages of my hopeless novel to mop up my tears, having been subject to the wrath of those cruel Gods; the publishers and literary agents of Ireland. Rest assured though, this is not how the day in fact proceeds. For a start, all the shortlisted writers are given some stellar coaching from the IWC on how to pitch their novel, and crucially, it also transpires that the aforementioned publishers and literary agents are in fact quite a friendly bunch, who happily donate a day to the quest for their next bestseller. Each of the shortlisted candidates has a desk with their sample chapters, and the publishers work their way around the room. It’s like speed dating, but for your book, and not quite so rapid – the success of your magnum opus rightly demands more time than your choice of spouse.
This year, the deadline for entries is October the 16th, and the Novel Fair itself will take place in February. With a host of previous winners now having actual, tangible, beautiful books on the shelves (see below), if ever there was a time to put your ideas on paper, this was it.
The Herbalist by Niamh Boyce
(Penguin Ireland, 2013)
Niamh first came across the idea for The Herbalist, a good 20 years before she was shortlisted for the Novel Fair. Published by Penguin Ireland, why not transport yourself back to rural, 1930s Ireland? Perhaps you’ll become as enchanted by the intriguing Herbalist, as Emily unwittingly finds herself.
Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World by Janet. E. Cameron
(Hatchette Ireland, 2013)
Written as Janet completed her Master’s degree in Trinity, Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World was rejected by a series of publishers before being championed by the Novel Fair, and tells the tale of Stephen Shulevitz, following a moment of self-realisation in the middle of the night.
Beatsploitation by Kevin Curran
(Liberties Press, 2013)
Beatsploitation explores the relationship between teacher and student, and the portmanteau that provides the title. Liberties Press did the honours and brought it to your local bookshop, after impressing Kevin at the fair by really getting to grips with the story he was pitching.