Monday, 16 May 2011

Luke Bitmead Bursary

On Friday submissions opened for the 4th Luke Bitmead Writers Bursary. This week we will be posting up blogs from the previous winner's of the Bursary and today is one from 2009 winner Ruth Dugdall:
If you’re reading this, and thinking about entering the Luke Bitmead Bursary, you may be interested to know how winning the bursary changed my life.

All you need is a novel to submit. Mine was The Woman Before Me, a psychological thriller set in coastal Suffolk.

It’s about Rose Wilks, whose life is shattered when her newborn baby Joel is admitted to intensive care. Alongside her in hospital is Emma, who has just given birth to Luke and the two women become friends. Joel dies and Luke is thriving – then tragedy strikes and Rose is the only suspect.

The novel starts with Rose having spent five years behind bars. She is just weeks away from release if she can convince probation officer Cate Austin to recommend parole. As Cate is drawn into Rose’s story she begins to question everything she thought she knew about justice, love and obsession.

The Woman Before Me won the Debut Dagger in 2005, which was a watershed moment for me. Until then I’d thought of writing as a hobby – I’d self-published my first novel (The James Version) but was still working as a Probation Officer. The Dagger gave me the confidence to resign and dedicate myself to writing full-time.

The day after the Dagger awards I signed with a top agent and the novel was going to be submitted to six major publishing houses. I thought I had made it…

But that would have been just too easy. The Woman Before Me didn’t get picked up by the major publishers. They worried that it was ‘not commercial enough’, and that it didn’t fit neatly enough into the ‘crime novel’ box. It went into the bottom drawer and I started to write my third novel, The Sacrificial Man. I have to tell you, this was all pretty soul-destroying and I was really beginning to wonder if I was just kidding myself and I should just go back to work.

Then, in the summer of 2009, I saw the Luke Bitmead bursary advertised in Writer’s News. It seemed perfect for The Woman Before Me. The bursary aims to promote and publish a new writer each year, and was set up in memory of Luke Bitmead, a talented writer who sadly committed suicide.

When I won the award in October 2009 I cried through much of the ceremony, knowing that I would finally see my novel in print. So, after waiting nearly five years, I finally achieved my goal!

Winning the bursary changed everything for me. The Woman Before Me was published in August 2010. Since then it has been short-listed for The New Angle Prize for literature and is through to the finals of The People’s Book Prize. It is already in its third print run, and rising in the Amazon ranks with 33 positive reviews. Rights have been sold in Germany, India, Turkey and large print.

And the good news doesn’t stop there: Legend Press will be publishing The Sacrificial Man, next month! Starting tomorrow I have a whirlwind of book signings, talks and events going right up until Christmas...

I had so many days when I thought this would never happen, and now it has it’s truly wonderful. A real dream-come-true.

To be a writer you have to be tenacious and dogged – having a strong support network helps. I would urge any new writers to consider competitions as a way of getting a foot in the door. The closing date for this year's Luke Bitmead Bursary is August 31st.

So, what are you waiting for?

Good luck!



  1. I agree. But, as with all competitions, there is a downside. Not everybody wins...and winners come after some tough choices.
    If you want you can always drop by my blog...

  2. Thank you for posting this, Ruth. I have been through similar, I was also picked up by a top agent and my debut novel went out on submission to the major houses. Despite great feedback, it was turned down for 'not being commercial enough' and for sitting somewhere between commercial fiction and literary fiction.

    I, too, got to the point of giving up. The great news is that I have just been shortlisted for the Luke Bitmead Bursary 2012. I am over the moon to make it this far and reading your blog here gives me the incentive I need to keep going.

    Best wishes