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Not The Booker 2018: Ariel Kahn on what nominations mean for authors

A year and a half ago, I was ready to put my first completed novel, Raising Sparks, in the drawer. I’d submitted it for a PhD in Creative Writing supervised by the wonderful writer Leone Ross. At the viva, novelist Andrew Crumey handed me his annotated copy, saying 'try to send it out into the world'.

I tried. I revised it for a fifth time, made a list of relevant agents, sent it out, and chased by email and phone. Years back I won a short story competition run by Bloomsbury for their website, and secured an agent – but she didn’t like the pitch for Raising Sparks so I was on my own.

Rejections piled up, some with helpful feedback, some without. They kept coming. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be.

Then early one morning, a friend posted on Facebook about Pulp Idol, a national writing competition for debut novelists run by Writing on the Wall in Liverpool. It looked great. The judges were an agent and a publisher. They were looking for undiscovered voices, and there were heats in cities around the country. All of them were on Saturdays.

As a religious Jew, I can’t travel on Saturdays, and a host of other Sabbath restrictions made me fear I couldn’t enter. Then, on their website, I noticed that if you couldn’t make the heats for any reason, you could record a YouTube video instead. It had to be exactly four minutes long, and you had to answer a series of questions for exactly two minutes. I looked at my watch. I had 10 minutes before I woke the kids. I sat down and recorded a reading of the opening chapter on my phone, and sent it off.

A month later, Wowfest got in touch to say I was through to the final. I danced around the kitchen. The final was in Liverpool, again on a Saturday. Should I go, or let someone read for me? It felt too important to miss. A member of the book club I run for former customers of a local bookstore I worked in had roots in Liverpool, and the local community welcomed me. I could walk to the final, a reading in the Black-E, a church converted into a theatre on the edge of Chinatown.

Wowfest introduced me to the kind of writerly competition I’d always hoped for. One which felt like a community. The sense of shared excitement and opportunity was electric. All 10 finalists would work with a published author on editing our first chapter, which would be sent out as an anthology to editors and agents around the country.