Last week saw me perched near the top of a ladder, when my novel reached the short list for the Spotlight Adventures in Fiction competition, with a prize of a year’s mentoring, website exposure, and possible introduction to their agent connections. Then, on Wednesday, I was swallowed by a snake when I learned that Kate Swindlehurst had won, with her ‘bold, contemporary novel’, The Station Master. I wish her well, despite turning a bilious shade of green.

Trying to get published can be a game of snakes and ladders. The Gingham Square, which started life as a short story, then morphed into a full-blown book, was long listed in the Flash 500 First Chapter competition, but got no further. It subsequently failed to make any impression whatsoever on the Exeter Novel judges. More recently, came that long listing and subsequent short listing by Adventures in Fiction. And although I didn’t win, their organiser, Marion Urch, sent a generous email letting me know that I came third. Encouraging when you’re beginning to fear your work isn’t quite good enough.

I had requested a critique from the Exeter competition people and their main criticism came back that my opening failed to sufficiently suggest the extremely dark deeds to come. I needed a prologue that redressed this without giving away too much. Back to the drawing board, then.

Fortunately I have ninevoices to keep me from slacking. and a recent session saw my friends gleefully dissecting  my prose and squiggling suggestions all over my latest draft. There was even this helpful sketch (stick with the writing, Sarah!)

I wish I’d had time to enter my improved version into the Lucy Cavendish competition (no news on this until April 4th, but I’m not holding my breath), but I consider that Exeter critique money well spent.

There are plenty of other competitions for new novels over the coming months – Bath, Yeovil, the Bridport, Winchester, Mslexia – so I shall be back at my attempts to scale a few rungs.

But the next snake I see gets a punch ion the mouth.