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Never Give Up: Irish Writer Wins International Writing Competition

Writing.ie | Magazine | Interviews | Women’s Fiction
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By Amanda Cinelli

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Following on from my previous post at writing.ie, I am delighted to announce that I am the Grand Prize Winner of this year’s global romance writing competition “So You Think You Can Write” (I’m still amazed at that sentence.)

This is the fifth annual event run by global publishing giant Harlequin for unpublished aspiring romance writers.

After being selected in the beginning from approximately 500 entries and then judged by a panel of 50 editors, I was thrilled when my entry Resisting The Sicilian Playboy made it all the way to the Top Ten. The final round of the competition took the form of an online public vote that would choose the overall winner.

The other nine finalists were extremely talented romance writers, ranging across several genres including medical romance, historical and contemporary. In the company of such well written manuscripts, I couldn’t help but feel that mine was the underdog.

After all, this was my first attempt at writing a novel. I have never had any formal training and I have only been writing on and off for little more than three years.

When I got my first idea for a story shortly after my twenty first birthday, I made the age old mistake of getting trapped in the research stage. I bought books about how to write, I read blog posts, I plotted and replotted my idea to within an inch of it’s life.

I did everything except write the book.

So needless to say, my hope of someday becoming a published writer was never widely known among my family. I didn’t talk about it, it was always just a far reaching dream that I kept locked away in the back of my mind.

I suppose, I feared that my choice of content would be ridiculed. That my deeply emotional stories of love conquering all would be judged as “fluffy” as they often are perceived in the media. Romance is one of the most widely read fiction genres, and yet, it seems to be criticised the most. Called “Trashy” “Smut” “Bodice rippers”, the names are endless. None seem to do justice to the character driven stories that often deal with hard hitting issues.

While being first and foremost a passionate tale of romance between a wedding planner and a wealthy Italian castle owner, my story also deals with the issue of infertility among women, as well as the stigma and repercussions of mental health.

I have to say that during the course of this competition I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from my family and friends. My story gained momentum and support from outlets such as local and national newspapers, social media and word of mouth in my community. I had hundreds of people encouraging me to follow my dream, and telling how much they enjoyed my entry.

That alone was enough recognition to boost my confidence as a writer. So when I received “The Call” telling me that I had won, I was absolutely speechless. I was standing in the hallway of a busy playgroup  having spent the morning there with my ten month old daughter. I answered the phone and immediately started to shake as I was given the great news. Editor Carly Byrne and bestselling Author Sharon Kendrick had both acted as my mentors during the final stage, so to hear them both congratulating me on the call was the icing on top of the cake.

“Amanda’s entry initially stood out because of a memorable opening scene, and the rest of the manuscript lives up to the promise of those first pages,” said editor Carly Byrne.

“The characters have interesting emotional issues to overcome – such as infertility – and the historic castello, where much of the story takes place, is very atmospheric. We are delighted to offer Amanda her first publishing contract. She possesses a fresh and exciting voice that is well suited to the Harlequin Presents series.”

Sharon Kendrick said “Amanda has a fresh and compelling voice which takes you straight into the story. Her characters are real and three-dimensional and I CARE what happens to them.”

The Grand Prize includes a two book publishing deal with my category Harlequin Presents/ Mills & Boon Modern, a summit meeting with the creative team, a publicist for 60 days to promote my debut novel, a social media marketing course and a $150 gift voucher to go towards a champagne dinner for two.

Of course a large part of this win is that it is a two book deal, so I’ve got to get started on my second manuscript. My process has always been very erratic, so now that I’m contracted, my plan is simply to focus on writing and learning as much as possible.

As the wonderful Nora Roberts says: “You can fix anything but a blank page”

I entered this competition two years ago with the same novel. I had only written about twenty thousand words and my plot was all over the place. Apart from the obvious lack of words on the page, what’s the biggest difference between then and now?

My characters. I just didn’t know them well enough. Sure, I knew their names, occupations and conflicts, but I don’t think I ever sat down and thought about who they really were.

In these short romance novels, it’s all about the emotional journey between your two central characters. If you don’t know your hero and heroine inside and out, how are you supposed to make the reader believe in their story? How are you supposed to make anyone care?

If I could give one piece of advice to anyone planning on entering the competition next year, its this – take the time to develop your characters well. An intricate plot means nothing if the characters are just woodenly acting out the dialogue.

And above all else- just keep writing!

(c) Amanda Cinelli

We’ll keep you posted on Resisting The Sicilian Playboy and Amanda’s progress!

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