Saturday, 29 January 2011

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2011

After some consideration I have decided once again to enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award with my recently-completed historical novel Mr Stephenson's Regret. I entered last year with 11:59 and managed to get to the semi-final stage. The book was subsequently published by Wild Wolf.

I have a feeling it will be more difficult to get so far with an historical novel, but it will be interesting to find out. There are several stages to the competition, or should I say hurdles. From a  possible 10,000 entries that start out as runners in the two categories (General Fiction and Young Adult Fiction) only two will cross the finish line - one in each category - while bodies pile up at the fences behind them. The first fence is The Pitch - a maximum of 300 words to interest the judges enough to put you through to the next round. There is much massacre here; a maximum of 1,000 entrants in each category will be allowed to progress to the Second Round, so most poor souls won't be given the opportunity to have one word of their manuscript read before they are unceremoniously culled. It's a hard world.

I've copied my pitch below for anyone interested. There are a few days of edit time before the deadline (6 Feb) so if anyone has some valuable advice to give me about the pitch, please do not hesitate. It might save me falling flat on my face.

Mr Stephenson's Regret - The Pitch

This incident-packed novel brings to dramatic life the pioneers of the railway age. Central to the narrative is the complex, often tense, relationship between George and Robert Stephenson. Father and son have ambitions and desires that provide the engine for their achievements but create a crisis that threatens to derail their journey at a crucial stage. Theirs is a generational conflict, universal and as valid today as it was two hundred years ago.

In following the challenges the Stephensons face, personally and as a partnership, much is revealed about nineteenth century mores – about class division, self-interest and greed, indulgence and sexuality, repression and guilt – that may taint even the sweet taste of success. Through their association with some major figures of the day – the Duke of Wellington, Sir Robert Peel, Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria – we discover how they are viewed by the establishment.
Then there are the women in their lives. George marries three times: Fanny, Robert’s mother who died when he was small, remains a haunting presence; Betty, George’s first love, whose father rejected the impoverished suitor, waits years for his return; and Ellen, his young housekeeper whom he weds just six months before his own death, shocking his son. Robert’s marriage to Frances has a slow-burning complication. Each of these inter-relationships provides a depth of human and romantic interest, and crucially influences the character and development of both principals.
This is at once human story and big canvas drama. Nothing was more important in the development of Victorian Britain, and consequently the world, than the coming of the railway age. Literature, reflecting the interest of its readers, has had a long love affair with trains. Mr Stephenson’s Regret shows the kindling of the affair from a place within the hearts of the key participants.


  1. Most interesting - and good luck!

    I wondered if you had considered or indeed have included Robert's relationship with Henrietta Baden-Powell. Robert lived next door to the Powells and was Robert Stephenson Smiles Baden-Powell's (Founder of Boy Sscouts- hero of Mafakin)Godfather and some say FATHER!

  2. As an after thought mention of the relationship of Geo and Rbt with Isambard Kingdom Brunel would add spice to the story

  3. Hi, David-Also an ABNA participant, though in the YA category. Congratulations on getting to semi-finals last year--I was knocked out in the pitch round, probably because I had a novel that's main plot was hard to describe.

    I feel like the pitch you've got her might be a degree removed... it talks about the THEMES... more an 'about about' rather than just saying what it's ABOUT... That probably doesn't make any sense at all. it just feels like it is more a 'who might like it and themes covered' than describing your protagonist, his motivation, the conflict and hinting at the 'action'.

    Now it MAY BE that there are successful pitches that do what you're doing, but on the practice threads I just haven't seen it. you may want to have them give it a go in the pitch thread.

  4. Some interesting comments here so far, many thanks. I have considered the relationships you mention, Ponteland historian, but they haven't made it into my novel, though I do have something on the relationship with Trevithick and with Hudson.
    Hart, thanks for your thoughts - the problem of course is that one only has 300 words and if you say too much about what the novel is about it leaves little room for the 'pitch' (selling) part. Of course, a balance has to be struck and I'll look at mine again to check if it is properly balanced - perhaps it's too far the other way.

  5. I'm another ABNA contestant. I didn't even make it past the pitch stage with my first novel in 2009 in general fiction, but made it to the quarterfinals in 2010 with my second novel in young adult. I am reentering my first novel this year--TRANSPLANT TOURISM, a sci fi thriller about the future of the organ transplant trade. I hope that I've learned to write a better pitch. I'm thinking that the competition will be much greater in general fiction than it was in young adult and worried that so many people think that there is a bias against sci fi. But I still hope for the best.

    Just wanted to wish you good luck.

  6. Thank you, Anonymous. I'll look out on the ABNA site for references to TRANSPLANT TOURISM. Best wishes, and thank you for yours.

  7. So, I got through the pitch round. Thanks to everyone who 'pitched in' with comments, suggestions and good wishes.

  8. 26 April update. Just discovered I made it to the semi-finals. Way to go.

  9. Publishers Weekly and the Amazon reviewers have been kind. Here's what they said:

    From Publishers Weekly
    This well-crafted historical is set in early 19th-century England and revolves around the relationship between railroad pioneers George Stephenson and his son, Robert. Although the elder Stephenson was credited with building the first public railroad line to use steam-powered locomotives, his son played an integral in the designing and building of the “strange new beasts of industry.” Beginning shortly after the death of his father, the story is essentially Robert’s detailed memories of his life with his legendary father -- from the death of Robert’s mother when he was a young boy and his father was a lowly coal miner to helping his father revolutionize locomotive design. This richly detailed and meticulously researched storyline breathes life and a palpable sense of intimacy into these historical figures and immerses readers in an England embroiled in political and social upheaval as it teeters on the cusp of the industrial revolution. Review
    This is nicely done. It's very evocative of the time period, the settings are very vivid and the characters well drawn. Very well written! Review
    A fine historical drama highlighting the onset of the railway system in 1800's London. Strongly written characters, flawed and likeable alike, carry the plot, while inventive descriptive words, asserted verbs, and similes dance us through the pages. Very well written. Interesting conception. I wish you all the best. If published, I will purchase this book as I am interested in what is happening. Good luck. You deserve many accolades for this fine offering.