Fiona Robertson on Winning a Queensland Literary Award: “I finally had reassurance I was a decent writer.”

May 31, 2022



Submitting my novel to competitions was never an avenue I considered when thinking of ways to get published. Louise Allan was the first person to suggest it to me, partly because you can win quite a bit of money, and also because most come with the chance to secure a publishing deal. Fiona Robertson, debut author of, If You’re Happy, is one of many authors who decided to submit her manuscript to a competition and win! I’m hearing about this more and more. It’s a great way for aspiring authors to skip the queries and slushpile, with a better chance of directly being seen by a publisher. And even if you DON’T win, most of the time being shortlisted also has it’s advantages. For one, you can use this reference and credential in your submissions to agents/publishers (they love an award) and like Fiona states, you can feel great knowing that your writing has been acknowledged and respected by a panel of judges. Fiona talks us through how it went for her and what some of her tips are for submitting to awards and competitions.

How long have you been writing?

I first returned to writing 17 years ago, starting a blog when my kids were small – I suppose as an outlet for the frustrations and delights of raising kids plus working part-time as a GP. But I didn’t begin writing fiction until about 11 years ago, when I took a one-day workshop with the fabulous Brisbane writer Edwina Shaw, and got hooked on short stories!

How many submissions did you make to agents/publishers prior to winning your award publishing contract?

I tried to get an agent once – probably about two years ago now – but was knocked back right away, without even a manuscript request.

Around the same time, I was invited to submit to a publisher, but after many months and some follow-up on my part, I never actually got an answer (which I guess in itself was the answer!).

During the Authors for Fireys auction I bid on and won a manuscript evaluation, which was really helpful for improving the stories and boosting my confidence. Soon after that, I submitted the manuscript to the Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland Writer at the 2020 Queensland Literary Awards. Winning the Glendower Award meant prize money as well as publication with UQP.

Your first reaction when they offered the representation/contract?

I found out I’d won the Glendower Award via an email that arrived as I was working on my laptop at the dining room table. I read the email, stood up in shock, and called my daughter to come read the email. She bent to the screen, stared at me, and said something like, ‘You won?’ and I said, ‘Yes! It’s crazy!’

It was one of the best moments of my life. I felt like I finally had reassurance I was a decent writer. I realised my stories would be published, and could reach many readers. The fact I’ve written a book still blows my mind when I think about it.

What are the best tips writers can learn about submissions to competitions?

Hmm, great question. I think the first tip is to remember that every competition will have a judge or judges with certain tastes and biases. So if you feel your work is strong, and you gather your courage and send it in, but then don’t get place, get shortlisted or even longlisted in the competition, try to see it as part of the process. Nurse your wounds, and then move on. Revise your work, check for anything you can improve, then send it out again. Find that person who will love what you write.

My second tip actually relates to the first tip, and that is – do a bit of research on the competition and the judges. If you google the judge name/s, you’ll often find information that is helpful, for example a previous interview where they mention they’ve never enjoyed sci-fi stories. In that case, it might not be wise to send your cool fantasy piece to that particular competition.

My final tip is a bit boring but is this – read the competition guidelines carefully, and make sure your submission is suitable (eg some library competitions specifically say there should be no crude language or explicit sex so your gargoyles-having-an-orgy story won’t be accepted). Also make sure you follow each requirement as to font, spacing, word count etc. Make it easy for the readers and judges to be immersed in your work.

Tell us a bit about your book.

The book is a collection of 24 stories about people who are often outsiders or lonely in some way, and are frequently pushed beyond their limits. Most stories are permeated by extremes of weather or natural disasters.

There’s a young guy who goes solo caving and gets into a tight spot – literally. In another piece, an old man returns to his daughter’s house when his car won’t start and overhears some home truths, which cause him to make a dangerous decision. In the final story, a teenage girl in a small town in Washington State is struggling with new desire around the time of the Mt Saint Helens eruption.

What’s next for you?

I’m not entirely sure. I’d like to write something longer, perhaps a novel, but I’m terrified of such a huge time investment. That’s one of the reasons I love writing short stories!

 Fiona provides such wonderful tips on how to submit to competitions and to do your research first before applying. Most competitions also cost money so you probably want to ensure it’s polished to perfection before hitting that send button (Just like if you were submitting to an agent). The judge may be your future publisher, afterall!

Fiona congratulations on your fabulous win and your amazing concept, If You’re Happy. Can’t wait to see what stories you have next for us (short or long fiction)! Thank you for being on the blog and sharing your handy tips! You can learn more about Fiona here and purchase If You’re Happy here!

Thanks for stopping by,