A writer shortlisted for the 2018 Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize honed her craft studying at Brunel University London’s Creative Writing department.
Former BBC World Service Journalist Linda Spurr, who herself teaches creative writing in Hillingdon and Hertfordshire is one of five authors up for best unpublished manuscript.
Inspired by an image of an Arab man holding a falcon, and a subsequent trip to Oman, Linda’s debut novel Pathway to the Gods starts 2,000 years ago in Arabia.
It spins the story of Nashwa al Jamal, who dreams of following her father and brothers into the lucrative frankincense trade. But women who touch the trees of the Gods get the death penalty.
“The Creative Writing MA at Brunel played a huge part in me writing Pathway to the Gods,” said Linda, 67 from Rickmansworth.
“I had the initial idea of a novel based on the frankincense trade in Arabia, but when I actually started writing it, I decided I needed help. I looked around for courses and was absolutely delighted to see that my nearest university offered exactly what I was looking for.”
“The support, encouragement and advice from everyone – tutors and fellow students – was invaluable; so too lectures from visiting agents and authors.”
When she finished the MA, which taught how to pen a novel, Linda stayed in touch with three fellow students, encouraging each other to finish their novels. “I probably wouldn’t have been able to carry on without their support during that time,” she said. “Rejections are hard, better when sharing with writing friends.”
It took Linda two years to write Pathway to the Gods plus a lot of time to research. It follows Nashwa’s struggles to be accepted as an educated woman and businesswoman in her own right in first-century Southern Arabia. Linda is now writing the sequel while looking for an agent and publisher.
The Wilbur Smith Prize is an incubator for aspiring adventure writers and attracted entries from more than 30 countries. One of the five titles shortlisted for Best Unpublished Manuscript will receive the £7,500 Writer’s Adventure Research Award to pay for to travel to research for their next novel. The writers also all get support to develop their shortlisted manuscripts from literary consultant David Llewellyn.
“You have to be optimistic when entering any competition or sending off to agents,” said Linda. “But I was still very surprised when I made the top five. I remember avidly reading Wilbur Smith’s books years ago, never dreaming I’d qualify for this prize.
“Winning would be the biggest possible boost to my confidence as a novel writer. It would also introduce me to literary agents and publishers. And the travel grant would allow me to explore even wider afield for locations – I have my eye on Samarkand in Uzbekistan.”
The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony on 20 September 2018, at London’s Stationers’ Hall.
Creative Writing at Brunel is ranked 8th in the UK out of 106 similar courses in this year’s Guardian University Guide. Find out more about the Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize from the Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation.
Hayley Jarvis, Media Relations
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