Author Archives: Nina Clapperton

Learn More About the 2019 Impress Prize Winner

"Stephen, From the Inside Out"

How were you inspired to write Stephen, From the Inside Out?

The moment of inspiration came 12 years after I got to know Stephen.  It was the summer of 2012 and I was visiting Stephen. Earlier in the year, some terrible things had happened amongst my family and friends and this had shaken me up.  Then, during the visit, Stephen said “My life has been a complete and total waste of time” and it wrenched my heart.  At that moment, I decided I would write a book about his life to show him that this was not true. 

 

Why did you decide that this person’s story need to be written?

There were several reasons.  Firstly, it’s a powerful story.  Secondly, there are many ‘views’ about mental illness and autism but I wanted readers to gain an insight into the felt experience of being Stephen, an individual with a diagnosis, negotiating life. I also wanted the reader to experience my journey in getting to know Stephen.  I didn’t want this book to be a diatribe but a rich experience that leaves us asking questions.  For me Stephen represents the many who are either profoundly mis-understood or invisible in this society and this story reveals a human being with soul, with intelligence, with humour, with life –who became my teacher.

About Susie

Describe yourself in 5 words.

Curious, creative, untidy, warm, dance-y (my son’s suggestion)/ life-loving (my partner’s suggestion!)

 

Take us through a typical day of writing…

My best time of writing is the morning.  I spend at least half an hour with displacement activities, which I think are a sort of ‘settling’ in process.  I work from a laptop on a desk in my small office at the top of our house.  As I practice & teach mindfulness, I  do a 3 minute breath meditation before I open the laptop as a way of grounding myself.  I read the previous chapter or whatever chunk of writing I’ve done the day before and edit it before moving on to the next chapter.  If I’m at the beginning of a chapter, I check in with my book structure and plan.  I will then collect information about that particular time from diaries, notes and transcriptions from meetings and phone calls that I had with Stephen. If I’ve got a chapter title then I’ll look for an interesting quote or picture to start it off.  At some point I will get lost in this, thinking about what happened and what could have been different.  Then I’ll come back, consider the angle from which I want to write and then start writing.  Once a large section of the chapter has been written then I reflect on it and consider more particularly its shape and where its going. 

During the process I will suddenly have an idea and rifle through files, notes, letters or cards, generally swearing a lot because its never in the order that I want.  By the end of the morning there’s usually paper, open books, photos and various diaries covering most surfaces.

At some point in the morning I’ll pause for a cup of tea.  Also, as I’m writing about a particular event, either the memories are acutely painful and I have to stop or I laugh out loud and want to go and find someone (usually my partner) to tell the story to.

Sometimes I lose the forward momentum of writing and find myself looking at my emails, the news or my phone.  At that point I need to make a choice whether to push on through or realise that I’ve had enough.

 

Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?

Probably not!  Apart from ‘required’ school writing, the first voluntary piece of writing that I remember was for our school magazine when I was about 16,  describing a meeting with our English teacher, who’d set up a small group of us to discuss literature.  I spent most of the article describing the way he smoked his pipe and how he would pause between erudite comments to attend to it.  He didn’t like the piece and asked me to apologise, so I then wrote another piece which began “to apologise or not to apologise that is the question… whether tis nobler in the mind…. Or take up my pen against a sea of troubles, and by apologising, end them.” (with apologies to William Shakespeare).

 

What is your favourite quote?

With regard to writing and story, I’ll go with Ben Okri:

‘Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.’

 

Do you outline before you write or dive right in?

It depends on the length and type of the piece that I’m writing.  If I’m writing a sketch, poem or a short story I’m more likely to dive in. Then once I’ve written something, I’ll go back and edit.

If I’m writing either a full-length book or any type of screen play then I will create an outline first.  It will change over time but without a basic plan I have no idea where I’m going!

 

What books or authors inspire you?

My 2 most recent favourites are:  “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders and  “The Starless Sea” by Erin Morgenstern.  With Lincoln in the Bardo, I loved the way George Saunders mixed chapters that were surreal fiction with chapters that were factual; edited articles and comments from a particular period in Abraham Lincoln’s life.  It ran rather like a playscript which I also liked and it was deeply moving.   ‘The Starless Sea’ was like a ‘big bang’ of creativity – ideas and stories jumping, dancing, swimming and floating out of her book in all directions!  

In terms of authors, there are too many!  I love all of David Mitchell’s work, especially ‘Cloud Atlas’ and I’m a big fan of Neil Gaiman.  Playwrights I love are: Tom Stoppard and Carol Churchill.  The way they play with words and ideas is glorious.   My favourite poets are Mary Oliver and Emily Dickinson.

With regard to inspiration for my book:  “Stephen from the inside out”  there are 2 key books:

Alexander Master’s book “Stuart, a Life Backwards” and Kate Clanchy’s “Antigona and Me.” Both were quirky biographies.  Antigona is alive, complex and compelling and Stuart comes out of the page and punches you on the face! I loved the way the authors were not ‘objective’ but part of the story, opening up landscapes of people’s lives with a compassion and honesty that I wanted to follow. 

 

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love walking alone or with Tim, the love of my life. It can be in woods or hills or by water.  I love the sea and swimming in it. I always love time with my children and various friends & family and am always up for an interesting conversation about life or politics. Meditation is important to me and also political action.  In the past it was trade justice and now I support Extinction rebellion and most recently dressed up as a bee with a kazoo to make bee noises outside a farmers conference. 

 

Do you prefer audiobooks or print?

My first love is the printed book.  I love the feel of the pages and flicking back to somewhere or forward to the end (one of my bad habits).  However, I do enjoy audio because I can listen to it while washing up or on train/bus journeys.  Recently I found myself laughing out loud on a long train journey while listening to ‘Good Omens’ by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  I avoided the eyes of other passengers….

Susie Stead

Susie is an award-winning writer who has been writing and creating drama in community settings for the last 20 years. She’s written and produced plays, drama sketches, street theatre, short films, short stories and a memoir. Two of her plays were theatrical biographies (on William Tyndale & C S Lewis) but “Stephen, From the Inside Out” is her first biography intended to be read not performed and unravels the life of  a man whose story has never been told.

You can read more about Susie’s work on her website.

Follow Susie on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn to support her work.

Want the chance to win a £500 cash prize and publication? Enter the 2020 Impress Prize (opening soon!).

 

Find out more about the Impress Prize for New Writers and what you do to be the next winner here!

An Interview with the 2019 Impress Prize Winner

Meet Susie Stead

Susie is an award-winning writer who has been writing and creating drama in community settings for the last 20 years. She’s written and produced plays, drama sketches, street theatre, short films, short stories and a memoir. Two of her plays were theatrical biographies (on William Tyndale & C S Lewis) but “Stephen, From the Inside Out” is her first biography intended to be read not performed and unravels the life of  a man whose story has never been told.

You can read more about Susie’s work on her website.

Follow Susie on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to support her work.

About "Stephen, From the Inside Out"

For our readers, can you tell us a bit about the book?

This is a biography (but not a straightforward one) of a man diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and autism.  Stephen was born in 1955 and says that at the age of 3, a psychiatrist told his mother that he was ‘the sickest child’ he’d ever met.  This book is about his life, often with commentary from Stephen in his own wonderfully idiosyncratic style, but it is also a conversation with my life, as someone who has never been diagnosed with a mental illness.  I’m not related to Stephen and was never in a romantic relationship with him, nor did I decide to write a book about mental illness and then seek him out.  I started out in the role of ‘Good Samaritan’ and over 18 years went on an eye-opening and bumpy journey getting to know him (and myself).   Stephen’s life was a patchwork of drama, difficulty, fairy godmothers, damnation religion, humour and moments of great tenderness. This book asks: What does it feel like never to fit in?  What do we mean by mad, bad and god?  What is it that gives our life value?

 

Why did you choose to write about Stephen in particular?

Because he had a very different take on life and he was a powerful character with a story to match. He was extraordinarily honest and unable to be anything other than himself, whatever the cost. Up until the last couple of years of his life he had a photographic memory together with a wide-ranging vocabulary and a colourful turn of phrase and so he was able to capture and give us  insight into what it was like to grow up and live with severe mental illness (and undiagnosed autism) in the UK from 1955 until his death.

 

Did writing about someone with special needs provide challenges?

Firstly, I don’t like the phrase ‘special needs’.  Both getting to know Stephen and writing about him provided challenges, but this is the stuff of the book! Sometimes I would drive 100 miles down to record him for this book and he wouldn’t be in the right frame of mind or he’d need me to do some practical things and no recording would happen. 

Another challenging aspect was that he was paranoid that people would find out who he was and the authorities would sue him because of the claims of severe abuse that he makes in the book.  On the one hand he wanted justice but, on the hand, he was terrified of both being sued and getting into trouble with the authorities.  I had to keep assuring him that I’d get any publisher to ensure that I’d done what was needed to keep his anonymity.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect about writing about Stephen was that by his very being and personality he was constantly exposing my assumptions, dogmas and false beliefs.

 

 

Writing Tips from Susie Stead

Do you have any tips for overcoming writers block?

Depends on where you are in the process.  I’ve found Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life” very helpful.  She talks about looking for that hair-line crack in your narrative. 

I think that sometimes I can’t write this chapter because I haven’t ‘got there’.  I’m not writing truthfully, instead I’m talking in clichés or have gone off on some rant.  I couldn’t finish this book until Stephen died because I couldn’t yet fully see what he’d given me and I couldn’t get a perspective.  However, I didn’t know that till he died.  I’m sad because I’d have loved to have seen his face when I told him it was actually getting published.

 

What’s your biggest writing pet peeve?

I don’t know a way around it but I hate it when people ask me ‘how’s the writing going?’ If its going badly or I’m not writing, my lips go thin and tight, I give a fake smile and I change the subject.  If its going well, I don’t want to talk.  In fact, I don’t want to be there at all because I want to be in front of my laptop.  It feels far too personal a question, like asking me how my sex life is going.

 

What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of writing?

Having a passion and energy about the subject you want to write about and then writing and not worrying about what that first draft looks like.  It is just a draft.  When I write, whether its sketches, playscripts, or this book I write many, many drafts.  Someone said that with sculptors, they have the clay but with writers, we have no clay until we’ve written something.  Once we’ve written some text, we’ve got some clay to mould.

 

How do you handle writing scenes that exhaust you or stress you out?

I practice mindfulness and as part of that I try to notice when I’m stressed and then be kind to myself, acknowledge that suffering is here and give myself breaks.  After Stephen died, I couldn’t write for 6 months and then I was able bit by bit to get back to it. 

 

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Stop writing about your dreams and write about all those interesting people you’ve been meeting and what you thought about it all.  In 10 years when you want that beautiful information, you won’t remember!  

Writing is important to you.  Don’t reduce its value.

 

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

“All writing is re-writing.”

Want the chance to win a £500 cash prize and publication? Enter the 2020 Impress Prize (opening soon!).

 

Find out more about the Impress Prize for New Writers and what you do to be the next winner here!

Past Winners

Sevastian Volkov with the entry “Orris and the Shadow Maiden”.

In 2020, the judging panel was:

  • Rosalind Russell, journalist and author
  • Tracey Warr, art historian and author
  • Richard Willis, founder of his own group of publishing companies

Read more about Sevastian Volkov:

 

Susie Stead for “Stephen, From the Inside Out“. Published by Impress Books in April 2021. 

In 2019, the judging panel was:

  • Annabel Abbs, author and 2015 Impress Prize winner
  • Sonny Wills, Swales and Willis (previous owners of Impress Books)
  • Lisa Dickinson, author.

Read more about Susie Stead:

 

Sophie Haydock for “The Flames”. 

In 2018, the judging panel was:

  • Anthony Wilson, poet and author, University of Exeter lecturer
  • Rosie Stewart, Impress Books
  • Lisa Dickensen, author.

Roberta H George for “The Day’s Heat”. Published by Impress Prize in 2018.

Magdalena McGuire for “Home is Nearby”. Published by Impress Books in 2016.

Annabel Abbs for “The Joyce Girl”. Published by Impress Prize in 2016.

Susan Luddem for “The Bearded Lady Bird”.

In 2013, the judging panel was made up of:

  • Tracey Warr, art historian and author
  • Tim Kendall, writer and English professor
  • Tamsin Ballard, Impress Books editor.

Lachlan Plain for “The Lost Journals of Pedro Piscator”. Published by Impress Books in 2014.

Elizabeth McLean for “Imagining Vietnam”

Edmund Bealby-Wright for “This Farewell Symphony”

Roshi Fernando for “Homesick”

Robert Hann for “SAS Operation Galia: Bravery Behind Enemy Lines in the Second World War”

Carol Fenlon for “Consider the Lilies”

The 2019 Impress Prize Winner

Congratulations to the 2019 Impress Prize for New Writers winner: Susie Stead!

Susie has won a £500 cash prize and publication of Stephen, From the Inside Out with an Untold Publishing Imprint.

"Stephen, From the Inside Out was a remarkable entry and is a very worthy winner of the 2019 Impress Prize. I'm looking forward to working with Susie over the coming months to prepare her book for publication."
Jeff Collyer
CEO of Impress Books

About Susie Stead

Susie is an award-winning writer who has been writing and creating drama in community settings for the last 20 years. She’s written and produced plays, drama sketches, street theatre, short films, short stories and a memoir. Two of her plays were theatrical biographies (on William Tyndale & C S Lewis) but “Stephen, From the Inside Out” is her first biography intended to be read not performed and unravels the life of  a man whose story has never been told.

You can read more about Susie’s work on her website.

Follow Susie on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to support her work.

“On a Friday in May 2000, in an unremarkable town in the London Commuter belt, Stephen and I met.”

About Stephen, From the Inside Out

Stephen, From the Inside Out is a biography (but not a straightforward one) of a man diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and autism. 

Stephen was born in 1955 and says that, at the age of 3, a psychiatrist told his mother that he was ‘the sickest child’ he’d ever met.  This book is about his life, often with commentary from Stephen in his own wonderfully idiosyncratic style, but it is also a conversation with my life, as someone who has never been diagnosed with a mental illness. 

I’m not related to Stephen and was never in a romantic relationship with him, nor did I decide to write a book about mental illness and then seek him out.  I started out in the role of ‘Good Samaritan’ and over 18 years went on an eye-opening and bumpy journey getting to know him (and myself).  

Stephen’s life was a patchwork of drama, difficulty, fairy godmothers, damnation religion, humour and moments of great tenderness. This book asks: What does it feel like never to fit in?  What do we mean by mad, bad and god?  What is it that gives our life valu

“He did NOT like the evangelicals.  Was I evangelical?  No. ‘The evangelicals’ had told him that if he smoked, he’d go to hell.  He’d go to hell.   He blew smoke over my shoulder.  What did I think of that? Hmm?  What did I think of that?  Did I think he was going to hell?”

Susie on Winning, Her Book, and Writing

What was your first thought when you found out you’d won the 2019 Impress Prize?

My brain went into a fuzzy ‘I don’t believe this’ shock.  The email first line showed the words: ‘As you know’ so as I opened the email, I was 90% certain it would say ‘As you know, the competition for this sort of prize is intense, so we’re sorry but’.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

That’s not a straightforward question for me.  I used to think that I could only be ‘a real writer’ if I’d always wanted to be one and as I hadn’t always wanted to be writer, then I wasn’t one!

So the simple answer is ‘no’, although I was writing poetry and a diary from my early teens. 

I think partly I didn’t have belief in myself and partly I grew up with an almost ferocious desire to change the world.  I was brought up in Hong Kong in a wealthy ex-pat family but saw great poverty and that had a lasting effect on me.  I wanted to use action rather than words to change the world, so as an adult I worked in communities and with people struggling with drug and drink addictions and homelessness.

I’ve always loved reading and read voraciously, mainly fiction and science fiction early on and then plays and now more non-fiction.

I’ve also read and written poetry since my early teens and that felt essential.  Padraig O’Tuama said he wrote poetry ‘to survive’ and I understand that. 

In my 20s I got hooked into drama and acting but it wasn’t until my late 30s that I began writing drama and then it was like all the lights turned on!

Why did you call it Stephen, from the Inside Out?

Firstly, I wanted to capture what it felt like being Stephen both from his perspective (inside) looking out on the world as someone labelled with paranoid schizophrenia and also from my point of view (outside) looking in.

Secondly, I was exploring what it was like for him to live both Inside psychiatric wards and then what it was like after 25 years, to live on the Outside.

How long have you been working on From the Inside Out?

Coming up to 8 years.  I made the decision to write it in June 2012 and began recording conversations with Stephen after that.  In May 2104 I began writing.  As of now, 2020, I have one chapter left to write.

Any tips for future Impress Prize entrants?

If at all possible, get yourself a mentor.  I was very fortunate that Kate Clanchy agreed to mentor me.  She kept me going and gave me invaluable advice.

Proposals are painful, time-consuming things to write, especially if you’re crap at promoting yourself. Then there are all the voices in your head (even if you’re not psychotic) telling you not to bother. Remember why this story matters to you and don’t give up.

“It is many years ago now but I still remember that heavy door.  A three-headed dog should have stood at the threshold.”

Want the chance to win a £500 cash prize and publication? Enter the 2020 Impress Prize (opening soon!).

 

Find out more about the Impress Prize for New Writers and what you do to be the next winner here!

How Does the Prize Work?

What is the Impress Prize for New Writers?

The Impress Prize was created by Impress Books to hunt for unpublished talent. After 13 years, we can safely say that there is a lot out there! We continue to champion and nurture new voices through our prize. Winners of past prizes have gone on to sell rights across the globe and some shortlisted authors have gone on to get multiple book deals with Impress Books.

In 2019, Impress Books became an imprint of Untold Publishing. Our ability to publish prize winners under a variety of imprints has given us more freedom and offers winners a more tailored experience. 

How can I enter?

Entry for the 2021 Impress Prize for New Writers opens on the 12th April 2021. To enter, please read through the Terms and Conditions and fill in a submission form. The entry fee is £25. You can pay the entry fee here. Please use the same name on your payment as you use for your submission.

How does the prize work?

Writers submit a 6,000 word sample of their manuscript, a synopsis, publishing rationale, and author biography to Impress. A shortlist is created by the Impress team, and this is then sent to a panel of external judges who decide on a winner. We will be announcing the 2021 panel in the coming months. The panel will consist of published authors, booksellers, agents and one member of the Impress team.

The prize is open to all writers who have not been traditionally published before (this makes eligible self-published authors, or writers who have had other work published including short stories, poetry, and academic work). 

We accept both fiction and non-fiction entries across all genres, but do not accept poetry.

Any more questions?

If so, reach out to us on our social media platforms!

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Terms and Conditions for Entry

The Impress Prize for New Writers is part of the Untold Publishing Group, and the winner of the prize will be published by one of Untold Publishing’s imprints. These terms and conditions are between you and Untold Publishing Ltd (company number 12233121).

Conditions of Entry 2021

  1. All entries should be submitted via the Google Form that can be accessed here
  2. Entry costs £25 per entry. Please pay here
  3. All entries must be received by 13th September 2021.
  4. Untold Publishing reserves the right to reasonably refuse an entry if it is submitted after the closing deadline. Your submission will be refunded in this instance.
  5. You must be 16 years of age and over to enter the Impress Prize for New Writers.
  6. The Impress Prize for New Writers is open to writers of any nationality writing in English.
  7. The Prize is open to writers of fiction and narrative non-fiction.
  8. Impress Prize entrants must not have had a full work published by any traditional publishing company, i.e. must not have been published by any company that offers royalties and/or an advance. This does not include self-published works, chapters/short stories in an anthology, or academic textbooks.
  9. By entering the Impress Prize you confirm that the entry is your own work and that the rights are not owned by anyone other than yourself in any form.
  10. By entering the Impress Prize you confirm that the entry is not libellous or unlawful.
  11. You can enter as many different entries as you wish. Please note that each submission is subject to a separate entry fee.
  12. Untold Publishing reserves the right to disqualify any entry if it has reasonable grounds to believe that the entrant has breached any of these rules. If you are disqualified based on information omitted from your entry, you will not be refunded.
  13. Impress Prize entries cannot be altered or changed after they have been entered into the competition.
  14. Entrants are granted a 14 day cooling off period from the date of submission. If you choose to withdraw from the prize within this cooling off period, you will be granted a full refund. 

Entry Requirements

  1. Entries should comprise of a book proposal of no more than 1,000 words, a synopsis of no more than 1,000 words and a sample chapter of no more than 6,000 words.
  2. The proposal should include: name and contact details of the author, author biography, rationale for publishing the book, market readership.
  3. The sample chapter should be: written in English, written in 12pt typeface, double spaced, developed to a point where it can be published in the following year.

Conditions of Selection

  1. No more than 12 entries will be selected for the longlist, and 5 entries for the shortlist.
  2. The selection process is final. No correspondence or discussion will be entered into once the longlist and shortlist have been announced.
  3. On the condition that your entry is shortlisted, you grant Untold Publishing permission to consider your work for publication once the Prize winner has been announced.
  4. By submitting an entry to the Prize you grant Untold Publishing the right to advertise your name and the title of your entry on the Impress Prize website and/or social media channels if you are shortlisted.

Conditions of Winning

  1. The prize consists of:
    • A £500 prize.
    • The possibility of a publishing contract with one of Untold Publishing’s imprints, namely Impress Books or Aelurus Publishing, in volume and verbatim form worldwide.
  2. Untold Publishing reserves the right to edit the winning entry of the Impress Prize once a publishing contract has been signed by both parties, based on the author’s approval.
  3. The winner of the Impress Prize for New Writers is deemed by way of entering the competition to have granted Impress Books worldwide licence over their Impress Prize entry for publicity purposes. Selected pieces may appear in electronic format on any of Untold Publishing’s websites, or in other electronic forms.

Manuscript Feedback

  1. Due to the volume of entries we receive, Untold Publishing are unable to provide feedback for prize submissions.

Disclaimer

  1. Untold Publishing cannot accept any responsibility for any damage, loss, injury or disappointment suffered by any entrant entering the Impress Prize for New Writers competition.
  2. Untold Publishing will act in accordance with current UK data protection legislation in relation to your personal data. All personal data entered on this site is secure and will not be passed on to third parties.
  3. Untold Publishing reserves the right to alter the terms of the winning prize should unforeseen circumstances arise. Any such alterations will be communicated to you, after which you will have 7 days to withdraw your entry and receive a full refund. Any withdrawal of you entry after 7 days will not be entitled to a refund.

Agreement of Entry

  1. By submitting your entry and paying the fee, you accept the listed terms and conditions.
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