A lot can happen in a year. In the year since Sui Annukka won Discoveries with her novel-in-progress Thursday, Sui has been signed by a literary agent at Curtis Brown, has made lifelong friends with a supportive community of writers – and now she is celebrating her first publication, a novella with Audible titled The Mother Sun. Here Sui tells us about the eventful year leading up to this momentous milestone, and how it feels to send your story out into the world. You can download Sui Annukka’s Audible original The Mother Sun here.
7.31pm. Twickenham. 19th April 2023.
I haven’t slept well for the past week or so. I’m far too excited.
Last night, I slept with my manuscript cradled against my chest.
I’m bricking it.
Tomorrow, my novella The Mother Sun is being recorded at the Audible Studios in London. It is being voiced by Nimmi Harasgama and directed by Nicola Clayton. I’ve never had a book published. I’ve never had an Audiobook produced. I feel like I’m in way over my head.
At this point, I need to back up ten months…
Last June, I was lucky enough to win the 2022 Discoveries award, run by the Women’s Prize Trust in partnership with Audible, Curtis Brown Literary Agency and Curtis Brown Creative. It’s fair to say life has not been the same since. As part of my prize, I was gifted £5000, an agent at Curtis Brown (the lovely Jess Molloy). And I was commissioned to write a piece for Audible – about absolutely anything I liked, in any genre. Dreams come true doesn’t begin to cover it.
The dizzying joy of winning the prize was an extraordinary thing. It was far too big for one person to hold, so the love, the energy, was shared by so many of my family and friends, all over the world. I’ve never experienced anything even close.
That kind of euphoria, of course, cannot last forever. Life, and writing, goes on. . . However, that moment has, among other things, given rise to something new that is sustainable and sustaining: a super-supportive and inspiring peer group consisting of the longlisted writers. We have a monthly Zoom call to share experiences, talk craft, and to help each other navigate (to me, at least) the bewildering world of agents and publishing. We’re such a diverse bunch in terms of background, age, as well as the range of genre and styles we write in, and where we are in our writing journeys; and this coming together continues to be an invaluable source of encouragement. To proactively build on the privilege that we have been afforded has felt hugely empowering. And throughout this wonderful year, Claire Shanahan and Lilidh Kendrick from The Women’s Prize have been such great cheerleaders, and unwavering in their commitment and passion to meaningfully develop emerging women writers.
I have spent much of my time this year developing my novella, The Mother Sun, for Audible. The writing and editing process has been fast and furious: ideas stage to first draft in under five months. I am so in love with all the characters, and it feels far too soon to be saying goodbye and letting them go. Tomorrow, they will no longer be mine. They will speak in someone else’s voice. They will meet readers (I mean listeners!) mediated through Nimmi’s interpretation and performance, which I have no doubt will be beautiful. But, when I meet them next, I fear I will not recognise them. The grief of that is keeping me awake at night.
I’ve been writing for over thirty years, and I’ve never felt anything like this. I am sharing this only to illustrate just one of the many ways in which winning the prize is broadening my experience of what it is to be a writer; what it means to have a potential audience beyond my lovely circle of writer friends. It’s a responsibility that part of me wants to shy away from because I am a chronic introvert; getting out of bed is my idea of operating outside of my comfort zone.
About a month ago, thinking about what people would make of the story, I started experiencing something akin to panic attacks. In a quite frankly cowardly attempt to displace my fear, I had a conversation with my mother.
Me: I don’t think Sri Lankans are going to like the book.
Amma: Why did you write a book that Sri Lankans are not going to like?
Me (not out loud): Fuck!
A few weeks later, I gave a printout of the manuscript to my mother and asked her to read it, saying something comforting like, ‘I don’t want you to have a heart attack when you listen to it.’
My mother is not a reader. She’s not that keen on films or TV either: fiction simply doesn’t interest her. Plus, her eyesight is failing. That she read the manuscript in two days flat is an act of love that blows me away.
She liked it. Though she thought there was far too much swearing in it: ‘Sri Lankans don’t swear like that.’ She did not mention the lesbian stuff, or the political stuff. But she can’t wait to recommend it to the relations. I can live with that.
When I look back on this year, there are so many joyous memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life: my mum, my sisters and niece shrieking down the phone, then bursting into tears when they heard I’d won the prize; meeting my fellow longlistees in the pub before our first literary party, followed by famous author spotting at said party; the online course with the fabulous Charlotte Mendelson; the back-stage tour at Audible followed by lunch at The Wolseley (the bread rolls were so good); the day at the Bookseller’s Future Book Conference; our monthly Zoom calls; my first meeting with my agent, Jess – I insisted on meeting in a café near her office because I was too intimidated to actually set foot inside the Curtis Brown offices; being interviewed via Zoom by Kate Mosse; sitting next to Laura Bates at a Women’s Prize dinner at Jikoni; my first editorial meeting with Imogen Papworth and Miranda Ward; everyday hilarity on our Discoveries 2022 WhatsApp group; this week, meetings with Nimmi and Nicola to discuss the recording.
Thank you to the Women’s Prize Trust, Curtis Brown, Audible, Baileys. It’s been transformative!
And, yes, I’ll be falling asleep with my manuscript in my arms tonight.
And tomorrow, when I am at work, I’ll be thinking of Nimmi and Nicola, and the Audible team, in the studio, and sending them my love. I’ll be thinking of my writing group and beta readers, all the angels, without whom I could not have written The Mother Sun.