When aspiring writer Tara O’Sullivan was longlisted for the Discoveries Prize in 2022, she was convinced her name had been attached to the wrong entry. Here Tara tells us about facing imposter syndrome, finding strength in a community of women writers – and why vulnerability is a writer’s secret weapon. 

I almost didn’t enter Discoveries. It feels strange to say that now, twelve months on, when so much of the past year has been shaped by the experience, but it was a close call. A wonderful friend of mine sent me a link to the competition, and I toyed with the idea, and almost didn’t do it because I didn’t think I was good enough. I’d been working on my novel In the Quiet on and off for almost three years by that point, so I had the opening 10,000 words and a synopsis, and in the end, I thought, What the hell?

Imposter syndrome is common, particularly in women, and perhaps even more so in writers

Tara O’Sullivan

In May, when I got an email telling me I had been longlisted for the 2022 Discoveries Prize, I felt overwhelmed. With excitement, at first, and then, quite quickly, with nerves. All of the Discoveries longlistees were invited to the Women’s Prize for Fiction party, and my nerves only compounded as the date approached. I wondered if there could possibly have been some kind of mistake; if my name had been attached in error to the work of someone else – a proper writer. And then I met my fellow longlistees, in a pub around the corner from the party for a little Dutch courage before we went in, and realised that most of us were feeling much the same. There was a rush of warmth and relief – and a lot of laughter – as this group of remarkable women welcomed me in. That sense of warmth and welcome continued throughout the evening at the party in the beautiful Bedford Square Garden as we met the brilliant team behind the Discoveries prize.

The longlisted contestants were also invited to take part in the Discoveries Writing Development Course, which was run by Curtis Brown Creative and taught by Charlotte Mendelson. One of the first things that Charlotte spoke to us about was imposter syndrome: that sense that you have somehow managed to end up somewhere you’re not supposed to be, and that at any moment, you’re going to get found out. She asked if any of us were feeling it, and hand after hand went up. Imposter syndrome is common, particularly in women, and perhaps even more so in writers, who tend to be introverts, prone to over-analysis and maybe a little too much self-reflection.

To anyone considering entering Discoveries, I would say – just go for it. Being part of Discoveries 2022 was about a lot more than prizes and going to a fancy party (although the party was extremely nice). It was about meeting a group of intelligent, lively and vibrant women, and being able to be vulnerable and open with them. It was about saying, Yes, me too, and Have you ever…? and  What do you think of…?. It was about sharing work and thoughts and fears, and stepping outside my comfort zone in the company of other writers. It was about finding a sense of community in what can be a deeply solitary pursuit. Through Discoveries, I was lucky enough to be signed by the wonderful Lucy Morris and Jess Molloy at Curtis Brown, and with the support of them, my fellow longlistees and the whole Discoveries team, I have begun, finally, to accept the idea of myself as a writer – and to have the courage and new-found confidence to say it out loud.*

*Albeit quietly. I’m still a massive introvert; there’s no changing that.

We can’t wait to see where Tara’s writing journey takes her! Interested in applying for Discoveries next year? For all the details on the programme, including how to enter, head to the Discoveries homepage.