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From Pitch to Publication (via TLC): Neema Shah

Neema Shah – TLC Showcase author, TLC Pen Factor winner

Let’s just say I was a little late getting started with my writing. After many years building a career in marketing, I signed up for a short online writing course with a vague idea inspired by my family history. And somehow that uncertain first step has turned into my debut novel Kololo Hill, which will be published in early 2021.

Throughout it all, The Literary Consultancy have been an integral part of my path to publication. I’d heard good things about their Writers’ Day and bought a ticket for the 2017 event as soon as I could. There were entertaining and informative talks on the writing process, publishing and book marketing, plus a competition that involved pitching in front of a panel of agents and publishers. I’d never read my work out loud to anyone, nor submitted it for competitions, did I really want to start with something so public? I nearly didn’t send my entry at all, but decided that the worst that could happen was that I wouldn’t be picked.

A few weeks later, I opened an email on my phone whilst queuing for a sandwich (oh the glamour of being a writer). The email was from Aki Schilz at TLC saying I’d been shortlisted and would I like to read my work at the Writer’s Day? The idea that someone thought my writing was good enough for the shortlist, let along good enough to read in front of industry figures was both thrilling and terrifying. I spent the next few weeks panic-practicing my reading. And if you’re looking for any tips on prepping for live pitches, read slower than you think and remember to breathe! I also found watching a video of myself reading useful (if excruciating).

On the day, I met the lovely Aki and Joe from TLC, my fellow shortlistees and a host of other friendly writers. When the time came, it was a surreal experience to hear my words out loud, echoing out across the room in front of dozens of people. To say I was shocked when I was announced as the winner is an understatement. The prize included a manuscript assessment from TLC, which undoubtedly helped me sort out some structural issues and get my novel agent-ready. I also attended a TLC industry day where I met a small group of fellow writers as well as two agents. The opportunity to learn about the submission process first-hand was invaluable – plus there were biscuits!

Since then, I’ve seen TLC go from strength to strength as they continue to champion underrepresented writers through initiatives like their excellent Free Reads scheme for low income writers and recently-launched Secret Life of Novels events. Featuring a host of authors, these events have given me a fascinating insight into how other writers write (spoiler alert: there’s no ‘one’ way) and also reassure me that the self-doubt and apparent chaos are part of the process for most of us. Unfortunately.

I’ve never have dreamt of getting so much support but I’m glad that I sent that first, tentative competition entry. So take a chance, you never know where it might lead.

Read more about Neema, her writing and Kololo Hill here.

TLC’s Top Tips for Reading Aloud to an Audience:

  • Breathe! If you find yourself running out of breath, take a short pause with your face away from the microphone for a deep in-and-out breath to regulate.
  • Read at a moderate pace, taking care to enunciate. Pause slightly between sentences to get some air and a little longer between paragraphs to indicate a break. If helpful, mark your pauses on your paper.
  • Watch out for microphone ‘popping’ (‘p’ sounds especially).
  • Engage the audience in your reading by being attentive to them. Look up periodically, ensuring your face isn’t covered by any pieces of paper/iPad/phone (ideally don’t read from your phone…)
  • Try to have open body language, and watch out for tics/rocking/pacing/moving face away from microphone.
  • Try to read expressively. This does not mean hamming it up, but listen for intonation, slightly varying speed, changes in tone etc. Your voice should reflect what is happening on the page. Try to read confidently, and evenly, with enough volume.
  • It can be helpful to ensure you print your text in a slightly larger font than you are used to, so you are less likely to stumble or squint.

Neema Shah

Neema Shah is a writer and marketer. Her debut novel Kololo Hill tells the story of an ordinary family caught up in the 1972 Ugandan Asian expulsion to Britain. The novel won the the TLC Pen Factor Writing Competition 2017, was a finalist in the Bath Novel Award and runner-up in the First Novel Prize. Kololo Hill will be published by Picador in early 2021.

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