Karen Pierce won second place in the BPA First Novel Award 2022 after impressing the judges with her historical coming-of-age novel, Petal. She has since signed with literary agent Katie Fulford. We decided to ask her some questions about the novel and her journey to representation.
Karen has an MA from University of Chichester (Distinction) in Creative Writing, and has worked in both TV and print journalism, and also as a nutritionist. She is dyslexic and couldn’t read till she was eleven.
We were all delighted to hear that you’ve signed with Katie Fulford from Bell Lomax Moreton agency. How did you know Katie would be a great fit?
From the off, Katie loved the character of Petal and her journey. Katie and I shared the same vision for the book and both agreed it needed work to take it to the next stage. We also discussed other writing projects I am working on. I spoke with a few on Katie’s clients before making my decision, but in the end it was Katie’s enthusiasm for my writing that won me over.
Petal explores themes of family, class and identity in a gritty 60s Soho setting. Where did you find the inspiration for the story?
I come from a working class family and grew up in the 1970’s on a council estate. I was interested in what came before that. The character of Petal has been with me for some time. What interested me was a young woman from poverty with agency, who has the power to change her life and the lives of those around her. Soho has always been a magical place for me. I always felt it was full of secrets.
“I read the beginning out loud until Petal’s voice came through clearly, and I entered … then forgot about it. When I got the email to say I was on the longlist, I burst into tears.”
What made you decide to enter the BPA First Novel Award?
I entered on a whim. It was late at night and I was reading Emma Darwin’s blog, ‘This Itch of Writing‘. There was a link to the BPA competition. I read the beginning out loud until Petal’s voice came through clearly, and I entered … then forgot about it. When I got the email to say I was on the longlist, I burst into tears.
The runner-up prize was a manuscript assessment. Was there anything in the report that surprised you and do you have any tips for other writers currently responding to feedback?
My feedback was long and detailed and considered. My reader had a pretty good understanding of Petal and I agreed with most of her suggestions but not all of them. I printed it out and read through it and then left it for a few days. It was overwhelming but I decided to address one issue at a time, starting with the biggest problem. Then I worked my way through the manuscript using post-it notes. The assessment took a magnifying glass to holes in my plot and character motivation but also told me what was working. I welcomed the next stage and rolled up my sleeves and got writing.
“The assessment took a magnifying glass to holes in my plot and character motivation but also told me what was working. I welcomed the next stage and rolled up my sleeves and got writing.”
How did you find turning your focus to fiction after working as a journalist?
I prefer writing fiction – it’s less limiting. Stories come to me and won’t leave me alone. It’s a different discipline, so I had to learn to stop reporting and start writing scenes and dialogue.
What are your plans for the coming months – working on anything new?
I’m currently editing Petal before going on submission in the spring and outlining a new novel. I’m really excited about 2023. Thanks to everyone at BPA who has helped with my journey!