Montegrappa Writing Prize
Being in the winner’s circle for the Montegrappa Writing Prize was a surprise for Australian, Abu Dhabi based writer, Andrew Webber.
Held as part of the annual Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature, the Montegrappa is the premier writing competition for novelists in the Gulf region. In its 4th year, the competition has also become a launching point for many of the past winners – a trend that Andrew hopes to continue, “Moments like these don’t come along too often, and I’m grateful for the momentum that the Montegrappa Writing Prize has offered me,” he said.
Andrew suggests that writing any long form work of fiction, even one as unusual as his book, Erasure, is actually the easy part, adding that “…for writers, particularly in the post-traditional publishing world, getting a book noticed is where the challenge really lies.”
At its core, Erasure deals with what might happen if the digital dossier of information that we freely offer up each day got into the wrong hands. Written in 2012, a year before Edward Snowden leaked government files containing extraordinarily intimate and private information, Erasure is as pertinent now as it was then. Andrew smiles as he recalls the moment that Snowden became a household name: “Everyone was losing their minds about [Snowden], and it seemed that news services were having a competition as to how many times they could get ‘Orwellian’ and ‘Big Brother’ into a one hundred word press release. It was hilarious! At the time I just kept on saying, ‘Yeah, I know. I wrote a book about it a year ago’.”
Despite the topical content and a solid underground following, the book struggled to make it to the big leagues. Something that Andrew says is a common occurrence for independent authors, more so when a book blurs the lines between genres: “People tend to want to stick to a genre they are used to. To read, Erasure is very much a typical whodunit style of book that would appeal to anyone into crime, spy, or contemporary fiction novels. However, I think that even though geek-speak is kept to a bare minimum, people hear ‘data-collection’ and automatically think that the story is akin to Star Trek or The Matrix.”
Instead, Andrew suggests that Erasure deals less with the intricacies of technology, and focusses on the characters and their human motivations. “That was important to me. Yes, the book asks a lot about how we govern ourselves online, which I find interesting, but I find human relationships utterly fascinating.”
In 2013, Andrew took time away from creative writing in order to compress a Bachelor degree into two years of study. “I really needed the time away. So I decided to push all the energy used in constantly promoting the book toward achieving a communications style degree.”
It took three months longer than expected, but in December 2015 he successfully completed a BA in Professional Writing and Publishing. Studying online through Western Australia’s Curtin University, he achieved a spot on the Vice Chancellor’s list in the process.
However, the Montegrappa came up on the radar just as the degree process was ending. “I had about a month between my final exams and the cut-off date for the Montegrappa. So the day I got home from my last exam, I took out the hammer and started smashing at the manuscript. I credit the Curtin writing department for a lot of the improvements to the text. I mean, they didn’t write it, but they certainly gave me the skills to make a good book even better.”
Andrew is hopeful that Erasure will now be picked up by an agent, so it can transition to being a traditionally published book. “There is a lot to be said for independent publishing, but the one thing that it lacks is access to market. Being one of the prize-winners of the Montegrappa is just what I, and Erasure, needed. It’s a wonderful form of validation, and I am grateful to Montegrappa and the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature for providing the platform for up and coming authors to be recognised for following their creative spirit.”
Erasure by A.T.H. Webber is available worldwide through Amazon.com.
2nd para. link reference: Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature. http://emirateslitfest.com/news/fourth-montegrappa-writing-prize-winners-announced-at-eafol16/