By Sally Jenkins

Two things happened in October 2013 which made that year’s NaNoWriMo particularly productive. I went on a weekend writing course, ‘How to Write the Mystery Novel’, and I discovered a free-to-enter novel competition where the only requirement was that the hero of the story be called ‘Ian’. By the end of that weekend course I had the plot for a mystery involving a murder and a missing girl, plus I had character studies on the story’s main protagonists, Ian, a divorced middle-class dad and Sandra, a young single mum. My enthusiasm was bubbling when November 1st arrived.

In previous years I’d lost my way during NaNoWriMo but in 2013 I had a plan. I also had a target market for the novel. By the end of that month I hit 50,000 words, no problem.

December was spent writing a synopsis and polishing the first three chapters. I submitted to the competition just before the December 31st deadline. Then I gave up the hard work of being a novelist and went back to short stories.

In May 2014 I received a surprise phone call. I had won the competition!

After my elation had subsided, I realised that I should make the most of this vote of confidence in my work. I knuckled down to finish the manuscript and prepare it for self-publishing. A writer friend acted as a beta reader and I also paid for a critique. Lots of changes to the manuscript followed, including dispensing with a superfluous character, an unlikely coincidence and a lottery win. The ending of the novel also had to change.

But I still had a little voice of doubt in my head – was my novel really good enough to go out into the big wide world? I only wanted to publish if I could be proud of the book. That competition win might have been a fluke. So I entered a few more contests and was extremely pleased to be shortlisted in the Silverwood-Kobo-Berforts Open Day Competition. I didn’t win but that shortlisting gave me confidence that Bedsit Three really was worth self-publishing. I had the manuscript professionally edited and the cover design developed by an expert who knew about making an impact with a thumbnail image.

The synopsis for the book’s Kobo page was difficult. I put three different versions to the vote on my blog and included quotes from the judge of that first competition. The result sums up Bedsit Three wonderfully:


“A word of warning to anyone who picks this book up: be prepared for a sleepless night, because you won’t want to put it down until you get to the end,” Michael Barton, WordPlay Publishing.

A stupid mistake ended Ian’s marriage. Now he’s trying to put it right.

Sandra was a teenage mum. Now she’s fighting to make a good life for her daughter.

Maxine made an important decision behind her boyfriend’s back. His reaction devastates all their lives…

Every mother tries to do her best for her child. But sometimes that ‘best’ creates a monster.


Bedsit Three is a tale of murder, mystery and love. It won the inaugural Wordplay Publishing/Ian Govan Award and was shortlisted for both the Silverwood-Kobo-Berforts Open Day Competition and the Writing Magazine/McCrit Competition.

Michael Barton, Founder and Managing Director of WordPlay Publishing said of Bedsit Three, “This novel is well-constructed and well-written. But it’s also far more than that. It’s a book that elicits emotional reaction, drawing the reader into the story and placing him or her in the middle of the action page after page.”


I’m planning novel number two and will enter some more competitions along the way. Competition deadlines sharpen the brain and a shortlisting or win gives a self-published novel credence.


Sally’s evocative and intriguing short stories have wowed critics, competition judges and readers alike. Her debut novel, Bedsit Three, is already on course to do the same.

Sally, her long-suffering husband, Paul, and two grown-up daughters, Eleanor and Heather, live in Birmingham, England, with their goldfish, Reg. The wilderness of Sutton Park is close by, a wonderful place for wandering, plotting and creating characters.

By day she is a computer programmer but after hours Sally lets her imagination and pen run riot. When she’s not hammering at the keyboard she gets her exercise church bell ringing and attends Bodycombat classes.

Find out more about Sally and follow her blog.

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