Dubai Week Magazine Talks to Karen Osman about her Award-Winning Novel
A grim Victorian prison in the north of England inspired a Dubai author to win a writing competition.
Karen Osman’s student digs at the University of Durham overlooked the 200 year old HMP Durham, where some of the UK’s most dangerous inmates have been incarcerated.
Students were offered the chance to write to prisoners in a bid to rehabilitate them. Karen never took the opportunity, but it did inspire her in later life to begin ‘Dear Michael’, a chilling “domestic noir” novel.
Although her first foray back into fiction writing since leaving school, it was good enough to earn the 37-year-old mum first place in the Montegrappa Writing Prize, hosted at the recent Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.
A volunteer at the popular book fest, she was sitting at the back of room during the awards ceremony when she realised what was going on.Karen didn’t expect her quickly-written entry to beat the other 130 submissions. But she won with a 400-word synopsis and 2,000-word extract of a novel that examines the relationship between a mother who has lost her son and convicted murder, Michael.
“I was very surprised to win. I love the Emirates Festival of Literature and this year I was looking to get a little more involved. I was looking at their volunteer programme and I came across the competition,” she says.
“I was volunteering as a blogger and writing my notes at the back of the room when they started reading my novel out, so I thought I’d better close my laptop.”
Now she spends mornings crafting her work, as well being a mum to an 18-month-old and with another baby on the way.
“I’m about half way through now,” she says. “My target is about 1,000 words a day. I have a pretty solid idea. It’s almost like the hard part is done.”
That solid idea has been percolating since her student days at the University of Durham.
Karen explains: “When I was at university there was a volunteer opportunity to write to prisons. I wasn’t involved, but I was intrigued by the idea. I always had pen friends growing up, so I kind of cross-contaminated the two ideas to develop the character of someone who is in prison.”
Those ideas grabbed the attention of judge Luigi Bonomi, a top UK literary agent, who Karen will meet at the London Book Fair in April.
She said: “It’s quite motivational to know you don’t have to do one stage of the process to find an agent and Luigi has a great success rate.”
No pressure, but previous winners Rachel Hamilton, and Annabel Kantaria returned to the lit fest as published authors.
But Karen is well on her way – she estimates 50 per cent of the book is complete and hopes to have it finished in a few months.
“I’m going to London on 12th April, so that will be quite exciting and I’ll get the opportunity to meet with Luigi. I will present more of my material and discuss the idea and hopefully by the summer the book will be written and by the end of the year I will have the finished manuscript.”
Although she hadn’t written fiction since she was a young girl, Karen’s work as a copywriter in the tourism industry means her literary skills were honed during her time in Dubai.
But it’s not all about putting pen to paper. Karen loves to read and is a fan of surreal Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. She says: “I’m part of a book club, which is not really a writing group, but a love of books in a good place to start.
“During my childhood growing up in the Lake District, we went to the library every week. I had always written from a young age and had pen friends from so many different countries and to hear stories from these different countries was very enticing.”
But despite all that, Karen is still surprised to be a winner. “I honestly didn’t think I had a novel in me,” she laughs.
Read the article here.