‘Sending off a little piece of yourself’

Tara Bradbury
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Susan Sinnott takes Percy Janes First Novel Award

Submitting a piece of your hard work to a judged competition can be like surrendering a piece of your heart to be analyzed.

Susan Sinnott is the winner of the Percy Janes First Novel Award for her novel in progress “Just Like Alway” in the provincial Arts and Letters Competition. The awards were announced Saturday at the Rooms in St. John's. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

When it’s a provincewide competition and you’re submitting a manuscript you’ve spent five years working on, in a category with only one winner, there’s no denying the intimidation.

“It’s like you’re sending off a little piece of yourself to a lab to see if there are any writerly cells,” says St. John’s resident Susan Sinnott, chuckling.

You can imagine the encouragement that comes with a good critique from the judges — or being named the winner.

On Saturday night, Sinnott was named the winner of this year’s Percy Janes First Novel Award, one of 63 Arts and Letters Awards handed out by the province. Now in its 62nd year, the awards, which are designed to stimulate creative talent in the province, are presented in junior (ages 12 to 18) and senior categories, in literary arts (poetry, short fiction, non-fictional prose, dramatic script, French writing, first novel), music, visual arts and digital multimedia.

Junior awards come with $350 cash while senior award winners receive $1,000. The winner of the Percy Janes award gets $2,500.

Sinnott’s yet-unpublished novel (she’s still in the rewriting phase), “Just Like Always,” was inspired by her time working in the health-care field.

“Though it was peripheral, I started to see the problems that came from being illiterate,” she explained. “(The ideas) came to me as I realized the problems ordinary people have with not being able to do the simplest things because they can’t read, and the difficulties people have with adjusting to not being able to go back to the way they want to live because of some health issue.”

“Just Like Always” is the tale of two young people having difficulties overcoming barriers, each of them different: the girl wants to be an artist but can’t get anywhere because she can’t read, while the boy, quite a physical person, is in a life-changing accident.

Sinnott’s novel actually began as two separate short stories: one about the boy, the other about the girl. About five years ago, having taken some English courses and with more spare time since retiring from her career, she started putting it together into a novel.

“It’s wonderful, really,” Sinnott said about winning the Percy Janes award. “Winning kind of says there are a few writerly cells in there; keep going.”

Hannah Wadman-Scanlan of Mount Pearl was one of four winners in the Junior Music category at the Arts and Letters Awards, along with Joseph Coffin, Kat McLevey and Liz Waterman. Hannah recorded her song, “Dance in the Rain,” herself, and performed it on the ukulele at Saturday’s awards ceremony. It’s a tune about finding the positive in everything, and making the most of every day.

“It’s a cute story about a girl who’s feeling a little down and a guy who notices and encourages her to get up and make the most of the day by dancing in the rain,” Hannah explained. “At the end of the song, the tables turn and the girl has to tell the guy to find the bright side of a rainy day.

“The cash award is going to be put towards the EP I’m doing this summer, which is pretty exciting.”

The province received more than 660 submissions to this year’s Arts and Letters awards. Submissions, which are open to residents of Newfoundland and Labrador, are judged blindly by independent adjudicators (with the author/artist’s name withheld), and a written critique is provided to each entrant. A full list of 2014 winners will be posted online at the provincial government's website, and winning work from the visual arts categories will be on display at The Rooms until May 11.



Organizations: The Rooms

Geographic location: Mount Pearl, Newfoundland and Labrador

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