Lizzy Barber from north London has won the Daily Mail and Penguin Random House's First Novel Competition with My Name is Alice, a book Century will now publish in 2018.
The crime writing competition, now in its second year, invited first-time novelists to submit 5,000 words of their book alongside a 600-word synopsis.
The winning novel, My Name is Alice, was chosen from over 700 crime and thriller entries. The "unsettling" and "creepy" novel, set in the US, tells the story of a girl who is trapped in a strictly religious household where she is watched over by her mother. She feels she doesn't belong, has memories of another family in another country, and soon is planning her escape...
Barber, a 30-year-old restaurant marketing manager, will now see her novel published in hardback and e-book in late 2018 with Century. She also receives a £20,000 advance as part of the publishing contract, as well as the services of literary agent Luigi Bonomi at LBA.
"Winning is, quite simply, unbelievable," she said. "In fact, I have said on multiple occasions that I almost need to keep a folder in my email inbox as an 'evidence box', so that I can re-read it and know I haven't just made it all up. I haven't stopped smiling since I won. Somehow it feels like I'm doing something I was always meant to do."
The competition was judged by a panel of industry experts comprising: Sandra Parsons, literary editor for the Daily Mail; Selina Walker, publisher of Century and Arrow at Penguin Random House; Bonomi, managing director at LBA; and crime writer Simon Kernick.
Walker said she knew Barber "could tell a story" as soon as she picked up the manuscript, praising her characters' ability to "hold one's attention" and the consequent action "deftly set up", while Bonomi saluted her writing's "inherently unsettling" tone and its engaging "creepiness".
"I particularly love novels about complex family relationships, and My Name Is Alice is right on the zeitgeist," said Walker. "As soon as I started reading I could tell that Lizzy Barber knew how to tell a story. Her characters hold one's attention and the consequent action is deftly set up. Above all, her opening chapter sets the scene and asks questions which promise much much more."
Last year's competition was won by Amy Lloyd for her "disturbing" thriller. The Innocent Wife, as it is now known, will be published in hardbackwith Century in December 2017.