Amy Lloyd, 30, from Cardiff has won the Daily Mail and Penguin Random House First Novel Competition for her novel Red River.
Lloyd receives a £20,000 advance as part of a publishing deal with PRH imprint Century as her prize as well as the services of literary agent Luigi Bonomi.
Her book - about a young woman who becomes obsessed with the case of an alleged murderer in a true crime documentary - was chosen from a shortlist of six, narrowed down from over 5,000 entries. It will be published in hardback and e-book in 2017 by Century.
The plot, itself inspired by TV documentaries "Paradise Lost" and "West Of Memphis", follows Sam, whose obsession with a crime documentary leads her to believe evidence was missed and a man was falsely imprisoned. Her conviction brings her to death row to visit him, where she soon starts to fall in love with him. The question is, how can she be so sure he’s innocent?
The competition, launched in March, was judged by a panel of industry experts comprising: Bonomi, md. at LBA; Sandra Parsons, literary editor for the Daily Mail; Selina Walker, publisher of Century and Arrow at Penguin Random House; and bestselling crime writer Simon Kernick.
Winner Amy Lloyd (centre) with her new agent Luigi Bonomi and publisher at Century Selina Walker.
Walker said: “The response to the competition and the number of entries was unprecedented, so whittling them down to just six was tough. But we did it, and our six shortlisted entries were of a really high standard and so varied in content that it's been a pleasure and a privilege to read and evaluate them. We are hugely pleased with our winning entry and look forward to publishing it in 2017 - but all of our shortlisted authors have great narrative voices, an original way of looking at the world around them, and the ability to tell spellbinding stories. I congratulate them all and wish them the very best of luck with their novels.”
Bonomi said: “Working my way through hundreds of manuscripts is what I do every single week but even I was not prepared for the huge volume of authors that entered this competition. It was very clear to me, fairly early on, that the standard was exceptionally high and it was that much more difficult to whittle these down to a final six. The final six were, though, hugely imaginative pieces of writing. Their gripping storylines shone out at us from the very first page and left us feeling that we desperately wanted to know more. I am confident that we have not just discovered one winner but rather several truly original voices that we will be hearing much more of in the future.”
Lloyd said her win felt "surreal" and the Daily Mail called her success "all the sweeter" for her past as a Goth-styled teenager when she was a victim of bullying to the point it affected her grades and made her want to drop out of school. She left at 16 with four GCSEs but kept writing, signing up for A-levels three years running until lecturers at Bridgend Colleage "saw her potential".
Lloyd said, “My boyfriend, Rhys, sent me a link to the competition on my way to work and I was immediately excited. I'd nearly finished my first draft of Red River and the prize sounded amazing, so even though I wasn't necessarily ready I entered anyway. I had to go back and redraft the first 5000 words and put together a synopsis and cover letter. I sent it off hoping the idea was strong enough that maybe people would overlook the flaws. To actually win has been surreal. I feel so lucky to have such great people working with me on Red River. I'm not sure if I had sent it out traditionally I could have ended up in the position I'm in, I'm very lucky and can't wait to see what happens next.”