Scottish novelist Elizabeth Macneal has won this year’s Caledonia Novel Award for her "masterful" historical fiction debut, The Doll Factory, set in Victorian London.
Macneal was selected as the winner of the international Edinburgh-based award, for unpublished and self-published novelists, after more than 350 entries were submitted for entry from 26 different countries.
Shortlist judge and literary agent Madeleine Milburn, who will now represent Macneal, said her fiction read as though it were written by a novelist "at the pinncale of their powers" - not by somone just starting out. She said the novel had her "bouncing off the walls for days" for its "electric" and "unrelenting" plot, its "vivid" characterisation and the author's "unique voice" and "cinematic descriptions".
The story is set in 1850s London and tells the story of Iris, a beautiful doll-making apprentice who dreams of being a painter, and Silas, a lonely collector of morbid curiosities who dreams of building his own museum. Central to the book is the theme of female empowerment.
“I was so impressed by the standard of entries for the Caledonia Novel Award 2018, and it’s been an utter joy to judge. We had such a range of genres from impressive Young Adult and beautiful book club fiction to epic historical fiction and unique thrillers," said Milburn.
"The title I chose as the winner was one that stood out from the very start. The voice was unique, the characterisation vivid, the plot electric. It was a masterful piece of fiction, and might have been written by someone at the pinnacle of their powers, rather than one who is just starting out on what promises to be a hugely exciting career."
As the winner of the prize for the best novel from the UK and Ireland, Macneal also wins a free place on a writing course at Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre. Dark Barn by L P Fergusson was highly commended.