A historical thriller, Half Of You by Faber Academy graduate Carolyn Kirby, has won the inaugural Bluepencilagency First Novel Award for previously unpublished and unrepresented writers.
The winning novel is set in 1880s Birmingham and, exploring Victorian ideas of nature versus nurture, follows a young woman with a dark past and her search for the source of her "scarred" personality. It also was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize 2016 and won second place in the Daniel Goldsmith 2017 First Novel Prize.
“The premise of genetics set in 1880s Birmingham is interesting and Carolyn’s writing was strong,” said literary agent Eve White, who judged the prize along with author Saskia Sarginson. The latter added: “The setting was great and through the character of Cora, Carolyn created a strong voice. I was completely convinced by the story.”
The runner-up is "pacy" comedy crime novel, The Wrong Guy by lifestyle journalist Neil McLennan, featuring murder, manicures and a missing husband. Its author, who refers to it as "camp noir", developed the novel while on the Curtis Brown novel writing course.
From left to right: runner-up Neil McLennan; literary agent and judge, Eve White; winner Carolyn Kirby; author and judge, Saskia Sarginson
The two novels were judged the best of the 20 longlisted novels and six shortlisted novels. Kirby, as the winner received £1,000 prize money and an introduction to Eve White, while McLennan, as the runner up, won a writer’s retreat at Retreats for You and an editorial report from Bluepencilagency.
Literary consultancy Bluepencilagency said it expects to run the competition again in 2018, reporting delight at the strength of submissions from undiscovered writers.
Emma Haynes, who runs Bluepencilagency with Sara Sarre, commented: "We were delighted with the talent and enthusiasm, receiving writers’ submissions from all over the world. We were looking for a strong opening chapter with an engaging story and a compelling voice. All the shortlisted novels show great promise and we look forward to working with the authors and helping on their journey towards publication.”
Sarre added: “We were impressed at how much undiscovered talent there is out there, the quality of the work was very high. We expect to run the competition again in 2018.”
The other four shortlisted titles are; Lily Beck’s psychological thriller Hannah Backwards, which deals with issues of identity and paranoia concerning a young woman trying to forget her past; SuperTech by James Pierson, a thriller about cybercrime and cyberwar; historical mystery The Accidental Time Traveller by Sylvia Bluck, and Gill Thompson’s White Stock, based on the post-war scandal of children being forcibly shipped from children’s homes in the UK to Australia.
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