Tale of Chinese takeaway in Wales scoops Richard and Judy's Search for a Bestseller competition

Tale of Chinese takeaway in Wales scoops Richard and Judy's Search for a Bestseller competition

Julie Ma, a Chinese takeaway owner from west Wales, has won Richard and Judy's Search for a Bestseller competition for her novel, Happy Families.

The competition–which launched in July 2020, supported by W H Smith and Welbeck–gathered more than 900 entries. After being selected the winner, Ma will receive a publishing deal worth at least £10,000 and see her novel published by Welbeck on 18th February 2021.

“I feel I should be pinched to wake me up," said Ma of bringing the prize home. "As most writers starting out know, it's worth building up a thick skin to deal with all of the rejections, so when I entered, I just expected to add another layer to my hide. But secretly, I was hoping Richard and Judy would enjoy hearing about the folk in the Chinese takeaway and the quirky town they live in. And they did!"

The novel tells the story of three generations of a Chinese immigrant family in rural Wales, who run a Chinese takeaway in a small town. In Ma's words, it is about "people you never get to read about, set in a place you don’t often read about".

Ma herself was born and raised in Carmarthen. After her grandfather arrived in Wales from China in the 1920s, her parents set up the Chinese takeaway in the 1970s, and she took over the business with her brother in 2008. She said of her book she would like "everybody" to read it, but "especially anyone who has ever been in a shop and given a thought to the other life led by the person serving them", adding: "Everybody has something more to them than being the woman behind the counter in Next or the man on the till in Aldi. Or even the girl who’s serving you a Chinese takeaway!"

Richard Madeley said he thought Happy Families was "absolutely bloody great", calling Ma "a rare find". "It’s a wonderful story, and she’s such a talented, funny writer," he said. "We think this has real appeal to a wide audience and are thrilled to choose it as the winner."

Jon Elek, Welbeck fiction publisher, said: "From its waggish first page to its perfect ending, Happy Families was the bright shining star among the 900 submissions we received for the competition. Julie Ma’s story of three generations of a Chinese immigrant family in rural Wales was a joy to read, and we look forward to publishing it next year. It is sad, funny, moving, and draws you into the lives of these fantastic characters who are all involved in one way or another with the running of a Chinese takeaway in a small town. To me, it had the charm of The Rosie Project, the warmth of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and the magic of 'Gavin & Stacey'."

Lucy Swinburn, head of books at W H Smith, added: "Our warmest congratulations go to Julie Ma. Happy Families is a beautifully written story and a very deserving winner of this year’s Search for a Bestseller. We couldn’t put it down! We’re excited to share this new book with our customers when it’s published next year."

Previous winners of the competition include Caz Frear with Sweet Little Lies, Tracy Rees with Amy Snow and Claire Gradidge with The Unexpected Return of Josephine Fox.