The Firestarter 2020

Mar 15, 2020


Thank you all for taking part.

We have had some trailblazing first chapter entries to this year’s competition. Thanks to all of you who entered and those who voted. 

The month of February is set aside annually to focus on feedback with The Firestarter and our writers have been sharing their work with each other at our online workshop and benefitting from the constructive critique and fond feedback that makes The Novelry such a special place.

The Firestarter is the most unusual of competitions for writers. One in which, genuinely, every entrant gains thanks to the feedback from wise reader-writers worldwide. What's more, it's the only truly democratically-awarded writing prize. All members get one vote, and they vote for the work they rate most highly.

It's interesting to see the votes come in and cluster around frontrunners early proving that, regardless of your taste in reading and genre-preference, there is such a thing as 'good writing' which can be broadly appreciated and acknowledged.

Here are some sneak previews of some of our members' entries to this year's Firestarter which give a good indication of the range of writing currently on fire at The Novelry. (A spot of book shopping for our literary agent friends and publishers.)

Two of the twenty writers on the longlist for the 2019 Exeter Novel Prize are from The Novelry and listed below. I wonder if you will spot them?

 Without further ado, here are this year's Firestarter novels, hot to trot.

(The winner is revealed below and in the video above.)


‘On my last night in hell on earth, I kept calm and skinned up. When Aisling O’Shea decides that a fatal overdose is a preferable form of escapism to her relentless reading of fiction, her suicide is interrupted by a call from her cousin, Sheamus. Having heard that’s she been writing a revenge memoir, he threatens to force-feed her the manuscript. Aisling calls his bluff. Set in Dublin, Sharon McCarthy’s dark literary thriller The Girl Who Ate a Book is for fans of Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen

Who’s Laughing Now? When Laura leaves her lonely marriage for stand-up comic, Joe Crane, she thinks she has finally found happiness with a man who makes her laugh. But Joe quickly reveals himself to be secretive and controlling. Learning more about the women he has hurt in the past, many of whom he uses as the source of his ‘stag party’ material, she decides to make hers the last laugh, delivering vengeance with an ironic twist in this page-turning psychological thriller from S.A Cuthbert. ‘There would be wreaths in days to come. Strangers would leave bunches of flowers tied to the railings bought from the petrol station and pushed through the diamonds of wire netting, maybe even a teddy bear... “Please. Laura.” He’d never said please before.’

A Day for Truth by Mike Gill. When Vernon Saunders, disgraced and sacked from the intelligence services, is hired by an ageing cabal, he battles the arbiters of the state to reveal corruption at the heart of the establishment. ‘“Was it something I said?” Teddy chuckled and gripped the cord just below the noose, picked up a little slack and pulled it tight between his hands as if testing its strength. He glared at his arthritic hand for a moment as if it had given him an electric shock.’ A spy/political thriller for readers of Robert Harris and John le Carré.

In Susan Browne’s Beyond the Blazing Sun, Irish visionary Shane gets abducted by traffickers in Goa. ‘I’m here trying to create out of modelling clay whatever messed-up thing happened to me in that cellar yesterday. First, it’s a big clawed hand that wobbles unsteadily on the table. Then when I’ve balled that up and I start again it’s a screaming boy. Flynn’s not in it at all.’ A talented sculptor with mental health issues Shane was already unstable before he arrived in India. In Goa, he becomes obsessed by a caged dancer he sees at a beach rave and creates a lifelike sculpture of her out of sand. He follows her into a truck containing trafficked girls held at gunpoint.

‘When I walk across town, I like to pretend I’m Johnny.’ A loyal sister and devoted mother face a dark truth after the murder of a boy in rural Tasmania in Our Beloved Johnny‘The truth is, being mean to my brother was normal long before they found Sebastian’s body.’ With each narrator increasingly unreliable by turns, this cleverly-constructed crime suspense novel by Monica Vuu is a fast-paced thriller similar to Gone Girl in the style of Shirley Jackson. 

‘He hurried the taxi driver down from Oldbury’s wasted heights to an isolated prison in Manchester’s malnourished twin city of Salford where his old man was due to be released. Pat was late, although this time it wasn’t his fault. The screws detained him for two extra hours while IT staff grappled with a server glitch... Pat practised downward dogs in a holding cell while, outside, Vic chain-smoked and prowled around the long, grey perimeter.’ When bomb-search veteran Vic Breen falls off the wagon and his Kurdish girlfriend disappears, he reluctantly returns to the Middle East on a disastrous rescue mission that forces him to reboot. With help from inspirational locals, and his roguish dad back in Manchester, he confronts a conspiracy more fiendish than ISIS. Set in the UK, Turkey and Syria The Searcher by John Hunt is a gritty suspense thriller with echoes of Eric Ambler and Elmore Leonard.

Political Thriller

The death of his mentor provides Truman Prescott the opportunity to fulfill his dream of becoming a United States senator but threatens to destroy his marriage, forcing him to confront the true cost of ambition. Set in the present-day American South, The Candidate by Walter Smith is a political thriller that will please readers who enjoyed Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s MenThe Senator loved his farm and lived there in August when Congress was in recess. Get away from the madness, he used to say...The Senator stuck a trailer at the end of the driveway and hired a man named Clarence to live there and take care of the place, though he always complained that Clarence did nothing but stay drunk and get arrested. The Senator told stories about dealing with the sheriff when Clarence went off. The stories were funny, but Truman understood the hidden purpose there, to show people the power he held. The Senator could make people do things they did not want to do.’

Psychological Suspense

‘Certainly the last farewell hadn’t been so much about “faring well” but a resigned nod of the head that things had finally run their course. I don’t think Jo even came to the door. Robert stood there and just looked sad. Tired and sad. As he shut the door, I thought I saw his shoulders rise almost imperceptibly but by then we were speeding away and the moment was gone.’ When Emily Cartner’s corporate life stalls, it affects her family life and Emily flees to La Folie Jolie, a far-flung tropical resort to consider her options. But her view of the world is, like that of some of the other guests, a tad blinkered and things are not quite what they seem at the resort. The Balance of Being by Katy Calderwood is a psychological suspense novel for readers who enjoyed The Girl on the Train, What Alice Forgot and the novels of Dennis Lehane.

'He banged his head against the steering wheel. Once, twice, three times. What had he done? What if they were dead? He never drove when he’d been drinking – what had he been thinking?' When Michael, a lawyer who has had a drink too many, runs over a woman on a dark country lane he panics and takes her home to persuade his troubled doctor wife Anne to care for her instead of calling 999, but when Anne discovers valuable artworks in the woman’s bags she turns the tables on him and events spiral out of his control leaving him facing the most difficult decision of his life. Where does his loyalty lie? Push Me, Pull You is a page-turning psychological suspense novel from Jill Whitehouse.

In Floating in Deep Water by Sylvia King, Lily, a young doctor, moves to Sydney for a fresh start. However, she discovers that to survive in the new life she has created, she has to face the truth about the events of her childhood that tore her family apart. 'Those days he was like a cardboard cut-out, always with the same expression on his tightly hewn face and wearing the same clothes: an Akubra hat, a red-checked shirt and R. M. Williams boots... for years I played the ‘what if’ game in my head until I remembered, and knew it was inevitable: my father was never going back to the house that day.'

‘I’m still in this posh hotel and have three people turning me into some pop-star caricature for the awards event tonight. My hair looks like it’s been brushed by a firework, yet they are still discussing whether there is enough volume. The make-up girl has asked me if I’m “okay with rhinestones on my brows?”’ Set in the heady world of music, talented Irish folk singer, Teagan Kelly is enjoying fame until an interview with a curt and slightly threatening journalist threatens to open secrets of past in The Comeback by Alison Bloomer.

Murder Mystery

To find out why her husband was murdered, she had to go back to where he was born. Within six weeks of her controlling father’s death, Francesca met and married Alessandro Verdi. Eight months later he is murdered at home, opening up a web of deceit in which she is implicated. Offering his condolences in a perfunctory manner, the sergeant pointed out that the sooner they had some leads, the sooner they could get justice for the victim, and what had been her movements in the last five hours and where was she at eleven this morning?’ To help clear her name, Alessandro’s cousin, Pietro, takes her to Montecatini delle Ulive. In a story that lays bare the real country beneath the tourist facade, Francesca struggles to find out the truth behind the lies. For readers who enjoyed The Island by Victoria Hislop, Montecatini, by Justine Gilbert, is an evocative and gripping tale set in a small town in Italy

The Women of Blackmouth Street by Anna Sonser is a historical murder mystery unravelling the grisly murders of women in late 1880’s East London. When her young high-profile patient commits suicide, renegade ‘mind doctor’ Georgia Buchanan is blackmailed into protecting the killer. In the doorway stood not the French doctor of my fever dream but the squared-off shape of a caretaker. His eyes, rheumy and pale, leaked a rare sympathy. The drip of last night’s cocaine lozenge lingered in the back of my throat, along with the sensation of a nail screwing itself into my head. “What can’t wait?”’ Georgia Buchanan struggles with her conscience in order to save more women from being murdered but not before she is trapped by those closest to her in a cycle of deadly revenge. For readers who enjoyed The Alienist and The Silence of the Lambs.

Accessible Literary

‘There was once a thin country blessed with a long name. It was hard to find, a pale line between disintegrating mountains and desert borders. There was scarcely space to ink its name on its outline. Many maps left it blank or filled end to end with ink, a black sliver in the middle of a crowded continent. Over the years, meticulous cartographers took its smudged existence to be the result of misalignment, a printing error. In subsequent maps, it was simply wiped off the face of the Earth. So begins Gabrielle Osrin’s magical novel The Beautiful Nothing. In 1976, a man goes missing in a lost country. A lonely teenager becomes obsessed with the newspaper photograph of this stranger. As an adult, she goes on a quest to the distant country to find out what happened to him. 

‘Death had made Gethin Lyons a sex symbol. Women who would never have cast a second look at him before, when he was just a poet from a small seaside village with a good head of hair, now found the aura of mourning around him alluring.’ A poet who becomes a celebrity after writing an acclaimed grief memoir for his dead son, discovers his son lives on in a secret grandchild. But is she really his son’s child? Cuckoo is journalist and playwright Glenda Cooper’s first novel. 

When a disillusioned angel tests life as a mortal, who needs saving most? Gilead meets Mr Golightly’s Holiday in this contemporary story of loss and redemption, set on Romney Marsh. All that day pink-legged geese dropped from the sky. By late afternoon the ditches and salt-flats had filled with birds rustling through damp pockets of reed, and the sound of beaks tearing at wet sedge drowned out the angel’s footsteps on the marsh road.’ Gilli Fryzer graduated from the MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck with the creative writing prize for her year. Her short story The Basket Weaver’s Tale was one of the winners in the 2015 Word Factory/Neil Gaiman competition and her folk tale Corn Running was the winner of the 2019 MIR Folk Festival. These Dry Bones is her first novel.

‘If I’d known what was about to happen, I’d have taken a photo in my mind. Of Molly. Of Richard. Of our home. But then, if I’d known what was coming I wouldn’t, that afternoon, have answered the phone. I’d have let it ring. And then what? Changed our number? Insisted we move house?’ Nora is unnerved to receive a call from Jen Reilly, someone she’s not seen in thirty years. All Jen wants to do is talk, but talking is the last thing Nora wants to do. As Jen pursues contact, even turning up at her home, Nora’s life begins to spin out of control. First, her relationship ends, then her daughter goes missing. That’s when she realises she needs to talk to Jen. For readers who enjoyed the works of Elena  Ferrante, Loop by Kate Tregaskis tells the story of a woman who, confronted with her past, dares to become herself.

Longing to leave her home in Gateshead, sixteen-year-old Stella finds the grass is not greener in Berwick. A gritty coming of age story set in contemporary north-east England from Debra Forster. The Misadventures of Stella Mattinson will appeal to fans of Ken Loach films and readers of Sally Rooney. ‘Stella was putting her pens into her orange bag, ready to go to school, when her mother, Monica, told her she had been a disappointment. “I have never understood you,” Monica told her, staring into Stella’s small grey eyes. No, Stella thought, you haven’t. Letting it go. She had learned her lesson there.’

A Thousand Ways to Disappear is a modern take on a well-known fairy tale. When Greta and Harry, the neglected children of parents addicted to opioids, discover that their wicked stepfather Kurt plans to send them off to a foster home, they steal Kurt’s last pills and set off on a dangerous journey through the woods to the cottage of their grandmother – the only family left able to take care of them. ‘On that cold fall day, Greta and her little brother, Harry, were walking home from school along the edge of the forest. In need of a little comfort, she wished she were sitting in Nonna’s cottage sipping her warm, tangy pine tree tea instead of stepping around used hypodermic needles and rotting leaves... Cheryl Pappas gives us a provocative retelling of Hansel and Gretel with its themes of abandonment and survival.

‘I took two green and cream capsules with water, chopped an apple into small pieces and ate them very slowly while I walked in circles around the living room for exactly one hour.’ Rebecca Perry’s rigid food- and exercise-obsessed existence begins to unravel when she meets Elizabeth, a reclusive woman with a connection to a famous artist. When Elizabeth dies suddenly, Rebecca is forced to challenge herself to seek justice for her friend and save her own life. The Ghost Painter by Lucy Griffiths will appeal to readers who enjoy William Boyd.

Set in Savannah, Georgia in the 1930s, Belle Stone, a mother with six children confronts her own fears and society’s conventions to fight for the best future for her family and her special child Daisy who has Down’s Syndrome. Where Daisy Belongs is a touching work of literary fiction by Carol Sanders. ‘After her ten days of confinement, she brought Daisy home. If she isn’t going to live very long, she is going to be with someone who loves her and holds her and cares for her, she had told her mother. Her mother had said, shaking her head, “you can keep her now, but the day will come when you have to do something about Daisy. You’re just putting it off.”’

Dark Comedies and UpLit

‘Ruby heads straight down a back alley and into The Flaming Phoenix, but by the time she sits on a stool at the bar, there are more spooks around her than ever. She allows herself one small sigh of self-pity. A reluctant ghost and a suicidal psychic fall in love in Alex Ireson’s darkly comedic novel Above & Beyond. When self-centred Ethan Lee meets an untimely end, he refuses to go quietly into the great beyond, enlisting the help of beleaguered psychic Ruby Hughes to find a way back to the life he never had a chance to live. With time running out on his existence, Ethan undertakes a quest to prove his worth. Above & Beyond explores life, death, and what we’d willingly sacrifice for the one we love.

Oscar is not a happy young man. He’s struggled with his befuddled brain for a decade and to make matters worse, he’s killed his cat, Boots. How do Rita and Meg go about saving Oscar when he has so little interest in saving himself? It’s 10:38am on Friday 9th April. I haven’t left the flat in nine days, my bed in three. I’ve run out of food, and there’s a smell wafting through the stagnant air, dulling what little appetite I had.’ Caroline Davies' novel Goodbye, Boots is an UpLit novel for readers who enjoyed The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley.

A female Elvis impersonator has lost sight of who she really is in Jess, the King by Chloe Fowler. Jess is an Elvis drag king, scratching a living on the circuit while supporting her high-flying wife and their daughter. ‘She winces a little as she peels off her sideburns and pats the skin to soothe the sting. A few cucumber-scented wipes remove the worst of the foundation, then a dab of moisturiser and powder to mask the shine. She moves her hands up her quiff, her palms smoothing down flyaways. Done... It’s never a complete transformation because her cheekbones, her dark hair and the curve of her lips are always part hers, part his.’ She shuttles between the cosy familiarity of domesticity and the excitement of tasting what Elvis had – fame, fans and freedom. Offered the chance to visit Memphis with a fellow impersonator, she escapes difficult choices but faces an uncertain future. Is she just Jess, or Jess, The King? 

A mother reaches out from beyond the grave to help her failing son re-discover his love for life in this comedic memoir-based novel from David Hogarth. Set in Blackpool in the sixties and modern-day, Rise and Shine, Little Man is a tale of the enduring love between a mother and her son. David feels like he is sinking to the bottom of life’s pond after the death of his beloved mother. As things get worse, he starts to notice mysterious events and coincidences that all seem to be connected to his Mum, music, and his childhood. Is this a lifeline from beyond or is he just losing the plot? There, in glorious black and white, was the choice my Mum and Dad had laid awake at night dreaming about. Arnold, St Joseph’s, Hodgson, Blackpool Grammar School. Joyous cheers, hair ruffling and back-slapping all round... “Are you excited?” Mum asked with encouraging enthusiasm. “Well, I feel sick, if that’s any help?”’

The Not So Quiet Life of Samantha Crawford is a heartwarming novel by Hemmie Martin. She meanders down the street of Victorian terraces she used to walk with Leo many years ago; his shadow still clings to the low walls and pavement as she heads along the familiar route.’ Trapped between her obsessive and anxious daughter, her narcissistic mother and her gay ex-husband, Samantha struggles to find a life of her own until tragedy brings them together and her mother’s neighbour’s son proves an unlikely friend.

Implicated in the sudden death of a woman at a Sydney hotel, man-about-town Harpo Hayes is represented by lawyer Candice Starr. Desperate to become a mother, she makes him an offer he should, but can’t refuse. When Harpo’s lie to Candice is exposed, he goes to extraordinary lengths to redeem himself, sparking a wild journey through Australia and Sri Lanka. Harpo’s Bizarre by Geoff Parkes is laced with mystery, humour and poignancy. ‘Harpo had seen it all before...A cocktail here, a flattering comment there, a boast or two about by how their share portfolio was outstripping the index, and why sailing off the coast of Croatia was JUST THE BEST REWARD for conquering the trek to Everest Base Camp, and…by the way, did I tell you that you have fascinating eyes?’ A fast-paced, contemporary romp that will appeal broadly to readers of Nick Hornby, Tony Parsons and Candace Bushnell.

‘Last night ended in a C-section. In Carmel’s opinion it was the husband’s fault.’ So begins Carmel Harman’s Pelvic Flaw by Lucy Coles. Carmel is a thirty-five-year-old midwife with fertility problems. When her boyfriend’s ex turns up with his child, she retreats into work where she feels (a little too) powerful. She is brusque with her clients, constantly tired and her waistline is expanding, but it’s only after an ill-advised fling with a gynaecologist that she discovers she’s pregnant. The benefits of losing control are let loose in this humorous UpLit novel set in London’s Stoke Newington.

Workaholic Lily Adler has been sleeping a lot. Her narcolepsy has destroyed her relationship with her best friend. So Lily is taking time out, living in her deceased Nana’s house, keeping things simple. But when her Nana Natka’s watch gets stolen, she ventures into the art world, assuming a fake identity to recover her valuable keepsake on a quest which spans the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District and Paris. I always choose Nana’s watch for grounding myself. Especially after being ambushed by sleep when I’m at my most disorientated. It is calming to gaze at the hands inching around the face. Nana’s watch reminds me time still continues, even when my body stops.’  From Kirstine McDermid Nana Natka’s Watch is a life-affirming novel for readers who enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

When prolific sperm donor Jack Pierce-Jones has his perfect existence disrupted with kidney problems, he finds himself in a quandary. Will he seek his biological offspring in time to convince just one to donate an organ and save his life? “Vitality”: that had been his name for it. Jack never told Will that’s what he called it, but Jack just kept coming back to it. It had represented him. His sperm. His seed. His sample. His “leave it on the counter above the sink when you’re done.” It had all been so clinical. It had needed a name, a brand. No, it was more than a brand; it was life itself.’ Set in a world of global connectivity and rampant individualism, Vitality by Vanessa Zampiga will appeal to readers who enjoyed Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s Fleishman is in Trouble and Less by Andrew Sean Greer. 

In the prime of his life, Adam finds himself in a luxurious hotel grieving for his dead brother, Stephen. Only it’s not a hotel, and there’s no way to check out. This is the afterlife. ‘While Adam remained in rapture, he could not fathom the time that passed. When the dripping slowed and the many hands shook the residue from him, a childhood memory flashed of giggling friends giving him the bumps on his birthday. Each ascent grew higher and each dip lower. The magnificent music saturated him and they launched him upwards spread-eagled and joy erupted in his chest.’ But Adam is part of a larger process; he’s judgement-bound before his reincarnation. Before he gets recycled he plans to find his brother and save his own child’s life. 93% Stardust is a speculative UpLit novel from Ruth Husain which explores how the myths we hold to be truths can affect our happiness.

What happens when your one, is not the one? Twenty-something corporate player Molly believes in Happy-Ever-Afters despite coming from a broken home. She dismisses a chance meeting with a stranger, believing she has her own fairy tale in the bag and marries her long-term boyfriend. But then the stranger re-appears as a colleague. Will they? Won’t they? Should they? Shouldn’t they? 'One is a bucket, the other a spade - the cufflinks are perfect. I snap the velvet lid shut, look at my reflection and smooth the ivory satin across my middle. I wonder what he’s doing now, but then again, I don’t suppose it matters - It was so long ago.' Molly Spark, Looking for Life is a sparkling romantic comedy by Sonia Ovenden.

On Elizabeth’s second night at her father’s safehouse in Italy, he wakes her at midnight, “I want you to have the money and nobody else,” he says as he laboriously writes checks for $100,000, $25,000, $100,000 and two signed blanks. “Be smart about this and put them somewhere safe; don’t mention them when you go through customs, then cash them the day after I die.”’ She pictures her brothers’ scowling faces, but is not about to argue with a dying man. Garner’s Game is a memoir-based novel by Lizzie Thompson which will appeal to readers who enjoy the darkly comic dramas that only families can produce.

Speculative Fiction

‘Lying in a secluded niche, built in the thickness of the cellar wall, lies our leading lady, a bottle of vintage Montrachet, untouched, a white wine, but age, wisdom and a touch of the divine has turned her a deep yellow gold.’ When a vintage bottle of Montrachet leaves her niche in the ancient cellar walls, on her journey to the tasting, she has one night to tell the story of wine before it’s forgotten forever. Set in Burgundy, and covering two thousand years, Uncorked by Jacquie Morrison is an enchanting and unusual novel for readers who enjoyed Hannah Rothschild’s The Improbability of Love.

Fifteen years after her friend Peter’s mysterious disappearance, Evie discovers that he is alive and connected to strange events at the hospital where she works. Set in London during the deadly smog of 1952, The Sleep Spindle by Rachel Davies is a speculative novel that will appeal to fans of Carlos Ruis Zafón. ‘The pigeon nuzzles at the windowpane. The bird is filthy. Out from its scrawny body stare beady eyes, driven with hunger and want...Its battered feathers flutter for a moment, and suddenly I have the sense that I’ve forgotten something important. Peter would know.’

A woman with a bright future is swept back in time to the 1930s and has to learn to live in her present by accepting she may never return home. Sylvia Bluck’s novel The Accidental Aunt is a work of magical realism and time travel. “I’m not lost,” says Lily, fixing her eyes on the jam stain. “But I have lost my friends.” Murmurs slide around the table and she hears a quiet “how careless”, from a dark-haired man in a blazer and cravat, tapping ash from his cigarette. The woman next to him, in a glorious yellow dress, gives him a sharp nudge before turning to Lily. “That sounds like a frightful nuisance.” She has the same privileged drawl as the older woman, but her voice is warm. “What on earth happened?”’

Historical Fiction

‘The room smelled of beeswax, brandy and smoke. Even though it was a warm day, there was a wood fire in the grate. Mister Vidler hovered behind a desk, sipping a glass of brandy...“I have a place in mind for the boy. It’s a respectable home, church-going, clean. In return, I expect your loyalty.”” When Lizzie Grave’s baby is taken from her at the poorhouse, she agrees to spy on the activities at The Wheel Inn and, in the search for her child, becomes caught up in a love triangle and a murder which shocks a rural community in late-Georgian Sussex. The Wheel by Deirdre Huston is a novel which shows the ways women could work together to defy authority. A historical crime thriller which will appeal to fans of The Familiars by Stacey Halls.

A lost father, a dead mother, a baby brother, and a tapestry are all connected by the sea in Alison Fisher's novel The Silver Sea set in the late Victorian era in East Sussex. This magical tale is told by nine-year-old Ella Maude who has a talent for embroidery and hope. She is waiting for her father to return, a Lowestoft fisherman, lost at sea in the big storm of 1882. 'And I show him the other room under the eaves with the high bed and my needleworks on the walls: the Mermaid, the Sea Monster, and Moses and the Burning Bush. When I done the Mermaid I copied my mother, on account of her long dark hair and wide apart eyes. My own eyes sit even wider - more than one person says I look like an owl.'

Set in Neolithic Britain, Guardians of the Circle is a trilogy by Dave Eastwood following the adventures of the shamans of the great stone circle of Classac. In The Apprentice Tattoo, when summer fails to arrive, Col and Talla journey to placate the ancestors, but must face the spirits of the elements to bring balance back to their world. ‘Albyn stood, his face impassive, the intricate tattoos around his right eye told of his power, his wisdom. He looked down his beak-like nose at the approaching couple. The leading figure was short, his dark hair thinning. A lean dog trailed at his heel. His clothes were plain compared to the Hill Clan, his cape decorated with only a few swan feathers. The second figure was dressed in a dark cloak, head lost in the hood.’ In Children of the Spirits, Lorev, haunted by the ghost of his sister, sets out to lay her to rest, but when powerful talismans prove stolen, Lorev must return them before Verra can join her ancestors. In The Spirit Messenger, Shilla’s life starts to mirror the journey of her Spirit Guardian, Albyn, who must reach out from beyond the death river to prevent her from repeating his mistakes. Historical fiction for readers of Jean Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear and Michelle Paver’s Wolf Brother.

Violet Hamilton is prepared to suffer sex, as every good Victorian wife should. ‘It was simply a brief removal of innocence at the very start of a marriage. There was no need for the prospect of it to loom so fearfully. After all, I was marrying the most handsome man in Hastings, and he liked my green eyes.’ But when her new husband is more interested in opening a museum in Hastings than doing his duty, she sets out on a mission to seduce him. Against a backdrop of ignorance and repression and with only the advice of a faded courtesan to guide her, she embarks on a dangerous path of discovery. When the courtesan suggests infidelity is the best way forward, will she risk her reputation, her marriage and her future to achieve her goal? Think of England is a beautifully told eccentric novel set in the 1890’s from Hannah Dolby.

‘My story, like yours, starts on a day of sadness and pain. I was a young girl, not much older than you were when my son chose you over the others and put his prayer beads in your small hands. That is how your story began. Now hear mine.’ When a Mongolian girl of noble lineage is torn from her family against her will and thrown into a hostile and foreign world, she struggles to find her place and only by forgiving the man who brought her there and risking all to protect him, can she fulfil her destiny. Set in seventeenth-century Mukden, The White Bone by Cynthia Anderson is the first in a trilogy based on the historical life of the first Empress of China’s Qing dynasty.


When Dramin’s father disinherits him, he journeys to enemy territory to find his mother’s people and the answer to why she was executed. He read on, trying to skim as many words as he could as he listened to the clock tick. Wind from the Argen sea shook the panes of the high tower. At the snick of the door he silently placed the book in its nook and closed the floorboard. He was not fast enough with the carpet. A broad boot stepped on the grapes right under his nose.’ Dragonrider is an epic romantic fantasy from Dalia Astalos set in a world of ethnic war and family secrets for readers of Sarah J. Maas and Brandon Sanderson.

‘We have reports of pirates, spatial disturbances and anomalies in this sector, and need advanced warning of where they are before Space City can enter. Now, there’s something here, and I know you’re holding out on me. So, be a good girl, engage your abnormalities...’ Persecuted for her ability to read minds and manipulate others to commit darker deeds, Lily Amaris accepts a dying sentient planet’s pleas for help in return for sanctuary. Beyond the Veil is fantasy sci-fi romance from Cat Malin in which Marvel’s Ego the Living Planet meets Battlestar Galactica.

Young Adult and Children’s Fiction

‘The mornings were dark now, impenetrable; it was difficult to rouse and to start the day without the light. The differences had at first been imperceptible but as the days went by the change impacted upon them all. The longing for the dawn held them, bound them together, the faith that their light would return.’ When Milo goes into the sports cupboard at school he falls through a portal into a world of diminishing light and a journey begins in which he discovers his estranged father. Searching for ‘the Replenisher’, Milo and his father are drawn to fulfil the destiny of the family line. The Replenisher, by Pauline Levins, is a contemporary YA fantasy novel set in Ireland.

‘I used to draw burning books.’ So begins Adam Langley’s speculative YA thriller See You Next Fall. When sixteen-year-old Nic survives a murder attempt by The Push, he enters a race against time to save his next victim, a girl who might be the key to the dark secret at the heart of the troubled suburban town called Michaelmas. For fans of Stephen King’s novels.

‘Mayra was going to shout back when she saw the puddles on the kitchen floor. She hadn’t noticed the water blowing through the open door and dripping off Elliot. A strange whispering began.’ Twelve-year-old Mayra hears voices in water and is afraid to go outside, but when her brother Elliot finds a mysterious stone and is pulled into a parallel world, she jumps into a river to save him. Crossing the perilous landscape of Other World she discovers she’s inherited the powers of a water goddess, and with her new companions, a boy who falls from a dragon and a shape-shifting fox, she must repair the broken cauldron and defeat the tyrannical Dark Goddess to bring Elliot home. Mayra O’Malley and The Broken Cauldron is a middle-grade fantasy adventure by Myfanwy Millward, inspired by Irish mythology, and packed full of mystery about a girl who discovers she belongs in another world.

‘Lenny and Nell had been running their top-secret enterprise ever since the early days of the chocolate ban, when mass protests went ignored and petitions were binned. The new Prime Minister had declared chocolate was making children unhealthy and riddling them with disease. ‘Guzzling the brown stuff has to stop before the NHS reaches breaking point,’ she had said, pounding her fist on a podium as she shrieked to a wall of booing protestors on TV. The debates went on and on and on and on. But somehow, they won. Shops were dumping chocolate by the crateful. The rats grew fat and Lenny saw an opportunity.’ In a time and place in which the unthinkable has happened – chocolate is banned, Lenny Quigley fights back on a grand scale and plans The Great Chocolate Heist. Can Lenny pull it off with the odds stacked against him? When his operation captures the attention of the media, and the real motivation for the ban is revealed, it seems possible that our twelve-year-old hero will become the boy who returned chocolate to the kids where it belongs. This is a middle-grade comedy adventure by Emily Grice for readers of Roald Dahl or Katherine Rundell’s The Good Thieves.

Edward, a little greasy mouse, leaves behind the security and comfort of his home in a Swiss Bank and ventures into the Big World Outside to find answers to his most pressing questions. A cross-over book for children sure to become a cult favourite with adult readers for its sweet wisdoms, the heartwarming tale of Edward the Gready Mouse is from Simone Thompson. 'Thus, Edward was left all alone except for some very wise, philosophical words. Or so he thought. As Edward could not actually read the language in which the words were written. Mr Rat was holding a small piece of dishevelled paper loosely in his paws when Edward found him with his head bent forward, having taken his last and final breath. On the back of the paper was simply “For Edward, in due course”. That bit Edward could decipher. The rest remained a complete mystery.'

The Winner...

To experience the full excitement of the reveal, press play on the video above.

The winner of The Firestarter 2020 has been decided by members’ votes: one member, one vote. This year’s winner will receive a £150 voucher for use at The Novelry and their work will be submitted to our literary agency friends for their consideration when ready.

Walter Smith is the worthy winner of this year's competition. The Candidate is a book that will become a future classic; full of drama, absurdity, poignancy and human truths set in the American South. The writing style is reflective of our gentle friend's wry approach to this crazy life. Walter's colourful anecdotes, asides and digressions at our Community and generosity of spirit have charmed so many of us. He is a much-loved member of The Novelry. You can read more about the wonderful Walter Smith here. Based in Alabama, he joined The Novelry last February and completed his first novel last summer in fine style. He put it through its paces on The Big Edit and joined us for The Bridport Retreat last November, flying into the UK (for his first visit) and treated us to the first chapter with an after-dinner reading. (I couldn't resist whisking him to Stonehenge on his way back to London after we left the retreat!)

Just a single point behind Walter, on equal footing are this year's joint runners up, in second place: Alex Ireson with her fiercely funny, fast-paced scorcher of a novel. 'Above & Beyond' and Gabrielle Osrin with wistful and elegiac 'The Beautiful Nothing'.

In third place, is Alison Fisher with The Silver Sea.

Honourable mentions to Vanessa Zampiga, Caroline Davies, and Sharon Mccarthy.

Well done, all of you.

I'll be offering a debrief to my beloved writers at our Team Chat live online this evening at 8pm GMT.

There's much we can all learn from the way the votes went and I'll be explaining why some stories are genre-busting and appeal beyond readers reading preferences. Those are the book agents often describe as 'breakthrough' novels and I'll explain what that means and how we can identify them, as we have done with the statistics from The Firestarter over three years now.

Want to get involved? Why not join one of our online creative writing courses for aspiring authors or take the practical alternative to an MA from the comfort of your own home with our Book in a Year program.

So much more than an online creative writing course, The Novelry aims you to get published; from the inkling of an idea all the way to the bookshop. Our book writing method is simple and unique; we begin with the glory of the story itself and never lose sight of it. At our very first session together, we throw the idea around, expanding its potential, refining its simplicity, ensuring it fits the bill for the genre, and most importantly that readers will love it before you put pen to paper. Then we support you to write it at a steady pace with bespoke coaching and regular check-ups through a first and second draft all the way to pitching to literary agents on your behalf. Every step of writing your book with The Novelry is supported both by your coach and mentor, who sees the good in your work when you can't, and by your teammates, the community, who keep you smiling.

Happy writing, everybody! 



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