The Firestarter 2019

Mar 10, 2019

Thank you all for taking part.

With the sad news of the death of the original Firestarter himself, it is to Keith Flint we dedicate these offerings.

We have had a bumper crop of first chapter entries to this year’s competition, a great turnout at the polling station, and here are some sneak previews of the range of writing currently on fire at The Novelry.

A hapless estate agent is unwittingly touched by the beauty of nature in the first chapter of Alex Ireson’s ripe and robust comedic novel 'Above & Beyond.'  'And then the magic happens. The orange light of the dying sun hits the cottage.’ One misadventure leads to another in this rollicking darkly comedic tale.

A big-hearted period novel from Romla Ryan, in which loyal Lyle provides support to 'The Antics of Atticus Ashworth' for a fast-paced, ribald romp. Atticus Ashworth loves women and his gentle appreciation brings warmth to the first chapter which opens on  dying embers from the coal fire, of rose talcum and of sweat’. Described by one of our members as ‘funny, original, saucy.'

The abiding affection of a boy who grew up in post-war Blackpool for his mother is evoked with great humour by David Hogarth in 'Great Expectations' and the grandmother has a cameo role of blanket disapproval with sweetly turned phrases such as '"Navy blue?! In July?! … horrible woman."' This is an England we miss.

Vimla Dalamal presents us with a little prince who lives in a world of mystical enchantment in 'The Magician and the Pool of Illusion' wrought in sumptuous prose. Eleven-year-old Rahula is about to embark on an epic adventure to save his grandfather’s realm. His allies are the animals.  'Rahula dived into ice-clear waters and swam with the perch, trout and silver carp; they were forever in a hurry. He floated with the turtles that were calm and wise; they had all the time in the world. “Time,” said a turtle. “You create Time and only you. Think over it and you will see."'

In Martine Corin’s ‘Something Red’, a woman comes back from her travels to the East to take up a new adventure, and find her missing piece as she tries to lay to rest the curse that’s seen off all of those she loves. 'She told them she was clearing out the house, maybe wanted to move to the city. In secret she was listening to those who came before her, getting ready to write, to carve herself and her twin out of history. For many seasons she did not write, she drank. And when the words finally came, they came in fits.'

The canals of England provide a quirky setting for Lisa Machin’s cosy mystery ‘A Windlass for a Weapon’. 'After the last lock, they were almost there. They had left the open countryside behind. Steep wooded slopes came right down to the canal on both sides now, and the boat slid along in a sort of green valley of beech trees, silvery wet roots tangled along the edge of the water. The towpath was cut right into the sandstone, and ferns had rooted along the edge of the water. The silence was only broken by the pop of Nancy’s engine. ‘It’s like being underwater.’'

A missing person provides inspiration for Gabrielle Osrin’s novel ‘The Face of the Earth’ when a young girl, smitten with the face of a stranger on the news in 1976, falls in love with a ‘missing’ country. '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.' Written with comic flair, the novel is haunting and affecting.

In Sara Bailey’s new novel ‘The Incomers’, a woman seeks purposely to go missing and heads off to Orkney to lose herself but finds herself quickly embroiled in a misadventure when her neighbour turns to her for help one night. “‘Gregor Svarson and I were on fellowship together in Stockholm, marvellous doctor, wasted in general practice of course.’ He coughed and shuffled the papers. ‘Anyway, that’s by the by. You take this time out and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet for a bit. I envy you, I really do." The alternative wasn’t even mentioned. Dismissed? Struck off for ‘conduct unbecoming?’ Caitlin had been lucky, and she knew it. Scotland it was.'

“The Gregarious Recluse’ of Kirstine McDermid’s novel takes up residence in her grandmother’s house, only to continue to receive threatening letters in the post. 'But there was something about that last letter in particular that stood out to Alex from its previous counterparts. It was stark and economical with words - most of the page gaped whiteness. The other letters had been much more graphic, and the more gratuitous and brutal the words were, the more they seemed to have neutered themselves, becoming almost laughable to Alex.'

We are plunged into the lively prose of Kate Tregaskis’ novel 'How About I Be Me and You Be You’ with this opening.  Maybe we should get married?’ I say.' Richard is apparently non-plussed. Having fallen headily in love, almost at first sight, they have taken their time to get here, having been together 15 years, and parents to a daughter, but Richards’s mysterious reaction sends Nora into ‘free fall’.

‘The Ghost Swan’ by Anita Salemink unravels a nineteenth-century crime whose clues are deciphered by a young girl living in a convent in Ireland in the late 1970s. Anita’s writing evokes both periods and is reminiscent of Donna Tartt's 'The Secret History'. 'The girl with the pimple lowers her voice and says, ‘You are sick.’ And the others echo, ‘You are sick.’ She says, ‘You are really sick.’ They echo, ‘You are really sick.’ ‘You are dying… dying… dying.’The others join in the chant.'

Set in a modern day Ireland, Linda Fennelly’s 'Moon Frolic’ describes the relationship of an Irish woman and her father with affection offering both the chance of redemption. 'When she was little he would put out his fist with a Murray Mint trapped inside and she’d wrestle him to try open his hand, swinging out of his arm. Then she'd bend back one finger at a time with all her childish strength and bodyweight. Each time she released a finger, another would clamp back down, and he’d never give up until she got thick and stomped away saying ‘that’s not fair, you never play fair.’'

We head back to ancient Celtic times with 'The Apprentice Tattoo’ from David Eastwood in which a young boy is guided by his spirit messenger. Imaginative, magical and warm-hearted, this novel has shades of Philip Pullman. 'The Messenger turned to Col, nodding, and they sat down opposite. Albyn placed a hand on the ground beside him and a large brown rat appeared from behind him, scurrying up his arm to perch on his left shoulder. He gave a shrill whistle, then turned his head to the right as a wren alighted on the other side.'

A middle-grade Children’s novel from Emily Grice is full of fun. A school trip to a factory becomes the dream outing when the children take over the chocolate factory in ‘The Great Chocolate Heist’. “‘Am I free to commence with operation chocolate drop?’ Lenny got back to the job in hand, reeling at his wily sister. ‘Yep.’ ‘Say roger or affirmative. Do it right – this is a serious gig.’ Lenny heard a growl. ‘Say it.’”

What happens to the celebrity impersonators when their idol dies? In Sarah Jones’ novel, ‘Goodbye Emma-Jane’ we meet a fading star of the ilk of Blanche Dubois. ‘But whatever she was faced with, she knew just what to do: what to highlight and what to conceal; how to lift her cheekbones and brighten her skin; how to revive her tired eyes. She had learnt all the secrets; she knew all the tricks. It would take a little longer on those days; so she might, on occasion, be a little late; but her audience – whether one man, or a crowd of hundreds – were never disappointed; she would always be worth waiting for.'

Louise Tucker’s novel ‘The Last Field’ was longlisted for The Stockholm First Pages Award and with good reason. She wastes not a moment in this dark comedy which opens 'On the first day of his retirement, George’s wife had a stroke.' Told with wit and compassion, this is an enjoyable coming of age story at an advanced age.

“‘They’ll be okay," Holda said, nodding her head with certainty. "When Vati was here last, he said that they will only take the bad ones."' The innocence of a moment of time is captured in Jane Tingle’s wonderful and subtly written ‘The Wild Hunt’ which opens in Hitler’s Germany on Kristallnacht in 1938. 'In the street below, slivers of broken glass glittered on the ground. The frames of shop windows were jaws of jagged teeth where they held on to pieces which had not been smashed out. Inside each shop, all was still and dark. It must have been the time for people to be setting off to work in bakeries or factories, or stretching to open up their shop fronts.'

Set in Wales, Layla Reeves’ heartwarming novel ‘Drawn to Destiny’ gives us a lovestruck Rhiannon eager to win the favour of young Wynn. “‘They are beautiful hands, they are delicate yet sturdy. Feminine yet they show a life of hard work. That shows integrity Rihannon." Wynn had said one day while they were holding hands. He was gently massaging the inside of her palm with his thumb.’

Setting a different tone is the noir fairy tale for adults from Anna Verena Brandt  ‘And Then I Saw the Beast.' In cool, lucid prose, Anna presents a formidable version of sexual power play. 'Sometimes he pretends that he wants to talk. He should know better than that; there's no need to play that game with her. "Do you ever want more?" she asked him once. "No," is what he said. "Not with you," is what he meant. It's an efficient relationship.' When two sisters are reluctantly reunited, their fascination with the same man seems as if it may prove fatal. 

'Sweden needed a prince, not this French soldier’s son…' So begins Kelly Scarborough’s historical novel set in 1811 drawing upon the story of a young woman who becomes central to the nation’s story - Jacquette Gyldenstolpe - with whom the King of Sweden has a child.  '“Is that what you nobles call your indiscreet affairs and misbehaviours? The Butterfly Game?” She saw no warrant for insults. “It’s always been that way at court—I had imagined that we learned it from you French. And it is not my game.”'

“‘Every weekday, my father bore the drudgery of standing with ghosts at the railway station so we could all have a better life. He held fast to this dream, ensuring he did not succumb to any illusion buried in the earth of the City. He was always gone before I woke up, leaving Mum and me to have breakfast together in the tiny warm kitchen. After everything had been cleared away and I had been dressed and bounced into my thick ribbed tights mum would play.” A talented child pianist, whose home is a refuge and whose mother her heroine, grows up in a provincial town aware of the sacrifices her parents make. Her happy young life is dealt a cruel blow. Viv Frances tells the story of Cess in  her novel ‘The Silence in My Music.’

'That was the year she learned the difference between a fairy tale and a lie. And that some stories have no ending, because they are still being told.' Cate Guthleben’s masterful historical novel ‘Mother Country’ is set in Australia in the early 1900s and is a bildungsroman with Matilda, born on the same day as the nation is declared, navigating her way between the two peoples who live uneasily side by side. Affecting and ambitious in scale, this is a big, beautiful novel.

Katie Khan’s new novel ‘The Curfew’ is another high-wire concept from the author of ‘Hold Back the Stars’. 'In the park, a woman lies in a hammock gazing at the night sky. She takes it in: the bright twinkle of newborn stars, the haze of their elders slipping away into the darkness. Constellations spelling out fortunes for the unimaginative. Like many others tonight, her fortune is vastly improved.' 'The Curfew' imagines a world in which regulations restrict the hours of males, and women seem to be perfectly free.

Offering us a feminine triptych of a tale, ‘The Nature of Silence’ by Charlotte Purchas tells a tender story of innocence and experience through three women at three different life stages. 'She is transfixed by the monumental shades and shadows of her mother, the line of her neck and shoulders, the luminescence of her skin in the receding evening light. Turning quietly, she finally steps away without being seen. It is as if she has just observed some sort of farewell.'

‘I am an old man, lying on a sofa-bed, dying. Beyond that, everything is up for grabs.’ So begins ‘Forest Gate’ by Babar Javed a novel that is both mystical and humorous. ‘A girl arrives in the morning and feeds me mush. Then she turns me to face the window. I can enjoy the sunlight that way. Then a boy comes in the evening. He also feeds me mush, and turns me away from the window, towards the stairs. Then I see the dark.’ At the end of his life, a man tended to by two very different carers, reflects on how the strange loss of individual items from his home sets him free to travel in his mind back to celebrate the important moments of his life’s journey.

'Just then, Chike leaned towards me. I felt his warm breath in my ear just before he said: ‘They’ll shave off your hair and offer it to the gods.’” To Nigeria via Wales, in ‘The Return’ by Ngozi Amadi. A young girl, full of life, full of her own promise, is forced to find her place in a closeted academic environment at a university in Lagos, much to the disappointment of her and her mother, whose fancies and ambitions are more cinematic. 'That's the one thing I knew I wouldn’t miss, my disgusting cousin. ‘Stop that, Chike,’ Mum said mildly. ‘But its true, isn’t it? Dad told me.’ ‘Don't mind him,’ Mum said to me, ‘He’s just jealous.’ Yes he was. They all were, they were all jealous of me.'

Anna Pye’s young adult fantasy series ‘The Turning’ creates an alternate world around the four seasons which have been suborned by dark forces, and Cara Walstone is the reluctant saviour of this rustic world and its enchanted forest from the ‘creeping darkness.’ ‘I still remember my first Barter Day. Dell had been going for ages and gloated about it every single time. Because he was a boy, Rod got to go when he was twelve and that first time, he came back wide-eyed with gossip about everyone. He always did get into the thick of things, even as a child. It had felt like forever to wait for fourteen Turnings but finally, the day came.'

An inventive novel from Debbie (Lily) Jones ‘Visitors' Book’ tells a story through multiple narrators and their experiences. As Jack explains in the opening chapter 'The collection was first transcribed, in cursive handwriting inky and loopy and beautiful as her hair, by Sorcha August. It resulted in a novel, with all essential ingredients, and tells the story of how Sorcha, Francesca and me, Jack, got to know each other, and what happened next. It's called Visitors' Book and you, dear readers, are its visitors.'

A veritable smorgasbord of entries to The Firestarter 2019. I commend to you our talented authors. This is just the start of the blaze to come.

All of these works are either full manuscripts or almost complete and will be ready soon for submission to our agency partners.

The Winner...

To experience the full excitement of the reveal of the winner's name, press play on the video above.

The winner of The Firestarter 2019 has been decided by members votes. One member one vote and this year’s winner will receive £150 and their work will be submitted to our literary agency partners for their priority consideration when ready.

This year's winner is undoubtedly a worthy winner - Cate Guthleben. I am delighted to be able to congratulate her as I know well the dedication and work put into 'Mother Country' and have no doubts at all that this will be received with praise by publishers and readers and soon. I love this novel and confess I have wept when reading it, and laughed plenty too (in all the right places). The characters are lively and true. It's impossible not to be immersed in the wrenching dilemma of the novel. Hats off to you, Cate. 

This year, I am going to mention the runners up as they did so well and garnered many votes.

Runner up, in second place; Anna Verena Brandt.

Third place; Romla Ryan.

Honourable mentions to Gabrielle Osrin, Katie Khan, Sara Bailey and Alex Ireson.

Well done, all of you.

Such great work! I'll be working with you too from here on out to make a plan for submission to agents.

I'll be offering a full debriefing to my writers at our closed member's area today and working with all of my writers to continue the journey towards publishing contracts and a place in readers' hearts.

 Want to get involved? Why not try one of our online creative writing courses? Happy writing, everybody! 


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