The Firestarter 2021Mar 07, 2021
The video above will reveal to you the name of the winner of this year's Firestarter at The Novelry. (You may wish to hold off until you've read the following.)
This the fourth year of our annual competition for the best opening to a novel, and previous winners are Kathy Brewis-Dunn (2018), Cate Guthleben (2019), Walter Smith (2020).
Entry is open to all but strongly recommended for those on the second draft and beyond and as ever, the results bear out the importance of editing, editing, editing. We never envy one another at The Novelry, where we work together because we darn well know how hard each and every writer has worked to get that novel over the line. All the art's in the redraft, and that's a comforting thought. It allows for time and space to make mistakes and play in the first draft. There's nothing to fear, no need to be nervous when you're writing a novel, folks. You get to choose when you hit send, and no one needs to see your workings! So play! Be wicked. (Oh, go on, a bit more wicked than that.) It's fiction. It's an entertainment. Sure there's art to it, but the art's in the sleight of hand, the mischief, the smoke and mirrors and even more so in these testing times than in the winsome quality of your prose. So consider this an invitation to join the merriest of playgrounds and never look back.
This year, the commentary at our members' site during the month of February as our writers began to post their entries has been universally one of praise and encouragement. I'd like to thank all of you for being the gorgeously good eggs you are. For reading the work, and giving it a big cheer. It matters. Those who entered have been posting fulsomely about the wonderful experience of getting feedback on their work. And that's how The Novelry began, four years ago, as a boon to the writer toiling over their novel with no idea if it was good, bad or - worse - middling. It's so good to know what's working - and what maybe not so much.
As you all know, I like a problem in the writing. Because once we see it, we can fix it. And solving problems as we go is what makes a good novel thoroughly ingenious. So embrace the problems. It's the 'not seeing' them that's the issue. The only problem a writer can have is no problems. The work just flat-lines.
You have said too how hard it was to choose a single winner from the entries. The standard this year was exceptionally high. I'd say our highest yet. (Rubs fingernails on lapel and sucks in cheeks Miss Brodie style - you are my beloved writers, truly, 'la crème de la crème.')
So I told you to bloody well get on with it! And plump for the one you simply HAD to read more of first. And you did.
Thank you not only to our entrants, but to those who voted. You read through so much work this week, with such generosity. A writer who takes time away from their own writing to help others will surely find a seat reserved for them in the literary heavens. You are all blessed according to the Gospel of Ernest (Hemingway) who rarely conferred such beatitudes.
And now, the winner.
This year's winner is Anna Verena Brandt with the opening to her novel - 'And I Saw The Beast.'
Nordic Gothic, a chilling erotic thriller-cum-fairytale most noir, this is the story of a woman's visit to her sister during a blizzard, where she becomes trapped in a Norwegian cabin with the sister and her 'bestial' husband.
There is snow, and there will be blood.
Written with tense, 'to the bone' prose, this is a novel as unflinching as Oyinkan Braithwaite's My Sister, the Serial Killer. You just can't look away. It's brutally honest, riven with danger, unsettling and affecting.
Anna is on the third draft of her novel, and it's impossible to think of anyone who better deserves this accolade. Anna, well done to you. There's a cash prize of £150, and this year's literary agency partner for The Firestarter - The Soho Agency - will be pleased to see your first three chapters. Huge congratulations.
In second place is Juliana Adelman with 'The Grateful Water', a historical murder mystery, set in mid-Nineteenth-Century Dublin. When butcher, Denis Doyle, finds the body of a newborn infant in the River Liffey he becomes fixated on finding the killer, unaware of how close to home his search for the culprit will bring him.
In third place is Caroline Longman with 'The Remarkable Adventures of M.A.D Brown' a comic adventure tale, and a witty romp. Millicent Brown is determined to leave her dead-end job in dull 1959 England and go to the glamorous French Riviera, so when she inherits £50 after accidentally killing a man, she buys her ticket to freedom. Complications ensue.
Honourable mentions must go to these entries which scored well too:
Lucy Barker with 'The Wickedry of Mrs Wood'. Historical Fiction. 1873, Notting Hill. When London society's favourite medium, Mrs Wood, is upstaged by a newcomer, how far will she go to stay on top?
Alison Bloomer with 'Wannabe'. A romance. An ambitious young singer hits the charts and starts to fall apart as she begins to wonder about the child she left behind her in Ireland, and turns reluctantly to the child's father for help.
Amy Sandiford with 'Memories of Rook House'. A Gothic novel. A sad and lonely man, damaged by his unhappy childhood, tries to fix himself by stealing other people's memories.
Jill Whitehouse with 'Push Me, Pull You'. A psychological suspense novel. Anne’s job bores her, her marriage has become a disappointment, her back hurts and her reliance on painkillers is growing, but when her husband runs a woman over and brings his victim home, what she finds in the woman’s bags alters everything. How far will Anne go to change her life?
Once again, love and thanks to all of you for taking part in our big adventure, writing our novels side-by-side and know that all of this work, all of it, every jot, every whit, every whimsy has been hard-won. If your name's not mentioned here, take heart. The names above are almost all beyond the second draft. You can lift the work, and lift it, again and again and we're here to support you all the way.
All that separates you from being published is determination and a sense of humour.