Monday, 24 July 2017

First Page Competition 2017 - THE WINNERS!

We are delighted to announce the winners of our First Page Competition 2017, which has been judged by Alison Morton

The longlist is as follows:

59, Memory Lane by Celia J Anderson

Dear Alice by Katie Martin

Evil Queen in a Bookshop by Thesy Surface

Heart the Keener by Lorna Fergusson

In a Heartbeat by Jacqueline Molloy

Champagne for Breakfast by Maggie Christensen

Journey Beyond Earth by Philip Thacker 

This is All Mostly True by Kathy Stevens

Raven's Watch by Tania Kremer-Yeatman

View from the Drowning Hole by Kenneth John Holt

The shortlist is as follows:

Crows by K Hughes

Elephants in Flip-Flops by Julia Anderson

Hunting the Light by Vanessa Savage

Guilt by Joan Ellis

Junk Land by Sharon Boyle

Mirrormind by Zoe Perrenoud

Momma by Jenny Rowe

My Hero, My Dad by Brenda Thacker

Random Book Title by Ian King

Rowan's Well by CJ Harter

SE17 by Katie Martin

Strangers on a Bridge by Louise Mangos

Where a Waves Meets the Shore by Kathryn Guare

S is for ... murder by Rod Cookson

And the winning entries are:

Judge’s Report 2017 by Alison Morton

All the authors who reached this shortlist deserve a bouquet of beautiful blooms and the accompanying box of chocolates. Reading these entries was easy because it was pleasurable. Then I had to sit down and judge them. Not so pleasurable because I had to pick winners out of seventeen excellent finalists.

A first sentence should grab your attention, a first page your heart. Who is this person? What are they thinking? What is their dilemma? Can we sympathise? Empathise? Do we care about them? The first page needs to intrigue and entice, yet remain focused and simple. A neat trick to pull off!

Some common themes emerge from these first pages: women escaping or separating from their situation; family disjunct, often crushing feelings or aspirations; unthinking or negligent behaviour or deliberate unkindness with the odd glint of murder.

Several of the first pages seemed almost like short stories; by the last word, they’d almost completed the circle they’d opened with the first few. Inserting an action deriving from the first page to pull us on to the second is almost like a second hook, but vital.

And talking of first sentences, some were crackers! Others could be reviewed; sometimes taking out the current first sentence or two can reveal a much better one.

On to the winners!


Breaking the Lore by Andy Smith

Discovering fairies at the bottom of the garden is supposed to be good luck. Except when the fairy’s been crucified. Two pieces of wood shoved into the ground; one tiny form fastened on to them. Sometimes, thought Inspector Paris, being a cop could be the worst job in the world. And sometimes it was bloody amazing.

‘Well?’ he asked. ‘What do you reckon?’

Williams the pathologist lay on the grass, examining the scene. He shuffled round and peered up at the detective.

‘I’m not sure what to make of it,’ he replied. ‘I’ve never seen anything like this.’

‘You think I have?’

‘Maybe, Boss,’ said a voice over Paris’ shoulder. ‘We do get to see some mighty weird stuff. Remember I told you about those talking fish?’

‘Bonetti,’ said Paris. ‘That was “Finding Nemo”.’

For the umpteenth time, Paris cursed the process of allocating Sergeants, and how the hell he’d been assigned this one. Life could be a right pain. Still, considering the grisly sight in front of him, it had to be better than the alternative.

‘Anyway,’ he said, ‘we’re not in Hollywood. This is Manchester, for God’s sake! The leafy suburbs granted, but your archetypal northern industrial city. Things like this just don’t happen here. Mind you, things like this probably don’t happen anywhere. Help me out, Jack. Is it even real?’

Williams pushed his glasses back on his nose, then pointed at the grass.

‘We’ve got what appears to be blood,’ he said. ‘There’s also bruising around the wounds. Hence the answer is: yes and no.’

He clambered up to his feet, brushing the soil from his trousers.

‘“Real” – yes. “It” – no. Most definitely a “she”.’

Paris crouched down to survey the scene once more. The two sticks were in the ground in an X shape, with one wrist and the opposite ankle attached to each. The petite head drooped forward, golden hair obscuring the face. Over the shoulders rose silver wings, glistening in the early morning sun. Below the head he could see a body covered by a pale blue dress. A body that was clearly female, with a sensational, albeit minute, figure.

‘Can’t argue with you,’ he said. ‘Living doll. Well, a dead one. But she can’t be a fairy, because they don’t exist. So what are we dealing with?’

Judge's Report:

This was hilarious! It shouldn’t have been as the second line revealed it was about a crucified fairy, but we are straight into a crime story complete with a body, pathologist, lead detective, stupid subordinate, jaunty dialogue and setting in Manchester.

The author’s spare yet vivid style and clever way of plunging us into a situation where questions are the only way out demonstrates confidence, a confidence that engenders trust for the reader. Mixed in with the snappy dialogue and down to earth procedural language is an evocative description of the dead fairy: ‘silver wings glistening in the morning sunshine’. The combination of a standard police investigation with a fairy story(!) opens doors to all kind of possibilities. An accomplished writer here and one who can do dialogue well. I’m dying to know what happens next.

Sibling Rivalry by Ilonka Halsband

I was two months old the first time Simon tried to kill me. I knew this only through anecdote, of course, as I had no memory of it, but years later Mother confessed that at the time she saw it only as the normal resentment of a precocious five year old faced with the invasive presence of a squalling baby sister.

When I was three Simon pushed me into the clothes dryer with a load of wet towels, then set us all to tumble dry. The towels cushioned my ride and our combined weight stopped the already malfunctioning appliance. I came out with an egg-sized bruise on my forehead and a fear of the dark.

It was during my first week of kindergarten when the true depth of my brother’s determination to get rid of me became clear. After performing her parental duty on the first day, Mother charged Simon with the responsibility of escorting me safely across the single street between home and school. He demonstrated remarkable restraint, waiting three days before pushing me into the path of an oncoming car. The driver’s superb reflexes limited the damage to a skinned knee and a bruised hip.

By the time I was eight I had survived a plunge down the basement steps, a morning locked in the trunk of the family car, and a few days in hospital after drinking milk laced with Mother’s antidepressants.

I learned to keep distance and, whenever possible, other people between my brother and me. And I slept with a chair wedged under my bedroom doorknob after waking one night to find Simon standing over me with a baseball bat. That it was only a plastic bat was no less alarming.

I was ten when I decided I would have to get rid of Simon.

Judge's Report:

A deadly story related in a straightforward, almost deadpan, style and all the more terrifying for it. The first line sets the whole theme of the book and as you read on, you realise you are watching the story of survival. We are in the modern era with a tumble dryer, plastic toys and cars, but we could be in a cave thousands of years ago. Tiny bits of background are dripped in, e.g. antidepressants. Does this suggest that Mother knows she has a homicidal son and can’t face up to it?

The language is simple in line with a story told in a child’s terms even though it may be an adult narrator several years later, yet every sentence is full of meaning. I enjoyed the humorous tone injected at the most deadly moments. A very worthy runner-up.


The Last of Michiko by Mandy Huggins

Every evening Hitoshi kneels on a blue cushion in the doorway that leads out to the garden. He leaves the shoji screens open regardless of the weather, and stays there until long after the sun has set. His heart knows that Michiko will never return, but his stubborn head finds reasons to hope.

The wind chimes jingle softly through the house, as gentle as her voice, and in the sudden breeze they mimic her laugh. Hitoshi presses his face into a pink kimono, inhaling her faint scent. At his side stands a jar of her homemade adzuki bean paste, as sweet and red as her lips. He has rationed it carefully, but now this final jar is almost empty.

The day’s post is propped up against the screen, and Hitoshi reaches for the bills and a letter from his daughter. She writes each week and always asks him to go and stay. Sometimes he thinks he will, but the trip to Tokyo seems like such a long journey now, and the city blinds him. There are no distances; everything is too densely packed, too close to see. And what about Michiko? He couldn’t risk her returning in his absence.

His son lives nearer, but when Hitoshi sees the car pull up he stays out of sight and doesn’t answer the door. He is saving them from the words that neither can bear to say. His son was the last to see Michiko; he watched the dark water snatch her away as though she were a brittle twig. When Hitoshi imagines it he pictures her hair floating upwards like the darkest seaweed, her skin so pale it appears as blue as the sea.

And though he has tried not to, he blames his son for failing to save her.

Some evenings he thinks he hears the clack of Michiko’s wooden geta on the cobbles, but when he looks outside the narrow street is always empty. He peers into the darkness for a while, lured by the soft light of the lantern outside the noodle shop, and imagines his friend, Wada, sitting at the counter with a beer, waiting to mull over the old days. But Hitoshi always goes back inside and sits alone again in the dark.

Tonight, just as he is about to go to bed, he hears a faint voice outside, and an urgent tapping on the veranda screen.

Judge's Report:

A completely different, tone, style, pace and atmosphere. The first paragraph sums up the devastation of loss; devotion; and the divergence between heart and head. Hitoshi is a traditionalist by his actions and a romantic by his emotions. Illustrated by actions, thoughts and inactions we know about family misunderstandings Hitoshi can’t bear to talk about and the isolation he craves.

The setting is carefully evoked by character names, foodstuffs, places and architecture and small touches like wind chimes and lanterns. Then just as we are lulled, there is the second page hook neatly set up by the first page – a voice outside and urgent tapping on the door. Is it going to be a ghost beckoning him, an urgent call to return to service, a plea from an old friend? I would certainly read on.

Congratulations to all the winners, we will be in contact soon.


  1. Thank you very much for sharing the list of winners. I would like to congrats all of them who won.
    Emma Charlotte |

  2. Hey! I know one of the people shortlisted! That's awesome!

  3. Minor point about Sibling Rivalry: wedging a chair under a doorknob won't stop the knob turning. This trick only works with a lever-type handle.

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