2018 First Chapter Competition Results

2018 First Chapter Competition Results


Thanks to our judge, literary agent Diana Beaumont, for reading our ten shortlisted chapters and giving feedback on them all. We did promise the results would be announced in May but there has been a slight delay due to holidays and other competition announcements. Diana enjoyed reading all of the chapters and said: “I have judged a few things in my time and these were genuinely a cut above.  The standard of entries was impressive and I was delighted to judge it.”

So to all of our shortlisted writers, well done! And a huge congratulations to our winner and runners-up. So here are the results…


Ain’t you been Baptized by Rachel Daniels

I just loved the writing here – it’s incredibly accomplished and beautifully done with a vivid sense of place and a distinctive voice. Lenny’s dialogue – and the vagrant who attempts to rescue him – was pitch perfect with plenty of tension and an underlying dark humour that drew me in. I really wanted to know more about where Lenny has come from and where he goes next.


Looking For Me by Hilary Taylor

What a great opening paragraph: it disconcerts the reader and plunges us straight into Miriam’s world which is dripping with God and gore. It’s not always easy to pull off a child’s voice but this worked extremely well. The writing is so visceral and vivid that the trip to the butcher’s shop feels more like a horror movie with the blood and sawdust – not to mention the mother’s finger getting chopped off by mistake although there is a humour that offsets it. The author clearly has talent.

Don’t Think a Single Thought by Diana Cambridge

I really enjoyed this. It is polished, compelling writing and I was drawn in from the first paragraph. It reads like psychological suspense and I liked the way in which it is ambiguous as to what is real and what is imagined. The smart, Hamptons setting contrasts with the emotional darkness that underlies it. I also loved the descriptions of the meals, which were mouth wateringly delicious. I certainly wanted to read on.

Highly Commended

Gabriel by June Whitaker

There is a wonderful, timeless quality to the beginning of this novel set in Southern Spain, which is steeped in superstition and fear. A woman is about to give birth to a child on ‘Black Tuesday, which is considered to be accursed. The writing is atmospheric and I wanted to know what becomes of the little boy born on this fateful evening.


Freeze Frame by Dawn Michelle-Baude

The writing has an intense, oppressive feel as a seventeen-year-old girl and her mother visit a morgue to identify whether the dead body on the gurney there is her father. The second person viewpoint can be tricky but seems to work thus far. Make sure the first paragraph really pulls the reader in, keep up the pace at all times and watch for moments like the comment about trauma counsellors, which take us away from the story. It is, however, polished and compelling.

Kinesia Paradoxa by Dorothy Cornish

The writing style is confident and I was intrigued by the relationship between the siblings and the wider family but watch out that it doesn’t sound stilted on occasion although that may, in part, reflect the voice of the central protagonist. I like the Iceland setting and thought even more could be made of that. Make sure that the similes and metaphors chosen aren’t slightly laboured at times. I was genuinely shocked to read about Matt self-harming and his essay sounds fascinating. It might be worth rethinking the title.

Glide by Alison Lester

This has an intriguing and original opening as a strange man turns up at the house claiming to be his wife’s brother even though she has never mentioned him. The writing is accessible and easy to read although I would have liked a stronger sense of place which would add to the disconcerting feel of things – and remember to show not tell. I was certainly curious to know how events unfold.

Pettiver’s Cabinet of Curiosities by Thornton Rigg

The writing is accomplished and has plenty of charm especially when it comes to describing works of art.  Make sure that the pace is consistent so that are no langeurs and really draws the reader in from the outset. At times the dialogue, especially Ursula’s can be a little too clipped although that may reflect her role in a secretive organisation.

Ordinary Sacred by Holly Dawson

The prose is powerful, evocative and even poetic at times although watch out that the language isn’t a little laboured at times. And make sure that you propel the reader forward at all times. I was intrigued by the setting but wanted a little more indication about where the narrative is heading and what the heart of the story is.

The Immortalist by Tracy Fells

This has an imaginative, entertaining central premise as one of the immortals takes on human form in what feels like an action thriller rather than a fantasy novel. I wanted to know a little more about what compelled Esther to disguise herself as a mortal and come back down to earth. Also, make sure the writing is as tight as possible at all times.
Many congratulations to Rachel, who now gets to send her first three chapters, synopsis and covering letter to Diana for review.
If you weren’t ready to submit this year, there’s always next and the 2019 First Chapter Competition is now open for submissions. This time around the judge is literary agent, Sarah Manning, at The Bent Agency and a second-place prize has been added. Get all the details here.
If you become a Retreat West Gold Author Member you can get entry to this competition included as part of your benefits package, as well as whole host of other exciting stuff! Join here.

2018 First Chapter Shortlist

After a lot of reading and some healthy debates between myself, Louise and Sophie over a few of the chapters, we have now whittled the very long longlist down to the final 10. These chapters will now be sent to Diana Beaumont for judging and the winner will be revealed by the end of the month. Thanks again to everyone that took part – we had the most entries ever for this year’s competition so for next year the entry fee will go down and there will be a second prize added as well. Details will be revealed in June.

In the meantime, many congratulations to the following shortlisted writers:

2018 First Chapter Competition Shortlist

  • Ain’t You Been Baptized by Rachel Daniels
  • Don’t Think a Single Thought by Diana Cambridge
  • Freeze Frame by Dawn-Michelle Baude
  • Gabriel by June Whitaker
  • Glide by Alison Lester
  • Kinesia Paradoxa by Dorothy Cornish
  • Looking For Me by Hilary Taylor
  • Ordinary Sacred by Holly Dawson
  • Pettiver’s Cabinet of Curiosities by Thornton Rigg
  • The Immortalist by Tracy Fells

Well done to all of you as your chapters really shone out and from the longlist of 62 novel openings all three of us chose just 14 first chapters for the shortlist. So we’d like to give an honorary mention to the following four writers who also got a vote for the shortlist from at least one of us:

  • The Colour of Echoes by Stephanie Hutton
  • The Incitement of Archie Rummage by Jane Lomas
  • The Moneyspinner by Alexandra McDermott
  • The Return by Angelita Bradney

Best of luck to our shortlist with the final round.


What literary agent Diana Beaumont wants…

Literary Agent Insights

Diana Beaumont

Delighted to welcome Diana Beaumont to the blog today giving us an insight into the kinds of books she looking to represent, how to impress her with your submission, and what she reads when it’s not for work.

Diana is a literary agent with the Marjacq agency and was chosen as Bookseller Rising Star in 2012. She’s also the judge for our 2018 First Chapter Competition.  Find out more about her here.

Diana, thanks for coming and for being the judge of the competition. Can you tell us what gets you excited enough to ask for the full MS when you receive a 3 chapter submission from an unknown author?

A strong pitch, an original premise and great writing. A good, succinct cover letter goes a long way too. One that includes an elevator pitch, short bit about a book with some awareness of where it sits in the market and relevant biography (we don’t need to know about your A level results but do care about anything that is relevant to your writing).

Writers repeatedly hear from agents they submit to that you like it but you didn’t love it enough – what about a MS makes you love it when you have requested and read the whole thing? 

It is such a subjective business by nature and you have to feel passionately about something before taking it on not least because we work on commission and only get paid if we sell it. There may well be obstacles in your path and if you really do love a book it makes it easier to overcome them. So much of it is about the voice and connecting with central protagonists. There is, alas, no magic formula but it also helps if it is polished and well thought-out as well as that extra special something.

When reading the shortlisted first chapters what’s going to make a story stand out for you?

A strong, gripping and atmospheric opening makes a big difference. It doesn’t take long either to get a sense of the quality of the writing. I now represent someone who gave me the opening pages of her novel and I asked her to follow up when she’d written the whole thing. It didn’t disappoint.

What types of writers and novels are you looking for to build your list?

I represent fiction and non-fiction and am looking for crime, thrillers (especially with a feminist perspective and I am not keen on lots of beautiful women being butchered), women’s commercial fiction and reading group fiction. I am also open to memoir and lifestyle on the non-fiction side.

When you’re reading for pleasure not work who are your favourite authors?

I have eclectic tastes so it can be from Wilkie Collins and Daphne du Maurier to Jennifer Egan and A M Holmes depending on how I’m feeling. And I do love to reread Jane Eyre and some of the other classics from time to time. Although there never seems to be enough time! And crime for relaxing which may sound strange… I loved The Dry by Jane Harper which I read recently.

What’s your top tip for authors trying to get agent representation for their novels?

Be professional about it – it is both a business and a creative relationship so give it your absolute best shot, do your research and make sure you are approaching the right agents and good luck!


Diana is judging the 2018 First Chapter Competition so if you’re sitting on a novel that you think she’ll like then you have until the end of January to enter. The winner gets feedback on their first three chapters, synopsis and cover letter from Diana and the rest of the shortlisted writers get brief feedback on their opening chapter.

Get all the info and enter your first chapter here.