2019 First Chapter Competition Longlist

Louise and I are excited to announce our longlisted chapters for the 2019 competition. We have read 311 chapters over the past couple of months and 40 of those have been longlisted. We will now re-read these to choose the shortlist of 10 that will go to the final judge, literary agent Sarah Hornsey (nee Manning) at The Bent Agency, to read.

Thanks to all of the writers who took part and we really enjoyed reading your entries. Well done to the authors of the longlisted novels below. readings are still anonymous at this stage so please don’t let us know what yours is called if it is shown here. Good luck for the next round!


2019 First Chapter Competition Longlist

  1. A Dangerous Age
  2. A Different Reality
  3. A Pair Of Blue Butterflies
  4. Another Truth
  5. Behold the Stars
  6. Caught Kissing Adam Faith
  7. Cold Harbour
  8. Descendants
  9. Hacking At The Anchor
  10. Heist Flick
  11. His Other Woman
  12. Middle C: A Novel
  13. My Name Is Ten
  14. Offerings of A Small Destiny
  15. Persona (Non Grata)
  16. Prohibition
  17. Purple Gold
  18. Red Fox Hiding
  19. Ribbons Of Light
  20. Ruby Sixpence Whistles Up A Storm
  21. Swimming Lesson
  22. The Cherry Picker
  23. The Cloth of Night
  24. The Contrabandist
  25. The Cure
  26. The Darkest Harbour
  27. The Joy Divide
  28. The Leopard’s Daughter
  29. The Mother Of Gods
  30. The Shadow Puppet
  31. The War Between Us
  32. The Wash
  33. The Whiteout
  34. There Is A Shape To Everything
  35. Undercurrent
  36. Unsound
  37. Violet
  38. We Have Ourselves
  39. Women And Children First
  40. Words We Should Have Said


We will make the shortlist announcement by the end of this month and the winners will be revealed in May. Details of the 2020 competition will be online later in the year.


Guest post: Laura Laakso – Building Worlds with Words

Delighted to welcome Laura Laakso to the blog today as her debut novel, Fallible Justice, publishes. More delighted than usual as although it’s always great to have first time novelists featured on the blog, this novel was discovered by publisher, Louise Walters, through the Retreat West First Chapter Competition. You can read all about that here.

But today is all about the wonderful world that Laura has created for Fallible Justice. I was completely gripped by this atmospheric novel and I wouldn’t usually be remotely interested in a novel that features magic. But after reading the first chapter in the competition, I knew that this was going to be a novel worth looking out for. So, over to Laura.

Building Worlds with Words

World-building is a little bit like Marmite; writers either love it or hate it. Those who love it can have the habit of going overboard with details. A friend of mine used to write detailed treatises on the economics and politics of a world in which he set his Dungeons & Dragons campaign. We, the players, were expected to read them, but I don’t think any of us did. Why? Because the information was only interesting to its creator.

The above, I think, sums up perfectly world-building in novels, particularly in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, where the setting is not given. Every author has to find that balance between revealing enough to give the reader’s imagination wings and boring them to tears with the municipal facilities of a city the characters briefly visit. This is something I’ve been mindful of in recent years, given that my debut novel, Fallible Justice, begins a paranormal crime series Wilde Investigations.

Unlike Marmite, I love world-building. I could spend all day imagining different races and settings without ever getting bored. In fact, I’ve done just that on many occasions. But when it comes to my current novel series, I view world-building as part of the overall puzzle rather than a separate element. It’s a thread woven through the story instead of the scenery in the background.

When I began planning Fallible Justice, the original idea dictated the setting for the story. The plot hinged on otherworldly beings called the Heralds of Justice, who were capable of looking into a person’s soul to determine guilt or innocence, but also on modern technology. It made sense to settle for London, given that it is a city I know well. I never sat down to figure out the world as such, all the details grew organically from the plot. When I needed a group who were the keepers of peace and summoned the Heralds, it made sense to call them Paladins of Justice. I needed a degree of separation between the magical beings and humans, so the City of London borough became Old London, where the magic users live. The ruling class became Mages and my main character’s apprentice a Bird Shaman whom all pigeons adore.

The term magical realism seems like a contradiction, but I was always clear on wanting distinct consequences for the use of magic. It was also never going to be a solution to everything. Magic can’t heal a genetic illness any more than it can remove terminal cancer. The dead can’t be brought back to life. As enchanting as magic may be, the setting is rooted in the real world and no amount of power can replace antibiotics, mobile phones or public transport. There must also always be a cost associated with magic, both in terms of casting it and its consequences; the greatest example of this is the fact that the penalty for murder committed with the use of magic is death. And pushing your power to its limits means risking not just your magic reserves but your life.

Once I began writing Fallible Justice, I used one rule to guide my world-building: if it’s not relevant to the scene, don’t put it in. Thus I explained what Shamans were when the reader first meets Karrion the Bird Shaman, but the fact that Shamans can take animal companions didn’t come up until my main character, Yannia, met one such animal. The first chapter begins with Yannia channelling her power. In that way, the reader gets to experience what Yannia can do long before I give a name to what she is. But in that first chapter, I also began setting down Yannia’s limitations. She may have magic, but that doesn’t make her omnipotent. In fact, I believe she’s so relatable as a character because she’s deeply flawed.

As much fun as world-building can be, it must all be in service of the story. The story needs the world to provide context for the events and the characters’ actions, but the world is only relevant within the framework of the story. Striking a balance between the two means transporting the reader to the pages of the book and allowing them to live the story for themselves.


About the author: Laura is a Finn who has spent most of her adult life in England. She is currently living in Hertfordshire with a flatmate who knows too much and their three dogs. Books and storytelling have always been a big part of her life, be it in the form of writing fanfiction, running tabletop roleplaying games or, more recently, writing original fiction. When she is not writing, editing or plotting, she works as an accountant. With two degrees in archaeology, she possesses useful skills for disposing of or digging up bodies, and if her
internet search history is anything to go by, she is on several international watch lists. Her debut novel, Fallible Justice, will be published in November 2018 by Louise Walters Books and the sequel, Echo Murder, in June 2019. They are paranormal crime novels set in modern day London, but with magic, murder and general mayhem, and they begin the Wilde Investigations series.

You can keep up with Laura on the following social media pages:


And on her website: https://lauralaaksobooks.com/ and her author page on Goodreads.

The book is available in paperback and ebook from the following:

Louise Walters Books   Amazon UK   Amazon.com



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.


First Chapter Competition Long List

Thanks once again to everyone who entered the 2018 First Chapter Competition.

Amanda, Louise and Sophie have read the 234 entries and been impressed with the overall standard of submissions. Although some of the first chapters definitely felt like they were being sent out too soon and needed more editing.

The longlisted stories are shown below and if yours is there please don’t let us know the name of it as readings are done anonymously until the shortlist has been chosen.

Longlist (in alphabetical order):

  • A Promise To Lena
  • A Stranger’s Guide
  • Ain’t You Been Baptized
  • All The Trees In The Wood
  • All The While, The Birds
  • Assemblage
  • Behind Me Lies The Desert
  • Belmore
  • Burn The Feather
  • Captain Grande
  • Count Less
  • Die Standing Like Trees
  • Don’t Think A Single Though
  • Down The Road There’s Sunshine
  • Foreigners In A Familiar Land
  • Freeze Frame
  • From Gabriel to Gabrielle
  • Gabriel
  • Glide
  • Gllu Boy And The One Saving Grace
  • Hollow Spaces
  • How To Construct A Ghost
  • Jesse’s Shrine
  • Kinesia Paradoxa
  • Kololo Hill
  • Listen If You Can
  • Loeffler
  • Looking For Me
  • Lucas
  • Median Gray
  • Newton’s Laws of Motion
  • Ordinary Sacred
  • Paradise Undone: A Novel of Jonestown
  • Pettiver’s Cabinet Of Curiosities
  • Remorse
  • Rough New Prizes
  • She Walks In
  • Skywhale
  • Sourland Stew
  • Standing Water
  • Tales From A Tall Woman
  • The ATM Machine
  • The Colour Of Echoes
  • The Confession Of Miss Kate Marsden
  • The Dedication
  • The Glitter Of Bones
  • The Flames: Egon Schiele’s Women
  • The Immortalist
  • The Incitement Of Archie Rummage
  • The Killing Ground
  • The Moneyspinner
  • The Price Of Truth
  • The Time Artist
  • The Return
  • The Sisterhood Of The Good Death
  • The Sound Of It
  • The Summer And The May
  • The Thin End Of The Wedge
  • The Web We Weave
  • The Widow
  • There Had Better Be Endone In That Christmas Bon Bon
  • Victims Of Geography
  • Where Are We Tomorrow?

Amanda, Louise and Sophie will now re-read all of these stories to do the very hard job of whittling them down to a shortlist of 10. This will be announced in mid-May time.

If you weren’t quite ready to submit to the 2018 competition as soon as the winner has been chosen by this year’s judge, literary agent Diana Beaumont, then the the 2019 competition will open for entries.

If you’d like ongoing inspiration and advice to develop your writing our Author Memberships provide just that, as well as free competition entries, discounted courses, free books, and more. Get the info here.

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.