Results: 2017 First Chapter Competition

Thanks to our judge, Laura Williams, literary agent with PFD, for choosing a winner and two runners-up for the 2017 First Chapter Competition. Laura has asked to read the full MS from all three of the writers in her top spots; and has provided short feedback on each shortlisted chapter below too. Many congratulations to the winner and runners-up, and to all of the writers that made the shortlist. Hopefully Laura’s comments will help with your editing.

Winner: The Moonscape by Eirill Falck

I love the first paragraph. It sets the scene, introduces the key characters, teases the plot – it does absolutely everything you could ever hope a first paragraph would do. The set up works so well in this first chapter, and I’d be very interested in reading more.


Runner-Up: Bouzouki Nights by Emily Kerr

I was instantly on side with the protagonist from the very beginning here, she’s hugely likeable. The writing is very lively and reads so naturally in the way that the best commercial fiction does. It definitely made me want to find out what happens next.


Runner-Up: Fallible Justice by Laura Laakso

There’s a really good flow to the writing here and some absolutely devastatingly beautiful images. I did find the drama of the opening chapter to feel a little too quiet, almost underplayed, so I think there needs to be a focus on packing a punch in the narrative as well as in those really arresting descriptions. I’d very much like to see where the storyline goes.



Click. Bang. by Dave Wakely

A very intriguing premise, I love the dreamlike feel. Be careful to give the reader something solid to latch on to before too long though, otherwise the abstract style can become a little bit confusing.

The Virgins of Salem by Fiona Mackintosh

The opening certainly grabs the reader’s attention. The scene setting and vivid description of early 20th century India is very well done. I have absolutely no idea where the story will go from here, but it certainly is a memorable opening chapter!

Naked Gardening for the Over Fifties by Catherine Edmund

I admire the very lively writing style in this, but I did find the stream-of-consciousness style here a little bit too frenetic when the reader is settling into the story. Obviously you want to grab the reader with action, but in this case the pace of the main character’s racing thoughts can afford to be slowed down a little. Watch out for tenses too, as sometimes these were inconsistent.

The Uprising by Ahize Mbaeliachi

The premise is interesting and unusual, and I would have liked a little more description in these early pages considering the location and historical setting – I wanted the landscape to play a larger role so that the story could really draw me in.

A Minute’s Grace by Laura Tisdall

The little crumbs of exposition that are revealed as the chapter goes on are tantalising, and certainly makes the reader want to keep turning the page, although I still felt really in the dark at the end of the chapter about what was going on. The bombshell of the last line doesn’t really land with confidence in the mechanics of the world that’s been created by that point.

The Weight of Stones by Ruby Speechley

There’s a good gradual build up of tension here, but some of the dialogue for me towards the end is a little unnatural, and I’d be careful about introducing too many secondary characters too soon, at the cost of keeping the reader’s focus on the protagonist in these opening pages.

Soliciting in the City by Isabel Powles

The first day of a new job is a quite common inciting incident in the opening of a story, and it wasn’t clear enough to me from the off what was going to make this storyline stand out above other openings that could be similar, despite good writing and a really relatable protagonist. I sense there’s more here than is currently being let on!


Well done to everyone that made the long and shortlist for this year’s competition.

If you’d like to be in with a chance of getting feedback on your work from a top literary agent, then the 2018 First Chapter Competition is now open for entries.

The judge for 2018 is Diana Beaumont with Marjacq. You can find out about Diana and her list here. Deadline for the 2018 competition is 28th January and you can get all the info here.

2017 First Chapter Competition Shortlist

Drum roll! After multiple re-reads by myself and Louise Walters we now have a shortlist of 10 stories that are with judge, Laura Williams, literary agent with Peters, Fraser and Dunlop.

Thanks again to everyone that entered and well done to all the longlisted writers – and congratulations to everyone on our shortlist!

The 2017 First Chapter Competition Shortlist


  • A Minute’s Grace by Laura Tisdall
  • Bouzouki Nights by Emily Kerr
  • Click. Bang. by Dave Wakely
  • Fallible Justice by Laura Laakso
  • Naked Gardening for the Over-Fifties by Catherine Edmunds
  • Soliciting in the City by Isabel Powles
  • The Moonscape by Eirill Falck
  • The Uprising by Ahize Mbaeliachi
  • The Virgins of Salem by Fiona Mackintosh
  • The Weight of Stones by Ruby Speechley


Final results will be posted soon…good luck everyone!


2017 First Chapter Comp Longlists

Many thanks to all of the 133 writers who entered the 2017 First Chapter Competition – we enjoyed reading all of them. There are 29 on the longlist and of these 10 will go through to the shortlist and have their chapters read by the judge, literary agent Laura Williams at PFD. The shortlist will be published on 12th July 2017.

At this stage we are still reading the stories anonymously so just titles are shown now. If your story is listed here please do not announce on social media what it is called in case we see it!

Longlisted First Chapters

(in alphabetical order)
  • A Bundle of Bones
  • A Minute’s Grace
  • Bouzouki Nights
  • Bye Bye Baby
  • Click. Bang.
  • Don’t Tell Meg
  • Fallible Justice
  • Fly Girl
  • Haunted Pages
  • Hide in Plain Sight
  • Inhabited
  • Naked Gardening for the Over Fifties
  • Nasty, Brutal and Short
  • Obligations of Love
  • Of Vows and Bonds
  • Ornithophobia
  • Possession
  • Remembering the Future
  • Soliciting in the City
  • The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hurt a Fly
  • The Hungry Ghost
  • The Moonscape
  • The Poacher’s Code
  • The Rebel
  • The Uprising
  • The Virgins of Salem
  • The Weight of Stones
  • Thieves in Antwerp

Well done to all the writers on this list and good luck for the next round!

Literary agent interview: Laura Williams at PFD

Great to have Laura Williams here today revealing what she’s looking for in the fiction submissions she receives.

Laura is a literary agent at Peters Fraser and Dunlop and the judge for the 2017 First Chapter Competition. She is actively building a fiction list and is looking for literary fiction, edgy commercial fiction, psychological thrillers and high-concept contemporary young adult.

Laura, when you receive a 3 chapter submission, what gets you excited enough to then ask for the full MS?

I think it has to be a combination of things – a good initial covering letter and instantly intriguing pitch, which is then followed through on with a compelling and well written opening chapters. As with all things, it’s impossible to say exactly what will grab my attention – the projects I call in are never quite what I expect! But they’re normally something a bit different, that are both pitched and written well.

Writers repeatedly hear from agents they submit to that you like it but you didn’t love it enough, how does a MS make you love it when you have requested and read the whole thing?

Again, this is such a hard question. For starters, if I’ve actually read the whole thing having called it in, that’s a good sign – there’s so much on all our reading piles that making it the whole way through a submission means that we’re invested enough in the story to want to see how it plays out. There are moments when I find I’ve read a whole manuscript in an afternoon and I haven’t noticed the time going by – when you read for a living, that’s when you know it’s something a bit special.

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

The first paragraph is crucial. I want to be instantly gripped by the character or situation introduced, and I want to have an instant sense that the author is in control of their writing, and knows how to put a sentence together. The best feeling in the world is being swept away by a first chapter and thinking, yes, I want to read more, because it doesn’t happen every day!

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

I’m mostly looking for literary fiction, as well as contemporary reading group or crossover fiction. I don’t really do anything too commercial, but you just never know – the first book I sold was a really boysy thriller that I didn’t see coming for my list at all, so never say never. I’m also building a list of some non-fiction and YA as well.

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

All time favourites: Chabon, Updike, Atwood, Patchett, Salinger, Carver, Hammett, King, Jackson. My favourite books of this year so far: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, Jakob’s Colours by Lindsay Hawdon, The Girls by Emma Cline, Moonstone by Sjon, Thin Air by Michelle Paver. Also I’ve just finished Lincoln in the Bardo, the first novel by George Saunders, which is out next year, and I can’t stop thinking about it, it’s astonishing.


Thanks for these insights into your wants for your list, Laura, and for being the judge of the 2017 competition.

So, writers of crossover, reading group, YA and literary fiction get polishing those first chapters! Then enter them here to be in with a chance of getting detailed feedback on your submission from Laura, and who knows maybe a full MS request too!

June 2016 First Chapter Results

The 10 chapters have been read and re-read by Jenny Savill and she has made her decision! Congratulations to …


There was a lightness of touch to this, and a deftness when it came to imparting information that I really admired. It’s so hard to give a sense of period without overdoing it, and the author has managed this well. Also a wry and intelligent humour coming through. I’m intrigued to read the whole manuscript.

The tension builds well and the author has made a very good job of rendering a potentially unlikeable character, likeable. There’s a lovely rhythm to the prose, which serves to enhance the main character’s thought process. A joy to read.

A potential modern-day ROMEO AND JULIET. The writing makes it easy to engage with the characters and their predicament, and while great intensity of feeling is conveyed, there are laugh out loud moments too. Loving the distinct voices and the wry observations on bureaucracy and box-ticking.


REFUGE by Ruth Connolly
This had a great sense of place and setting, and a strong voice. On occasion, where dialogue is reported, I think the author could show it. I liked the intriguing twist at the end.

Such a smooth, thriller-like tone. Precise, clean lines both in the description and the execution – almost architectural. This knows exactly what it is and who it is for. An intriguingly dry main character. Feels accomplished.

Very nice world building here – we enter a familiar yet definitely “other” world. The writing is well-pitched for a YA audience. I love how the writer makes the reader work to understand what’s going on – and rewards them for the effort. Also a clever premise.

THE FLESH by Bev Morris
Such a refreshing and unusual premise. I love how the writer has taken some of today’s concerns and stretched them to their logical conclusion, then set them in a recognisable world of tomorrow. It’s a really clever – and disturbing – idea, well told.

An action-packed beginning, full of intrigue. The author tells us a great deal over relatively small page space. I would suggest slowing down, showing us a bit more, and working also on your main character – helping the reader get to know her more.

This has a contemporary feel, with snappy dialogue and lots of laughs. I sense a big, funny, romantic comedy. There is a great insider-authenticity to it. I would cut the initial explanation of what the fan club is and put it in later – entice the reader in with the promise of an explanation.

THE WAY BACK by Catherine Morris
The exploration of grief feels so well done here. Such intense writing, so full of emotion but it feels to me somehow constrained by the present tense – like it needs releasing to fully work. Maybe as an exercise try the past tense and see what happens? And I would cut the first para – it only tells us what the author then shows us so beautifully in the second. Trust your abilities.


Well done to everyone on the shortlist and especially to Caroline, Rachael and John!


June 16 First Chapter comp shortlist

After reading and re-reading the longlisted stories several times a shortlist of 10 has now been chosen and gone to Jenny Savill to read. Congratulations to everyone on the longlist and good luck to all that have now gone on to the next round. Winner announced soon!

The Shortlist 

  • Refuge by Ruth Crowe
  • The Lens You Look Through by Sue Cooper
  • The Zac Scaramouche Fan Club by Christina Pishiris
  • The Chanteuse from Cape Town by John Constable
  • My Summer As Brittania by Caroline Waterer
  • A Policy on Kissing by John Taylor
  • Start Wearing Purple for Me Now by Rachael Dunlop
  • The Way Back by Catherine Morris
  • The Distance Between You and Me by Britta Jensen
  • The Flesh by Bev Morris