Winners: 2021 First Chapter Competition

We are excited to reveal the results of our 2021 First Chapter competition and the winners chosen by Sam Jordison of Galley Beggar Press. Many congratulations to all who made the shortlist and to our winners!

Thanks to Sam for reading these 10 novel openings and making the tough final decision.


  • Bring Them to Light by Lou Kramskoy
  • Countdown by Clare Evans
  • Down Came a Blackbird by Julie Holden
  • Northern Boy by Iqbal Hussain
  • Sideslip by Dianne Bown-Wilson
  • The Grey Man by James Blair
  • The Limehouse Blues by Rod Cookson
  • The Mirador by Sally Skinner
  • The Slighting of Livia Rathbone by Kate Stratford
  • Wildwood by Sarah McPherson

First Place: Bring Them To The Light by Lou Kramskoy

Sam said: This chapter really surprised and impressed me.  It’s a striking and clever bit of writing. Starting off in the future tense is bold – but you carry it off. Writing about the effects of acid is also very difficult (and often goes very wrong!) – but again, you carry it off. Meanwhile, you provide really effective physical details like that steam coming off the teenage bodies in the cold. You generate a strong sense of bewilderment and anxiety around the boys – and do it mainly through effective physical description. And there’s a strong and growing sense of mystery and urgency about your story. I really wanted to read on.

Second Place: Down Came A Blackbird by Julie Holden

This is a gripping and tense opening. It’s vividly written with a strong sense of place and of your narrator’s troubled humanity. There’s a good sense of mystery and intrigue around what the narrator has to tell Adam – and a lot going on around the peripheries. I liked, for instance, the strong sense of discomfort generated by Karl. If I had to nitpick, I’d advise you to be careful  not to over-describe. Why does your narrator tell us that a table is “white metal”, for instance? I also liked the idea of the dead birds  – but careful not to push that metaphor too far.  I got a bit lost when you were tearing open a dead bird envelope.

Highly Commended: The Mirador by Sally Skinner

That’s a striking first sentence. It’s followed up with good physical descriptions and plenty of  tension. I got a sense of a narrator who isn’t entirely in control. And I liked the moving description of the mother. 


Countdown by Clare Evans

There are some really good human touches in this chapter, like the desire for a bacon bap. There were also some very nice descriptions – like Cooper wearing his story on his face. The story also felt like it could go in interesting directions. If you’re redrafting, I’d suggest thinking about whether the rational, considered thought stream of the narrator fits in with the wooziness she’s experiencing – and the fact that she’s giving birth…

Northern Boy by Iqbal Hussain

There’s lots of nice material in this chapter, building up a rich view of homelife for your young narrator. There are cute descriptions – I liked your narrator’s Tweety Pie t-shirt. There’s also some nice dialogue. “I’m ten years old” seemed like a very reasonable reply! I’d be interested to read more – although at this stage I am slightly concerned that the issues you’ve brought up feel quite familiar. I hope you can take this in an interesting new direction.

Sideslip by Dianne Bown-Wilson

Quickly we are plunged into a horrible, heart-breaking situation which you lay out clearly and effectively. There’s emotion, dread and guilt. There are some great images here too. (I liked “marshmallow-y”!) I’m not entirely sure about your first line (isn’t the answer “no one!). this piece would also be even stronger if you gave it a good  copy edit, thinking particularly about accuracy in word choice

The Grey Man by James Blair

This feels like it’s going to be a sincere and moving story with real social value. The scam you portray feels unjust and enraging. One thing you can usefully do to take it up a level, would be to give your writing a good copy edit, looking out especially for inaccuracy in word choice.

The Limehouse Blues by Rod Cookson

There’s a good attempt at humour and repartee here and some nice period details. I enjoyed the Nero Wolfe reference. There’s also a nice bit of intrigue – and having your narrator as the criminal feels like an interesting device. My redrafting advice would be to have faith in the humour of your material – you don’t need to push your jokes too far.

The Slighting Of Livia Rathbone by Kate Stratford

This is an interesting character study of an angry father with a good mystery surrounding Livia Rathbone and intrigue surrounding the question of what is being hidden from Edie. The prose is clear and there are some striking images. My general feeling it that your sentences work best when they’re straightforward and you don’t need to push too hard for effect.

Wildwood by Sarah McPherson

You’ve worked hard to develop a strong sense of place and a numinous atmosphere here. There are some nice descriptions and a sense of foreboding. I did however, think you might be able to trim out some of the adjectives and make this tighter still.