We are thrilled to announce that the winner of the inaugural Curtis Brown First Novel Prize is Chikọdili Emelumadu.
Of the more than 3,000 competition entries received from across the U.K. and Ireland, Emelumadu’s novel Dazzling was the absolute stand-out. She has won an offer of representation from Curtis Brown and £3,000. We were blown away by the standard of entries, but Chikodili Emelumadu’s Dazzling was a clear winner. We launched this Prize with the aim of finding and developing raw talent, and we feel hugely privileged to have read what for many of our entrants was the first 10,000 words they have ever committed to paper. This has been an exciting and energizing process and we are looking forward to watching so many brilliant careers develop. Head judge Tracy Chevalier, bestselling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring and A Single Thread , who selected the overall winner and runner-up from the final shortlist, said:
‘I was bewitched by this story of Treasure, a young girl who has lost her father and is taken in by a spirit – intertwined with Ozoemena, another girl who becomes part of a Nigerian Leopard Society whose members are normally men. The premise is intriguing, the writing confident. I particularly loved the evocative descriptions … I would not have guessed this was a first novel; Emelumadu seems to have writing naturally in the blood.’
The runner-up, who also receives an offer of representation from Curtis Brown, is Lucy Barker, for The Wickedry of Mrs Wood, a brilliant historical novel about the rivalry between two mediums in Victorian London.
A third entry, Monkeyflower by Debra Hills, which follows a family in 1970s South Shields, is awarded a special commendation prize from Curtis Brown Creative: a place on a three-month novel-writing course.
The four further titles which make up on the shortlist each win a mentoring session with a Curtis Brown agent and a place on a six-week online course from Curtis Brown Creative. We are immensely proud of the wide range of genres and writers’ backgrounds which are represented by this shortlist. We were taken aback by the standard of work from the 3,000+ writers who entered our inaugural prize, it was a true challenge to narrow the entries down to just seven outstanding novels-in-progress. So, we are excited and proud to be able to share with you the opening 500 words from the seven extremely talented writers who make up our shortlist:
WINNER: Chikọdili Emelumadu, Dazzling
Chikọdili Emelumadu is a writer and former broadcaster living in East Sussex. She was nominated for a Shirley Jackson award in 2014 for her short story ‘Candy Girl’ and is published in Apex, One Throne, Omenana and Eclectica magazine among others. Her work has made a few ‘Best of’ lists and is included in anthologies, such as Sharp and Sugar Tooth: Women Up To No Good and the collection African Monsters for which her story ‘Bush Baby’ was nominated for the Caine Prize for African Literature in 2017. Chikọdili tweets as @chemelumadu.
RUNNER-UP: Lucy Barker, The Wickedry of Mrs Wood
Lucy Barker has been writing stories all her life, mostly around jobs which were not about writing at all, and won a place on the Curtis Brown Creative novel writing course in 2014.
It was during her studies for an MA in Victorian Studies at Birkbeck College that she fell in love with the voices of nineteenth-century women, and while she never set out to write historical fiction because it’s a lot harder work, those voices proved difficult to quiet. She loves to explore different representations of these ‘angels of the hearth’ in her writing, uncovering forgotten stories or giving light and shade to ideas of our great-great-grandmothers and their lives.
Lucy lives in Hampshire with her husband, two small children and a dog. She runs the social media (finally a job that makes use of her knowing when to use a semi-colon in public (never)) for an iconic heritage site and her best moment ever was the one she spent standing near Barack Obama.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: Debra Hills, Monkeyflower
Debra Hills is a Geordie, more specifically a Sanddancer, born and bred in South Shields. She has worked as a paper girl, a barmaid, a cloakroom attendant and a sandwich lady, on an assembly line, in a lighting shop, in offices and nightclubs. She now teaches critical thinking, academic writing and intercultural communication at Queen Mary University in London. Debra has a Creative Writing MA from City University and a writer-crush on Nina Stibbe and Barbara Comyns. She can be found drinking gin gimlets anywhere remotely art deco, eyeing up vintage outfits in Islington’s Camden Passage and reading, reading reading, anywhere, everywhere.
Dawn Beresford, Blessed Joan
Dawn Beresford is Head of Talent for two independent television production companies. Starting out as a Runner for the BBC, she spent 8 years making travel documentaries in the US, Russia, South Africa, Australia, Kenya, Haiti, Cuba, Vanuatu, Tahiti and Zimbabwe. She went on to produce, direct, and series produce shows for Channel 4, ITV, BBC 2, BBC 3, National Geographic and the Discovery Channel. She worked for 4 years as a Genre Executive at the BBC’s Factual Commissioning Department.
Dawn sits on the Advisory Board for the social enterprise Creative Access and on the Advisory Group for the Indie Training Fund. She has mentored hundreds of interns from under-represented backgrounds, helping them to pursue careers in the arts.
Dawn has been writing stories to make sense of the world since primary school. She grew up in Kent in a blended family with her Barbadian mother and Guyanese father. Married with three girls and having lived in London for 13 years Dawn then moved with her family to Barbados for 5 years. She has now settled back in Kent. Blessed Joan draws on her own experiences of growing up in Kent, those of the Windrush generation and the onset of psychosis.
Darren J. Coles, ZN
My childhood reads like a Ken Loach screenplay. I grew up in a terraced house in the shade of a colliery in the South Wales valleys and have been writing ever since I can remember. I studied Philosophy at Cardiff University in my twenties and have been living and working in the city ever since. I have a broad, almost schizophrenic CV: publishing editor, waiter, barista, video editor, film director, tile salesman, retail salesman, poetry reviewer. I’m currently a support worker, working with people with severe learning difficulties. I’ve also been performing stand-up comedy under the name The Death Hilarious for a few years, aping surreal character comedy like the League of Gentlemen, the Mighty Boosh and Monty Python, gathering a small but disreputable fanbase. The checklist of writers that have influenced me are: Enid Blyton, Margaret Atwood, Ted Hughes, Richey Edwards, Alice Munro, Sylvia Plath, Woody Allen, Beatrix Potter, John Updike, James Joyce, Cormac McCarthy, Gwyn Thomas and Mark E. Smith. If you read these in this exact order, you will be able to produce word-for-word one of my stories. Other interests include American history, cross-dressing, bourbon whiskey, washing dishes and holidaying in St. Ives during Winter.
Heather Cripps, #beauisfine
Heather Cripps is a writer and library assistant from Derby, England. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Kent and a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Gloucestershire. She has previously been published in Forge Literary Magazine, where she was then invited to be an editor, Ellipsis, The Drum, Queen Mob’s Teahouse and more. #beauisfine was born out of her ongoing obsession with YouTube and social media.
Carrie Nelson, The Three Sisters Below Strang Wood
I was brought up in Blackburn but now live in rural Lancashire with my husband, our baby boy and a badly behaved beagle called Eleanor Roosevelt. After studying politics and history at the University of Manchester and UCL, I trained to be a journalist and then went on to work in politics. I’m currently on maternity leave. When I’m not writing, you can normally find me attempting to entertain a teething baby or walking across the Lancashire moors trying desperately not to get lost. The Three Sisters Below Strang Wood is my first novel.
Thank you once again to everyone who entered their opening 10,000 words to the inaugural Curtis Brown First Novel Prize. When we launched this prize in partnership with Curtis Brown Creative as part of Curtis Brown’s 120th anniversary celebrations we set out on a mission find the voices of the future. Now we are pleased to say: mission accomplished, we cannot wait to watch brilliant careers develop for these talented writers.