The results of our First 1,000 Words novel competition are:
The Invitation by Louise Groarke
Owl Light by Anne Wilson
Jacapo’s Contract by Andrew Okey and Sedah Falls by Michael Lynch
Judge’s Comments from Chris Curran
Judging this competition was a real pleasure, but it was also tricky because there were so many very accomplished entries. That meant it was quite a challenge to pick the shortlist and even more difficult to narrow the shortlist down to one eventual winner.
1,000 words is not many with which to make an impact, and if I’d been able to read further into some of the submissions that didn’t make the final cut I suspect they might have shone more brightly. But I could only judge what I actually had in front of me and the same applies to agents and editors. They have to make snap decisions, and for anything in the crime/thriller genre they expect to be pulled into the story right away. If not a submission may well be dismissed after only a few paragraphs. Potential readers can be as brutal.
So one thing I was looking for in all the entries was that elusive element: the hook. The thing that compelled me to read on. Ideally I also wanted another hook at the end of the allotted word count. In other words, a page-turning quality.
It follows that the authors of the more successful stories were those who made the most of the limited word count, whilst hinting at more great stuff to come. They took me quickly into their invented world, making it intensely real and peopled with characters who came to vivid life from the start.
The four stories that eventually rose to the top were all outstanding. In the end it was down to picking the one that felt the most complete and where I could find nothing at all to fault.
As it was, I had to choose 2 entries to share third position. They were both so beautifully written that in any other competition I suspect they would have taken first prize. With just a little more editing they could have done so here. Oddly enough both are historical and set during times of plague! Apart from that they couldn’t be more different.
About the winning entries:
Jacapo’s Contract by Andrew Okey
Is set in 14th century Venice, as The Black Death threatens, and features the painter Tintoretto and his mysterious bonded servant, Ciuchino. This entry had a wonderful gothic quality and was so beautifully written I frequently found myself stopping to admire a lovely turn of phrase. And the imagery perfectly suits the subject matter. The church bells for instance are described as tolling with purgatorial groans and laments, strange songs of loss and mourning. Perfect!
Sedah Falls by Michael Lynch
Also appears to be set during a plague year, although an earlier one. The extract features a truly frightening pursuit scene. A child, Jonas, and his young sister are being hunted through the bitter cold and mud of the fields around their village. Jonas knows death awaits if they are caught. Again, the use of language is superb and the scene is so fast-paced and vivid, I found myself literally holding my breath at times.
Owl Light by Anne Wilson
Slower moving and more reflective than some of the other entries, this was none the less highly effective. A woman has returned to Blackpool, where her best friend disappeared when they were teenagers. The whole thing is imbued with a powerful sense of poignancy and loss, as readers share the narrator’s memories of trying to help with the search for her friend in the bleak atmosphere of seaside resort on a winter morning.
The Invitation by Louise Groarke
This took first place in a competition that had some extremely accomplished entries, so obviously, I loved it. It begins with a really powerful opening that leads to an intriguing second scene. A classic set-up, but none the worse for that.
A number of entries began with someone being attacked, but this had such power that I was completely gripped. The attack feels viscerally real. The reader is taken right inside the experience as the narrator struggles not only with her assailant, but with her own terror.
It’s difficult to move from a gut-punch of a passage like this to a more everyday scene, but the author makes sure we are so intrigued by the arrival of an unexpected letter that we absolutely need to know more.
Pitch perfect in fact!
Hastings Writers Room sends congratulations to Louise Groarke who entered the competition all the way from Auckland, New Zealand. Louise wins £100 and an HWR trophy. Anne Wilson receives £50, and all authors in the final four receive a signed copy of Chris Curran’s novel (writing as Abbie Frost) The Guest House. All shortlisted entrants will receive Chris Curran’s feedback by email. Hastings Writers Room encourages all our entrants to keep writing, and we look forward to seeing your novels being published very soon.
The shortlist was:
In Clear Sight Judith Tipping
Inaccessible Carrie Williams
Jacopo’s Contract Andrew Okey
Malice Alice Michael Lynch
Owl Light Anne Wilson
Sedah Falls Michael Lynch
The Invitation Louise Groarke
About the Judge
Chris Curran is the author of five crime novels published by Harper Collins. Her first four books are psychological thrillers and critics have called them ‘compelling.’ ‘truly gripping,’ (Sunday Express) ‘cinematic and well-constructed’. Her most recent, ALL THE LITTLE LIES, is ‘a perfectly wrought psychological drama … a film maker’s dream.’ (Bookmuse)
Chris loves gothic fiction and is not averse to a smattering of horror. Since 2020 she has also written as Abbie Frost. THE GUESTHOUSE has been described as ‘A classic remote house mystery’. The Sun called it ‘addictive’; The Daily Mail ‘addictive and fun’, The Courier, ‘a scintillating read.’
Follow Chris/Abbie on Twitter: @FrostyAbbie