Judge’s Report from Headline Publishing
The standard was very high! Though there was a clear winner for us, it was a much closer contest for second place – many of the entries had really strong pitches and showcased excellent writing skills, so it was a tough decision in the end. As with last year, each submission was read twice (by different people) so that the judging was fair.
The Map of Lost Lands
We were incredibly impressed with the sample material that the author submitted and the feedback I received from both readers was nothing but positive. There were so many elements that we felt the author successfully achieved in these opening pages. For starters, the writing is sophisticated and immersive – it immediately grabs the reader’s attention, piquing their interest. Alongside that, the author has brilliantly evoked another world, which the reader is transported to seamlessly from the off – the descriptions of Victorian London and the pawn shop where the protagonist lives are beautiful, captivating and give a tantalising glance at the magic to come. Marnie is inquisitive, quiet and good-natured – the perfect combination for a heroine in novels that sit in this space – and there is an immediate connection with her. Overall, the chapter is well structured and the fantastic ‘reveal’ at the end made each of us really intrigued to read on. Excellent storytelling!
Without a Shadow
Although there were many strong entries amongst the shortlist, we felt that this author displayed a particularly strong writing style and a confident voice that carried throughout the sample. Within these opening pages, there are some beautiful descriptions and convincing world-building and it was done in such a way that we were able to understand the character’s world without a lot of extraneous exposition – there was no sense of it being forced, rather it seemed to be effortlessly integrated into the storytelling. There was also a great sense of immediacy in this sample. Not just from the perspective of drawing the reader into the novel’s landscape, but also the reader is thrown into the action straightaway, which makes for an exciting read. However, we did feel that this action could do with a little more expansion to position it confidently within the rest of the opening section. At the moment, it has the potential to feel a little overwhelming and confusing. But, overall, we felt that the author demonstrated a lot of potential.