Blue Pencil Agency First Novel Award 2021

The BPA First Novel Award is open to unrepresented and unpublished authors for a novel in any adult fiction genre.


We are thrilled to announce the winners of the BPA First Novel Award 2021. Our judges this year were literary agent Hellie Ogden of Janklow & Nesbit and award-winning author Kiran Millwood-Hargrave. More than 1,100 entries were received from around the world with literary and commercial fiction, including crime, historical and sci-fi, all represented. The standard of entries was higher than ever and it was difficult to land on a longlist of 24 titles and a shortlist of 6.

Congratulations to our winners and to all those listed. We are delighted for this year’s winner, Julia Kelly, who has accepted an offer of representation from Hellie with her immersive story of a mother’s loss. The judges were also blown away by Anna Richmond’s compulsive tale of a monster in the Thames and Loretta Chefchaouni‘s strikingly original teen detective narrative.

Many thanks to all who entered. We took such pleasure in reading each entry and wish you all the best with your writing.

Submissions for the 2022 First Novel Award will open in January 2022.

BPA First Novel Award – Hellie Ogden, Kiran Millwood-Hargrave, Julia Kelly, Anna Richmond, Loretta Chefchaouni


Julia Kelly

The Lost Child

Book Club Fiction

£1,000 cash prize and introduction to Hellie Ogden

BPA First Novel Award – Winner, Julia Kelly

When a young boy washes up onto the beach with no memory, Dorothy is shocked by the resemblance he has to her son who drowned twenty years before, at the same age. She agrees to look after him.


Judges’ Comments

Kiran: From those opening pages you’re completely immersed in such a rich setting filled with characters you ache to know more about.

Hellie: Stunning and heart-breaking in equal measure, every single word stays with you.



Julia Kelly is a mother, English teacher and writer whose work has been longlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize, the Mslexia Award, and Penguin WriteNow. She lives in Herefordshire with her partner, daughter, and dog, all of whom are determined to distract her from writing.

Julia is represented by Hellie Ogden at Janklow & Nesbit.


Anna Richmond



Introduction to Hellie Ogden and manuscript review

BPA First Novel Award – Anna Richmond

Imogen’s life splinters in the instant her son is snatched from the bank of the Thames, dragged back into the water by a huge, serpentine creature. Should she tell the truth about what she saw?


Judges’ Comments

Hellie: Anna builds a story of a monster and a family unravelling with a terrifying suspense that keeps you on edge.

Kiran: Her writing is urgent and powerful which perfectly captures the mother who, at the heart of this story, is desperate to be believed.



Anna Richmond is a freelance copywriter and Programme Manager at a London-based education charity. Her short story ‘Hand Raised’ was published in Breakwater Review, while others have been long-listed for the Desperate Literature Short Story Prize and the Alpine Fellowship Writing Prize. Tide-Turner is Anna’s first novel, written while taking part in the Curtis Brown Creative novel writing course.


Loretta Chefchaouni


YA Mystery

Introduction to Hellie Ogden

BPA First Novel Award – Loretta Chefchaouni

Jannat hears the voices of the dead in Barzakh, the Islamic after realm. She helps her detective dad solve murders but is haunted by the one case she can never solve—her mother’s.


Judges’ Comments

Kiran: Such a cleverly imagined plot with a main character so full of energy and heart.

Hellie: Loretta’s writing confidently layers an eerie story with a tenderness and warmth that moves you just as much as it excites you.



Loretta Chefchaouni lives in Florida. A former early childhood educator, she now spends her days writing young adult books with a little creepiness and a lot of heart. Her novels have placed in competitions such as: Revpit (2018 winner), WriteMentor Children’s Novel Award (2019 shortlist) LERA’s The Writer award (2020 finalist). She is an alum of the PitchWars mentorship contest (2020), and a fellow in the Highlights Foundation’s Muslim Storytellers Fellowship (2021).


Natalie Bayley

Bone Rites


BPA First Novel Award – Natalie Bayley

A journalist investigates why DNA tests on an antique skeleton prove each of its bones came from a different person – in 1925, Dr. Kathryn Davenport tells of the loss that led her to collect each bone amidst the horrors of WWI. 


Judges’ Comments

Hellie: Completely gripping from the get-go, Natalie deftly builds such a complex story that has you rooting for a character you know you shouldn’t.

Kiran: We loved the chilling voice and strong sense of place her writing offers.



Nat Bayley is an English-Australian writer and teacher, whose satirical opinion column is published monthly in the Sydney magazine, The Beast. A psychology graduate of Leeds University, she’s also completed editing courses with Curtis Brown and Writing NSW and was longlisted for the 2019 BPA First Novel Award. Bone Rites was written in a cave by an ocean pool.


Jodie Matthews

A Single Drop of Sea

Literary Horror

BPA First Novel Award – Jodie Matthews

When Merryn returns home to Bodmin Moor for her childhood sweetheart’s memorial, the folklore she learnt as a child becomes more real than ever, and she struggles to escape the haunting of her past.


Judges’ Comments

Kiran: The setting is so rich and memorable, it really gives the characters and plot a true depth.

Hellie: A really beautiful idea exploring memories, secrets and identity being tied up in the land.



Jodie Matthews is a queer Cornish writer, poet and book reviewer. Her poetry and personal essays have been published in various independent publications, including Ramona Mag and Cunning Folk. Her debut novel, A Single Drop of Sea, has also been shortlisted for the Bath Novel Awards. She won a year’s membership to The London Library from author Jessie Burton, to further her research. Whilst growing up on Bodmin Moor, she developed a fascination with the Beast of Bodmin and all things folklore. Her writing explores the uncanny, liminal spaces and the small terrors of identity. She is represented by Liv Maidment from the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency.


Douglas Westerbeke

A Short Walk Through a Wide World

Magical Realism

BPA First Novel Award – Douglas Westerbeke

In a market in 1920s Siam, Aubry is stricken with a terrible sickness. She swims to a river ferry where a New Zealand family pulls her onboard. Grateful, strangely cured, she tells them her story.


Judges’ Comments

Hellie: In awe of such a visceral opening, so cleverly written.

Kiran: You can feel the shock and tension in the atmosphere as the narrator tells her story.



Douglas Westerbeke began writing screenplays, several of which have been finalists in over a dozen competitions, four of those optioned in Hollywood. He also works at one of the largest libraries in the United States and has spent the last eight years on the local panel of the International Dublin Literary Award, reading current literary novels and nominating the best for selection. It is this experience that has inspired him to write his own novels.


Another Kind of Life


Daughters of the Field


Down Came a Blackbird





Master Mistress

Miles Away


Rock, Sky, Girl

Social Death

The Cameo Thief

The Heaven Born

The Street Sweeper

Wednesday Morning

Gift Nyoni

Arathi Menon

Carrie Maestas

Gina de Ferrer

Julie Holden

Nicola Whyte

Karen Ashe

Ali Norell

Sara Jane Potter

Jennifer Noon

Rebecca Lewis

Fearghal Hall

Mark Schimmoeller

Johanna Spiers

Sally Harris

Glenda Cooper

Bren Gosling

Tom Powell

‘I was so close to not entering the BPA First Novel Award as I have really struggled with confidence this year. It seems incredible to me that I was longlisted, then shortlisted and that now, not only have I won but Hellie has offered representation. I had bookmarked Hellie as someone I was very keen to query when the time came and to find myself in this position is absolutely wonderful. I am so grateful to BPA, to Kiran and to Hellie for the incredible opportunities that have arisen out of my application, as well as the utter thrill of knowing that you all loved my work. It will be a long time before I stop pinching myself.’

Julia Kelly, winner of the BPA First Novel Award 2021



Hellie Ogden


Literary agent at Janklow & Nesbit

Hellie Ogden featured in the Bookseller Rising Stars List and was shortlisted for the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize. She represents a number of Sunday Times bestsellers and award winning writers across genres. She often speaks at writing conferences and mentors debut writers. Hellie represents fiction, children’s books and non-fiction and enjoys novels with bold storytelling, moving prose and vivid, thought-provoking characters. As an editorially focused agent, she has a keen interest in helping to develop and nurture debut writers. Follow her on Twitter @hellieogden.

Kiran Millwood-Hargrave


Author of The Mercies, Julia and the Shark, The Girl of Ink & Stars and more

Kiran Millwood-Hargrave is the bestselling, award-winning author of novels for children and adults. Her first novel for adults, The Mercies, debuted as a Sunday Times bestseller and a number one Times bestseller. It was chosen as an NYT Notable Book of 2020, and has been translated into over twenty languages, winning Le Prix Rive Gauche à Paris for best translated novel. Her latest novel Julia and the Shark was the Bookseller’s Editor’s Choice for September. Kiran reads avidly and widely, and is an encourager of fellow authors, undertaking mentorship of writers from underprivileged and underrepresented backgrounds. She has previously been a judge for the Costa Book Awards, Mslexia Novel Writing Competition, the Times Chicken House Award, the Jhalak Prize, and the British Book Awards.

What we’re looking for:

• any genre with the exception of children’s fiction and non-fiction. YA is permitted provided there is an adult crossover.
• a strong voice.
• an original and unforgettable story that grips the reader.
• an attention grabbing first paragraph.


  • Authors must be over 18 years old at the time of entry.
  • The Award is open to unrepresented and unpublished authors of fiction at the closing date of May 31.
  • Clients of BPA who have had full manuscript reviews are not eligible to enter however those who have been to a retreat or workshop are still eligible providing they did not follow up with an editorial service.
  • Writers must advise the organisers if they accept representation during the judging period or win any other prizes. They may still be eligible for the Award.
  • Self-published authors are accepted. Entrants who have had other types of books published such as non fiction, memoir or poetry are also eligible.
  • The novel must be completed or close to completion at the closing date of May 31.
  • Long-listed or short-listed entries in other competitions are eligible.
  • Entrants may submit more than one novel but as separate entries.
  • Entries must be written in English.
  • Entries can only be submitted electronically via this site and payment made via PayPal.
  • Entrants may withdraw entries but fees cannot be refunded.
  • Judges’ decision is final. Judges are unable to comment on individual entries.
  • Copyright remains with the author, however we reserve the right to publish extracts of up to 300 words on our website as well as the opening lines on twitter.
  • By submitting their manuscript, entrants are agreeing for BPA to keep a record of their e-mail address for marketing purposes only. This information will not be shared with third parties. Entrants can unsubscribe from all communication at any time.

How to submit

  • Please enter through the link on our website
  • Download your opening chapter or chapters up to 5000 words plus a 300 word synopsis and a covering letter with some information about yourself/career as a writer.
  • Please ensure that the file name is the title of the story and ensure that this is also in the subject line of your email.
  • Entries must be in either a doc., docx, or pdf. No other formats will be accepted.
  • Entries must be double spaced in a clear font (Times New Roman or similar) and pages numbered.
  • The novel’s title must be on every page but your name should not appear anywhere on the story.
  • The covering letter should include the following details: your name, the title of your novel, your email address and telephone number, a brief CV or publication history and the genre of your novel if applicable (e.g. uplit, romance, contemporary, historical, psychological thriller, fantasy, crime, women’s, literary)
  • Go to the Shop page and click on the paypal button to pay the fee.
  • If payment is made using a different name, it is essential you include that name in the email you send with the story.