We are excited to announce the BPA First Novel Award 2021 Longlist. This year’s judges are literary agent Hellie Ogden from Janklow & Nesbit and award-winning author Kiran Millwood-Hargrave (The…
First Novel Award 2021 Longlist Announcement
First Novel Award 2021
The Award is open to unrepresented authors for a novel in any adult fiction genre. Entries accepted from outside the UK provided the novel is in English. Self published authors may apply.
Winner: £1,000 + Agent Introduction
Runner up: Manuscript Review + Agent Introduction
Highly Commended: Agent Introduction
PLEASE NOTE THAT THE COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED. PLEASE DO NOT PAY AND SUBMIT. THE LONGLIST WILL BE ANNOUNCED IN JULY.
This year we are offering a minimum of 10 free entries for UK based writers on low incomes or from communities traditionally under represented in publishing.
The most promising submissions will be selected by the BPA team.
See submissions details below for more information.
Literary Agent: Hellie Ogden of Janklow & Nesbit
Author: Kiran Millward-Hargrave
The team at Blue Pencil Agency will oversee all submissions.
Submission: Opening chapter or chapters up to 5000 words plus a 300 word synopsis and a covering letter
Entry fee: £20 for each submission. Online entry only.
Closing date for submissions: May 31, 2021.
THE COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED FOR NEW SUBMISSIONS
Long listed writers will be contacted by email with announcements of the titles on the website in July.
Short listed writers will be asked to submit 20,000 words (includes the initial entry).
The winners will be notified by email and announced on October 30, 2021.
A video recording of a live event with Hellie Ogden talking about what she is looking for is available now. Check out the details here
Favourite Lines: we will post our favourite lines on social media from April until the Long List announcement in July.
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
. open to writers living outside the UK as long as the work in in English
About our Judges
Hellie Ogden represents fiction and non-fiction including a number of Sunday Times bestsellers and award winning writers across genres. She 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. She featured in the Bookseller Rising Stars List and was shortlisted for the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize. Hellie regularly speaks at writing conferences and mentors debut writers.
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. 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.
- Authors must be over 18 years old at the time of entry.
- The Award is open to unrepresented authors of fiction at the closing date of May 31, 2021.
- Writers outside the UK are eligible and entries welcome from around the world.
- 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.
- Previous BPA editorial clients are welcome to enter, but please let us know who edited your work and when. Mentorship clients are ineligible.
- The novel must be completed or close to completion at the closing date of May 31, 2021.
- 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.
How to submit (SUBMISSIONS CLOSED MAY 31)
- Please enter through the link on our website
- Upload 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. Your submission should be three separate documents.
- 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)
- Please tell us how you heard about the BPA First Novel Award.
- Click on the Pay Now button on the page and 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.
Assistance to writers on low incomes or from communities under represented in publishing.
This year we are offering a minimum of 10 free entries for UK based writers from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The most promising submissions will be selected by the BPA team.
Please click here to Contact BPA with your application and proof of eligibility. In the case of writers on low incomes please send one of the following: Jobseeker’s Allowance; Disability Benefit; Income Support; Working Tax Credit; Child Tax Credit; proof of being a full-time student; Housing Benefit; proof of being a full-time carer.
All details will be kept confidential.
Before entering, please ensure to familiarise yourself with the Rules, Terms and Conditions, and Privacy Policies. Entering the Blue Pencil First Novel Award is taken as your full agreement. Do not enter after the closing date of May 31 as your entry will not be valid.
Interview with our Judges
When reading submissions, what is it that makes you want to read on?
My eye will always be drawn to the pitch paragraph of any submission. I look for an original, daring idea, interesting sounding characters, a clear hook and an emotional way in. If I can see potential, I’ll dive right in and in the first few lines I can often tell if it’s a voice for me.
What do you look for in that first chapter?
Definitely a unique voice, always a sense of place, an atmosphere. I’ll want to start connecting with a character, and be given just enough that I’m dying to read on.
Any tips for the first page?
A corker of a first line, no cliches (!), and think about tone too, and who you are writing for, trying to position it for the right audience.
You describe yourself as looking for warm quirky love stories, crime series, psychological or high concept thrillers, historical fiction and literary fiction, which is a pretty broad spectrum of fiction that I’m sure will be music to our clients’ ears. Is there a quality that you feel is integral to all the authors you’re attracted to?
I read broadly, and that’s reflected in my list too. I like a range of different voices, different experiences. All these novels, though, have a clear hook, excellent voice, unique plots and are all totally addictive!
You suggested Kiran Millwood Hargrave be our author judge. Can you tell us what stood out for you as far as her work was concerned?
I still have shivers when I think back to first reading Kiran’s work. Her writing is so sharp, so well observed. Kiran is a poet too and I could feel that on the page. She is lyrical but also has a rare ability to carry plot too exceptionally well. Her ideas are pure magic, I’d never read anything quite like it.
How do you think your view will compare to Kiran’s?
I actually think we might have quite similar ideas. We both read broadly, we both love talking editorially. I guess I come at it with my business head on too, ideas of positioning and strategy and knowing what editors are asking for, but I can see us seeing eye to eye, we both just love a good story!
For writers that don’t necessarily fit with the genres you currently represent, is it still worth their while to enter the competition, i.e. sci-fi, fantasy, horror?
Yes it is, I really am open to all.
Who are your favourite authors of our time? And the classics?
Ohh that’s hard, so many! I am a huge Maggie O’Farrell fan, one of the few authors I make time to read the SECOND her work comes out. Ditto Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Sarah Waters I can read on repeat, Penelope Lively for comfort. For a modern classic Isabel Allende. She wrote an incredible memoir called Paula about the death of her daughter. I read it travelling around Chili, where much of the story unfolds, I can remember so many little details of that book, and so many moments of my travels in the Atacama Desert reading it. It will stay with me forever.
Anything that puts you off that our writers should be aware of?
Cliches and bodily functions on the first page!!
Any other advice for entrants?
I’m really excited to read! Enjoy it, triple check it (!) and be brave!
Interview with our Judges
Kiran Millwood-Hargrave – Author
What will you be looking for in the competition line up?
Someone who wants to tell me a really good story, which can mean a gripping plot, intriguing characters, or a vivid setting.
Any advice for the first page?
Start as you mean to go on, with intent and drive. This doesn’t mean action from the first moment, it means having confidence in what you are trying to achieve.
Top three tips for the first chapter.
Edit! Whilst my first lines often stay the page, beyond that everything tends to change. If you are writing in a linear fashion, you’ll probably have written your way in. The reader doesn’t need to see that. Find where your story really starts, so that your first chapter isn’t filler, but rather something essential.
What advice would you give to writers submitting to agents and competitions?
Persevere. Know that writing is subjective, and a rejection doesn’t mean you’re no good. If you can learn to be a reader of your work, that’s the most useful thing – what would capture your attention if you were a judge?
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m deep in the grip of a draft so I’m reading around my themes and dipping in and out of several novels – The Wave Theory of Angels by Alison MacLeod, Perfume by Patrick Suskind, Music & Silence by Rose Tremain.
Tell us a little bit about your writing day.
It hugely varies depending on where I am with deadlines and publications etc. A good writing day means no admin, no checking emails. I’ll spend all day at my desk, following my characters, though I make sure now to get up and stretch a couple of times an hour, or to go for a long walk. I find the pomodoro technique very helpful for days when the admin is piling up – I’ll work in intense 25 minute bursts, take a 5 minute break, and repeat until my inbox is clear and I can get back to work. Other days, I don’t write at all, only read, or spend the day cooking and watching Netflix. It’s all writing, really – thinking time is important.
Your novel, The Mercies is a Sunday Times best seller. Tell us a little about that journey.
I’d already published three novels for children and one for YA readers when The Mercies was published. It was a unique experience because of the clarity with which the story came to me, and the intensity with which I wrote it. The draft was a real team effort with my agent, Hellie – we took it from conception to auction within two months. Both of us were gripped and consumed by it, and it certainly helped us bond! But it also took an immense toll on my mental and physical health. Writing is draining, you need breaks and balance to sustain yourself – hence the stretching!
What do you think made this novel a best seller?
There is always alchemy behind any bestseller. This time, it was a combination of the right publisher, the right publicist, the right marketing, the right book. And then the support of retailers and booksellers all over the country, and around the world. But some books receive all of this and still don’t make ‘the list’. It’s important as a writer not to think too hard on it – all you can control is the writing.
Tell us a little bit about your writer’s journey, your relationship with Hellie.
Hellie has become the person I trust most outside my immediate family – and I trust her more on certain matters! I submitted my debut, The Girl of Ink & Stars, to her on a Wednesday, by Friday she’d requested a full manuscript, and the following week we’d met and decided to work together. It was very fast, very clear from the moment of meeting that she was the right agent for me. I think it’s easy to feel powerless as an un-agented writer, but it’s important to remember this industry is built of relationships, and those are two-way. Not all of my writer friends have such close bonds to their agents – it’s all about what sort of person you are and what you want. I wanted someone I could talk to openly, who would be honest and direct with me, and always kind but firm and fair. Fierce and friendly – that’s Hellie to a T – and I adore her.
How do you think your view will compare to Hellie’s?
I will be coming to it as a reader first and foremost, and I suppose that means I will be more forgiving in some areas, and less in others. Potential is key here – I know the wonders an agent can work – but there has to be a spark. Language is vital to me as a reader and a writer. How you tell the story matters as much as the story itself. I guess I’ll be reading with less of an eye towards commercial viability too, and more with my heart. Hellie has to do both, which is far harder!
I entered the BPA First Novel Award having never properly shared my fiction with anyone before, and not really knowing what to expect. It was without a doubt the best twenty quid I’ve ever spent.
First making the longlist — and then the shortlist! — was such a huge vote of confidence in my writing style and the story I was trying to tell with Brotherhood and to actually win was unreal. It helped not just in cementing my confidence in my writing (and silencing my imposter syndrome) but it also inspired me to keep working on my manuscript and to stick to deadlines when it came to editing.
Winning during the pandemic made things feel even more unreal, but even though I couldn’t meet the Blue Pencil team in person, I felt incredibly supported and involved and was then able to meet one of the judges, FBA’s Carrie Plitt, over Zoom to discuss my manuscript. Carrie’s continued guidance and expertise (and the depth of feedback of the rest of the BPA First Novel Award judging team) was really invaluable and helped me to see my work through a new perspective, whilst supporting me to get it ready for publication.
I am over the moon to now be signed to FBA with Carrie, and I cannot wait to see where things go next. Without sounding too cliche, it really does feel like a new beginning in terms of publishing Brotherhood and in my fiction career, and I am so pleased I decided to enter last year. It really has been an incredible experience from start to finish.
Roisin Lanigan was the winner of the 2020 Award for Brotherhood. She is represented by Carrie Plitt
I am emailing to thank you so much for taking a chance on me and telling Marina de Pass about my novel, The Silence Project. As of this week, Marina is now my agent and I am thrilled!
Because the novel was shortlisted for The Bridport Prize and was my London Library Emerging Writer submission, it was also seen by agents at A.M.Heath, but Marina has given me such brilliant feedback and encouragement that I have no doubt that she will be my ideal agent.
It’s all because of you. And the novel didn’t even make the longlist for the BPA First Novel Award, so doubly thank you for making the introduction.
“I was two months into maternity leave with my second child when I decided to enter the Blue Pencil Agency First Novel Award. Maybe that’s not the obvious time to write a novel, but the competition offered me everything I needed to make that £20 investment in my writing; a deadline to work towards, an achievable word count, and the chance to have my work read by an agent with a fantastic reputation. Making the longlist was a huge vote of confidence. It inspired me to work harder. To actually win felt unreal. Before I knew it, I was taking my baby boy on a trip to London to meet the lovely BPA team. Nelle Andrews not only offered me valuable feedback but signed me as a client, which is truly a dream come true. Now, I’m excited to be working towards finishing the manuscript with a view to submitting it to publishers. I’ll always be grateful that the award prompted me to take that important first step.”
Katy McNair was the winner of the 2019 Award for her speculative novel The Price of Blood. She is represented by Nelle Andrew
“Entering the Blue Pencil Agency First Novel Award has taken my writing life to a higher level. Self-doubt had stopped me before but just submitting something I thought had potential gave me satisfaction. The excitement of reaching the long list was only tempered by the discipline of the next deadline but then surpassed by the thrill of seeing my name on the short list and finally achieving Highly Commended. I was astounded to hear that agent Nelle Andrew wanted to meet me and elated to then sign with Nelle and begin editing my debut novel. Without the fantastic opportunity the Award offered I would not be on course to achieve my dream so everyone at Blue Pencil has my gratitude.”
Neil was Highly Commended and shortlisted for the 2019 Award. He is represented by Nelle Andrew of Peters, Fraser + Dunlop
I entered the Blue Pencil First Novel Award in 2017. The deadline provided me with much needed motivation, and the thrill of being placed was a great morale- booster. It gave me the confidence to submit my work to an agent and now that my novel The Oceans Between Us published by Headline, I realise how much gratitude I owe the agency for recognising its potential.
“Winning the Award marked a real breakthrough in my writing life. The slightly overwhelming news that I had won first prize (I found myself shaking uncontrollably!) was followed by an exciting week involving a London photo-shoot with the judges, and the sight of my face in The Bookseller. The lovely Blue Pencil Agency team gave me the chance to meet the judges and to talk about my novel in some depth with agent Eve White. This was a fantastic opportunity and one that is rare in the writing prize world. Winning the Blue Pencil Agency competition gave me confidence that my novel is a good one and this, I would say, is the most valuable reward an aspiring writer can get.” February 2018.
Carolyn’s debut novel The Conviction of Cora Burns is out now. Her second novel When We Fall is coming in May 2020. She is represented by agent Andrew Lownie.
“Unless I ever buy a winning lottery ticket the entry fee to the Blue Pencil First Novel Award will be the best investment of £20 I’ll ever make. Each stage has given me so much: the energy of a deadline to complete the first draft; the confidence boost of reaching the long list; the heady excitement of the short list announcement (coinciding with my birthday!) And now the thrilling opportunity to discuss my work with Madeleine Milburn and take the first steps towards launching my writing career. My heartfelt thanks to Sara, Emma, Fiona and Maddy.” December 2018
Jules is represented by Madeline Milburn. She is working on her debut novel My Poor Deluded Girl.