We spoke to Nelle Andrews about what she’s looking for in this year’s BPA first novel award and this is what she had to say…
When reading submissions, what is it that makes you want to read on?
Strong narrative hook; good writing; plausible characterisation; clever opening
What do you look for in that first chapter?
Narrative purpose; establishment of character, setting and scene; quality writing; intrigue; confident voice.
Any tips for the first page?
Find the balance between wanting to entice without giving everything away.
At what point do you read the synopsis?
Before the manuscript: to see what the author believes they are presenting and whether the writing lives up to that.
You describe yourself as looking for literary or reading group fiction or tightly plotted crime, thrillers and mysteries, ghost stories, true crime, moral dilemmas, fiction that draws on multiple genres. Thought-provoking stories, emotional journeys, inspiring stories, an epic love story which will make one weep. That’s a pretty broad description, which is encouraging. Any genre you’re really not interested in?
I am not really into sci-fi or fantasy or erotica – but having said that; if any one of those genres produced a novel which encompassed all of the above, I would 100% read it. I suppose I am not in genre for genre’s sake. I like to be surprised and challenged as well as entertained.
Gail Honeyman’s novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine has been highly successful. Can you tell me why you think that is?
It is an excellent book; the characters are plausible and empathetic; the narrative hook is strong and with intent but it also has surprises in it and while strongly rooted in one element, adds other ingredients to give it a depth and emotional punch you wouldn’t necessarily think it would have.
Rumour has it that the general trend is moving away from psychological thrillers to character driven novels. What’s your take on that?
I would argue that this is a reductive take on things. The best novels were always character driven. GONE GIRL was a huge success because of the character of Amy Dunne…it was entirely about who this character was and who the world thought she was and the differences between. What I believe people are trying to say is that pot boiler plots aren’t going to be successful because people aren’t easily surprised anymore, so really we want a journey; rather than a prescriptive script. But I would say this has always been the case.
When would you say that a manuscript was finished and ready to enter a competition?
When you genuinely don’t know what else you could do to make it better on your own.
For writers work that doesn’t necessarily fit with the genres you currently represent, is it still worth their while to enter the competition, i.e. sci-fi, historical?
Listen – I always said I loathed zombie apocalypse books. And then I read WORLD WAR Z and realized it wasn’t a zombie apocalypse book – it was a pyschological interrogation of how humans would behave in the worst possible conditions: the good; the pad; the politic. So I would always say enter because I never say never.
Good writing, is good writing. Genre is just a framework.
Any other advice for entrants?
Write for the reader – it doesn’t matter what you think; it’s about persuading the reader to believe what you think. That’s what the best books are – a sincere successful act of persuasion.