SFF: First Chapters Winners (Top 4)

SFF: First Chapters: Winners

Top 4 SFF: First Chapters
(titles listed in ascending order)

Sorry for the slight delay in posting. We were waiting on permissions to name the winners on the News page.

All the comments in quotation marks below are from our judge, Ben Clark, Director of The Soho Agency.

Highly Commended: Smile When I Wake by Laura Stephens

Smile When I Wake is a very well-written literary mystery, reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro. With a character-driven plot, it stands out from other dystopian science fiction (that often focus on the moral, political, environmental etc. impact of developing tech) in turning the lens to the psychology and struggles of the ordinary person. Full of intrigue and suspense, it wonderfully subverts common themes of life after death, second chances, and of course, love and relationships, against the subtle and well-developed backdrop of a realistic, near scientific future (in which the world isn’t ending – hooray!).’

3rd place: Mazurka by Robert Tateson

Mazurka was a really fun pitch to read. The concept of nano carbon turning into a black-market commodity is both clever and frighteningly realistic – it’s a smart play on eco-anxiety and a fun way to play with the ‘what if’s’ about our carbon future. The world the characters live in is brought to life by the writing and the anchoring to beautiful, remote places around the world. I particularly enjoyed the science elements and would love to see that developed further. With such a strong, clean concept – the writer could elevate their writing by reducing narrative elements to those only essential to story development or world-building, and focusing more acutely on character development.’

2nd place: A Carnival Ago by Sherry Cassells

‘This is a really interesting approach. The writing is vivid and gorgeous, it is the beating heart of the novel. It is literary in tone, cleverly conveying the claustrophobia and menace of the asylum from page one. The author also does well to create suspense and intrigue, leaving the reader with page-turning questions. Who is Alice? What is the White asylum? Who is the protagonist and why he is there? There is a true sense of their oppressive surroundings and the psychological impact this is having on the characters.’

1st place: Twice Gallowed by Alex Emms

Twice Gallowed was the clear winner. It’s a very original take on intergalactic science fiction – the pitch lures you in immediately. The writing was excellent – the world-building, tethered to the Wild West, made the science fiction elements feel grounded, rich, and believable. The characters truly leapt off the page – you could really see the interactions dancing behind your eyes and the emotions felt raw and immediate. I even had sympathy for an immortal bounty hunter, which is no small feat. The story runs smoothly and you often forget your reading – this is set up really well with the main character dying in the opening pages. A really original opening. It feels visceral and like an interesting world is quickly established. Reminded me in part of Stephen Kings Gunslinger series.’

Congrats to all the winners. They will be presented with their prizes and certificates at our awards ceremony in 2024. The winner gets a mentoring session with Ben Clark in the New Year.

Thanks to all those who entered. We can’t make this opportunity to discover new talent and get new writers published without your help.