Daily Mail Essay Competition

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Crime fiction's finest: Could you create a character to match Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, depicted here by David Suchet

Have you ever dreamed of writing a book that becomes a bestseller? Could you be the next Agatha Christie, queen of the crime novel? Well, here's your chance to make that fantasy come true.

Last year, we launched the Daily Mail First Novel competition with the prize of a £20,000 publishing deal with one of the world's biggest and most respected publishers, Penguin Random House.

We had 5,000 entries and our winner, Amy Lloyd, won with her disturbing thriller Red River, which will be published here in January 2018. She can expect to make tens of thousands of pounds more from sales around the world — the book has already been sold to publishers in the U.S., Canada, Poland, France and Holland.

We were so impressed by the quality of the entries that we, and Penguin Random House, are running the competition again this year. However, as most of the best entries last time were crime and thrillers, this year we are asking for entries in that genre only.

So delve into the dark and cunning corners of your mind and send us your novels, which can be detective crime, spy thrillers or psychological chillers.

The full terms and conditions must be read online but we are looking for a previously unpublished crime novel aimed at adults. Entrants must be aged 16 or over — but there's no upper age limit so get typing!

We don't need the finished novel, just the first 5,000 words and a short synopsis, 600 words. The competition is open only to first-time novelists who have never had a novel published before in any format, including self-published or an ebook. If you entered last year you can enter again, but NOT with the same book as last year.

The judges are best-selling crime writer Simon Kernick, literary agent Luigi Bonomi who will represent the winner, top publisher Selina Walker who will publish the book and Daily Mail Literary Editor Sandra Parsons.

To get you started, Luigi Bonomi and Selina Walker explain what they are looking for in a first novel, and last year's winner Amy Lloyd passes on what she has learned from them.

And bestselling thriller writers Susan Lewis and Nicci French offer tips on how to make your entry stand out ... 


Luigi Bonomi says he will be looking for something that encourages him to read on in this year's entries

Our winner will be taken on by Luigi Bonomi, whose agency represents bestselling writers Simon Kernick and Josephine Cox. Luigi says:

There's a very special feeling you get as an experienced agent and editor when you read a piece of writing that has potential. It's a kind of tingle down your spine and a sense that you are in the hands of someone who knows what they're doing, and where they are going with the plot, who may be unpublished and undiscovered but writes with confidence and skill.

'It's not about fancy vocabulary or attention-grabbing tricks but about the rightness of every word.

When we read the opening of Amy's Red River last year that's exactly what we felt: it was as if we'd opened the first chapter of a novel by a long-established crime writer with a huge following.

Her voice was so distinctive and powerful we knew we'd discovered a big new talent. The sense of wanting to read on, wanting to know what is going to happen, is what most excites literary agents and is what I will be looking for in this year's competition entries. 


Selina Walker says one of the favourite parts of her job is discovering new writers and finding a potential bestseller

Selina Walker, publisher of Century and Arrow Books, Penguin Random House UK. She says:

One of the things I love about my job is discovering new writers and reading their exciting stories. Each time I open up a fresh typescript I always think — could this be IT, the bestselling novel everyone will want to read.

But as we all know, if you're a writer, it's very hard to get your novel directly into the hands of a literary agent and a publisher who can make this happen.

Which is why this competition is such a brilliant opportunity.

Make sure the idea behind your novel is a strong one, and that we can see it playing out in the material you send us.

Last year's winner featured a young woman who is obsessed by a man serving a life sentence for murder in Florida.

In the opening chapters, we see her, jet-lagged and sick with nerves, visiting him in jail — a great way to start a novel, and it had us hooked and wanting more immediately.

Create a central character we can relate to — Amy's heroine, Sam, is flawed, unlikeable even, and has a difficult past, but you can't help wondering what you would do in her situation.

How would you feel if you found yourself alone in a strange country, entirely dependent on a man you didn't quite trust?

Enclose a good covering letter with your entry.

We want to know a little about you, and why you have chosen to write the novel you are submitting to us.

Good luck, have fun, and stick with it. The winner might — just might — be you! 


Write on! Last year's winner Amy Lloyd is gearing up for the publication of her novel Red River

Exactly 12 months ago Amy Lloyd was a frustrated writer, desperate to find the incentive and time to finish her novel and find a publisher. Bullied at school, she'd left at 16 with just four GCSEs and worked in coffee shops before finally taking a course at university. Now Amy, 31, is gearing up for the publication of Red River, the winner of last year's competition. It's a nail-biting thriller about a British teacher who falls in love with a U.S. serial killer on Death Row.

'My life has changed beyond recognition. The £20,000 advance has helped me pay off my debts, so for the first time I can see a brighter future.

'I no longer work for the Inland Revenue but have a part-time job at the University of Cardiff, which I'm sure came about because I won this competition. All sorts of possibilities have opened up and writing is now my future. And I have made my family proud — my mum especially.'

Amy promised herself one treat if she won — a Montblanc rollerball pen. 'I use it to sign my contracts now!' Working with Luigi as her agent and Selina as her editor was extremely helpful.

'It's been a joy to work in a team. The first edit helped iron out big issues with the plot and character but the second, line by line edit, really forced me to focus on the writing and finally brought out the book I know was in there all along.

'The main thing I learned was that I was writing too much, saying the same thing again and again. When you put so much effort and time into the story it's really hard to just get rid of whole chunks but if you are struggling with something and it isn't working, maybe it just needs to be dropped.

'That's when you need someone you trust, preferably someone who also writes, to read it and be honest — and you need to accept the criticism. It felt quite personal at first but as soon as you understand it's about the book, it's easy to toughen up.

'I'm now writing my second novel which is based in the UK and, without giving anything away, involves child killers.'


1. Don't expect ideas to just come like a lightbulb moment — you have to force them. While writing Red River I pounded the streets trying to work out what would happen next.

2. Write every day. Even if it's only 15 minutes, feels like agony, and you delete it next day — but keep the flow of words coming.

3. Accept that sometimes your characters will surprise you — you learn more about them as the book progresses.


Susan Lewis's tip is to read as many authors in the genre as you can to learn how to structure the story and characters

Susan Lewis is the bestselling author of 38 psychological thrillers. Her first novel, A Class Apart, was published in 1988. She says:

Read as many authors/books in the genre as you can. Study the structure of the story and characters, how dialogue is used, how chapters link, when the twists happen and how.

Decide on your personality disorder (most thrillers have one) and read everything you can find out about it. If possible talk to experts in the field. This is how you'll really get to know the sociopath you're going to spend so much time with.

The weird, and often unnerving aspect of writing thrillers is the delving around in the darkest part of yourself. All characters are developed from within, even if they're influenced from without.

Putting yourself in a character's shoes, imagining what they'd do in certain situations, is what drives everything along. When the shoes belong to someone who's extreme, well that's when it starts to get really interesting.

There are many ways of approaching these stories; one is to make your antagonist seem quite normal at first with nothing that sets them apart. However, when looking closer there is something not quite right about the eyes, or the smile, or they have unusual responses to ordinary situations.

No one notices the oddness at first — then one person does, but they can't convince anyone else.

This isolates them, makes them vulnerable, even. They can see darkness where others are still only seeing light-heartedness.

When the psycho realises he/she has been rumbled, he might start playing with the 'victim' in ways that confuse and disorientate; ways that could make the victim sound deranged or paranoid when they try to warn others about the danger.

Another way of coming at suspense is the Agatha Christie way, when everyone is a suspect.

As each suspect disappears so the tension for those remaining really starts to build. It would be vital, I believe, for the writer to know well in advance who did it, or the structure would fall apart. Getting a grip on the mood of a book is a fascinating challenge.

Bear in mind that, like the story, it is almost always character-driven. The tone of unease or menace will be set by whoever is narrating at any given point. I learned early on that one way of creating real tension and fear, which usually happens at the climax of a book, is best done in short, sharp sentences.

I get a real kick out of writing characters that twist norms and mess with expectations, but the golden rule is that, in almost all cases, less is more.

The Moment She Left by Susan Lewis is published by Arrow at £7.99, and the follow up, Hiding in Plain Sight, will be available this August from Century at £12.99.


Journalists Sean French and Nicci Gerrard wrote The Memory Game, their first book together as Nicci French, in 1997 and have just published their 14th bestseller.

Sean says:

Twenty years ago, we decided — just as an experiment — to see if we could write a novel together.

The entirely unexpected result was a career as the crime writer, Nicci French. So in many ways our experience of writing is like nobody else's. How do we do it? We spend much of our lives talking about ideas and characters and plots. We do all research together, we talk to people, we travel to possible locations.

Sean French and Nicci Gerrard, who write together as Nicci French, spend much of our lives talking about ideas and characters and plots and travelling to possible locations

But once we are clear that we have found an idea we are willing to spend a year of our lives on, once we are sure we have the same book in our heads, we start writing, and it becomes an entirely separate process.

One of us, say Nicci, will start, write a chapter or so and then send it to me. I am free to 'edit' this. Then I continue writing and send it back to Nicci and this carries on until we finish the book. Then we separately, go through the whole book, writing and rewriting.

Nicci says:

We don't have many rules: three, I think. The first is that we edit each other invisibly (rather than pointing out each other's mistakes). The second is we never tell anyone who wrote which bit: every word has to belong to both of us. And the third is that we are not allowed to reinstate what's been edited by the other.

We have to trust each other. Without that trust, the whole process would fall apart. We wouldn't be Nicci French — and we might not be still married . . .

Their advice:

  • Obviously you need something that grabs the reader in the first few pages. But the conclusion is just as important. It is disastrous to disappoint a reader at the end — if your conclusion isn't more than the reader expected, there's something wrong with your story.
  • Always imagine a slightly dull person at your elbow asking obvious questions: would she really do that? Why doesn't he call the police? If the reader starts asking those questions and there are no good answers, then the book dies.
  • Read lots of other novels — and then write one in your own voice.
  • Some days are good, some bad, some awful — but you should always turn up at your computer.
  • When you're stuck, blocked, there is often a reason: the writing is telling you something.
  • You must be able to be undignified, ridiculous, vulnerable. Put yourself on the line. Be prepared to fail: all successful writing is built on the foundations of the writing that hasn't worked. Keep at it, and manage to be both full of faith and full of doubt at the same time.
  • Be prepared for rejection. Few writers don't experience this at some point.

The latest Nicci French novel, Saturday Requiem, is published by Penguin £7.99.


Please read this carefully because any entries that do not comply with the rules will be discounted. Full terms and conditions, which you must agree to and be bound by, are available online at dailymail.co.uk/crimenovel

1. Please submit your entry, consisting of the first 5,000 words of your novel in the English language and a synopsis of the rest of the plot in no more than 600 words. All entries to be printed on A4 paper with double spacing in font size 12 point Times New Roman.

2. Entries are to be posted or sent by courier (not emailed) to Daily Mail First Novel Competition, c/o Penguin Random House Group, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA by 17.30 GMT on MAY 5, 2017. Entries received after this time will not be judged. (DO NOT SEND YOUR ENTRY DIRECT TO THE DAILY MAIL)

3. All entries must include a cover sheet with your full name and contact details, including home and email address. You must also confirm in writing that you have read and agree to the full list of terms and conditions available online.

4. Entrants may submit more than one entry to the competition, but each entry must be original material, and must NOT have been submitted in the previous year's competition. No manuscripts will be returned, so keep a copy of your work.

5. All entries must be original, previously unpublished works of crime or thriller fiction. Entrants must not have previously published a novel — this includes novels that have been self-published or are available only as eBooks.

6. Entrants must not be currently represented by a literary agent.

7. All entrants must be in a position to deliver their complete manuscript no later than NOVEMBER 30, 2017 should they win.

8. The competition, which is free to enter, is open to anyone aged 16 or over who is a resident of the UK or Republic of Ireland, except for employees (and their families) of the Penguin Random House UK Group, Associated Newspapers Ltd and any other company associated with the competition.


Penguin Random House and The Daily Mail are offering an exclusive 20 per cent discount on two online creative writing courses at The Writers' Academy — a ten-week Creative Writing For Beginners course normally costing £499 (£399 incl discount) and a 14-week Constructing A Novel course, normally costing £799 (£639 incl discount).

The courses include expert help and advice, including the unique opportunity to engage with Penguin Random House editors who take part in Q&A sessions on both courses.

For more information, please go to:thewritersacademy.co.uk and quote DAILYMAIL20. Code valid until June 30, 2017.

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