2023 Winner & Shortlist

Meet the Caledonia Novel Award 2023 winner and shortlistees!

The Caledonia Novel Award 2023 Winner

We are thrilled to announce that the winner of the Caledonia Novel Award 2023 is The Small Museum by Jody Cooksley.

Many congratulations to Jody, who wins £1,500 and this year’s specially-designed artwork by Edinburgh artist Lucy Roscoe.

As the author of the best novel from the UK and Ireland, Jody also wins the free place on a writing course at Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre.

Jody has now signed with Charlotte Seymour at Johnson & Alcock.

The Small Museum by Jody Cooksley

Jody is a former journalist and PR professional now working in an in-house communications role. Writing has been a huge part of her career and creative writing has always been a passion – she also has a Masters in Victorian Poetry. Jody has two indie-published books and lots more in the pipeline besides her submission to the Caledonia Novel Award. Originally from Norwich, Jody is drawn to the landscape of the county as a setting for her novels. She has been quite restless over the years and lived in Oxford and different areas of London but now lives in Surrey with her husband, teenage sons, massive cats and a dangerously high TBR pile.

“I love strange, gothic and creepy tales and am inspired by such storytelling as a useful way to explore psychology and character motivation. The Victorian period is a real favourite as it allows more imaginative settings and ways for the reader to suspend their disbelief, but it’s a period that also carries many similarities to our own – their industrial revolution and our technological revolution are both contexts that have sparked a deep examination of the self, belief systems and the things that make us human.

So while The Small Museum is chilling, it also explores what binds women together and what it means to be a mother, against that backdrop of life in the 1870s. The inspiration for The Small Museum was the period’s conflicted relationship with evolution and religion, as well as the power of the patriarchy and its grip on scientific understanding, the ruthless will to name and own the whole natural world. The idea for the chapter titles being exhibits came from a visit to the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. I’m fascinated by London throughout all periods of history and enjoy researching there.”

Charlotte Seymour: “I loved this gothic thriller, whose title alone evokes the Victorian craze for collecting, particularly in the name of evolutionary science, as we soon learn is the case for Dr Lucius Everley. I was immediately drawn to the protagonist, Madeleine, who is married off to Lucius in a union that her parents hope will restore the family’s sullied reputation. An intelligent, independent young woman with a talent for drawing, she finds herself at a loss in her new London home: Lucius is usually out visiting patients or presenting his research, and keeps his collection of curiosities under lock and key, while his sister Grace runs Evergreen House for fallen women, and neither they nor the housekeepers will let Maddie have any involvement in their work. She is often confused by what she sees and hears in the house, and we too are never quite sure what is real and what is not. Gradually, Maddie comes to suspect that behind the Everley siblings’ reputable works lie unimaginable horrors... In interwoven chapters, we see her on trial for a crime that would see her hanged, unless her friend Caroline, who watches from the court gallery, can put together the pieces and find a way to save her.

This novel chilled me to the bone (as any good book featuring bones should!) and I’m thrilled that Jody has accepted my offer of representation.” 

Read the start of The Small Museum here.

Read Jody's Winner's Interview here.

Our 2023 Caledonia Novel Award Judge

Our judge, Charlotte Seymour, commented: “I was delighted when Wendy invited me to judge this year’s prize, as I’m very open-minded when it comes to genre and always hoping to be surprised by something I might not have known I was looking for. The entries were amazingly varied, ranging from literary to cosy crime to cli-fi, and across time periods and places. It was thrilling to see such a range of stories and incredibly difficult to select our longlist, shortlist and winner from what I believe was the highest number of entries for the prize to date! I feel inspired by the talent and imagination we’ve seen and hope that we will see many of the entrants’ works hit our shelves in the years to come.”

The Caledonia Novel Award 2023 Shortlist

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Shamed by Sophie Boyack

Sophie Boyack began her career as an actor and director before co-founding Scene & Heard, the award-winning children’s playwriting charity based in Somers Town, London. A not-so-recent graduate in Drama and Theatre studies from Royal Holloway, University of London, she recently returned there to complete an MA in Creative Writing. Sophie lives in London with her husband and two teenage sons and favours an early morning swim to get her thoughts in order and an afternoon baking session to reckon with an unwieldy plot. There’s always someone to eat the cakes if not to read the daily wordcount.

Shamed was inspired by my experience as a juror. I served twice over a period of three years, both occasions on murder trials. The cases were as similar as they were different and each instilled in me a profound feeling of sadness. What piqued my curiosity was what I wasn’t permitted to know, what was inadmissible or deemed irrelevant. And what struck me was how we as jurors judged not only the defendant but his mother, brother, sister, girlfriend. At first I attempted to write from a juror’s perspective but it was a non-starter. It was a while before I came up with the idea of exploring a murder through the prism of a mother-son relationship. It all came together for me when I hit upon the idea of the mother being a case-hardened criminal barrister herself, a woman who could not believe that her own son was capable of murder. Of course, she would do everything in her power to save him. Or would she? How far might she compromise her integrity to help him? And as for her son, what would drive him to commit such a terrible act in his own back yard? The courtroom provided the perfect setting to explore their shame-filled co-dependant relationship and enabled me to play out the ‘truth’ of the case leaving the reader, like a juror, sifting between fact and fiction.”

Charlotte Seymour: “I was instantly drawn in by the premise of a criminal barrister waiting outside court, preparing her speech, not in her professional capacity but as a witness for the prosecution in her own son’s trial for murder. Like Hannah, we don’t want to believe that vulnerable, estranged Chris could be guilty of such a crime, but Hannah knows the legal process better than anyone and the role she must play in the face of the evidence presented. And yet, there may be ways she can help Chris, behind the scenes, despite the threat it poses to her career… A compelling, character-driven novel filled with moral quandaries.”

Read the start of Shamed here.

Frogsbone by Zoe Fowler

Originally from working-class Northern England, Zoe now balances writing, academia and parenting in Vermont. She holds a PhD from the University of London and an MSt in Creative Writing (with highest honours) from the University of Oxford. Her work has recently been published in Fourth Genre, Bellingham Review and Bellevue Literary Review, and shortlisted for the Steinberg Memorial Prize and Hunger Mountain’s Creative Nonfiction Prize. She has gratefully accepted fellowships and residencies at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Craigardan, Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing, Moniack Mhor and Taleamor Park. Zoe believes literature has the capacity to create beauty and to promote conversations about what it means to be human. Alongside writing, she works as a researcher in cybersecurity, hikes mountains and worries about accidentally disturbing black bears.

“There are times in history when the old and the new seem to collide. The early years of my childhood took place during one of those turning points — my small village was almost unchanged since my grandmother’s school days and a blacksmith’s shop still stood on the high street. That sense of being connected to lives that had been lived long before I was born remained with me. When I first visited New York City in my late thirties, I was fascinated by all the people who must have lived there and of the stories that had been compressed and forgotten as time moved forward. I walked and daydreamed, imagining streets filled with horses and commerce dependent upon the domestic labors of a hundred thousand women. The possibility of Susanna, who was to become the central character of Frogsbone, came into focus as I walked. Later, I would read nearly every copy of the New York Times from 1908, I would visit Ellis Island and study New York City Business Directories and devour all the historical accounts I could find, but the novel began during that first trip to New York City when I tried to imagine a city of the past through the eyes of a girl who might once have lived in my English village nearly one hundred years before I was born.”

Charlotte Seymour: “This novel has such a wonderful cast of characters – an unlikely group thrown together in early twentieth-century New York. From English teenager Susannah, newly arrived off the boat at Ellis Island, to her young charge Oliver, an Irish cook, a Russian nurse and more, this is a gorgeous story about immigration, identity and friendship.”

Read the start of Frogsbone here.

I Just Live Here by Pauline Diamond Salim

Pauline is a writer and charity worker from Glasgow. She worked in magazines and newspapers before moving into the charity sector. For the last ten years she has worked for a refugee agency that supports people seeking international protection in Scotland. She lives in Glasgow with her husband and daughter. I Just Live Here is her second novel.

“I am really interested in the personal and intimate histories of cities. The street corner where a never-forgotten first kiss took place. The bus stop backdrop to a devastating break-up. The life-changing encounter in a nightclub that no longer exists. I love the way these private maps of our lives overlap with public spaces, and I thought about this a lot during lockdown when the city around me was so transformed. I Just Live Here follows three women as they navigate their separate but interwoven lives following the death of a well-known Scottish painter. The women criss-cross each other’s paths as they move across the city, circling around the same block of flats where the painter lived and died, each trying to come to terms with the complicated legacy he left behind.  I’m a fan of parallel narratives and had a lot of fun weaving these three characters’ stories together."

Charlotte Seymour: “This novel felt very timely in the way it focuses on three women, unknown to each other but each connected to an eminent male painter who has recently died. When their paths cross, they find common ground and their stories can now be heard – a beautiful exploration of intersecting, often hidden lives.”

PIG by Matilde Pratesi

Matilde grew up in Italy and moved to London in her early twenties. Once there, she immersed herself in the literary community, writing in forums that met online and around the pub table, taking courses in local community hubs and working men’s colleges. After postponing the second year of her MA in Creating Writing at Birkbeck University of London because of the onset of the Covid pandemic, she decided to try her hand at writing a novel. If writing fiction fills up her evenings and weekends, it’s copywriting for the advertising industry that fills up her weekdays. And when all the writing has been done, she enjoys exploring the countryside around London with her wife and daughter.

“Although I am a lifelong lover of pigs, like my protagonist Vale, my novel was actually born from a chance encounter I had with a family friend a few years ago. I found the way their repressed sexuality manifested itself in their behaviour to be fascinating – each movement and intonation born out of decades of pushing down their natural self into submission, yet never quite fully managing to. I started imagining their childhood and teenagerhood, adding to the mix another interest of mine: the obsessive nature of teenage friendships, and how they often tread the line between platonic and romantic. Vale is also neurodivergent and I found that using the first-person narrative helped me shape her story and its setting based on the unique way she experienced it. While I was writing, Vale’s character started to take on a life of its own. I loved watching her find acceptance – from herself and those nearest to her – and I still sometimes forget that she isn’t a real person.”

Charlotte Seymour: “I was captivated by the distinctive voice of narrator Valentina, an endearing oddball bookseller who is extremely attached to routine…and pigs! As her unusual living situation and backstory unfold, darker themes of toxic friendship and manipulation emerge in a plot that felt fresh and, ultimately, uplifting, as Vale learns to pursue her own path."

Matilde has now signed with Thérèse Coen at Susanna Lea Associates.

Read the start of PIG here.

Silent as a Shade by Natalie Baker

Natalie Baker is a freelance copywriter who lives in Bedfordshire. Prior to this, she studied Creative Writing and Drama at Kingston University and worked as an editor in book publishing for Bonnier Books UK and Dorling Kindersley. Her writing has been featured in The Sunday Times Magazine, Time Out London and Elle UK, among others. In 2020, she was shortlisted for the Emerging Writer Award (the Bridge Awards) and received a place on the Moniack Mhor Residency Programme. More recently, her debut novel Silent as a Shade was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize in 2022. Natalie is endlessly inspired by the natural world and was fortunate to write her novel in various cabins, nature reserves and woodlands across the UK, which she hopes comes through in the writing.

Silent as a Shade draws inspiration from the natural world as well as communities, especially those in seaside towns, that are struggling to sustain their identities in the world today. My grandad had an illustrious career at sea working for the Navy and inspecting lighthouses for Trinity House – his stories have always been in the back of my mind while writing the book. 

Films are often a great source of inspiration for me. Bait (2019) gave me the impetus to explore the darker side of tourism and the wealth divide found in many coastal towns, and Luzzo (2021) led me to research the black-market fishing industry, inspiring one of the main twists in my novel! While being deeply atmospheric, my novel mostly takes place in the home. Spiked throughout is humour, at times cruel and darkly wry, expressing the nuances of family life and the sometimes-blurred boundaries between love and hate.”

Charlotte Seymour: “This is an utterly beguiling novel, beautiful and strange, from the opening scene in which a boy stands at a cliff edge, his disappearance moments later witnessed only by the birds and perhaps the local lighthouse keeper. Secrets abound in the town of Milkweed, and the Watchers, the family who live at the lighthouse, know more than most…

Read the start of Silent as a Shade here.

The Golden Fern by Johanna Robinson

Johanna grew up near Liverpool, UK, and after studying English at Leeds University, spending time in Norway and Australia, and joining – and leaving – the legal profession, she came full circle to return to the Liverpool region, where she lives with her husband, two children and cat. She is an editor and proofreader, mostly of non-fiction, and began writing on a Comma Press short story course in 2016. Since then, her work has been published in various magazines and anthologies, including SmokeLong, Reflex Press, Retreat West and Mslexia. She has won the Cambridge Prize for Flash Fiction and the Bath Flash Fiction Award, and in 2019 was runner-up in the Bath Novella-in-Flash Award. She is the grateful recipient of an Arts Council England DYCP grant.

“I came across the history of the Liverpool botanic gardens and the city’s world-famous orchid collections in 2019, while researching a short story I was writing. It was set in the small town where I live, in the middle of the nineteenth century, and the more I read about this period of time, about ‘orchidelium’ and the ‘fern craze’, the more fascinated I became. 

 

At the time, botanic gardens and fern hunts were places where men and women could bend the social rules, and where people of all classes might mingle. Much of my writing starts with place – specifically, local history and histories, often little known – and this was the original drive behind my book. But the period was, of course, also a time of global expansion, and I wanted to bring this in too, all woven together with mystery, motherhood and myth. The structure of the book reflects my background as a flash fiction writer, with five very different, but very connected, characters.”

Charlotte Seymour: “I was swept away by this botanical adventure, which takes us from 1830s Liverpool, to Ireland and South America, cleverly interweaving multiple strands. A thrilling story of women struggling against social constraints, of friendship – and ferns! Spellbinding and beautifully crafted."

Read the start of The Golden Fern here.

Caledonia Novel Award 2023 Longlist

Creep by Emily Munro

Frogsbone by Zoe Fowler

I Just Live Here by Pauline Diamond Salim

Migratory Patterns by Margaret Sessa-Hawkins

PIG by Matilde Pratesi  Now signed with Thérèse Coen at Susanna Lea Associates

Season of Silence by Victoria Brown  Now signed with Annette Crossland at A for Authors Agency Ltd

Shamed by Sophie Boyack

Silent as a Shade by Natalie Baker

The Fall of Bellwether by Chad V Broughman

The Golden Fern by Johanna Robinson  Now signed with Kate Barker at Kate Barker Literary Agency 

The Lobster Pot by Bernie McQuillan

The Norfolk House by Alison Fogg

The Small Museum by Jody Cooksley  Now signed with Charlotte Seymour at Johnson & Alcock

The Summer is Ended by Natalia Theodoridou  Now signed with Danya Kukafka at Trellis Literary Management

What We Leave Behind by Jane Mackelworth

Douglas Westerbeke: A Short Walk Through A Wide World
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Jody Cooksley: The Small Museum
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Matilde Pratesi: Publication News!
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Suzy Aspley: Crow Moon
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L. A. MacRae: And Now the Light is Everywhere
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Jody Cooksley: Publication News!
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Alex Hay: The Housekeepers
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Kristen Loesch: The Last Russian Doll
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Alex Hay: Publication News!
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Douglas Westerbeke: Publication News!
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