2024 Award

The Caledonia Novel Award 2024

Welcome to the Caledonia Novel Award 2024!

Open to entries: 1 May – midnight GMT 1 November, 2023

Judge: Ariella Feiner, literary agent at United Agents

Top prize: £1,500 and an exclusive framed award designed by Edinburgh artist Lucy Roscoe

Highly Commended: £500

Special prize: a free place on a writing course at Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre for the best novel from the UK and Ireland

How to enter: all details can be found on our Rules & Entry page

The Caledonia Novel Award 2024 Judge

Ariella Feiner

Welcome Ariella! Please tell us a bit about yourself and United Agents.

Hello! I have been working at United Agents for 16 years now and it is an enormously supportive and wonderful working home. Between us we represent authors across every genre, and some of our most well-known clients include Phillip Pullman, Nicci French, Quentin Blake, Sarah Moss, the Stephen Hawking estate, Hallie Rubenhold, David Olusoga, Eleanor Catton and Erin Kelly. Some of our excellent debut novelists over the past couple of years have included Caleb Azumah Nelson, A.K. Blakemore and Bobby Palmer.

I read widely and enjoy representing authors across a spectrum of genres. In the crime and thriller space, novelists I look after include Jane Casey and Alice Clark-Platts, the authors of the Maeve Kerrigan series and The Flower Girls, respectively. On the more literary end is Louisa Young, the author of My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You, alongside Mike Gayle who writes in a more commercial space with novels such as All the Lonely People. Beth Cartwright is in the more fantasy part of the market and I am lucky enough to represent the estates of H.G. Wells and Somerset Maugham. 
What have you been up to recently?
In terms of recent news, it has been a really exciting week in the office, as we have just found out that my YA author Natasha Preston has hit number 3 on the New York Times chart with The Island, and I am writing this on the day we announced the phenomenal Laura Dockrill’s debut adult novel I Love You, I Love You, I Love You, which will be published by HQ in June 2024. It is the funniest and most gorgeously nostalgic love story – a proper hug of a book.
What have been some of the proudest moments in your career so far, and what makes your job as a literary agent so rewarding?
I adore the mix of rewards you can experience in this job. The best days are often the ones that involve calling up a debut author to tell them that they have secured a book deal, as you know that this is truly someone’s lifelong dream coming to fruition. On the other end of the scale, working with an author for many years and building them bit by bit with a steady focus can be even more rewarding. Accompanying the first client I ever took on to visit the TV set of her book adaptation, was a truly special day. Another highlight was reading the extended outline for Mike Gayle’s Half a World Away for the first time. That remains the only time I have ever cried whilst reading an outline and seeing it be chosen as a Richard and Judy Pick and the outpouring of love for it has been very heart-warming.

What trends are you seeing in fiction currently, both internationally and in the UK?

It is such a fascinating moment in publishing and says so much about the time we find ourselves in, with the unprecedented pressures of Covid having so recently occurred and the tumultuous state of the world. Authors - and readers – are responding to that with a desire to escape from everything, either with uplifting love stories or humorous novels, or through entering another world. Romantasy is definitely not going to go away any time soon and some of the biggest books of the London Book Fair this year had a time-travelling or magical element to them, which was intriguing to see. Perennially, we also always love a good and unusual hook. 

Which genres excite you most, and what are you hoping to discover amongst the entries for the Caledonia Novel Award 2024?

Above all else I love being surprised by a book. I had no idea that one of my favourite reads of last year would be about a group of modern-day witches living in Hebden Bridge (in Juno Dawson’s Her Majesty’s Royal Coven), but that is part of the fun of this job. I would be delighted to find a truly original thriller, a book that centres on an unusual voice, such as in Nita Prose's The Maid, or something with a speculative element to it. I always adore a big, attention-grabbing hook, a love story or historical fiction that speaks to the time we find ourselves in now. It would be excellent to see a strong multigenerational novel (I have just started Min Jin Lee's Pachinko and can’t wait to dive back into that), and to have lots of submissions from authors with underrepresented voices. I also often love books which grapple with a difficult subject matter in a thoughtful way, such as in Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason, or have a bit of feminist rage within their pages (I adored Naomi Alderman's The Power). So, effectively, quite a wide range!

When you are assessing a manuscript, what grabs your attention from the outset and entices you to read past the first page: plot, voice, characters, or something entirely different?

I know it can be contentious, but I always love a prologue. When done well it is so effective at sucking you into the story immediately. I once went to hear Jodi Picoult talk and she said that, for a novel to work for her, she never starts a book until she has found the perfect opening sentence. That absolutely won’t be the best route in for everyone, but your first line should say so much about your novel and the tone you are aiming to strike. Otherwise, it completely varies according to whether the book is a character-led novel, if it feels pacy if it is a commercial read, or whether it is particularly beautifully crafted. My favourite novels are often the ones which marry gorgeous writing on a sentence level with a tight plot.

Entrants to the Caledonia Novel Award 2024 are asked to include a synopsis with their submission. Do you have some pointers for what you like – and don’t like! – to see in a synopsis?

I tend to look at a synopsis after I have read sample chapters from an author, so I will already have a feel for their voice by that point. Do give a full outline of your novel from start to finish, rather than presenting us with a blurb which would be more akin to the description on the back of a finished book jacket, but it doesn’t need to describe everything minutely and I would keep it to a page in length. Also, bear in mind that I have yet to talk to an author who enjoys writing them. Most loathe doing so with an absolute passion, so if you feel that way then you are far from alone!

Which recent debut novels have you particularly enjoyed, and do you have any favourite ‘go-to’ recommendations?

I could name so many, but most recently I have raced through Really Good, Actually by Monica Heisey, enjoyed the dark humour of Bella Mackie’s How to Kill Your Family; adored the most original character I have read in a long time in Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, and I thought that Sophie Irwin’s A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting was incredibly fun. Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson moved me hugely, and I also thought that Girl A by Abigail Dean trod a delicate line with such care given the subject matter.

In terms of my go-to recommendations, I have been telling everyone to read Emilia Hart’s Weyward (a previously shortlisted author for this prize!) for its female rage and strength. This is obviously non-fiction, but I am going to sneak in Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path, which is a thing of beauty. More than 10 years after I first read it, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller remains one my all-time favourite reads, and if you are yet to read The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, then do run to grab a copy.

Looking ahead, what exciting projects are in the pipeline for you and your agency?

Jane Casey’s thriller The Killing Kind is currently being filmed. It will star Colin Morgan and Emma Appleton and will hit your TV screens at some point in the next little bit. Katie Bishop’s debut reading group novel The Girls of Summer is out very soon and is a blisteringly powerful cross between Kate Elizabeth Russell's My Dark Vanessa and The White Lotus, and Claire Daverley’s astonishing debut Talking at Night is also publishing in July. Will and Rosie feel like utterly real people to me and this book has been such a labour of love. I can’t wait for readers to fall in love with them.

And finally, what advice would you give to anyone thinking of entering the Caledonia Novel Award 2024?

It sounds incredibly obvious, but you want to give yourself the best chance you can to stand out, so do ensure that you have made everything as polished as possible before you send your submission in. I also find that often the best thing you can do for a book is to walk away from it for a bit. Giving yourself at least a week or two without looking at your work means that you will nearly always spot problems you would have missed otherwise.

Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre

Here at the Caledonia Novel Award, we are really keen to nurture undiscovered talent and encourage new writers. With this in mind, we are very excited to announce that, for the seventh year running, we are offering a special prize for the best novel submitted by an author from the UK and Ireland. This prize is a free place on a writing course at Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre, situated in the Scottish Highlands, just 14 miles from Inverness.
Moniack Mhor is Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre. The centre runs residential creative writing courses and partnership courses throughout the year for adults and young people at all stages of their writing career. Courses are tutored by established writers, with a mid-week visit from a guest writer, and cover many different genres. Moniack Mhor also runs one-off events for writers, outreach workshops, awards and a fellowship. High on a hill close to Loch Ness, the centre is an inspirational and nurturing setting for writers to spend an intensive period focussing on their work.

Huge thanks to Moniack Mhor for their participation and continuing support.


2021 Winner of the Moniack Mhor Writing Retreat Prize

Sally Bramley

What a great prize! A week at Scotland’s creative writing centre! I was thrilled. And in 2019 I had planned (and cancelled) a walk along the West Highland Way, so I decided to combine the two things. I booked into the writing retreat in mid-September 2021, planning to do the walk beforehand. The West Highland Way was lovely, though exhausting, and, amazingly, the sun shone for most of the time. And after an in-between weekend exploring Inverness, I arrived at Moniack Mhor.

I was anxious beforehand! Would everyone be published writers? Would they all be superconfident? Younger than me? In other words…would I fit in? Would I feel comfortable enough to enjoy it and have a productive writing week? During lockdown, I had completed a very early draft of a novel which had ground to a halt before it reached the end, so I was keen to use this opportunity to move it forward.

But I felt the pressure (only from myself) to use the time and space in a useful way. It was only four days, after all.

How was it?

It’s not a normal year and Covid makes everything just a bit more complicated. But everyone was fine and we were very well looked after and it felt like a safe place to be. It seemed that people had it all in hand and we could concentrate on ourselves. Such a treat! And the glorious weather helped as we were able to be outside for much of the time.

The most useful thing for me was having the time and space to be able to take a step back and hold the whole of my draft novel in my head. I was still working out what it was about at that stage and I knew it needed drastic changes. And being in this place away from home allowed me to do that. Looking at it now, I find the novel has certainly moved on. The total word count is less, as I cut out whole chapters during the week (and saved them of course!), although I also wrote a lot of new stuff. And yes, it was only four days but it felt much longer…in a good way.

But I’m not someone that can write all day. So, the week was a mix of writing – mostly in the mornings – and walking. And sleeping. A surprising amount of sleeping. And getting together in the evenings to talk and eat and drink far too much wine. And it turned out that the walking and the thinking were just as valuable as the writing.
The views are wonderful. The place itself, the openness of the surroundings, the mountains. The lovely old buildings. The quiet. Everyone says all this and it is all true. Many things have stayed with me:

– the shapes of the landscape and the distant mountains

– the wonderful colours of the plants on the roof of the Hobbit House

– the veggie garden just below my bedroom window and the sounds of productivity, hoeing and weeding, whilst I was writing. A sense of other people doing other things. Life happening without me having to be involved.

And the company of other writers made this a fantastic experience. It is, perhaps, the difference between going on an organized retreat and locking yourself away at home for a writing week…even if that were possible. Our group of 12 included novelists, poets, playwrights, songwriters; lots of people working on quite different projects. And it was great to hear about them. I found people accepting but also focused on their own writing. My initial fears were groundless. I loved being in a group where retreating to your own space was not seen as unsociable, but something quite normal and to be expected.

And all that cake. So much cake! I may have to go back one day.
Sally Bramley, October 2021.

2020 Winner of the Moniack Mhor Writing Retreat Prize

Charlotte Wightwick reports back from her week-long retreat
Read More
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