We are delighted to announce that the winner of the Caledonia Novel Award 2024 is Trad Wives by Danielle Cahill.
Many congratulations to Danielle, 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, Danielle also wins the free place on a writing course at Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre.
Danielle has now signed with Ariella Feiner at United Agents.
Danielle was born in West London, and she is a citizen of Ireland and New Zealand. Since childhood, she has immersed herself in dreaming up and writing stories. As well as being a writer, she is a voracious reader, and the books on her shelves range across many genres and centuries. She studied English at the University of Cambridge, where she developed a passion for Victorian sensation fiction. After graduating, she spent some years as a bookseller in Waterstones Chiswick, and she now works as a lawyer. Danielle is dedicated to the craft of writing, and she has studied on a number of selective Curtis Brown Creative courses, most recently the Writing Crime and Thrillers Course in 2023, and with The Novelry on their advanced course. She lives in North London with her husband, two daughters and two inquisitive cats.
"The idea for my novel Trad Wives came to me as I was doom-scrolling in the dark with a sleeping baby on my chest. I spotted a group of housewives posting about obeying their husbands like it was the 1950s. At the time, I was on my second maternity leave in two years and writing several books, so my questions about the appropriate division of domestic labour became particularly acute. Most of the traditional housewives sharing their stories had formerly worked in the City, and becoming a homemaker was a deliberate choice. They wanted to embrace the patriarchy. I had to know more! As a writer, I am interested in exploring the identity shifts that occur during the different seasons of a woman’s life, so the Trad Wife world puzzled and hooked me in equal measure.
Trad Wives came to me immediately as a thriller. I feel the genre is the perfect vessel for writing about fractured families, toxic friendships and feminine rage: all of which feature in my novel. Setting the book in the enchanting chocolate-box location of the Cotswolds, where we have spent happy family holidays, enabled me to bring brightness to the dark subject matter. It has been a wild ride conjuring up the twists and turns of my novel, and I hope readers will be as mesmerised by the Trad Wife sub-culture as I am, as they go on the journey of discovery with Olivia. At the heart of the book is the friendship between my two protagonists – Olivia and Celia – who reconnect after twenty years apart. They are very different people, but they are both finding it really hard to 'have it all'. I hope Olivia’s drive to uncover the Trad Wives’ secret agenda whilst getting to know herself, and Celia’s battle between her creativity and 'the pram in the hall' chime with many readers, and they love them as much as I do."
Ariella Feiner: "From the moment we see a young mother and baby arrive at a cottage in the heart of the picturesque Cotswolds, and realise that all is not quite as it seems, I was utterly hooked by this story. It is a brilliantly told, modern-day Stepford Wives tale of murder and mayhem, concealed behind exquisite interiors, beautiful clothes and the social media trend of perfectly turned-out Trad Wives. Led by the enigmatic Georgia, the Trad Wives sisterhood must raise their children perfectly, care for their husbands, give up their careers and always, always be good. Or so we think…
With beautiful prose and set at a cracking pace, I was fascinated by the world Danielle Cahill created. This was unputdownable and told with a fresh perspective which brought a real sense of mystery and fun to this beautiful part of the world. Danielle is such a worthy winner and truly one to watch.
I am absolutely thrilled that she has accepted my offer of representation and I am so excited to share this novel with editors."
Read the start of Trad Wives here.
Our judge, Ariella Feiner, commented: “I have enormously enjoyed judging the Caledonia Novel Award 2024 and was thrilled when Wendy asked me to join her this year. The prize received a record number of submissions this time around, with entries arriving from all over the world - more than 550 entries and from 33 different countries - and that is a testament to Wendy’s indefatigable work in building the prize and the quality of the authors who have been longlisted, shortlisted or won since it first began a decade ago.
It felt enormously intriguing to dip into each submission without knowing anything about it in advance, and pretty much every genre of fiction has been superbly represented here. To sit down and find the passion, commitment and time to write a novel is no easy task and the standard has been incredibly high. Wendy and I enjoyed many long discussions as to which submissions had earned a place in the next round at each point along the way, and I hope that those authors who submitted their work will feel immensely encouraged and spurred on by having done so well amidst such fierce competition. I look forward to spotting many of our entrants on display in bookshops over the next few years.”
Jane grew up in south London and has spent most of her life in the city. She initially studied for a Psychology degree and worked afterwards as an assistant psychologist for the NHS. More recently she completed a funded PhD at the Centre for the History of Emotions, Queen Mary University of London. She published some of her research findings in Women’s History Review and co-edited a journal special issue looking at women’s sexual, emotional and religious lives through their writing. She also worked as an assistant editor for the online blog, Notches. Jane currently works as a fundraiser in Higher Education, securing major gifts for health research.
Jane loves story telling in all its forms and some of her earliest memories are Saturday morning visits to her local library. Her earliest attempt at a novel was aged twelve. She returned to writing fiction over a decade ago. As well as working on To Let You Go, she is reworking a draft of another novel set over thirty years. She also has outlines for two further novels. Her work focuses on darker themes and she is particularly interested in exploring loss, in all its guises. An important theme in her work is that we can each survive more than we think possible.
“The idea for To Let You Go first came to me several years ago. I wrote some early chapters but then put the story down to focus on another novel. However, I picked it up again 18 months ago on a visit to Norfolk, inspired by the Norfolk landscapes, and haven’t put it down since. In my novel I try to examine the tension points between loyalty, love and responsibility. I ask what we may be prepared to give up, in order to do what we feel is right.”
Ariella Feiner: "I read this in two sittings and was captivated by Laura’s story, as she wrestles with whether or not her son is innocent after he is accused of rape. Jane Mackelworth has crafted a novel which has the feeling of We Need to Talk About Kevin but focusing on sexual assault, and the reader will feel every bit of Laura’s anguish at seeing her child suspected of perpetrating such a terrible crime. This torturous journey of a mother’s love is deftly portrayed, with real emotional depth, and many heart-in-mouth moments."
Read the start of To Let You Go here.
Kanako is an international civil servant working in international development, and currently lives in the Old City of Baku. Before Azerbaijan, she served in Timor-Leste, Zimbabwe, Myanmar and Egypt, an adventure that she has been sharing with her husband and their two children. She first left her native Japan right before her third birthday for Moscow, where she was thrown into a local Soviet kindergarten knowing only two words in Russian: “toilet” and “thank you”.
Writing has been the one constant of Kanako’s life - it began in the creative writing class in her high school in Israel. Since then, she has completed the Advanced Creative Writing course with Elizabeth Garner at the University of Oxford Department for Continuing Education and Curtis Brown Creative’s three-month novel writing course with Suzannah Dunn.
"I first became interested in the topic of women in narratives of wars and conflicts, and inherent cultural biases, when I was working on my dissertation on the meaning of motherhood during the Palestinian Intifada. I started writing After the Rain, Earth Hardens during the COVID-19 pandemic in Timor-Leste - the novel’s title comes from a Japanese proverb.
While researching the women’s history of World War II in Japan, I came across the Recreation and Amusement Association (RAA), a Japanese state-sponsored prostitution service to the Allied occupation forces, which was established within the first weeks of Japan’s defeat to prevent violence against Japanese women and girls. The war did not end on 15 August 1945 for these 55,000 women, and the same language of honour and sacrifices was used to recruit them. My protagonist Sawako was born, a quiet yet defiant voice who refuses to be cast as a victim of history. Along came the women around her, who each tries her best to define herself within the confines of society and challenges of post-war Japan. The writing journey created a space for me to reflect on the Japanese gender norms that I have internalized and continue to carry to this day."
Ariella Feiner: "This is a deeply moving portrayal of life in Tokyo towards the end of World War II, and the enormous struggles experienced by the protagonist, Sawako, in the aftermath. Sawako is a moving embodiment of the shattered Japanese people amidst a turbulent and fascinating moment in history. Her story is a haunting one which features many mesmerising scenes and I was completely drawn into this novel, which has a very stark power to its prose."
Read the start of After the Rain, Earth Hardens here.
Sophie is a Bristol-based writer of short stories, plays and collaborative youth theatre scripts. Three of her short plays have been performed at The Rondo Theatre in Bath, as well as in Bristol and Neath. She completed an MA in creative writing at Oxford Brookes in 2017. In April 2023 she wrote and co-directed a One Take theatre-film hybrid project with Gloucester University film students. Walking Away is Made Up Of Several Moments, created in one week and filmed in one take, premiered at the university in October 2023, next stop Cannes.
She has won and been placed in several short story competitions including Writer’s Bureau and Bedford International Prize. Two of her stories are published in anthologies. Can I Start From The Beginning? is her first completed novel. Away from stories she works part time as a speech and language therapist specialising in voice disorders, is a committed climate protestor and mother of two teenagers and a twenty-something.
"Can I Start From The Beginning? was born as a short story four years ago on my return from a family reunion with thoughts about reverting to roles within that unit. For me, all the juicy stuff in literature is in family, human relationships, loss, reconciling past and present, small moments that swell. I always start with characters and follow them, and this Starling family soon punched their way out of the short form. I wrote to dig into the alchemical forming of family dynamics, the blurring of memory and invention over time: father and eldest daughter harbour very different versions of an incident from the past, so that got interesting! I followed each character quite a way before seeing that this story belongs to Bea and Ted; there are probably two more novels on the cutting-room floor. I have written the book I want to read (of course), though it hasn’t settled anything for me about nature vs nurture, or how our stories of the past serve us. It has left me pondering what I’ve held onto and what I’ve left behind."
Ariella Feiner: "This novel begins in the seemingly tranquil setting of a vacation rental, as Ted and Moira Starling gather three generations of their family together to celebrate their ruby wedding anniversary. All is not quite as perfect as it seems, however, and the reader is taken on an intriguing journey following the same family over nearly 65 years of their history. Concealing dark secrets at its heart, this is a fascinating look at how generational secrets fail to stay locked in the past, and can cascade down through other branches of the family tree."
Read the start of Can I Start From The Beginning? here.
Fran Brosan took up writing after a career in advertising and has just completed an MSt in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge. She writes poetry, short stories, novels and creative non-fiction, winning the 2022 Dark Skies Poetry Competition and the Florence Staniforth Prize for Short Fiction in 2023. She lives on the North Norfolk coast and is Co-Founder of the Norfolk Writers Salon.
A recent DNA test confirmed that Fran is half Jewish (something that was never mentioned during her childhood), accounting perhaps for what she terms ‘a sense of otherness quite at odds with my middle-class upbringing’. It is on this feeling of not belonging that she has drawn for her first novel.
In The Thunder Air originated during a trip to Devon in 2019, where the details of the Lynmouth Flood Disaster of 15th August 1952 seemed to coincide in strange ways with her own family history; her parents’ marriage the following day and her mother’s evacuation to the nearby town of Weston Super Mare during World War II. Weaving these ideas together, Fran has sought to recreate the tensions that build as human striving for love and belonging clashes with the irrevocable forces of a natural disaster.
“The reasons for the flood are myriad, ranging from apocalyptic weather to the topography of the moors above Lynmouth and the practicalities of human existence in such a dramatic landscape. I wanted to balance the intense sense of the natural environment that you get from somewhere like Exmoor with the quotidian concerns of a small group of people as they try to work out what they truly want in their lives, and how to get it. It seems to me that this is a metaphor for life, we live it, trying to manage our daily concerns in the shadow of larger forces over which we have no control.”
Ariella Feiner: "Set in 1952, In the Thunder Air is a complex love triangle following Hannah Berens as she is caught between Geoffrey Beaumont, the man she hopes to marry, and Skipper, whom she hasn’t seen since they had a brief but passionate affair. Fran Brosan showcases a sharp eye for historical details and the story is propelled by a real sense of peril as dangerous stormwaters rise around the town where the action is based."
Read the start of In the Thunder Air here.
Caroline hails from Scotland but has lived in New Zealand for the last thirteen years. After gaining a degree in psychology and working as a mental health nurse, she decided to become a student again and began studying theology at the University of Edinburgh. She received her PhD in 2008 and moved to New Zealand two years later to teach biblical studies and gender studies at the University of Auckland. She took (very) early retirement in 2021 and now lives in Otorohanga, surrounded by birdsong and sheep. When she’s not writing, she takes great delight in working as a freelance editor and proofreader.
"The main characters in Sins of Commission are a young man (Dylan) and his aunt (Kate) who team up to investigate a mystery. I’ve been a fan of crime fiction since I was young, and I’ve always secretly wanted to solve a real-life mystery myself. The novel allowed me to fulfil this dream, albeit vicariously. It also let me explore the richness of aunt–nephew relationships, and I was inspired to do this, in part, by my own two wonderful nephews.
Other life experiences gave me a wealth of inspiration for the novel. I drew on my time as a mental health nurse and a university lecturer to shape the characters, plotlines, and settings. In terms of location, the story takes place in the Perthshire town of Crieff and several nearby villages. I enjoyed many childhood holidays in this area and was fortunate enough to spend time there in 2019 when I was working on the first draft of Sins of Commission. I hope my writing encourages readers to pay a visit themselves."
Ariella Feiner: "Caroline Blyth’s novel is a murder mystery which lures the reader in as secrets unravel thick and fast behind the doors of a theological college. After a student dies suddenly in the library, swiftly followed by the suicide of the college’s deputy principal, the reader follows Dylan, who works in the college, alongside his aunt Kate, as they investigate whether there is more at play here. I really admired the unusual setting for this novel, which gave Caroline so many excellent characters to play with and intriguing avenues to explore."
Read the start of Sins of Commission here.
Frances is a London-based writer and editor working for Blue Pencil Agency, providing manuscript assessments on a freelance basis, while working on her own novel and bringing up two children. Before this, she worked for UNICEF and UNHCR, writing about real people affected by crises around the world. Frances has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck and is a graduate from Curtis Brown Creative’s six-month writing programme. Her novel, The Exceptions, is about the first girl to attend an alternative rehabilitation school in the 1960s originally intended for ‘disturbed and disturbing boys’.
“My inspiration for The Exceptions came from a real-life therapeutic community that my grandfather was sent to in the 1930s after he had a nervous breakdown at the age of 15. Finchden Manor was founded and run by the charismatic educationalist, George Lyward. It offered respite to a mix of boys deemed delinquent, or who had otherwise cracked under the public school system. My grandfather always said the place gave him back his life – and many others felt the same. It was a school where the pressure to succeed was dropped and boys were allowed to explore their interests and discover the security that was denied them in their early years. But as George Lyward said, ‘It’s the ones who leave too soon who haunt the place.’ I
wanted to invent a story about the first girl to join the community, and have her forced to flee before she is ready. It’s a ‘coming-of-age’ story interrupted – about the storms we all have to face if we don’t resolve them when we have the chance.”
Ariella Feiner: "The Exceptions is a beautifully written love triangle. It follows a single mother, Tess, who has been utterly under the spell of one man, Vinnie, for decades. We follow them across two timelines as they first meet at Lywood, a school for troubled teenagers run by the charismatic Doc. When we cut to the later timeline we see the strain of the ties that still bind Tess and Vinnie all these years on, as she is torn between her deep and tormented love for him and the chance of a fresh start with Finn, her son’s piano teacher. I really rooted for Tess and was willing her on in her quest for a more peaceful and fulfilling life, as she struggled to escape the secrets in her past."
Read the start of The Exceptions here.
After the Rain, Earth Hardens by Kanako Mabuchi
A Sky of Salt and Feathers by Lindsey Armstrong
Bitter Thaw by Jessica McCann
Can I Start From The Beginning? by Sophie Holland
Delusion by Kirsty Witteveen
In the Thunder Air by Fran Brosan
Lush Life by Jane Hider
Noble Beasts by Lucy Waverley Now signed with Sharon Bowers at Folio Literary Management
Separate Ways by Naidine Cox
Sins of Commission by Caroline Blyth
The Exceptions by Frances Merivale
The Fair Dues Collection Agency by Anne O'Leary
The Gift by George Buff
To Let You Go by Jane Mackelworth
Trad Wives by Danielle Cahill Now signed with Ariella Feiner at United Agents