2025 Award

The Caledonia Novel Award 2025

Welcome to the Caledonia Novel Award 2025!

Open to entries: 15 May – midnight GMT 15 October, 2024

Judge: Alice Lutyens, literary agent at Curtis Brown

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 2025 Judge

              Alice Lutyens

Welcome back, Alice – it’s so wonderful to have you on board again! Please can you tell us what you’ve been up to recently, and a bit about your agency, Curtis Brown.

Hi Wendy, I am beyond thrilled to be back. I think the Caledonia Novel Award is my favourite competition, hands down. It is so inclusive and welcoming, and wow! The talent that comes to it! So, what have I been up to? Aside from hibernating in a cave longing for CNA time to come round? I have taken on a few terror/horror writers recently as I have always been quite a fan of this genre – one of them is a literary short story collection which is new for me and such fun to look after. I love thinking outside the box and being open to new ideas. Coming up this year I have three wonderful love stories of very different vibes: If I Were You by Cesca Major, The Orange House by Isabelle Broom and The Happy Hour by Cressida McLaughlin. Then there's the most terrifying and beautifully written The Book of Witching by C J Cooke. Also the epic London-set witch fantasy Shadowstitch by Cari Thomas. And I have to mention Rough Justice, stunningly written courtroom non-fiction, by KC Wendy Joseph. So as you can see, I represent a wiiiiide spread of genres, and what a lucky agent I am!
Curtis Brown is a fantastic place to work as it is always looking and moving ahead, and yet represents some very old esteemed estates and backlists – a perfect blend of old and new. We were recently bought by a big American agency, UTA, which has been incredible for us. It has opened every avenue you can imagine in publishing and beyond – and it is such fun. We are very much Curtis Brown Group still, but with their added expertise, team and imagination. This year we have opened a new department specifically dedicated to fantasy and sci-fi (the first agency to do so!). We are also celebrating 125 years as an agency which is incredible – our Heritage team have set up some amazing ways of celebrating it (and they have been nominated as Agents of the Year, watch this space …). 
And what's been happening with your Caledonia Novel Award 2022 signings, Alex Hay and Douglas Westerbeke?
Well, it has been most thrilling! Alex has just had The Housekeepers chosen as Waterstones Thriller of the Month (May 2024), and he has delivered his second book – the stupendous The Queen of Fives – which will be published in the US and UK in 2025.

Douglas’s book A Short Walk Through a Wide World came out in the US (Avid Press at Simon & Schuster) in April 2024 and has been rapturously received. Have a peek here to see the excitement. It is out in the UK in July 24. VERY EXCITING.
What do you enjoy most about your work as a literary agent, and what have been some of your proudest moments so far?
Oh goodness, Wendy, I don’t have a week to answer this question properly! Being a literary agent is my pride and joy. I LOVE IT SO MUCH. Reading such a massive variety of genres and writing styles, meeting a wide range of fictional characters (whether I love or hate them), talking to people in my industry about why we do what we do (BECAUSE WE LOVE BOOKS), meeting authors for glorious long talks about their books … I do it for the tingle and skip of joy that comes from reading a line or page or book that is just beautifully done.

I am so proud of all my authors, whether they are a top ten bestseller or short story winner, or a quietly tremendous crafter of stories or a Nibbies winner – the proud moments are many and numerous. From reading a manuscript which my author has worked on so hard and pulled off after six or seven drafts, to getting squealing phone calls from editors about prize shortlistings, to calling authors with news of dazzling book deals… I don’t want to single anything out! I am also SO proud to be the Caledonia Novel Award 2025 judge, I must say.

You represent a wide-ranging list of writers and genres at Curtis Brown – what are you hoping to discover when you judge this year's Caledonia Novel Award?

Oh my, so much! I’d LOVE a thriller! I so enjoyed I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes and In the Blink of an Eye by Jo Callaghan. I am actually starving for a thriller, so please thriller writers: send in your work! An epic love story would grab me, along the lines of Maybe Next Time by Cesca Major or Gone with the Wind – I KNOW! A story of family and friends – i.e. relationships (think Claire Lombardo’s The Most Fun We Ever Had and Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano). I really enjoy creepy reads, too. I’d adore to see Stranger Things in book form, but I am also talking about subtly cleverly creepy books. I am open to everything really – perhaps not hardcore sci-fi – I have a very open mind about books. The writing is most important of all so feel free to try it out on me.

In your search for new writing talent, what grabs your attention from the outset and encourages you to read past the first few pages?

GOOD WRITING. Really interesting characters. Distinctive voice. The voice is critical to me. I think a plot can be improved fairly easily if it’s not quite there, but I think a voice is hard to fake. The voice has got to bring me in straight away, I need to believe in it. The characters don’t need to be good, or ‘like me’ or even very understandable – they just need to be believable, interesting, present. I can always tell when an author doesn’t quite believe in their own characters, it shows. I need to have an idea quite soon of where the story is going, where it might sit in the market, but most of all I just need to have that feeling of, "Oh goodness – I need to find out more!". To that end, I am quite a fan of opening with a scene that entices/enthralls/shocks.

As an agent, you must receive thousands of submissions every year – what current trends are you seeing in fiction, both in the UK and internationally?

Definitely ghostly/spooky/terrifying – it's a big moment for that. We are also seeing a real demand for romance. Actually, romance is an evergreen one I must say, but currently editors are loving romance with a speculative edge and Big Questions. Also, fantasy! It is so interesting how all these hot genres represent an urge for escapism in a different form, i.e. by allowing us to escape into a portal that we have no fear of turning into real life.

Entrants to the Caledonia Novel Award 2025 are asked to include a 200-word synopsis with their submission – what are your top tips for writing a successful one?

You should open it with a pitch line or three. This is very hard to achieve but once you’ve nailed it, you have something very important in your hands. The ability to put across a solid idea of what your book is, in one sentence. For example, the pitch line for The Housekeepers is "Ocean’s 8 meets Downton Abbey set in 1905". From that, you understand that it is historical, it involves women, a heist and is set in a grand house. You probably also decipher that it is a fun and commercial read. Of course, the pitch can be a little longer. I am working on a book at the moment, and this is the pitch: "We Call Them Witches is a LGBTQ+ folk horror novel, and is ultimately a story of survival, family and young romantic love set in the post-apocalyptic and unrecognisable Yorkshire."

The synopsis should read like a book jacket blurb, not like a book report. You want to dangle something there which makes me desperate to read to out find the answer/what happened. I need to leave the synopsis with a good idea of where the book sits. Is it a thriller, a mystery, a coming-of-age? Why do I want to read it? Is it like any other book out there (comparisons are very useful, and can be other books but also films and television, or anything topical).

It is important that I read the synopsis and finish it understanding what your book is, whether your plot makes sense (ask a friend to read it and report back to you what they think it is about – very useful!), and also to start caring about the characters and their situation.

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

I love The Night in Question by Susan Fletcher – it is the best sort of heart-warming escapism, Weyward by Emilia Hart – witches! Motherhood! – the perfect blend of past and present day. Misery by Stephen King – well, I mean, need I explain? Stephen King full stop is a Master. Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver – what a VOICE. The God of the Woods by Liz Moore – gripping, compulsive and even tragic in a way. Still Life by Sarah Winman made me feel so safe and happy and full of love.

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

The delightful Caledonia Novel Award for me personally – this is my 2024 happy project! Curtis Brown is celebrating 125 years this year, through some really exciting collaborations and projects (watch this space). I oversaw a brilliant scheme (appropriately named Magical Thinking) at Curtis Brown whereby we encouraged our assistants to come up with business plans to expand the repertoire of the agency in ways that had never been done before. We are now pushing ahead with three utterly brilliant innovative plans, and I couldn’t be more excited for the year ahead.

And finally, what advice would you give to anyone thinking of entering the Caledonia Novel Award 2025?

Be brave. Enter your book! What have you got to lose? Nothing. Even if you just gain some encouragement, that is invaluable in itself. Remember that each time you enter a competition or submit a story/piece of writing for anything really, you are getting closer to your dream, step by step. So:
 – Get that opening truly dazzling. Does it draw us in? Does it compel?
 – Read your work again, even out loud if you can bear to, so it is in the very best shape you are able to get it to.
 – Work really hard on your synopsis – it is the gateway. Don’t make it too long, the most power comes in the lesser number of words.
 – Have faith in yourself. You are a writer – WOW! You have come this far.

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 eighth 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 residential or online writing course or retreat 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.


2023 Winner of the Moniack Mhor Writing Retreat Prize

Jody Cooksley

A week of firsts. 

My maiden voyage to the Highlands, my inaugural writing retreat and the only internal flight I’ve taken in the UK. Thankfully the week improves after the flight, though the view of the coast on the way to land at Inverness makes me promise myself another trip in the future. The taxi, with entertaining commentary from the lovely Robert, passes along the banks of Loch Ness before wending its way through winding roads in stunning woodland scenery. I’m lucky enough to live in the Surrey Hills, so beautiful countryside isn’t strange to me, but the scenery around Moniack Mhor is next-level beautiful, remote and windswept with a huge depth of sky over rolling hills. A clarity of light and purity of air that makes you want to breathe deep and head for the forest.

The accommodation is basic, but there is something wonderful about the desk with its view over rolling landscape, tucked at the end of a single bed. A reminder that I’m here to work. I place my notebook, pens and laptop hopefully.
My aims for the week are ambitious. I need to finish a novel – the sequel to The Small Museum, the script with which I won this year’s Caledonia Novel Award – and, if there’s time, I would love to do some thinking about The Mud Gods, a novel I’ve been toying with for a few years, and which has been through a few incarnations of form.

A first-night briefing and a fantastic meal from one of the lovely staff teams, an introduction to the other writers, and I head to the desk for several hours' work before sleep. Next day, an early run in the pine forest is followed by more work, a break for a delicious lunch, a walk in the hills, more work, a delicious dinner and more work. It’s a pattern repeated on each day of my stay. My attention is so sharp with no distractions and my clarity of focus is like nothing I have experienced before. There is, I begin to see, something special about a retreat and there’s certainly something magical about Moniack Mhor. We are nurtured with amazing soul food several times a day, the snacks are always flowing and when a desk break is needed there are walks and runs aplenty right outside the door.
By the end of four days, I have finished one novel and put the other into some semblance of order that will make it straightforward to write over the coming months. I’ve also met some amazing people, all of whom are writing such different texts: academic treatises, personal memoirs, science fiction, poetry, short stories, dramatic monologues and novels. We read short bursts of our work to one another on the last night, in the cosy glow of the straw barn, and the quality is inspiring.

Everything at Moniack Mhor is geared towards providing a restful, nurturing and inspiring stay, with incredibly thoughtful touches. The next time I need a retreat it will be my first port of call. I’m immensely grateful to the Caledonia Novel Award team for providing this amazing week as part of the prize.

Jody Cooksley, October 2023.

Copyright © 2024 Caledonia Novel Award. All rights reserved.
Designed & Developed By Crunchy Carrots.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram