Nicki Thornton, co-founder of Mostly Books, an independent bookshop in Abingdon, Oxfordshire has won the UK’s most valuable children’s writing competition with her unpublished debut The Firefly Cage.
She wins a £10,000 publishing contract with Chicken House, which will now work with the author on her novel, to be published in 2017. Thornton beat four other shortlisted writers to be named winner of the ninth Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition. The competition asks unpublished writers to submit a complete novel for children, and this year received a record number of over 1,000 entries, including many from overseas.
The Firefly Cage is aimed at the lucrative 9-12 readers market, and is described as a “magical murder mystery”. It tells the story of kitchen boy Seth, who is caught up in a murder investigation at a magicians’ convention. Since the disappearance of Seth’s father years before, his black cat Nightshade his been his only friend, and Seth must use all his wiles to prove his innocence to the Magical Constabulary before it is too late.
Speaking of her win, Thornton said: “I am beyond thrilled – it is a tremendous honour. It really is the children’s writing prize aspiring writers want to win. I am so proud the judges chose my book – I cannot wait to see what will happen next. I’ve learnt a lot writing The Firefly Cage and now I will be working with the team at Chicken House to make it as good as it can be.”
This year’s shortlist was judged by:
Alex O’Connell from The Times
David O’Callaghan from Irish bookseller Easons
author Emma Carroll
the Bookseller’s Fiona Noble
Mumsnet’s Kate Williams
literary scout Marzena Currie
Melissa Cox of Waterstones
and Zoe King, a literary agent with the Blair Partnership.
The panel was overseen by Chicken House MD Barry Cunningham, who says: “Nicki has written an utterly enthralling and constantly surprising locked room magical murder mystery, made all the more engaging by wonderful characters and a very confident authorial voice. Nicki mixes the best elements of several genres to come up with something original and wholly enchanting. I can’t wait to work with her to help turn The Firefly Cage into the bestseller it deserves to be.”
Cunningham added that this had been the competition’s most successful year in terms of quality and quantity of entries, which came from all over the world: “There is a huge amount of talent out there – not just in the UK but overseas as well, including India, Vietnam and Canada. The fact that we receive so many entries, and that the quality is so high, proves once again the importance of this competition in allowing new writers a different way to get noticed and for the children’s books world to discover new talents to feed readers’ insatiable appetite for new stories. That is why, while Nicki is our very deserving winner, we hope to work with other writers that made our shortlist to help them develop their careers.”
The competition has an impressive track record, with over half of shortlisted authors subsequently published by either Chicken House or other major UK publishers, achieving worldwide success and critical acclaim. For instance, 2013 shortlisted duo Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison have now had two books published by Chicken House, including YA Prize shortlisted Lobsters (its sequel Freshers publishing in 2017).The winner of last year’s competition, The Secret Cooking Club by Laurel Remington, will be published on 4th August, and rights have been sold to six other countries including France and China.
Full details of how to enter to enter the next Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition can be found at www.chickenhousebooks.com/submissions.