We have our worthy winner. After an unprecedented 700 entries for the eighth year of the Grazia and Women’s Prize for Fiction First Chapter competition, we’re delighted to announce that 53-year-old Faith Eckersall from the South Coast has scooped the hotly contested first prize. The competition, taking entries from aspiring female writers, was judged by Grazia’s deputy editor Caroline Barrett and features director Emily Phillips, along with award-winning, best-selling author Paula Hawkins, who started the story, called The Favourite Child.
The judges found themselves left desperately wanting more after Faith’s chapter – which includes a wicked twist – promised tangents galore to explore if it were to unfurl into a novel.
Georgina was presented with her award by Grazia’s editor Hattie Brett at the ceremony for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, which was won by Kamila Shamsie, author of Home Fire. Faith will also receive a session with a leading publisher to talk about how she can get started on her journey to writing a novel. You can read her winning entry here. And don't forget to check out the first chapters from the two very promising runners-up, Eleanor Cornwall and Lucy Power, here. They’ll be recommended on your iBooks reading list soon...
How Paula Hawkins got the story started...
Of Katherine’s four children, her second- born, Lauren, was undoubtedly her favourite. Cara, the eldest, was wilful and disobedient, while the two youngest, Robert and Alex, were as feeble and timorous as their father. Lauren was dutiful without being sycophantic, obliging without being needy. She never entered Katherine’s bedroom without knocking and, when she was invited in, she frequently brought with her curious gifts: snails from the garden, or a perfectly- round pebble, or on one occasion the bones and beak of a bird which, cat-like, she laid at the foot of her mother’s bed.
How Faith Eckersall, our winner, continued it...
None of this had particularly troubled her mother. Katherine had been very similar as a child herself, bringing what her own mother had described as ‘Kathy’s treasures’ – an old, golden powder compact or a broken robin’s egg, delicate and blue, like a baby’s painted fingernail.
So when Lauren appeared with her latest find, Katherine’s response was generally: “Beautiful, darling.” Lauren would nod. No fuss. Almost as if she understood.
Cara found the whole thing ridiculous and never lost an opportunity to say so. “Oh God, Lauren, not more crap!” she’d sigh. The boys seemed puzzled by her.
It suited Katherine. She loved her children, she supposed, but with the exception of Lauren they bored her.
She remembered the day she’d first realised this, sitting at a toddler group with Cara, as the child alternately went rigid and then flung herself on the floor because she didn’t want to sing The Wheels on The Bus.
Katherine didn’t want to sing it either. But she’d worked out a long time ago that if you don’t behave as others expect, it attracts the wrong sort of attention. That’s why she’d got married. She didn’t especially love Michael. But she realised it would be easier. And after that, the babies just happened.
Well, the boys and Cara, anyway.
Christ, was Michael so stupid and so weak he’d never wondered why his second-born was the only brown-eyed child? Had he never wondered why Lauren bore almost no resemblance to either him or her siblings, in looks or temperament?
If she closed her eyes and breathed, Katherine could still remember the smell of the man’s skin, the way he’d pulled her underwear off after pressing her against the wall in the downstairs cloakroom, the children’s coats and Michael’s cycling helmet bumping against the side of her face.
He was a delivery driver and knocked on the door, or so he said, to ask if she knew where Menton, a house he claimed was on her street, was located. His instructions, he’d grinned, were rubbish.
It was a wet afternoon, she’d persuaded Cara into her cot for a nap after a trying morning when she wouldn’t settle at nursery. “Perhaps she’s a bit on the young side to have started,” said Kirsty, the leader, with just a hint of annoyance.
So Katherine had brought Cara home and given her a spoonful of Calpol and was settling down to read, when she heard the bell ring. She’d asked him to wait in the hallway because of the rain as she made an excuse about checking her mobile. Even as she returned from the kitchen, she knew what she would do.
If she was really honest that hot, urgent sex was the last time she’d felt truly alive. Afterwards he’d pulled up his trousers, smirked and left and she returned to her life, tending to the screaming, demanding Cara, and fulfilling Michael’s apologetic bedtime wants.
But when she skipped that first period she couldn’t quite believe it. “So soon,” Michael had beamed. “Are you sure another one won’t be too much?”
She’d kissed him, mainly to shut him up and because it was easier than trying to think of something appropriate to say. And when they’d placed the tiny bundle with its swirl of dark hair and knowing look into Katherine’s arms, Michael brushed away a tear, not appearing to realise that she carried not one of his genes. It made her despise him even more.
It was only by chance, eight months later, she discovered the delivery man’s name.
She was wheeling Lauren to pick up Cara from the new nursery and Mrs Ahmed had just put out the local weekly on the white wire stand in front of her shop.
The eyes staring out from the front page were as hard and beautiful as she remembered.
‘Face of the Acton rapist’ screamed the headline.
Katherine picked it up.
‘A man who raped three young mothers has been jailed for 18 years.
Delivery driver Adam Jackson, 25, of Baddesley Road, Islington, has been sentenced to 18 years for a series of what were described as ‘violent and calculated sexual assaults’ on three women in the Acton area.
The assaults took place during the afternoons when Jackson, who the prosecution described as ‘predatory and cunning’, knew his preferred victims, young mothers, would be at home.
Trial Judge, Mr Justice Tate, told Jackson he had deliberately targeted the women in the knowledge they would probably remain silent during the attacks because their children were in the house and they feared for their safety.
“It is just one of the many despicable and aggravating characteristics of your behaviour,” said the judge. “It is also one of the reasons I am recommending you are not considered for release until you have undergone a programme of intense psychotherapy.”
During the trial Jackson had claimed that his victims – whose ages ranged from 22 to 34 - had invited him into their homes and had enjoyed having sex with him.
Police believe there may be other potential victims and have asked women to come forward.’
Katherine looked up; Mrs Patel was speaking.
“Disgusting, isn’t it? No one is safe these days.”
“I know,” said Katherine. “It could have been any of us, couldn’t it?”
The kindly old lady leaned over the buggy and gently pinched the baby’s cheek. “
“How’s my little beauty? Don’t you worry. We won’t let anyone hurt you, will we?”
And, as Adam Jackson’s eyes turned up to look at her, Katherine felt a fierce, inexplicable love.
Nothing and no one would ever hurt Lauren, she would see to that. This child was different, would be different. Looking at her made Katherine feel alive.
Maybe – just maybe – Lauren would be the person she could explain it to. Someone who would understand just why she had crept into that house on that day so long ago. And what she had done to the old woman inside when she got there...
Check out the two runners-up entries to the Grazia First Chapter Competition 2018 here...