The spine-tingler that’s won Georgia our £20,000 First Novel prize! Judges share an extract from winning book and give their verdict
- Georgia Fancett, 51, won this year’s Daily Mail First Novel Competition
- She was awarded a £20,000 advance, publishing deal and a literary agent
- She shared an extract from her novel ‘The Fifth Girl’ and her reaction to winning
- The competition judges shared their verdict on Georgia’s gripping debut
Thousands of you entered this year’s Daily Mail First Novel Competition. The standard was extremely high but we can now reveal that the winner is Georgia Fancett, 51, who lives near Bath. She wins an advance of £20,000, the services of a top literary agent and a publishing deal with Random House.
When the phone rang and Georgia Fancett learnt she had won our First Novel Competition, she was so shocked she thought it might be someone trying to scam her for her bank details.
‘When I posted my synopsis, I forgot to include a covering letter, so I assumed my entry would be discounted,’ she says.
‘So when Luigi, the literary agent, called, I just didn’t believe it. I didn’t tell anyone. It was only after I was sent an email confirmation that I could accept it was actually happening.’
Georgia’s husband, Ben, was overwhelmed when she told him — and burst into tears.
Her entry, The Fifth Girl, is a hard-hitting police procedural novel in which four girls have been found murdered in similarly gruesome circumstances. Detective Alice Warnes is charged with tracking down the killer. Her fellow detective, Rollo, a lazy, Trump-loving bigot, likes to provoke Alice, who is gay and struggling to cope with her new wife’s spiralling spending habit.
Georgia Fancett, 51, (pictured) was awarded a £20,000 advance, the services of a top literary agent and a publishing deal for her novel ‘The Fifth Girl’
It was the unanimous choice of the four judges: senior editor and publisher at Random House Selina Walker, literary agent Luigi Bonomi, crime novelist Simon Kernick, Daily Mail literary editor Sandra Parsons and TV presenter and novelist Fern Britton.
And it’s a well-deserved reward for Georgia’s determination to return to studying after her education was cut short.
Georgia’s life has been far from conventional. She was born in High Wycombe, but when she was young her family moved to rural South Africa: ‘My mother was considered something of a celebrity because she was from London.’
When she was still at school, Georgia became pregnant and, at 17, gave birth to her first daughter, Calico, now 34. She was forced to leave school and struggled to make a go of things, especially after her supportive parents moved back to England, working in an office and as a riding instructor.
So when Cali was six, Georgia packed up and came back to Britain to be near her family — and in a new job she met and married Ben, with whom she has two more children, 24-year-old Hero and a son, Hardy, 12.
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Throughout these years, Georgia was writing, but only for herself. However, having missed out on her final years at school, she wanted to study again and began an Oxford distance learning course, working towards a Certificate of Higher Education in archaeology. As a subsidiary subject, she chose a creative writing course.
She would get up every day at 5am to study and write for two hours before working in the family business, supplying car security systems.
‘I write in longhand and had never shown anyone anything I’d written. I did once get shortlisted for a short story competition, but I was told mine was ‘too graphic’!
The Fifth Girl is gritty, with a politically incorrect sidekick to spar with detective Alice Warnes, who is herself a rather sweary rule-breaker. Georgia doesn’t think the fact her lead character is gay is relevant to the plot.
‘One of my best friends is gay and at her birthday party I enjoyed the way it was so lovely and relaxed, so I decided to make the lead character gay just because I wanted it to be seen as normal, incidental.’
Georgia (pictured) developed her writing ability by doing an Oxford distance learning course. She committed herself to waking up each day at 5am to study and write before work
Much of her previous writing has been in the fantasy/parallel universe genre, and she is not sure why she turned to crime.
‘My husband watches a lot of police shows and our company provides vehicle security equipment, so we do have contact with police — but mainly traffic cops,’ she says. ‘I’m a big fan of Mark Billingham and Karin Slaughter novels and I love true-crime podcasts.’
The pressure is on to finish the novel, but Georgia admits even she doesn’t know how it will end. ‘Will Alice get away with breaching all police protocol by teaming up with a suspect to hunt the killer? I like the fact that, as I write, my characters develop a life — they disobey what I think they should be doing and go off on their own.
‘I don’t believe in writer’s block. Trust me, when you’ve written 3,000 words on the shape of flint tools for an archaeology course, creative writing doesn’t seem that difficult! I am very, very excited about having my book published. I know it’s extremely hard to make a living as a writer, but it would be great to do that.’
The advance of £20,000 is obviously very welcome, but Georgia has no immediate plans to spend it.
‘I’d love to be able to treat us to a holiday. We’ve never been able to all go away together because we have an old rescue dog, Polly, who is blind, deaf and diabetic and can’t be left alone. So perhaps I’ll put the money aside until the sad time comes when we are free to go somewhere special.’
HORROR AND HEARTBREAK… AN EXTRACT FROM THE WINNING ENTRY
THE FIFTH GIRL
by Georgia Fancett
Alice pulled on a pair of blue latex gloves. She hated the way they felt; like anonymity and protection. She pushed past the uniform on the door, giving her a brief smile as she ducked behind the police tape.
The dirty ground-floor room was hot, and she was sweltering in her overalls. A smell of death hung heavily in the air and she held her breath for a moment.
Rollo was strutting about in his white paper shoes and overalls as though he owned the place, loving it.
‘Chief,’ he called. ‘How’s tricks?’ He smelt faintly of B.O. and his hair clung to the beads of sweat on his bony forehead.
‘Rollo,’ she said, and already she could feel a faint thread of adrenaline winding its way through her limbs. She wondered how he made her feel so utterly vulnerable every time she was around him.
‘Nice of you to drop in.’ He tipped a knowing wink at the scenes of crime officer, as though they were sharing a joke, and she smiled back thinly.
‘Is it the same guy?’ Alice asked, pretending to ignore him.
‘Maybe. Too early to say for sure, but it certainly looks the same. Got ourselves a proper nasty piece of work,’ Rollo said with an air of excitement in his voice that made Alice think the killer was in good company. The SOCO stepped back so that Alice could see.
The body of a young woman lay on the floor next to the bed, with her hands upturned at her sides. She wore wide hippy pants and a black T-shirt with the anarchy symbol on the front. One leg was bent at the knee and the position looked unnatural, but it was her head that Alice was looking at.
Georgia’s novel The Fifth Girl follows Detective Alice Warnes’s efforts to track down a killer who on more than one occasion chose to suffocate their victim
Like the others, her face had been covered with a plain, white plastic bag. A large black ribbon, tied with an elaborate bow, held the bag in place and a face had been drawn on the front: wide, cartoon eyes with elaborate eyelashes, a squiggle of black felt pen for hair and a large, red mouth, drawn on with lipstick.
It was clown-like and grotesque and Alice turned away, unwilling to look for longer than she had to. She had seen many horrors over the years, but these murders were more than just horrific, they were heartbreaking.
Alice didn’t need to wait for the results of the post mortem to tell her the cause of death. It would be suffocation like the others: Melody, Tanya and Harriet. She would be malnourished and underweight, her skin would be dry and her hair unwashed and, when they interviewed her parents, they would tell her she had been missing for about a month, maybe more, maybe less, but four weeks give or take.
They would assure Alice that she would never have run away and they would tearfully assert that the email they had received saying goodbye and that she loved them must have been sent under duress.
They would say that their beautiful daughter had got up, dressed for school and left with a smile — and then had simply vanished.
OUR JUDGES VERDICT
Publisher of Century and Arrow at Random House
What made The Fifth Girl stand out for me was the characterisation of the lead detective, Alice Warnes, and the obvious potential for more novels in the same series. I believed in her, and her story felt relevant and filmic. Good title, too.
This was sharply written, with a great sense of humour and terrific pace. I thought Alice was a fantastic character and, combined with a gripping plot, that made The Fifth Girl a natural winner for me.
TV presenter and novelist
I love a good police thriller and The Fifth Girl is just that. The opening chapter is intriguing and gripping. I can’t wait to read the rest of it! If this were a television series it would give the wonderful Jed Mercurio a run for his money. I absolutely loved it.
Daily Mail literary editor
It pulled me in immediately. The writing was assured and pacy, with terrific characterisation; Alice comes to life vividly and swiftly, but so do the other characters, even after just a few lines. Also — very welcome — there is plenty of humour and wit. Terrific.
FOUR MORE PAGE TURNERS FROM OUR RUNNERS-UP
THE FACELESS DESCENT
by Isabella Harcourt
An historical crime novel about a serial killer, set in 1890s London.
Isabella Harcourt, 25, lives in Bedfordshire and works for Hachette publishers, having graduated from the University of Kent with a First in comparative literature.
‘I can never remember what he looks like. Every time I see him, I try to focus on his face: the yellowing skin; the purple lines under his eyes; the dark eyebrows that almost meet in the middle. When he leaves, I repeat the details to myself in a chant so I can never be caught off-guard again, but it never works.
‘The details slip away and the next week I’m greeting him like a brand new customer. I could always remember his hands, though. He had beautiful hands. Pale, soft skin, well-proportioned iron rods.’
by Jez Pinfold
A voyeuristic killer of girls plants cameras at the crime scene to spy on the investigation — and the female detective.
Jez, 52, from South London, is married with two children aged 16 and 19. He has taught English and film studies for 25 years, but is taking time out to concentrate on his writing.
‘This was the start. And also the ending. A paradox. He liked this concept. The notion that something could be both true and false at the same time fascinated him, exercised his mind. Every time was a thrill, but this time it felt different. Special.
‘It was autumn and it felt colder today. He had been watching the house for three days now… soon there would be signs of life, curtains would be opened and he would be able to see those inside.’
HOW TO MARRY YOUR HUSBAND
by Jacqueline Rohen
When a woman discovers she isn’t legally married to her cheating ‘husband’, she must win him back — in order to divorce him . . .
Jacqueline, 38, from West London, used to work in TV and musical theatre but is spending a year in Uganda with her fiance, a primatologist, setting up a chimpanzee charity.
‘It started with a kiss. Rachel spotted her husband on the High Street; she smiled at the unexpected surprise. She would give him a lift home and they could start their celebrations early; she had a silk chemise and stockings waiting.
‘They had a weekend of festivities planned and the opportunity to see friends and family en masse was sacrosanct; everything was planned. When Rachel saw David turn and kiss the woman stood next to him, she almost crashed her car.’
IN PLAIN SIGHT
by Rebecca Williams
A psychological crime thriller in which a woman haunted by a childhood memory becomes obsessed with exacting revenge on those who have betrayed her.
Rebecca, 37, a recruitment marketing manager, lives in Surrey and has sons aged two and six. She is a former bookseller and last year took a Curtis Brown creative writing course.
‘All it takes is a glimpse of sprigged wallpaper for me to tumble through time. Pink rosebuds, green leaves, tiny clusters of them sprinkled on a white background like pox on a toddler, covering the walls of my childhood bedroom. If I close my eyes, they repeat over and over again.
‘Sometimes there’s a spider winding a web in the petals, ensnaring me. I still want to find its filthy fine legs tickle up my arm as it explores.’
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