We are delighted to announce that the winner of this year’s Caledonia Novel Award is The Doll Factory by Scottish writer, Elizabeth Macneal. She wins £1,000 and a trophy specially designed by Edinburgh artist Astrid Jaekel.  Elizabeth also wins a free place on a writing course at Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre.

Madeleine Milburn commented:

“I was so impressed by the standard of entries for the Caledonia Novel Award 2018, and it’s been an utter joy to judge. We had such a range of genres from impressive Young Adult and beautiful book club fiction to epic historical fiction and unique thrillers.

The title I chose as the winner was one that stood out from the very start. The voice was unique, the characterisation vivid, the plot electric. It was a masterful piece of fiction, and might have been written by someone at the pinnacle of their powers, rather than one who is just starting out on what promises to be a hugely exciting career.

One of the most thrilling parts of being a literary agent is that surge of adrenaline when you encounter a truly special piece of writing, and the winning entry had me bouncing off the walls for days. Set in 1850s London, it tells the story of Iris, a doll-making apprentice who dreams of being a painter, and Silas, a lonely collector of morbid curiosities who dreams of building his own museum.

Macneal’s voice is incredibly striking and through her beautiful writing and cinematic descriptions she has masterfully recreated multiple layers of Victorian London, from the bohemian residence of a young artist to the dark and gritty underbelly, via curious establishments and Great Exhibitions. The familiarity of the characters residing in these settings demand empathy, but also at times their eccentricities repulse and terrify. Along with the reader, these characters are dragged through the streets of London by an unrelenting plot that is both gripping and hugely gratifying.    

Though its setting is Victorian, there is so much for the modern reader to relate to. Central to the book is a hugely contemporary theme: female empowerment. Iris has dreams constrained by society and her place in it, but she also possesses a dogged resilience that compels her forward. It will resonate with the growing momentum of the #metoo movement, and the demands to break down the barriers blocking the ambitions of so many women today.

It is, in short, a truly unique and completely wonderful read, and I can’t wait to share the novel with publishers around the world.”

Highly commended was Dark Barn by L P Fergusson –  ‘The Second World War comes crashing down on a quiet community in rural England, starting a chain of events that will irrevocably alter the destiny of four lives. A fascinating look at how one’s actions, no matter how noble the intentions, can have dramatic and unforeseen consequences for you and those around you. This is a refreshing and emotive story about ordinary people caught up in events and passions far beyond their control or understanding.’

The Caledonia Novel Award is an international Edinburgh-based award for unpublished and self-published novelists, in any genre for adults and YA. This year, we attracted more than 350 entries from 26 different countries.