First Novel Prize 2019 Winners

Congratulations to James Davidson, Dakota Canon and Ali Thurm for winning The First Novel Prize 2019!

First Prize and £1000 is awarded to James Davidson for ‘The Chain’.

‘The Chain’ is the fast-paced story of an underground spy network in which each member only knows the contact to their left and right in an alphabetical sequence. This system was used in real historical circumstances, to protect resistance forces from the danger of being exposed under torture. 

James Davidson

‘From its tense and terrifying opening, ‘The Chain’ was a clear winner, fulfilling its ambitious vision with great elegance and power. In his unique story of ordinary people in Communist Hungary caught up in the machinations of a criminal resistance network hunted by a repressive state, James Davidson captures a time of paranoia and fear in a way that is impossible to put down – or forget.’ Ed Wood, Publishing Director, Sphere Fiction / IP Director, Little Brown Book Group and Prize Co-judge

‘Propulsive, sinister, and compelling, ‘The Chain’ skilfully unites clever formal daring with a stark, chilling atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia, and does so in strikingly elegant prose. It held our attention from the first page to the last.’ Emma Paterson, Literary Agent at Aitken Alexander Associates

James Davidson lives in Liverpool, where he is taking an MA in writing. He has previously lived in Budapest, Prague and Krakow, and his fascination with these regions is reflected in his writing. He has has a background in journalism, and he also writes short stories and poetry. 

James Davidson is currently seeking representation.

Second Prize and £250 is awarded to Dakota Canon for ‘The Unmaking of Eden’.

A feisty and brilliant 12-year old and her 2-year old sister escape a fundamentalist religious community in upper North Dakota one wintry morning under strange circumstances. ‘The Unmaking of Eden’ is shot through with themes of bravery, trauma, and acceptance, with an explosive ending.

Dakota Canon

‘Dakota Canon’s construction of her protagonist’s voice is a real achievement: immediate, intimate and indelible. Eden’s narration announces itself with a confidence rarely seen in unpublished work.’ Emma Paterson, Literary Agent at Aitken Alexander Associates

‘Dakota Canon has a hugely confident commercial prose style and is superb at bringing to life the inner voice of her young protagonist-on-the-run Eden. Dakota’s first novel is full of atmosphere and culminates in a startling twist that makes you want to go back to the beginning and start all over again.’ Ed Wood, Publishing Director, Sphere Fiction / IP Director, Little Brown Book Group and Prize Co-judge

Dakota Canon lives and works in California. She builds quantitative models by day and writes when the sun goes down.  She has received placement in the Manchester Fiction Prize, the Writer’s Digest Annual Short Story Contest and the Brilliant Flash Fiction competition and has short work, either published or forthcoming, in Witness,Hobart, Moon City Review, Fiction Southeast, The MacGuffin,Literary Orphans and Citron Review, among others. She is on staff at the literary magazine Cease, Cows.

Dakota Canon is currently seeking representation.

Third Prize and £100 is awarded to Ali Thurm for ‘The River Brings the Sea‘.

Ali Thurm

‘The River Brings the Sea’ is a story of the choices we have to make when the overriding challenge of our times is how to survive climate crisis. 

‘Dystopian fiction seems to speak to the world we live in today, and Ali Thurm’s smart move is to focus tightly in on her heroine. Living in a small community, Anna is torn between defending desperate newcomers and sympathy for those she depends on for her survival. Ali’s evocation of a dank Cumbria after the sea levels have risen was haunting.’ Ed Wood, Publishing Director, Sphere Fiction / IP Director, Little Brown Book Group and Prize Co-judge

‘Perhaps the most of-the-moment piece of fiction shortlisted, ‘The River Brings the Sea’ impressed us with its careful, tender characterisation set against a backdrop of climate emergency and political turmoil that felt all too familiar.’ Emma Paterson, Literary Agent at Aitken Alexander Associates

Ali Thurm is represented by Emily Sweet Associates.

Please direct all enquiries to Angel Belsey, Prize Manager, at

Both the judges and the organisers would like to thank everyone who contributed to the success of what has been the busiest edition of The First Novel Prize. Thank you to all the talented and hard-working new writers who entered the Prize. We look forward to next year’s Prize with entries opening in February 2020.