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Judging a Winner

Reading crime books is something we love to do. Writing crime books is an entirely different kettle of fish!

So when The Telegraph and Harvill Secker (an imprint of the Random House Group) launched a competition to find the next crime author we immediately wanted to know what they’d be looking for in a winning entry. We asked Alison Hennessey, Senior Editor at Harvill Secker and one of the four judges of the prize, what it is she is looking for.

Over to Alison:

‘Earlier this summer, I launched a crime writing competition in conjunction with The Telegraph to find the next new voice in crime fiction. On offer? A publishing contract with Harvill Secker, home of authors including number 1 bestseller Jo Nesbo, rising star Stuart Neville and the wonderfully quirky and atmospheric Fred Vargas (if you’ve been enjoying Channel 4’s Les Revenants as much as I have, then it’s definitely worth trying Fred’s intriguing, original detective series). I can rhapsodise endlessly about the wonderful authors I already publish, but what do I want to see in authors I might publish?

Well, good writing and great plotting above all else. To sit on our list we need to have authors who can really write, who know how to create characters and situations that are entirely believable and endings that are completely convincing. I love a good page-turner but the best books for me are the ones that have the characterisation and atmosphere to match the compelling plotting.

I’m also looking for originality and ambition. At points last year it seemed that about three quarters of what I was submitted were detective novels, most of them pitched as the ‘German/Swedish/South American/Chinese Kurt Wallander’, all of which I said no to. Instead I said yes to Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home. Long Way Home is the first book in yes, a detective series, but crucially it’s a detective series that felt fresh and exciting, set in a world I knew nothing about and that introduced me to characters that felt like people in their own right, not imitations of existing characters. It’s always good to be aware of trends in the market but don’t try and copy those trends – write what you want to write and you may just find it’s what everyone wants to read.

As Harvill Secker is the home of the very best in international literature we’ve asked that all our entries have some international component, and I’m fascinated to see how people respond to this. Will I learn about some truly alarming weapons from around the world or be inspired to visit (or avoid) certain countries?

I personally have a real weakness for books set in isolated communities (I think it’s the claustrophobic within me), unreliable narrators, gothic stories and high concept thrillers and I’d love to see whether any of these arrive in my inbox come the end of November. But of course, as any editor will tell you, the very best thing about working in publishing is that you don’t know what you want to publish until it lands on your desk, so our winning entry may not share any of these elements. Check in next Spring when we announce our winner, and find out…’

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