Announcing the Winners of the Case Closed First Chapter 2023 Competition


“It is a complete privilege and honour to win the Case Closed prize and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to meet agents to discuss my work. I didn’t think for a minute that I would win anything, so this has given me a massive confidence boost, and hopefully sets me on the path to publication!”  – Liz Cornell, Case Closed First Chapter Competition Winner 2023

The winners of the first ever Case Closed First Chapter Competition, celebrating talented unagented Crime, Mystery and Thriller writers in the UK from underrepresented backgrounds, a partnership between us at Spread the Word and C&W Literary Agency, have been announced.

The Prize has been won by Liz Cornell for Murder on The Red Corridor, a modern murder mystery set in legal London. Liz wins a one-to-one meeting with crime author Tracey Lien, meetings with agents at C&W and professional development with Spread the Word.

Four writers were highly commended by the judging panel who consisted of members of the Spread the Word and C&W teams, including Ingrid by Holly Ritchie, a decadent, sumptuous murder mystery set in the world of New York’s elite; Harriet Smith and the Homicidal Heir by Lucy Andrew, a cosy crime retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma; Rent Office by Max Dunbar, a novel about a drifter named George who takes a job on the estates of East Leeds; and Ashland by Joe Eurell, a crime novel about the first female Chief of Police of a small town in Arizona. Three writers received special mentions for their work: We Are But Dust and Shadow by Eleanor Abraham, Dispossession by Amy Ferguson and The Evaporated by Zah Rasul.

Emma Finn, Agent at C&W Literary Agency, says: “Liz’s extract captivated all of us – in only a few pages we were introduced to a central mystery, a convincing cast of characters connected by this unexpected death, and a sense of slowly ratcheting tension, all delivered in strong, polished prose. There was a clear consensus from everyone reading about the thrilling potential in this novel opening and we’re very much looking forward to seeing and hearing more. Collaborating with Bobby and the team at Spread the Word on this programme has been such a pleasure – we were lucky to have fantastic established authors willing to offer up their time to guide newer writers through the process, and the entries we received were wide-ranging and indicative of a huge pool of upcoming talent in crime, thriller and mystery fiction. I can’t wait to see these projects continue to take shape and make their way into readers’ hands.”

Bobby Nayyar, Programme Manager at Spread the Word, says: “We created Case Closed with Emma Finn and the agents at C&W to encourage more writers from backgrounds underrepresented in UK publishing to try writing their first crime, mystery or thriller fiction novel. I’m delighted that nearly 50% of submissions were for brand new projects and the standard across the board was high, which made choosing the winning projects both a joy and unenviable task. We look forward to supporting this talented group of writers.”

In its first year, the Competition was the culmination of a programme of free activities offered to UK writers, including online workshops with published writers including Elliot F. Sweeney and Olivia Kiernan, a free online guide to writing crime, mystery and thriller fiction by Fiona Cummins, and seminars with authors, agents and editors about developing in this genre and submitting work to agents. A survey was also disseminated to unagented writers which received over 100 responses calling for more information and a better understanding of access needs by the publishing industry. The free-to-enter competition was open between July – September 2023. The competition was open to UK-based unagented and unpublished writers aged 18+ from the following communities: Black, Asian and Global Majority, Deaf and/or disabled, LGBTQIA+ and Working Class. The competition received 85 entries from writers from across the UK. 

About the writers and their books

Winner: Liz Cornell is the pseudonym for a lawyer living and working in England, who is also currently studying part-time for an MA in Crime Fiction at UEA. Liz has recently completed the first draft of a crime mystery novel called Murder on the Red Corridor and is now working on a second book. The pressures and demands of a busy working life mean that she writes very early in the mornings, assisted by huge amounts of coffee. Murder on the Red Corridor is a modern murder mystery set in legal London. When an ambitious, ruthless High Court Judge is found dead in his chambers at the Royal Courts of Justice, his new clerk Angora Bell quickly discovers that his perfectly constructed life is not all as it seems. Still bruised from her own past brush with the corrupt and powerful forces of the law, when a young student is wrongly accused of the judge’s murder, Angora must claw back her confidence and rely on her fierce sense of justice in her drive to clear his name. But her search to discover the truth reveals a complex web of deceit, blackmail and lies where no one is above suspicion and everyone has something to hide.

Highly Commended: Holly Ritchie is a writer and performer based in Glasgow. Her writing experience is wide-ranging, covering everything from poetry, to sports writing, to video games, sketches and escape rooms and her first love, prose. By day, she works in charity communications, and by night, she performs improv comedy in clubs and bars across Europe. Usually, however, you’ll find her on the couch with a Diet Coke and her cat, Birdie. Ingrid is a decadent, sumptuous murder mystery set in the world of New York’s elite. Natasha has been invited to cover the most exclusive, glamorous event of the decade – Ingrid Campbell’s 30th year as editor at Epoque – at a lavish, remote chalet. However, when Ingrid’s body is found in the snow, and the chalet is cut off by a sudden storm, Natasha is compelled to find the killer.

Highly Commended: Lucy Andrew is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Chester, where she teaches and researches crime fiction, children’s and young adult fiction and creative writing. She has a PhD in English Literature from Cardiff University and her published work includes an academic monograph on boy detectives and edited collections on crime fiction set in capital cities and sidekicks in crime fiction. She was shortlisted for the Penguin Michael Joseph Undiscovered Writers’ Prize 2022/23 and was a finalist at Bloody Scotland’s Pitch Perfect competition 2023. She loves writing crime fiction, retellings and stories about her septuagenarian tortoise. Harriet Smith and the Homicidal Heiris a cosy crime retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma which transforms Emma’s gullible sidekick, Harriet Smith, into a feisty con-woman-turned-detective. When Harriet is hired by Mrs Churchill to sabotage a nephew’s unsuitable secret engagement, she swiftly infiltrates the sleepy village of Highbury. But when a maid drops dead after eating Mrs Churchill’s discarded breakfast, Harriet must catch the killer to save her client’s life, or risk being drawn back into the world she thought she had left behind.

Highly Commended:  Max Dunbar lives in West Yorkshire. He blogs at and tweets at Rent Office is about a drifter named George who takes a job on the rough, deprived estates of East Leeds. He quickly finds himself way out of his depth – and then a tenant dies mysteriously on his patch. George takes it upon himself to investigate the young man’s death, and stumbles upon a dangerous conspiracy on the estates.  

Highly Commended: Joe Eurell is a prize-winning short story and flash fiction writer with a passion for crime fiction, particularly American Noir such as S.A. Cosby, Joe R. Lansdale and Chris Whitaker. He is also a graduate of Curtis Brown’s flagship Write Your Novel course. Joe is originally from Birmingham but lives in London. He tweets at Ashland is a crime novel about the first female Chief of Police of a small town in Arizona, who must solve its first murder in a generation to win the respect of its people. It is Mare of Easttown meets All the Sinners Bleed and explores equality, identity and institutional corruption 

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Published: 17 January 2024