Results – Best Novel Opening 2023

Congratulations to the winner of our Best Novel Opening for Children or Young Adults competition 2023

Julie-Anne Graham


Ava and Luscious Gardens

Julie-Anne’s novel opening Ava and Luscious Gardens was judged the winner by Silvia Molteni after entries closed on 31st August 2023

About the Author

Julie-Anne grew up in Belfast surrounded by pattern and colour–her fashionista mother owned a boutique and her uncle sold exquisite designer shoes. She went on to study fashion, illustration, and creative writing and loves mixing them together. She graduated with distinction from the MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa and the MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art. She has worked in fashion, illustration, e-learning and coaching and lives by the sea in Brighton with her partner.

Our Shortlistees

Sara Spence with Elita Moon and the Keeper of Curiosities

Cotswold-based Sara Spence is a writer of fantasy middle-grade who also enjoys exploring themes through picture books for younger children. She is an alumni of Curtis Brown and was accepted onto their ‘Children’s and YA Creative Writing Course’ and has completed a residential retreat with Arvon. Sara has a degree in English Literature and History and has been a primary teacher for the whole of her career. She is an avid reader, fan of everything Strictly and has a weakness for all things Italian (all of which receive regular eye rolling from the house of boys that she calls home). She is excited to enter into the wonderful world of writing for children, and is looking forward to embarking on a new adventure of her own.

Sophie Clarke with Ellie Anderson is Dead

Sophie is an English teacher (for her sins) from Lancashire. For 8 years she lived and worked in South Korea, Vietnam, and Qatar, until she decided that no one’s company is quite as good as her grandma’s, so she came home. Sophie holds a BA in English from Edinburgh Napier University and an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. Being a gay woman and coming from a working-class family, she aims for her writing to tackle big themes accessibly and for her characters to represent the many wonderful people she’s met on her travels. When she’s not writing or teaching, she enjoys running silly distances in hilly places, as well as dreaming of having a sausage dog called Dave.

Rachel Craft with Every Color of My Blood

Rachel Delaney Craft writes speculative fiction for children and teens. Her short stories have appeared in places like Cricket, Spider, Uncharted, and Cast of Wonders, and she edited the anthology Wild: Uncivilized Tales from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Her most recent manuscript, Every Color of my Blood, won the Colorado Gold unpublished novel contest and was longlisted in Voyage YA’s book pitch and first chapter contests. She lives and writes in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with her partner, two dogs, and a succulent collection that’s slowly taking over her house. Find her on Twitter @RDCwrites or at

Sophia Alapati and Bethany Wheeler with Fight the Stars

Sophia Alapati grew up in a public library and has been hooked on books since her first storytime. Outside of writing, she is a therapist specializing in body-focused repetitive behaviors, anxiety, and OCD-related disorders. Her previous work appears in The Razor, Voyage YA by Uncharted, and Electric Spec literary journals. Her coauthored novel was longlisted for the 2022 Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition and for the 2023 Voyage by Unchartered Anthology Contest. Sophia lives in Baltimore with a cat who doesn’t like her and a queerplatonic partner who does. She can be found online at

Bethany Wheeler is a writer from the West Midlands who is passionate about bringing relatable LGBTQ+ characters into fiction for preteens, teens, and young adults. She works in learning support, where she runs the student LGBTQ+ group and is identified as ‘the one who wears rainbows’. In 2023 she was selected by Writing West Midlands to join their Room204 emerging writers programme. Her short story Red Spots was published in little living room magazine in 2023, and her coauthored Young Adult fantasy novel was longlisted for the 2022 Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition, and the 2023 Voyage by Unchartered Anthology Contest. When she’s not writing, Bethany enjoys musicals, long baths, recreational running, and trips to the seaside. Find her @MagicalHippo .

Glenn Miller with Goon

Glenn Erick Miller is the author of the YA novel Camper Girl which was recently produced as an audiobook. Camper Girl won first place in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards and bronze medals in the Florida Book Awards, Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards, and IPPY Awards. He is also the recipient of a first-place Florida SCBWI Rising Kite Award. 

His other works include the picture book Red’s First Snow and the collection Florida: Poetry and Prose. His second YA novel Goon is now under contract with a publisher. Currently, he is writing the sequel to Camper Girl. He holds BA and MA degrees in English and lives in Florida where he teaches college English. 

Emily Grice with The Box of Life

Emily grew up in a small town called Wantage near Oxford, a city full of stories and rich history, but was most inspired by her childhood dream of setting off on an adventure to find a treasure box hidden by her Polish grandad in Lviv, before his capture in WW2. Curiosity about her heritage led her to travel around Poland and Ukraine. She never found the treasure, but was inspired to write her novel The Box of Life while studying at Bath Spa University, where she graduated from the MA: Writing for Young People with Distinction in 2022. She later won first prize in the Wells’ Literary Festival Book for Children competition. Emily currently works as a secondary school Food and Nutrition teacher at a small independent school in Southampton. She lives in Romsey, Hampshire with her two daughters and husband.

Sarah Bond with The Mystics of Little Edmunswick

After graduating from Newcastle University with a degree in Ancient History, Sarah realised she was never going to be Indiana Jones … so instead began to write novels with as much adventure, excitement, and ancient magic as his stories had. She works full time as an advertising creative, and freelances as a film and theatre maker in the North East. As a child, she always had her nose in a book, and oftentimes found those books taking over her entire personality! Her dream is to create YA and middle-grade fiction that provides as much escapism, adventure, and magic for young people around the world as the books she read growing up did for her. If you don’t know where you belong in this world, you’ll find a place for yourself in one of her books. Everyone is welcome there. Sarah is also a glam rock fanatic, a pizza-eating expert, and a whizz at reading Tarot cards.

Jenny Glover with The Peregrine’s Apprentice

Jenny Glover finds inspiration in wide, wild landscapes and small, unnoticed oddities‒the ‘what ifs’ of the world. Her kaleidoscope of favourite jobs includes donkey-counter, singer-songwriter, and–best of all‒literacy leader at London’s oldest and spookiest primary school. Her favourite place is Back-of-Beyond; home is West London, with a pond’s worth of newts and three-and-a-half fiddles. She holds a BA Hons in English and Fine Art, and is a member of SCBWI. The Peregrine’s Apprentice was longlisted (under earlier title The Jack) for the Mslexia Children’s & YA Competition 2020, and shortlisted for Searchlight Awards’ Best Novel Opening for Children/YA 2023. This is Jenny’s first novel, and the first book in her current WIP series, a middle-grade elemental quintet.

Kelly Smith with The Shadow Six

Kelly has been a mentee with the Golden Egg Academy since 2022. Her stories have been longlisted for the Mslexia Children’s and YA Novel Competition, Undiscovered Voices and the Guppy Books Open Submission. She lives in East London with her husband, dinosaur-mad toddler, a beagle and two pond goldfish called Fishy and Wishy (which she hasn’t seen in a while, but are definitely still alive). The Shadow Six is inspired by her childhood and Pokémon, but most of all her love of ridiculous villains. She’s incapable of writing stories without animals.

Special Mentions

Ele Nash with Lightbulb

Ele has studied novel writing with the Faber Academy and the Golden Egg Academy and has had different stories longlisted in SCBWI’s Undiscovered Voices and the Bridport Prize, shortlisted in Bath Children’s Novel Award, and won the Bath Short Story Award. She holds a degree in Visual Communication, a PGCE in Primary Teaching, and works as a mixed media artist in her hometown of Bath.

Fran Benson with Luna and the Sky Gods

Fran loves the written word because it’s so much easier to understand than the spoken one. Partially deaf since childhood, she relies on lipreading to understand people. Fran lives in the South Downs with her family, surrounded by deer and badgers and even snakes–but not the cloudraptors that inhabit Luna’s world. Inspired by her story, Fran has adopted a rescued wolf, but shares her home with a mad golden spaniel who likes eating socks. Fran recently graduated from the Bath Spa MA Writing for Young People with distinction and Luna has also been longlisted with an honorary mention in SCBWI UV24.