On Monday 18th October I was one of the panel of five judges for the ninth annual Sheffield Novel Slam, part of the Off The Shelf literature festival.
The Sheffield Off the Shelf Novel Slam
The Novel Slam is an unusual event and a great evening’s entertainment. The (seemingly!) relaxed contestants (some online) faced a panel of five judges and a large audience (again, some online) and read from their novels. It actually wasn’t intimidating, as the audience and judges were all warmly encouraging and delighted to be part of an event which supported fine new talent. Needless to say, had I been one of the contestants rather than a judge I would have been a nervous wreck!
The now time-honoured structure of the evening was this: the contestants in turn had one minute to pitch their novel, and then read the first line. Everybody, present and online, judged this initial stage, and selected eight writers to go forward to the second round. These contestants each gave us a three minute reading from their novel, and the five judges then huddled together and compared scores. The winning four were announced by the host, Beverley Ward.
It’s not much time to present or to judge, I know, but it’s amazing how close we five judges’ scores were to one another’s, and how easy it was to select the winner.
Who won the 2021 Sheffield Off the Shelf Novel Slam?
The winner was Andy Thomas, with his novel The Devil Rode in on a Storm.
The prize is that rare thing – a read from agent Caroline Montgomery of Rupert Crew Ltd.
Andy Thomas’s pitch:
The Devil Rode in on a Storm is one of a series of stories featuring New York detective Dominic White. The character was born from my research into Arnold Rothstein, a notorious gangster from prohibition era America who almost ruined the career of Inspector Dominic Henry by concocting a false perjury charge against him. Devil was inspired by the Lindbergh kidnap case of 1932 and the spike in kidnappings in 1930s America as state highways made abduction across county lines easier while criminals struggled to make money during The Great Depression. Looking for something that would make the psychopathic kidnapper stand out, I was struck by the quality of thrillers that came out in the year the story was set… both Rebecca and Brighton Rock, so I made O’Keefe an avid reader and budding writer! The setting of the storm on that date is factual, as is the detail about the deaths nearby where people were struck by lightning. It seemed like a dynamic way to start the story!
His novel’s opening line:
At five o’clock in the evening, on the 8th August 1938 in New York City…
…A ghost electricity passed across Brighton Beach, causing the tiny hairs on Sibella Adams’ arms to raise and quiver.
The three minute reading was gripping, filmic, and beautifully written, making him for me a clear winner. I wish Andy every success with The Devil Rode in on a Storm.
Andy’s thoughts on winning the Novel Slam
I was genuinely surprised to win the event. Like most writers, I suffer the disease of never believing what I create is ever good enough, and I was suffering with a cold when I turned up underprepared for the pitch. Winning came out of the blue and I was thrilled, honoured, and bemused to have been successful. Now, my aim is to do everything I can to get my stories published while also continuing to write even more in the series.
Runners-up, judges and hosts
Runners-up were Lorna Partington, Jenny Lynch, Sarah Jay Hawley and Dennis Johns.
Accompanying me on the judging panel were fellow-novelists Gavin Extence, Daniel Blythe, Bryony Doran and Stacey Sampson. Stacey won the first Novel Slam in 2012.
“As always, we have a small but excitable team of two to try and keep things ticketyboo.”