A Cardiff Met Creative Writing and English Literature graduate has been named winner of The Daily Mail’s First Novel Competition and scooped a £20,000 book advance as part of her prize.
Thirty-one-year-old Amy Lloyd, from Cardiff, has also been signed up by Century, an imprint of one of the world’s biggest publishers, Penguin Random House, with her psychological thriller, Red River, about an English schoolteacher who falls in love with a killer on Death Row in Florida.
Her plot has evolved from the first 3,000 words she wrote for one Cardiff Met module and her only immediate purchase plans are a Montblanc pen - as a souvenir to mark the win - and renovations to her house in Whitchurch, Cardiff, where she lives with boyfriend Rhys Thomas, who is also an author, and penned The Suicide Club.
Amy’s first 5,000 words were one of six stories shortlisted from more than 5,000 entries and now that she is ploughing ahead towards her 90,000 word count to complete the work, she misses her Cardiff Met workshops and the critiques she received there.
While the four competition judges — senior editor at Penguin Random House Selina Walker; literary agent Luigi Bonomi; bestselling crime author Simon Kernick; and Daily Mail literary editor Sandra Parsons — agreed unanimously that Amy’s entry was the most compelling and also the most likely to become a bestseller, Rhys is also the most honest critic of her work.
Amy, who is a great fan of authors Donna Tartt, Bret Easton Ellis and Gillian Flynn, explains: “I almost wish people had been more vicious about my writing in university workshops because it’s a real struggle at the moment, currently editing and rewriting Red River.
“It can be much easier to criticise someone else’s work, and you mustn’t worry about hurting someone’s feelings. It is hard to get honest feedback from someone who loves you. My mum will always say my work is brilliant. I wish I still had creative writing workshops to go to.
“But my boyfriend is my best critic – although he’s also a writer, we have very different styles. He writes literary fiction and his books are really long and quite philosophical, whereas mine are more genre-based than his. I really enjoyed studying all the theory behind creative writing at Cardiff Met.”
Amy was on holiday in Florida when she was called to say she had made the shortlist, and she says: “I love Florida, but at the same time, some horrible things happen there. I have visited about ten times. Red River was originally set in Missouri as I wanted there to be lots of places to be able to hide a body, but as I hadn’t been there, it felt insincere.
“I am interested in dramas based on miscarriages of justice, but am more interested in the reaction people have to these injustices. People firmly believe they can make a difference by writing to the White House – it’s a weird mob mentality.
“A lot was left out of [TV programme] Making a Murder. The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst was quite misleading in its timelines too. You don’t feel sorry for him, because he is obviously a psychopath and while it’s supposed to be a truthful documentary, it is very scripted. I really enjoyed the film version of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and wanted a similar feel for my book.”
Amy, who works part time at the Inland Revenue as well as writing, was a bit of a loner when she was at school, and spent any spare moment either reading or writing. She says: “It is obnoxious to say, but in terms of reading, I like a bit of everything.
“Essentially, I was a creepy little goth girl who was into reading true crime or anything written by forensic psychologists. I tried reading Hunger Games as a teenager, but it was too morally simple for me. I liked Bukowski – although the genre in which he was writing was a little male-dominated. I didn’t even think that female authors wrote literary fiction until I was in college. I assumed they wrote Bridget Jones-type work, but female authors are having this massive resurgence.
“I would love to write a campus novel – something dark and a bit satirical and another about a girl gone bad in the 90s – it would be semi-autobiographical about bunking off school a bit during a misspent youth.
“I will write for an hour before work as I work weekends and later. Even if I get 20 minutes’ writing done and as long as I’ve pushed to story forward a little, and kept up some form of momentum, it helps – everyone has an idea for a book, if you just get started.”
Dr Kate North, MA Humanities Programme Director and Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Cardiff Met, said: “Amy is a talented and original writer with a very strong voice. I can't wait to read her novel. It's fantastic to know that the idea for Red River was sparked by a writing assignment on the BA Creative Writing programme here at Cardiff Met.”