Just five months after Emma Shercliff set up her brand new Suffolk literary agency, Laxfield Literary Associates has crowned its first winner of the New Anglia Manuscript Prize.

The prize, sponsored by the National Centre for Writing in Norwich, aims to recognise new writing from across Suffolk and Norfolk in the form of a debut novel from an unpublished writer.

Lucy Dixon, of Lowestoft, was crowned the inaugural winner earlier this month thanks to her manuscript Choked, a crime fiction thriller that has been half a decade in the making.

East Anglian Daily Times: Out of season seaside towns such as Lowestoft provided Lucy with the perfect backdrop for her crime thrillerOut of season seaside towns such as Lowestoft provided Lucy with the perfect backdrop for her crime thriller (Image: Dain Lewis)

Explaining how she felt when she won, she says: “It’s been so overwhelming, to be honest. I was so thrilled when I found out. Finishing the manuscript hasn’t been the shortest of journeys, and it’s actually taken a lot longer than it was originally supposed to.”

Lucy, who studied for a Masters in Crime Fiction UEA, began work on her manuscript prior to starting her course in 2017.

“The course is two years long, but I had to repeat a year as I wasn’t very well. I then had to ask for another extension due to lockdown and needing to home school my son.

“It feels like I’ve been working on this for my entire life. But my perseverance and the fact I didn’t give up have paid off, and I’m absolutely delighted.”

Lucy was first contacted by Emma after she had seen her final year reading online – and everything went from there.

READ MORE: Could this new Suffolk agency help you publish your first book?

“As part of the course, everyone who is in their final year has to do a short reading of their work. Due to lockdown, it was all online and streamed over Youtube. Emma got in touch with me after watching my reading, where she then told me about the agency and mentioned the prize, so I entered and just went from there.”

Choked focusses on the perils of online dating, and how people often aren’t as they seem.

“I’ve always found it fascinating how people just believe what others say, and take it at face value. The book essentially is about what can go wrong with online dating, and how nobody really puts their true self online – and the horrible consequences that can have. My story isn’t inspired by one particular event or incident, but rather serves as the general theme.

“But even in a non-criminal sense, we all put a different version of ourselves online for various reasons - everyone gives the glossiest, most optimistic view of life on Instagram, for instance.”

To really help the reader jump headfirst into the book, avid crime fan Lucy sought inspiration from her surroundings right here in East Anglia - and explains why the local region is the perfect setting for a gritty thriller.

“I’ve always been obsessed with crime fiction - whether that’s reading it, watching crime dramas on the television or listening to true crime podcasts. I actually used to live in Blundeston, and there used to be a prison there that closed a couple of years ago. When it opened to the public for tours, I just found the whole thing absolutely fascinating, walking down the corridors that criminals did.”

But it wasn’t the local former prison that gave Lucy her biggest source of inspiration – but rather Suffolk and Norfolk’s coastal towns.

“I come from Lowestoft originally and spent some time in London before coming back, but I’ve always found seaside towns out of season really sinister, and I don’t know why. There’s just something really creepy about locked up fairground rides and beach huts.”

Choked takes place in various locations dotted along the East Anglian coast, stretching from Southwold all the way up to Great Yarmouth.

East Anglian Daily Times: The river at Benacre leading to Kessingland Beach, which is a key setting in ChokedThe river at Benacre leading to Kessingland Beach, which is a key setting in Choked (Image: Jonny Dixon)

“I could’ve set the book anywhere, but living here and knowing these places, it just seemed like the best setting.”

As Lucy juggled home schooling her son while finishing her manuscript, lockdown gave her ample opportunity to visit the settings that would eventually feature in her book.

“I had plenty of excuses to go on lots of walk, to see what the characters would’ve seen in certain parts of the story. There isn’t a huge amount of crime fiction that I know of set in Lowestoft, so hopefully people find it interesting pick up a copy when it’s out.”

Following her win, Lucy hopes other local writers will take advantage of these newfound opportunities available in region thanks to the recently-established literary agency.

“I think it’s just amazing that we have a literary agency here in the region, as there’s just so much going on here for writers. We’ve got the Noirwich Crime Writing Festival and the Southwold Library Crime Writers Festival, and I think a literary agency is a brilliant move for the region. Loads of people on my course were actually from the local area, so there are definitely writers around here.”

So what happens next for Lucy and her winning manuscript?

Lucy will now work alongside Emma, polishing and editing the story to get it ready for publication.

“The judges provided some really helpful feedback on the novel, which I’m sure Lucy will find useful as she works on her final draft. I’ll then submit Choked to publishers, and look forward to finding the right home for Lucy and her novel.

“The choice of a publishing house is important for any author, but particularly so for an exciting debut novelist who I’m certain has many years of successful writing ahead of her,” adds Emma.

To find out more about Laxfield Literary Associates, visit the website.