We are excited to announce our winner for Discoveries 2021, powered by NatWest and Curtis Brown, which seeks untapped female writing talent from across the UK and Ireland.

Emma van Straaten beat over 2,300 entries with her accomplished psychological debut, Heartstring, about a cleaner who becomes obsessed with her client’s life, and has accepted an offer of representation by Lucy Morris at Curtis Brown literary agency.

Emma van Straaten, currently an employee of the V&A museum, took inspiration from her time working as a cleaner within her own London block of flats to write her debut novel, which she entered into Discoveries. As the winner of the programme, Emma receives a £5,000 cheque and a desk to write at her local NatWest Accelerator Hub.

Emma said: “I am absolutely delighted and overwhelmed to have been awarded the first prize for Discoveries 2021. Writing is a solitary business, so it’s been enormously exciting to feel a part of something larger: thousands of women writing the first part of their novels together. As a writer, I’m keen to explore the road ahead as I return to my manuscript under the expert guidance of Curtis Brown – I am thrilled to have accepted Lucy Morris’s offer of representation. As a reader, I’m excited by all the new female talent long- and shortlisted for this Prize, and look forward to seeing where Discoveries takes them.”

The 2021 judging panel was chaired by Kate Mosse, bestselling novelist and Founder Director of the Women’s Prize; Abi Daré, debut novelist; Sandeep Mahal, Director for Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature; Lucy Morris, Curtis Brown literary agent; and Anna Davis, Founder and Managing Director of Curtis Brown Creative writing school.

The runner-up in the 2021 Discoveries programme is Lucy Keefe, a young writer who started out by writing fan-fiction about Taylor Swift. With her original and energetic urban fantasy story, Pantheon, Lucy wins a place on Curtis Brown Creative’s flagship three-month ‘Writing Your Novel’ course worth £1,800.

Lucy Keefe said:

“I am beyond excited to have been selected as runner up for Discoveries! I feel honoured to have been considered and vindicated to know that all the hours I have spent writing have been worth it. Now to celebrate as I celebrate all big events (birthdays, Christmas, graduation) – with a large doner meat and chips.”

The 16 authors longlisted for Discoveries will be offered personalised mentorship packages from a Curtis Brown agent or industry expert, free or discounted places on Curtis Brown Creative’s writing courses and access to NatWest’s Business Builder, a digital tool designed to give the right support at the right time to individuals and their business. Additionally, the six authors shortlisted have also been invited to attend the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021 ceremony on 8 September and gifted access to NatWest’s ‘Women in Business’ events and a financial health check.

If you’re a budding author and want inspiration and help crafting a submission, we have curated a Writers Toolkit, including interviews with publishing professionals, practical advice and inspiration from former winners of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and teaching notes by Curtis Brown Creative Writing School. We have hosted several masterclass-style events, with free or discounted places available to under-represented groups for every session, including Guardian Live, How To Academy, Bradford Literary Festival, and the Writers Weekend Festival, with more planned to coincide with the call for submissions for Discoveries 2022 in the autumn.