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The Love At First Line Writing Competition

Love At First Line Writing Competition: Winner

Hodder & Stoughton are delighted to announce the winner and three runners-up for their one-off prize LOVE AT FIRST LINE, launched in Summer 2023. Hodder & Stoughton, bestselling author Mike Gayle, and the Romantic Novelists’ Association joined up last year to champion love stories and discover new voices in commercial fiction. The response was fantastic, with the judging team delighted to read so many enthusiastic entries.

Working with Hachette UK’s The Future Bookshelf, Hodder & Stoughton are excited to announce Lokkei McBrinn as the winning entry, with her submission THE TAKEAWAY GIRL wowing the judging panel.

THE TAKEAWAY GIRL is a contemporary romance exploring what it means to be a first-generation immigrant pulled in different directions. Set in 2002, May’s carefully constructed life in London is under threat when lay-offs are announced at work and her ‘perfect’ relationship with two-timing colleague, Sam, is at an end. Added to this, her sister calls with the news that the family’s Chinese takeaway is being investigated by the tax authorities. May, who has worked hard to escape the confines of home, has no choice but to return to Newcastle to help. Amidst these complications, she finds herself clashing with her neighbour Theo. Despite the unpromising start, May soon finds herself opening up to Theo and a budding romance blooms.

McBrinn will receive a cash prize of £2500 and a 45-minute virtual feedback session with brand author and repeat bestseller Mike Gayle to discuss her writing. In addition, she will get 4 x 1hr virtual mentoring sessions with a commissioning editor from Hodder & Stoughton and entry onto the RNA New Writers Scheme, currently worth £195.

Lokkei McBrinn says, ‘I can’t believe that my entry has been selected by such an esteemed panel to be the winner.  I am grateful for the chance to develop my writing and it has given me the motivational boost to keep going with my story.’

Three runners-up were also selected including Roann Gutierrez with TABACHING, Malika Gandhi with THE LETTERS OF YESTERYEAR and Camille Poole with GOOD TIMING.

The runners-up will receive vouchers for RNA writing courses, a bundle of romantic fiction novels published by Hodder & Stoughton, and a 500-word written critique on their entry from a member of the judging panel.

The judging panel included bestselling author Mike Gayle, Ariella Feiner of United Agents, Nick Sayers, Publisher at Hodder Fiction, Jean Fullerton, Chair of the RNA and Leah Davies, host of the Capital XTRA Book Club, Radio DJ and bookworm.

Nick Sayers says, ‘We had a really good response to the competition, with many striking voices telling stories that came at life from many different angles: warm, humorous and sometimes painful. We are very grateful to Mike and the judges for their wholehearted participation – we had a lively and enjoyable debate and I think we found an excellent winner and three very worthy runners-up.’

Ariella Feiner says, ‘Amidst some very fierce competition, The Takeaway Girl really stood out to the panel as an exciting winner. It has been so rewarding working on this prize and ensuring that so many diverse voices have been given the ability to access truly rewarding and helpful prizes, which we hope will prove immensely helpful to the authors in their writing process.’


Mike Gayle, author

Mike Gayle was born and raised in Birmingham. After graduating from Salford University with a degree in Sociology, he moved to London to pursue a career in journalism and worked as a features editor and agony uncle. He has written for a variety of publications including The Sunday Times, the Guardian and Cosmopolitan. Mike became a full-time novelist in 1997 following the publication of his Sunday Times top ten bestseller My Legendary Girlfriend, which was hailed by the Independent as ‘full of belly laughs and painfully acute observations’, and by The Times as ‘a funny, frank account of a hopeless romantic’. Since then he has written eighteen novels, including The Man I Think I Know, selected as a World Book Night title, and Half A World Away, selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club. His books have been translated into more than thirty languages. In 2021, Mike was the recipient of the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

Ariella Feiner, agent

Ariella Feiner started working at the Peters Fraser + Dunlop agency in 2006 before moving to United Agents, where she now represents many bestselling, critically acclaimed, and award-winning authors across fiction and non-fiction. Her list includes Sunday Times bestselling books, Richard and Judy book club picks, million-copy selling authors and New York Times bestselling books. In 2017, The Bookseller named Ariella as a Rising Star.

Jean Fullerton, Chair of the Romantic Novelists Association

Born and bred in East London, Jean Fullerton was a District Nurse by trade before becoming a full-time writer. Jean has published twenty sagas, including the popular East End Ration Book Series which, like all her books, are set in East London. Jean has also written her autobiography A Child of the East End, about growing up in post-war Stepney and Wapping. A long-standing member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, she is now also the current chair.

Nick Sayers, Publisher

Nick Sayers is Publisher at Hodder Fiction, the commercial imprint of Hodder & Stoughton. He has been Mike Gayle’s editor for over 10 years and has worked with bestselling authors including Stephen King, David Nicholls, Philippa Gregory, Tony Parsons and Elizabeth George.

Leah Davis, Radio Presenter

Leah Davis is a radio presenter and comedian who broadcasts nationally on hip-hop/R&B station Capital XTRA. She launched herself as a stand-up comedian in 2022 and had over 50 gigs on the London open mic circuit in her first year.  She has received several accolades already including reaching the final of Funny Women ’22 as well as being a semi-finalist in British Comedian of the Year 2022.  She was also a Beat the Blackout winner at Up The Creek comedy club in London.

Leah is passionate about books and literature, and founded and hosts the CapitalXTRA Book Club. Each episode promises to ‘uplift and highlight black voices, while educating audiences on topics like racial injustice, female empowerment and more’.

She has guest appeared on BBC Radio 4’s ‘A Good Read’, at the 2021 Cheltenham Literary Festival and hosted the 2021 ‘Headliners’ online festival which celebrates the hottest books for the summer.  She also hosted the 2021 student radio ‘Amplify Awards’.