First Chapter

First Chapter Competition 2021: Runner-up Imogen Tazzyman

Photo by Martin Forster on Unsplash

The Women’s Prize x Grazia First Chapter competition ran for 12 years and has now been discontinued, with 2022 being the last year the competition was run. We keep an archive of past winners and runners-up to inspire future writers to tell their stories. Scroll on to read the 2021 entry that stunned the judges and participating author Dorothy Koomson. Feeling inspired? You can enter our Discoveries programme for emerging writers. Learn more here.

Imogen Tazzyman, 36, from Bollington, Macclesfield, works in advertising. She has wanted to be a writer ever since she won a competition aged seven with a poem about a hedgehog, and says: “I basically write a synopsis a day for my first novel – but inevitably life (baby, puppy, career, pandemic) gets in the way. So a synopsis it stays. Until now. Fingers crossed.”

Dorothy Koomson started the chapter…

When I fell

I’m very good at pretending I believe in love. No one can tell that I don’t. I can act as if a ‘special someone’ makes my heart flutter; I convincingly swoon at other people’s romantic joy. I even rustle up tears when a relationship ends. But my heart is a patchwork of honour badges, each stitched over a scar from believing in love before. So being a love sceptic keeps me safe and pain free. And then I fell down those stone steps near Brighton Pier. A stumble, a trip and several sharp bounces down, and there I was at the bottom. Agonised and humiliated. Too ashamed to move.

B.W. was there too.

Imogen continues the story…

He often seems to turn up just when I’ve done something stupid. Reminding me I’m an idiot, incapable of doing simple things like walk down a set of steps. This time, he was sitting on the ground in front of me, as I lay there too winded to speak.    

‘Why ARE you so clumsy?’ he said, not unkindly. ‘Most people can walk down a set of steps without a problem, you know.’ As I listened to him helpfully suggest a number of things I could do differently next time, I planned the both witty and withering retort I would offer just the second I got my breath back.

When suddenly a different voice, one full of concern, said;  ‘Are you ok?’ B.W. instantly made himself scarce. Which is so him. ‘Would you like me to call someone?’     

Now, I’m really not at that age where the language shifts to ‘she’s had a fall’. I’m still firmly in ‘she fell over’ territory, thank you. So this bloke’s concern seemed a little over the top. Until I realised I was bleeding from somewhere on my head.

‘Oh god. I’m fine. Totally fine. Just a little trip.’ I tried to clean up my injuries with my scarf but without knowing what the damage was I’m pretty sure I was just moving blood around my face.

To his credit, new bloke managed not to look disgusted. ‘Look, I’ve got a beach hut about two minutes from here. Let me help you get cleaned up.’  

Great. Now I had to instantly calculate – with a head wound – the complicated equation every woman must carry out when a man approaches her in public. You know the one – am I safer on my own, lying on the floor, bleeding from the head; or going with this guy to his potentially non-existent beach dungeon?

I surreptitiously gave him the once over. He looked pleasant enough. Clean hair. Clean nails. Wearing a bright blue jumper with the Cookie Monster on it. Given it was 11am, the beach was packed, and no-one has ever killed anyone whilst wearing such a stupidly identifiable outfit, I gave in.       

We walked / hobbled and talked. He told me his name was Elijah, and he’d been living in Manchester for years, but after inheriting this beach hut he had decided to move back down to do it up. (Which might explain why he didn’t recognise me. But my head hurt too much to give it much thought at the time.)  I told him I was called Cara, that I’ve lived in Brighton my whole life, and that I worked in a beachfront cafe. At least one of those things is true.     

At his beach hut (pink, chintzy, mercifully un-dungeon line) I escaped inside to look at my face in the mirror he informed me was in there (more mental calculations – is this like when kidnappers tell you there’s a puppy in the back of their van? I decided not). There was crusty dried blood all over my forehead but a quick wipe with some kitchen roll proved it was merely superficial, so I joined him out the front to find he’d put the kettle on.    

Now, it’s probably a good job I don’t believe in love. Because sitting there in the sunshine, sipping tea and eating jammy dodgers with a guy whose feet I literally fell at, could have started to feel like fate.   

My mind started to wander. Was this the kind of encounter that other people, people not like me, think might lead to love? And if one does think that, does it make one act differently? Should I have been acting differently? If this was a film, and I the female protagonist, I’d be swooning over his vintage deckchairs by now, and accidentally brushing his arm as I reached for a biscuit. It would be the start of the Big Romance. It all sounded… exhausting. Fearing my expression was becoming somewhat vacant, I tuned back in, to hear Elijah saying it was my turn to put the kettle on.   

Looking back, it’s hard to believe there was no sign of what was about to happen. Shouldn’t the sun have gone in? The town fallen quiet, a clock struck 13, the ocean stopped? But no, life was meandering along, completely normally. So when I went back into the beach hut to reboil the kettle, I had no idea my world was about to shift so completely on its axis. No sixth sense that I needed to steel myself for something, no sense of foreboding to prepare my mind. Just bam. And there it was. My stomach lurched up to my throat then dropped through the floor.    

Because now I know. I just know my life will never be the same again. Again. Innocently pinned on the notice board, between an unpaid electricity bill and an invite to someone’s wedding, was a photo of Elijah.    

And B.W.    

Dated two years ago. Which I know cannot be true. Because six years, 145 days and 18 hours ago, I killed him.      

You can read Naomi George’s winning entry here> and our fellow runner-up Savitri Patel’s entry here>        

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