CLIMATE change, a Russian author and lockdown are the unlikely combination which saw a Harwich man win a prestigious first novel award.

Joe Pierson’s novel ‘Helen and the Fires’ has won The Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award for a first novel in the annual Bridport Prize International Creative Writing Competition, which aims to discover and encourage new creative writing talent.

Described by the judges as “a book for our time”, the novel was inspired by climate change and the dark writings of Russian author and philosopher Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

The first national lockdown also gave Joe the time to write.

The 34-year-old, originally from Harwich before moving to London, was delighted with the award and hopes it will lead to his first novel being published.

To win the accolade, he beat more than 1,600 entries.

Joe’s book tells the story of a woman called Helen who quits her job to write, but finds herself caught up in an investigation into several suicides in apparent protest at climate change.

“It’s a sort of literary fiction murder mystery,” he said.

The judges, who included British novelist Emma Healy, described Joe’s novel as “ambitious in its scope, but sharp in its detail, full of surprises, beautiful observation and insights into the nature of story-telling.”

Writing has been a passion for Joe, whose literary influences are Dostoyevsky and Brazilian author Clarise Lespector, since childhood.

“I have always enjoyed it. I find the experience so rich and satisfying,” he said.

He began his novel while studying for his PhD in Creative Writing at Kingston University and working as a catering manager at Tate Modern in London.

Juggling the workload was challenging until lockdown happened earlier this year.

He said: “While not wishing to underestimate how difficult the lockdown was for many people, it did give me the time to write.

“’Helen and the Fires’ is written in a very spare, precise and clipped-down style and I produced the first draft quite quickly.

“The longest process was the editing, which is what I did during lockdown, to make the language as tight and clear as possible.”

As well as focusing on getting his first novel published, Joe is spending the second lockdown writing his next book.

Set in the summer of 2020, it is about a filmmaker who takes three women to a house in the south of England to help him film an adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ while the pandemic spreads across the country.

As well as the £1,500 prize money, Joe will receive professional feedback from The Literary Consultancy and a consultation with literary agent AM Health and publisher Tinder Press.