Aberystwyth Creative Writing graduate tops UK fiction bestsellers list

Susan Stokes-Chapman  © Jamie Drew

Susan Stokes-Chapman © Jamie Drew

04 February 2022

A Creative Writing graduate from Aberystwyth University has topped The Sunday Times Bestseller List with her debut novel.

Just days after its release, Susan Stokes-Chapman’s Pandora became the number one bestselling hardback fiction book in the UK, toppling Richard Osman’s The Man Who Died Twice.

Born and brought up in Lichfield, Staffordshire, Susan spent four years studying at Aberystwyth University, graduating with a BA in Education & English Literature and an MA in Creative Writing.  

Responding to the news, Susan said:  “I am absolutely blown away by the response to Pandora, and never imagined the novel would be so well received. To take top spot in The Sunday Times Bestseller list after only three days of publication is extraordinary, and I couldn’t be more thrilled (or overwhelmed)!

“My time at Aberystwyth’s English & Creative Writing Department has been so influential to my writing journey - the MA enhanced my love of literature, equipping me with technical and editorial skills which I’ve never forgotten, and my tutors were so supportive and friendly throughout. It was during my degree that I had the inspiration for my first novel, and though that story has since been shelved, I would never have learnt how to write without it. Now, to achieve success with Pandora as a result, it is simply amazing.”

Professor Richard Marggraf Turley from the Department of English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University said: “Susan’s fascination with the dark corners of Georgian London was already evident as an undergraduate at Aberystwyth, and her passion for the period took fire during her Creative Writing MA. With Pandora, she’s pulled off that enviable trick of combining meticulous historical research with a rattling good story to produce a novel that’s quite simply unputdownable! We’re incredibly proud of her success. She joins a long list of former students who have gone on to produce acclaimed work.”

Set in London in 1799, Pandora is a loose reinterpretation of the Greek myth Pandora's Box, intertwined with themes of secrets and deception, love and fulfilment, fate and hope.  The book tells the story of aspiring jewellery artist Dora Blake and her encounter with an ancient vase that her tyrannical uncle is desperately keen to keep a secret.

Liz Foley, Publishing Director at Stokes-Chapman’s publisher Harvill Secker, said: “We’re completely thrilled that Pandora has hit number one in the charts and it’s a testament to Susan’s talent, skill and hard work as a writer and her incredible imagination. She has a stellar career ahead of her and this is a brilliant first step.”

Pandora was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize 2020 and longlisted for the Bath Novel Award the same year.

Aberystwyth University’s cross-disciplinary Creative Writing courses give students the opportunity to learn the craft of writing poetry, fiction, non-fiction, screenplays and more.  Students learn under the expert guidance of a team of distingushed, award-winning writers, who work across a broad spectrum of creative fields.  

Other alumni of the Department of English and Creative Writing who have gone on to publish acclaimed literary works include award-winning teen fiction author Hayley Long, Man Booker Prize-nominated novelist Sarah Hall, award-winning novelist and screenwriter Tyler Kevil, bestselling thriller writer Kate Hamer, poet and fiction writer Richard Georges, Wales Book of the Year winning author Francesca Rhydderch, prize winning poet Maria Apichella, and Eluned Gramich whose memoir won the inaugural New Welsh Writing Awards.