A NOVEL which delves into a dark period in a town’s history has won a prize worth thousands of pounds.

AK Blakemore’s novel, The Manningtree Witches, has been announced as the winner of the £10,000 Desmond Elliott Prize.

Named after the literary agent and publisher Desmond Elliott, the annual award goes to a first novel written in English and published in the UK.

Blakemore’s book tells the story of a fatherless and husbandless woman living in Manningtree during the 17th-century witch trials.

Lisa McInerney, who won the prize in 2016 and chaired this year’s judging panel, said: “The Manningtree Witches is a stunning achievement.

“Blakemore takes limited historical detail and, with what seems like effortless grace and imagination, crafts a breathing, complex world full of wrenchingly human characters.

“And it tells us their stories in language that bears endless rereading, so clever and unexpected and pleasurable it is.”

National Centre for Writing programme director Peggy Hughes added: “In an extraordinary year to publish a debut novel, we nevertheless encountered a huge number of wonderful, ambitious, exciting new books.

“AK Blakemore’s The Manningtree Witches stood out from the crowd however, and we’re hugely excited to be able to support her career, and to see where her writing will take her – and us – next.”