By Kirstie Andrews
BBC News entertainment reporter
Eve Green by Susan Fletcher has won the Whitbread First Novel award and will now compete with four other category winners for the Whitbread Book of Year title on 25 January.
In her debut novel Eve Green, Susan Fletcher weaves a haunting tale of love, betrayal and loss, movingly narrated by a spirited yet troubled heroine.
After the sudden death of her mother, eight-year-old Eve finds herself transported to her grandparents' tiny Welsh village where she becomes embroiled in a family history of which she is scarcely aware.
Gradually the consuming landscape and scathing suspicions of some of the local villagers force their way into Eve's consciousness and she embarks upon a journey to discover where she really comes from.
Piecing together the history of her parents' brief affair through a collection of unexplained mementos, Eve seeks out the people who can provide a narrative for her story.
She forges a seemingly unlikely friendship with "mad" old Billy Macklin, a mystical and lonely figure often speculated upon by the locals.
Ultimately it is a friendship for which Billy is forced to pay dearly.
A fiery and fiercely independent redhead, Eve finds herself set apart from the village children in the physical as well as the emotional sense and she becomes the very embodiment of her rebellious young mother.
This touching memoir of a momentous summer is illustrated beautifully through the eyes of a child, inquisitive and reckless in her pursuit of the family truths which her loving grandparents try so hard to conceal.
Far from creating a simple narrative, Fletcher peppers the story with a series of dramatic incidents which help to blur the past, such as the disappearance of a local schoolgirl and a tragic fire which scars Eve for life.
Throughout the unfolding story Fletcher invites us to piece the tale together, just as Eve is forced to do, in order to discover how these events are related, and how they irrevocably taint a small rural village.
As the whole story gradually becomes clear, Eve is finally able to find peace from the ghosts who plague her and lurk around every dark and cobwebby corner of the village.
The real beauty of this story lies not in the resolution of the puzzle but the touchingly illustrated picture which Fletcher paints in the process.
Eve leaves us with a collection of fond and powerful memories of loved-ones lost, not with epic and sweeping grandeur but with snippets of ordinary life so compelling in their simplicity you feel as if you've grown up alongside her.