He may be a first-time author, but Duncan Whitehead swamped the competition when going for the gold.
His novel, "The Gordonston Ladies Dog Walking Club," which is set in Savannah, has earned Whitehead the 2013 Reader's Favorite International Book Award for best humorous fiction.
"Readers' Favorite is the fastest growing book award contest site on the Internet," he says. "They have earned the respect of renowned publishers like Random House, Penguin and Harper Collins, and have received the Best Websites for Authors and Honoring Excellence awards from the Association of Independent Authors.
"In addition to providing free reviews to authors who range from the first-time self-published author to seasoned professionals like James Patterson and Nicholas Sparks, they also host a respected annual international award contest to help authors obtain more recognition and exposure," Whitehead says.
The winners are chosen by a panel of 10 reviewers.
"Each reviewer marks a book out of five, then the top six from all entrants - over 1,000 for my category - are nominated as finalists," Whitehead says.
"Then five different judges do the same thing for the final six," he says. "The book, which accumulates the most marks out of 25 from the combined votes, is the winner. They award Gold, Silver and Bronze medals and an Honorable Mention. I got the Gold!"
Born in England in 1967, Whitehead served in the Royal Navy. He was stationed in British embassies throughout South America and saw service in the Gulf War.
A former boxer, Whitehead represented both the Royal Navy and an English under-19 team as an amateur. He is a teacher as well, having taught English as a foreign language and coached children's soccer.
As a purser onboard some of the world's largest super yachts, Whitehead worked for high profile clients. Through this job, he visited some of the world's most luxurious and exotic places.
But writing was Whitehead's greatest passion, and when he retired to Savannah, he began writing short stories. That led to his first novel, "The Gordonston Ladies Dog Walking Club."
The book features quirky characters inspired by the eccentrics Whitehead met in Savannah. It also echoes the city's eeriness and sense of mystery, and is set in the Gordonston neighborhood, where he once lived.
Whitehead also wrote more than 2,000 spoof and comedy news articles, under various aliases, for an assortment of websites both in the U.S. and U.K. For a time, he worked as a stand-up comedian.
His second novel, "The Reluctant Jesus," a comedy set in Manhattan, is scheduled to be published in October. He currently is working on a script for a potential sitcom.
In 2011, Duncan left Savannah and returned to South America, where he spent six months in Brazil and a few months in Paraguay before traveling to the Middle East and Europe. When he returned to the United States, he settled in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he currently resides.
Fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, Whitehead is proficient in cooking, the Israeli self defense art of Krav Maga and the pressure-point martial art Dim-Mak. He also is a hospice volunteer and teaches English to refugees arriving in South Florida.
Whitehead decided to enter the competition after the reviews he received for the book were consistently good. "The book hit No. 1 on Amazon as the bestselling humor book on Kindle and No. 2 in mystery at the same time in August, albeit briefly, as well as being the No. 16 bestselling Kindle for all books," he says.
"Also, it hit No. 6 at Barnes and Noble for all books downloaded on Nook," Whitehead says. "So I guessed I was in with a chance."
The award was announced on several websites, including bookawards.com. "I was alerted by a reader who sent me an email telling me congratulations," Whitehead says. "I then searched the Internet and found the announcement."
In November, Whitehead will attend the Miami Book Festival, the largest in the country, to accept the award. Because of the win, sales of his book have increased and he has captured the attention of a major publisher.
With more than 115 reviews on Amazon, Whitehead's book averages 4.2 out of 5 stars of approval.
"I believe readers enjoy the humor, mystery and of course the Savannah setting of the book," he says.
"The intelligent reader understands it is tongue-in-cheek and a dark comedy and appreciates the clever plot lines and coincidences that occur," Whitehead says. "It is, of course, a work of fiction."
The good news for readers is that for the next six months, Whitehead will complete what he calls "The Gordonston Trilogy," with sequels to the original book. "I have already rough-drafted two sequels, which again will be a mix of dark comedy and mystery," he says.
Whitehead says he always knew he could produce a successful book. "I knew this book was good," he says.
"It is unique; there isn't a readily identifiable genre for it. It has been described as a cross between 'Desperate Housewives' and Agatha Christie.
"I wrote a book that I knew would appeal to a vast audience," Whitehead says. "It contains great characters, great twists, good dialogue and of course; a great setting - Savannah. It has all the elements for an award-winning novel."