class="post-18879 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-interview category-network-knowledge"Interview with Life Writing Prize Highly Commended writer Helen LongstrethHelen Longstreth

Helen Longstreth was Highly Commended for the Life Writing Prize 2019 for The Joy of Cooking.  Life Writing Prize 2019 Judge Inua Ellams said: “I was grabbed completely by this story.” Judge Colin Grant described the piece as: “a beautifully crafted memoir”.

In this interview, Helen shares how she came to write The Joy of Cooking, the mixed emotions in achieving a commendation for a piece of writing so personal and how her greatest inspiration is her Mother.

How does it feel to be highly commended in the Life Writing Prize?

As a writer just starting out, it is hugely encouraging, especially bearing in mind that it was on a subject so close to my heart, and so difficult to write. At the same time it feels strange winning a commendation for a piece that came out of my dad’s struggles with alcoholism. In writing it I wanted to try and understand him better – to paint a picture that held together all the tangled strands of love and pain, the good with the bad. So I’m glad that in doing this I’ve written something that speaks to others and hope that it also does him justice.

Can you tell us a little about your highly commended piece, ‘The Joy of Cooking’, how you came to write it, what the challenges were in writing it and why you chose to enter it into the Prize.

I came to this piece wanting to write about my dad’s struggles with drink and depression, It started with a few scraps that I wrote for the life-writing workshop on my creative writing MA, but I wasn’t sure how to make sense of them, or him. It was only after noticing that everything I’d written revolved around food that I found the heart of the story. After that I sat down with my sister and we spoke about more episodes and recipes we remembered. It was my sister who said it was cooking for his family that got him through the day and allowed him to give something back no matter the way he felt inside.

Focusing on food allowed me to illustrate my dad in all his moods and quirks in a more tangible way, and also brought some humour and lightness to a piece that would inevitably be very sad. I felt like I was working things out along the way which also meant it was a challenging and emotionally draining piece to write. It was hard to know how much to say, or what spoke for itself. I tried to simplify my dad’s history to give more space to the food, but I would have liked to include more meals, more episodes, and more of the family here and in America. Most of all I wanted to create a fair and real picture that brought him to life – which proved very hard for someone so complicated and who changed like the weather! I know there is still a lot of the story missing, and a lot more to write.

Tell us about your writing; how long have you been writing for, why do you write?

I’ve been writing most of my life in some kind of way (most of it badly) but have only taken it seriously over the last few years. Now I write because I’ve got to the point where I don’t know how not to. Often it’s a pain and seems a bit of an odd way to be spending so much time. At the same time it’s a wonderful way to live and navigate the world and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Do you have any tips for budding life writers out there? 

I don’t feel like I have much authority but I learned from my tutors and other writers not to shy away from the subjects that are difficult or hurt – that seems to be where the most interesting or compelling stuff comes from. Be open to being wrong or learning stuff along the way and be nice to yourself, especially when the writing sends you into dark sinkholes!

Are you working on anything at the minute?

I’m working on a novel or something like that, though right now it feels like more of a fragmented mess. But I’ve got to a point now where the writing is going well and I’m enjoying letting whatever it is flow out.

Who are your writing inspirations? 

I get new obsessions all the time, particularly with short story writers but I go back Lucia Berlin, Lorrie Moore and Grace Paley often. I love the way each of these writers finds a unique way to depict the humour and tragedy (and hope!) at the heart of everyday life. At the moment I’m completely absorbed in Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive. Overall, though, I’d say my greatest inspiration is my mother – a wonderful writer and teacher and a daily inspiration, in life and in writing!


Helen Longstreth is a writer currently living in London. She studied previously at the University of Manchester, The University of California, and recently completed the MA in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths where she was awarded runner up for the 2019 Pat Kavanagh award. She has worked as the assistant editor for the online magazines POSTmatter and Motherland, and is now working on a novel. You can read her highly commended piece The Joy of Cooking, in the Life Writing Prize showcase here

 

Published 20 May 2019

class="post-18749 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-news-opportunities"Life Writing Prize 2019 Results

The Spread the Word Life Writing Prize, in association with Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre, supports emerging writers and celebrates and develops life writing in the UK. 

Selected from nearly 1000 entries by 2019 judges Colin Grant, Inua Ellams and Ros Barber, the 2019 Life Writing Prize winner is  Charlotte Derrick for The Lady in Black. The announcement was made at Goldsmiths, University of London, at a special Prize event on Wednesday 15 May. 

The 2019 judges commented:

I loved, loved this… I haven’t heard a voice as clear and as sharp as this in a long time.” Inua Ellams

“The piece is full of ‘Wow!’ moments: sentences and phrases that smack you in the face with their skill and directness.” Ros Barber

“There are unexpected qualities and turns throughout the piece which has the power to pull you into lives and experiences that feel almost too raw and tragic to venture into.” Colin Grant 

The Prize rewards the winner with £1500, an Arvon course, two years membership to the Royal Society of Literature and development meetings with an agent and editor. 

The Lady in Blackwas initially written as a way for Charlotte to process the grief of her partner’s suicide. She had no intention of showing it to anyone until a friend found it on her laptop and insisted she submitted it into the world because of the lack of writing about losing a same-sex partner.  

Charlotte said: “I’m still in shock that I’ve won. I’m not someone who has a lot of confidence in their writing. There are so many talented writers out there. How am I supposed to compete with that? But winning the Prize has helped me realise that I’m just as capable as those writers, and I can’t express how grateful I am for that.”

Two writers were highly commended for the Prize: Alison Marr for Fat Baby, and Helen Longstreth for The Joy of Cooking. They will each receive £500, a writing mentor and sessions with aagent and an editor.

Alison Marr said: “It feels gratifying to be highly commended for the Life Writing Prize – writing is hard, lonely work, beset with constant doubt so it’s great to be validated.”

Helen Longstreth said: “As a writer just starting out, it is hugely encouraging, especially bearing in mind that was so difficult to write, and on a subject so close to my heart. At the same time it feels strange winning a commendation for a piece that came out of my dad’s struggles with alcoholism. In writing it I wanted to try and understand him better – to paint a picture that held together all the tangled strands of love and pain, the good with the bad. So I’m glad that in doing this I’ve written something that spoke to others and hope that it also does him justice.”

Three shortlisted entries were:
This is the house my father built by Sulaxana Hippisley
William and the Ham by Laurane Marchive
When Silence is King by Oluwafunmilayo Adewale. 

Six longlisted pieces were:
Hometown Legacy by Aisling Twomey
As Expected by Madeline Cross
Undertow by Roisin Maguire
neater by K Devan
Four Memories of a Berlin Summer by Sam Hampson
A Secondary School Education by Leke Apena.

All the top twelve entries are available to read online in the Life Writing Prize 2019 Showcase. You can read an interview with Life Writing Prize winner Charlotte Derrick here, and highly commended writer Alison Marr here.

Spread the Word is grateful to our Life Writing Prize donor, Joanna Munro, for making the Prize happen, to our partners Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre, to the top twelve writers for sharing their personal stories in such surprising and engaging ways, and to everyone who entered the Prize this year.

The Life Writing Prize 2019-2020 will open in November 2019.  

class="post-18754 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-interview category-network-knowledge"Interview with Charlotte Derrick,
winner of the Life Writing Prize 2019Charlotte Derrick

Charlotte Derrick won the Life Writing Prize 2019 for The Lady in Black, a piece of life writing that explores grief with an astonishingly powerful narrative voice. Life Writing Prize 2019 Judge Inua Ellams said: “I loved, loved this… I haven’t heard a voice as clear and as sharp as this in a long time.”

In this interview, Charlotte shares her thoughts on her writing, how to write about grief, and how she hopes that her writing will support queer people experiencing bereavement.

How does it feel to win the Life Writing Prize?

Honestly, I’m still in shock that I’ve won. I’m not someone who has a lot of confidence in their writing. It’s friends and family who’re always pushing me to enter my writing into competitions, magazines etc. I never expect to hear back. There are so many talented writers out there. How am I supposed to compete with that? But winning the Prize has helped me realise that I’m just as capable as those writers, and I can’t express how grateful I am for that.

Can you tell us a little about your winning piece, The Lady in Black, how you came to write it, what the challenges were in writing it and why you chose to enter it into the Prize?

Initially, I wrote The Lady in Black as a way for me to process my partner’s suicide. Every year, I write at least one poem, short story or memoir piece about Eileen. I’ve kept up this tradition for almost six years. At first, I never wrote about her death. I wrote about her as if she was still alive. But she’s not. It took me four years to accept that, but once I did, I finally allowed myself to write about her suicide and how I felt about it, and that’s how I came to write The Lady in Black.

I didn’t intend to show it to anyone, let alone enter it into a competition, but then a friend found it when she had to borrow my laptop and insisted I submit it somewhere because there wasn’t much out there about losing a same-sex partner. If you look up, say, “lesbian partner died,” the first article Google shows you is about “lesbian bed death” (I’ll let you find out for yourself what that is if you don’t know already). There was only one article about spousal loss. This wasn’t a Google search I made years ago; this was a search I did yesterday.

That’s why I entered The Lady in Black into the Life Writing Prize. I want people to acknowledge the need for more resources for queer people experiencing bereavement and I want those who are going through this bereavement to know that they’re not alone. That’s not to say that their grief is like mine. Grief is individual to the person, so I’ll never know exactly how they feel, how they process it, etc. But I have some sense of what it’s like, and if someone can take comfort in that, then I’ve done something right.

Tell us about your writing; how long have you been writing for, why do you write?

At risk of sounding clichéd, I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Ever since I was a child, I’ve had severe social anxiety and I used writing as a way to communicate what I was thinking/feeling/etc. I suppose I never really grew out of it.

Are you working on anything at the minute?

I’m working on too many things right now. There’s a short story about the events that happened after Eileen’s funeral, there’s a poem about when I discovered Bran Flakes for the first time (which is a lot more interesting than it sounds), there’s a piece about my mum’s time working at a juvenile delinquent centre (although I haven’t decided whether I want to write it as a poem or a short story). There’s always something in my head I have to get down on paper.

Who are your writing inspirations?

Brendan Behan, Patrick McCabe, Irvine Welsh, Janice Galloway, James Kelman, Alison Bechdel, to name a few.

Do you have any tips for budding life writers out there?

Have fun with it. I always thought life writing had to be written a certain way (i.e, memoir can only be written in the first person – turns out second person works equally as well). Once you get rid of those notions, you might write something you never thought you’d write.


Charlotte Derrick is an emerging prose writer from Belfast, Northern Ireland. She is currently on the MA in Creative Writing at Queen’s University Belfast. Her work has been featured in The Honest Ulsterman and Coming Out. You can read The Lady in Black in the Life Writing Prize showcase

class="post-18807 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-interview category-network-knowledge"Interview with Life Writing Prize Highly Commended writer Alison MarrAlison Marr

Alison Marr was Highly Commended for the Life Writing Prize 2019 for Fat Baby.  Life Writing Prize 2019 Judge Ros Barber said: “Here is a Northern Ireland full of magic and mystery that was seemingly obliterated in the Troubles” and judge Inua Ellams said: “I was completely swept up by the black humour of this vividly written and rich take on the story of the troubles in Northern Ireland.”

In this interview, Alison shares how she came to write ‘Fat Baby’,  how she got into writing and her top tips for aspiring life writers.

How does it feel to win the Life Writing Prize?

It feels gratifying to be highly commended for the Life Writing Prize – writing is hard, lonely work, beset with constant doubt so it’s great to be validated.

Can you tell us a little about your highly commended piece, ‘Fat Baby’, how you came to write it, what the challenges were in writing it and why you chose to enter it into the Prize?

I sent ‘Fat Baby’ to the Spread the Word Life Writing Prize twice before without any luck so I decided to rewrite it. I wrote it as a memoir and managed to cut it from ten thousand words to five thousand. The main challenge was in trying to balance the child’s voice with the adult’s who had the benefit of hindsight.

Tell us about your writing; how long have you been writing for, why do you write?

I have always written stories and poems but only really applied myself when I studied Creative Writing at the Open University, where I learned how to edit which was the most valuable lesson. In my youth I was the lead singer of a folk/pop band so I concentrated on music rather than my writing. I have always devoured books – it is a passion for me.

Are you working on anything at the minute?

Recently I get prompts from an online writing group and I find wonderful and bizarre images on Pinterest that kickstarts ideas & stories. I have fifteen years of material, mainly short stories and poems that could be cut, shaped & polished up.  Since learning that part of my prize was getting to meet an agent & publisher I have been writing furiously and have 30,000 words of a novel of speculative fiction about an obsessed King.  I am also a third of the way through another novel – about squatting with a vampire in a long-lost briar covered library in Camberwell.

Who are your writing inspirations?

My literary heroes are Edgar Allen Poe, Mervyn Peake, Hilary Mantel, Angela Carter, Virginia Woolf, Oscar Wilde … there’s so many…

Do you have any tips for budding life writers out there?

My advice to aspiring writers is to read and read and read and never give up when your work is rejected. It’s all subjective, keep going and try and write every day and be true to yourself.


Alison Marr, originally from Northern Ireland, is a musician and songwriter based in London. She studied Creative Writing at the OU and writes short stories and poetry and is currently working on a collection of fairy tales set in Kilburn. When not writing she plays jigs and reels on her mandolin. You can read ‘Fat Baby’ in the Life Writing Prize showcase here

class="post-18795 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-creative-writing category-network-knowledge"Life Writing Prize 2019 Showcase –
Read the top twelve entries here

Spread the Word is thrilled to share the top twelve Life Writing Prize 2019 entries. Judged by Colin Grant, Inua Ellams and Ros Barber, the Prize saw nearly 1000 entries by new and emerging life writers from across the UK. The Prize is eligible for new and emerging life writers who have not yet published a full length work or have a literary agent.

Have a read of this year’s top entries to read some of the most talented and exciting new voices in life writing in the UK right now.

WINNER 

Charlotte DerrickCharlotte Derrick is an emerging prose writer from Belfast, Northern Ireland. She is currently on the MA in Creative Writing at Queen’s University Belfast. Her work has been featured in The Honest Ulsterman and Coming Out.
Read ‘The Lady in Black’ by Charlotte Derrick

 

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Alison MarrAlison Marr, originally from Northern Ireland is a musician and songwriter based in London. She studied Creative Writing at the OU and writes short stories and poetry and is currently working on a collection of fairy tales set in Kilburn. When not writing she plays jigs and reels on her mandolin.
Read ‘Fat Baby’ by Alison Marr

Helen LongstrethHelen Longstreth is a writer currently living in London. She studied previously at the University of Manchester, The University of California, and recently completed the MA in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths where she was awarded runner up for the 2019 Pat Kavanagh award. She has worked as the assistant editor for the online magazines POSTmatter and Motherland, and is now working on a novel.
Read ‘The Joy of Cooking’ by Helen Longstreth

SHORTLISTED

Sulaxana HippisleySulaxana Hippisley has been an A-level English teacher for the last eleven years and works in a Sixth form college in North London. Her short stories have been longlisted by the Bristol Short Story Prize, Desi Writers Lounge and she was the runner up in the Asian Writer Short Story Competition in 2014. In 2017, she was selected to be part of the Almasi League, a writer development programme run under the tutelage of Courttia Newland and the Arts Council. The Spread the Word Life Writing Prize is her first foray into memoir writing. She is currently working on a short story collection and lives in North West London with her three-year-old daughter.
Read ‘This is the house my father built’ by Sulaxana Hippisley

Laurane MarchiveLaurane Marchive is a French writer and director living in London. Her work has recently appeared in Mechanics’ Institute Review 15, TSS Publishing, MIROnline and the TLS. Marchive is a past winner of the French Escales des Lettres and, in 2018, was the joint winner of the Highlands and Islands Short Story Association competition. In 2019, she will graduate from the MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck. She also runs a circus.
Read ‘William and the Ham’ by Laurane Marchive

Oluwafunmilayo AdewaleOluwafunmilayo (Funmi) Adewale is a former teacher and an eternal student. She is currently doing a Creative Writing MA at St. Mary’s University. She enjoys writing in all its forms and recently had a short story published in the anthology, Gains and Losses. Funmi blogs about mental health and other issues at www.in-sane-mind.com and can be found on Twitter @Fumtastic. Through her writing on mental health issues, she hopes to gain more insight into herself and encourage greater openness in others. She is most at home when playfully conversing in Yoruba or when weaving her way through London traffic on her beloved green bike.
Read ‘When Silence is King’ by Oluwafunmilayo Adewale

LONGLISTED

Aisling Twomey is a writer and yoga teacher, born and raised in Ireland but now living in London. Her work has been published in the Irish Law Times, the Irish Times and the Irish Independent among others. She also writes for Book Riot. Aisling is currently working on her first novel for young adults and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London.
Read ‘Hometown Legacy’ by Aisling Twomey

Madeline CrossOriginally from Wiltshire, Madeline Cross now lives in Edinburgh where she works for a youth homelessness charity and is writing her first collection of short stories. Her stories have previously appeared in Tangerine Magazine, Structo, Litro, Rattle Tales, The Honest Ulsterman and the Mechanic’s Institute Review.
Read ‘As Expected’ by Madeline Cross

Roisin MaguireRoisin Maguire is a business manager and keen recreational scuba diver and scuba instructor. She has always enjoyed writing and has decided that now her four children have grown up a bit, that she is going to put more time and effort into it! She enjoys life writing especially, as it gives her an excuse to try new things and go to new places to ensure she has always got something interesting to write about.
Read ‘Undertow’ by Roisin Maguire

Sam Hampson grew up amongst the tall pines of the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire, reading tales of the faeries and witches that live there. Later, Sam read modern European literature at King’s College London and the University of Cambridge where he specialised in ecoliterature and ecophilosophy. Sam’s writing often returns to the theme of ecology whilst also exploring related questions of sexuality and topography. ‘Four Memories from a Berlin Summer’ is Sam’s first work to be published.
Read ‘Four Memories From a Berlin Summer’ by Sam Hampson

Having graduated from the University of Brighton in 2011 with a degree in English Language and then pursued a whirlwind career in B2B tech PR (it’s sexier than it sounds), Leke Apena has decided to write unconventional, challenging and entertaining stories about the modern Black British experience. Why? Because they are not enough well-written stories about complex, funny and multifaceted Black British characters and Leke is on a mission to change that. He hopes to publish his first novel, A Prophet Who Loved Her by the end of this year.
Read ‘A Secondary School Education’ by Leke Apena

K Devan is a writer living in East London and a recent graduate of the Faber Academy, where he entered on a full scholarship. Additionally, he is the current Jason Chin Scholar at the Nursery Theatre. His work explores sexuality and ethnicity, through an intersectional and post-colonial approach. Find him on twitter: @k_devan_writes
Read ‘neater’ by K Devan

class="post-18466 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-blogs category-network-knowledge tag-blog tag-life-writing tag-lily-dunn tag-memoir tag-non-fiction tag-recommendations tag-top-reads"Lily Dunn’s favourite memoirs

This season, Lily Dunn will be running an online course ‘Writing Compelling Memoir‘ for writers keen to develop their memoir craft and knowledge. Ahead of her course, which is now fully booked, Lily shares her top memoir reads to inspire your reading list. 

H is for Hawk – Helen MacDonald

I love this part memoir, part biography, part nature book because of all of the above. Because it can’t be categorised and because Helen MacDonald shines the light not so much on herself but on her father, on TH White and a goshawk called Mabel who she attempts to tame and train in order to try to face her grief over her father’s sudden death. It also has some stunning passages, and wonderful psychological insights into her own emotional process, into TH White’s psychology and that of her beloved raptor.

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City – Nick Flynn

While the subject matter is extraordinary – son comes across estranged father when he works as a social worker in a homeless shelter in Boston, where his father is a resident – it’s Flynn’s form that really attracts attention. Flynn is a poet, and this is not only fragmentary, but lyrical, playful and surprising. In the light of this reunion, Flynn pieces together what he knows of his father’s life, alongside his own to produce a wonderful mosaic that asks questions about love, loss and the legacy of neglect and addiction.

Heart Berries – Terese Marie Mailhot

This memoir evolved as a means of recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder and can be experienced as this in its rawness and honesty. In its beautifully visceral style too. It is about reconciliation with a dysfunctional family, but also with herself and her Native American heritage. A powerful read.

But You Did Not Come Back – Marceline Loridan-Ivens

A beautiful heart-breaking love letter to a father who was separated from his daughter when they were both taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, and how this premature severance of such an important relationship haunted her entire life, set against the greater pain of a family and, of course, nation split apart by war, so painful it’s almost too difficult to comprehend.

Stag’s Leap – Sharon Olds

Not strictly a memoir, but a book of poetry about Old’s divorce that is heartfelt and wise, and goes deep into the human psyche and what it means to love and lose that love to another woman. Sharon Olds lays herself bare with honesty and dignity, and what she leaves us with is a beautiful piece of art.


Lily Dunn is an author, mentor and lecturer. Her first novel was published by Portobello Books, and her personal essays by Granta, Aeon, Litro, The Real Story and The Mechanics’ Institute. She has just finished writing a memoir about her father and the legacy of his various addictions. She is studying for a doctorate at Birkbeck, University of London, where she joins a discussion around life writing and ways to protect ourselves when drawing on personal material. She is co-editor of A Wild and Precious Life: Addiction, physical and mental illness and its aftermath: a collection of stories and poetry from writers in recovery: https://unbound.com/books/recovery/ and co-runs London Lit Lab, with fellow writer and friend, Zoe Gilbert.