Announcing the Life Writing Prize 2020 results

News

Lorelei Goulding is the winner of Spread the Word’s Life Writing Prize 2020, with Birdie. Now in its fourth year, the Life Writing Prize, in association with Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre, was established to find and develop the best new life writing from emerging writers.

Birdie, a heart-breaking story of a young vulnerable girl, was selected from almost 900 submissions received from across the UK. Lorelei Goulding will receive £1500, an Arvon course, a writing mentor, two years’ membership of the Royal Society of Literature and a development meeting with an agent and editor. The judges were writers Kerry Hudson and Nell Stevens, and Sathnam Sanghera, an award-winning columnist and feature writer for The Times. They made their selection from a longlist of twelve, announced in April.

Kerry Hudson comments: “Imagine an emerging writer coming up with descriptions like, ‘Diseased with emphysema and malice’ or ‘My father’s left hand, slapping my face without warning at dinner, like a frog’s tongue snapping at a fly.’ Birdie is extremely confidently written and there are genuinely heart stopping moments of beauty in the prose. Not only this, but it is a narrative that pulls you in slowly and then hits you with a sucker punch and leaves you gasping for air at the end. Such accomplished writing and surely the beginning of an exciting career.”

Sathnam Sanghera comments: “Beautiful, spare, poetical writing, which not only felt professional, but reminded me of one of my favourite memoir writers: Andrea Ashworth. It’s hard to believe this writer is just starting out.”

Nell Stevens comments: “This is a masterful piece of life writing, which beguiles and horrifies in equal measure. There is a poise and assurance to the prose, which holds attention and tension throughout. I was completely convinced by, and full of admiration for, this difficult, restrained, unflinching work. My mind has returned to often it since first reading, and I expect it will haunt me for a long time. I cannot wait to see more from this author, who writes like someone we should have been reading all our lives, and deserves a very bright literary future.”

Lorelei Goulding, originally from Long Island, New York, lives with her family in Somerset and is currently completing an MSc in Public Health at UWE Bristol. Birdie is her first published work and this is the first time that she has entered a writing competition.

She comments: “I’m stunned and overjoyed. I couldn’t believe it when the phone call came. I’m so pleased Birdie seems to have resonated with people – it’s humbling to think something so personal has been so well-received. As a writer I have always been a bit skittish – privately scribbling away for years in dribs and drabs, and too nervous to show my work to anyone – so winning the prize has been incredibly validating for me. I’m so grateful to everyone at Spread the Word for all their support and encouragement, and this experience has afforded me the opportunity to seriously consider my future as a writer, which is really exciting.”

a closeup of a woman smiling, and a photo of a woman sat on steps outside a blue door
Joanna Brown (left) and Laurane Marchive (right)

Two writers were highly commended for the prize. They are Joanna Brown for Birds can be heard singing through open windows, and Laurane Marchive, for For the Flesh is Sour. They will each receive a writing mentor and £500.

Joanna Brown said: “It is such an honour to have been highly commended for the Life Writing Prize. I am feeling simultaneously humbled and proud. The news has come at a time of deep reflection for many on the loss of loved ones. Writing about my mother was such a significant step on my writing journey and sharing my memories of her has been a unique and powerful experience. I am so excited about the opportunities that this now presents for me: many thanks to the team and judges at Spread the Word.”

Laurane Marchive said: “I was still crying and tearing my hair out an hour before the deadline for this competition, so it’s definitely nice to be highly commended! A massive confidence boost. Also, I love Spread the Word. They are very supportive to writers and it feels good to be part of their creative projects.”

a composite image of 9 faces
Top row left to right- Shortlist: Josh Holton, Maxine Davies, Carla Montemayor.
Middle row left to right longlist: SR Shah (image by Lily Veitch), Elena Croitoru, Nicky Watkinson. Bottom row left to right – Longlist Sue Hann, Ruby Eastwood, Stephen Crawley

The three writers to be shortlisted are Maxine Davies for Dad’s Home; Josh Holton for Death and Birdwatching; and Carla Montemayor for North of the River.

The six writers longlisted are Elena Croitoru for On Sigma-Algebras; Stephen Crawley for Down Ashton; SR Shah for Mink Lashes; Sue Hann for Palingenesis; Ruby Eastwood for The Spoon Garden; and Nicky Watkinson for This is a story about friendship.

Ruth Harrison, Director of Spread the Word said: “Spread the Word is thrilled to announce the results of the Life Writing Prize 2020. Birdie is an exceptional piece of writing, and we’re sure that this is a first step for Lorelei in what surely will be a wonderful writing career. Joanna Brown’s Birds can be heard singing through open windows is a timely, delicate and emotive reminder of the lives of those who care for us, and For the Flesh is Sour by Laurane Marchive is a startling and original exploration of life and grief. Now, more than ever, there is value in shared stories, reflecting what brings us together and what distinguishes us. We’re thrilled to publish the online booklet showcasing twelve talented emerging writers and are looking forward to seeing these writers fly in the months and years to come.”

A special anthology featuring the 12 longlisted writers and their work is published by Spread the Word online and available to download in PDF format.

Mentors for Lorelei, Joanna and Laurane are writers Max Porter, Colin Grant and Kerri Ní Dochartaigh who was highly commended in the inaugural Life Writing Prize in 2017.

The Life Writing Prize, which is free to enter, is funded by Joanna Munro. In response to Covid-19 and in association with the Life Writing Prize, Spread the Word has offered free 6-week writing courses to support people to create and write in these difficult times. So far over 1000 people are taking part in these opportunities. An associated fundraiser, create-write-connect, a campaign to raise money for Spread the Word and the Trussell Trust, has raised over £1300 so far, to be shared 50/50 between the two charities.

The 12 longlisted works, readings from longlisted writers and video interviews with Lorelei, Joanna and Laurane are available at http://bit.ly/LWP2020.

Published 3 June 2020