Announcing the London Writers Awards 2021 judges


Spread the Word is excited to announce that applications are open for the London Writers Awards 2021. Year three of the programme will run from January-October 2021 for 30 writers of commercial, literary, YA/children’s and narrative non-fiction.

The 2021 Awards will be judged by author judges: Michael Donkor, Season Butler, Ayisha Malik, Luke Turner and Samantha Baines.  

The industry judges areEllah P. Wakatama OBE (editor-at-large at Canongate)Ludo Cinelli (literary agent at Eve White Literary Agency)Katherine Armstrong (editorial director at Zaffre, Bonnier Books UK), Angelique Tran Van Sang (commissioning editor at Bloomsbury) and Lauren Gardner (literary agent at Bell Lomax Moreton Agency).   

They’ll be supporting Spread the Word with selecting the thirty writers who will be offered a place on the London Writers Awards scheme 2021. Here they share their thoughts about the London Writers Awards scheme…

Michael Donkor is the Literary Fiction Author Judge for the London Writers Awards 2021. 

Michael was born in London in 1985. He was raised in a Ghanaian household where talking lots and reading lots were vigorously encouraged. Michael read English at Oxford where he developed a particular interest in the works of Woolf, Lessing and Achebe, and later undertook a Masters in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway. Michael worked in publishing for a number of years, but eventually decided to put his literary enthusiasms to other uses: in 2010, he retrained as an English teacher. Since then he has taught A Level English, trying to develop a curious excitement about books and storytelling within his students. In 2014 Michael was selected by Writers Centre Norwich for their Inspires Mentoring Scheme and worked with mentor Daniel Hahn. His first novel, HOLD, which explores Ghanaian heritage and questions surrounding sexuality, identity and sacrifice, was published by 4th Estate in 2018 and is shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2019. 

Michael says: “The London Writers Awards is a pioneering initiative. It consistently helps the most talented new voices from a whole range of backgrounds to get their dazzling stories out into the world. It provides authors with guidance and encouragement that is so reassuring, motivating and transformative in the early stages of a literary career.

Season Butler is the Literary Fiction Award Judge for the London Writers Awards 2021. 

Season is a writer, artist, dramaturg, and lecturer in Performance Studies and Creative Writing. Her writing, research and art practice centre around identity and narratives of otherness, isolation and negotiations with hope. Her recent artwork has appeared in the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Tate Exchange, the Latvian National Museum (Riga) and Hotel Maria Kapel (Netherlands), and she was shortlisted for the SI Leeds Prize for Fiction by Black and Asian women in 2014. Cygnet, Season’s debut novel, was published in spring 2019, and is grounded in her research into intersectionality in coming-of-age novels, and social constructs of youth and old age. Cygnet won the 2020 Writers’ Guild award for Best First Novel.  

Season says: “Initiatives like the London Writers Awards are essential to the evolution of the literary world. The recognition that awards like this one offer can make all the difference in helping writers and projects find their readers and reach their full potential. For writers from underserved communities and marginalised identities, and readers wishing to encounter the full richness of the world in literature, we all have something to win through this award.

Ellah P. Wakatama OBE is the Literary Fiction Industry Judge for the London Writers Awards 2021.

Ellah is Editor-at-Large at Canongate and was the founding Publishing Director of The Indigo Press. She is also the Creative Manchester Senior Research Fellow at the School of New Writing, University of Manchester and serves as the Chair of the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing. She was a judge for the 2017 Dublin International Literary Award and the 2015 Man Booker Prize. She is former deputy editor of Granta magazine and senior editor at Jonathan Cape, Random House. She is the editor of Africa39 and Safe House: Explorations in Creative Nonfiction. Her journalism has appeared in the Telegraph, Guardian and Observer newspapers and in Spectator and The Griffith Review. She is featured in the 2019 New Daughters of Africa anthology. She is a trustee of The Royal Literary Fund and sits on the Advisory board for Art for Amnesty and the Editorial Advisory Panel of the Johannesburg Review of Books. 

Ellah says: “The London Writers Awards promise to take us beyond mere ‘conversation’ about increasing the range of writers from outside the mainstream who make it to publication. With a focus on identifying, developing and rewarding excellence, the long-view taken by the awards is an approach the entire industry could learn from. From the open application process to the inspired range across literary and genre fiction, it’s a scheme that will enrich us all – agents, publishers and, most importantly, readers.

Ludo Cinelli is the Literary Fiction Industry Judge for the London Writers Awards 2021.

Ludo joined Eve White Literary Agency in 2017, after various internships in the publishing industry. He assists Eve White on her list of clients as well as building and maintaining his own. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London.  He is particularly interested in fiction and nonfiction that push and prod at the limits of their form and loves to be challenged by the ideas and style of what he reads. He is proud to be a part of his immensely talented clients’ careers. His list includes 2019 Betty Trask Prize Winner, James Clarke, as well as a 2019/20 London Writers’ Award winner, Han Smith. 

Ludo says: “Each year, when the London Writers Awards anthology lands in my inbox, I am excited to dive in. It is always full of writing that feels fresh and original, from a cohort of diverse writers who have clearly received the support and encouragement they need to make their work shine. I’m honoured to have been asked to take an active role in this exceptional programme, and I can’t wait to read this year’s entries.

Ayisha Malik is the Commercial Fiction Author Judge for the London Writers Awards 2021.

Ayisha is author of the critically acclaimed novels, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged, The Other Half of Happiness, and This Green and Pleasant Land. She was a WHSmith Fresh Talent Pick and Sofia Khan was a London CityReads choice in May 2019. Ayisha has contributed to the anthologies, A Change is Gonna Come and A Matchmade in Heaven. She has written a re-telling of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park – part of Hachette’s Awesomely Austen children’s series (Oct 2020) and has another children’s book coming out in 2021. She is also the ghost-writer for Great British Bake Off winner, Nadiya Hussain. Ayisha has been shortlisted for the Asian Women of Achievement Award, Marie Claire’s Future Shapers Awards and h100’s Awards for Publishing and Writing. Sofia Khan is not Obliged and This Green and Pleasant are optioned for television. 

Ayisha says: “The London Writers Awards’ support for emerging talent from under-represented backgrounds, who might otherwise have no idea how to break into the publishing world, is timely and necessary. The encouragement created and garnered here for writers is a proactive, positive way in which to bring fresh, diverse voices to the mainstream, cultivating and contributing to a rich literary tradition, which, with initiatives like this, only promises to become richer.

Katherine Armstong is the Commercial Fiction Industry Judge for the London Writers Awards 2021.

Katherine is originally from Northern Ireland and has worked in publishing for over fifteen years. She is currently Editorial Director for Fiction at Bonnier Books UK, where her authors include CWA Dagger winner Chris Whitaker and WH Smith/Richard & Judy Search for a Bestseller winners Caz Frear and Claire Gradidge. She has previously worked at Waterstones, Faber & Faber and Sphere (part of the Little, Brown Book Group). Her speciality is crime and thriller fiction. She was one of the founding organisers of First Monday Crime Nights in London and is programme consultant for NOIReland, a new international crime fiction festival in Belfast. She is also a judge for the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger for unpublished authors.

Katherine says: “Spread the Word and the London Writers Awards offer writers from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to be heard; to be read; to find a way to develop and tell their stories, so publishers and readers will listen. This industry is not always easy, but with programmes like this we can make it more accessible and help to develop the talent of the future, so that everyone has an equal opportunity to have their voice heard and their stories told.

Luke Turner is the Narrative Non-Fiction Author Judge for the London Writers Awards 2021.

Luke’s critically acclaimed memoir Out of the Woods, a reflection on sexuality, masculinity and the relationship between humans and ‘nature’ is his first book. Out othe Woods was shortlisted for the 2019 Wainwright Prize for nature writing, longlisted for the Polari Prize for first book by an LGBT+ writer, and Turner has been selected by Val McDermid as one of 10 most important LGBT+ writers for a British Council and National Centre for Writing initiative. In 2019 Turner co-curated a programme of arts events celebrating the landscape and people of Epping Forest as part of Waltham Forest’s stint as the first London Borough of Culture. He is co-founder and editor of The Quietus and writes for a variety of publications. 

Luke says: “For years the idea of becoming a writer who might one day manage to put out a book was nothing more than a pipe dream for me, as it is for so many, as publishing always felt like a far-off, rarefied world inhabited by people who seemed remote and strange. Similarly, I ended up writing my first book Out othe Woods largely because I felt that I never found a true representation of bisexuality in literature, as if it remained the taboo subject it had been during my teenage years in the 1990s. I know how valuable the London Writers Award would have been to me when I was starting out, and I’m hugely looking forward to reading the submissions.

Angelique Tran Van Sang is the Narrative Non-Fiction Industry Judge for the London Writers Awards 2021.

Angelique is a commissioning editor at Bloomsbury, publishing literary fiction and narrative non-fiction. She has worked with writers such as Kamila Shamsie, Madeline Miller and George Saunders, and her authors include Jenny Zhang, Catherine Cho, Reni Eddo-Lodge, Olivia Sudjic and Alexander Chee.  

Angelique says: “The London Writers Awards is a forward-thinking, long-term initiative that offers not just encouragement and advice, but also support, championing, knowledge and insight to underrepresented and marginalised voices. Its work is changing the landscape of publishing, and I am extremely honoured to be taking part in the judging process in 2020 – and to help Spread the Word continue its game-changing work.

Samantha Baines is the YA/Children’s Fiction Author Judge for the London Writers Awards 2021.

Samantha is an award-winning comedian, actress, broadcaster, hearing aid wearer and author of Harriet versus the Galaxy. She likes to keep busy and you may have seen her keeping busy in acting roles in Netflix’s The Crown, Call the Midwife or Silent Witness among others. If you don’t like watching things, you may have heard her keeping busy presenting on BBC Radio London, BBC Radio Kent, Virgin Radio or hosting her podcast The Divorce Club. If you don’t like watching or listening then you must like reading surely! Samantha has written for publications including The Guardian, Time Out, Huffington Post, Stylist Magazine, The Pool, Standard Issue and has a column in Modern Woman Magazine. Samantha self-published a comedy poetry anthology which was picked up by Waterstones. Samantha’s debut children’s book Harriet versus the Galaxy was listed in the Independent’s Best Children’s Books of the Year 2019 “with a hilarious heroine this is a rip-roaring riot”, it was the Book Trust’s Book of the Month and the Telegraph called it “quirky, fast-moving and rich with humour and heart”.

Samantha says: “The London Writers Awards is a brilliant initiative to guide and encourage writers, I wish I’d applied when I started out. It’s so important we have diverse voices writing too, I was thrilled to have a book published with a protagonist with a hearing aid, like me and I particularly want to encourage those with disabilities to apply. Everyday life can be a struggle for accessibility, but publishing should be open to all.

Lauren Gardner is the Children’s/YA Fiction Industry Judge for the London Writers Awards 2021.

Lauren joined Bell Lomax Moreton in April 2014 as literary assistant and has been agenting full time since October 2015. She graduated in 2009 with a degree in English Literature and Drama from the University of Manchester, and has a background in entertainment PR. Lauren represents adult and children’s non-fiction and children’s fiction ranging from chapter books up to YA – her authors include Katy Birchall, Alex Sheppard, Emma Read, Elle McNicoll and Jenni Spangler. She has a passion for children’s literature and is always looking for young fiction and middle-grade debuts with heart, humour and maybe a high concept twist (or two). For teens and YA, a good swoony romance will always be top of her TBR pile.  Lauren is actively looking for children’s fiction and non-fiction submissions from diverse and marginalised authors across all age ranges and genres. In July 2020, Lauren was selected as one of The Bookseller’s Rising Stars, a commendation she is going to try very hard to live up to. 

Lauren says: “The work that Spread the Word do to encourage and empower writers from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds has never been more vital.  I am so pleased to have the opportunity to support the London Writers Awards this year, and I can’t wait to see the new voices that come through this innovative and inspiring programme.

Applications are open from 17 August-30 September. Find out more and how to apply here:

Published 17 August 2020