OPEN TO NEW AND EMERGING LIFE WRITERS, SPREAD THE WORD’S LIFE WRITING PRIZE WAS ESTABLISHED TO CELEBRATE AND DEVELOP LIFE WRITING IN THE UK.
The Spread the Word Life Writing Prize in association with Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre was established in 2016, thanks to a generous donation from Joanna Munro. Blake Morrison is Patron of the Prize.
Free to enter, the Prize aims to find the best life writing from emerging writers from across the UK. The Prize defines life writing as ‘intended to be true’, reflects someone’s own life journey or experiences and is not fiction. The competition is open to writers who have yet to publish a full-length work or have a literary agent.
The 2017 prize was won by Jon Paul Roberts for 1955-2012.
The 2018 prize was won by Danny Brunton for New Boy.
The 2019 prize was won by Charlotte Derrick for The Lady in Black.
The 2020 prize was won by Lorelei Goulding for Birdie.
The Life Writing Prize will open for entries again in November 2020.
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.
Lorelei Goulding, Life Writing Prize Winner 2020
Read the top twelve entries, the longlist, of Spread the Word’s Life Writing Prize 2020 here: bit.ly/LifeWritingPrize2020Anthology
You can read this on your e-reader by downloading it to your computer or device, then emailing to the email address associated with your e-reader.
The Life Writing Prize 2020 judges said of this year’s longlist:
“It’s a cliche to say with awards that “the standard was very high” – and my recent experiences with literary prizes is that it’s not even always true. But the standard here was genuinely very high – I enjoyed almost everything I read, and even when I didn’t, I learned something. It’s great that this award exists to encourage new writers and I’m sure several of those writers will become professionals.”
“This longlist comprises immense and diverse talent. The experience of reading these pieces was deeply humbling and thoroughly exciting. I learned from each and every one of the longlisted authors, and am reminded of the promise and thrill of life writing, which shows us who we are as people, as writers and as readers. At this strange and upsetting moment in history, the opportunity to be close to other humans through these vibrant, affecting pieces of writing consoled and inspired me.”
“Well, the Spread the Word Life Writing Prize has done it again! It’s no understatement to say the emerging talent that is on show here is astounding. Beautiful writing, important themes and voices that sing off the page. If there is any doubt that there’s talent out there waiting (and deserving) to be discovered then this vital competition dispenses with it. These stories are full of heart and truth and wisdom and they are gift to any reader who might be lucky enough to read them. ”
Lorelei Goulding won the Life Writing Prize 2020 with Birdie.
You can read it here: bit.ly/BirdieLoreleiGoulding
Birdie is a story about a girl who is encouraged to find her voice while she struggles through a difficult period. Told from a nine year old’s perspective, Birdie shows us a glimpse of her world and how she tries to cope with events completely outside her control.
Lorelei Goulding is originally from Long Island, New York and lives in rural Somerset with her husband, three children, and very unruly dog. She is currently completing an MSc in Public Health at UWE Bristol and is particularly interested in Adverse Childhood Experiences and how they impact health over the life-course. She has been keeping disorganised journals and writing stories since childhood. Birdie is her first work to be published.
Trigger warning: Please note that the piece contains references to child sex abuse.
The judges said:
Sathnam Sanghera: 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: 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 it often 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.
Kerry Hudson: 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.
Joanna Brown was highly commended in the Life Writing Prize 2020 with Birds can be heard singing through open windows.
You can read it here: bit.ly/JoannaBrownBirdsCanBeHeard
Birds can be heard singing through open windows is a daughter’s reflection on her relationship with her mother. A meditation through remembered moments, it explores loss, longing and the ways in which we continue to love and be loved after death.
About Joanna Brown
Raised as an only child, losing her parents young further fuelled obsessive reading and diary writing. A qualified teacher, Joanna facilitates creative writing workshops. Recent work includes the development of the literary education programme Africa Writes: Young Voices, linking poets with London school students to explore writing from Africa and the diaspora. She is now immersing herself fully in her own writing practice, unearthing her personal family histories to honour and celebrate unsung Black lives in Britain.
The judges said:
Sathnam Sanghera: I found this story incredibly moving – I had to put it down on two occasions to cry. A timely reminder of the heroism that permeates ordinary life and the important role literature can play in highlighting it.
Nell Stevens: There is heart and sadness in equal measure in this vivid, memorable piece. It is a compelling portrait, a love letter, a tender record of loss, and a stirring defence of the ways in which we can and should care for each other. I was delighted, moved, appalled and devastated by turn. I found this writing deeply human and extremely affecting.
Kerry Hudson: This homage to a mother and an NHS nurse is so moving. The writing allows us to intimately know the mother. To understand how powerful, kind and compassionate she was so that we might mourn her passing too. The writing is lyrical but direct. There is no hiding in this piece. As the best writing enables us to, it felt that we the readers had been allowed to live someone’s life, experience their sorrows and joys. It’s a story that remained with me long after reading it.
Laurane Marchive was highly commended in the Life Writing Prize 2020 for For the Flesh is Sour.
You can read it here: bit.ly/LauraneMarchiveForTheFleshIsSour
Please note that the story contains graphic sexual content.
For the Flesh is Sour, set within the backdrop of the Gilets Jaunes riots, chronicles the aftermath of the death of a grandparent, sexuality, and experiencing life through video images.
Laurane Marchive lives in London. Her work has appeared in The London Magazine, The Mechanics’ Institute Review, Review 31 and the TLS. Laurane is a past winner of the French Escales des Lettres. She was recently longlisted for the BBC Short Story Prize and shortlisted for the Spread the Word Life Writing Prize 2019 and the London Short Story Prize 2020. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck. She also runs a circus.
The judges said:
Sathnam Sanghera: Elegant, original, seductive… in the best possible way, you don’t quite know where you are in this story, yet you don’t want it to stop.
Nell Stevens: This is a beautiful evocation of a time and place. It is writing of such clear-sighted specificity that it feels, despite itself, universal. The piece is full of startling, well-observed details that transported and delighted me. I admired the author’s careful balance between emotional honesty and artful, skilful story-telling.
Kerry Hudson: Structurally complex, elegant and extremely beautifully written, this story stood out for all of us with its skilfully written prose and extremely impressive ability to conjure setting. I was particularly impressed with the narrative’s ability to turn more familiar themes on their heads and to make us think differently about universal experiences.
Maxine Davis was shortlisted in the Life Writing Prize 2020 for Dad’s Home.
You can read it here: bit.ly/MaxineDaviesDadsHome
Dad’s Home addresses the anguish and upset of meeting an absent parent for the first time as a teenager. After growing up as an only child in a single parent household, Maxine Davies’ parents reunited shortly after her thirteenth birthday and her quiet two-person household was turned upside-down. This is a humorous story of heartache, miscommunication and devotion in the midst of the universal turbulence of adolescence.
Maxine Davies is a writer born and bred in Newcastle upon Tyne. She has an MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature from Newcastle University. Her writing has been featured in Visual Verse and Mslexia. She came third in the Autumn 2019 Reflex Fiction competition, and in 2017 she was awarded funding from the Young Writers’ Talent Fund to set up her small press, Maybe Later.
The judges said:
Sathnam Sanghera: Elliptical, touching, poetic and a too rare thing in too much life-writing – funny.
Nell Stevens: I loved this characterful, vivid account of family life interrupted. The wit, the voice, the pacing – it won me over completely.
Kerry Hudson: This was an extremely good read and I was particularly impressed by the strong use of voice.
Carla Montemayor was shortlisted for the Life Writing Prize 2020 for North of the River.
You can read it here: bit.ly/CarlaMontemayorNorthoftheRiver
North of the River is a collage of stories weaving together the author’s personal, family and national histories. It is a story about moving, grieving and thriving across two generations and two countries, the Philippines and Britain.
Carla Montemayor has worked in communications and politics in the Philippines, Indonesia and the UK. She studied economics in a previous life and returned to university as a mature student. She has an MA in Political Communication from the University of Sheffield. She has written satire, poetry and short fiction on and off and now aspires to do more life writing and perhaps a novel. She is an avid cook and photographer.
The judges said:
Sathnam Sanghera: I could easily read a whole book revolving around the fascinating characters in this story.
Nell Stevens: This piece has a beautiful poise and rhythm to it. It is a tender exploration of grief and loss at long range.
Kerry Hudson: I really enjoyed this. I thought it was vivid and skilfully woven. I also really liked the intersection of the countries history, her mother’s, her own.
Josh Holton was shortlisted for the Life Writing Prize 2020 with Death and Birdwatching.
You can read it here: bit.ly/JoshHoltonDeathandBirdwatching
About Death and Birdwatching: This piece is an extract from my book about writing my dad’s eulogy. Drawing on fragmented memories, I learn about nature to examine my relationship with my father, an ornithologist whose controversial past led to his death.
Josh Holton is an ex-MMA fighter who took too many blows to the head and now writes weird fiction and non-fiction. He quit his stable office job to find fulfilment in the study and practice of storytelling. He now survives on instant noodles but loves his life. Find him on twitter @JHoltonWriter.
The judges said:
Sathnam Sanghera: Infused with great imagery and descriptions that linger.
Nell Stevens: Unsentimental, and all the more affecting for it, this is an impressive, distinctive portrait, rendered in a skilful collage.
Kerry Hudson: This was one of my absolute favourites. I found it fresh, genuinely funny (I laughed out loud while reading it which is extremely rare for me) and really moving. I also appreciated how nuanced it was. It felt entirely unique to the writer and it was a gift to read!
Elena Croitoru was longlisted for the Life Writing Prize 2020 for On Sigma-Algebras.
You can read it here: bit.ly/ElenaCroitoruOnSigma-Algebras
This piece is about identity and estrangement in the post-communist era, and also about how emigrating affects these issues and our relationships with our families.
Elena Croitoru lives in Kent and has an MSt in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. Her work has been selected for the Best New British & Irish Poets 2019 & she won second place in the Edward Thomas Award, third place in the Open House Poetry Competition & was highly commended in the Wales Poetry Award. She was shortlisted for the Gregory O’Donoghue Prize, Wasafiri New Writing Prize, Bridport Prize & other awards. She is also editing her first novel & working on a poetry collection. You can find her on Twitter: @elenacroitoru
The judges said:
Sathnam Sanghera: insightful and promising
Nell Stevens: At once intimate and restrained, this evocation of a family and a place at a moment in time is full of keenly observed details shown with deftness and poise.
Kerry Hudson: This has such a strong ending and explores its themes with a unflinching directness.
SR Shah was longlisted for the Life Writing Prize 2020 with Mink Lashes.
You can read it here: bit.ly/SRShah-MinkLashes
About Mink Lashes: My experience of a Muslim wedding, after being separated from my family for years. I dip in and out of past memories and weave in the current happenings of the wedding as my mother and I tentatively rebuild our relationship.
SR Shah is a working class queer Muslim poet and philosopher hailing from South London. They are interested in the dynamics between poetry and death, the abundance of London, and honouring migrant histories. They have had their Instagram philosophy series exhibited at VFDalston for “unfinished,” and host a quarterly literary event, “untitled.” By day, they are a makeup artist. Photo by Lily Vetch.
Trigger warning: this piece contains references to violence and rape.
The judges said:
Sathnam Sanghera: A fascinating insight
Nell Stevens: I loved this energetic, dynamic piece, which is told with swagger and force. The narrator’s razor-sharp observations and unflinching tone made this truly exciting to read.
Kerry Hudson: This narrative has a kicker of an ending and is absolutely full of intelligent, interesting observations and ideas.
Ruby Eastwood was longlisted for the Life Writing Prize 2020 with The Spoon Garden.
You can read it here: bit.ly/RubyEastwoodTheSpoonGarden
The Spoon Garden is about my childhood in Barcelona, a portrait of an ailing father and a meditation on psychogeography and change, written in fragments.
Ruby Eastwood is 19 and studying English Literature at Oxford University. She grew up in Barcelona, where she returns whenever she can. She is inspired to write by Leonard Cohen, Virginia Woolf and Donna Tartt.
The judges said:
Sathnam Sanghera: Compelling and poetical.
Nell Stevens: Poetic and illusory, this work of collage is evocative and sensory. I admire its delightful variousness, a celebratory bouquet of image and memory.
Kerry Hudson:This covers fascinating and not often read about material.
Nicky Watkinson was longlisted for the Life Writing Prize 2020 with This is a story about friendship.
You can read it here: bit.ly/NickyWatkinsonThisisastoryaboutfriendship
About This is a story about friendship: My piece is a hybrid work exploring friendship and narrative form through the lenses of cultural analysis, theory, and memoir.
Nicky Watkinson is a cultural critic who writes and speaks about art in all its forms. A freelance writer for five years, she’s also a speaker and workshop leader. She has a BA in English and an MA in contemporary literature and culture, both from UCL: her academic research focuses on theories of identity, grief, the fragment, and narrative form. She is particularly interested in inter-disciplinarity and tackling questions of form in her work. She writes fiction, creative nonfiction, and drama.
The judges said:
Sathnam Sanghera: Deeply thoughtful about form
Nell Stevens: This piece stood out for its boldness of approach and willingness to take risks. It demonstrates the scope of life writing to tell a story whilst also exploring the follies and joys attempting to do so.
Kerry Hudson: This was an ambitious and unusual piece. I appreciated that the writer really took risks with the text.
Stephen Crawley was longlisted in the Life Writing Prize 2020 with Down Ashton.
You can read it here: bit.ly/DownAshtonStephenCrawley
About Down Ashton: Out doing the Saturday shop for the family with his older sister down at Ashton-under-Lyne market, a boy almost gets into a car when he sees his pal from the market in the back of their car. “Coming for a trip? We’re not going far. I’ve got crisps and pop here. You know me don’t you?”
Stephen hails from Ashton under Lyne in the foothills of the Pennines, a town considered ‘bare, wet, and almost worthless,’ until the introduction of the cotton trade. From that historical perspective Stephen prides himself on being a working–class writer, his heroes being Barry Hines, Alan Sillitoe and Nell Dunn, who have all influenced his work, and being a Northerner Stephen isn’t scared to proudly admit that fact. A late starter writer, Stephen enjoys constructing first person narratives, and began taking writing seriously after receiving a screenplay commission from Film Four without any writing experience or educational qualifications under his belt.
The judges said:
Sathnam Sanghera: Chilling.
Nell Stevens: Dramatic and compelling, this story of a brush with evil is distinctively narrated and skilfully paced.
Kerry Hudson: An excellent story. I was especially impressed with the strong, skilfully realised regional voice.
Sue Hann was longlisted in the Life Writing Prize 2020 with Palingenesis.
You can read it here: bit.ly/SueHannPalingenesis
Palingenesis explores a trip to an exhibition on the art of Lee Krasner. The narrator, who is undergoing fertility treatment, connects with the life and the work of the artist, and the intersections between their stories.
Sue Hann is a psychologist and psycho-sexual therapist, interested in the interplay between psychology and creativity. Her work explores how psychology and art both try to make sense of the universality of pain and suffering. She writes flash fiction and creative non-fiction. Her work has been published in online and print journals such as Popshot quarterly, and included in the National Flash Fiction Day anthology. She lives in London with her husband and a problematic number of books. She is a London Writers Awards recipient 2019-20.
The judges said:
Sathnam Sanghera: Totally original.
Nell Stevens: I really admired this ambitious piece, which skilfully combines art writing and life writing in its exploration of what it means to make art and be female.
Kerry Hudson: I found this very moving and confidently written. I also appreciated that it covers a subject so rarely written about.
Kerry Hudson was born in Aberdeen. Growing up in a succession of council estates, B&Bs and caravan parks provided her with a keen eye for idiosyncratic behaviour, material for life, and a love of travel. Her first novel, Tony Hogan Bough Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma (Chatto & Windus), was published in July 2012 and was shortlisted for eight literary prizes, including the Guardian First Book Award and Green Carnation Prize, and won Scottish First Book of the Year. Kerry’s second novel, Thirst, was developed with support from the National Lottery through an Arts Council England grant, and published by Chatto in July 2014 before being shortlisted for the Green Carnation Prize. Published in France as La Couleur de L’eau by Editions Philippe Rey, translated by Florence Lévy-Paolini, Thirst was the winner of prestigious literary prize, Prix Femina Etranger 2015, going on to become a bestseller in France. Her latest book Lowborn, is a highly acclaimed personal exploration of poverty in Britain today.
Nell Stevens writes memoir and fiction. She is the author of the memoirs Bleaker House and Mrs Gaskell & Me, which won the 2019 Somerset Maugham Award. She was shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award, 2018. Her writing is published in The New York Times, Vogue, The Paris Review, The New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Granta and elsewhere. Nell lectures in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Nell says: “Life writing is slippery, intimate and various, constantly shedding its own skin, becoming new all over again. The Life Writing Prize is a thrilling opportunity for us to discover writers who reinvent, rejuvenate and reinforce the flexibilities and complexities of the genre. I am as excited to read so-called ‘ordinary’ stories that reveal the extraordinary in the everyday as I am to read accounts of unusual or extreme experiences.”
Sathnam Sanghera is an award-winning columnist and feature writer for The Times. He has been shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards twice, for his memoir The Boy With The Topknot and his novel Marriage Material, the former being adapted by BBC Drama in 2017 and named Mind Book of the Year in 2009. He has won numerous prizes for his journalism, including Young Journalist of the Year at the British Press Awards in 2002 and Media Commentator of the year in the 2015 Comment Awards.
Sathnam says: “I think it was CS Lewis who said that “we read to know we’re not alone”. Life writing is a segment of literature where people write to know they’re not alone, and it’s great there is a prize to recognise its importance.”
Colin Grant is an author, historian, and Associate Fellow in the Centre for Caribbean Studies. His books include: Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey; and a group biography of the Wailers, I&I, The Natural Mystics. His memoir of growing up in a Caribbean family in 1970s Luton, Bageye at the Wheel, was shortlisted for the Pen/Ackerly Prize, 2013. Grant’s history of epilepsy, A Smell of Burning, was a Sunday Times Book of the Year 2016
As a producer for the BBC, Grant wrote and directed a number of radio drama documentaries including African Man of Letters: The Life of Ignatius Sancho; A Fountain of Tears: The Murder of Federico Garcia Lorca; and Wheel and Come Again: a History of Jamaica’s Reggae.
He is a regular tutor of creative writing for Arvon, Sierra Nevada College and City University, London.
Grant also writes for a number of newspapers and journals including the Guardian, GQ, Telegraph, TLS, Prospect, New York Review of Books and Granta. Grant’s latest book, Homecoming: Voices of Caribbean Migration to Britain was published by Jonathan Cape in 2019.
For the Life Writing Prize, Colin will mentor one of the winning / highly commended writers.
Max Porter’s first novel, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers won the Sunday Times/Peter, Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year, the International Dylan Thomas Prize, the Europese Literatuurprijs and the BAMB Readers’ Award and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Goldsmiths Prize. It has been sold in twenty-nine territories. Complicité and Wayward’s production of Grief Is the Thing with Feathers directed by Enda Walsh and starring Cillian Murphy opened in Dublin in March 2018. His latest novel, Lanny, weaves intricately within and beyond its rural setting.
For the Life Writing Prize, Max will mentor one of the winning / highly commended writers.
Kerri Ní Dochartaigh lives in northwest Ireland. She writes about nature, literature and place for publications which include Oh Comely magazine, New Welsh Review and The London Magazine. She was highly commended in the Life Writing Prize in 2016. Her memoir, Thin Places, will be published by Canongate in 2021. She is learning to speak Irish and exploring her folkloric island in a Transit Van.
You can follow her on Instagram here and she publishes new writing on her blog here.
For the Life Writing Prize, Kerri will mentor one of the winning / highly commended writers.
Jo is Commissioning Editor at award-winning independent publisher Canongate, where she has worked for ten years. She publishes a wide range of titles, from literary and commercial fiction to narrative non-fiction and nature writing. The authors she works with include Ayobami Adebayo, Margaret Drabble, Jeanette Winterson, Malachy Tallack, Charlotte Runcie, Tim Clare, Anne Donovan and Mick Kitson. Originally from the north of England she now lives and works in Edinburgh.
For the Life Writing Prize, Jo will offer to read the work and provide editorial feedback and guidance for the winning and highly commended writers.
Jon Paul Roberts is an essayist, journalist, and screenwriter from Chester. He worked as an editor for a Liverpudlian literary magazine In The Red, as well as contributing to various sites and local publications within Liverpool. He has run events including launch parties, open mic nights for writers, and other readings. In his essays he hopes to find the line between his experiences and the forces that influenced him, whether that be film, television, family, or friends. He aims to find silver linings in darker moments by writing about them because, as his hero, Nora Ephron, said, everything is copy. He’s on Twitter @JonPaul13
When Jon Paul won the Prize, he said:
“This really is crazy! I haven’t been able to process it. It really means a lot to me that the judges responded to it so positively. It was a tough piece to write because it was the first time I’d tried to write about my dad since he passed away in 2012.”
Read 1955 – 2012 here
About ten years ago, after attending a screenwriting course at Birkbeck, I wrote the first draft of a fictional, feature-length screenplay, based on events that took place in my late-teens in the early 1970s. The screenplay lay gathering dust on a shelf until a couple of years ago, when I dusted it off and wrote the second draft as a true story. As I attempted to develop it further, I realised that there were too many events and characters to fit into a 90-minute screenplay, so I decided to turn it into a book. New Boy is the prologue
On learning that he had won the prize, Danny said: “Winning this competition has given me confidence that I can write well, and that my story is worth telling. I appreciate that my voice has been heard and although my story is particular, it resonates with other people. The fact that the judges have read my work and found some merit in it has given me the encouragement I need to press on with my writing project.”
Read New Boy here
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.
On winning the Life Writing Prize, 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.”
Read The Lady in Black here
Highly Commended 2017
Claire Lynch is a lecturer in English at Brunel University London. Claire lives near Windsor with her wife Bethan and their twin daughters. She enjoys running, which is lucky, as life with two toddlers provides plenty of practice. You can contact Claire @DrClaireLynch on Twitter.
On being highly commended in the Prize, Claire said: “Frankly, I’m not sure I had a writing life before I entered the prize. Entering the competition has led to everything since. The encouragement I received from the judges led me to enter the Penguin Random House Write Now scheme in 2018 which I was shortlisted for. The Spread the Word prize-money took me to a life-changing Arvon course taught by Alexander Masters and Laura Barton and having the piece on the website is how a literary agent found me and took me on. ”
Read The Year Dot here
HIghly Commended 2017
Kerri ní Dochartaigh is a writer living in a very north-westerly part of Ireland, where the sky is grey and unbearably beautiful; where the land is folkloric and full of swansong. She read English Literature and Classics at Trinity College, Dublin. Her work has been published in some blogs and journals and she is currently shortlisted for the National Memory Day Poetry Prize. Her favourite bird is the curlew, her favourite Undertones’ song is ‘Get over you’ and her favourite cup is mint green with a pale blue handle.
Kerri shared with Spread the Word what she had done before she entered the competition, and what being highly commended meant to her:
“The Life Writing Prize was the first proper competition I entered and being highly commended was a huge stepping stone in my writing career. It meant an awful lot to me that a group of inspiring, dedicated people had not only given my work their time but they had felt that other people might like reading it too – and ensured that others could read it. I am so grateful for that opportunity, and for the courage it gave me to keep writing; even through the very darkest of days.
Before being highly commended in the prize, I felt like I didn’t quite ‘deserve’ to be taking time away from my real world of working to pay bills – just to ‘write’. It seemed selfish and silly – things I now realise are utterly ridiculous. As though ‘real’ writers all had Creative Writing Masters, or had worked in Publishing or Journalism. As though ‘real writers’ didn’t spend their days making flat whites. Real writers are from every different background imaginable – with Masters and without, with experience in the industry and without, from impoverished and comfortable backgrounds, from a wide-reaching and increasingly mixed background as each day passes THANK EVERY STAR. We need to bring all those beautiful and various voices together and form an echoing choir of birdsong. Spread the Word helped me to accept that my journey into writing was mine and mine alone – I am very grateful for the part they played in building my courage and view of myself as a writer. ”
Read Mudlarking here
Highly Commended 2018
In 2017, Laura Morgan won a Scottish Book Trust New Writer Award for her short stories, which have been shortlisted in many competitions, including the Brighton Prize and The Moth Short Story Prize. Her work is published in various magazines and anthologies, both in the UK and abroad; a translation of her story ‘The Bridge’ appears in Taking Flight (Vietnam), a collection of international short stories with Margaret Atwood. As well as fiction, she writes reviews and essays, and has featured as a Scottish Review of Books’ Emerging Critic. She blogs creative non-fiction at aremoteview.wordpress.com
Read Small Talk here
Highly Commended 2018
Xanthi Barker works as a learning mentor in a primary school and is studying child psychotherapy. Her previous jobs include waitress, tutor and hypnotist’s assistant. Her fiction has been published in Mslexia, Litro and Open Pen. She grew up in North London and still lives there.
What being highly commended in the Prize meant to Xanthi:
“Initially, sheer panic. What have I done? What did I write? This is something I wrote in the middle of the night after my dad’s third anniversary when I was living on my mum’s sofa following a break-up. Now people might actually read it. I had to take some deep breaths before fear gave way to amazement and gratitude. I’m completely chuffed the piece was chosen and excited to read the other stories. It’s such a lonely and uncomfortable process writing anything, the support Spread the Word gives writers is invaluable.
Read Paradoxical here
Highly Commended 2019
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.
On being highly commended, Helen 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.”
Read The Joy of Cooking by Helen Longstreth here
Highly Commended 2019
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.
On being highly commended, Alison 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.”
Read Fat Baby by Alison Marr here
Cathy Galvin has roots in Connemara and England. A journalist, she has worked on staff for Newsweek and the Sunday Times, where she founded the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award. She is founder and director of the UK’s leading promoter of short fiction, the Word Factory. Her poetry has appeared in journals and anthologies including New Walk, Visual Verse, the Morning Star, London Magazine and Letter To An Unknown Soldier (Collins). In 2016, she published her second collection of poetry, Rough Translation (Melos Press), was artist in residence at the Heinrich Boll Cottage, Achill Island, and was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship. The Missing Sixth is part of a larger work set in England and Ireland, exploring her mother’s short life. www.cathygalvin.com
Read The Missing Sixth here
Kathy Hoyle is a mature student at the Open University, currently studying for a degree in Creative Writing. She hopes to graduate next year. She loves to write short, poignant stories and this year she has been long-listed for the Sunderland short story award and short-listed for the Bedford international writing competition. Her work has appeared, in audio, on the Brum radio ‘Tall Tales’ programme and published in the Firefly literary magazine. She is currently working on a fantasy novella for Young Adults and a short story collection. She can often be found procrastinating on Twitter @kathyhoyle1 or blogging at kathyhoyleblog.wordpress.com
Read Scab here
Gill Haigh lives in Hackney, East London. For several years she has hosted an informal weekly writers’ group – laughingly called the ‘salon’ – in the living-rooms of various tiny flats around central London (she moves a lot). In 2016 she was short-listed for the Literary Consultancy’s Pen Factor prize for Singing to Seals, which she is now editing in the hope of finding an agent and getting it published. In 2013 she won the Commonword Prize for Diversity in Children’s Literature for her YA novel, Out of Water, which she’d written as an assignment for her MA in Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth. After years of bar-work, beach-photography, waiting tables, cleaning, nannying, shop-work, being a (very inefficient) secretary, scavenging for and selling stuff, cooking, teaching, van-driving, farm-labouring, working in factories etc. etc., Gill retired from wage-slavery and these days she enjoys reading, writing and sleeping.
Read Singing to Seals here
David Murphy is a writer of fiction, plays, screenplays and poetry. He won the Dun Laoghaire 1500 trophy for poetry and the Heritage Arts Company Radio Play competition. His plays have been performed at the Exeter Festival and the London Festival of Visual Theatre. He was a co-editor of Tall Tales and Modern Fables magazine, and Studies in Social and Political Thought. He writes about alienation and redemption, the meeting of different cultures, classes and world views, family, and, often, about ice cream.
Read Screech Owl here
Ruth grew up Welsh-speaking and with rural feralness. In 2016 her life took a tumble and she writes to make sense of it and the resonance she feels with planetary crisis. Currently researching for a PhD and writing a book, she seeks to be unruly; to disturb mainstream mindsets; to liberate her inner outlaw. She delights in many things: the big blowy breaths of her horses; the shapes cranes make on an urban skyline; talking ideas with friends and colleagues. Her current favourite word: precarity. More at thepracticeofthewild.com
Kate Ivanova is a Crimea-born multifaceted artist. She is currently completing her BA in English Literature at Kingston University London. Her writing consists of elements of autobiographical fiction and surrealism. In her academic and creative work, she explores issues surrounding memory, trauma, space and identity.Kate works and collaborates withartists and academics in Luxembourg, Cyprus and the United Kingdom. She is the launcher of an ongoing documentary project called ‘The Creatress Project’ which focuses on female artists and their stories. Kate is about to embark on a writing and photographic journey throughIndia, with the aim of documenting and photographing local, female artists and their working space.
Read Being here
Sulaxana 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 here
Laurane 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 here
Oluwafunmilayo (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 here
Topher Campbell is a filmmaker, theatremaker, writer and actor. He has directed plays at numerous theatres across the UK. At 24 he won the Regional Young Directors Training Scheme Award and is a recipient of the 2005 Jerwood Directors Award. For television he directed Doctors and EastEnders. For BBC Radio Drama he established the Norman Beaton Fellowship. His short films The Homecoming (http://player.bfi.org.uk/film/watch-homecoming-a-short-film-about-ajamu-1995/ ) and Mulatto Song have been shown worldwide. His documentary In This Our Lives The Reunion was Official Selection 2009 BFI London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and at Pembe hayat kuirfest 2016 Istanbul. In 2000 alongside artist-photographer Ajamu he established rukus! Federation (http://rukus.org.uk ) creating the UK’s first and only BLGBT Archive. In 2008 rukus! received the Archive Landmark Award by London Metropolitan Archive. As writer Topher has written articles for Sable, AXM Magazine, QX Magazine, Gay Times, Attitude Magazine and The Guardian. Published work includes: For Colored Boys, Black and Gay in the UK , On Freedom: Powerful Polemics by supporters of Belarus Free Theatre. Between 2006-08 Topher was a Programmer for the BFI London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. Between 2008-2015 Topher was artistic director of The Red Room Theatre and Film Company. Topher is currently a Patron of Switchboard (switchboard.lgbt/patrons-2/) and staring Different for Girls (http://different-for-girls.com/ ). DFG is nominated for a Diversity in media Award 2017 and is available to view on Lesbian Box Office.
Sara Jafari is a writer, and former Flight 1000 Associate with Spread The Word. She writes short stories, and has written one novel. Sara has been published in Syrup Magazine, Tales Magazine, Flight Journal and Spread The Word. She also works as an Editorial Assistant at Harper Collins, and runs her own literary and arts magazine TOKEN Magazine. You can follow her on Twitter: @sarajafari.
Read The Knob Head Question here
I have been writing for seventeen years, about the same length of time as I have been a Professional Driver. Born in London in 1967, I have lived in London for most of my life, mostly in the East End. Since I was little, I have been fascinated with cars and driving, always wanting to grow up to be a Lorry Driver. I grew up in the Eighties, with Thatcherism and high unemployment; by the time I started secondary school I couldn’t see a future in which I had a job at all. But, in over thirty years, I have only been unemployed for four months altogether. Mostly factory work, initially; my redundancy package from the Ford Motor Company giving me the freedom to work for an Agency while working out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
Read Attack of the White Van Woman here
Kashmir Tutt arrived in Birmingham, England aged 2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Integrated studies from the University of Birmingham. She is the second sibling of five and the eldest daughter, which was why she, as a Sikh girl, was ‘never allowed’ to do things her English contemporaries took for granted. Her father was killed in a car accident in 1969 but he left a life-long imprint, and a second- hand stereo, from which her ethics and musical taste grew. She gave up a twenty-five year career in the commercial sector to take up life, which has mostly been spent travelling, teaching, reading or dreaming. She enjoys music, gardening, house design and all things aesthetically pleasing. Kashmir is currently writing a humorous memoir set in the 1960’s and ’70’s (when the greatest music was produced), featuring a bilingual brummy upbringing, and a passion for the rock band Thin Lizzy.
Read Thin Lizzy here
Recently I won the Lightship publishing Novel Award and was 2nd in the Inaugural Spread the Word Writing Award with subsequent publication in ‘Edgeways’ from Flight Press. Some of my fiction has been shortlisted for the Asham Award, the Willesden Herald Competition, Aidan Higgins Award and Elle Magazine. I have had work read at Liars League, and The Word Factory, London.
Read 9 Days – Modes of Distraction here
I started to write for myself again after my first child was born. It was unexpected. I snatched moments to write at the breakfast table or in bed late at night. Since then, my writing has begun to take on a life of its own. It has adventures. One day some poems ran off to the theatre to be read by actors. Another time, a girl made the words into a bharata natyum dance. My writing has travelled to the Czech Republic on a coach (http://www.bata-ville.com/main_2.html), it has put me in a film, and taken me to read to audiences at the Barbican & Tate Britain. Short fiction and poetry have journeyed in brown manila envelopes to the editors of literary reviews and magazines; other pieces have made it into anthologies and collections (http://www.peepaltreepress.com/books/red). Once in a while, my writing has been listed for prizes (Wasafiri New Writing Prize 2013 & Spread the Word Life Writing Prize 2017). I never know what it will do next.
Words still provide an escape, but, they offer so many other things now. Most importantly, they are the start of a conversation. I’m just waiting to see who I’ll get to talk to next …
Read Nomad here
Lui Sit was born in Hong Kong, raised in Australia and now lives in London with her family. She started writing plays and poetry as a child which eventually led to a degree in English Literature and Drama from Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia. The writing bug followed her to London where she completed the Certificate in Creative Writing at Birkbeck University and an MA from Roehampton University. She was longlisted in the Spread the Word Life Writing Award 2018 and included in Penguin’s WriteNow 2018. She is currently completing her first middle grade children’s book and her first memoir.
Read Mince on Toast here
At age fourteen I fell in love with the classical guitar, an almost obsessive love which led me to follow my tutor, his family and a troupe of Amazon Woolly monkeys to Cornwall, where we lived as a human community alongside our primate cousins. At forty I left and went to university where I received a first class degree, an MA and had an essay published entitled ‘Movies in Disguise’. As I went on to develop a new career as a university lecturer, the events of my earlier life, at the Monkey Sanctuary, became buried at the back of my mind and stayed there for many years. Gradually they have resurfaced as a story I just had to tell.
Read Another Life here
Stevie Heaven is a writer from Newcastle. She is a postgraduate student on the MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow and in her other life, she works as a journalist. Once upon a time she co-ran the Desperate for Love poetry night series in Brighton, which featured readings from poets such as Sean Bonney, Jeff Hilson, Geraldine Monk and Tom Raworth.
Read Oh, Mother here
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Farhana Shaikh is a writer and publisher born in Leicester. She edits The Asian Writerand runs the small press, Dahlia Publishing. Farhana hosts Writers Meet Up Leicester as well as the annual Leicester Writes Festival of New Writing. In 2017, she won Travelex & Penguin’s The Next Great Travel Writer competition and is currently part of Curve’s Cultural Leadership programme.
Read Finding My Way Home here
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 here
Originally 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 here
Roisin 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 here
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 here
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 here
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 soon.
Read A Secondary School Education here