The Winner of the inaugural
Life Writing Prize is…


The winner of the inaugrual Life Writing Prize is Jon Paul Roberts for his memoir-in-essay ‘1955 – 2012’. 

Claire Lynch was highly commended for her piece The Year Dot, as was Kerri ní Dochartaigh for Mudlarking.

There are three writers on the shortlist: Kathy Hoyle for ScabGillian Haigh for Singing to Seals and Cathy Galvin for The Missing Sixth.

The six longlisted writers are: Topher Cambell for BATTYMAN: Growing up Black and Gay in the UK, Deirdre Shanahan for 9 Days – Modes of DistractionKaveri Woodward for NomadKashmir Tutt for Thin LizzyLizanne Davies for Attack of the White Van Woman and Sara Jafari for The Knob Head Question.

Read full biographies of all twelves writers here:

A selection of the Life Writing Prize winners are available to read and download in the Life Writing Prize showcase: WRITING PRIZE SHOWCASE

Congratulations to all the winners!

Out of 700 pieces of life writing entered for this year’s inaugural Life Writing Prize, ‘1955-2012’ by Jon Paul Roberts has been chosen as the winning entry, winning him £1,500, an Arvon course, two years’ membership of the Royal Society of Literature and a meeting with an agent. Judges Blake Morrison, Dr Katy Massey and Margaret Stead selected the winning piece from an astounding field of entries from emerging writers across the UK.

Blake Morrison said: “The sheer volume of entries for a prize that’s in its inaugural year shows how popular a genre life writing has become. For writers who want to tell their own stories, or the stories of people close or important to them for some reason, fiction can seem a cop out – what’s needed is the charge of authenticity, the scars and the bruising of the real. The twelve pieces on the longlist are wide-ranging, evoking experiences that are diverse in terms of age, gender, nationality and ethnicity, as well as varying widely in style, structure and content. Some are funny, some sad, some traumatic, and all have much to commend them.”

Margaret Stead added:It was wonderful to know that there were so many entrants. As is always the case, it is very hard to whittle down a strong longlist to one winner and indeed to select the top six. We liked the range and breadth of topics the longlist covered, although there were inevitably recurrent themes. Those which merely explored the ‘ordinary’ were to us no less powerful than those which addressed the larger issues of painful childhood memories, lives cut short, death. We enjoyed those which experimented with a secondary ‘intellectual’ idea alongside the life-writing. What judging this prize demonstrates is that the genre is being explored in new and interesting ways.”

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. 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 .

He described the feeling of having won the Prize: “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.”

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.

She described how it feels being highly commended: “It is difficult to explain how grateful I am to Spread the Word for this opportunity. I am delighted and a little overwhelmed to have got this far in the competition. I’ve been an avid reader of life writing for as long as I can remember but this is the first time I’ve ever attempted to write it myself. It’s both encouraging and humbling to think that this extract might be the start of something more. I really can’t wait to meet my mentor and get going!”

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.

She says: “I am over the silvery moon to have been highly commended in this fantastic competition. I have such deep respect for the word that Spread the Word does for new writers and feel so grateful that ‘Mudlarking’ made its way into their supportive, encouraging hands. It feels like I’ve made the first few steps on a brand new pathway with my work; one that before now had been hidden entirely from my view.”

Jon Paul Roberts becomes the winner of Spread the Word’s inaugural Life Writing Prize in association with Goldsmiths University, with support from Arvon and Royal Society of Literature. In its first year, the Prize received 700 entries from writers across the UK.  The competition was founded to provide a new accolade and support for emerging life writers. The judges were Blake Morrison, Dr Katy Massey and Margaret Stead.  The Prize awards a total of £2,500 prize money, and a package of writer development support for the top three writers. The competition recognises  self-contained or beginning extracts of longer life writing works that are previously unpublished by emerging writers with up to six professional (paid) publication credits, in an anonymised judging process. The judges discover the identity of the winners after making their final decision. The Prize was free to enter.

You can find out more about the Life Writing Prize writers on the Life Writing Prize page, including a fantastic selection of the top twelve entries to read at your leisure.

You can download the full press release here.

The Life Writing Prize 2018 will open for entries in Autumn 2017.

Published 18 May 2017