Alice Jolly has been awarded 2016 PEN Ackerley Prize, the UK’s only literary prize dedicated to memoir and autobiography, for crowdfunded book Dead Babies and Seaside Towns (Unbound).
Jolly accepted the cheque for £3,000 yesterday evening (12th July) at a prizegiving event in London, during which she thanked publishers and subscribers who "stuck by this book all the way and believed in it when other people didn't" and paid tribute to bereaved parents who "tirelessly campaign" to be heard.
The book chronicles the author and her husband's quest for a baby after their second child was stillborn, described by Unbound as "a compelling memoir of stillbirth, surrogacy and seaside towns".
Jolly is an award-winning fiction writer who teaches on the Creative Writing MA course at Oxford University and has published two novels with Simon & Schuster. She is also an acclaimed playwright.
She told The Bookseller in interview last year: "My book is saying: let’s talk about what surrogacy really means and how it actually works, instead of relying on a few garbled newspaper headlines". She also donated her share of the proceeds for the book to SANDS, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity.
Collecting her award, she said: "It isn't just my book, [it's the book for all those people] who had the nerve to come forward with their money to say 'yes we believe in this book' ... People ask: 'is crowdfunding a serious way to fund a book'? Well, clearly, it is a serious way to publish a book so I'm very pleased about that.
"Over the years I have had so many conversations with bereaved parents and I feel that this book belongs to all the people who, so tirelessly campaign on that issue and who, sadly, really really aren't heard."
Two other books were shortlisted for the prize, judged by the trustees of the J R Ackerley Trust, biographer and historian Peter Parker (chair), historian and biographer Richard Davenport-Hines, author Georgina Hammick, and writer and painter Colin Spencer. They were: Pour Me: A Life (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) by AA Gill and Kid Gloves: A Voyage Round My Father (Particular Books) by Adam Mars-Jones.
Parker, chair of the judges, said: "Although this year’s shortlist was indeed short – only three books – it was also very strong. These three books stood out, not only because they are exceptionally well written but because they tell compelling stories that hold the reader’s attention throughout. It was very difficult to decide between three such fine but very different books."
Previous winners have included Alan Bennett, Jenny Diski, Michael Frayn, Germaine Greer and Henry Marsh.