Emma van Straaten has won the inaugural Women’s Prize Trust Discoveries writing prize with a "gleaming gem of a novel" inspired by her time as a cleaner.
Launched this year in collaboration with NatWest and Curtis Brown, the initiative aims to find untapped female writing talent from across the UK and Ireland. Selected from over 2,300 entries, van Straaten took the title for her psychological debut, Heartstring, about a cleaner who becomes obsessed with her client’s life. The book has been signed by Lucy Morris at Curtis Brown.
Van Straaten is currently an employee of the V&A Museum and took inspiration from her time working as a cleaner within her own London block of flats to write her book. She will receive a £5,000 cheque and a desk to write at at her local NatWest Accelerator Hub.
She said: "I am absolutely delighted and overwhelmed to have been awarded the first prize for Discoveries 2021. Writing is a solitary business, so it’s been enormously exciting to feel a part of something larger: thousands of women writing the first part of their novels together. As a writer, I’m keen to explore the road ahead as I return to my manuscript under the expert guidance of Curtis Brown – I am thrilled to have accepted Lucy Morris' offer of representation. As a reader, I’m excited by all the new female talent longlisted and shortlisted for this prize, and look forward to seeing where Discoveries takes them.”
The judging panel was chaired by Kate Mosse, bestselling novelist and founder of the Women’s Prize, author Abi Daré, director for Nottingham Unesco City of Literature Sandeep Mahal, Lucy Morris, and Curtis Brown Creative writing school m.d. Anna Davis.
Mosse said: “We are absolutely delighted by the winner that we have chosen for our 2021 Discoveries writing programme. We were looking for potential, imagination and a distinctive voice and have found all of these things in Emma van Straaten. Her brilliantly written submission, Heartstring, is suspenseful, disquieting, brave, and eloquent. To be able to offer Emma representation with the Curtis Brown literary agency is very exciting and I look forward to hearing more about her next steps. Finally, a huge thank you to my fellow judges – Abi Daré, Anna Davis, Sandeep Mahal and Lucy Morris – and once again congratulations to all the authors, especially our runner-up Lucy Keefe."
Keefe, a young writer who started out by writing fan-fiction about Taylor Swift, has won a place on the agency's flagship Write Your Novel course worth £1,800 with her "original and energetic" urban fantasy story Pantheon.
She said: “I am beyond excited to have been selected as runner up for Discoveries. I feel honoured to have been considered and vindicated to know that all the hours I have spent writing have been worth it. Now to celebrate as I celebrate all big events (birthdays, Christmas, graduation) – with a large doner and chips.”
In a joint statement, Morris and m.d. of Curtis Brown Creative Anna Davis, said: “Emma van Straaten is an exciting new writer and a worthy winner of our first Discoveries prize: Heartstring is a gleaming gem of a novel – compelling, beautifully rendered and wonderfully ominous. We can’t wait to read more. Pantheon, by our runner-up Lucy Keefe, is a highly original and witty fantasy detective story, with great series potential. We loved reading the openings of these two terrific novels – and indeed all of the wonderful material from our shortlisted and longlisted writers. We’d also like to take the opportunity to thank and congratulate every writer who sent us their work this year – it’s not easy to write a novel, and you have embraced that challenge wholeheartedly.”
The 16 authors longlisted for Discoveries will be offered personalised mentorship packages from a Curtis Brown agent or industry expert, free or discounted places on Curtis Brown Creative’s writing courses and access to NatWest’s Business Builder, a digital tool designed to offer financial support.
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