Jilly Cooper, debut author Laura Steven and screenwriter Kirsty Eyre have been honoured at the inaugural Comedy Women in Print Prize at a ceremony tonight (Wednesday 10th July) with the award-winning books featuring slut-shaming and dairy farming.
Cooper took the CWIP Lifetime Achievement Award at the Conduit Club in central London “in recognition of her legacy and inspiration to comic women writers everywhere,” organisers said. The award was presented by Theo Paphitis, c.e.o. of Rymans, one of the award's sponsors.
“We wanted to respect Jilly Cooper as a game changer at a time where visibility for witty women writers was still an issue," award founder Helen Lederer said. "Her mix of shrewdly placed social satire and criticism made us all connect and want more of her. She’s not only a household name - she’s also a witty journalist, author and influencer.”
L-R Theo Paphitis, Jilly Cooper and Helen Lederer
Newcastle-based writer and journalist Steven won the Published Author category for her YA debut with The Exact Opposite of Okay (Egmont), which was called “daring, edgy and topical” by the prize. The book was described by judges as “a fresh, feminist and very funny novel which tackles the issues faced by young girls today” and “a shockingly relevant take on an 18-year-old dealing with unwanted online fame and slut-shaming is a bold, brave and necessary read”. She fought off competition from Gail Honeyman for Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and Gill Sims’ Why Mummy Swears (both published by HarperCollins), Asia Mackay for Killing It (Zaffre) and Singaporean novelist Balli Kaur Jaswal’s nomination for Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows (HarperCollins).
Steven, who works at a non-profit supporting women in the creative arts, was presented with a prize of £2,000 pledged by sponsor, The King of Soho Gin with four runners up each receiving £250.
Novelist Marian Keyes, chair of the category panel, said: “There were two top contenders for this prize. In the end the final choice was made based on the potential of extremely young and witty writer Laura Steven to go forward and continue to make her mark while pushing boundaries for funny women’s fiction.”
Keyes praised the novel at the ceremony, saying how Steven "took a well-known concept right to the edge".
Eyre, a stage and screenwriter triumphed in the unpublished category for queer rom-com Cow Girl, “an original and modern take on a romantic storyline set in the unlikely world of dairy farming”. She was awarded a publishing contract and £5000 advance from HarperFiction. The unpublished runner-up Abigail Mann for The Lonely Fajita received a free place on the Creative Writing MA course at the University of Hertfordshire, which was presented by Professor Anne Murphy, dean of the School of Humanities at the university.
L-R Alex Robson, Laura Steven and Howard Raymond
Author and journalist Jenny Éclair, chair of the unpublished prize judges, said: “There was huge affection from all the judges for Kirsty Eyre’s witty novel set in the world of dairy farming. The narrative voice was as strong as it was instant. This is an inspired and stylish read which was both smart and edgy. We cared about the clever protagonist, the supporting characters and the cows in equal measure.” At the prizw event at the Conduit in Soho, the comedian said: "The future of female comedy fiction is in safe hands."
The CWIP Prize was launched last August by Lederer, an actress, author and stand-up, in response to the lack of exposure for female comedy writing, and to celebrate fresh and established talent. The formation of the prize after the 2018 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize was withheld after judges said no entry made them "laugh out loud".
Lederer said: “I’ve lived and breathed CWIP for so many years that the enormity of crowning the winner sat quite heavily. But every judge was committed to finding a winner that reflected what we are here for – to celebrate witty women’s fiction - both unpublished and published. When it came to the wire (and the competition was as varied as it was strong) it was felt the author who was most poised to break through and continue to deliver quality humour should get it.
“Originality, wit and relatability were also nailed. The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven has a unique voice that is as assured as it is witty – and while it is set in a young person’s world - the judges easily connected to the narrative and humour. In the unpublished category the judges were unanimously impressed with Cow Girl by Kirsty Eyre. The intelligence of the characters was both refreshing and compelling while the wit of the narrative connected the reader throughout.”
She added: “Visibility in women’s wit on the page has changed even since I had the idea for CWIP five years ago.”
L-R Laura Steven and Kirsty Eyre
The judging panel for the published category included Keyes, comedian, actress, and author Katy Brand; stand-up comic Shazia Mirza; author Kathy Lette along with journalist and author Allison Pearson.
The unpublished panel featured Éclair as chair and included fellow writer, broadcaster and comic, Susan Calman, Dr Jennifer Young, head of writing and journalism at Falmouth University, as well as critic and author Fanny Blake, book blogger Lara Marshall, Hillingdon librarian Karen McPherson and Martha Ashby, editorial director at HarperFiction.
Ashby said at the ceremony on Wednesday evening (10th July): “HarperCollins is at the forefront of publishing brilliant women. However like Oliver Twist I always want more. This was an opportunity to be on the ground discovering exciting new voices.”