#Merky Books has crowned Jyoti Patel the winner of its New Writers’ Prize 2021, a competition aiming to discover unpublished, underrepresented writers aged 16 to 30 from the UK and Ireland.
Patel is 28 and her winning submission, called Six of One, is a coming-of-age story exploring what it means to be a person of colour in Britain today, covering themes of identity, personal myths and the stories that we tell ourselves to manage trauma. The novel is told from the perspectives of 18-year-old Nik and his British Indian mother Avani, flitting between the past and present as Nik searches for answers surrounding the circumstances of his father’s death.
More than 2,000 submissions were received for the award, almost double the number of entries submitted the previous year, and Patel will receive a publishing contract with #Merky Books at Penguin Random House UK.
Patel, who was announced as the winner on Twitter, said: “I’m delighted to be joining the #Merky Books family and am so grateful for the opportunity to have my novel published. Penguin has been my dream publisher since I was a child so it’s very exciting to know that my debut will be in such great hands. I’m very much looking forward to working with Lemara and the #Merky Books team and can’t wait to get started. Thank you so much to everyone involved in organising the New Writers’ Prize, including the guest judges, and all those in the industry who are fostering space for stories like mine. It means the world.”
The panel of judges included #Merky Books founder Stormzy, author and founder of Make Motherhood Diverse Candice Brathwaite, author and broadcaster Emma Dabiri, comedian and actor Guz Khan and British Olympian heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson.
Johnson-Thompson said: “From the first paragraph, the quality of Jyoti’s writing put me at ease, I could relax into the story knowing I was going to enjoy it. The subject of grief, identity and navigating two cultures is something I’m really interested in. It equally explored new subjects I would be interested in finding out more on like Indian heritage and racialisation.”
Launched in 2019, the previous winners of the prize are Hafsa Zayyan, author of the recently released We Are All Birds of Uganda, and poet Monika Radojevic, whose upcoming collection Teeth in the Back of the Neck publishes in May 2021.
In April, #Merky Books is also launching its New Writers’ Prize Alumni in partnership with the Royal Society of Literature, which will provide all previous, current and future longlisted writers of the prize with ongoing mentorship, advice and a space to connect with each other.
Emma Wallace, senior brand manager for #Merky Books, said: “Not only did we receive nearly double the submissions than the previous year, but we also received a higher number of works of fiction. It really felt like many of the young writers were sending us fictional stories that were based around themes of hope, fantasy and escapism during a time that was extremely difficult for so many. Jyoti’s writing in particular was extraordinary and, just like with our previous winners Hafsa Zayyan and Monika Radojevic, we’re all really excited to be publishing One Of Six under the #Merky Books imprint. I’m also overjoyed to be able to stay in touch and continue to work with the bold and innovative writers who made it through to our longlist via our newly launched New Writers’ Prize Alumni, in partnership with the Royal Society of Literature.”