Portobello Books is launching a new non-fiction prize for unpublished writers, in association with literary agency C+W and retailer Foyles. Created to “seek out the most exciting new voices in narrative non-fiction and offer début writers the opportunity to publish an untold story that reflects our times”, the winner will earn a book deal, representation by C+W, and publication by Portobello Books.
Publishing director Laura Barber, who will be judging the prize, says that the judges will be looking for writers with “literary flair, a strong feel for narrative, and an original story to tell”. The books on the Portobello list are “engaged with the world in some way”, so the types of submissions that will sit best on the imprint’s list are those that “transport the reader into a new world” while telling a global or local story.
Barber stresses that the championing of non-fiction outside of journalism is especially important in times when “the truth is under attack” and “the papers have far fewer resources available to enable writers to follow a story that isn’t news-led from beginning to end”. She adds: “It’s important that writers are being given an opportunity to dig deep into a subject in all its nuance, and craft it into a book-length narrative. Real stories can be as inspiring, eye-opening, and life-changing as imagined ones.”
Fellow judge C+W literary agent Sophie Lambert adds: “We feel as though there is nowhere near the level of opportunities for writers of non-fiction that there are for novelists and wanted to redress the balance, as well as hoping to discover some extraordinary new stories. Portobello prides itself on first-class non-fiction writing. so for me partnering with it is ideal.”
The world of non-fiction writing can sometimes be seen as a “closed shop”, Barber says, so the prize is encouraging entries from diverse backgrounds: “Often writers feel that they already need to have a foothold in the literary or journalistic world in order to have a shot at getting published, and it can feel like quite a closed shop. With this prize, we’re throwing open the doors and hoping to encourage writers from a broad range of backgrounds and experiences, so that a wider range of voices and stories can be heard.”
Joining Barber and Lambert on the judging panel will be Ben Rawlence, author of City of Thorns (Portobello Books); Sharmaine Lovegrove, publisher at new Little, Brown imprint Dialogue Books; and Marion Rankine, book buyer at Foyles. The prize is open for submissions from unpublished British or British-based writers until 16th October 2017. The winner will be announced in 2018.