"Absolutely Fabulous" actress and stand-up comedian Helen Lederer is launching a new literary award in a bid to give female comic writing "the exposure and praise it deserves".
The Comedy Women in Print Award (CWIP) will officially launch at an event during Edinburgh Fringe on 24th August, calling for submissions in two categories – Comedy Fiction by Unpublished Writers and Comedy Fiction by a Published Writer.
Lederer, who rose to fame in the 80s as one of the first female stand-ups at the Comedy Store in London, and is known for her role as Catriona in TV series "Absolutely Fabulous", as well as being a novelist in her own right, said she was driven to found the prize after being disheartened about the lack of credit women get for comedic writing.
"Comedy writing is a powerful tool, yet comedy writing by women is under-acknowledged," she said. "This prize will celebrate and support female comedy writers and also bring forward the next generation of female talent. It will also shine a light on, and empower, the women who have established a comedy writing career."
Speaking to The Bookseller, the author of Losing It (Pan Macmillan), said: “After being a Costa judge and judging the Women’s Prize For Fiction, I thought it was a shame that no prize recognised wit and particularly the wit of women.
“I started performing comedy in the 1980s and back then it was an incredibly tough environment and hard to find much encouragement. So for me it is important to come full circle and encourage others in wit and comedy. That is a landscape that just didn’t exist when I began. I want to do something positive that will make a difference and I think women’s comedy writing is currently overlooked.”
The prize for an unpublished manuscript will be a place on the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Hertfordshire, along with £1,000 in cash, while the published winner will take home £2,000 in prize money.
Pegasus Life is sponsoring the award, with The Telegraph newspaper on board as a media partner. Bestselling novelist Marian Keyes will help to judge the entries.
Keyes has also expressed strong views about the women's humorous writing not gaining the recognition it deserves. Following the cancellation of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize earlier this year after judges said no entry made them "laugh out loud", the Irish novelist accused the organisers of being sexist, with only three women winners in 18 years.
Speaking at Hay Festival, she said: "The one thing I have a grudge about is the Wodehouse Prize for comic writing. I have never been shortlisted. Say what you like about me, my books are funny, they are comic. What else do I have to do to qualify?" Asked why most of the prize's winners have been men, Keyes replied: "Because they're men. Because male voices are automatically given extra weight. I mean, anything that's ever been said or done by a woman just matters less."
Speaking today, Keyes said: "There are countless hilarious, talented female writers currently producing great work. If existing prizes won't honour funny women writers fairly, it's time to set up a new prize."
Other judges joining Keyes on the panel are novelist Allison Pearson and Dr Jennifer Young, English and Creative Writing Lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire.
Entrants to the unpublished category are asked to submit a one-page synopsis and the first 5,000 words of their comedy novel, which, when completed has to be at least 50,000 words in length. Entrants can be of any nationality but must be over 18-years-old, with the application fee set at £10. For more information on the entry criteria see here. Lederer is currently seeking a publishing partner for the award, to ensure the winning entry is published.
Those entering for the published novel prize can also be of any nationality, but must be over the age of 18 and have written a novel of at least 50,000. For more information see here.
The award will officially launch at an event during Edinburgh Fringe on 24th August at Cabaret Bar, Pleasance Courtyard at noon, which will showcase a diverse range of witty women writers.
The prize will open for entries on 24th August the closing date is 31st January 2019, with the shortlist revealed on 30th May and the winner unveiled at an event in June 2019. For more information about the prize, visit the prize website.
Female comic writers have consistently topped the bestseller lists, with Keyes selling 6.7 million print books for £41.4m through Nielsen BookScan, Sue Townsend selling 2.35 million copies for £14.92m since BookScan records began and Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl shifting 133,575 copies in paperback and 39,093 in hardback, with the follow up How to be Famous already peddling 13,079 copies in hardback after a month on sale.