The Staunch Book Prize has returned for a second year with a new judging panel of Baroness Lola Young, academic Dr Dominic Willmott and US editor Elaine Richard.
Founder and screenwriter Bridget Lawless will chair the judging panel for the £1,000 award, which is open to traditionally published, self-published and unpublished thrillers in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered. This year's competition will open on Thursday (21st February).
When it launched in January 2018, the prize attracted criticism with some – including high profile critics such as Val McDermid, arguing it was damaging to the crime writing genre and community. CrimeFest rescinded its offer of a complimentary pass and panel appearance for the winner in the face of the backlash. However many publishers and writers supported and engaged with the prize and the shortlist included titles from Penguin Random House and HarperCollins among others.
This year, the prize features an additional feature of offering feedback for unpublished writers for an extra £65, on top of the £23 application fee after Lawless told The Bookseller there had been demand for this service last year. "We were asked last year by entrants for feedback about the quality of writing and often my fingers were itching to respond," she said. The three-to-five page report examining the strength of the opening chapters and synopsis will come from Lawless or co-jude Richard, with more details available on the website. All the entry money will go to the running costs of the prize, which this year is worth £1,000, down from £2,000 last year.
There are also 10 free spots for low income writers and the prize team is also looking for funding or a sponsor to support its work and help it grow to encompass a future screen prize with the same criteria.
“After a hugely successful first year Staunch Book Prize reopens for entries from 21st February to 14th July 2019,” the announcement from the Staunch Prize reads. “The Prize’s main aim is to celebrate great writing while providing a platform for thrillers offering an alternative narrative to violence against women."
One of the new judges, Dominic Wilmott, is the author of research around perceptions or rape in the justice system, namely the definition of rape myths as “attitudes and beliefs that, while inaccurate, are often used to justify or discount sexual aggression, including rape, and are endorsed by a wide cross-section of people”. Wilmott, a psychologist and research fellow at the University of Huddersfield, has looked at how preconceptions that jurors hold about rape can affect the outcomes of trials, studying this issue for his PHh, through a series of mock trials and survey work. He is based at Huddersfield's None-in-Three Research Centre for Gender-Based Violence.
He said: "Staunch is a fantastic concept and a great example of another innovate way of drawing attention to the normalisation of violence against women in popular culture. By challenging these norms and acceptance of violence against women in popular fiction, Staunch will hopefully make people think critically about the real life harm that underlies sensationalised ‘fictional’ stories.”
Lawless said: “Repeated depictions of rapists as masked strangers and psychopaths in books and on screen help obscure the fact that 90% of rapists are known to their victims. I was shocked to learn how these fictional stereotypes can become so internalised that they can threaten justice for women in real life.”
Joining Lawless and Wilmott on the judging panel is crossbench peer Baroness Young, who is committed to the arts, culture and social justice, and Richard, a New York-based literary editor who has previously worked for Little, Brown in the US and Gourmet magazine.
Young said: “I love a good thriller, but I'm tired of reading stories that depend on the physical and/ or emotional abuse of women. I know that there are great novels like this, that also provide thrills and surprises, and I also know that many of us do not want to read books where ramped-up sexual violence is central to the story. So bring me novels with strong characters, intricate plotting and narrative subtlety that provide excitement and a compelling story."
The 2018 Staunch Book prize, which was worth £2,000, went to On The Java Ridge (Text Publishing) by Australian author Jock Serong, last November, with a shortlist featuring entries from HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, ECW Press, Myriad Editions and one unpublished novel.
Serong said: “The Staunch Book Prize tapped into a debate in crime fiction that's bigger than just authors and their readership.”
The shortlist will be revealed on 1st November and the winner announced on 25th November.
For more information, or to donate, visit staunchbookprize.com.