Nina Stibbe, Ruth Jones and Posy Simmonds are among the winners of 2020's Comedy Women in Print Prize (CWIP), shining a light on witty writing by women in the UK and Ireland.
The winners were announced on Monday evening (14th September), at an online ceremony hosted from the garden of CWIP founder, comedian and actress Helen Lederer, while celebrity special guests included 2019 CWIP Lifetime Achievement Award winner Jilly Cooper, Mary Berry, Maureen Lipman, Emma Kennedy and chair of judges Marian Keyes.
Stibbe took home the £3,000 Published Comic Novel Prize for the "genuinely hilarious" Reasons to Be Cheerful (Penguin), the final book in her semi-autobiographical trilogy and already the winner of the 2019 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction. The category's runner-up, receiving a £1,000 cash prize, was Candice Carty-Williams, recognised for her "vivid" debut novel Queenie (Trapeze), about the life and loves of a young black woman in London.
Keyes, chair of the Published Comic Novel judges, said: "I fell in love with Nina Stibbe when I read her memoir, Love Nina, several years ago. When I heard in 2016 that she was writing her first novel, I moved heaven and earth to track down a proof. She has an instinctive comedic touch. She has that extraordinary gift, which is far harder than it looks, of assembling words according to some magical formula, to make a sentence funny. She is a master of bathos, and of juxtaposing two unlikely sentiments in a way to make you howl with laughter."
BAFTA-winning screenwriter, actress and novelist Ruth Jones was named "Witty Woman of the Year" after Us Three was published earlier this month with Bantam Press.
Meanwhile the judges decided to jointly award the inaugural £1,000 prize for Humorous Graphic Novels, in association with LDComics, to Simmonds, for Cassandra Darke (Jonathan Cape), and Danny Noble, for Was it… Too Much For You? (self-published).
Janet Ellis, chair of the Humorous Graphic Novel judges, said: "The judges chose two first prize-winners because it became obvious that – far from being a source of argument – both of these books had the full approval and downright love of all the judges. To place one above the other would be against the spirit of this provocative, punchy and supremely supportive prize."
The Unpublished Comic Novel award went to Tinker, Tailor, Schoolmum, Spy by Faye Brann, a comic spy thriller in which a middle-aged housewife is recalled to her secret life. As part of the prize, Brann will be offered a publishing contract and a £5,000 advance from HarperFiction. The runners-up were The Bird in the River by Zahra Barri, about the adventures of a singleton who turns to a robot boyfriend, and screenwriter Janey Preger's romantic adventures of an aristocratic editor, her dear friend and the night-club-dancer she hires in The Lady's Companion.
The CWIP Recognition Award was presented to Mavis Cheek, the critically acclaimed author of 16 comic novels, who also runs and teaches on various writers’ courses.
The winners beat stiff competition from fellow shortlisted writers including Michelle Gallen, Angela Makholwa, Beth O'Leary, Abbi Waxman, and Jeanette Winterson CBE.
Now in its second year, the Comedy Women in Print Prize was launched by Lederer in 2019 in response to the lack of exposure for female comedy writing and to celebrate fresh and established talent.
Lederer commented: "I believe in CWIP more than ever, and the success stories in only two years speaks volumes. Unpublished writers have since got agents and book deals, while the published authors have entirely bought into the CWIP ethos. The joy of including graphic novels has been huge. Posy Simmonds and Danny Noble are the perfect contrast. Simmonds’ Cassandra Darke is excellent in detail and wryness, while Noble’s Was it… Too Much For You excelled in being bold and rudely out there. Nina Stibbe’s Reasons to be Cheerful caused very loud shouts of praise in the Zoom meeting, while the love for Candice Carty-Williams’ Queenie was so huge a new prize (with cash) was created on the spot for her. The published winner, Faye Brann’s Tinker, Tailor, Schoolmum, Spy, elicited unanimous praise, and the two runners up scored highly as well. Zahra Barri’s Bird in the River is written by a stand-up comedian with hilarious content, while Janey Preger’s The Lady’s Companion embraced a witty view from the mature perspective.’
A belated in-person celebration for the winners will take place at the Groucho Club on 25th January 2021.