When I came up with the idea for the Comedy Women in Print Prize (CWIP) five years ago, I was mad at the world. There was no parity. The spirit of women was not fairly represented, let alone celebrated.
The few writers at the top – like Sue Townsend and Helen Fielding – were wonderful, but then there was a huge gap: between the books on the shelf and the prizes available for women to win. If an author was laughing at in the 90s, the cover of the book was often pink and the genre had been given its own label of “Chick Lit”. School leavers might be able to name Caitlin Moran and, in a hurry, Muriel Spark, but often struggle to come up with more current and funny female author names.
Novelist Marian Keyes shared my dismay: “Internalized sexism makes readers believe that women cannot write comedy.
Your guide to what to watch next – no spoilers, I promise
I decided, as a stand-up comedian since the 1980s, that I might as well be the one sorting out. In recent years, female-directed television comedies, including Chip bag, Chewing gum, Feel good, Game face, This way up and Out of his mind were part of a large and long-awaited wave of enthusiasm for female comedy on television. Publishing has the opportunity to catch up and extend this enthusiasm to the page.
Writers and writers have long been treated differently. The industry is torn by prejudice – both insidious and documented. Sixties editors would take Tom Sharpe and Malcolm Bradbury to lunch and pay much less attention to the talents of Barbara Pym and Katharine Whitehorn. And the Emilia Report on the Gender Gap for Authors in 2019 investigated how male and female writers in the same markets were received.
In broadsheet newspapers, new books by men received 12 percent more critical coverage than those by women. And comparable books published at the same time by Neil Gaiman and Joanne Harris, and Matt Haig and Rowan Coleman, have proven that men have wide coverage when they launch, while women have much less.
I wanted to create a contest that defends the spirit, highlights the absurd, encompasses a wide range of diverse comedic talent, and inspires funnier writers. Once Marian Keyes agreed to chair the jury (she is now a patron), people in the literary world took more attention.
Katy Brand, Kathy Lette and Shazia Mirza all served on our panel of judges for the first year. Joanna Scanlan and Lolly Adefope, among others, came on board for the second. Gloria Hunniford, Maureen Lipman, Steph McGovern, Nina Stibbe (last year’s winner) and Susan Wokoma are just some of the influential women who are ready to support the jury this year. With a cash prize of £ 3,000 for the winning published author and a publishing offer of £ 5,000 from HarperCollins for the unpublished winner, CWIP was launched.
The CWIP is designed to create opportunity. The University of Hertfordshire offers a place in its Masters course in Creative Writing to the unpublished finalist; Falmouth University is offering a place for a second finalist in its online Masters in Comic Writing.
There has been a 50% increase in admissions in 2021 compared to 2020, which is proof that the demand is there, and we are responding to it. Witty storytelling has the power to heal and has banished loneliness during lockdown.
For the price of a book, a reader can be instantly connected, lifted, and feel less isolated. As this year’s jury chair, Joanne Harris says, “Humor is what connects and reflects all of humanity.
The long list of the Comedy Women in Print Prize 2021 for the published comic novel
(Bonnier, £ 8.99)
The shelf follows Amy, who is surrounded by happy couples, minauding proposals and tearful wedding vows on Instagram. When her boyfriend suggests a surprise vacation, she’s sure her time has finally come – but instead of a diamond by the pool, Amy wakes up abruptly when she is dumped live on the set of a show. reality TV.
(Penguin, £ 14.99)
In Dolly Alderton’s first novel, 32-year-old food writer Nina Dean rides to online stardom and navigates the rough seas of digital encounters, aging parents – a bingo board of millennial grievances. Smart and sharp, Ghosts was shortlisted for the first book of the year at the British Book Awards and the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Award in 2021.
(Bloomsbury, £ 8.99)
Tina Das is at a crossroads in her New York life – so when her cousin invites her (and her whole family) to a weeklong wedding at Delhi’s fanciest country club, she jumps on the ‘opportunity. But with her parents in the throes of midlife crises and her friend Marianne plunged into romantic drama, the titular marriage is not as relaxing as Tina had hoped.
(Hodder & Stoughton, £ 14.99)
April is a total catch who can’t take a break when it comes to dating. She invents Gretel, a “girl next door, manic and everyday maniac without a problem,” to spice up her digital romances. But when Gretel meets Joshua and begins to fall in love with him, April has to think quickly: online it’s OK, but no room for a human heart.
(Small, Brown, £ 12.99)
Violet is 28, stuck and eager to get moving – so when the brilliant Lottie asks her to join her new business, providing her with an enviable lifestyle on a set, the answer seems obvious. Having achieved everything she dreams of, the ever-growing tangle prompts Violet to consider what she really wants.
(Orion, £ 8.99)
After moving to Hong Kong from Dublin, Ava is in a sort of reverse sabbatical year. Teaching grammar to wealthy children, she meets Julian (more than happy to support her financially, but there is no free lunch) and Edith, who provides a much needed listening ear. Power, privilege and growth are under the microscope in this excellent debut album.
V for victory
(Doubleday / Transworld, £ 8.99)
At the height of WWII in London, Vee Sedge tries to keep his teenage load Noel on a level playing field. When Vee witnesses an accident, she is drawn to a precipice that threatens to reveal both her and Noel for who they really are. Warm, witty and wise in handling personal issues in a global crisis.
The best things
(Title, £ 12)
Sally and Frank have it all – a nice house full of kids, financial stability – until they don’t have any more. When Frank’s business is taken away from him, the family has no choice but to adjust to a new lifestyle. They discover that “best” doesn’t always mean “the most expensive” – and Sally finds a motivation she didn’t know she had.
(Oneworld, £ 8.99)
It tells an epic family-wide story. In rural Ireland, 2008, the Black brothers are in shock after an economic crash that leaves them with nothing. As they are forced to face an almost impossible decision, this mischievous, dark, comedic, and distinctive novel chronicles a national crisis in close-up.
Domestic happiness and other disasters
(Bluemoose, £ 9.99)
Exhausted English teacher Sally is relaxing on a much-needed career break, only to see her son Dan (and his inane friends) come down to her house after finishing school. The comedy meets real-life relevance in its eerie nine-month “diary” in a strangely relatable family home.
The disaster tourist
(Snake tail, £ 8.99)
Yun Ko-eun’s eco-thriller follows Yona, who works for a travel agency specializing in disaster areas. After a coworker inappropriately touches her, he tries to keep Yona gentle by taking her to one of her most desirable destinations – but not everything is as it seems.
Ask a friend
(HarperCollins, £ 8.99)
Comedian Andi Osho’s novel follows three friends who make a pact to go from online dating to actual dating, with one crucial caveat: They can only approach potential suitors on behalf of each other. No woman is left behind.
Dial A for aunts
(Harper Collins, £ 12.99)
Meet Meddy Chan – his intrusive aunts gave him a blind date, his suitor is dead, and it’s sort of his fault. As for Meddy, the aunts who got her into this mess will have to get her out of there. Mixing rom com and mysterious murder, the plot is anything but predictable.
Murder by bottle of milk
(Raven Pounds, £ 8.99)
The latest in Lynne Truss’s Constable Twitten series set in 1950s Brighton. After three murders committed with the same baffling weapon – a bottle of milk – the race is on to find the culprit. Meanwhile, the local newspaper can’t believe its luck.
Summaries by Emily Watkins
The Comedy Women in Print Prize 2021 long list for the unreleased comic novel
• The World is Your Lobster by Jane Ayers
• The Lady Detective by Hannah Dolby
• Jen Fraser’s lake house
• Fools Rush In by Jo Lyons
• Six Months to Find a Husband by Jo McGrath
• What would Joan Jett do? by Alyssa Osiecki
• The poisoning of purgatory by Rebecca Rogers
• The NCT Murders by Katherine Sumner-Ailes
• Life lessons by Hannah Sutherland
• It’s 27 by Gemma Tizzard
• Labor law by Clare Ward-Smith
• The Death and Life of Agnes Grace by Emma Williams
I is the media partner of CWIP. For more information visit comedywomeninprint.co.uk; the preselection will be announced on September 22; winners will be announced on November 8