Curtis Brown Creative and Curtis Brown proudly partner with the Women’s Prize Trust and Audible to run Discoveries, a unique writing development prize and programme for aspiring female novelists, now in its third year.
We're delighted to share this year's Discoveries Prize longlist, comprised of 16 novels-in-progress from unpublished women writers currently residing in the UK and Ireland. This year 3,000 women submitted the openings of their novels to Discoveries (up from 2,500 in 2022). We are excited to see that the number of entries keeps growing each year. We were blown away by the breadth of genres and quality of work submitted and would like to thank all the amazing writers who shared their work with us.
The longlisted titles have been selected by the Chair of judges Kate Mosse, international bestselling novelist and Founder Director of the Women’s Prize, and her judging panel: esteemed writers Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Chibundu Onuzo, Curtis Brown literary agent Lucy Morris, and Anna Davis, Founder and MD of Curtis Brown Creative.
Without further ado, we’re delighted to introduce the 16 talented writers longlisted for the 2023 Discoveries Prize.
Louisa Ashton, Build Her With Green
Louisa is a Manchester based writer and puppeteer, but she secretly wants to live in Malta where her mother's side of the family heralds from.
Coming to higher education later in life, she read English Literature at The Open University whilst working as a writer for theatre. She particularly enjoys working with theatre companies to develop and devise innovative work that uses puppetry in interesting ways. Occasionally, she's lucky enough to tour the globe as a puppeteer and so she's accustomed to writing scripts and short stories in mouldy B&Bs and in the back of touring vans (depending on the state of the suspension).
She is now working on her first novel after gaining a Creative Writing MA at the University of Manchester.
- ‘I'm insanely overwhelmed and surprised to be longlisted for Discoveries 2023. My novel, Build Her With Green, has quite simply made its home under my skin and continuously slithers around, asking me what happens next. Even though it’s daunting to send off a work-in-progress piece to be judged in this way, it's a relief to know that this strange story has the potential to speak to other readers.’
Fiona Campbell, The Wife of Riley
Born and bred in Northern Ireland, Fiona grew up in a big family where it was so hard to get a word in or a story finished that she started writing hers down. Her earliest memory is attending a peace rally in her pushchair. The long-lasting impact of The Troubles together with the Ulster tradition of using humour to cope with the darkest of times are the inspirations for her first book. Fiona studied at Trinity College, Dublin and has worked internationally. She is married with a young son and her other interests include baked goods, particularly the scone.
- ‘I’m thrilled! Given the volume of entries and quality of writing in the Discoveries Prize I never imagined that I would make the longlist. I feel extremely grateful to the judges and the Discoveries team for this opportunity. Writing a book without knowing if anyone will ever read it, never mind enjoy it, is a daunting task and it’s easy to get discouraged. Being selected is a huge boost and motivates me to keep mainlining the coffee and typing away.’
Hannah Carrier, Upswell
Hannah Carrier was born in the West Midlands in the nineties, and grew up on fresh air, a box of battered Enid Blytons and an assortment of magical tales, before discovering a love for literary fiction during her time in London. A Philosophy graduate, she now lives in the leafy Southeast and uses writing to combine her curiosity for the varied human experience with her love for prose, alongside her Social Media Marketing career. Her current work-in-progress, Upswell, explores the female experience, female communities, and small-town paranoia.
- ‘It feels wonderful to be longlisted for Discoveries 2023. There is something truly special about being recognised for your writing when it’s not what you “do” for a living but a dream; for me it is the first time my work has been seen by so many people so to have made it this far is incredibly motivating. It makes you feel like you really might have something to offer and something people want to read.’
India-Rose Channon, We Call Them Witches
India is a writer and librarian from West Yorkshire. She studied English Literature and Creative Writing at The University of Manchester, took a year out to discover that the real world wasn’t as fun, and went back to study an MA in Creative Writing. Now, she voluntarily runs a writing group co-founded with her partner and teaches a children’s writing group at her local library.
Brought up on a healthy diet of folklore and strange local customs, India’s surreal short stories and poetry have appeared in several publications, including The Reach, Dear Damsels, and Wishbone Words. Despite an early hatred of horror films, provoked by a childhood sleepover gone wrong, India’s writing focuses on the everyday horror that surrounds us. The idea for this story came from a night spent at her grandmother’s house during a family crisis, and is heavily influenced by the intergenerational line of women in her family.
When she’s not writing, she’s most likely crocheting misshapen creatures for her long-suffering partner. She loves nothing more than a good hot chocolate and a scary film.
- ‘I was waiting for my bus when I saw the email and, as cliche as it sounds, it was like a dream come true. I had such a good feeling about this novel and it was lovely to have that feeling confirmed. I’m truly so excited to be able to tell my old tutors and my writing friends.’
Georgina Charles, Colour Me In
Georgina Charles is a designer and grandchild of the Windrush generation. Her first novel is about the love and chaos that comes with a multi-racial, multi-generational, West Indian family. She lives in London with her dog, rabbit and 63 houseplants. She is hoping to open her home to more of each.
Georgina has a BA in Creative Writing from Roehampton University and was shortlisted for the #Merky Books New Writer's Prize in 2020. She is currently a Design Assistant at the inclusive children's publisher, Knights Of. It is her dream job.
- ‘After seeing how many people applied last year, to be one of sixteen is a little shocking. Other people feel the same way about this story as I do? Mad.’
Riana Duce, Without a Trace
Riana is a born-and-bred Yorkshire woman; she grew up in Leeds and Bradford, and still resides in West Yorkshire. Riana has worked as an actor since graduating from the University of York with a degree in Writing, Directing and Performance. Her love for performing grew from her immense love of books, when as a child she would spend hours acting out the stories she read in her bedroom. She always hoped to write her own stories one day, and that finally happened when the idea for her first novel struck in early 2022.
Riana hopes to explore the vast range of mixed-race experiences with her work. She is of British and Caribbean heritage, and her paternal grandparents hail from St. Kitts and Nevis, where her grandfather still lives. At 100 years old, he still writes daily – a fact Riana frequently recalls to dig herself out of any drafting slumps.
- ‘Honestly, it was possibly the biggest surprise to ever land in my email inbox. I regularly find myself on the rollercoaster of self-belief/doubt with my first novel, and so this has been the most incredible reassurance that I might be doing something right, and the perfect incentive to just keep going. I couldn’t be more grateful.’
Joy Fraser, The Susu Keeper
Joy was born in Grenada and grew up in London. She taught French and comparative literature at Lambeth College in Brixton and English in Martinique where she spent several years as a student, teacher and performing artist.There, she developed her interest in the revival of African-Martinican culture, folklore and creole language.
Among the tales she wrote for her children was her short story A Little Enchantment, a contemporary fable that draws on Caribbean folktales and storytelling.Enchantment explores the rich fauna and flora of that region and the way they inform beliefs and practices of healing and well-being.
Joy’s long habit of reading nurtured her ability to write The Susu Keeper, stories inspired by the Caribbean community that she grew up among in North West London. She wants the book to continue to bear witness to the vitality, wit, humour and resilience of the individuals that peopled that community, long after all traces of it have disappeared.
The first draft took four years to write, in and amongst the vagaries of life and bringing up her eight-year-old granddaughter.
- ‘I am thrilled and honoured that The Susu Keeper has been longlisted for Discoveries 2023. The news was so unexpected and it’s wonderful to know that my writing has been taken seriously by the judges. Being longlisted has given me a great sense of achievement and the knowledge of it has been like carrying around my own little sun inside me these last few days.’
Rebecca Gibson, The Archive of Secrets
Rebecca Gibson is a fantasy writer who grew up straddling the Devon and Cornwall border. Her fascination with the darker side of humanity led her to study for a BSc in Psychology at Aberystwyth University and later an MA in Creative Writing. She has been longlisted for the Mslexia Novel Competition as well as a finalist for the Wicked Young Writers’ Award for her children’s work. The Archive of Secrets, a dark academia inspired exploration of depression and identity, is her first foray into adult fiction. She currently lives in Edinburgh where she is surrounded by history and ghost stories.
- ‘Incredible! I write fantasy so I always assume I won’t be chosen in competitions like this—I almost didn’t even enter. It seems public attitudes towards fantasy are shifting though and I’m especially excited to see so many female fantasy authors gaining success at the moment. The timing of this longlist couldn’t have been better too. I found out the day after a job rejection, and at the tail end of a really rough year.’
Paige Cowan-Hall, Marooned
Paige Cowan-Hall is a London based writer and the child of second-generation Jamaican immigrants. She wrote her first book at sixteen by hand, spending the summer scribbling in her room. She went on to study English Literature at Exeter University, but her love for history, folklore and mythology started before then. When her older brother would tell her stories of the Ancient Greeks. However, as a black woman she began to notice a void. As if mythology and fantasy did not exist for people that looked like her. Since then she has immersed herself in West African and Caribbean history and lore, a major theme in the novel she is currently writing.
She is the winner of 2021’s Desperate Literature award for her short story ‘Ohenemaa’ and an awardee of the Spread the Word programme.
- ‘Amazing. It feels like confirmation that I may be on to something, and the voice in my head telling me to give writing a chance wasn’t wrong. That I can do this.’
Melissa Alvaro Mutolo, The Dark Duke
Melissa is a British-Mozambican writer from the East Midlands. Her novel follows the rise and reign of Alessandro de Medici, the first Duke of Florence. She studied MA Text and Performance at RADA/Birkbeck and in 2021 her first short story was published in the anthology The Art of Being Dangerous: Exploring Women and Danger through Creative Expression. She is a recent alumna of the HarperCollins Author Academy.
- ‘Amazing! Writing my first novel has been a solitary and uncertain process, so it’s encouraging to know that I’m heading in the right direction. I’m very grateful.’
Madeleine Norton, All Our Little Deaths
Madeleine lives in South Wales with her partner, their toddler and a staggering pile of laundry. She began writing aged five, when she would type up accounts of her days out with her parents and siblings on the family computer. Her work having met with little critical acclaim at that stage, she focused on languages at school. She later graduated from Cardiff University with a degree in French and Spanish and now works as a freelance translator.
The desire to tell stories never left her, however, and Madeleine has recently taken several creative writing courses. All Our Little Deaths tells the stories of two women navigating sexuality, love and loss. It is about women who love women, in every form, and finding the heart and humour in grief and closeted love.
- ‘Exhilarating. I’ve hardly stopped smiling since I received the email. It’s been hard to keep the news to myself as I’ve wanted to shout it from the rooftops. It feels like a wonderful validation of all the time I’ve spent writing and even the time I spend daydreaming about my characters and their stories.’
Rosy Ralph, Alice House
Rosy grew up in the West Midlands and has a degree in English Literature from Durham University. She has worked as a teacher, a civil servant and a heritage volunteer on the site of Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon.
While working as part of the government pandemic response, Rosy contracted a severe case of Covid which led to a diagnosis of ME/CFS. She was mostly bed-bound and unable to walk unassisted for over two years. During this time, she gradually wrote this novel. Rosy is now fortunate enough to be in recovery and is returning to work, writing murder mysteries such as Alice House in her spare time.
- ‘It feels like I am a character in someone else’s novel, and whilst I would really like this to be real, it can’t possibly be! There are so many wonderful writers out there competing for space; I feel so fortunate to have been given the chance to learn and grow with some of the best in the business.’
Farhana Shaikh, No Place for a Young Woman
Farhana Shaikh is a writer and publisher born in Leicester. She read Publishing with English at Loughborough University and later established Dahlia Books, a small independent press from the corner of her kitchen. Farhana won the Penguin/Travelex Next Great Travel Writer prize following a trip to a Turkish delight factory. She was longlisted for the 2018 Spread the Word Life Writing Prize for her memoir about growing up in 1980s Leicester. Her short 20-min play Risk exploring domestic abuse was produced as part of Kali Theatre’s discovery programme. Farhana currently teaches marketing at De Montfort University and runs the Middle Way Mentoring project. She can be found on Twitter talking about books and writing @farhanashaikh.
- ‘I’m hugely excited and nervous about being longlisted for the Discoveries prize. I had to double check the email twice – just to be sure and have been walking around in a bit of a daze since. It’s terrifying to think that the story I’ve imagined and been working on for some time now has taken on a life of its own.’
Catherine Spooner, Ink
Catherine Spooner recently returned to creative writing after a gap of many years. In 2021-22, she took a career break to complete an MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow and in 2022, was the recipient of the Northern Writers' Arvon Award from New Writing North. In her other life, she is Professor of Literature and Culture at Lancaster University, where she specialises in Gothic in literature, fashion and other media. She is the author of three academic monographs: Fashioning Gothic Bodies (2004), Contemporary Gothic (2006) and Post-millennial Gothic (2017). She has also co-edited four books of academic essays. Unsurprisingly, her creative work has a strong Gothic flavour and is often inspired by the landscape, history and folklore of Yorkshire, where she grew up, and Lancashire, where she now lives.
- ‘I am absolutely thrilled to be longlisted! Being chosen from so many entrants by a panel of writers that I admire is the most incredible validation that I’m on the right path!’
Kate Taylor, Dead Man's Bell
Kate Taylor is a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing and an MRes in Creative Writing, both from Northumbria University. Her short fiction has been featured in anthologies and magazines but lockdown gave her the opportunity to embrace a longer project. Her first novel, Dead Man’s Bell is a gaslamp fantasy about a fugitive necromancer, set in Victorian London.
Kate is drawn to speculative fiction and her favourite subgenres are gothic horror, historical fantasy and folk horror. You can find her writing on her blog.
- ‘In a word: euphoric. Dead Man’s Bell is very close to my heart: writing it gave me a purpose while I was furloughed during the 2020 lockdowns; it’s been with me as I’ve made and deepened friendships with other writers through various writing groups; and as my first serious attempt at a full length novel it’s pushed me to develop in both skill and stamina! I’m so thrilled that the Discoveries team saw promise in it.’
Emily Utter, The Night Room
Emily is a Canadian writer who lives in Aberdeen. Her short stories and creative non-fiction have been widely published in magazines and journals, including Gutter, Northwest Review, and Geist. Last year, her writing was collected by Guernica Editions in the best of Canadian flash fiction anthology, This Will Only Take a Minute.
Emily has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Aberdeen and is the Writer-in-Residence at Aberdeen’s specialist palliative care hospital, Roxburghe House. It is this work that has inspired her novel-in-progress, The Night Room.
Emily facilitates writing with service-users in recovery for the charity Alcohol and Drugs Action as a commissioned practitioner for the North East Culture Collective. She is also a sessional lecturer in Creative Writing at Aberdeen College.
When she’s not writing she’s usually off exploring the hills, highlands, and islands with her husband and their English Setter, Winnie.
- ‘I’m somewhat stunned – I keep going back to check that I read the email correctly! I’m sort of relieved to know I’m on the right track – that the judging panel felt as strongly about this story as I do. I have been given a real motivational boost: this feels like a new jumping off point for me, and I’m grateful to be doing it with the panel’s encouragement and in the company of the other longlisted writers.
Congratulations to these fantastic writers! All 16 longlisted authors have been invited to attend a bespoke online Discoveries Writing Development course running over two weeks this summer, designed and hosted by Curtis Brown Creative with expert tuition from author Charlotte Mendelson and a pitching session with agents from Curtis Brown. The longlisted writers have also been awarded a one-year Audible subscription.
The Discoveries Prize shortlist of six writers will be announced on Thurs 11 May. The winner announcement will follow on Thurs 1 June.
All six shortlisted writers will be offered a mentoring session with a Curtis Brown agent plus free enrolment on a Curtis Brown Creative six-week online course (worth £220).
One promising writer from the shortlist of six will be named the Discoveries Scholar, this writer will win a free scholarship place to attend a three-month Writing Your Novel course with Curtis Brown Creative (worth £1,800).
The winner will be offered representation by Curtis Brown Literary Agency and a cash prize of £5,000.