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We're excited to reveal this year's Discoveries Prize, shortlist comprised of six novels-in-progress from unpublished women writers currently residing in the UK and Ireland.
In 2023 nearly 3,000 women submitted the openings of their unpublished novels-in-progress to Discoveries – up from 2,500 in 2022 – and six authors at the start of their writing journey have been selected for this year’s shortlist. The distinctive voices include a Manchester-based puppeteer; an actor from West Yorkshire inspired by the writing of her 100-year-old Caribbean grandfather; and a writer-in-residence at a palliative care hospital in Scotland.
These six writers were shortlisted by a judging panel chaired by Kate Mosse, bestselling novelist, playwright and Founder-Director of the Women’s Prize for Fiction; Lucy Morris, Curtis Brown literary agent; Anna Davis, Founder and Managing Director of Curtis Brown Creative writing school; and esteemed novelists, Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Chibundu Onuzo.
- Kate Mosse, Chair of the Discoveries Judging Panel, said: 'Our judging meeting was passionate, fun, full of delight and awe at the range and quality of the submissions, and it was hard to choose just six authors. There is a fabulous range of genres – from speculative fiction to romance – novels set in the past, the recent present and the imagined future, the promise of stories of love, loss, climate, history. We cannot wait to read each of the novels and feel certain that these are all writers to watch.'
- Anna Davis, Curtis Brown Creative, and Lucy Morris, Curtis Brown, said: 'This year’s Discoveries shortlist showcases some truly dazzling writing and utterly enthralling narratives. We are excited to see where all these novels will go – and also want to celebrate the full longlist of sixteen enormously talented women, and the almost-3,000 writers who entered this year. It’s a privilege to discover so many wonderful stories.'
Without further ado, we’re excited to introduce the six talented writers shortlisted 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.
- How does it feel to be shortlisted for Discoveries 2023? Being shortlisted for Discoveries 2023 has blown my mind. I had to go on a very long walk in the rain to fully comprehend the news! And then sit with my cat for a few hours. I’m still in shock, but I’m also absolutely honoured and thrilled to be listed amongst the other writers. It really has given me such a spark of joy, feeling that this story could potentially have a life beyond my laptop.
- What initially inspired your novel-in-progress? My house mate owns an incredible collection of tropical and carnivorous plants, and I became obsessed with researching their evolutionary histories. I began to wonder what might happen if a plant species was given the opportunity to continue their evolutionary trajectory at a heightened rate. What wonderous things would they grow to do? How would humans react? In what uncanny and strange ways would we fear, love, humanise, villainise or abuse them?
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.
- How does it feel to be shortlisted for Discoveries 2023? Incredible. I entered the competition with no expectations whatsoever, so to be on the shortlist feels truly amazing. I’m so grateful to everyone involved with Discoveries for this wonderful opportunity.
- What initially inspired your novel-in-progress? My novel is a love story to Northern Ireland. Despite its recent history and wet weather, I think it’s one of the warmest, friendliest, down-to-earth places there is, and I wanted to write about that.
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.
- How does it feel to be shortlisted for Discoveries 2023? This is SO OVERWHELMING in a good way. I feel like my dreams have become attainable and I’m super motivated to pursue them thanks to all the positivity I’ve received since being longlisted!
- What initially inspired your novel-in-progress? So I grew up reading white man sci-fi, it's what was in my house and it's all I knew. I went into Uni thinking I wanted to write the same sci-fi and fantasy that I had spent my whole life loving but thankfully our teachers really emphasised using your own story to find your voice. I never imagined I would be writing contemporary stories about black girls causing chaos, but I don't think I’d be having as much fun writing about anybody else. I will have them riding dragons and rocketships eventually though, don’t you worry.
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.
- How does it feel to be shortlisted for Discoveries 2023? I can’t believe it. To be in the final six of this competition is unreal. I honestly was so close to not applying, thinking the writing wasn’t good enough. So, to be shortlisted is proof that you should always go for it.
- What initially inspired your novel-in-progress? I heard about the Maroons and particularly about Jamaica’s national hero Nan as a child. As I got older my interest to learn more about Maroon society and the Maroon wars with the English grew, as did my interest in folklore surrounding Jamaica and West Africa. The more I read about the history and mythology, the more scenes started popping into my head, and it was one of these random moments of inspiration that started my novel.
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.
- How does it feel to be shortlisted for Discoveries 2023? 'Making the shortlist is just more joy, more disbelief, and more immense gratitude; things I thought had reached their peak when I was longlisted! I’m unbelievably grateful to the teams behind Discoveries for the opportunities they’ve provided with this programme. It’s been so galvanising, and I’m fizzing with excitement for what’s to come.'
- What initially inspired your novel-in-progress? My novel follows a woman who witnesses a terrible crime unfold over a video call with her therapist. I’m sorry to bring it up, but the idea sprang from the pandemic. We all found ourselves confronted with the state of our mental health, and on Zoom calls with virtual strangers, with only a tiny, grainy window into their worlds for context. It got me thinking about our changing capacity for trust in times of desperation.
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.
- How does it feel to be shortlisted for Discoveries 2023? I’m overcome with emotion about the whole thing and have been oscillating between moments of pure joy and disbelief. I’m profoundly pleased to have my writing recognised in this way and am trying to enjoy the moment and soak it all in! I’m so looking forward to the next few months and all the opportunities and experiences to come. A million thank yous to the judging panel and the reading team.
- What initially inspired your novel-in-progress? I’d never felt compelled to write about my experiences working in palliative care before, but the seed of this story was planted after a conversation with a colleague about how uplifting it would be if our day unit was the setting for a romance. I thought about it for a long time – the intersection between romantic love, middle-age, and terminal illness – before I finally started writing. Then it just poured out of me.
Congratulations to these brilliant writers! 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.
The winner and scholar will be announced on Thurs 1 June.
Read about the 16 writer longlisted for Discoveries 2023 here.