Longlist announced for Spread the Word’s Life Writing Prize 2020

@STWevents @spreadthewordwriters #LifeWritingPrize

The longlist for Spread the Word’s annual Life Writing Prize is announced today, Wednesday 22 April. At the same time, Spread the Word announces a number of new initiatives to support writers working in isolation.

Now in its fourth year, the Life Writing Prize, in association with Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre, was established to find and develop the best new life writing from emerging writers. The prize, which is free to enter, is generously funded by Joanna Munro. 

Included on the list selected from almost 900 submissions are 12 exceptional new writers from across the UK, who have yet to publish a full-length work or engage a literary agent. Some of the writers have had their work published in literary magazines and won prizes while others present their work for the first time.

Judges praised the ‘astounding’ quality of the longlist which explores overarching themes of immigration, #MeToo, religion, childhood, death, friendship, family, love, loss, infertility, bereavement, social change and the NHS. The settings are international in scope, from the Yorkshire moors to Paris and the Philippines. This year’s submissions were judged by the writers Kerry Hudson and Nell Stevens, and Sathnam Sanghera, an award-winning columnist and feature writer for The Times.

Spread he Word Judges

The 12 longlisted writers (listed alphabetically by surname) are:

Joanna Brown: Birds can be heard singing through open windows
Stephen Crawley: Down Ashton 
Elena Croitoru: On Sigma Algebras 
Maxine Davies: Dad’s Home
Ruby Eastwood: The Spoon Garden
Lorelei Goulding: Birdi
Sue Hann: Palingenesis
Josh Holton: Death and Birdwatching  
Laurane Marchive: For the Flesh is Sour
Carla Montemayor: North of the River 
S R Shah: Mink Lashes
Nicky Watkinson: This is a story about friendship 

Ruth Harrison, Director of Spread the Word said: “Spread the Word is delighted to announce the exceptional writers on the Life Writing Prize longlist 2020. Now, more than ever, there is value in shared stories, reflecting what brings us together and what distinguishes us. We can’t wait to publish the online booklet and showcase these remarkably talented writers with you in June.

“During this unprecedented time, Spread the Word is committed to continuing our support for new and emerging writers, opening up space for connection and creativity, through offering free online workshops for writers in isolation.” 

Kerry Hudson says: “Well, the Spread the Word Life Writing Prize has done it again! It’s no understatement to say the emerging talent that is on show here is astounding. Beautiful writing, important themes and voices that sing off the page. If there is any doubt that there’s talent out there waiting (and deserving) to be discovered then this vital competition dispenses with it. These stories are full of heart and truth and wisdom and they are a gift to any reader who might be lucky enough to read them.”

Sathnam Sanghera says: “It’s a cliché to say with awards that ‘the standard was very high’ – and my recent experience with literary prizes is that it’s not even always true. But the standard here was genuinely very high … It’s great that this award exists to encourage new writers and I’m sure several of these will become professionals.”

The special booklet featuring the 12 longlisted writers and their work will be published by Spread the Word online and in PDF format, to coincide with the winner announcement.

The winner will be announced on Wednesday 3 June via Spread the Word’s website and social channels. 

The winner of The Life Writing Prize will receive £1500, an Arvon course, a writing mentor, two years’ membership of the Royal Society of Literature and  a development meeting with an agent and editor. Two highly commended writers receive a writing mentor and £500. 

Writing mentors are writers Max Porter, Colin Grant and Kerri Ní Dochartaigh who was highly commended in the inaugural Life Writing Prize in 2017, and this year’s editor mentor is the Canongate Commissioning editor Jo Dingley. 


In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Spread the Word will be offering writers of all levels a number of free-to-participate opportunities to explore life writing, writing for wellbeing and nature writing led by Kerry Hudson, Kerri Ní Dochartaigh and poet and counsellor Jasmine Ann Cooray. These will be available to sign up to in the coming weeks to give writers a sense of connection, creativity and joy in these trying and unprecedented times.

The Life Writing Prize 2020 Longlisted Entries (Listed Alphabetically By Surname) 

  1. Birds can be heard singing through open windows by Joanna Brown
    Joanna Brown is a teacher from Enfield and facilitator of creative writing workshops including the literary education programme Africa Writes: Young Voices, linking poets with London school students. In her own writing practice she is unearthing her personal family histories to honour and celebrate unsung Black lives in Britain. Birds can be heard singing through open windows is a homage to her mother: it tells the story of their relationship before and after her death, exploring how memory connects us to those lost.
  2. Down Ashton by Stephen Crawley
    Stephen Crawley, originally from Ashton-under-Lyne, prides himself on being a working-class writer. Stephen, who lives in London, has previously had a screenplay commissioned by Film Four. In Down Ashton he describes a Saturday shopping trip to Ashton-under-Lyne market with his sister, and how, as a boy, he almost got into a car with the Moors Murderers.
  3. On Sigma Algebras by Elena Croitoru
    Elena Croitoru lives in Kent and has an MSt in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. Her work has been selected for the Best New British & Irish Poets 2019 and she won second place in the Edward Thomas Award, third place in the Open House Poetry Competition and was highly commended in the Wales Poetry Award. She was shortlisted for the Gregory O’Donoghue Prize, Wasafiri New Writing Prize, Bridport Prize & other awards. On Sigma Algebras is about identity and estrangement in the post-communist era, and about how emigrating affects these issues and our relationships with our families.
  4. Dad’s Home by Maxine Davies
    Maxine Davies, from Newcastle upon Tyne, has an MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature from Newcastle University. Her writing has been featured in Visual Verse and Mslexia. She came third in the Autumn 2019 Reflex Fiction competition and in 2017 she was awarded funding from the Young Writers’ Talent Fund to set up her small press, Maybe Later. Dad’s Home is about her mother and father getting back together when she was thirteen, and the difficulties of meeting an absent parent for the first time.
  5. The Spoon Garden by Ruby Eastwood
    Ruby Eastwood is studying English Literature at Oxford University. She grew up in Barcelona and was inspired to write by the work of Leonard Cohen, Virginia Woolf and Donna Tartt. The Spoon Garden is written in fragments. In it she describes her childhood in Barcelona, makes a portrait of an ailing father and meditates on psychogeography and change.
  6. Birdie by Lorelei Goulding
    Lorelei Goulding, originally from Long Island, New York, lives in rural Somerset. She is currently completing an MSc in Public Health at UWE Bristol and is interested in Adverse Childhood Experiences and how they impact on health over the course of a life. She has been keeping journals and writing stories since childhood. Birdie is a story about a young vulnerable girl, whose sister tries to help her navigate a difficult period. It is a story that reflects on how shame is born, but also how it can be countered as Birdie is encouraged to find her voice. Birdie is her first published work.
  7. Palingenesis by Sue Hann
    Sue Hann, who lives in London, is a psychologist and psycho-sexual therapist, interested in the interplay between psychology and creativity. She writes flash fiction and creative non-fiction. Her work has been published in online and print journals such as Popshot quarterly, and included in the National Flash Fiction Day anthology. Palingenesis is about a trip to an exhibition of the art of Lee Krasner. The narrator, who is undergoing fertility treatment, connects with the life and the work of the artist, and the intersections between their lives.
  8. Death and Birdwatching by Josh Holton
    Josh Holton, from Falkirk in Scotland, is an ex-MMA fighter who writes both fiction and non-fiction. He quit his office job to find fulfilment in the study and practice of storytelling. Death and Birdwatching is extract from a novel about writing his father’s eulogy. Drawing on fragmented memories, he learns about nature to examine his relationship with an ornithologist whose controversial past led to his death.
  9. For the Flesh is Sour by Laurane Marchive
    Laurane Marchive lives in London. Her work has appeared in The London Magazine, The Mechanics’ Institute Review, Review 31 and the TLS. Laurane, is a past winner of the French Escales des Lettres. She was recently longlisted for the BBC Short Story Prize and was shortlisted for the Spread the Word Life Writing Prize 2019 and the London Short Story Prize 2020. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck. She also runs a circus. For the Flesh is Sour is a piece about her grandmother’s funeral last year, and how she dealt with the grief. It’s also about her grandparents’ lives, the Gilets Jaunes riots in Paris and her experience of life through the medium of videos.
  10. North of the River by Carla Montemayor
    Carla Montemayor, who lives in London, has worked in communications and politics in the Philippines, Indonesia and the UK. She studied economics and has an MA in Political Communication from the University of Sheffield. She has written satire, poetry, short fiction. She is an avid cook and photographer. North of the River is a series of interwoven stories linking her to her mother’s life. It deals with history, war and migrations spanning the Philippines and the United Kingdom.
  11. Mink Lashes by S R Shah
    S R Shah is a working-class queer Muslim poet and philosopher from South London. They are interested in the dynamics between poetry and death, the abundance of London, and honouring migrant histories. They have had their Instagram philosophy series exhibited at VFDalston for “unfinished” and host a quarterly literary event, “untitled”. By day, they are a makeup artist. Mink Lashes describes the experience of a Muslim wedding, after being separated from their family for years, dipping in and out of past memories and weaving in the current happenings of the wedding as the relationship with the mother is tentatively rebuilt.
  12. This is a story about friendship by Nicky Watkinson
    Nicky Watkinson is a cultural critic. She has a BA in English and an MA in contemporary literature and culture, both from UCL. Her academic research focuses on theories of identity, grief, the fragment, and narrative form. She is particularly interested in interdisciplinarity and tackling questions of form in her work. She writes fiction, creative non-fiction and drama. This is a story about friendship is a hybrid work exploring friendship and narrative form through the lenses of cultural analysis, theory and memoir.