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Award-winning comedian Helen Lederer brings us the brilliant Comedy Women in Print prize, which is a brand new, very special award for 2019. Helen has kindly agreed to answer some of our questions just as the shortlist is going to print. Once a week, from now until the winners are announced, we will be featuring one of the shortlisted books by published writers, as they are completely fabulous and so deserve an extra special shout out. Helen has been rather amazing, from recognising that the award was a necessity, right through to bringing it to sparkling life, and we at LoveReading would like to offer her a huge round of applause. Bravo!
The Comedy Women in Print (CWIP) prize is such a fabulous idea, I’m actually surprised it isn't already in existence. How long has the thought been floating around in your mind, and why did you feel it was so necessary?
Well as soon as I’d finished writing my comedy novel ‘Losing It’ I looked around rather hopefully for a suitable prize to win and since there wasn’t one - I set up my own. In fact, I was very thrilled to be nominated for the PG Wodehouse Comedy Literary prize that year, but I decided to set up a witty women authors prize as well. CWIP I hope, is a good addition to the landscape of literacy prizes - only funnier, hopefully.
You have an outstanding judging panel joining you in your first year, what were the reactions when you first broached the prize with them?
I was so chuffed at the support. As soon as Marian Keyes said yes - I knew it would all be okay. There is a definite feeling among experienced witty women authors that a light needs shining on this highly coveted genre. The fact that Allison Pearson, Kathy Lette, Katy Brand, Jenny Eclair, Shazia Mirza, Susan Calman all said yes - to name a few comedy practiser judges – meant the world to me.
Can you tell us about the submissions, judging, long and shortlist processes.
For the first year I was lucky to be supported by the University of Hertfordshire who both offered a Masters Degree as a prize to the runner up of the unpublished prize, but also offered administrative support - phew! The longlist of 12 published books were then read and judged by the stellar panel of judges.
What have the individual judges brought to the award, have there been any interesting discussions on humour and what makes a book funny?
Well, as we all know - one person’s joke is another person’s groan, and this divide in instinctive reaction to ‘mirth on the page’ raised its head more than once in the judging panels. As I was not a judge (I couldn’t be) I tried to steer the conversation to what we had in common while respecting our naturally differing instincts. The winner will reflect that and I know we have all learned from each other in the process. Strong opinions are welcome. You can’t avoid that with humour.
I love that fact that you have a prize for both published and unpublished writers, why was this important to you and what have been the main differences or similarities between the two groups in terms of judging?
It was really important to encourage a new unsung generation of witty authors - both by awarding the Masters Degree but also - rather amazingly - by Harper Fiction offering to publish the unpublished winner. The judges still needed to find laughter, wit, a good narrative and hopefully originality in both published and unpublished genres. We needed the same criteria for both – but the fact we had a librarian on the unpublished panel as well as a book reviewer, reflected their experience in sensing what is more viable - while the experienced comedy judges knew what they loved in a different way.
You have a wonderful variety of books on your long list, in your opinion what makes a witty woman?
A witty woman is authentic, brave and blessed with naturally good timing. Being an outsider helps - but then, aren’t we all!
As a published author, what was the biggest surprise waiting for you in the publishing world?
I hadn’t realised you have to keep writing - doing CWIP has taken a lot of my time away from writing and I can’t wait to get clear-headed enough to resume!
You are obviously passionate about the idea of recognising witty women, what was the first ever book you read (from childhood on) to really make you laugh, and what specifically snared your attention?
I loved Noel Streatfeild’s ‘Ballet Shoes’ – I found the dialogue to be witty and bossy and the narrative perfect for connecting with a child’s mind. Of course ‘My Naughty Little Sister’ by Dorothy Edwards set the bar very high. I LOVED that naughty person.
Do you have one go-to funny book that you’re happy to return to again and again? What is it about that book that makes you laugh?
I always cite David Nicolls ‘Starter for Ten' even though it is by a chap! The humour is consistent and hilarious, the perfect cheering tongue in cheek coming-of-age book.
Have you already thought about your second year, and what you would like for the CWIP prize going forward?
YES I HAVE! There will be some very exciting news – so watch this space!
Killing It: Asia Mackay
The Exact Opposite of Okay: Laura Steven
Dear Mrs Bird: AJ Pearce
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: Gail Honeyman
Why Mummy Swears: Gill Simms
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows: Balli Kaur Jaswal
Faking Friends: Jane Fallon
Hot Mess: Lucy Vine
Miss Blaine’s Perfect & Golden Samovar: Olga Wojtas
One In A Million: Lindsey Kelk
The Wedding Date: Zara Stoneley
Forging On: Catherine Robinson
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman
Why Mummy Swears - Gill Simms
The Exact Opposite of Okay - Laura Steven
Killing It - Asia Mackay
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows - Balli Kaur Jaswal
Keep Up To Date with Helen
We also have one set of the CWIP 2019 published shortlist to giveaway! Head to our competition page to find out more.