Joanna Merifield wins prestigious Cambridge fiction prize

Actress and screenwriter Joanna Merifield has won the fourth annual Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize with her novel, The Second Garden.

From small beginnings, the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize is rapidly establishing itself as a formidable finder of talent.

Allison Pearson

The increasingly influential prize was this year judged by Madeleine Milburn, one of the top literary agents in the UK, and Lindsey Traub, Emeritus Fellow of Lucy Cavendish College.

Lucy Cavendish College has a particular interest in supporting female writers and hosts the competition for unpublished female authors over the age of 21. The prize is awarded to a remarkable, unpublished writer who, in the view of the judges, successfully combines literary merit with ‘unputdownability’ in their entry.

The judges were universal in their acclaim for the novel, a miniature portrait of a family in extreme pain seen through the eyes of the teenage daughter, Stella, who has become an emotional lightening rod for her parents’ loss of another child.

The competition has a strong track record in discovering new talent.

Last year’s winner, Catherine Lloyd, has had her novel The Well published by Canongate, while three of 2013’s shortlisted writers, Karen Ross, Kathryn Simmonds, and Alex Hourston, have been signed by publishers.

Karen Ross’s novel, Mother of the Year, has been published with Ebury Press. Kathryn Simmonds’ novel, Love and Fallout, has been published by Seren Publishing, while Alex Hourston has been signed by Faber.

Two entrants from the competition’s first year, 2011, have also made it to print.

Vicki Jarrett’s 2011 entry Nothing is Heavy was published by Linen Press in 2012, while Sophia Tobin’s 2011 entry, The Silversmith's Wife, has published as part of a two-book deal with Simon and Schuster.

Previous judge, bestselling novelist, newspaper columnist and commentator, Allison Pearson says: "From small beginnings, the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize is rapidly establishing itself as a formidable finder of talent.

“Leading London agents are now queuing up to sign writers from the Lucy Cavendish shortlist.

“As a champion of women's writing, I am delighted to see a prize which gives an opportunity to unpublished authors to blossom so spectacularly."

After a career as an actress, and then a full-time mother, the last few years for Joanna have been focused on writing poetry, screenplays and, primarily, fiction.

The Lucy Cavendish Fiction prize is the first novel writing competition she has submitted to.

Alongside Joanna, the shortlist included Lilian Butterwick with A Silent World, Annette Gordon with When I was Loved, Anni Domingo with Breaking the Maafa Chain and Gail Honeyman with Eleanor Oliphant.

  • Lucy Cavendish is the only women's college in the country exclusively for students aged 21 or over. Its undergraduates and postgraduates come from over sixty countries, and a wide variety of educational and professional backgrounds. Many have changed careers or overcome significant challenges in order to reach University. The College is particularly strong in Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, Law, Psychology, the Social Sciences and English.

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