“It starts with someone believing in you”: New Writing North celebrates 25th Northern Writers’ Awards with call to support young people

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New Writing North is celebrating its 25th Northern Writers’ Awards this year with a call to support its creative work with local young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Northern Writers’ Awards aim to create new, career-making opportunities – historically concentrated in London and the south-east – for writers in the North of England. The awards centre on discovering talent and supporting new work-in-progress. They offer opportunities for writers at all stages of their careers – including forging connections with publishers and agents, mentoring, manuscript assessment, writing placements, retreats, and cash awards to buy time away from work and other commitments to write.

Through the awards, supported by Northumbria University, Arts Council England, and a range of partners including Channel 4 and Hachette Children’s Group, New Writing North has supported over 400 talented, often unpublished, Northern writers. From its base in Newcastle, the charity has provided them with thousands of pounds worth of support and life-changing chances.

The result can be transformative. Last year, more than a dozen books by previous Award winners were published, such as Black Fell by Mari Hannah (Orion), A Dark Inheritance by HF Askwith (Penguin) and Cuddy by Benjamin Myers (Bloomsbury), as well as The Ink Cloud Reader by Kit Fan (Carcanet) and All My Wild Mothers by Victoria Bennett (Hachette UK).

Jay Patel was working as a secondary school teacher when she won a Channel 4 Writing for Television Award (part of the Northern Writers’ Awards) in 2016. She went on to be heavily involved in co-writing a trio of BAFTA-nominated episodes for Hollyoaks. The same episodes earned Hollyoaks the title of Best Soap at the 2020 Broadcast Awards. She currently works on Waterloo Road and has written for Eastenders, Casualty and Holby City.

Jay said: “No exaggeration to say that the Northern Writers’ Award changed everything for me. It gave me the second chance of life that I didn’t know I needed.”

Clockwise from top left: Robert Hall, Matthew Hale Award winner, 2023; Jay Patel; Channel 4 Writing for Television Award winner, 2022; Benjamin Myers; Kit Fan, Northern Writers’ Award for Fiction winner, 2018.

Former music journalist Benjamin Myers began writing fiction in the early 2010s. In 2013, he won a Northern Writers’ Award for his novel, Beastings. The book went on to win the Portico Prize for Literature and was longlisted for the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize.

Ben’s success reached new heights in 2017 with the publication of his historical novel, The Gallows Pole. The book was widely acclaimed and, in 2018, won the Walter Scott Prize – the world’s leading award for historical fiction. It was later adapted into a three-part BBC TV series by filmmaker Shane Meadows (This Is England). Reflecting on his Award, Ben said: “Winning a Northern Writers’ Award was the first crucial step in my writing career”.

In a new campaign, launched today, New Writing North is reminding everyone who enjoys good writing – writers, readers, film and TV fans, radio show and podcast listeners, and more – that, while winning a prestigious literary prize can change a writer’s life, it doesn’t start with an award. It starts with someone believing in you and nurturing your potential.

Image shows row of schoolchildren, as part of a bigger audience, against a silver background, clapping. Child second from right is looking straight into the camera.Over the last five years, from its base in Newcastle, New Writing North has worked with more than 10,000 children from disadvantaged and culturally diverse backgrounds across North East England. Many of them have additional needs or speak English as an additional language. In some areas, 2 in 5 young people live in poverty and the rate of children on Free School Meals is more than double the national average.

New Writing North’s young writers’ programmes introduce young people to creative writing – including song writing, poetry, rap, scriptwriting, and podcasting. Creative writing projects and activities are led by expert writers and facilitators – at no cost to the young people or their families.

Parents and carers, teachers, and children themselves have all pointed to increased confidence, talent and creativity, self-esteem, and school attendance, as a result. A survey of participating young people showed that nearly 90% felt happier after taking part in New Writing North’s young writers’ programmes.

“For many students who might struggle in classes, it is where they understand they can have a voice.” – Teacher, secondary school, Newcastle.

“If I could say the one thing New Writing North do, it is raise self-esteem.” – Deputy Head, primary school, Gateshead

“I finally felt like I could write anything I like. I feel free.” – Pupil, primary school, Gateshead.

New Writing North CEO, Claire Malcolm, said: “At New Writing North, we make it our mission to find, support, and champion the next generation of great Northern writing talent. We’re delighted to celebrate, along with our partners, our 25th Northern Writers’ Awards this year. Through them, we’ve supported hundreds of amazing writers and rebalanced the writing industry, which has been so weighted towards London for so long.

“We know that talent is everywhere, but opportunities are not. That’s why our work with local children and young people in disadvantaged communities is so critical. To ensure our young people have the tools they need to express emotions, to feel empowered, and to shape their own future in our society. To know that they matter. That people believe in them.

“We hope that people, anyone who enjoys reading, TV and films, podcasts and audiobooks, wherever they’re based, will consider helping us to cover the costs of providing these programmes and activities – and provide new opportunities and life-changing chances.”

Richard Kelly, Associate Professor in English and Creative Writing and programme leader, MA Publishing at Northumbria University, said: “The huge success of the Northern Writers Awards speaks for itself. It has made a vital platform for the recognition of writing talent that was otherwise denied a proper outlet; and the evidence of how many outstanding writers have come forward through the Awards is richly abundant.

“Northumbria University is proud and delighted to support this invaluable work: we celebrate with New Writing North 25 years of the Awards and look forward to seeing many more northern writers of promise get the exposure and readers they deserve.”

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