SI Leeds Literary Prize: Runners Up Interviews

17th Oct 2012


Last Friday we brought you an interview with the winner of the SI Leeds Literary Prize 2012 Minoli Salgdo, who won the award with her fiction A Little Dust on the Eyes, a story of two cousins living in Sri Lanka.

Included in the award alongside the first place prize of £2000 and a commissioned trophy by artist Seiko Kinoshita, were a second place prize of £750, and third place was awarded with £250.

The winners of these prizes were Karen Onojaife who came second place with her work Borrowed Light; the competition was so great that the third place prize was a jointly awarded to Emily Midorikawa with A Tiny Speck of Black and Then Nothing, and Jane Steele with Storybank: The Milkfarm Years.

FBS: What made you decide to submit to the SI Leeds Literary Prize, and could you tell us a little about the piece you submitted?

Karen: I had heard from a couple of friends about the Prize and as I’d just finished a redraft of my manuscript Borrowed Light, I thought that I might as well submit it and just see what happened.  I then promptly put it out of my mind, so getting the notification that I’d made it to the long list was an unexpected but much appreciated nudge to persevere with this my writing.

Emily: As a woman of mixed ethnic origin (Japanese and English) I was pleased to find a prize that seemed to be pitched directly at someone like me. The novel I submitted explores the subject of mixed race identity and so, right from the outset, the prize seemed to have a particular relevance. A Tiny Speck of Black and then Nothing is set in the Japanese city of Ōsaka. It tells the story of the intense friendship between a young English teacher and a nightclub hostess, and what happens when one of them disappears.

Jane: The entry criteria and city of origin of the prize were both perfect for me: fundamentally, I knew that my story would be welcomed and heard. My piece is set in a future world where most of the current norms are turned on their heads. For example, the North is wealthier than the south and is the seat of power in England.  Pleasure is lionised socially, warmongering is taboo. It’s not sci-fi, though.

FBS: Why do you think it is so important to have publishers, literary awards, etc that focus solely on women, and specifically on Black and Asian women?

Karen: Good writing is good writing, which is why I think it’s unfortunate that there  can be an assumption at times that women writers, including Black and Asian writers, have specific concerns that won’t or can’t translate to ‘proper’ or mainstream fiction.  I think this perception is gradually changing, but anything that speeds up this process is to be welcomed, not only by current readers and writers working today, but also by those who might be inspired to write in the future, thereby adding to a richer, more expansive literary landscape for everyone.

Emily: A recent study by Vida illustrates that women writers in general tend to fare a lot worse than their male counterparts when it comes to the attention that their work receives from the media, and so it seems to me that there is a need for schemes such as the former Orange Prize and the Asham Award. As the organisers of the SI Leeds Literary Prize point out that Black and Asian women writers are a particularly under-represented group, I think it’s fantastic to see them addressing this in the form of this award.

Jane: With specific regard to Black women, for example, it was only a couple of centuries ago that culturally our ancestors – and when I say “our” I mean every person alive today – were in a legal triple-bind. Slaves were banned from reading and writing English, had their birth languages outlawed and had their songs and oral histories banned.

Currently, many such women may have a book in them but due to many factors it may never see the light of day. I could write at length here, but you’ve asked for brief answers. I’d also like to include Northern working-class women in the pantheon of people who often think, “Writing a book? Not for the likes of me”. With all that in mind, it’s vital that everyone’s voice has an approachable and respectful platform.

FBS: Have you received more recognition / opportunities as a result of being short-listed for the SI Leeds Literary Prize, and what is the next step for you?

Karen: I’m so pleased to have the chance to be part of the inaugural SI Leeds Literary Prize, alongside the five other writers on the short list.  I’ve recently started looking for a literary agent and I hope that being able to cite my short listing will help to elicit interest in Borrowed Light.  Whatever happens next, getting this far in the Prize has been a real confidence boost, and has encouraged me to start planning and researching for my next novel.

Emily: I’ve received many very welcome congratulations messages but, having only been on the short-list for a week and a half, it’s still a bit early to say just how making the final six will help me in the future. I’m very sure it will, though. I am now working on another novel, and so the next big step for me will be to finish that.

Jane: It’s too soon to tell, on both counts, but I sense the green shoots of an exciting beginning/new departure for my work, as well as total delight simply for being short listed. As for the next step, my mind and heart are open. It will be interesting to see what comes about.

Be sure to check out our interview with the SI Leeds Literary Prize winner Minoli Salgado.

Gina Kershaw