SI Leeds Literary Prize

the award for unpublished fiction by Black and Asian women

2018 Prize accepting entries from 1 January

amita murray 2016 shortlisted writers

Amita Murray

We are delighted to launch the 2018 Prize, which has been given increased support for its fourth biennial edition from Arts Council England’s Grants for the Arts award scheme, as well as increased sponsorship from partners  Aspire-igen and Soroptomist International of Leeds.

Writers will be able to submit entries from 1 January 2018 to 30th April 2018.

This year’s winner will receive £3,000, the runner-up will get £1,250, and there will be a third prize of £750.  The award’s Prize Plus programme also supports shortlisted writers through a programme of events, workshops, manuscript assessment and 1:1 coaching.

Amita Murray, who won last year’s prize, said: “The publishing industry doesn’t always know what to do with our confusing ‘diverse’ voices and it is awards like this one that blaze the way forward.”

Amita has since landed a two-book deal with Harper Collins and her debut novel, Finding Rose, is due to be released in 2019. She added: “For anything good that happens in my writing career, in my mind it will all go back to this award. Writing is a mad, lonely career path for anyone to choose, where you wake up every morning feeling a bit sick, wondering if you’re going to write anything good ever again. So to get the validation of the prize was an incredibly awe-inspiring and humbling thing for me.”

Winnie M Li was runner-up in the 2016 award. Her debut novel Dark Chapter, has seen much success. She said: “I’ve had the chance to meet an amazing group of women writers through the shortlist, and their support and encouragement has meant a great deal to me— along with the support of the Prize committee. I don’t think I’d have gotten this far without the prize: a year later, and my novel’s won The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize!”

Other winners include Kit de Waal, author of My Name is Leon, who has a three book deal with Penguin; Mahsuda Snaith who is the author of The Things We Thought We Knew, and Karen Onojaife who has been signed by Curtis Brown.


Winnie M Li wins publishing deal!

winnie m li 2016 shortlisted writersWe are happy to announce that Winnie M Li’s shortlisted 2016 entry, Dark Chapter, is due to be published on 1st June 2017, by Legend Times.

As well as being shortlisted for the 2016 SI Leeds Literary Prize, Winnie’s novel was Highly Commended for the CWA Debut Dagger (the Dagger Awards being synonymous with the best crime writing over the last fifty years).

Vivian is a cosmopolitan Taiwanese-American tourist who has escaped her London life for the lure of travel. Johnny is an Irish fifteen-year-old living on the margins of society. Inspired by true events, Dark Chapter follows this pair as their paths collide in a horrifying act of violence, and shows how chance meetings can irrevocably change the direction of our lives.


‘Deftly written, pacey and unflinching, I could not put down Dark Chapter. Winnie Li is a rare talent with an explosive and timely story. Do not miss it.’ – Marti Leimbach, bestselling author of Dying Young and Daniel Isn’t Talking.


Winnie is also to be published in North America, by Polis Books, a a new independent publisher founded in only 2013.

They said:

Polis Books is thrilled to announce the acquisition of North American print, ebook and audio rights to Dark Chapter, the powerful debut novel by Winnie M Li, a Taiwanese-American writer based in London, in a deal brokered by Maria Cardona at the Pontas Literary & Film Agency. Dark Chapter is an important piece of fiction, partially based on Li’s own harrowing experiences, heralding its author as an extremely gifted writer and powerful new voice […] Bold, riveting, and above all human, Dark Chapter is a first novel that announces an extraordinary new talent in Winnie M. Li.

Winnie M Li is a writer, film maker, arts festival producer, and creative consultant. A Taiwanese-American brought up in New Jersey, Winnie studied at Folklore and Mythology at Harvard, specialising in Celtic Languages and Literature. She earned her MA in English from the National University of Ireland, Cork, and has been involved in producing two shorts and six award-winning feature films, one of which was Oscar nominated, the other Oscar shortlisted. At the Doha Tribeca Film Festival in Qatar Winnie worked as Programme Manager, and was later Film Series Producer for the Doha Film Institute, a position in which she brought more than two hundred screenings of arthouse and foreign films to a city accustomed to mainstream Hollywood movies.

Winnie is currently a PhD researcher at LSE, researching the impact of social media on the public discourse around rape and sexual assault, in the Department of Media and Communications. She launched Clear Lines in 2016, the first festival to address sexual assault through the arts.

You can reach Winnie on Twitter at @winniemli

or online at

2016 Prize short list

We are delighted to announce the shortlist for the SI Leeds Literary Prize 2016 for unpublished fiction by Black and Asian women:

Dark Chapter – Winnie Li
Deadly Sacrifice – Stella Akinade – Ahmadou
Marmite and Mango Chutney – Amita Murray
Our Staggering Minds – Harkiran Dhindsa
Recognising Strangers – Jamilah Ahmed
When Skies Are Grey – Fran Clark

Congratulations to all our writers! Come along to meet them and hear them discuss their work with author and broadcaster Sunny Singh at the Rich Mix on Monday 19th September, with Bernardine Evaristo at Southbank Centre on Sunday 9 October or at the Prize award event with Malika Booker as part of Ilkley Literature Festival on Wednesday 12 October.



Malika Booker


Come and meet the 2016 Prize shortlisted writers!


2016 shortlist at Rich Mix, September 2016

We have three fantastic events featuring the 2016 Prize shortlisted writers – the first was at Rich Mix, London on Monday 19 September and was hosted by author and literary critic Sunny Singh, including readings by our shortlist.

Our second event on Sunday 9 October at 6pm features Prize Patron and acclaimed author, Bernardine Evaristo at the Southbank Centre as part of London Literature Festival.  Tickets are £8 (£4 concessions) and more details of the event can be found here.

Finally, please do join us for the 2016 Prize Award Event at Ilkley Literature Festival on Wednesday 12 October at 7.30pm.  Dawn Cameron of Ilkley Literature Festival will be in discussion with poet and Forward Prize chair of judges Malika Booker about the role of prizes and diversity in publishing, and will be joined on stage by SI Leeds Literary Prize chair of judges, Kadija George, for the announcement of our winning writers. Tickets are £6 (£4 concessions) and more information can be found here.

2016 Prize long list

We are delighted to announce the long list for the SI Leeds Literary Prize for unpublished fiction by Black and Asian women:

Coloured In – Yazmin Raven

Dark Chapter – Winnie Li

Deadly Sacrifice – Stella Akinade-Ahmadou

Marmite and Mango Chutney – Amita Murray

Our Staggering Minds – Harkiran Dhindsa

Recognising Strangers – Jamilah Ahmed

Runaway – Divya Ghelani

Scent of a Father – Fariyal Wallez

The Ice Migration – Jacqueline Crooks

Truth – Roshi Fernando

Waking Hours – Anushka Rasiah

When Skies Are Grey – Fran Clark

The twelve long-listed manuscripts were selected from many entries of promising and accomplished writing, covering a wide range of genres and subjects.

The judges for the long list were Susan Yearwood of The Susan Yearwood Agency, Margaret Oldroyd for SI Leeds and writer Karen Onojaife. The six short-listed manuscripts will be selected from the long list by the judging panel, chaired by head judge literary activist Kadija George, with the short list to be announced late September.


Want to Break into Publishing?

A renowned publishing house is putting on a series of workshops to encourage a more diverse workforce.


The first of the workshops  will take place in Birmingham on July 22nd, 2016.

Yasmin Mahmoudi, Resourcing Co-ordinator for Penguin Random House UK, said: “We’re keen to attract new voices – and this means opening our doors wider and shouting that bit louder to reach those who might not have considered a career in publishing before,”

“We’ll put people in the seat of a marketer, an editor, a recruiter (and many others in between) to boost their employability skills and give them a real taste of what working in publishing is like.”

For further information and to apply visit:

Make sure to include your 100 word standout, CV and cover letter answering the questions above. The closing date for applications is Friday 24th June. If you’ve been successful, you’ll be contacted by 4th July to confirm your attendance.


Extended Entry Details – Technical difficulties


We’re experiencing technical difficulties. Please submit entries via email to

Apologies for any problems this may have caused,

Entry Deadline Extended

We know that writing deadlines can whoosh by and so we’ve extended the deadline for entries in case any of you missed out. You now have until midnight, Monday, May 2 to submit. Get scribbling and hit submit. No excuses now!




The Painstaking Task of the Translator by Carolyn Choa

carolyn choa si leeds patron  Carolyn Choa is a Patron of the SI Leeds Literary Prize and has acted as a translator on several Chinese films.  She was co-editor and translator of The Vintage Book of Contemporary Chinese Fiction.  In this blog she talks about the labour of love involved in translating another writer’s work



Anyone who has ever attempted to translate a classical Chinese poem into English will immediately be confronted with a simple reality – Chinese is a monosyllabic language, and English is not. Hence, any English translation will inevitably be longer, not only because the words have more syllables, but because the Chinese language, particularly in its classical form, prizes ambiguity, intentionally leaving spaces for the reader to fill and interpret. In paintings this is called ‘liu bai’, ‘leaving the white(of a scroll)’ . In literature it works on the same principle.

Classical Chinese poetry adheres to strict formal structures. First there is the length and number of lines, which are pretty much prescribed; then, as in all poetry, it has its own inherent musicality – in rhythm, cadence and phrasing, not to say the occasional rhyme. in fact, the most widespread form of Song poetry, called Ci, were originally based on musical structures and were meant to be sung. All of this instantly asks of the translator to be both respectful and irreverent, in order to reflect the original work accurately in sense and tone, while offering fluency, comprehensible cultural references (possibly ancient), and the same level of poetic pleasure to the western reader.

The accomplished film editor, Walter Murch, once said that the last thing one should ever sacrifice in the cutting room is the emotional truth of a scene, and that when it comes down to a tough choice, one might occasionally have to let go of continuity, considered sacred by most film-makers. Murch is a translator (from the Italian) himself, and often likens one art to the other.


Translating prose is naturally not as demanding in terms of word count or musicality line by line, but as a whole, all other disciplines of style and meaning apply. A good example is the novels of Haruki Murakami. Not many people would have read him in the original Japanese, yet the skills and talent of his main translators, Jay Rubin and J. Philip Gabriel, are such that we feel in close proximity to the original voice of the author.


When subtitling a film, the additional element of time enters into the equation. Here there must be a constant weighing up of priorities. Each line has to sound like the character who is speaking of course, and the meaning has to be clear, but if the audience does not have enough time to read the dialogue, all work is to no avail. On occasion, a film might be full of local dialect. How best to tackle this? What would be the equivalent of a north-eastern dialect in China for instance? To render it into a local dialect in English might be distracting to the audience at best, and at worst, downright odd and out of context. In these instances, I would often choose to ignore the dialect and simply try to make the lines feel emotionally true to the scene.


This is necessarily the briefest touch on an inexhaustible subject. But we all know that without the patient work of the many talented translators from around the world, a great number of us would never have had the chance to encounter Chekhov, Kawabata, Hesse, Proust, Dante, Rumi, Laozi, Kundera, Aristotle, or for that matter, the Buddha. For this reason alone, we are most grateful to those selfless artists working in the shadows. It is high time we brought them into the light.



A Writer’s Life by Aliya Ali-Afzal


Sometimes, I feel like Spiderman. To anyone passing me in the street, I am an ordinary woman, living an ordinary life: dropping the children off at school, grabbing a coffee with my friends, playing Candy Crush on a packed train into Waterloo on my way to work. No one would guess that I have an alter ego and a parallel life, where I feel invincible. A life where the world shrinks to the thoughts in my head and then explodes into words that have no limits and no rules. I love the freedom that I have when I’m writing. I can go wherever I want; inside an old man’s head, on the trail of a murderer in Argentina, or to a party at the top of a skyscraper on the Moon, 200 years in the future. My characters are real people. I feel their happiness and distress. I can make anything happen. It is exhilarating.

I have always written, but in a deliberately casual way, just ‘for fun’. My cupboards are full of ‘books’ of stories that I have written for my children over the years, and my hard drive, clogged up with poems, short stories and novels that I started and stalled. I didn’t pursue my writing seriously at first. I played it safe. So long as no one told me that my writing was bad, I could hold on to the fantasy that it was good. But as the years whizzed by, my fear of trying and failing was replaced by an even greater fear: of never writing my novel at all- ever. I needed to stop flirting and make a commitment. But it was not an easy decision. The ‘high’ from writing became tempered by more sobering thoughts: was it fair to strip away time from my family and friends, to dilute the energy I devoted to my day job, for something without any guarantee of success? What if I were no good anyway and it was all a waste of time? It felt self-indulgent.

On a whim, I applied to the Curtis Brown Creative Novel writing course. It was comforting to know that I could apply and be rejected in private, as I absolutely expected to be. But at least it motivated me to write three thousand words and a synopsis for the application. To my utter shock, I won a place. It was one of the most exciting moments of my life and it could not have happened at a worse time. My children were navigating important exams, my mother was unwell, I was flying between London and Dubai for work and helping someone I love through a horrible divorce. But this was something that I could not give up. Somehow I managed to fit it all in, flying in from Dubai in the morning and fighting my jet lag all day to attend class that same evening, and leaving the house on the dot for my course every week, whether the children had done their homework or not. I didn’t miss a single session on the three-month course.

The most terrifying part of the course was when we workshopped each other’s work. Suddenly, 15 other people were reading my ‘secret’ world and critiquing it publically. But it is amazing how quickly you get used to it, especially when you learn so much about how to fix a character or a scene that you knew was not working. We got individual feedback from out tutors too, so I had an expert’s input on how to make my novel better.; this was incredibly helpful. We also met real authors and agents who came in to talk to us. It was liberating to hear about the false starts and rejections the bestselling authors often had before their ‘overnight’ success. Their tales of failure were as inspirational for me as those of their eventual success. It was a revelation to learn that it is alright, normal in fact, for a first draft to be rubbish. It was OK if perfection did not flow onto the page on my first attempt and that writing is about crafting your words again and again until you get it right. I don’t think I would have completed my first draft without doing the course. Our group still meets regularly, two years on, to carry on the workshopping and offer much needed moral support.

The many friends I’ve made since I started on this journey have been an unexpected bonus of this otherwise solitary occupation. Writer friends are a lifeline and understand what your family and non-writer friends never will: that writing is very hard work and that your book will not suddenly appear in Waterstones six months after you started writing it and nor are you in talks with Hollywood yet. As well as meeting fellow writers on courses, I’ve made many friends on Twitter. I have connected with fellow Nanowrimo writers, to other writers entering competitions with me, such as the Bath Novel Award and also Alumni from the schools where I did my courses: Curtis Brown Creative and The Faber Academy, many of them now published authors. Last year I went to a Twunch (Twitter lunch) for writers who’d met on twitter. I go to book launches for my friends’ novels, writing talks, literary festivals and workshops on writing cover letters and editing. There is no more hiding or pretending. I’m doing this writing stuff for real at last.

« Older posts