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Meet the six authors shortlisted for Discoveries 2023

Get to know the six exciting new writers that impressed the Discoveries judges with only 10,000 words! The Discoveries programme, run by the Women’s Prize Trust in partnership with Curtis Brown literary agency, the Curtis Brown Creative writing school and Audible, aims to find and support aspiring female writing talent from across the UK and Ireland and culminates in the awarding of the Discoveries Prize. 

All six writers are offered a mentoring session with a Curtis Brown agent plus a free six-week online course with Curtis Brown Creative. They’ll also take part in a bespoke two-week writing development course, led by author Charlotte Mendelson, designed and delivered by Curtis Brown Creative, as well as attending a studio session on writing and recording for audio with Audible.

We sat down with the six writers to find out about the inspiration behind their novels-in-progress and what motivates them to write. Read on to meet the writers.


Louisa AshtonBuild Her with Green

What initially inspired your novel-in-progress?  

My housemate owns an incredible collection of tropical and carnivorous plants, and I became obsessed with researching their evolutionary histories. I began to wonder what might happen if a plant species was given the opportunity to continue their evolutionary trajectory at a heightened rate. What wondrous things would they grow to do? How would humans react? In what uncanny and strange ways would we fear, love, humanise, villainise or abuse them?  

Are there any locations that have a special connection for you or your novel-in-progress?  

A place that holds a special significance to me and my novel would be the Wythenshawe Park community greenhouses, which are open to volunteers. After lockdown eased in Manchester, these greenhouses became a sanctuary for me as I grieved the loss of my mum who died during the pandemic. I was a mess of a human being back then, but I would drag myself to the greenhouses and bury my hands in soil for hours. I’m so grateful to the head gardeners for putting up with me! Those greenhouses saved me. 

Where do you like to write?  

I’ve converted a tiny storage room in our house into a workshop and office. I have a desk facing one wall and directly behind me stands some workshop shelves full of books, sewing materials, tools and random disembodied puppet limbs! I recently inherited a lot of my mum’s old dressmaking materials, which I use when I’m working on theatre and puppet making commissions. It’s a bit chaotic, but I love having a creative busyness around me when I’m writing at my desk. 

Fiona Campbell, The Wife of Riley

What initially inspired your novel-in-progress? 

My novel is a love story to Northern Ireland. Despite its recent history and wet weather, I think it’s one of the warmest, friendliest, down-to-earth places there is, and I wanted to write about that.

Are there any locations that have a special connection for you or your novel-in-progress?  

My novel is mostly set in a fictional Ulster town, but some of the locations are inspired by real places such as a car park where everyone used to congregate around an ancient chip van after the pubs had closed. Choking on fumes from the diesel engine and malt vinegar, it wasn’t the most romantic of places, but you knew someone was interested in you if they bought you a curry chip. 

Where do you like to write?  

I love the atmosphere of a café, but I tend to write at home, at a desk facing a wall of the most gaudy, flowery wallpaper ever. It’s so hard on the eyes, it forces me to keep mine on the screen. If I had a room with a nice view, I would get nothing done.

Georgina CharlesColour Me In

What initially inspired your novel-in-progress? 

So I grew up reading white man sci-fi, it’s what was in my house and it’s all I knew. I went into uni thinking I wanted to write the same sci-fi and fantasy that I had spent my whole life loving but thankfully our teachers really emphasised using your own story to find your voice. I never imagined I would be writing contemporary stories about black girls causing chaos, but I don’t think I’d be having as much fun writing about anybody else. I will have them riding dragons and rocketships eventually though, don’t you worry.   

Are there any locations that have a special connection for you or your novel-in-progress?  

That would be telling, I’m not giving away my secret spaces. I live in London, that’s pretty great. So do my characters. It shapes how we speak and our expectations of the world and I think if we lived even a little bit outside of the London zones, our whole worldview would be so different. Where my characters live gives each of them unique vibrance and clarity. 

Where do you like to write?  

When I’m having a main character moment, I love writing in a little plant-filled coffee shop, but who has the money to do that every day? Most of the time, I’m in my room, staring out the window.  

Paige Cowan-HallMarooned

What initially inspired your novel-in-progress? 

I heard about the Maroons and particularly about Jamaica’s national hero Nan as a child. As I got older my interest to learn more about Maroon society and the Maroon wars with the English grew, as did my interest in folklore surrounding Jamaica and West Africa. The more I read about the history and mythology, the more scenes starting popping into my head, and it was one of these random moments of inspiration that started my novel.   

Are there any locations that have a special connection for you or your novel-in-progress?  

Jamaica, especially the Blue Mountains where Nan of the Maroons is supposed to have lived. In fact, Maroon communities still live in Jamaica, and a dream would be to visit them and the Centre for Reparation Research, to learn more and ensure my story respects the history and indigenous communities.

Where do you like to write?  

Ideally, by a lake or the sea but as I live in London the spot in the living room by the window is cosy.

Riana Duce, Without A Trace

What initially inspired your novel-in-progress? 

My novel follows a woman who witnesses a terrible crime unfold over a video call with her therapist. I’m sorry to bring it up, but the idea sprang from the pandemic. We all found ourselves confronted with the state of our mental health, and on Zoom calls with virtual strangers, with only a tiny, grainy window into their worlds for context. It got me thinking about our changing capacity for trust in times of desperation.    

Are there any locations that have a special connection for you or your novel-in-progress?  

My novel is set in Manchester, which is odd because when I lived there a few years ago I had some real ups and downs. But I find the part a city can play in our mental state really interesting, so setting a psychological thriller somewhere I often found myself floundering felt like the natural choice.

Where do you like to write?  

If I don’t write my first words of the day in bed, they don’t happen at all. I’d love to say I have a beautiful home office set up but even if I did, I doubt it would see much use! I start in bed, then move around my living room in whatever patch of sunlight I can find. Like a cat.  

Emily Utter, The Night Room

What initially inspired your novel-in-progress? 

I’d never felt compelled to write about my experiences working in palliative care before but the seed of this story was planted after a conversation with a colleague about how uplifting it would be if our day unit was the setting for a romance. I thought about it for a long time – the intersection between romantic love, middle-age, and terminal illness – before I finally started writing. Then it just poured out of me.    

Are there any locations that have a special connection for you or your novel-in-progress?  

In a way, The Night Room is an exploration of ‘home’: two characters who are searching for home and find it in each other. I’m always between two – sometimes physically, always emotionally. I love Aberdeen – I’ve set down roots and my family is originally from here, but home is also the family cabin on the Georgian Bay, back in Canada. Home may be a moveable feast but it’s always wherever I can write.  

Where do you like to write?  

If morning is a place, that’s where I like to write. At home, still in my pyjamas, with a steaming cup of coffee in my favourite Hornsea mug. I sit at the table in my bay window so I can see the North Sea while I write.

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