A Kingston School of Art student has won The Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award for a First Novel in the annual Bridport Prize International Creative Writing Competition.
Joe Pierson’s novel ‘Helen and the Fires’ takes inspiration both from the existential writings of the Russian author Frodor Dostoyevsky as well as the looming threat of climate change.
The 34-year-old from Lewisham beat more than 1,600 other writers to win the competition which was originally set up to discover and encourage new creative writing talent.
With previous winners such as acclaimed novelist Kate Atkinson MBE and emerging writers Kit de Waal and Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott, the Kingston postgrad is hoping that the award will lead to his first novel being published.
The novel tells the story of a young woman, Helen, who quits her job to write but gets caught up in investigations into protest suicides relating to climate change.
It is described as a literary fiction murder mystery whose modern influences led to the judges of the award calling it “a book of our time”.
Since childhood, Joe has been influenced by Dostoyevsky and Brazilian author Clarise Lespector and has always had a passion for writing.
He said: “I find the experience so rich and satisfying.”
He began the novel whilst juggling studying for his PhD in Creative Writing at Kingston University’s School of Art and working as a catering manager for Tate Modern in Southwark.
Whilst lockdown slowed his other commitments, it allowed Joe the time to complete his novel and submit it to the Bridport Prize in May.
He said: “While not wishing to underestimate how difficult the lockdown was for many people, it did give me the time to write.”
“The longest process was the editing, which is what I did during lockdown, to make the language as tight and clear as possible.”
The judges, including British novelist Emma Healey, praised Joe’s novel as “sharp it its detail, full of surprises, beautiful observation and insights into the nature of story-telling”.
Joe credited his tutors at Kingston University, where he also completed his masters, with helping him to hone his style.
He said that the close working relationship between himself and tutor Dr James Miller was especially helpful.
He added: “He encouraged my writing to be more experimental and to submit my stories to literary journals.”
Miller, who is a senior lecturer of English Literature and Creative Writing at the university, expressed his delight at Joe’s success, praising his writing.
Miller said: “He is a brilliant stylist with a unique voice and an exacting, minimal style.”
The creative writing course provides an environment that is both supportive and critical in order for students to express their voice and take risks, conditions which Miller explained Joe thrived in.
He added: “He’s also very experimental, willing to be bold and take risks.”
As well as winning £1,500, Joe will receive professional feedback from The Literary Consultancy, consulting from literary agency AM Health and publisher Tinder Press to help him in his future writing endeavours.
Joe is spending the current lockdown writing his next novel, about a filmmaker trying to film an adaptation of a Dostoyevsky novel during a pandemic, as well as focusing on getting ‘Helen and the Fires’ published.