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I N T H E N E W S The

I N T H E N E W S The write stuff for author Lisa A STAFFORDSHIRE AUTHOR HAS WON A LITERARY PRIZE FOR HER BOOK INSPIRED BY STRONG WOMEN FROM THE COUNTY A collection of short stories inspired by feisty Staffordshire women has been awarded this year’s Arnold Bennett Literary Prize. It’s Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s, written by Lisa Blower, was revealed as the winner in an online ceremony. The book had been shortlisted alongside former Coronation Street actress Deborah McAndrew’s play The D Road, Peter Cash’s poetry anthology Pitying The Planet and academic John Shapcott’s Arnold Bennett and Frederick Marriott Parallel Lives. “I’m pleased as punch to win, chuffed to bits, in fact I did have a little cry,” Lisa said. “As part of the awards ceremony the shortlisted writers each read out an extract of their work. I was so completely mesmerised by the others that I was convinced I wouldn’t win. “When they said my name I was so shocked I just literally hadn’t thought it would be me in the face of such strong opposition.” The 46-year-old has received a £500 prize and the prestige of following in the footsteps of previous winners such as Guardian culture columnist Charlotte Higgins, who was awarded last year for Red Thread: On Mazes and Labyrinths. Lisa now works as a senior lecturer and course leader in creative and professional writing at Wolverhampton University. After studying at Sheffield, Manchester and Bangor universities, she began her career lecturing in creative writing at Bangor University. She taught the first course in working class fiction at a UK university and has been a guest lecturer on the topic at Staffordshire University . Lisa’s debut novel, Sitting Ducks, was shortlisted for the inaugural Arnold Bennett Prize in 2017 and longlisted for The Guardian’s Not the Booker in 2016. It’s Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s features strong, working class women including Lisa’s own grandmother, Nellie Edwards, who died in her 90s after a lifetime of working as a dipper for various potteries across Stoke-on-Trent. Lisa said: “After she died I sat down to write the eulogy for her funeral and began remembering all the things she used to say to me when I was a child. “She was a witty and outspoken woman. If she fell out with a shop steward at work she’d walk across the road and start working for another potbank instead.” That funeral tribute turned into a short story which won Lisa The Guardian National Short Story Award in 2009, was shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award in 2013 and was longlisted for The Sunday Times Short Story Award in 2018. It was only natural then that it should form part of a collection of short tales featuring the likes of Ruthie the ‘happy hooker’, sleep-deprived Laura and young mum Roxanne. “It’s fiction but there are some autobiographical moments in there, like the journey my family used to make to Barmouth during the Potters Holidays every year. “They’re mostly stories about women but I remember growing up with a lot of women around me. I was surrounded by chattering matriarchs who were always telling stories and gossiping. “The women of that time didn’t think they were doing anything interesting or significant or contributing to history, but of course they were. 44

“I remember telling my nan that I’d like to write her life history and she said whatever for as she hadn’t done anything. Those women were accepting rather than expecting. They worked their whole lives, they made armaments during the war – but they didn’t think they’d done anything interesting.” The title of the book is a phrase that Lisa’s nan used to often say to her. It means that it looks like rain is on the way. “It’s Gone Dark over Bill’s Mother’s felt like an apt title for a collection of stories that mine the pits, pots and poets I grew up with, where I played in the backs behind the Leek New Road, or sat listening to my nan’s stories and scruffy wisdom. “We’d spend weekends walking the towpaths around Stockton Brook before heading home to tape the charts, a pan of lobby on the stove. “It was a peachy childhood, despite the smog, strikes and Thatcher gunning for the unions back in the early 80s; my mum making us all wipe our feet on a Vote Conservative board before she put it out for the dog to do his business on. “The stalwart citizens of the Potteries working class owned neither a car, passport or a mortgage but were the vital participants in its industry. Any potter worth their salt will flip over a plate seeking Made in Stokeon-Trent because at least someone in their family will have had a hand in making it. And that’s what I wanted to capture.” It’s Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s is published by Myriad and priced £8.99. Lisa’s novel Pondweed will be out in paperback in April 2021. Music to her ears A LICHFIELD TEENAGER HAS WON A NATIONAL COMPOSING AWARD A Staffordshire schoolgirl has won a national composing award and had her work broadcast to the nation on BBC Radio 3 despite it being her very first choral composition. Eilidh Owen, 17, says she was surprised and excited to pick up the Young Composer Award 2020 from the National Centre for Early Music. The year 13 pupil at Lichfield Cathedral School will have her work performed at a concert at the Cadogan Hall in March. It will then be broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show. She said: ““I was so surprised and excited when I heard my name announced as the winner of the NCEM Young Composers Award. This was the first choir piece I’ve ever written and I didn’t expect to do so well. “I still can’t believe that Radio 3 played part of my piece on the In Tune program and the nice comments made by Katie Derham. I’m really looking forward to hearing the Tallis Scholars perform my piece in London in March.” Her winning composition was based on the first and last verses of George Herbert’s poem The Flower. Dad Richard Owen said: “It was exciting for us to see and hear Eilidh’s piece performed and a total shock when she won. The reaction from friends and family who were able to watch online has been incredible. “We just want to say thank you to the NCEM for organising the competition and for everyone who has trained and encouraged Eilidh at Lichfield Cathedral School and Lichfield Cathedral Choir.” You can see and hear all the finalist’s pieces sung and the awards being announced here: 45

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