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The ADCI Literary Prize | Penny Batchelor Takeover

How often do you see yourself reflected in the characters that you read? When you do, how does it make you feel?  

Sensitive, nuanced representation is vital in our current writing landscape, and in today's newsletter (full version sent out to our mailing list subscribers) that’s what we’ll be thinking about. We’re hearing from author Penny Batchelor about an incredible new prize for authors with disabilities and chronic illnesses, as well as some insightful thoughts on the importance of representation in fiction.  

The ADCI Literary Prize | Penny Batchelor Takeover 

When you pick up a novel and lose yourself in its story, do you see anyone you recognise inside the pages? I don’t mean a murderer if you’re reading a crime novel or an alien if sci-fi is more your thing, but characters you can identify with - who may look like you or be from your particular community.  

Inclusion and representation have become hot topics over the past decade or so, from nuanced female characters with their own stories; to Black, Asian and minority ethnic writers representing their communities authentically; along with books featuring LGBTQIA+ characters. We live in a diverse world and we all should feel that novels have a place for us.  

I’m a strong believer that you’ve got to ‘see it’ in order to ‘be it’ - which is why I’m on a mission to improve disability representation in novels, which sadly still sorely lags behind other groups. I was born with a physical disability and am a wheelchair user. I hardly ever saw anyone like me in the books I read, and if I did come across a disabled character they were either miserable, magically cured, felt they had to do something heroic to ‘overcome’ their condition, or died to provide the pathos for the novel. Nowhere was there someone like me who went about living their everyday life as a friend, neighbour, lover, sibling, colleague … you get the gist.  

That’s why in my two psychological thrillers, My Perfect Sister and Her New Best Friend, I’ve included disabled characters going about their lives – if not in everyday circumstances as that wouldn’t be very thrilling! What’s important is that they’re there and that the one in five of us in the UK who have a disability or chronic illness (according to the charity Scope) see ourselves in books.  

When my publisher, Clare Christian of RedDoor Press, asked me if I’d like to co-found a new prize for disabled and chronically ill writers who include one or more disabled characters in their novels, I jumped at the chance. Two years of planning, finding sponsors and teaming up with the Society of Authors later, our dream is now a reality.  

The Society of Authors ADCI (which stands for authors with disabilities and chronic illnesses, named after the SoA subgroup co-founded by Claire Wade and Patrick Walsh with the aim to raise the profile of disabled authors) will open for submissions in August. The inaugural winner will receive £1000 in June 2023. All the entry details and criteria will soon be on the Society of Authors’ website and I’m pleased to say that self-published, as well as traditionally published, novels are eligible.  

I passionately believe that the prize will support and raise the profile of the ADCI community; encourage more of us to write; increase positive disability representation in our culture; bring our books to the attention of readers; and show agents and publishers that there’s a huge market out there just waiting to be tapped into. It will challenge an outdated, stereotypical view that disability is too niche or depressing to appear in fiction, and introduce readers to different viewpoints, ideas and ways of looking at the world that they haven’t considered before.  After all, isn’t that what fiction is all about?  

Penny Batchelor   

Penny Batchelor is the author of two psychological thrillers published by RedDoor Press, 'My Perfect Sister' (longlisted for The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize 2020) and 'Her New Best Friend'. Along with Clare Christian, she is the co-founder of the #KeepFestivalsHybrid campaign, urging all literary festivals to have an online presence, and with fellow author Victoria Scott she successfully persuaded Amazon to create a disability fiction category for adult novels.  

Find out more about The ADCI Literary Prize here.  

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