Natasha Carthew aims to create opportunity for young working class nature writers
The Nature Writing Prize for Working Class Writers is calling for entries: free to enter, it closes on 7 June and is open to all self-identifying working class writers in the UK. Entries can include fiction, poetry, biography, or a combination, and should be maximum 1,000 words.
The prize was set up by novelist Natasha Carthew, whose work has long been inspired by the natural world. Her most recent novel, All Rivers Run Free (Quercus/riverrun), is set in Cornwall, where Carthew herself is based, and is influenced by the rugged fierceness of the Cornish coastline. She runs Wild Writing workshops, encouraging writers to experience the elements and the outside world, and is a survival expert and a walking guide.
She is also a working class writer who focuses on diversity within the publishing industry. Last year she told BookBrunch: "We need to address the fact that there is not only a shortage of working class writers being published in this country, there's a shortage of working class people working in publishing. The stories that get published come mostly from higher up in society, chosen by those higher up in society, and it's a distorted reflection of the country we live in... The word 'class' is often missing from the debate about access and diversity in publishing."
Carthew is emphatic about the importance of working-class culture being represented in literature, saying: "Children and young adults feel respected and validated, and their self-esteem is enhanced, when they see themselves and their wider communities reflected in books. That means it is paramount that we tell stories of lived experience, both positive and negative. Without erasing the struggles of economic hardship or limited options, working-class literature should remind us of the strengths of working-class culture: humour, integrity, hard work and loyalty, among many other."
The Nature Writing Prize for Working Class Writers combines this agenda with her passion for nature writing. She says: "I've been thinking about this prize for a long time, and have decided that now is the time to celebrate the authentic voices that exist in nature writing in order to change the status quo. The natural world belongs to us and all our stories and experiences of the natural world wherever we live is incredibly important. It's often overlooked and passed over for more established nature writing (mostly white, male, privileged) but this prize will not be political; I think its existence says enough.
"It's important to me that this prize is accessible, breaking down barriers and providing a platform to celebrate the diversity that exists in nature writing (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, field notes, memoir, travelogue etc), celebrating nature whilst providing a platform for underrepresented writers. Nature writing exists because we as individuals want to understand our own engagement and our place within it. It decentralises us and reminds us that we are not the only focus or thing of importance on the planet. The best nature writing conveys a clear sense of place and focuses on the natural world and our human relationship with it.
"I set up the prize to burst the stereotype of what it means to be a nature writer and to celebrate the diversity of authentic voices in our country, the kind of working class voice that doesn't just come from the country but the towns, cities, housing estates, parks and the overlooked landscapes like industrial, train tracks, wasteland, everywhere. Everybody can be a nature writer and people should not be put off by the image of nature writers and presenters who are usually male, usually white and always middle class. I would love folk to reclaim the wild places that extend beyond the traditional now that lockdown will loosen a little in regards to walks and getting out in the great outdoors."
The winner of the prize receives publication in the Countryman magazine, a year's subscription to Little Toller Books, and editorial feedback from Carthew. Little Toller commented: "We're really delighted to be able to support this prize - it's important that we hear from writers from diverse backgrounds. Nature is for everyone and hearing a multitude of voices will make us all care for it more."
Carthew's new work also focuses on nature: her next book, Song for the Forgotten, is published with National Trust Books in July. Itis a prose poem that explores the Bal-Maidens, the female miners who worked in Cornwall in the 1800s, celebrating female working class history in a text influenced by the history and nature of Cornwall.
Stories matter, class matters by Natasha Carthew