Books: Spike Island writer-in-residence wins prize

Lou Trimby, November 3, 2014

Spike Island’s first writer-in-residence Amy Mason won the 2014 Dundee International Prize with her first novel The Other Ida. 

The Dundee International Prize is the UK’s largest literary prize awarded to an unpublished writer and 2014’s judges included novelist Neil Gaiman and Radio 4 arts presenter and journalist Kirsty Lang.

“Bristol was where my writing career really took off,” Amy told Bristol24/7. “The Bristol Old Vic have been so supportive, Show of Strength gave me my first theatre commission, and I was the first writer-in-residence at Spike Island. It’s a great city to be a writer.”

The Other Ida is a compelling novel, however people may think that Amy’s family background inspired it. “My family are lovely! Not like Ida’s but my grandparents were actors. My grandfather was the actor and director Lionel Jeffries, he directed The Railway Children and was in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. 

“I was interested in the fate of celebrity offspring. They often seem really messed up, and if they’re in the public eye, we’re all just expecting them to fall to pieces. I started thinking about what it would be like if you were actually named after your mother’s most famous piece of work, how screwed up you’d be.”

Amy has also performed work Bristol Old Vic’s Ferment. But what made a novelist go on stage?

“I saw a few spoken word shows and thought it looked like a good way to get your writing out there. I had no idea if I could do it. I’d never even used a microphone when I first performed at Bristol Old Vic!

Amy recently told BBC Scotland that writing “saved” her.

“I was just totally direction-less for most of my twenties. I’d start jobs or courses or projects, and always end up giving up on them. I had long periods on incapacity benefit. Writing gave me a purpose. 

“I always wanted to be a writer, but was pretty depressed when I was younger, so couldn’t really get it together to actually write! When I was 25 I took a 10 week creative adult education class in London. I left school at 16 and it was the first thing I’d actually completed since my GCSEs. I kept taking courses and writing bits and pieces after that.”

Despite her success Amy still has her feet firmly on the ground. 

“I was so surprised when I won. I completely forgot I entered. When she told me I’d won I made her send me an email to confirm because I couldn’t believe it was true. It’s such a lovely thing to happen. I’m a published novelist! It’s still sinking in.”

Helen Legg, Spike Island Director, said “Amy was our first writer-in-residence, as part of our commitment to supporting emerging creative talent. We’re thrilled that she has won such a prestigious prize and delighted to have played a small part in helping her to achieve this success. She’ll feature as part of our Novel Writers series early next year.”

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