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Leicester Writer Listed for Women’s Prize for Fiction

A Leicester writer has been listed for the coveted 2023 Women’s Prize for Fiction for her first book ‘No Place for a Young Woman’.

Farhana Shaikh is among 16 new authors who were long-listed out of nearly 3,000 entries in the Discoveries programme, run by the Women’s Prize Trust in partnership with Curtis Brown literary agency. The programme aims to find emerging female writing talent from across the UK and Ireland.

Leicester Time: Leicester Writer Listed for Women's Prize for Fiction
Farhana Shaikh

The writer and publisher,?who was born and grew up in Leicester, was both excited and nervous when she heard the news about her book ‘No Place for a Young Woman.’

“I had to double check the email twice – just to be sure – and have been walking around in a bit of a daze since,” she said.

“It’s terrifying to think that the story I’ve imagined and have been working on for some time now, has taken on a life of its own.

“As writers, most of the time we’re on our laptops or in our heads a lot of the time, so it’s really nice to be acknowledged and appreciated by someone else – or a whole body of people, especially one with such acclaim as the Women’s Prize.”

Farhana was invited to attend the awards ceremony in London, where she was thrilled to meet some of her favourite authors, as well as this year’s overall winner Barbara Kingsolver, for her Pulitzer prize-winning novel Demon Copperhead. The prize, which is worth £30,000, is awarded for the best full-length novel of the year written by a woman and published in the UK.

Farhana said: “It was fantastic to be part of the awards ceremony surrounded by gorgeous flowers and book people. I was so excited to meet my fellow long listed writers and share a space with such talented voices. The shortlisted writers were all phenomenal and Barbara Kingsolver was genuinely shocked when they announced her as the winner. It was a magical moment.”

Leicester Time: Leicester Writer Listed for Women's Prize for Fiction
Farhana at the awards party with her literary heroine Roopa Farooki

This was Farhana’s second attempt at the Discoveries programme of the competition, aimed at emerging, unpublished writers who do not have an agent.

“I gave it a try last year, but didn’t get selected, so I’ve been delighted to be longlisted this time – this has given me a real boost,” she said.

Farhana needed to send in the first three chapters of her novel to be judged for the programme and she is still busy finalising the full manuscript.

“It’s a great honour to have achieved this. I think I’m now at the stage with my novel where I’m moving closer to the finish line and having moments of creeping self-doubt and despair. So, this news has come at a good time and I’m going to use it to propel forwards,” she said.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity to learn more about the craft and be in a dialogue with other writers and industry experts.”

The seeds of an idea for a novel began during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The book, a reimagining of a classic novel, features a mother who is desperate to get her daughters married off. It’s a celebration of sisterhood and follows the lives of four very different siblings living in India in the 1960s and the tensions and experiences they encounter.

“It is a contemporary novel, exploring issues such as how young women have agency over their lives and what it means to love and be loved.”

“Very little has been written about this exciting period in history when Bollywood was capturing the imagination of young women, and Indira Gandhi – India’s first female prime minister – was rising through the political ranks. My being longlisted is a chance to put Leicester on the map and highlight the work of women writers outside London for a change.”

Farhana is no stranger to winning prizes for her writing. Previously, she has scooped the Penguin/Travelex Next Great Travel Writer prize, following a trip to a Turkish delight factory. She was longlisted for the 2018 Spread the Word Life Writing Prize for her memoir about growing up in 1980s Leicester and her short 20-minute play?Risk?exploring domestic abuse was produced as part of Kali Theatre’s discovery programme.??

At the awards ceremony, Farhana met several of her literary heroines and competition judges. Among them was Kate Mosse, international bestselling novelist and founding director of the Women’s Prize, who was the chair of the judges for the contest.

Married with two sons, Farhana graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Loughborough University in Publishing and English.

Besides her busy schedule, she also runs her own publishing company, Dahlia Books, set up in 2010 in the corner of her kitchen. “The company is self-funded and gives writers – especially marginalised voices – an opportunity to get published,” she said.