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Jilly Cooper tops inaugural Comedy women in print awards

Reigning queen of the pun Jilly Cooper has been awarded the inaugural Comedy women in print (CWIP) lifetime achievement award “in recognition of her legacy and inspiration to comic women writers everywhere”.

The bestselling author, who at one point describes her hero Rupert Campbell-Black’s aggressive love-making as “like a power drill … her Campbell-Black-and-Decker”, was named winner on Wednesday night.

“We wanted to respect Jilly Cooper as a game-changer … at a time when visibility for witty women writers was still an issue,” said the comedian, writer and actor Helen Lederer, who founded the awards to celebrate the female authors of comic fiction she felt were being overlooked. “Her mix of shrewdly placed social satire and criticism made us all connect and want more of her. She’s not only a household name – she’s also a witty journalist, author and influencer.”

Cooper was one of three winners, with journalist and debut author Laura Steven taking the £2,000 published author category for her “daring, edgy and topical” young adult novel The Exact Opposite of Okay. Steven beat bestselling titles including Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and Gill Sims’s Why Mummy Drinks.

Judge and novelist Marian Keyes, who last year slammed the “sexist imbalance” of the Wodehouse prize for comic fiction, said there had been two contenders for the award, with the final choice made “based on the potential of extremely young and witty writer Laura Steven to go forward and continue to make her mark while pushing boundaries for funny women’s fiction”.

The evening also saw stage and screenwriter Kirsty Eyre win the unpublished category for her queer romcom Cow Girl, set in the world of dairy farming. Eyre wins a publishing contract and a £5,000 advance from Harper Fiction. Judge Jenny Eclair said that Eyre’s “narrative voice was as strong as it was instant”, describing Cow Girl as “an inspired and stylish read that was both smart and edgy”.

Lederer said that she had “lived and breathed CWIP for so many years that … crowning the winner sat quite heavily. But every judge was committed to finding a winner that reflected what we are here for – to celebrate witty women’s fiction – both unpublished and published. When it came to the wire (and the competition was as varied as it was strong) it was felt the author who was most poised to break through and continue to deliver quality humour should get it.” Lederer added: “Visibility in women’s wit on the page has changed even since I had the idea for CWIP five years ago”.