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The new literary prize for midlife writers

The literary agency Watson, Little's new prize celebrates midlife writers and women's stories

In celebration of Watson, Little turning 50 this year, our literary agency is running a new Fiction Prize this summer. Its aim is to reach out to writers aged 50 years and over, from all around the world.  Watson, Little are a long-established literary agency which handles a wide range of fiction and non-fiction for adults, young adults and children.

Wanted: Upmarket fiction writers 50+

Over the course of July 2021, we will close to wider submissions and instead are welcoming submissions of upmarket fiction from writers in specifically this age group. Whether you have recently turned to writing fiction, or have long been writing but only recently had the freedom to take it more seriously, or even if you have been published in a previous career, here is an opportunity to have your new work read by our team at Watson, Little. If developing your creative writing is high on your life’s wish list, this could be the moment to take it forward!

What is upmarket fiction?

Upmarket fiction is perhaps a self-explanatory term, but it has a certain slightly slippery aspect too. Where does it overlap, for instance, with commercial fiction, or literary fiction? If you made a Venn diagram of contemporary fiction, would ‘upmarket’ sit in the same bubble as ‘women’s fiction’ or ‘domestic fiction’? These terms are industry shortcuts. Against the richness, freshness and idiosyncrasy of individual novels, they are a crude barometer. Both ‘domestic’ and ‘women’s’ feel outdated and justly contentious labels. To cite one well-known debate, is Jonathan Franzen bracketed as a writer of ‘domestic fiction’?

Is your writing upmarket fiction?

So I hope it’s useful to flesh out the term upmarket fiction by describing is as fiction that shines with the quality of its writing, that is readable and accessible, that marries attention to language with narrative command. It probably also engages with subject matter that touches a wide audience, in ways that freshly push cultural conversations forward, and perhaps through stories and voices less often heard. The novel, after all, is a form that delights in the new, and in specifics and precision, as well as exploring the great universals of life.

American Marriage by Tayari Jones coverA recent favourite of mine is An American Marriage by Tayeri Jones, published in 2018 and winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction. This beautifully transparently written novel to me is a seamless narrative arc, starting with a powerful trigger incident that challenges not only the two central characters, whom we quickly love, but the social structures in which we live too.

I will never forget the incident with the pear and plastic bag in one of the prison scenes – my heart still jumps in my throat when I think of it. It is a brilliant, emotional dramatic novel, about prejudice and race relations in contemporary America, and about the conflict between loyalty to others and personal fulfillment.

Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller book coverWhen a novel is well executed, any cultural or geographical corner becomes ours – the reader’s – too.  I recently read Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller, a very interesting novelist who began to publish aged 40 following a successful career in marketing. Her novel is about inheritance, secrets and isolation in a rural community. It is unusual in the world it depicts, yet turns on an expertly handled plot not too distant from suspense or mystery writing. Then too, the runaway bestseller Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (published in 2017 and the author turns 50 this year) is equally gripping in its storytelling as it is original in its voice. The main character is a less often represented one: a single woman past her youth. It is an utterly character and voice driven novel, but at its core is a classic psychological suspense plot.

Older women: Book buyers and book readers

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine book coverRecent analysis of Nielsen Books and Consumer data, led by the AgeWise Network at Hachette UK*, established that 39% of the value of self-purchase books in the UK retail market in 2019 was money spent by those aged 45-85 years, and this age group bought 45% of the volume of all self-purchase books over the same period. This data depicted a portrait of a consumer who is digitally savvy, loyal and curious, and price sensitive – a smart combination of qualities and a force that cannot be ignored.


Jumping the Queue by Mary WesleyMary Wesley published her first novel Jumping the Queue aged 71, and went on to write 10 bestsellers before her death aged 90, including the televised Camomile Lawn. Jean Rhys, although she started publishing in her 30s, had a long hiatus in her writing career, and did not see publication of her major work Wide Sargasso Sea until she was 76. These are famous and extreme examples, but here at Watson, Little we would like to celebrate reaching midlife, marking half a century and beyond, by inviting you to submit your novels to us this summer. Happy writing, and good luck!

Get more information about the Watson, Little Fiction Prize and see the terms & conditions at https://www.watsonlittle.com/about/the-watson-little-prize/.

*With thanks to Peta Nightingale, Contracts, Rights and Author Development Director, Bookouture, Hachette

Laetitia Rutherford


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