Comedy Women in Print: My night at an award ceremony with all the write stuff

Imagine being in a room full of heroes. It should be pretty intimidating, but last night’s Comedy Women in Print (CWIP) awards was anything but.

Okay, mebbes a little. I mean, I’m a girl who didn’t have an indoor toilet until I was nine and I was sipping G&Ts at The Conduit private members’ club in Mayfair (I went suitably posh, in a Marks and Spencer dress.)

What’s more, I was mingling with people like Jilly Cooper, Katy Brand, Jenny Eclair and – gulp – Marian Keyes.

But the overwhelming feel in the room was one of support.

The prize is the work Helen Lederer – another hero – who has spent the last five years getting support and sponsorship for CWIP after realising there were no awards for funny women writers.

Speaking to 50Sense earlier this year, she said: “I looked around for a prize rather hopefully when I’d finished my comedy novel [Losing It] – and there wasn’t one.

“I did get nominated for the PG Wodehouse comedy literary prize, which made me very happy indeed. The only other time I got a prize was aged 11, for standing up straight.”

She should get a prize herself for organising such an amazing night celebrating women. One for next year: Award for Best Organiser.

There were three categories on the night, but, unusually for such an event, none of them could be called the “star prize” because they were all stars.

Best-selling novelist Jilly won the lifetime achievement award for being a “game-changer… at a time when visibility for witty women writers was still an issue”, said Helen.

Now I have an admission – I’ve never read a Jilly Cooper novel. Not even on the beach. That’s changing this year… As for the woman herself – it felt like being in the presence of the Queen. Jilly Cooper is regal. There’s no other word for it.

I also have to admit to wiping a tear from my eye when Laura Steven won the Published Prize for The Exact Opposite of Okay.

Looking incredible in a red dress that I want, Laura was so overcome she had to stop her speech as the emotions took over and the room “aaahed” in empathy.

That was one of Those Moments For Women: you know, when you realise how unfair and unjust it is that women aren’t getting the recognition they deserve and then you see that that’s changing.

If ever Helen needed proof that her award is making a change, it was this.

Presenting the award, Marian – yes, we’re on first-name terms now – said they had been torn between two. They chose The Exact Opposite of Okay “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”.

No wonder Laura was emotional!

Jenny Eclair presents the Unpublished Work prize

Stage and screenwriter Kirsty Eyre won the unpublished category for Cow Girl – she’s now got a publishing contract and a £5,000 advance from Harper Fiction.

“Just being on the shortlist has made such a difference to me,” she said, after receiving the award from Jenny Eclair.

There was also an incredible performance from Georgia and the Vintage Youth – if you’ve never heard of them, you’re missing out – far-too-drinkable King of Soho G&Ts and scrummy-looking canapés that constantly passed me by as I reached out in vain…

Now for the confession. Yes, I fan-girled.

“Excuse me,” I said, spotting a familiar face with a blonde bob. “Are you Hattie? Oh my God, I just adored you in Red Dwarf.”

Yes, it was Hattie Hayridge – the female Holly from Red Dwarf – but Hattie! I mean, HATTIE!!! I could at least have said “Ms Hayridge”.

But she was lovely and happily let me enthuse about how much I’d loved Red Dwarf when I was younger and how she had been a real game-changer for me by being in it. (Red Dwarf was very much a blokes’ thing. Having a woman in it – and not a woman only to be lusted after by Craig Charles’s Lister – meant so much.) I think I made a change by not being a 30-year-old man gushing over her at a comic con. Okay, mebbes not a good change, but a change.

And, as I raced away to grab the train back to Canterbury, I fulfilled a long dream by grabbing two minutes with Marian, who was even more lovelier than I’d imagine (and has an accent to die for). She also – and thank you from the bottom of my heart – happily posed with a KnowYourMenopause poster. I’m now off to re-buy all her books and read them again.

Marian Keyes blows us away by posing with a KnowYourMenopause poster

I have only two criticisms: firstly, there were so many interesting women to talk to that I didn’t get time to grab more photos. This is the 21st century. How will I ever know I was there without selfies?

Secondly, it was hot with all that chatter. Perhaps you could get a sponsorship deal for fans for your menopausal supporters next time, Helen…

I need help on which Jilly Cooper to read. Let me know your favourite below with any other funny female fiction you have. This is a genre I really need to improve on.

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