Reasons to be Cheerful – Stibbe's third in a trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels – follows Lizzie, a wide-eyed, witty yet unworldly 18-year-old desperate to get away from her “drunk, divorcée, nudist, amphetamine addict, nymphomaniac, shoplifter” mum.
So she leaves her home in a Midlands village and heads to the bright lights of Leicester where she talks her way into a job as a dentist's assistant. There follows a story brimming with awkward encounters, hair-raising driving lessons, battles with athlete's foot, a toe-curlingly weird boss and a boyfriend who prefers bird-watching to sex, as Lizzie throws herself into life as a “busy city woman”.
"I fell in love with Nina Stibbe when I read her memoir, Love Nina, several years ago,” said Marian Keyes, chair of the judging panel. “When I heard in 2016 that she was writing her first novel, I moved heaven and earth to track down a proof. She has an instinctive comedic touch.
“She has that extraordinary gift, which is far harder than it looks, of assembling words according to some magical formula, to make a sentence funny. She is a master of bathos, and of juxtaposing two unlikely sentiments in a way to make you howl with laughter."
The prize – set up last year by comedian, writer and actor Helen Lederer – was judged by Keyes, Emma Kennedy, Pauline McLynn, Lolly Adefope, Joanna Scanlan and Laura Steven.