Image: Penguin

Image: Penguin

Nina Stibbe has won the Comedy Women in Print prize for her semi-autobiographical coming-of-age romp Reasons to be Cheerful, it was announced today.

Described by judges as “genuinely hilarious” and “beautifully observed”, the novel scooped the £3,000 prize for the year's best comic novel from a star-studded shortlist that included Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson, The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary and Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams.

Speaking shortly after the prize was announced, Stibbe said: “Being a Comedy Women In Print shortlistee has been a most joyful experience, so to have won the award against such mighty competition is the icing on the cake”.

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 KennedyPauline McLynn, Lolly Adefope, Joanna Scanlan and Laura Steven.

Meanwhile, the inaugural prize for Humorous Graphic Novels was jointly awarded to the legendary newspaper cartoonist and children's book illustrator Posy Simmonds for her darkly funny picture book Cassandra Darke, about a Scrooge-like millionaire art dealer who defrauds her clients before embarking on a journey of self-discovery. She shared the prize with Was it... Too Much For You by Danny Noble.

Janet Ellis, chair of the Humorous Graphic Novel judges, said: ‘The judges chose two first prize winners because it became obvious that - far from being a source of argument - both of these books had the full approval and downright love of all the judges. To place one above the other would be against the spirit of this provocative, punchy and supremely supportive prize."

In a big night for Penguin authors, another winner was the screenwriter and novelist Ruth Jones, whose latest novel Us Three was cited as a major contribution to the world of funny women writers as she won the organisation's first Witty Woman of the Year award.

The full shortlist for the Comedy Women in Print's best Published Comic Novel was as follows:

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen
The Blessed Girl by Angela Makholwa
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
Reasons to Be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson

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