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Downer, Lesley

Lesley Downer

downer_lesley_apr15Lesley Downer is a novelist, writer and journalist whose passion is Japan.  She has lived there off and on for more than fifteen years out of the last thirty.

Her non-fiction works include Madame Sadayakko: The Geisha who Seduced the West, the biography of the woman who was Puccini’s model for Madame Butterfly; and The Brothers: The Hidden World of Japan’s Richest Family, the epic saga of the loves, lives and rivalries of a Japanese business dynasty (founders of the Muji shops, among much else).  She is the author of Geisha: The Secret History of a Vanishing World, the definitive work on geishas past and present.

She is now concentrating on fiction.  She has written three novels:  The Last Concubine, a love story set in civil war Japan, shortlisted for Romantic Novel of the Year 2009; The Courtesan and the Samurai; and Across a Bridge of Dreams (published in paperback as The Samurai’s Daughter).  She recently completed the fourth, provisionally entitled Woman Behind the Screens.

She lives in London with her husband, physicist and author Arthur I. Miller, with frequent trips to Tokyo and New York.

Agent:  Bill Hamilton, AM Heath & Co.


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Holliday, John

John Holliday

John Holliday was born and grew up in England, where his service in the Royal Air Force led to an opportunity in the burgeoning computer industry of the 1960s. John moved to Canada in 1968, initially joining IBM but later breaking out on his own with his first business in a career as a serial entrepreneur. In 1982 he moved to Australia and continued to create new businesses.

The experiences of his working life became the subject of a book, Toughing It Out – Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur, and so started a love of writing and the setting of new goals. John is now working on a biography of Walter Henry Medhurst, one of the first missionaries to China and John’s great-great-grandfather.

John is married and lives on the Gold Coast in Australia.

Engelstad, Harald

Harald Engelstad

Harald Engelstad is Editor-in-Chief of general non-fiction at H Aschehoug & Co, one of Norway´s leading publishing houses (est 1872). Since joining the company in 1987, he has commissioned and edited a considerable number of major biographies, some of which have been widely translated, including ones on pioneering Norwegian mathematicians Niels Henrik Abel (1802-1829) and Sophus Lie (1842-1899) and political figures such as Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945). Conversely, Engelstad has been responsible for the Norwegian editions of large-scale biographies of several international figures.

Harald Engelstad started his career as a translator and literary critic. His thesis for the degree of (PhD), an investigation into the lyrics of John Lennon, was published in 1987. Engelstad is at present (since 2011) Chair of the Norwegian Biographical Society.

Biographers’ Club Prizes – the 2014 winners

At the Biographers’ Club dinner on Friday, 21 November, Claudia Renton won the Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize, Polly Clark won the Tony Lothian Prize, and Richard Holmes received the Lifetime Services to Biography Prize. Read more

The Exceptional Contribution to Biography Award

The Exceptional Contribution to Biography Award awards those who have excelled in the sphere of biography over a lifetime of writing and research, and who have brought new life, breadth and focus to the genre.

Jenny Uglow receives Exceptional Contribution to Biography Award 2017.

The Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize

The Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize awards £2,500 to the judges’ choice for the best first biography published each year. 2018 is the fifth year of sponsorship of the Prize by literary quarterly Slightly Foxed. For further information, go to the Slightly Foxed website.

The 2018 shortlist comprises books by Bart van Es, Michelle Mendelssohn, Roland Philipps, Fiona Sampson and Tara Westover. For further information, go here.

The 2018 Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize will be announced at a ceremony at Maggs Bros, Bedford Square on Tuesday 26 February.

Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize 2014 – the shortlist

Titles by Ali A Allawi, Rachel Cooke, Henry Marsh, Rory Muir, and Claudia Renton are on the shortlist for the Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize, worth £3,500. Read more

Neville, Sophie

Sophie Neville

Sophie Neville is currently launching The Making of Swallows & Amazons, a filmography of the 1974 feature film in which she played the part of Titty as a child. Although encouraged to work as an actor, she gained a BA in Anthropology at Durham University and forged a career in television production at the BBC, writing a number of the dramas and documentaries that she produced. The story of an abrupt change in her life is told in Funnily Enough, a self-published memoir that became a bestseller on Kindle and won her third prize in the International Rubery Book Award 2013. The sequel Ride the Wings of Morning tells of her escapades in southern Africa while she was working as a wildlife artist, freelancing for the BBC and researching her current project, the true story of a Commonwealth soldier who became a prisoner to the Japanese in WWII.

Sophie is President of The Arthur Ransome Society, a member of ACW and a Director of Witness Films Ltd. An official speaker for Bible Society, she often gives talks on Swallows & Amazons to raise funds for the Waterberg Welfare Society, a charity which addresses HIV/AIDS in a corner of rural South Africa where she lived for twelve years.

Judges – Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize

This prize was inaugurated in 2009, and is now sponsored by Slightly Foxed, the Real Reader’s Quarterly Read more

Judges – Tony Lothian Prize

  • 1999: Michael Holroyd and Nigel Hamilton
  • 2000: Victoria Glendinning, Richard Holmes and Frances Spalding
  • 2001: Anne de Courcy, Selina Hastings and Alan Judd
  • 2002: Anthony Sampson, Mary Lovell and Lyndall Gordon
  • 2003: Sarah Bradford, Lucy Moore and Mary Amory
  • 2004: David Ellis, Anne Chisholm and Anna Swan
  • 2005: Miranda Seymour, Robert Lacey and Caroline Moorehead
  • 2006: HRH Princess Michael of Kent, Jeremy Lewis and Paul Laity
  • 2007: Rachel Holmes, Anne Sebba and Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson
  • 2008: Nicola Beauman, Richard Davenport-Hines and Andrew Crofts
  • 2009: Margaret Drabble, Anne de Courcy and John Guy
  • 2010: Kate Williams, Matthew Parris and Benjamin Buchan
  • 2011: Valerie Grove, Jane Mays and David Waller
  • 2012: Michael Crick, Neil McKenna and Carole Seymour-Jones
  • 2013: Tracy Borman, Helen Fry, Andrew Lycett
  • 2014: Lara Feigel, Allan Massie, Adam Sisman
  • 2015: Claudia Renton, Jeremy Lewis, Frances Wilson
  • 2016: Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Susie Dowdall, Peter Stanford
  • 2017: Alex Clark, Lindsay Duguid, Edmund Gordon