John Woolf wins Tony Lothian Prize

The Biographers’ Club Tony Lothian Prize 2017 has gone to John Woolf for his proposal Queen Victoria’s Freaks: The Performers at Buckingham Palace. The £2,000 prize is for the best proposal for an uncommissioned first biography.

Woolf received the prize at the Biographers’ Club Christmas party, held last night (12 December) in London. His proposed book offers the untold story of the ‘freaks’ who were summoned by royal command from the boards of the Victorian freak show to Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle for the entertainment of the monarch, her family and her royal guests. By resurrecting the triumphant and tragic lives of the freaks who met Victoria, Woolf humanises the inhumane, and portrays the freak show across the nineteenth century: a world that permeated all aspects of Victorian culture.

(As pictured: Jane Ridley, Alex Clark and John Woolf)

The judges were Alex Clark, journalist and broadcaster as well as Artistic Director for Words and Literature at the Bath Festival; Lindsay Duguid, a former editor at the Times Literary Supplement and a judge of the Duff Cooper Prize; and Edmund Gordon, teacher at Kings College London and author of The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography.

The Tony Lothian Prize, run by the Biographers’ Club, is sponsored by the Duchess of Buccleuch in memory of her mother, Antonella, Marchioness of Lothian, OBE (1922-2007).

It has a strong record of showcasing new talent. The 2015 Tony Lothian winner, Francesca Wade’s Square Haunting, went on to be signed by Faber; Sarah Watling’s Noble Savages, which won last year, secured a deal with Jonathan Cape.

Also shortlisted this year were:

Lin Rose Clark, The Boxing Parson of Killarney

The author tells the story of her grandfather Robert ‘Bob’ Hilliard, a roisterer and rebel who met an early death fighting with the International Brigades against Franco.

Oli Hazzard, Enter a Cloud: A Book On/With/For/After W.S. Graham

A life of one of the most brilliant and influential poets of the twentieth century, telling the story through imagined interviews, fictionalised encounters, transcribed conversations, email exchanges, and unpublished archival materials.

Susan Kelly, Willibald’s Journey

The story of the 10-year pilgrimage to Rome and the Holy Land of Willibald, born in Anglo Saxon England in AD700.

Philip Ward, Every Other Inch a Gentleman: The Lives of Michael Arlen

Life of the man—born to Armenian parents who emigrated to Lancashire—who was a literary sensation among the smart set of the 1920s.