How do I submit a work?
Check out our 'How To Submit A Work' page for more information.
I may be disabled, but must I write explicitly about disability?
No. Ill and disabled people are often 'pigeonholed', and if you are a disabled author, your plot or main focal point within a work need not entirely be about disability. What we ask for is that disability or illness is at least represented somewhere, even implicitly or as a secondary consideration. If the work contains absolutely zero reference at all to disability or long-term illness then it is likely not the sort of work we are looking for. As an example, one could write a crime novel where the protagonist is ill, yet that is not the nucleus or centre of the work, or the main point of the work in totality. Though it should at least be present and extant in the work considered.
Are authors with health problems such as mental illness or cancer eligible for the prize?
The Barbellion Prize is intended mostly for people with chronic, life-long conditions – whether congenital, or acquired as adults. It’s never easy to define exactly who’s in, and who’s out. There are already prizes specifically for people with cancer or people with mental health conditions, and this prize is not intended to duplicate or overlap with those - while we will still consider any submissions. Nor is it intended for those with disabilities that do not much affect their participation in society. Many, but not all of those eligible will live shortened lifespans, due to CF, MD, MS, and various other conditions.
But this is not a prize about ill-health or medicine. It is a prize which celebrates and recognises alternative ways of living and finding meaning.
If potential applicants are in any doubt about their eligibility, please contact, in confidence, the administrator of the prize. The decision of the administrator and judges shall be final.
A list of prize winners will offer further guidance as to what we are looking for in the future.
Who was Barbellion?
W.N.P. Barbellion (Bruce Frederick Cummings, 1889 – 1919), was an English diarist and naturalist who was diagnosed with 'disseminated sclerosis', otherwise known as multiple sclerosis (MS), before WW1.
He wrote eloquently, controversially, and movingly about his life, health, nature, observations on culture and society, and his impending death in The Journal of a Disappointed Man, as well as in his A Last Diary ; regarded by some as among the most moving diaries ever written: comparable in merit to Franz Kafka and James Joyce.
Indeed, Barbellion's work is perhaps "the most remarkable example of self-reflection that has ever been printed."
The Barbellion Prize is named in his honour, in homage and in tribute to him, as he is an exemplar of the sort of work made possible under such terrible circumstances and to the power of writing - as a way to embolden oneself and contend with the realities of illness.
Why was The Barbellion Prize created?
The idea to create a book prize for ill and disabled authors came to Jake Goldsmith in the process of writing his own memoir, Neither Weak Nor Obtuse. Jake’s memoir is about how his life-long suffering with cystic fibrosis and various other medical conditions shaped his view of the world, his mind, his ideas, and his view on impending death.
Later in the book he reflects on the wider public perception of people with illnesses like his, or of people with disabilities, and how they are often abused, hurt, overlooked, and especially misunderstood.
He also reflects on the history of literature and writing on illness and the idea of writing as a method of emotional ventilation, and a way to help oneself and others understand or simply contend with these experiences.
Writing is a brilliant way for ill and disabled people to make some sense of what they experience. Yet the history of disability literature or the public awareness of illness, impairment, or sickness, is still comparatively limited. Far too limited. And it is still too commonly turned away from, ignored, scorned, or we discriminate and ridicule when we do see it.
Many people around the world with long-term illnesses or disabilities do not have a voice that is heard enough, and indeed may be among those who are least heard in our communities.
It can take a lot of time and energy to be ill, and many do not have the luxury of being able to write about their lives, or be creative, or even the opportunity of an education in order to do that. And it would be better if we could see and celebrate these lives more.
No matter how ubiquitous is, illness and disability will often still not be given proper attention, or it is shamed and mistreated in everyday life. Disability can become a reality for anyone, and yet we will still neglect it, or find room for abuse.
And in literature, it is still not one of the more essential or primary of subjects when it perhaps deserves to be - given its significance.
As such, The Barbellion Prize was created to espouse the existence of ill and disabled writers, and to reward authors for their good work and effort.