Riot helps Penguin celebrate 85th anniversary

Charlie Mackesy
Coralie Bickford-SmithDapo AdeolaJackie Morris and Vashti Harrison contribute work, with all profits going to charity

Penguin turns 85 this year and Riot is helping the publisher celebrate by launching a range of fine art prints, with all profits going to the National Literacy Trust. 


Specially-commissioned from five leading Penguin artists, illustrators and authors, these beautiful prints – themed around the transformative power of books and reading – are perfect for book lovers and art enthusiasts alike.  


Priced £85 each, the framed prints are on sale via the Penguin Shop for a limited period of 85 days. Members of the public will have until Friday 23rd October to purchase a piece of design history. 


Will Smith, Head of Brand, Penguin Random House UK:  

“From its beginnings in 1935, Penguin has been indelibly associated with design excellence and visual inspiration. We’re proud to work with the very best and most loved artists and illustrators in the world. Marking our 85th anniversary with this project is a fitting nod to that heritage and supports an absolutely vital cause. At Penguin, we make books for everyone, because a book can change anyone. The National Literacy Trust effects tangible and lasting change in peoples’ lives across the country through books too. It’s hugely moving to see how this group of artists has depicted the transformative power of reading in these beautiful artworks. The saying goes that a picture paints a thousand words – these ones will no doubt inspire people to read thousands more!” 


Jonathan Douglas, CEO, National Literacy Trust:  

“COVID-19 is set to have a disastrous impact on the literacy and life chances of our most disadvantaged children. With widespread school and library closures limiting many children’s access to learning and books, the literacy gap between disadvantaged children and their peers is expected to skyrocket. This could hold them back for the rest of their lives – unless we act now. We have been working tirelessly with Penguin Random House to get books and vital literacy resources into the homes of children who need them most. We are hugely grateful for their ongoing support through this incredible fundraising initiative and to the artists who have contributed their valuable time and talent to capture the transformative power of reading through their creations. Together, we can continue to support the literacy of children who have been most seriously affected by COVID-19 and ensure that no child is left behind.” 


About the prints 

Each art print is 30x40cm, printed on matt smooth fine art paper, with a mount and a responsibly sourced solid wood frame with a smooth black satin finish. They are produced by specialist art printers, King & McGaw. 


About the artists  

Artist, illustrator and author Charlie Mackesy began his career as a cartoonist for The Spectator, before going on to be book illustrator for Oxford University Press. His award-winning work has featured in books, private collections, and public spaces including hospitals, prisons, churches, university colleges and galleries across London, Edinburgh and New York, and in women’s safe houses around the world. He worked with Richard Curtis on the set of Love Actually to create a set of drawings to be auctioned for Comic Relief, and Nelson Mandela on a lithograph project, The Unity Series. Away from art he’s an ambassador for Mama Buci, a honey social enterprise in Zambia. His internationally bestselling first book, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse, was published in October 2019.  


Coralie Bickford-Smith is one of the most renowned designers in the publishing industry, especially recognised and celebrated for her illustrated covers of Penguin’s clothbound classics. Her first book, The Fox and the Star, was named Waterstones Book of the Year and as one of Time Out’s 100 Children’s Books of All Time. Her design work has been featured in numerous publications, including the New York Times and the Guardian. 


Dapo Adeola is an illustrator and character designer who creates characters and images that challenge gender norms in a fun and upbeat way. He runs illustration and character design workshops in and out of schools, to help highlight the possibilities of a career in illustration to inner-city children. Look Up!, his first collaboration with Nathan Bryon, was shortlisted for the 2019 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Awards. Clean Up! – the sequel to Bryon and Adeola’s Look Up! –  is published by Puffin on 23rd July 2020. 


Jackie Morris is a children’s author and artist. She studied at Hereford College of Arts and at Bath Academy, and went on to illustrate for the New StatesmanIndependent and Guardian among many other publications. She has created over 40 books, including beloved classics such as Song of the Golden HareTell Me A DragonEast of the SunWest of the Moon and The Wild Swans. She collaborated with Ted Hughes, and her books have sold more than a million copies worldwide. Most recently, The Lost Words – her collaboration with Robert Macfarlane – has become a bestselling, critically acclaimed literary phenomenon. The Lost Spells, a new collaboration with Robert MacFarlane, is published on 1st October 2020. 


Vashti Harrison earned her MFA in Film/Video from CalArts and BA from the University of Virginia. Her experimental films and documentaries have shown around the world at film festivals. After a brief stint in television as a production coordinator, she is now a freelance graphic designer and a picture-book illustrator. She is the artist behind a number of Penguin Random House’s inspirational Little Leaders titles, as well as Lupita Nyong’o’s New York Times bestseller, Sulwe. 



Riot Senior Campaigns Manager Hephzibah Kwakye-Saka on how to promote books by black authors

This article first appeared in the Bookseller on 24th July 2020

As a black publicist with more than seven years in culture and entertainment publicity, I have sat in many all-white creative meetings where the genuine answer to making a campaign diverse was to give Stormzy a call (before that it was Tinie Tempah).

If you are serious about diversity and inclusion, it needs to be thought about holistically.

While it has been very encouraging to hear the recent ongoing conversations about the need to diversify the publishing industry and to see a rush of acquisitions by black writers, fuelled by the Black Lives Matter movement, I am concerned that publishers are signing up black authors, without the knowledge and skill to market and promote these books to audiences that have historically been excluded.

Last month, the Black Writers’ Guild called on publishers to help tackle the ‘deep-rooted racial inequalities’ in the industry, and I was delighted to see that one of their requests called for the acknowledgement that emerging black authors need a specific and targeted marketing and PR campaign to reach audiences that are essential but are usually missed by approaching every book promotion strategy in the same way – i.e. going big on the Guardian and Radio 4. While these mainstream outlets are very important in reaching the masses (black people consume mainstream media too!), platforms like Gal Dem, GUAP Magazine and many more like them were created as a response to feeling excluded from the mainstream conversation and have now attracted dedicated audiences who feel heard and understood.

Currently, when such platforms are included in the media updates sent to sales teams, there is a feeling that these are ‘niche’ and won’t have the same impact on book sales as getting a piece on, say, Woman’s Hour. I wholeheartedly disagree! While these outlets are still relatively new and still finding their feet, they know their audiences and understand what they need, and there’s value in that. We see this in the recently launched Cocoa Girl and Cocoa Boy magazines by London mum Serlina Boyd, after spotting a gap in the market during lockdown. The magazines, targeting and inspiring black children has now sold out all 10,000 copies of the first issues, and has had over 50,000 visits on its website.

These platforms should work in tandem with coverage in national mainstream news outlets. It’s a strategy we regularly deploy at Riot. I just wrapped up a campaign for the National Centre for Writing, on the Desmond Elliott Prize, won by #Merky Books’ Derek Owusu for That Reminds Me. Making this announcement against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement, we made sure to land coverage in The Voice UK and Capital Xtra Breakfast Show as well as typical places such as the Guardian, the BBC and the Evening Standard. This two-pronged approach resulted in That Reminds Me hitting #3 on the Amazon Movers and Shakers list the day after the announcement.

When working with our client, Mammoth Screen, (a leading TV production company) and Penguin Random House Children’s on the BBC’s adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses, we worked with Black Girls Book Club to curate a panel event of non-white speakers made up of some of the cast and crew to discuss the joys and challenges of taking the book to screen. We understood that for black fans of the book like me, this was one of the rare times we could see our pain and everyday struggle represented so accurately in a fictional book and now on primetime TV, making it extremely important to include and empower this demographic as part of our campaign strategy.

Major global news outlets are slowly but surely seeing the merits of investing in black audiences by creating sub-brands or sections on their wider platforms for these voices to be championed. These include Pidgin (BBC News), R29 Unbothered (Refinery29) and Cocoa Butter (BuzzFeed) to name but a few, providing even more opportunities for publicity and marketing teams (not least when mainstream media is axing supplements that have been integral to campaigns thus far). But understanding these outlets and the audience is key, and that is a specialism.

It strikes me that when publishers (by which I mean editors, designers, and sales teams as much as marketing and publicity departments) begin to value black consumers by embracing the full range of news and entertainment sources that we engage with, and which speak directly and unashamedly to us, that is when real change will be felt, not only culturally, but also positively on the bottom line.

Never-seen-before manuscript by Philip Pullman revealed on 25th anniversary of Northern Lights


“When I wrote Serpentine, I had no idea that I was going on to write another trilogy, showing Lyra as an adult, but she and her world wouldn’t leave me alone.” – Philip Pullman 

  • Serpentine, a new book featuring a teenage Lyra Silvertongue, will be published in October 2020
  • Academy Award-winning actress Olivia Colman to narrate audiobook edition 
  • BBC One and HBO’s His Dark Materials Season Two confirmed for this autumn, based on The Subtle Knife 

Penguin Random House have today, Thursday 9th July 2020, announced that they will be publishing a previously unseen manuscript by Philip Pullman this autumn. Serpentine – a novella set after the events of His Dark Materials but before those of The Secret Commonwealth – was written in 2004, but has remained under wraps until now.   

The announcement coincides with the 25th anniversary of Northern Lights, the first volume of Pullman’s ground-breaking, internationally bestselling His Dark Materials trilogy, which was published in 1995.  

The standalone short story was written for a charity auction at the request of the National Theatre’s then-director, Nicholas Hytner, during the award-winning stage production of His Dark Materials. The hand-written manuscript and printed typescript were auctioned and bought by Glenn and Phyllida Earle for a substantial sum, with all proceeds going to charity. The book is being published 16 years on, following the publication of The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust Volume Two last autumn, where readers were introduced to an adult Lyra. 

Philip Pullman says: “Why are we publishing this story now? Because with the development of The Book of Dust, especially after the events described in The Secret Commonwealth, we can see a change in the way Lyra understands herself, and her relationship with Pantalaimon, which is prefigured in this little Arctic episode. When I wrote Serpentine, I had no idea that I was going on to write another trilogy, showing Lyra as an adult, but she and her world wouldn’t leave me alone. When it comes to human affairs, a billion invisible filaments connect us to our own pasts, as well as to the most remote things we can imagine; and I hope that, above all, these books are about being alive and being human.”  

In Serpentine, a teenage Lyra returns to the town of Trollesund, the setting of her first encounter with Iorek Byrneson and Lee Scoresby in Northern Lights. Lyra and Pan are older and a little wiser, and in search of an answer to a shocking, secret condition – their ability to separate – from the witch-consul, Dr Lanselius. What unfolds is a tender, revelatory scene that foreshadows Lyra’s future struggles as a young woman, and provides insight into Pullman’s own early exploration of a previously unthinkable plot development that would emerge in his The Book of Dust sequence: the idea that a human’s bond with their daemon can be irreparably broken. 

Serpentine will be published by Penguin Random House Children’s on 15th October 2020 in hardback and ebook edition, with illustrations by Tom Duxbury, alongside an audiobook edition narrated by Academy Award-winning actress Olivia Colman (The CrownThe FavouriteFleabag). 

Northern Lights introduced readers to the parallel world of Lyra Belacqua, the truth-telling alethiometer, the concept of Dust and the idea of dæmons, the animal embodiment of a human’s inner-life and thought. Acclaimed as a modern masterpiece from the beginning, Northern Lights went on to win numerous awards, including the Carnegie of Carnegies, has sold over 2 million copies through BookScan’s Total Consumer Market and has been translated into 45 languages. The book established Pullman as one of the greatest storytellers of our time. 

25 years on, Lyra’s story continues to grip the nation. 18 million copies of the His Dark Materials trilogy have sold in over 44 languages, and the BBC/HBO television adaptation of His Dark Materials, with its all-star cast including Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy and Lin-Manuel Miranda, was the biggest new British show in over five years on any channel, with initial viewing figures of 7.2 million.  

2020 sees an exciting programme of Pullman activity, with the confirmation of Season Two of the His Dark Materials series launching later this year, as well as the publication of three new editions of Pullman titles: The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust Volume Two paperback from David Fickling Books in association with Penguin Random House (17th September), Dæmon Voices paperback from David Fickling Books (1st October) and a fully-illustrated hardback gift editionNorthern Lights: The Illustrated Edition (5th November), from Scholastic. 

Derek Owusu wins 2020 Desmond Elliott Prize with “groundbreaking” debut That Reminds Me

Taylor Beidler wins the inaugural UEA New Forms Award and Michelle Perkins receives the first Laura Kinsella Fellowship

The National Centre for Writing (NCW) has today (2nd July) announced Derek Owusu’s That Reminds Me as the winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize 2020. The novel-in-verse, praised by judges as a ‘transcendent work of literature’, is chosen as the best debut novel across the UK and Ireland this year from a strong shortlist including The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré and The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu.

In addition to the £10,000 prize money, Owusu will receive a tailored year-round platform of support and mentorship from the NCW, which is running the Desmond Elliott Prize for the first time this year as part of its new Early Career Awards portfolio.

That Reminds Me is a vivid and semi-autobiographical tale of a British-Ghanaian boy called K, whose turbulent childhood spent passing through foster homes leaves him battling with a budding neurosis. At 11-years-old, K is moved from his white foster family in a village in Suffolk and is taken back to the very different context of inner-city London after his foster mother develops cancer. Each section, told in fragments of memory, explores K’s flickering experiences of abuse, sexual awakening, depression, alcoholism, self-harm and addiction.

It was chosen as the best debut of the year by a judging panel chaired by author and previous Desmond Elliott Prize winner, Preti Taneja, who was joined by Chief Lead Writer at The Observer, Sonia Sodha, and writer and editor Sinéad Gleeson. Preti Taneja said: “That Reminds Me is written with a rare style that wrings pure beauty from every painful, absurd moment K must face. Despite the terrors around him, this young black man has an instinctive love for the world that burns at the core of the book. The judges and I were as shattered by the truths of the story as we were moved by the talent of its writer. Derek Owusu has given us a unique, profound and transcendent work of literature: we want as many readers as possible to discover it – once they do they will return to again and again.”

Owusu is a writer, poet and podcaster from north London who, before turning his hand to fiction, collated, edited and contributed to Safe: On Black British Men Reclaiming Space (2019), an anthology of writing by 20 Black British men. He was a co-host of the literature podcast Mostly Lit up until 2017.

That Reminds Me is published by Stormzy’s #Merky imprint. It is the first title in a two-book deal for Owusu, and the first book published by the imprint to have won any major literary prize. The TV and film rights to Owusu’s second book with #Merky, Teaching My Brother to Read, have already been sold to Idris Elba’s production company, Green Door Pictures.

The new Early Career Awards portfolio also includes the University of East Anglia (UEA) New Forms Award for an innovative and daring new voice in fiction and the Laura Kinsella Fellowship which recognises an exceptional writer who has experienced limiting circumstances or is currently underrepresented in literary fiction.

The UEA New Forms Awards was judged by writer and poet Inua Ellams, with Professor Henry Sutton and Dr. Claire Hynes of UEA and NCW Programme Director Peggy Hughes. It is awarded to Taylor Beidler, whose project explores non-traditional storytelling and aims to synthesise her work as a playwright, performance artist and creative non-fiction writer.

Of Beidler’s entry, Peggy Hughes said: “This is an impressive project with exciting potential, using a personal story to powerful, measured effect.”

The Laura Kinsella Fellowship was judged by doctor and author Roopa Farooki and novelist and playwright Alice Jolly with Chief Executive of the NCW, Chris Gribble. It is awarded to Michelle Perkins. Perkins originally trained as a nurse and was the first person in her family to go to university when she studied at Goldsmiths in the 90s. After experiencing some major life challenges, she rediscovered writing as a means to make sense of her difficult family history.

Of Perkins’ work, Roopa Farooki said: “There is a poetic pragmatism that is the writer’s own, and I feel there is great potential for this writer to be a bold and brilliant voice.”

Beidler and Perkins will both receive £4,000 to support them at the beginnings of their careers as well as a bespoke programme of support provided by the NCW, supported by Arts Council England. All three winners have also been invited to choose a selection of ten books which NCW will gift to a library or school of their choice.

Running in parallel to the Early Career Awards is an online digital programme providing free resources for anyone, anywhere wanting to progress with their writing. Every two months NCW releases a bespoke support package with advice from established and new voices. Supported by the Arts Council England, this element of the Early Career Awards aims to widen the impact of literary prize culture.

Two ‘extraordinary’ books exploring survival and our relationship with nature through short stories win UK’s most prestigious book awards for children and young people

  • Third time lucky for British author Anthony McGowan, who clinches the CILIP Carnegie Medal with the fourth book in his series of short novellas
  • Academy Award-winning artist, writer and film maker Shaun Tan is the first illustrator of colour to win the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal / #CKG20 / #bestchildrensbooks

Today (Wednesday 17th June 2020), the winners of the prestigious CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, the UK’s oldest book awards for children and young people, are revealed.

Lark by Anthony McGowan (Barrington Stoke) scoops the Carnegie Medal for writing, whilst Tales from the Inner City written and illustrated by Shaun Tan (Walker Books) takes the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration. The winning books were chosen by 14 volunteer Youth Librarians, from a total of 162 nominations this year, as the very best in children’s writing and illustration published in the UK. The winners will each receive £500 worth of books to donate to a library of their choice, a specially commissioned golden medal and a £5,000 Colin Mears Award cash prize.

This is the first time both McGowan and Tan have won a Medal in either category. British author McGowan has previously been longlisted and shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal with three out of the four books from this novella series Truth of Things (Brock, Pike and Rook). The last book in a series to win a Carnegie Medal was Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness in 2011, the final book in his Chaos Walking trilogy.

Australian author and illustrator Tan, who is of Australian, Chinese and Malay heritage, is the first illustrator of colour to win the Kate Greenaway Medal. Tales from the Inner City is a sister volume to Tan’s 2008 anthology, Tales from Outer Suburbia.  He has worked as a theatre designer, a concept artist for animated films including Pixar’s WALL-E and directed the Academy Award-winning short film, The Lost Thing in 2011. In the same year, Tan received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, honouring his contribution to international children’s literature.

This is the first Medal win for small independent publisher, Barrington Stoke, while 35 years later, Tales from the Inner City marks Walker Books’ 12th Kate Greenaway Medal since its first win in 1985.

Both books use captivating words and images to explore humankind’s relationship with nature, alongside themes of survival. Lark tells the story of two brothers, Nicky and Kenny, who set out for an adventure in the North Yorkshire Moors only to be caught in a precarious blizzard when weather conditions take a turn. Throughout the book, the brothers display a deep respect and understanding of nature, which ultimately grants them consolation as they wait to be rescued. McGowan’s prose paints nature as a source of wonder and joy, but also peril.

Tales from the Inner City, a collection of 25 illustrated stories, was borne out of Tan’s life-long love of animals and deals with the separation and tension between the natural and artificial world. Tan believes that many of the problems we face today may have something to do with the distance from nature in a post-colonial and post-industrial world, especially within urban spaces. Throughout the book, Tan reminds readers that we are all interconnected with nature.

Anthony McGowan said:

“Every writer for young people dreams of winning the Carnegie Medal. Its incredible history, the rollcall of the great writers who have won it and the rigour of the selection process, makes this the greatest book prize in the world. It is also a magnificent way of connecting with readers. The hundreds of shadowing groups in schools and libraries around the country provide that one thing that writers cannot do without: a living, arguing, debating, biscuit-munching population of brilliant readers!

“On one level, Lark is a simple adventure story. Two woefully ill-equipped teenage boys, and their old Jack Russell terrier go for a walk on the North Yorkshire Moors. A blizzard descends and their fun day out, their ‘lark’ turns into a desperate battle for survival. On another level, the book is about the unshakable love between two brothers, one of them with special needs, after enduring family break-up, poverty, bullying and cruelty. Lark is also a story about the power of stories and the way they weave through our lives. The book ends with the words ‘Tell me a story,’ and with those words we are led back again to the beginning.”

Shaun Tan said:

“I am surprised, delighted and then deeply honoured – what a wonderful thing to be! I am especially thrilled to receive the Kate Greenaway Medal in the fine company of so many brilliant artists and authors, many of whom inspired my own love of illustrated stories as a young West Australian scribbler.

“Tales from the Inner City is a strange book for strange times, suggesting that human frailty might well find expression in dreams of tigers, bears, frogs and lungfish reclaiming our cities. To know that I am not alone in enjoying such speculation – maybe even a bit too much – is no small thing. It is profoundly consoling, to feel part of a larger conversation about our relationship to this planet, particularly with younger readers, in whose imagination the future is already taking shape.”

With relatable stories that show children a range of perspectives and lived experiences, the 2020 Medal winners reflect the Awards’ mission ‘to celebrate and represent a diverse range of experiences’.

Julia Hale, Chair, CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals judging panel, commented:

“During challenging times, librarians believe books for children and young people are more important than ever. The best books provide adventure, solace, inspiration, comfort, escape, rich experiences and sheer enjoyment; they are a port in a storm, a reflective mirror and an entry to new worlds. In an unprecedented year for all of us, we are delighted to reveal the two extraordinary winners of the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals that highlight our connection and co-dependency with the natural world.”

“Carnegie Medal winner Lark, by Anthony McGowan is a powerful standalone novella that brings the exemplary Truth of Things series to an emotional ending. Lark picks up the story of the close relationship between Nicky and elder brother Kenny, who after surviving trauma and poverty in their past, must now endure the extremes of nature at its cruellest. This novella was admired for its clear, simple storytelling; combining authentic characters and realistic situations in pared down prose with blunt humour, genuine tension and moments of pure poetry as fleeting and transcendent as birdsong. It is incredible that such a rich reading experience is in no way impeded by its short and accessible form, indeed it is a strength.  The book leaves the reader with hope for the future; that through the bonds of love from friends and family things can and will get better.”

“Every detail of the Kate Greenaway Medal winning Tales from the Inner City mark it as a masterwork of illustration that generates an outstanding experience for the reader in every detail. In a collection of 25 surreal short stories set in a semi-dystopian dreamscape where the boundaries between urban and wildlife are close to collapse, Shaun Tan conveys the tangled, intimate relationship between humans and animals with breath-taking technique and awe-inspiring invention. Double page spreads of oil on canvas give pause for necessary reflection and contemplation. Never have the bonds between us and the beautiful creatures we share the earth with been so exquisitely rendered with such prescience. The judging panel were moved, amused and astonished by the artistry and imagination of a stunning book that should be widely shared and celebrated.”

CILIP will celebrate the conclusion of the Shadowing Scheme by announcing the winners of the Shadowers’ Choice Award – voted for and awarded by the children and young people who shadow the Medals – on 9th October 2020, during National Libraries Week.


CILIP Carnegie Medal 2020: Lark by Anthony McGowan (Barrington Stoke)

When Nicky and Kenny head for a trek across the moors to take their minds off of everything, a series of unforeseen circumstances leaves the brothers in a vulnerable and very dangerous position. There might even be a chance that this time they won’t all make it out alive.

Anthony McGowan is the author of many critically acclaimed YA novels and won the 2006 BookTrust Teenage Prize, the 2007 Catalyst Award and has been shortlisted for a raft of other major children’s literature prizes, including the Carnegie Medal for Rook in 2018. McGowan was born in Manchester, attended school in Leeds and now lives in London.

“A painful though uplifting conclusion. The moment at which Nicky … hears the “mad, ecstatic music” of a lark’s song is especially transporting” Imogen Russell Williams, Guardian

CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2020: Tales from the Inner City written and illustrated by Shaun Tan (Walker Books)

A young girl’s cat brightens the lives of everyone in the neighbourhood. A woman and her dog are separated by time and space, awaiting the day they will be reunited. A race of fish build a society parallel to our own. And a bunch of office managers suddenly turn into frogs but find that their new lives aren’t so bad.

Shaun Tan grew up in Perth and works as an artist, writer and filmmaker in Melbourne, best known for illustrated books that deal with social, political and historical subjects through dream-like imagery. Shaun has also worked as a theatre designer, a concept artist for Pixar and won an Academy Award for the short animated film The Lost Thing.

“When it comes to originality and genius, Tan is in a league of his own. This collection of stories and poems with an animal-in-the-city theme are intriguing, thought-provoking and at times baffling, asking as many questions as they answer, and the illustrations are sublime. One for quirky teens (or adults) who love art.” The Irish Independent

Black Lives Matter. It is not just a hashtag

This post is taken from our latest issue of The Riot Culture Drop. Sign up for further newsletters below. 
Over the past few days, following the horrific murder of George Floyd, I have been troubled by various companies readily using #blacklivesmatter on social media as a sign of ‘solidarity’. In some cases, this is justified, after all brands are powerful, can sway opinion and frankly last longer than world leaders. Step forward Nike, who have longed championed athletes of colour and publicly spoken out on the issue many times before; or Glossier, who have responded with compassion and openly admitted they could do better, backing their talk with serious money – they are donating $500k to black-owned beauty brands and a further $500k to a range of organisations fighting racial injustice.

But there are those who would do better to first examine their own boardrooms, workforce, ethnicity pay gaps, product ranges, and marketing campaigns before self-proclaiming as allies.

The conversation around race and privilege is thorny and uncomfortable. But it is nothing in comparison to being on the receiving end of discrimination. It is upon every one of us to take responsibility and educate ourselves. To that end, our team has created a list of cultural recommendations that we have found helpful, since culture can help us open our minds. Over to you…

Stay safe,

Preena Gadher, Co-founder and MD, Riot Communications

Rabbit Proof Fence 
In 1931, three Aboriginal girls escape after being plucked from their homes to be trained as domestic staff and set off on a trek across the Outback. Based on a true story, this film examines Australia’s tragic ‘stolen generation’.

Noughts and Crosses
Malorie Blackman’s seminal novel is often cited by people of colour as the first time they saw themselves in a book. Aimed at young adults, the story of racial role reversal is now also a beautifully made series for the BBC by our client  Mammoth Screen.

Titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution – adopted in 1865, which abolished slavery throughout the United States and ended involuntary servitude except as a punishment for conviction of a crime – this 2016 Netflix documentary, directed by Ava DuVernay, explores the criminalisation of African-Americans and the US prison boom.

A House Through Time, series 3, episode 1
Examining Britain’s role in the slave trade, historian David Olusoga opens the door to Number 10 Guinea Street in Bristol. Built in 1718 when Bristol was fast becoming the UK’s premier slaving port, it uncovers the history of its owners and the money used to build the family home.

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper
Black women’s anger has long been caricatured as an ugly and destructive force. Cooper shows readers that black women’s eloquent rage is what makes Serena Williams such a powerful tennis player, why Beyoncé’s girl power anthems resonate and why Michelle Obama is an icon.

Taking Up Space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto for Change by Chelsea Kwakye & Ore Ogunbiyi
Recent Cambridge graduates Chelsea and Ore explain what it’s like being a minority in an institution like Cambridge, examining the lack of diversity in education, issues of access, activism and mental health.

Out of Bounds by Beverley Naidoo 
From Carnegie Medal-winning writer, Beverley Naidoo, this is a powerful collection of short stories from young people’s perspectives set during and after apartheid in South Africa. Especially good for younger readers.

Natives by Akala
Musician and political commentator, Akala, uses his own personal experiences to explore how race and class intersect in contemporary British society in this insightful, hard-hitting memoir / history book.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
An exceptionally articulate book on race explaining with clarity what people of colour go through on a daily basis, providing clear actions for would-be allies.

Stephen Lawrence: 25 years on: what happened and was this really a murder that changed a nation?
The Independent gives a summary of the events surrounding Stephen Lawrence’s murder, the ground-breaking Macpherson report and considers racism in the British police more recently.

Grounded with Louis Theroux: Lenny Henry
In this episode of Theroux’s lockdown podcast, he speaks to Lenny Henry, who discusses his upbringing in the West Midlands, the frequent racism he experienced and how his talent for mimicry came from a need to ‘fit in’.

Lecker – Museumand, series 3, episode 2
‘The power of a good meal’ is the theme of this podcast and this episode features The National Caribbean History Museum – a ‘museum without walls’ – set up by Catherine Ross and her daughter Lynda-Louise Burrell. The travelling museum houses exhibitions based around subjects such as black representation in the doll industry and the Edible Exhibition, which took place in a takeaway and saw thousands of visitors being served dishes that slaves originally ate in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Trio of “striking, intimate” coming -of-age stories make Desmond Elliott Prize shortlist

The National Centre for Writing has today (Tuesday 2nd June) announced the three titles shortlisted for the 2020 Desmond Elliott Prize. The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré, The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu and That Reminds Me by Derek Owusu are all in the running to win the £10,000 prize and be named the year’s best debut novel from across the UK and Ireland.

For the first time this year, the Desmond Elliott Prize is being run by NCW as the flagship in its Early Career Awards portfolio, a new year-round platform of support and mentorship, alongside financial assistance for exceptional early career writers.

All three titles on the shortlist grapple with questions of identity and belonging as their young protagonists navigate the maze of modern-day life. Each of these coming-of-age stories also shares an interest in explorations of class difference, faith versus secular life, and the creation of new forms of family, among other major contemporary themes.

Chairing the panel of judges for 2020 is writer, academic and former Desmond Elliott Prize winner Preti Taneja, who is joined by Chief Lead Writer at The Observer Sonia Sodha and writer Sinéad Gleeson. Collectively the three judges are tasked with finding the novel they believe is most deserving of being designated the best debut novel of the last 12 months.

Of the shortlist, Preti Taneja said: “These three outstanding debuts approach narrative form in very different and exhilarating prose, each mining the possibilities of language to give exceptional voice to unforgettable characters. From Ghanaian story myths to Nigerian patriarchy; from the violence within Cambridge’s ivory towers to the bonds of London’s streets and the longed for liberation of a night out in Manchester’s gay village, each writer pays careful attention to the nuances of speech between people of different generations, cultures and class and succeeds in making worlds we do not want to leave. These novels are striking, intimate studies of bodies in flux and transit through our linked histories; they show us how to seek new families and ways of being whole. They stand as powerful testimonials to individual and collective survival against institutional violence, and the current deprivations of our world.”

The protagonist of Abi Daré’s debut novel, The Girl with the Louding Voice, is 14-year-old Adunni, a Nigerian girl who is relentless in her quest to attain an education, the one thing her mother once told her would give her a voice. As a yielding daughter, a subservient wife, and a powerless servant, Adunni is repeatedly told that she is nothing. But armed with the courage, strength and determination to overcome adversity, Adunni has a plan to escape. About the novel, Preti Taneja said: “The Girl with the Louding Voice is a virtuosic study of female loss, determination, and of the subversive potential of words: it magnificently reveals how language constructs us as humans. With immense skill, Daré creates an irresistible energy and powerfully sustains it on every page.”

In The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney Okechukwu Nzelu tells the story of a half-Nigerian teenager, Nnenna, living in modern-day Manchester with her mother Joanie. As Nnenna approaches womanhood she begins to question her identity; in particular her feelings about being black and brought up by her white single mother. As Nnenna tries to connect with her Igbo-Nigerian identity, her once close and tender relationship with her mother becomes strained. Preti Taneja said: “The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney offers the rare gift of writing that is both poignant and very funny. From race to religion to sexuality, nothing is off-limits in this nuanced celebration of contemporary families, told with great compassion and verve.”

Rounding off the shortlist is That Reminds Me by Derek Owusu, a vivid and semi-autobiographical tale of a boy called K, who is fostered as a very young child and grows up in the countryside. At age 11, K is suddenly returned to his birth family and to the very different context of working-class British Ghanaian life in 1990s Tottenham. Preti Taneja said: “The traumatised fragments of That Reminds Me weave myth with taught observation, juxtaposing violent reality and profound love in moving, surprising sentences. A groundbreaking work of sheer grace and raw honesty that demands – and rewards concentration.”

The Early Career Awards portfolio also includes the University of East Anglia (UEA) New Forms Award, worth £4,000, for an innovative and daring new voice in fiction, and the Laura Kinsella Fellowship, also worth £4,000, to recognise an exceptional writer who has experienced limiting circumstances. The shortlistees for the UEA New Forms Award are Taylor Beidler, Michael Salu and James Smart. The shortlistees for the Laura Kinsella Fellowship are Salli Hansell, K Patrick and Michelle Perkins.

Peggy Hughes, Programme Director at the National Centre for Writing, said: “We’re delighted to reveal the shortlisted names for the Desmond Elliott Prize, the Laura Kinsella Fellowship and the UEA New Forms Award: a hugely talented, innovative and exciting set of writers. Alongside our suite of Early Career Awards, thanks to the support of Arts Council England we are creating packages of resources designed to help anybody embarking on the thrilling and consuming act of writing fiction. Advice and camaraderie are priceless and vital to writers on their journey to publication and recognition, and we hope and expect that these resources will help pave the path for future prize-winners.”

The winners of all three awards will be announced on 2nd July, and all will benefit from a tailored programme of support from the National Centre for Writing, supported by Arts Council England.

Sandi Toksvig narrates Pippi Longstocking audiobooks for 75th Anniversary year

The Astrid Lindgren Company is delighted to announce that award-winning presenter, comedian and writer Sandi Toksvig (Great British Bake Off, QI, The News Quiz) will narrate new audiobook editions of Astrid Lindgren’s classic tales Pippi Longstocking, Pippi Longstocking Goes Aboard and Pippi Longstocking in the South Seas to mark 75 years since Pippi’s creation.

Toksvig, a self-confessed Pippi Longstocking fan, will bring Lindgren’s most famous character to life in the first-ever English language audiobooks. Listeners will be thrilled with the narrations, based on new translations by Susan Beard, with the first – Pippi Longstocking – launched this month. It will be followed by Pippi Longstocking Goes Aboard and Pippi Longstocking in the South Seas later in the year. Previously, Sandi Toksvig had voiced the character of Pippi Longstocking for BBC Radio.

Sandi Toksvig OBE said: “As a longtime fan of Pippi Longstocking and her iconic creator Astrid Lindgren, it was a delight to reacquaint myself with the world’s strongest girl during her 75th birthday year. I’ve known her all my life and am still trying to mimic her by lifting any available horses above my head. In these uncertain times, it is wonderful to share these remarkable stories – and their brave, mischievous, but always kind, heroine – with you.”

Johan Palmberg, Rights Manager at The Astrid Lindgren Company and great-grandson of Astrid Lindgren, comments: “We were absolutely thrilled when Sandi Toksvig agreed to narrate the Pippi Longstocking books as part of our 75th anniversary celebrations. Sandi’s love of Pippi is evident as she guides listeners into her wonderfully playful world and brings her adventures with friends to life. We hope fans around the world will enjoy this experience as much as we did!”

Pippi Longstocking will be published by The Astrid Lindgren Company on Pippi’s 75th birthday, 21st May 2020 and made available to UK audiences on Spotify and iTunes. The instrumental of the theme tune, Here Comes Pippi Longstocking, will feature in all three audiobooks and the full song will also be released internationally by Universal Music, in both English and localised versions by the end of May. The song will be accompanied by an animated music video by acclaimed Norwegian studio, Qvisten Animation. This collaboration marks the start of a larger project between Universal Music and Astrid Lindgren Company, building on music written by Astrid Lindgren for previous films and television productions.

These audiobooks join a raft of other publishing from Lindgren’s long-term UK publisher, Oxford University Press, during the anniversary year, including: two chapter books Meet Pippi Longstocking and Pippi Longstocking and the Snirkle Hunt (March 2020), featuring artwork from the original illustrator, Ingrid Vang Nyman; Pippi Longstocking, Pippi Longstocking Goes Aboard and Pippi Longstocking in the South Seas (May 2020), with black and white illustrations by Mini Grey, and a hardback gift edition of Pippi Longstocking Goes Aboard (October 2020), illustrated in full colour by former Waterstones Children’s Laureate, Lauren Child.

In addition to the audiobook release, acclaimed storyteller Danyah Miller will be celebrating Pippi Longstocking’s 75th birthday with a special online performance of her show ‘Meet Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking’. Fans around the world can watch the performance on the Oxford Owl Facebook page at 11.00am on Thursday 21st May.

Riot Associate Director Katy MacMillan-Scott on crisis comms: gaining perspective from writers past

This article was originally published in The Bookseller 

It’s just over a month since lockdown began. I don’t need to tell you about the uncertainties or worries, but at Riot the crisis has strengthened our raison d’etre: we exist to promote culture, because we know how culture can offer perspective during turbulent times. 

One of the positive takeaways from this pandemic has been the blossoming of culture in our day-to-day lives. Arts stories – so often relegated to their own broadcast slots or throwaway sections – are now front and centre. Celebrities and artists are coming out in droves to entertain us with storytelling (looking at you, Tom Hardy), art (David Hockney’s cheery missives from springtime in Normandy or Quentin Blake and Damien Hirst’s rainbows), poetry recitations (cue the daily verse on the Today programme) and – a  personal favourite – readings of Girls Aloud lyrics on The Coronavirus Newscast (Hugh Bonneville’s Love Machine was particularly good). BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine season is well underway, and Curtis Brown Creative is running a free six-week writing course for those of us who have flirted with, but never committed to, our own scribblings. At Riot, we’ve launched a fortnightly Culture Drop signposting inspiring and motivating content for clients, colleagues and culture fans alike.  

Entertainment aside, we look to creatives to chronicle crises. In a letter published in The New Yorker last month, Booker Prize winner George Saunders wrote to his students at Syracuse University: 

Fifty years from now, people the age you are now won’t believe this ever happened (or will do the sort of eye roll we all do when someone tells us something about some crazy thing that happened in 1970). What will convince that future kid is what you are able to write about this, and what you’re able to write about it will depend on how much sharp attention you are paying now, and what records you keep. 

Closer to home, Penguin has released its brilliant Perspectives series, where authors – including Riot favourites Philip Pullman and Malorie Blackman – give their responses to the Covid-19 outbreak and outline positive change they hope will come out of this experience. These essays go some way towards articulating the hopes and fears we all share. 

And yet… how can any of us really respond objectively when we are in the throes of a crisis? An emerging sage for our time – grief expert, psychotherapist and author Julia Samuel MBE (This Too Shall Pass, Penguin Life) – uses experience of bereavement and trauma to counsel us on how to cope with the social impact of Coronavirus. In one Instagram post, she writes: ‘We are all in limbo, so very many unanswered questions racing around our minds. It is helpful to think of the serenity prayer: accept the things you cannot change, change the things you can and have the wisdom to know the difference. Eventually, this too shall pass and we will all be able to come together again.’ 

This too shall pass. For me – and for many who’ve experienced grief – there is great value in reading others’ experiences, to provide the distance and learnings that can help us navigate an altered reality. And where better to look than the literary world? So here are four writers to read on crises past: all in very different situations, each recognisable now in their own way. They provide comfort to the reader by virtue of the fact that – in each case – out of crises came understanding and a knowledge of a better way of living. 

  1. On action: Ahdaf Souief, writing during the Arab Spring  

In 2012, the Egyptian author, activist and political commentator wrote in the Guardian on the impossibility of escaping into fiction writing during a time of crisis. 

The question is: do you want to engage with this? Or do you want to escape it? Do you want to live your life in a bubble? Or do you want to be part of the great narrative of the world… 

Attempts at fiction right now would be too simple. The immediate truth is too glaring to allow a more subtle truth to take form. For reality has to take time to be processed, to transform into fiction. So it’s no use a story presenting itself, tempting, asking to be written, because another story will – in the next minute – come roaring over it, making the same demand. And you, the novelist, can’t grab one of them and run away and lock yourself up with it and surrender to it and wait and work for the transformation to happen – because you, the citizen, need to be present, there, on the ground, marching, supporting, talking, instigating, articulating. Your talent – at the time of crisis – is to tell the stories as they are, to help them to achieve power as reality not as fiction. 

Based in Cairo, Souief was a go-to commentator on the revolution in the media, and went on to write Cairo: My City, Our Revolution (Bloomsbury). She continues to challenge the Egyptian government and, in March 2020, she was arrested by security forces after staging a protest demanding the release of prisoners over fears of a coronavirus outbreak in the country’s overcrowded jails. 

  1. On observation: Astrid Lindgren, writing during World War Two 

From 1939-1945, the Swedish author and activist wrote diaries from neutral Stockholm. Observing the horror unfolding across Europe from the relative calm and safety of her own home, Lindgren was in an unusual position as a powerless spectator. This extract from her collected diaries (A World Gone Mad, Pushkin Press) – feels apposite: 


We’re in a state of ‘intensified war readiness’. The amount of stockpiling is unbelievable, according to the papers. People are mainly buying coffee, toilet soap, household cleaning soap and spices. There’s apparently enough sugar in the country to last us 15 months, but if nobody can resist stocking up, we’ll have a shortage anyway. At the grocer’s there wasn’t a single kilo of sugar to be had (but they’re expecting more in, of course).  

When I went to my coffee merchant to buy a fully legitimate quarter kilo of coffee, I found a notice on the door: ‘Closed. Sold out for today.’  

Lindgren’s wartime experience led her to invent one of literature’s punchiest characters, Pippi Longstocking – an orphaned girl who rose up from the ashes of war-torn Europe as a triumphant, anti-authoritarian hero. Pippi turns 75 this May, and is central to Save the Children’s Pippi of Today campaign, which supports displaced girls worldwide.  

  1. On reflection: Virginia Woolf, writing on influenza and prolonged illness 

In her essay On Being Ill, first published in 1926, Woolf reflected on time spent bed-bound with fever and fatigue. In her inimitable style, she asks why illness – that most common human experience – is so rarely the subject of literature. The blurb for Paris Press’s 2008 edition reads: ‘We cannot quote Shakespeare to describe a headache. We must, Woolf says, invent language to describe pain. And though illness enhances our perceptions, she observes that it reduces self-consciousness; it is “the great confessional.’ 

Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed… it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature. Novels, one would have thought, would have been devoted to influenza; epic poems to typhoid; odes to pneumonia; lyrics to toothache. But no… 

She goes on:  

But this Heaven making needs no motor cars; it needs time and concentration… there is no harm in choosing, to live over and over, now as  man, now as woman, as sea-captain, court lady, Emperor, farmer’s wife, in splendid cities and on remote moors, in Teheran and Tunbridge Wells… to live and live till we have lived out those embryo lives which attend about us in early youth and been consumed by that tyrannical ‘I’, who has conquered so far as this world is concerned but shall not, if wishing can alter it, usurp Heaven too, and condemn us, who have played our parts here as William or Amelia, to remain William or Amelia  for ever.  

And this was before she wrote Orlando.  

  1. On literature: F. Scott Fitzgerald, writing on belonging 

Last month, a fake letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald went viral on social media. Allegedly written in 1920, peak-Spanish Flu pandemic, it offers echoes of our own crisis. There is a familiarity there, even with the 100-year interval: the stockpiling, the need to drink, the dread for the future. But there is also a reassurance afforded to us by hindsight. Owning up to the parody its author, Nick Farriella, commented: ‘I’d like to think that people have responded to the optimistic sentiment of the message. That in these seemingly dark times, the line of true and untrue was blurred by the need for hope. I think that was something that was at the core of Fitzgerald’s life and work, an unwavering faith in better things to come.’ 

I’ll round off with this perfect, genuine quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald: 

That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong. 

Katy MacMillan-Scott is Associate Director at Riot Communications 

“These debut writers are as passionate and political as our times demand”

£10,000 Desmond Elliott Prize longlist signals extraordinary strength and breadth of UK and Irish debut fiction

The National Centre for Writing (NCW) has today (Tuesday 7th April) announced the 10-strong longlist for the £10,000 Desmond Elliott Prize, for the most outstanding first novels of the past 12 months.

For the first time this year, the Prize is being run by NCW as the flagship in its Early Career Awards portfolio, a new year-round platform of support and mentorship, alongside financial assistance for exceptional early career writers.

The 2020 Desmond Elliott Prize longlist in full (alphabetically by author surname):

  • The Art of the Bodyby Alex Allison – Little Brown
  • The Girl with the Louding Voiceby Abi Daré – Sceptre
  • Nobberby Oisín Fagan – John Murray
  • The Parisianby Isabella Hammad – Cape
  • The Keeperby Jessica Moor – Penguin
  • The Private Joys of NnennaMaloney by Okechukwu Nzelu – Dialogue Books
  • That Reminds Meby Derek Owusu – #Merky Books (curated by Stormzy)
  • Ashgar and Zahraby Sameer Rahim – John Murray
  • Kozlowski by Jane Rogoyska – Holland House Books
  • Love and other Thought Experimentsby Sophie Ward – Corsair

Peggy Hughes, Programme Director at the National Centre for Writing, said:

“We’re delighted to present such a compelling longlist of debut novels for our inaugural year at the helm of the Desmond Elliott. Here are ten of the most outstanding first novels of 2020 – bold, brave, taking risks and asking questions of us and our times: these are books that demand to be read and new voices that need to be heard and shared. We don’t envy the judges their task but have no doubt that in Preti, Sonia and Sinéad we have three exceptional readers for the job ahead.”

The 2020 longlist demonstrates the breadth and strength of UK and Irish writing, with bold new voices tackling an extraordinary array of subjects. Revealing hidden stories emerges as a theme across the longlist; in The Art of the Body, Alex Allison tells the story of a relationship between a talented fine art student, living and working with cerebral palsy, and his carer. Journalist Sameer Rahim gives a tragicomic account of a doomed marriage in Ashgar and Zahara, as the eponymous newlyweds navigate life and relationships within a traditional Muslim family. Meanwhile Jessica Moore, named as one of the 10 best debut novelists of 2020 by the Observer New Review, examines issues of power and control encompassed in domestic violence in her crime thriller Keeper.

This year’s chair of judges, and winner of the 2018 Desmond Elliot Prize, Preti Taneja said: “Each book on the Desmond Elliot Prize 2020 longlist has earned its place for its love of language, its crafting of a sentence: for its approach to its subject matter and its creation of complex characters and an immersive world. That world might be full of terrors, the potential of love or exist in the past, recognisable present or longed-for future: the list has all of these. It is excellent to see that it reflects the range and depth of current concerns – that this group of debut writers are as clear-eyed, and as passionate and political as our times demand. There are ten names here that many readers will not have encountered yet, and that is what makes the Desmond Elliot Prize 2020 unique. As a judging panel we now have an exciting challenge to choose a shortlist of three and a winner, and we are very proud to begin with this longlist.”

Taneja will be joined by Chief Lead Writer at The Observer Sonia Sodha and writer Sinéad Gleeson, who are together tasked with finding the novel they believe is most worthy of being designated the most exceptional debut novel of the last 12 months. A shortlist will be announced on 6th May and the winner will be announced on 2nd July.

Authors longlisted for the 2020 Prize include a filmmaker, teacher, podcaster, recruiter and actor, and many are already enjoying commercial and critical success. Isabella Hammad’s The Parisian has received endorsements from names including Zadie Smith and Jonathan Safran Foer, while Nobber by Oisín Fagan was named as one of the Daily Mail’s ‘Books of the Year’. The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré became a New York Times bestseller and was recently picked as Stylist Magazine’s book of the week, while Sophie Ward’s Love and Other Thought Experiments has earned her comparisons to F Scott Fitzgerald and Doris Lessing.

Several of the publishers on the list are specifically seeking to discover exciting new voices including new imprints #Merky Books (That Reminds Me by Derek Owusu) and Dialogue Books (The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu). Independent publisher Holland House Books makes the Desmond Elliott Prize longlist for the first time with Kozlowski, by acclaimed biographer and filmmaker Jane Rogoyska.

The Early Career Award portfolio also includes the UEA New Form Writing Award, worth £4,000, for an innovative and daring new voice in fiction and The Laura Kinsella Fellowship, also worth £4,000, to recognise an exceptional writer who has experienced limiting circumstances. The winners of all three awards will be announced on 2nd July, and all will benefit from a tailored programme of support from the National Centre for Writing, supported by Arts Council England.

@WritersCentre #DEP2020 #EarlyCareerAwards