J.A. Mensah wins inaugural NorthBound Book Award

Posted on June 28, 2019

Gateshead-based writer and researcher Juliana Mensah has won the inaugural NorthBound Book Award as part of the 2019 Northern Writers’ Awards for her debut novel, Castles from Cobwebs. The prize was awarded on 26 June at a ceremony at The Great Hall of Northumbria University in Newcastle.

The NorthBound Book Award was created in 2019 to celebrate the richness of writing from the North of England and the innovative spirit of independent publishing. It is sponsored by the University of Central Lancashire and produced by New Writing North. Juliana wins £5,000 plus publication with Saraband.

Castles from Cobwebs is the story of a young woman, Imani, a foundling brought up by nuns on a remote Northumbrian island. Racially marginalised, Imani’s sense of displacement is mitigated by her imaginary ‘best friend’ – her shadow, ‘Amarie’ – and her sweetheart, Harold, who has Down’s syndrome. At 19, Imani is called to Accra in Ghana after the sudden death of her biological mother; at the same time, Amarie disappears, leaving Imani destabilised. Past, present, faith, folklore and reality are intricately threaded as Imani navigates her heritage and fragmented history in her search for identity and belonging.

An associate at the Centre for Applied Human Rights at the University of York, where she was previously a Levershulme artist in residence, Mensah has written several plays. Castles from Cobwebs is her first novel.

Juliana Mensah said: ‘I’m thrilled to have won the NorthBound Book Award. It’s both an exciting and a daunting prospect to think that something I’ve worked on for so long, in what was quite a solitary process, will make its way out into the world. I’m grateful to have the work recognised in this way and looking forward to working with Saraband.’

Saraband publisher Sara Hunt said: ‘I’m absolutely delighted to be working with Juliana to publish her wonderful novel – and for the first winner of this award to be such a stellar talent. Castles from Cobwebs is a powerful, imaginative exploration of identity and belonging that is absorbing, beautifully written, sometimes magical, and a thoroughly deserving winner.’

Author, Guardian writer and NorthBound Book Award judge Chitra Ramaswamy said: ‘We were gripped by Castles from Cobwebs from the first page – with its arresting opening, lyricism, and unconventional narration. There are moments of real beauty and clarity in the prose, especially around race, a subject handled skilfully and thoughtfully by the author. There is something real, powerful, and unique in this debut.’