RSL Christopher Bland Prize

The RSL Christopher Bland Prize is an annual award of £10,000 to a debut novelist or non-fiction writer first published aged 50 or over. The Prize was launched in 2018 thanks to the generosity of the family and friends of Lady Jennie Bland, in memory of Sir Christopher Bland who died in 2017. Sir Christopher is best known for his leadership in broadcasting, the arts and business. He didn’t start writing until after his retirement publishing two novels to critical acclaim: Ashes in the Wind and Cathar. His play The Easter Rising and Thereafter was staged by the Jermyn Street Theatre in 2016 – 100 years to the day after the uprising in Dublin.

‘I started the creative life at the age of 76, so it’s never too late.’
– Sir Christopher Bland

The RSL Christopher Bland Prize 2023

The 2023 RSL Christopher Bland Prize winner is Paterson Joseph for The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho (Dialogue Books).

Paterson Joseph said: “I am happier about receiving the Christopher Bland Prize 2023 than I could have imagined. As a fledgling actor I wanted to be respected by my peers and to be looked upon as ‘one of us’. The granting of this award is more than the equivalent of that, as the work on the page is somehow more personal. All my love and much of my life has gone into the creation of The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho and my reward has been this accolade. Sancho would be pleased, if not a little surprised, that his short life has leant itself to such attention two-hundred and forty-three years after his passing. We bring him to life a little more every time we remember him in music, image and word. This novel is my small contribution to that remembrance and I hope it leads to many creative echoes of the life of a great Black Briton. I thank the Royal Society of Literature for welcoming me into the fold with such a wonderful gift. And my special thanks go to the judges who have paid such a practical compliment to my attempt to join their ranks. Finally, I celebrate with my dazzling co-nominees, who are wonders, every one.”

This year’s judges were Lemn Sissay (Chair), Meena Kandasamy and Simon Savidge.

Lemn Sissay said: “The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho is historical fiction, bursting with the wit and perspicacity of its protagonist Ignatius Sancho. Paterson Joseph, an actor by trade, is clearly a writer in an actor’s body. Many thespians feel the urge to inhabit the world of a writer, but few can fulfill it to the degree of Paterson Joseph. He inhabits characters and scenes as Dickens does, through the character and story. The Secret Diaries… leaves the reader frowning at the audacity of history for leaving out such a brilliant character. Equally we are slightly in awe of the author for turning history around.”

 Paterson Joseph is a beloved British actor and writer. Recently seen on Vigil and Noughts and Crosses, he has also starred in Peep Show and Law & Order UK and he plays Arthur Slugworth in the forthcoming Wonka movie. The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho is his debut novel.

Watch Paterson react to winning the prize.

For full details, see the press release.

The shortlisted books were:

Susie Alegre, Freedom to Think (Atlantic Books)

Jo Browning Wroe, A Terrible Kindness (Faber & Faber)

Bonnie Garmus, Lessons in Chemistry (Doubleday)

Paterson Joseph, The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho (Dialogue Books)

Jill Nalder, Love from the Pink Palace (Wildfire)

Devika Ponnambalam, I Am Not Your Eve (Bluemoose Books)

We will open for submissions for the 2024 Prize in late summer, pleas sign up to our newsletter to be kept up to date with entry information.

For more information on the Prize, please email Martha Stenhouse. For press enquiries please contact Clair Chamberlain at Bread and Butter PR.

Past winners

2022 Julia Parry The Shadowy Third
2021 Pete Paphides Broken Greek
2020 Michele Kirsch Clean
2019 Raynor Winn The Salt Path