Kit de Waal

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Kit de Waal 2020

Mandy Theresa O'Loughlin (born 26 July 1960), known professionally as Kit de Waal, is a British/Irish writer. Her debut novel, My Name Is Leon, was published by Penguin Books in June 2016. After securing the publishing deal with Penguin, De Waal used some of her advance to set up the Kit de Waal Creative Writing Fellowship to help improve working-class representation in the arts.[1] The audiobook version of My Name is Leon is voiced by Sir Lenny Henry. De Waal has also published short stories, including the collection Supporting Cast (2020).

Early life[edit]

De Waal was born in Birmingham, in the West Midlands of England, and grew up in the suburb of Moseley.[2] She is a national of both Britain and Ireland. Her mother, Sheila O'Loughlin (née Doyle), was a foster carer, registered child minder and auxiliary nurse. Her father, Arthur Desmond O'Loughlin, was an African-Caribbean bus driver from Basseterre, St. Kitts. De Waal was brought up in Birmingham among the Irish community, and has recalled: "We were the only black children at the Irish Community Centre and the only ones with a white mother at the West Indian Social Club."[3]

Education and career[edit]

De Waal attended Waverley Grammar School in Small Heath, Birmingham. She worked for 15 years in criminal and family law and as a magistrate (Justice of the peace). She sits on adoption panels, worked as an adviser for Social Services and has written training manuals on adoption and foster care.

She began writing for pleasure at an early age, and when her children were relatively independent, she decided to study creative writing, which she did at Oxford Brookes University, achieving a master's degree.

Her debut novel, My Name Is Leon, about a mixed-race nine-year-old boy, is set against the backdrop of the 1981 Handsworth riots and was published in 2016 by Viking (Penguin Random House) after a six-way auction between publishers.[4][5][6] It drew on her personal and professional experience of foster care and the adoption system:[5]

I was brought up like that, I'm mixed race, I have adopted children, I’ve trained social workers. In 1981 I was living in Handsworth in Birmingham, where the riots were happening at the end of my road.

The novel has won many accolades, being chosen as the Irish Novel of the Year Award 2017,[7] and included on the shortlists for the Costa Book Awards for a first novel and the Desmond Elliott Prize.[4][8] My Name Is Leon has been produced as an audiobook voiced by Lenny Henry, who has also optioned it for a television adaptation.[7]

She also writes short stories and flash fiction, and among her previous other awards are the Bath Short Story Award 2014, the Bridport Flash Fiction Prize 2014 and 2015 and the SI Leeds Literary Prize Reader's Choice in 2014.[5] Her short-story collection Supporting Cast, featuring the lives of secondary characters from her novels, was published by Penguin in 2020.[9] As well as being published in anthologies (such as Margaret Busby's 2019 New Daughters of Africa),[10] de Waal's work has been broadcast on radio, including her story "Adrift at the Athena", which was commissioned for the anthology A Midlands Odyssey by Nine Arches Press,[5] and "The Beautiful Thing" – "about emigration, backstory and new beginnings" – was read on BBC Radio 4 by Burt Caesar.[11]

She has written about the need for the publishing industry to be more inclusive,[12] and on 22 November 2017 she presented the BBC Radio 4 programme Where Are All the Working Class Writers? exploring issues of inclusivity in the arts and working-class representation in present-day British literature.[13]

She went on to edit Common People: An Anthology of Working-Class Writers, which was crowd-funded and published through Unbound in May 2019.[14]

In 2019 she became an "Ambassador" for the audiobook charity Listening Books. She commented: “I am a devotee of audiobooks. They reach you in a different way."[15]

In March 2020 de Waal co-founded with Molly Flatt a three-day virtual books festival called "The Big Book Weekend", to be broadcast live across three days over the first bank holiday weekend in May as part of BBC Arts "Culture In Quarantine" programming.[16][17]

The Kit de Waal Creative Writing Scholarship[edit]

Three days after winning a publishing deal for My Name Is Leon, she began setting up a scholarship for a writer from a disadvantaged background.[12] The Kit de Waal Creative Writing Scholarship is a fully funded scholarship, created by de Waal using some of her advance for her novel, at Birkbeck, University of London.[1][18][19]

Launched in October 2016 at Birkbeck's Department of English and Humanities, the scholarship provides a fully funded place for one student to study on the Birkbeck Creative Writing MA, and also includes a travel bursary to allow the student to travel into London for classes and Waterstones' vouchers to allow the student to buy books on the reading list.[18] The inaugural scholarship was awarded to former Birmingham poet laureate Stephen Morrison-Burke.[20]

Prizes and publications[edit]

Publication year Publisher/Prize
The Beautiful Thing 2020 The Art of the Glimpse: 100 Irish Short Stories - anthology, Head of Zeus
Becoming Dinah 2019 Hachette
The Trick to Time 2018 Penguin/Viking
Six Foot Six 2018 Penguin (Quick Reads)
My Name Is Leon 2016 Viking Penguin, Irish Book of the Year, Shortlisted for Desmond Elliott Prize
"Crushing Big" 2015 Bridport Prize, Flash Fiction, First Prize
"I Am the Painter's Daughter" 2015 Bare Fiction, Flash Fiction, Second Prize
"Romans 1 Verse 29, Sins of the Heart" 2014 Bridport Prize, Flash Fiction, First Prize
"The Beautiful Thing" 2014 Bath Short Story Award Short Story Second Prize and BBC Radio 4 Drama
"Adrift at the Athena" 2014 A Midlands Odyssey and BBC Radio 4 Drama
"The Old Man & The Suit" 2014 Costa Short Story Award, Second Prize
"Blue in Green" 2014 Readers' Choice award, SI Leeds Literary Prize
"A Glass of Light of Silver" 2013 Final Chapters Anthology: Writings About The End Of Life
"The Way of the World" 2013 The Sea in Birmingham – anthology, Tindal Street Fiction Group
"A Taste of Death" 2011 Fish Prize, shortlisted


  1. ^ a b Dawn Foster, "Kit de Waal: 'Working-class stories need to be told'", The Guardian, 3 February 2016.
  2. ^ Waal, Kit de (5 August 2019). "Nostalgia is bollocks: but in 1970s Moseley, I never felt like an outsider". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 August 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ Kit de Waal, "My Irish Heritage",, 3 April 2017.
  4. ^ a b Arminta Wallace, "‘My Name is Leon’ by Kit de Waal: tears, snot, laughter and race riots", The Irish Times, 10 December 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d "A Conversation with Kit de Waal", Greenacre Writers, 11 April 2016.
  6. ^ My Name Is Leon at Penguin Random House.
  7. ^ a b Martin Doyle, "My Name is Leon wins Irish Novel of the Year Award", The Irish Times, 1 June 2017.
  8. ^ "Kit de Waal: Journey to publication", Desmond Elliott Prize 2018.
  9. ^ "Supporting Cast" at Penguin.
  10. ^ "Kit de Waal", Library Thing.
  11. ^ "The Beautiful Thing" ("A short story about emigration, backstory and new beginnings by Kit de Waal. Read by Burt Caesar"), BBC Radio 4, 22 March 2015.
  12. ^ a b Kit de Waal, "Whatever happened to working-class writers?", The Herald (Scotland), 24 July 2016.
  13. ^ Where Are All the Working Class Writers?, BBC Radio 4, 22 November 2017.
  14. ^ Smart, James (23 May 2019). "Common People review – a valuable anthology of working-class writers". The Guardian.
  15. ^ "Listening Books' Ambassadors". Listening Books. Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  16. ^ "BBC Arts announces new programmes for Culture In Quarantine", BBC Media Centre, 25 March 2020.
  17. ^ Mark Chandler, "BBC Arts launches Culture in Quarantine with Big Books Weekend", The Bookseller, 26 March 2020.
  18. ^ a b "Fully funded creative writing scholarship launched at Birkbeck", News – Birkbeck, University of London, 6 November 2015.
  19. ^ Sarah Shaffi, "De Waal to fund diversity scholarship", The Bookseller, 5 November 2015.
  20. ^ "Morrison-Burke named inaugural Kit de Waal scholar", Penguin Random House UK, May 2016.

External links[edit]