Jill Dawson was born in Durham, and as a child lived in Essex and Yorkshire, then Staffordshire. She read American Studies at the University of Nottingham, before moving to London in 1983. A year later she won both first prize in City Limits short story competition, and first prize in the Hackney New Writers Poetry competition. She published one poetry pamphlet White Fish with Painted Nails (Slow Dancer Press), and in 1992 she won an Eric Gregory Award for her poetry. Her edited books are: The Virago Book of Wicked Verse (1992) The Virago Book of Love Letters (1994). She has also edited a collection of short stories, School Tales: Stories by Young Women (The Women’s Press 1990), and with co-editor Margo Daly, Wild Ways: New Stories about Women on the Road (Sceptre, 1998) and Gas and Air: Tales of Pregnancy and Birth (Bloomsbury 2002). She is the author of one book of non-fiction for teenagers, How Do I Look? (Virago Upstarts 1991), which deals with the subject of self-esteem. In addition to the six books mentioned above she is the author of seven novels, all published by Sceptre: Trick of the Light (1996); Magpie (1998), for which she won a London Arts Board New Writers Award; Fred & Edie (2000); Wild Boy (2003); Watch Me Disappear (2006), and The Great Lover (January 2009). Fred & Edie is based on the historic murder trial of Thompson and Bywaters, and was shortlisted for both the 2000 Whitbread Novel Award and the 2001 Orange Prize for Fiction, and voted one of 50 essential novels by a living author. The Great Lover was a best-seller and Richard and Judy Summer Read. Lucky Bunny was published by Sceptre in 2010; The Tell-tale Heart in 2014.
Her scripts have received a number of awards from ScreenEast – one for Stunner, an original screenplay, one for Watch Me Disappear, based on her novel of the same name; one for Wild Boy, where she worked with director Andy Wilson, also based on one of her novels. All her novels have been optioned at different times and she has also received several awards from the Arts Council of England.
Her work has been translated into many languages including French, Italian, Dutch, Greek, Danish, Chinese, Russian, Ukrainian and German and described by the Whitbread judges as ‘inventing a female language where Jean Rhys leaves off’. In 2007 Dawson travelled to Russia where her second novel, Magpie, was one of ten books presented at a conference at the University of Perm on contemporary British novels. In 2008 she was keynote speaker at the National University of Singapore where she was invited by the British Council to talk about her writing.
Dawson has taught Creative Writing for many years and in many countries, including the USA, Australia, Indonesia, France, Singapore and Switzerland. In 2003 she was the Creative Writing Fellow at the University of East Anglia where she later taught on the MA in Writing. She has taught for the Arvon Foundation, the Faber Academy, the Guardian/UEA and for the Sunday Times/Oxford Summer School. She’s been a Royal Literary Fund Advisory Fellow since 2008 and was a Board member of Writer’s Centre Norwich 2004 – 2011.
In 2006 she was awarded an honorary doctorate by Anglia Ruskin University, in recognition of her ‘exceptional giftedness’ as a writer, and her mentoring work with emerging writers. She was instrumental in founding Escalator, an award for new writers, and in creating and running Writers Pool, a mentoring scheme. She is founder and director of Gold Dust Mentoring Writers, which matches new writers with established ones www.gold-dust.org.uk.
Dawson lives with her husband, two sons and foster daughter in an award-winning eco house in the Cambridgeshire Fens.
Photo: Charlie Hopkinson