RICHARD MILWARD wrote his first novel when he was 12.
Inspired by Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting that he was reading at the time, he began to write about the grittier side of real life.
Encouraged by some positive responses from publishers, he kept writing.
And his perseverance paid off when his first novel Apples, a big-hearted story of two teenagers and their goings-on on a Middlesbrough estate, was published by Faber when he was 21 and studying art in London. Back home on Teesside after completing his studies, his novel, Ten Storey Love Song, was published in 2009 and launched at a well-attended event at mima in Middlesbrough.
Named lovingly after a song by the Stone Roses, Milward said that the region’s unique blend of "grimness and if you like, unflinching hilarity and optimism" continues to inspire him to write.
His soulful and comic depiction of life in the Middlesbrough high-rises will continue to win him readers both from near and far.
"Moving away from Teesside enabled me to see the place I grew up in a new light," he says.
"Absorbing the cultural variety of London exposed the uniqueness of the North East to me, as opposed to things I just took for granted when I was up here."
Of his nomination for a Journal Culture Award, Richard adds: "It’s a treat and an honour to be up for the Writer of the Year Award.
"There’s always bound to be a bit of tension when you’re releasing the dreaded, so-called ‘difficult second novel’, though Ten Storey Love Song ended up doing me proud.
"I was blown away when my childhood hero, Irvine Welsh, gave me a cracking review in The Guardian – and humbled by the turn-out at the book’s launch at mima, in Middlesbrough.
"It’s been a busy old year – edging ever closer to unveiling Apples the stage play (it’s released June this year), plus working on the film script, and charging round the country to read from Ten Storey with a psychedelic block of flats on my bonce.
"I’m made up to be shortlisted for the award – it makes all the fun and fury of writing that bit sweeter!"
Finalist - Denis O'Connor
P@AW Tracks in the Moonlight is the book by Denis O’Connor, which secured the Northumberland-based author a nomination in this year’s Culture Awards.
The book tells the true and very moving story of the kitten who was rescued from certain death by the author ... and was subsequently named Toby Jug.
The first year they spent together makes up the majority of the book.
But there is also a firm nod to the further 11 years that they shared together before Toby Jug passed away.
It was a book which was clearly close to the heart of Denis – just as its subject had been.
Hence it was a labour of love which he self-published in 2004.
But it wasn’t until last year that it was picked up by publisher Constable and Robinson.
Then later in 2009, it was selected by Radio Four as its book of the week around Christmas time ... winning it an army of fans who were charmed by the special relationship Denis forged with a very special feline.
Denis says: "I am delighted at the news that I have been shortlisted for the Writer of the year category in The Journal Cultural Awards.
"The news has come as a great surprise to me, and it has sent my head in a spin!
"Last year gave me tremendously good feelings because Constable and Robinson decided to publish my book internation- ally.
"I now feel that I have truly kept my promise to my beloved cat, Toby Jug who changed my life in so many ways, but whose tragic death so devastated me that it took me many years until I could once again relate to a cat.
"Now we have had four, Pablo, Carlos, Luis and Max."
Finalist - Laura Lindow
L@AURA LINDOW originates from Edinburgh, Scotland, but has been working in the North East for almost a decade as a theatre practitioner, writer, director, facilitator and performer.
Her work as a ‘clown doctor’ sees Laura (or more accurately, her character, Dr Lulu McDoo) going into hospitals to help children who need a bit of attention, cheering up, encouragement, or all of the above.
It is this work which inspired and informed the piece for which she is primarily nominated.
Heartbreak Soup is the work in question – a poignant show for young audiences in which music, puppetry, humour and pathos were woven into a magical tale exploring the realities of transplant for one young person.
Laura says: "I am absolutely over the moon to have been shortlisted for this award.
"Creating Heartbreak Soup was an incredible experience, with laughs and tears in equal measure.
"I feel particularly honoured not just to have worked with a great creative team for this show, but also to have been trusted to explore such a complex subject as heart transplantation.
"As a Clown Doctor, committing this world to the page was delicate but hugely gratifying ... lending voice to the fears and ambitions of an 11-year-old superhero with a broken heart."