Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson wins inaugural Gollancz and Rivers of London BAME SFF Award

SF author Esmie Jikiemi Pearson
SF author Esmie Jikiemi Pearson

Gollancz and author Ben Aaronovitch recently announced The Principle of Moments by Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson as the winner of the inaugural Gollancz and Rivers of London BAME SFF Award – with second place awarded to The Reeves’ Guild by Kyla Jardine.

The Gollancz and Rivers of London BAME SFF Award was launched in October 2019 when Gollancz, the UK’s oldest science fiction and fantasy imprint, teamed up with Sunday Times Bestselling author Ben Aaronovitch, who founded and funded the award, and the judges were announced back in February.

Applicants were asked to submit 5,000 – 10,000 words consisting of either a self-contained short story or the opening of a novel that fits into the scifi, fantasy or horror genres; a one page synopsis summarising their story; and a cover letter containing a little bit about themselves.

The Award is open to People over the age of 18, who identify as Black, Asian or an ethnic minority, people who are resident of the UK or Ireland and People who have not previously had a novel traditionally published by a UK publisher.

University student Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson, from London, has won £4000 and a year-long mentoring programme with Gollancz’s Senior Commissioning Editor, Rachel Winterbottom.

Her novel, The Principle of Moments, is set in a galaxy where humans are not classed as citizens, they are labourers indentured to the empire, working to replay the billions in debt they unwittingly incurred when they settled on Gahraan – a planet already owned by someone else.

Esmie spent much of her childhood reading on sunny Australian beaches, before moving to London, where she swapped the sunshine for grey skies, and the beach for the window seat of her grandmother’s creaky old house. She’s currently pursuing a BA in English Literature and Classical Studies – a degree that allows her to write essays on Disney villains, read ridiculous amounts of Ancient Greek Lyric poetry, and argue about postcolonial readings of canonical texts all in the same week.

Her writing, which is invariably about marginalised people saving the world, and in addition to being the inaugural winner of The Gollancz and Rivers of London BAME SFF Award, was shortlisted for the 2018 Penguin WriteNow scheme. Back in 2013, she was among the writers “Highly Commended” in the annual National Flash Fiction Youth Competition organized by the Department of English and the International Flash Fiction Association (IFFA) at the University of Chester.

Esmie is also co-founder of Impact of Omission, an organisation dedicated to decolonising the UK’s compulsory curriculum.

When she isn’t writing about Black kids dismantling space empires or travelling through time, she can probably be found re-watching Treasure Planet, or campaigning for a copy of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to replace the Mona Lisa in the Louvre.

“I first of all want to say a huge thank you to everybody who made this award possible, from Ben Aaronovitch, to the Good Literary Agency, to everyone at National Novel Writing Month and everyone at Gollancz and Orion,” Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson commented on the news she had won the award.

“A huge thank you to the judges – you read my book about Black boys who time travel and fall in love with other boys, and Black girls who resist the systems of power that would see them broken by any means necessary.

“This prize is one that is sorely needed, especially in an industry with such a huge diversity and representation problem,” she continued. “I’ve wanted to be a science fiction fantasy author my whole life, but there was always a barrier in my mind informed by a world that told me: Black people don’t write science fiction and get recognised or rewarded or celebrated for it. Or that they did – sometimes, but they had to be exceptional to do so.

“I’m young, I’m not exceptional – yet – and I have a lot to learn, but I believe the world’s changing. I just hope the industry can gather itself in time to change alongside everyone else already forging ahead. To me, this prize is proof that it’s a lot easier to do so that many would have you believe. So, thank you for all who made this prize possible.’

“I have been truly staggered by the range and quality of all the submissions,” Prize co-founder and Gollancz author, Ben Aaronovitch said. “Choosing a shortlist was not easy and I’m looking forward to what happens to the winners and runners up alike. This was never planned as one off and are already laying plans for 2021.”

The Gollancz and Rivers of London BAME SFF Award 2020 Judging Panel
The Gollancz and Rivers of London BAME SFF Award 2020 Judging Panel

The shortlist of eight were chosen from 220 overall entries judged by actress Adjoa Andoh, author Dhonielle Clayton, founder of Illumicrate subscription box Daphne Tonge, Gollancz’s senior commissioning editor Rachel Winterbottom and Abi Fellows, literary agent at The Good Agency.

In second place with The Reeves’ Guild, Kyla Jardine has won £2,000 prize money, alongside a critique of her work submitted. In addition, the eight runners up include Blood of the Wolf by Jaya Martin; Kali’s Call by Dolly Garland, Nowhere more Changeable than the Mortal Heart by Ewan Ma, Seeds of Heaven by Victor Organa, The Scent of Cloves by Dan Buchanan, and The Shape of the World by Amy Borg.

Rachel Winterbottom, Senior Commissioning Editor at Gollancz, and a judge for the prize noted of the winning entries, “The Principle of Moments is such a joyous, energetic, thrilling read. Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson takes us on an adventure that explores vital, brilliant stories interwoven through time and space, shedding a light on our past, present and future. It’s a story so gloriously inventive, it’s science fiction at its very best – without boundaries.

“Esmie’s imagination and writing really captured my heart and left me wanting nothing more than to follow Asha and Obi to the ends of time.

The Reeves’ Guild achieves that rare feat of hooking you immediately from the opening scene,” she added. “With enviable skill, Kyla Jardine transports you into the bureaucratic world of Leif Corbeau’s MI5, providing the perfect, (extra)ordinary backdrop for occult goings on in London.

“Kyla has written a world that feels vividly, vitally real, firmly grounding the supernatural elements alongside characters who have their own everyday lives to live. It’s addictive, brilliant, incredibly accomplished writing.”

Nielsen’s results for science fiction and fantasy published in 2019 show almost double the amount of BAME British authors published in this genre but as the numbers were so small to start with, this only increases the authors represented from five to nine. These include authors such as Tade Thompson, whose book Rosewater won 2019’s Clarke Award; physicist and broadcaster Jim Al-Khalili with Sunfall, his first foray into sci-fi; and The True Queen, the second book from Zen Cho, who has won both the British Fantasy Award and a Hugo Award.

Even with this increase, BAME authors are still less than 3% of British authors published in sci-fi and fantasy, lagging far behind the representation of authors of colour in the American market.

Gollancz and Rivers of London BAME SFF Award


FIRST PLACE: The Principle of Moments by Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson

In self-deified Emperor Thracin’s brave new galaxy, Humans are not citizens. Instead, they are laborers indentured to the empire, working to repay the billions in debt they unwittingly incurred when they settled on Gahraan—a planet already owned by someone else.

Asha Akindele has lived her whole life on Gahraan, eking out an existence between factory assembly lines and constant terror—studying stolen aeronautics manuals in the dead of night and trying not to get herself killed for mouthing off to a guard. Then she discovers she has a sister imprisoned by the Emperor, and is forced to make a choice: stay enslaved, but relatively safe, or escape and risk everything in the name of family.

Obi Amadi is a time-traveller, sick with a legendary disease. Armed only with his prosthetic arm, his ever-constant melancholy, and the humour he uses to mask it, he has spent years travelling through time and space in search of a cure for the sickness currently unmaking him limb by limb. His mandate: Find the cure, go home. And maybe figure out along the way if the prince he thinks sometimes he might love could be that home.

When Obi saves Asha’s life, they make a pact: both will do all they can to get the other to the Emperor’s stronghold unscathed. With the reluctant aid of Xavior, a mouthy deckhand with a mysterious past, Asha and Obi attempt to navigate a galaxy that hates them to find the things they both believe will make them whole.

But a prophecy has started that has other plans, and not only is Asha forced to make a terrible choice, she must soon reckon with the legacy of an ancient religion and its heroes, who may be awakening, reincarnated in ways beyond her comprehension.

SECOND PLACE: The Reeves’ Guild by Kyla Jardine

Leif is a Special Intelligence Officer in MI5, working for a nearly forgotten and under-resourced unit called The Reeves’ Guild. Their remit is the protection of domestic national security against supernatural threats. But with magical crimes at an all-time low in the 21st century, Leif’s dreams of action and adventure disappear into a life of humdrum administration and policing petty misdemeanours.

When Leif is ordered to investigate the brutal murder of an elite occultist, he jumps at the chance to work a real case and show his boss that he can solve the crime quickly and quietly, finally proving he’s true Secret Service material. Navigating a problematic working relationship with the Metropolitan Police, the investigation proves to be a tricky one… possibly the first case of murder by magic The Reeves’ Guild has encountered in centuries. But how can Leif defend against an enemy using magic when Reeves are forbidden from using it? And, why has the Director General of MI5 taken a sudden interest in both him and the case?

As more of London’s magical community fall victim to the murderer, two women’s lives are turned upside down when they are caught up in the case… and with disturbing consequences. As the investigation deepens, it isn’t long before Leif uncovers a threat to Crown and country; one that is closer than the Reeves ever imagined.

View all shortlisted synopsis here

Follow Esmie Jikiemi Pearson on Twitter @esmiejp

Follow Kyla Jardine on Twitter @kylajardine

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