Chancellor of Oxford Brookes, Paterson Joseph, wins prestigious 2023 RSL Christopher Bland Prize

Paterson Joseph
Paterson Joseph has won the 2023 RSL Christopher Bland Prize

Paterson Joseph, the Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, has been announced as the winner of the 2023 Royal Society of Literature (RSL) Christopher Bland Prize for his debut novel The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho.

The actor and author, who last month was inaugurated as the new Chancellor of Oxford Brookes, was today (8 June) awarded the prize for his novel which is based on the true story of the 18th-century writer and composer who became the first known person of African descent to vote in a British parliamentary election. 

The literary prize is awarded annually to a debut writer aged 50 or over for a work of fiction or non-fiction. 

Speaking about his success, Paterson 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 lent itself to such attention 243 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.”

The judges of this year’s prize were author Lemn Sissay (Chair), poet Meena Kandasamy and Sky Arts presenter, 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’s novel was previously shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize which celebrates books by British/British resident BAME writers. 

Paterson has worked extensively on screen, television and in the theatre and will next be seen in the musical feature film, Wonka, alongside Timothée Chalemet, due to be released in December.  

Watch Paterson react to winning the prize.