Jilly Cooper has been awarded the first Comedy Women In Print Lifetime Achievement Award.

The author of books such as Riders and Polo was given the inaugural accolade in recognition of her legacy and inspiration to comic women writers.

Former Dragons’ Den star Theo Paphitis presented Cooper, 82, with her prize at a ceremony at The Conduit Club in London.

Jilly Cooper with Theo Paphitis and Helen Lederer
Jilly Cooper with Theo Paphitis and Helen Lederer (Comedy Women In Print Prize)

In the Published author category, journalist and debut author Laura Steven won the £2,000 prize with The Exact Opposite Of Okay, her “daring, edgy and topical” young adult novel about the issues faced by girls today.

Author Marian Keyes, chairwoman of the Published prize judges, said “the final choice was made based on the potential of extremely young and witty writer Laura Steven to go forward and continue to make her mark while pushing boundaries for funny women’s fiction”.

Stage and screenwriter Kirsty Eyre won the Unpublished category for romantic comedy Cow Girl, “an original and modern take on a romantic storyline” set in the unlikely world of dairy farming.

Eyre was awarded a publishing contract and £5,000 advance from HarperFiction.

Unpublished judges chairwoman Jenny Eclair said Cow Girl was “an inspired and stylish read”.

The Comedy Women In Print Prize (CWIP) was launched by actress and author Helen Lederer in response to the lack of exposure for female comedy writing, and to celebrate fresh and established talent.

She said: “I’ve lived and breathed CWIP for so many years that the enormity of crowning the winner sat quite heavily.

“But every judge was committed to finding a winner that reflected what we are here for – to celebrate witty women’s fiction – both unpublished and published.

“When it came to the wire (and the competition was as varied as it was strong) it was felt the author who was most poised to break through and continue to deliver quality humour should get it. Originality, wit and relatability were also nailed.

“The Exact Opposite Of Okay by Laura Steven has a unique voice that is as assured as it is witty – and while it is set in a young person’s world – the judges easily connected to the narrative and humour.

“In the Unpublished category the judges were unanimously impressed with Cow Girl by Kirsty Eyre. The intelligence of the characters was both refreshing and compelling while the wit of the narrative connected the reader throughout.”

Laura Steven and Kirsty Eyre
Laura Steven and Kirsty Eyre (Comedy Women In Print Prize)

“Visibility in women’s wit on the page has changed even since I had the idea for CWIP five years ago,” she said.