Gala Night at The Manchester Literature Festival

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Fiction Prize Finalists (L-R): Adam Wilmington, James Hopkin, Alison White, Richard Knight and Carys Davies. Not pictured: Joe Dunthorne
Manchester Writing Competition Gala Award Ceremony – Baronial Hall, Cheetham School of Music.

Words by Kevin Danson

Where else would I have been on Friday, 18th October, at 7:30pm, but at the Manchester Writing Competition’s gala prize-giving ceremony in the historical Chetham’s School of Music – part of the 2013 Manchester Literature Festival? Two winners were to be announced out of the twelve shortlisted finalists, all with a shot at winning the life-changing £10,000 prize.

The Manchester Writing Competition was launched under the direction of Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, as part of Manchester Metropolitan University’s celebration of excellence in creative writing. Launched in 2008, the project has attracted talented writers from around the world, awarding more than £50,000 to its winners. 

Poetry Prize finalists (L-R): Victor Tapner, Abigail Parry, Psscale Petit, Wayne Price and Carolyn King. Not pictured: Debra Marquart.
 Originally alternating between Poetry and Fiction, this year was the first to run both, with one winner taking a £10,000 prize for best poetry portfolio, and the other £10,000 for the best writer of short fiction. Poets had to submit a portfolio of no less than three, no more than five, poems totalling 120 lines. Fiction writers had a free range of any style and any subject, with a word count of 2,500. All entries were judged anonymously. This year’s Manchester’s Poetry Prize was judged by Bernhard O’Donoghue, Adam O’Riordan and Fiona Sampson and the Fiction Prize by Alison Moore, Nicholas Royle and Robert Shearman, all of whom I saw sitting together with the writers towards the front of the venue.

The ceremony took off with a full house and two cheerful, slightly well-behaved hosts, James Draper, Manager of the Manchester Writing School at MMU, and Matthew Frost, from the Manchester Literature Festival.

James told us the importance of the Manchester Writing Competition, saying, ‘This [project] has become increasingly important in the face of cuts to the Arts and Humanities’. With Matthew adding, ‘Projects like this ensure that we give something back to artists, and draw attention to and discover exciting new work and new voices’.

Side note: I have selected only a few brief summaries of some of the pieces shortlisted for the night’s award.

These bursts of inspiration led us to the poetry reading of the night with Carolyn King from the Isle of Wight. Carolyn has three collections published: The Reunion, Lifelines, and Caviar and Chips, with numerous competition successes under her belt. The poem she chose to read from tonight was about a fly visit from her niece who lives in Vienna — Learning to Live With Lillies. I found it a refreshing piece of contrasting imagery and liked how the cat is mentioned. I have caught myself, even after the event, turning one of the verses over in my head: ‘holding my breath/before he gave it to her’. You can read the poem here.

James Hopkins has lived in a variety of cities across Europe, settling as writer-in-residence in both Denmark and Croatia. He has several collections of short stories and is currently working on a new novel and an ebook. His short story is titled The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui’s Arm. Now, it may be that I don’t have much to go on, but reading this story did remind me of Christopher Isherwood’s introduction in Goodbye to Berlin — ‘I am a camera with its shutter open’. The narrator takes you through a beautifully-worded Berlin with the mysterious NR. One important fact to be taken from this short story is from the line; ‘I started getting the moustaches confused. Indeed, moustaches can be very confusing’.

Ceremony hosts James Draper (left) and Matthew Frost (right) present 2013 Manchester Poetry Prize winner Pascale Petit with £10,000


Pascale Petit took us back to poetry with her reading of Arrival of the Electric Eel. Pascale lives in London where she teaches courses at Tate Modern and for The Poetry School. Two times shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize, Pascale is currently working on a bilingual Selected Poems to be published in 2014. I felt like we were being told the journey of the envelope delivering the eel, taken through an Amazon village, witnessing certain rituals. I thought the language slightly on the erotic side at some points: ‘The messenger drags me up to the surface/to gulp air then flicks its anal fin’, led me to asking Pascale later about it. Erotic language was confirmed.

Back to Fiction and it was Richard Knight’s turn to read from his short story, The Incalculable Weight of Water. Richard lives in Greenfield near Manchester. He has had a story broadcast on Radio 4, is author to multiple collections as well as being a children’s author and teaching part-time at a primary school. This short story shares some memories of an older couple: their younger, active selves, with a setting of a dam and reservoir. Several times throughout the story I thought a twist was coming, but instead it tied beautifully onto another possible thread. You can see if that happens to you too, by reading Richard’s story here.

Ceremony hosts Matthew Frost (left) and James Draper (right) present 2013 Manchester Fiction Prize winner Adam Wilmington with £10,000
Adam Wilmington was the final reader of the night with his short story, It. Adam is a song-writer, writer and poet born in Wigan, and is currently finishing his degree at the University of Nottingham. I want to know what ‘It’ is! I had myself thinking of a new possibility every other paragraph; maybe it’s subjective to each person? Adam’s story drew awe from the audience when he stopped reading, with a colleague turning to me mouthing, ‘That’s really good’.

Matthew and James returned to the stage to announce this year’s competition winners.

 Pascale Petit was declared 2013 Poetry Competition winner. She told us, in a surprised gasps, that the prize had been an encouragement for her to write, and that winning has now given her encouragement even more. Winner of the Short Fiction Competition was then announced with Adam Wilmington named to be taking the prize. Adam, like Pascale, had no speech prepared, but told us of a year filled with grief and loss, ending with ‘Wow this is pretty cool’. A up quotation that summed the entire evening, I’m sure.

Well done to all the people who put pen to paper and sent in their entries, and a big congratulations to those writers shortlisted for both the poetry and short fiction competitions. Until next year.

All shortlisted poetry portfolios, short stories and information on writing competitions, including the new Writing for Children Competition, can be found here. For further information on the Manchester Literature Festival events, click here.

Kevin Danson is an English Literature student at MMU who likes to share his ramblings. Read his blog Pebbleddash and follow him on Twitter @pebbleddash

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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