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Preview: The Manchester Writing Competition Shortlist 2014

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By Dan J Broadley

The Manchester Writing Competition is now in its sixth year. Since its start, it has attracted over twelve thousand submissions from over fifty countries, awarding over £75,000 in the process. The winners of this year’s £10,000 fiction and poetry prizes are to be announced this Friday 17th October by Adam O’Riordan and Nicholas Royle. This year’s poetry prize was judged by Adam O’Riordan, Adam Horovitz and Clare Pollard and the Fiction Prize by Nicholas Royle, Christopher Burns and Claire Dean. If previous years’ events, and the shortlisted stories and poems, are anything to go by, this year will be a sparkling spectacle of the best new creative writing from across the world, right here in Manchester, at Chetham’s School of Music.

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Adam O’Riordan

I caught up with Adam O’Riordan (presenting the poetry prize) who had this to say about this year’s competition:

“As ever there has been a really high quality of entries into the competition with a diverse range of voices and styles of writing on show”, adding “It’s a rare chance to hear exciting new writing in the dramatic setting of Chetham’s Baronial Hall.”

I took a look at the shortlisted fiction and poetry and it is pretty impressive. There’s no doubt about the quality of writing in this competition – which is a relief when you consider there is £10,000 up for grabs.

Fiction Shortlist

The first shortlisted piece of fiction is ‘Something Inside the Head’ by David Grubb. It begins with a wife’s discovery of her husband’s dead body in the garden. This peculiar piece takes you on the otherworldly journey which raises interesting questions about what really happens when we die: Is there an afterlife? Are there such things as ghosts? That’s for the readers to decide, and that’s what I like about this story. David’s subject matter has been influenced by his training as a psychiatric nurse, and his work has appeared in Ambit and Cornish Review and broadcasted on BBC Somerset.

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2014 Manchester Fiction Prize short list

The next piece is ‘Eating Words’ by Avril Joy. It follows the story of an illiterate woman who cannot read and whose husband, the possessor of a mysterious book, is accused of witchcraft. This strange piece left me wondering who the husband really was and I admired the way the author’s use of language communicates the main character’s illiteracy. Avril’s short fiction has appeared in literary magazines and anthologies, including Victoria Hislop’s The Story: Love, Loss & the Lives of Women: 100 Great Short Stories. Her latest collection of stories, ‘Millie and Bird, Tales of Paradise’ will be published in 2015 by Iron Press.

The third installment of fiction on the shortlist is ‘Our Disorder’ by Martin MacInnes. An interesting tale of a mentally ill boy with strange obsessions that are at first difficult to understand, and how his father gets drawn in to it with him. This short story sheds light on a subject many people misunderstand and left me wondering how people like the boy in this story think and function and, more importantly, why. Martin won the Edward and Thomas Lunt prize for his thesis on Virginia Woolf and is now close to completing his first novel and a collection of stories.

Following this in the fiction shortlist is ‘Henderson’ by Robert Mason. A story of a lonely man who is visited by the same woman and boy each day, he follows bizarre routine thought processes and follows these up with weird actions. It leaves open the question of who the man is – an old war veteran, perhaps? Who is this Henderson character who is constantly referred to? I like stories that do that, with no definitive answer; it’s for you to decide. Robert Mason started writing fiction six years ago, having created cover art for many other authors’ work during a successful illustration career. In 2013, he published a memoir, ‘Other People’s Dogs’ with illustrations by Manchester legend Ian Pollock.

‘An Ape in a Backwater’ by Davey Moore is the fifth instalment in this year’s fiction shortlist. This queer little story follows that of a female ape that is unsatisfied with her life and tries to take the place of a human housewife. I found this story to be a little lighter and humorous than the rest (despite some of the events that take place) and despite it being quite a succinct short story, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it! Davey Moore writes scripts for children’s television and in 2011 he was shortlisted for a Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award for his work on ‘Rastamouse’ and has been writing for Puffin Rock – a new series narrated by Chris O’Dowd.

The final piece shortlisted in the fiction section of this year’s competition is ‘Roar’ by Adrian Wakeling. This sorrowful and complex piece cleverly incorporates the reader and this got me hooked from start to finish. There were certain parts I had to re-read, simply to try to get a stronger sense of what the writer was trying to get across. I realise some people don’t enjoy texts where there are parts you have to read a couple of times, but I do, and I enjoyed this story. It engaged me throughout. Adrian works for the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. His other claim to fame was being asked to play double bass with the Communards in the early 1980s.

Poetry Shortlist

Now for the poetry shortlist. The first shortlisted poet is Mona Arshi, with the poems: ‘Bulbul’, ‘The Gold Bangles’, ‘Large and Imprecise Baby’, ‘My Father Wants to be a Rooftop Railway Surfer’ and ‘Mr Beeharry’s Marriage Bureau’. Incorporating her Hindi culture, Mona’s poetry is both beautiful and vivid. Mona Arshi was born to Punjabi Sikh parents and grew up in West London. She began writing poetry in 2008 and received a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. Mona won the inaugural Magma poetry competition and was runner up in the Troubadour last year.

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2014 Manchester Poetry Prize short list

The second shortlisted poet is Guy Carter whose poems consists of ‘Creed’, ‘Mark V’, ‘Pike’, ‘Raptor’ and ‘Therapod’. Guy’s poetry is very powerful and I felt compelled with the voice of a military commander, as I drew a theme of war and violence throughout his poetry. Very powerfully written, reflected in how powerfully I read it. Guy earns his living as a caricaturist and silhouette artist and he recently won the Jeremy Mogford food and drink short story competition.

Next up in the poetry shortlist is Michael Derrick Hudson whose collection of poetry includes, ‘Down at the Circus of Self-Disgust’, ‘The Archaeologist’, ‘Feeling Sorry for Myself at the Museum’s Blue Whale Heart Exhibition’, ‘Back in College, Two of My Girlfriends’ and ‘Last Meal’. I liked the humour and sometimes cynical wit in Michaels writing, and the way in which they tell a story about something so simple in a magnificent rhythmical fashion. Michael’s poems have appeared in Boulevard, Columbia and Georgia Review. He has won the 2009 River Styx International Poetry Contest, the Madison Review’s 2009 Phyllis Smart Young Prize and the 2010 and 2013 New Ohio Review Prize for Poetry.

Wayne Price’s collection of poems ‘Prayer’, ‘The Lovers’, ‘Passing’, ‘The Guests’ and ‘In European Woods’ also appear on the poetry prize shortlist. I enjoyed Wayne’s use of imagery in his poems. His masterful use of metaphor is particularly beautiful. I also especially liked in this collection of poetry.  Wayne has published poetry and fiction in a number of journals and anthologies in the UK, Ireland and the US and has been a major prize-winner in many international poetry and short story competitions.

Lesley Saunders’ shortlisted poems include, ‘Fugitive’, ‘Ware’, ‘Alcuin’s Nightingale’, ‘Horse’ and ‘Saint’. A blend of wonder and intellectual curiosity emerges from Lesley’s poetry. They are beautifully written, much to my admiration. Lesley has published several books of poetry, and performed her work at festivals and on the radio. Her new collection, ‘The Walls Have Angels’, is based on a residency at Acton Court, a beautiful house built for the brief visit of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in the summer of 1535.

The final shortlisted nominee is Tracy Slaughter, whose poetry nomination is divided in to sections ‘cream’, ‘pepsi’, ‘fries’, ‘cheese’ and ‘chalk’. A quirkily written poem about the 70’s and again, something I had to read twice to fully appreciate. Best of all, this poem is different in a way I can’t describe, and that’s why I like it. Tracy’s first collection of poems and short stories, ‘Her Body Rises’ was published by Random House in 2005, and her poetry and short fiction have been widely published and anthologised in New Zealand and received numerous awards including the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award in 2004.

If the high quality of writing displayed in the shortlisted fiction and poetry described above is anything to go by, I would highly recommend that you attend this Friday’s award ceremony at the Chetham School of Music from 7pm. This evening will offer a spectacle of the some of the world’s best new creative writing and, of course, there is the small issue of announcing the winners of the £10,000 prizes.

Book tickets online or by calling the box office on 0843 208 0500. Tickets are £5, including a drinks reception. All the more reason to get down.

Just in case you fancy taking a peek at the shortlist yourself, you can find the entries here.

Dan is an English and Creative Writing student at Manchester Metropolitan University. His interests include music, festivals, bass guitar, writing poetry, having ideas for novels and meditation. Follow him on Twitter @DanBroadley.

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