By Jamie Stewart
The winners of Manchester Metropolitan University’s 2015 Manchester Writing Competition were announced in a glittering prize-giving ceremony last week. The competition, launched in 2008 by Poet Laureate and Creative Director of the Manchester Writing School, Dame Carol Ann Duffy, is one of the UK’s most prestigious literary prizes, successfully establishing Manchester as a focal point for great creative writing and awarding £10,000 in prize money to both its Poetry Prize and Fiction Prize winners. This year the Poetry Prize was awarded to Lucy Ingrams from Oxford for her poems ‘So will there be apples?’, ‘Signs’, ‘A hearting space’, Siena’ and ‘August Letter’ and the Fiction Prize to Sean Lusk from Dorset for his story ‘Snake Charm’.
The competition is hosted by the Manchester Writing School in conjunction with the Manchester Literature Festival. James Draper, the Manager of the Manchester Writing School told Humanity Hallows, “We are absolutely delighted to be able to support creative writing in this way and use celebratory occasions like this to draw attention to and celebrate exciting new work and find new voices.”
The prize-giving Gala was held in the Writing School’s new home at No 70 Oxford Street, where the shortlisted finalists shared their work. Shortlisted for the Poetry Prize alongside Lucy were Tess Barry, Kierstin Bridger, Cath Drake, Linda France and Lindsey Holland and shortlisted for the Fiction Prize alongside Sean were Harriet Clare, Martin Dodd, Angela Readman, Tracey Slaughter and Richard W. Strachan.
Matthew Frost, Secretary of the Board of Trustees at the Manchester Literature Festival, said “It’s a really international line-up this year. We have three Americans, an Australian, a New Zealander and finalists from across the UK. From London to Edinburgh via Dorset, Oxford and Hadrian’s Wall.” He added, “We are delighted that the competition has a reach that spans across the globe so that Manchester can play a part in celebrating writers from far and near.”
Andrew Biswell, Professor of Modern Literature at MMU said, “I’m really excited to be here, to hear the shortlisted entrants read, but what I really like about the Manchester Writing Competition is that well-earned writers get the money – it allows them to buy time and focus on their writing.” He added, “Every year the standard rises.”
Adam O’Riordan, Olivia Cole and Kei Miller judged the poetry prize. Humanity Hallows spoke to Olivia about this year’s entrants. She said, “It’s great to have six superb women shortlisted in an area that seems to be dominated by men. It says a huge amount about female creativity.” She added, “The entries are judged anonymously, and there were voices in the poems that I thought were male.”
The international line-up is testimony to the reach of the Manchester Writing Competition and the warm welcome that MMU and the Manchester Writing School offer its finalists. Shortlisted poetry entrant Cath Drake, who is originally from Perth, said, “It’s lovely to be here in Manchester. MMU have been so welcoming, and it’s great to meet the other poets.” She added, “The poems I entered were all new poems. I was going in a new direction with them so it gives me confidence that I’ve been shortlisted for such a prestigious prize.”
When she was announced as winner of the Poetry Prize, Lucy took to the stage to cheers and lively applause. She said, “It’s crazy. I’m bamboozled.” She added, “Oh and I’m really bad with money.” Lucy was a recent winner in Magma’s annual poetry competition and has had her poems published in various magazines, including Ink, Sweat and Tears, Poetry Ireland, and Agenda.
Fiction Prize entries were judged by Stuart Kelly, Leone Ross and MMU Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing Nicholas Royle. Nicholas said, “We read horror stories and science-fiction, out-and-out fantasy, romance and avant-garde experimental fictions, and gentle anecdotal tales.” He added, “Reaching a winner was extremely difficult…I wish we could give them all prizes.”
After being declared the winner of the Fiction Prize, Sean Lusk also met with rapturous applause from the audience and said, “Wow, I really, really did not expect this…This will keep me writing for another year. Thank you. It was a fantastically diverse list. I really have genuinely enjoyed reading them.” Sean was runner-up in the Bridport Short Story Prize in 2014, and he is currently on a writer’s retreat on the North York Moors with the Anne Atkinson Writing Group. On what winning the Manchester Fiction Prize meant for him, he said, “I’ve been shortlisted for a few things before, but this means the world to me, it really does. Winning has given me a great boost in confidence.”
Iris Feindt, Graduate Teaching Assistant at MMU, said, “I really enjoyed listening to the finalists perform their work. I love poetry and short stories, and I think Manchester is the best place to celebrate both forms. The prize is putting Manchester on the literary map.”
The Gala was an opportunity for all guests to celebrate the written word and support writers and also highlighted the value of writing, which is often a solitary task, as a vehicle for bringing people together.
Sean Lusk furthered this idea: “The support you can get from fellow writers is so important, and I think that is another thing that makes this event so important.”
Lucy Ingrams also highlighted the impact of writing as a collective task, saying, “We’re all together, the finalists.”
The Manchester Writing School has become a home for writers from all over the world, a place for them to connect and support each other.
To read all of this year’s shortlisted poems and stories, including the winning entries, please click here.
The 2016 Manchester Writing Competition opens for entries in December. Find out more here
Jamie is from Manchester and is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the Manchester Writing School. He enjoys reading and baking.