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Manchester Writing Competition 2016: An interview with last year’s winners

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By Jacqueline Grima

The 2016 Manchester Writing Competition, one of the UK’s most prestigious literary prizes, is now open to entries. Established in 2008 by Poet Laureate Dame Carol Ann Duffy and the Manchester Writing School, the competition offers a whopping prize of £10,000 to the winners of both its poetry and prose categories, the biggest prize in the UK for emerging writers.

Humanity Hallows recently caught up with the winners of the 2015 Fiction and Poetry Prizes to ask them about their experience of entering, and winning, the competition.

Sean Lusk

Sean, from Dorset, won the 2015 Manchester Fiction prize with his story ‘Snake Charm’. We asked how he felt when he was announced as the winner.

“Winning prizes is something we all hope for and never expect to happen. I’m afraid I was as dumbstruck and incoherent as an Oscar-winner, but I was genuinely thrilled.”

The prize winners were announced in October at a glittering ceremony at Number 70 Oxford Street, home of the Manchester Writing School.

“The ceremony was designed to have the exciting ‘reveal’ of the Oscars, which meant that it was also a tense evening for the shortlisted writers and their friends and families who had come along to support them.

“It was good to be able to chat to fellow writers before and after the prize-giving ceremony itself. It’s a testament to the standing of the Manchester Fiction and Poetry Prizes that shortlisted writers came from as far as the USA and Canada for the prize-giving.”

Winning the £10,000 prize money has enabled Sean to support himself while he works on The Other Half of Paradise, a novel that tells the story of Rafael Trujillo, the brutal dictator of the Dominican Republic who, in 1938, offered refuge to 100,000 German Jewish refugees. Has winning the Fiction Prize benefitted Sean’s career in more ways than just financially?

“It certainly gave me a boost in confidence. As a writer you need to be able to justify what you do, not only to those around you, but also to yourself. That is why a prize like the Manchester Fiction prize is so important. I had given up my job in order to write full-time just a couple of months earlier, and was not quite sure how I was going to support myself. Winning the £10,000 could not have come along at a better time, and I will always be grateful to the Manchester Writing Competition for that.”

What would Sean say to anyone considering entering the 2016 Manchester Writing Competition?

“Go for it! You have nothing to lose apart from the entrance fee and a very great deal to gain. I am a great believer in putting stories away to ‘mature’ for a few months or years before getting them out of the figurative drawer, blowing off the dust, editing them and only then submitting them. This was the case with ‘Snake Charm’. It’s important to enter stories you feel are truly complete. I have often been guilty of thinking a story is finished only to look at it a year later and realise that it is a page too long, or that I have messed-up the ending or put in a piece of dialogue that seems to work on the page but that does not work when read out aloud.

“You usually know when a story is truly right, but even then it may take months or years before it finds a home.”

Lucy Ingrams

Lucy won the 2015 Manchester Poetry Prize with her poems ‘So will there be apples?’, ‘Signs’, ‘A hearting space’, ‘Siena’ and ‘August Letter’. We asked her how life has changed since she was announced as winner.

“Winning the prize has given me more confidence that, sometimes, at least, the work I make can communicate. At platforms such as poetry readings, for example, I am now often introduced as the winner of the Manchester Poetry Prize, and both organisers and audiences look more comfortable when they hear this.

“I have also recently been offered a book contract for a poetry project that the publishers had seen before the prize, but felt unsure about. They have since changed their minds, and I feel the recognition of the prize may have been a factor in drawing their commitment.”

Due to time and financial constraints, Lucy previously had to suspend her place on an MPhil in Creative Writing so was extremely grateful for the £10,000 prize money which meant she could take up study again.

“This is life-altering and I feel extremely grateful and fortunate. To study and think about poetry deeply for a time will, I hope, further my own writing practice too.”

Poetry can sometimes seem obscure to the everyday reader. Do competitions like the Manchester Poetry Prize help raise the profile of poets and their work?

“Audiences for any art need selection processes to help them find new work. The Manchester Poetry Prize is a unique selector on two counts: the portfolio nature of its entries and the substantial sum of money it awards. This double whammy enables the Manchester Poetry Prize to sustain a very high profile annually for both writers and audiences, making it perhaps one of the most powerful intersections in the UK between new writing and the wider world.”

Like Sean, Lucy wouldn’t hesitate to encourage other poets and writers to submit their work to the Manchester Writing Competition.

“Just as audiences need to find new work, writers need to communicate. While luck plays a huge part in it all, the chance of being drawn for the shortlist is the chance to do so in a very positive and encouraging way.”

Read Sean and Lucy’s prize-winning work here.

The 2016 Manchester Writing Competition closes on Friday 23rd September. For more information on both the Fiction and Poetry Prizes and how to be in with a chance of winning £10,000 prize money, visit the competition website.

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Jacqueline Grima

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