The Manchester Writing Competition Prize-giving gala returns to Manchester Metropolitan University on Friday to celebrate the 2023 Manchester Poetry and Fiction Prize winners.
Established by Carol Ann Duffy in 2008, the Manchester Writing Competition celebrates Manchester as an international city of writers, finding diverse new voices and creating opportunities for writer development.
It has awarded more than £220,000 to writers and will be awarding a further two £10,000 prizes on the night this year: the Manchester Poetry Prize for best portfolio of poems and the Manchester Fiction Prize for best short story.
The Poetry Prize has been judged by award-winning poet and lecturer in Creative Writing at Manchester Met, Malika Booker. Poet, performer, trainer and tutor Clare Shaw and poet and essayist Momtaza Mehri.
Booker, who recently became the first woman to win the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem twice, shared her excitement at judging this year: “I am impressed by poems that are original, formally dynamic, work that provides new insights, poems that take risks, poems that are formally inventive.” She went on to say she loves “when I lose myself in the work.”
The Fiction Prize has been judged by the acclaimed author and lecturer in Creative Writing, Lara Williams. Author, journalist and teacher Laura Barnett and author Oliver Harris.
Williams, the acclaimed winner of Guardian ‘Not The Booker’ Prize and nominee for the BBC National Short Story Award, also conveyed her excitement for judging this year’s competition. She said: “The quality of the fiction is very high. It aims to surface excellent writing to celebrate short fiction and everything it encompasses, and to push the boundaries of what can be done.”
Speaking to aAh! before the competition entries closed, poet, editor and essayist, Romalyn Ante, said: “[I‘m looking for] an unforgettable voice. A first line that [will] grab me, a last line that will set me off like a boat on resonant waves. But most importantly, I’m looking for poems that are saying something important.”
Ahead of the Prize-giving gala on Friday, we meet the 2023 finalists of the Manchester Writing Competition to celebrate their success, hear more about their work and the inspiration behind it.
Content warning: shortlisted poems and stories deal with themes such as sexual assault, racism, suicide and more.
Manchester Poetry Prize shortlist
D A Angelo
D A Angelo is a disabled, UK-based poet. Their work is featured in an array of established literary spaces and journals, such as Poetry Daily and Autumn Sky, and their primary interests are in prose poetry, surrealism and nature writing.
Angelo’s five shortlisted poems selected for the Manchester Writing Competition include: Timothée Chalamet, Jason In The Woods, The Oral History of Mangoes, Discussing climate change with my mother and How To Destroy The Moon. Their work displays a breadth of topics as they write about Timothée Chalamet and the horror icon, Jason whilst also exploring pressing matters of mental illness, climate change and colonialism.
Elana Croitoru is a Romanian-British poet. Her first poetry pamphlet titled The Country With No Playgrounds won her the Live Canon Pamphlet Prize in 2021, which went on to be published. During her career as a poet, she has won many awards including the Charles Causley Poetry Prize and commendation in the National Poetry Competition.
Elena’s four shortlisted poems selected for the Manchester Writing Competition include: ‘While Reading The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’, Daughter, Separation Anxiety and Cleave. Her work discusses motherhood and the trials of moving to a different country.
Shakeema is an Antiguan American poet currently residing in Belfast. She has just completed her Masters degree in Poetry at Queen’s University. The five poems she submitted for the prize were written as part of her dissertation. Shakeema received an International Poetry Scholarship to study poetry at the Seamus Heaney Centre and her poems have appeared in publications such as Propel Magazine.
Shakeema’s five shortlisted poems selected for the Manchester Writing Competition are: Delicatessen, Pattern Making, Solar Doom, Nietzsche’s Sandcastles and Job’s Latter Days.
Sharing the inspiration for her piece, she states: “The five poems I submitted for the prize were written over the summer for my masters dissertation: a 36-page collection concerned with matrilineal heritage, immigration, and elegy. My parents come from large families, so I’ve always been interested in genealogy, and I explore that theme in my writing. Four of the five poems I submitted for the Prize feature reproduction or a parent-child relationship, and the fifth poem discusses childlessness.”
When asked if there’s a certain group of people she writes for, she said: “I sometimes reference places in Antigua by name: Swetes, Dickinson Bay. Which may give readers who have been there a fuller understanding of those images.”
She added: “After moving to the United States, I started to write about immigrating and assimilating. Those themes are still important to me, and I hope readers who have had similar experiences can relate to my work.”
Debra Marquart is an American poet and musician currently based in Iowa, USA. She teaches on the Master of Fine Art course for Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University, and on a Stonecast Low-Residency course at the University of Southern Maine. Debra has published eight books, including From Sweetness: Poems, the poetry collection selected for the Pearl Poetry Prize of 2000.
Debra’s shortlisted poem selected for the Manchester Writing Competition is called LEAVE IT IN THE GROUND. The long-form poem, consisting of five parts, is about the consequences of oil extraction in the Bakken region. This elaborate poem displays Debra’s passion for climate action and importantly gives the competition both a poetic and political palette.
Katie O’Pray is a poet from Bedfordshire. They work with CAMHS and other organisations to run creative writing workshops in Bedford and Luton, with a focus on wellbeing. As a current Barbican Young Poet, they have already achieved impressive accolades, including being named the winner of the ruth feiss Foundation’s Emerging Poet’s Prize. Katie’s debut poetry collection titled APRICOT was published in October 2022.
Katie’s five shortlisted poems selected for the Manchester Writing Competition include: Leftovers, Neighbour, I am asked if we share INTIMACY, Self-portrait, as of now and Left early. Presenting as prose poetry, their poems touch on the themes of unwanted memories, mental health and mourning.
When discussing the themes and intentions behind Katie’s shortlisted work, they shared: “These pieces, like all my poems, were borne from a need to be understood, an effort to articulate myself and my experience of the world in a way that everyday language does not allow. They are a way of saying ‘This is how it feels to me.'”
From her residence in Aotearoa, New Zealand, Tracey Slaughter has written poetry, fiction and personal essays. Over the span of her career, she has received a multitude of awards for her work. Most recently, she was awarded the Fish Short Story Prize. This is her second time being shortlisted for the Manchester Prize, once for fiction and now for poetry. Her latest published work Devil’s Trumpet was released in 2021.
Tracey’s shortlisted poem selected for the Manchester Writing Competition titled opioid sonatas, another long-form poem composed of four parts, investigates the emotional and physical aftermath of a car crash. This selection demonstrates the rich variety of subject matters explored through contemporary poetry.
Manchester Fiction Prize shortlist
Edward (Ed) Hogan is from Derby, now living in Brighton, and is a Lecturer at the Open University. His acclaimed work includes the novels Blackmoor and The Electric. He has been shortlisted for multiple awards including the Sunday Times Short Story Award.
Edward’s shortlisted story Home Work is set in 1990’s England, and depicts a sixteen-year-old who becomes increasingly involved in Burglary. The protagonist, facing family issues and a complicated relationship, reconnects with his hospitalised father, who guides him on an unexpected quest. This gripping story explores the protagonist’s journey through crime, redemption and self-discovery as his past echoes through the narrative.
When discussing his shortlisted fiction piece, Ed said: “[I spent] a year or so working on a short story about a middle-aged man who was trying to go straight after being a housebreaker as a kid. I did a lot of research but the story wasn’t quite working, so I went back to his youth, looking for the heart of it. Then I wrote ‘Home Work’ and it felt better than the story I was working on before. I might go back to the other story, one day…”
He added: “Writing Home Work has taught me a lot about point of view. There are secondary characters who suffer deeply, but the story continues to be about the main character. That, in itself, was an interesting thing to consider.”
Dayal Kindy is from the West Midlands. As well as having been awarded several scholarships and awards, Kindy has had many of her short stories published. After being shortlisted for the BBC Short Story Award in 2022, she is now writing a novel in collaboration with the NHS Mental Health services. Kindy’s recent achievements already suggest her development into a promising writer.
With an opening addressing the alarming reality of racism, Dayal’s shortlisted story ‘Dolby Rests in Peace’ describes the protagonist’s turbulent journey navigating addiction, love, and the search for a higher purpose. Dolby’s passionate connection with Jade involves a rollercoaster of highs and lows. Through Dolby’s narrative, Kindy offers a raw and unfiltered gaze into the complexity and beauty of the human experience.
Discussing her shortlisted piece, Dayal said: “I’d recently had a son when a young man I grew up with was stabbed to death. That juxtaposition between hope and fear of bringing a child, a brown boy into the world, was at the root to the story; but obviously I moved it out of fact and into something that was alive and real in a different way. I wanted it to pulse with love.”
David McGrath is a short story writer of Irish heritage, who currently lives in London. This year, McGrath has been awarded the Bryan MacMahon Short Story Competition for ‘The Birth of a Devil Sheep’, as well as the Cill Rialaig Residency. He used the latter residency to assist in writing his novel titled ‘Rickshaw’, set in a pub in the Irish countryside.
In his shortlisted fiction piece ‘I Fell In Love With My Documentary Crew’, McGrath tells the story of a helpline operator guiding tourists through Paris, whose life takes an unexpected turn when a documentary crew chooses to explore his life. As the protagonist’s personal struggles unfold on screen, from a precarious living situation to a controversial relationship, his short story becomes an enthralling narrative which blurs the lines between reality and storytelling. The story’s climax takes place in Family Court, revealing the truth behind the camera.
When asked about the inspiration for this piece, McGrath said: “‘I Fell in Love With My Documentary Crew’ means a lot to me. It’s a patchwork quilt of a story that was in my head for a long time… And when I put it down on paper it began where it now ends, and it didn’t work because it didn’t have an end, it fizzled out, and it stayed on a file on my computer until I found a new way to start it, and then end with my old beginning. It’s a chop-up of stories I hear from the people I bring to the pub, a documentary of the stories we tell in order to actually tell a very simple story of a Dad’s love for his son.”
He added: “I was in the men’s toilets of the Family Courts in London once and there was a man in there crying his eyes out having lost access to his child. He was low, abused and voiceless. And the stairs outside were altered so that he couldn’t commit suicide… I said to myself: ‘I’m putting that fucking staircase in a story.'”
Nicholas Petty is originally from Macclesfield, and he is currently residing in Utrecht, in the Netherlands. Having been featured in the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award and the Desperate Literature Short Story Prize, Petty is working on a short story collection and novel.
Following the life of a retiree living in Belgium, Nicholas’ shortlisted fiction piece ‘Close Your Eyes’, reveals a protagonist reflecting on his rather unremarkable life. The protagonist’s daily routine is shaped by uninspiring surroundings and flooded by memories of his past, until he crosses paths with a young athlete who swims dangerously close to a mysterious whorl in the water. Reflecting on the past and present, the narrative explores motifs of solitude and regret, coupled with the haunting nature of the sea.
Chloë Philp resides in the South West of England, where she works as a senior bookseller, and is studying Creative Writing at the University of Gloucestershire. Philp is currently writing her debut novel. Philp’s shortlisted fiction piece demonstrates her love of writing about pertinent, ongoing issues, most prominently climate change and animal welfare.
Chloë’s shortlisted story ‘We Have Made Your Bed Now Lie In It’ takes place in the small Arctic town of Belushya Guba, in which a young boy named Mishka discovers an interesting connection between the local bears and their reliance on human-generated rubbish. As the bears begin to display unexpected behaviours, Mishka embarks on a journey which sees a blurring of the boundaries between nature and civilisation. This evocative story delves into themes of the environmental impact of humans and the supposed contradiction between human civilisation and the natural world, offering a unique perspective on the consequences of human actions.
Describing the inspiration behind her fiction piece, she said: “I think one of the most important parts of my story is realising it is rooted in reality. Bears all over the world are losing their habitats due to global temperature rises and Belushya Guba often finds itself neighbour to polar bears exploring for food, shelter and a place to rest.
“Part of the inspiration for my story was watching David Attenborough and seeing how eloquently he manages to teach us about these global changes that are not helped by our mass overconsumption and growth but how he gives us hope for every situation. There might be more than just the darkness that seems to creep ever closer.”
April Yee attended Harvard University and reported in more than a dozen countries before moving to her current residence in London. With a passion for writing about climate change and colonialism, April Yee’s poetry, fiction, and essays have either won or been listed for Best of the Net, The Best American Essays and the Ivan Juritz Prize. She previously worked as The Georgia Review’s editor-in-residence and a mentor for Refugee Journalism Project, and her work has been featured in The Times Literary Supplement, The Offing, and Electric Literature.
In ‘Still Blue Thing’, Yee depicts a woman who, while dealing with pregnancy, finds lumps in her armpits. Navigating medical advice and decisions, the protagonist adopts a vegan lifestyle as a means of gaining control over her body. In this story, Yee delves into the complexities of identity, motherhood, and the doctor’s desperate avoidance of the word ‘cancer’.
The winners of the 2023 Manchester Writing Competition will be announced at an awards ceremony on December 8, hosted at Manchester Met’s Grosvenor East building, home to Manchester Writing School and Manchester Poetry Library, and the ceremony will be live-streamed for the first time this year.