Literature, Manchester, News

“The competition brought a level of recognition”: We speak to last year’s Manchester Writing Competition winners Peter Ramm and Leone Ross

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“I feel honoured and fortunate to have been chosen by the judges… I am forever in their debt for how it has impacted my career.”

The UK’s biggest literary award for unpublished work to aspiring writers returns this year awaiting submissions from worldwide writers of poetry and fiction.

Continuing its mission to celebrate diverse new voices from around the world, the 2023 Manchester Writing Competition is now open for entries with a chance to win two £10,000 prizes up for grabs.

We spoke to last year’s winners Leone Ross and Peter Ramm to get a glimpse into their experiences and find out more about how scooping the top prize has impacted their writing careers.

Leone Ross took home the 2021 Manchester Fiction Prize, awarded in 2022, for her short story When We Went Gallivanting. She described winning the £10k prize money as “surreal”. 

Leone performed her piece at the awards ceremony, before going on to take home the huge cash prize: “I told my partner there was no way I had a chance in hell, because the judges were ignoring my eyes and being really nice to everyone else.

“My partner immediately thought: ‘Ha, she’s won!’ but he didn’t say anything. [It] turns out that the judges were trying very hard not to give anything away!”

She added: “In the moment judge Hilaire said my name, I just sat there thinking ‘Oh, that’ll be another Leone Ross, then.’ It was actually the other shortlisted writers on either side of me – bless them, laughing and so warm – who had to push me onstage to receive it.

“[I was] shocked out of my mind, I tell you. My face was burning and I garbled complete rubbish.”

Leone added: “Winning the competition adds weight to my writing career, which after a very long period of being fallow, burst into life again with the 2017 publication of my short story collection, Come Let Us Sing Anyway by Peepal Tree Press.”

“In 2021 and 2022, my third novel, This One Sky Day, was nominated for the Women’s Prize, the Goldsmiths Award, a Diversity Award, the Royal Society for Literature‘s Ondjaate Award, as well as Bad Form magazine and Rebel Women Lit’s prizes for best novel –  and while I have no sense of entitlement to any of these prizes, I was becoming a little fatigued and overwhelmed by months and months of hoping and not winning anything. It was so very nice to be the lucky last one standing!”

Considering the prize money, Leone said: “It meant I could pay the rent for a good few more months. Time to write is priceless, and I made the mad decision in 2021 to try and make a living from writing, so this was a very welcome injection.”

Leone is currently working on her fourth novel, but said “it’s way too early to talk about that”. She added: “With any luck it will be out in 2025!

“Peepal Tree has just published Glimpse: A Black British Anthology of Speculative Fiction, a collection of twenty short stories that I edited. It’s the first of its kind, and tremendously important and I urge everyone to buy it.”

Peter Ramm was crowned the winner for the Manchester Poetry Prize, with his portfolio titled Landfall. He shared how winning the prize has boosted his confidence as a writer considerably: “I remember often questioning my sense of legitimacy as a writer, often when reading other contemporary poets and observing their craft from a distance. I had wondered if my writing could stand alongside them or in their presence.

He added: “Winning the competition has given me the internal confidence to see the quality in some of my work, and whilst I feel there is still much to learn, I can value and appreciate some of the poems I have crafted in recent years.

“I think I recall Anthony Lawrence, a renowned Australia poet, recently saying at a book launch, ‘A poem is never really finished,’ and in that sense I think I, as most writers, always look at their work with an eye to what could be improved.”

When asked how victory felt on the night, Peter said, “Winning the competition was very surreal in the moment. I was jet lagged from a 37 hour journey from Robertson, Australia (about an hour and half south of Sydney), so I sort of froze for a moment in my seat. I hadn’t prepared anything to say because there was no real sense in my mind that I had won, so I was quickly trying to compose a few thoughts.

“One of the most special moments was being able to celebrate with the other writers and to spend quite some time with the judges before and after the ceremony. There was a warmth in the communion of writers, discussing their own projects, their influences, newly published work, and sharing the parts of each other’s work that had spoken to one another.

“As an emerging Australian poet, the sense that there was a shared love of language, of place, and of person that bonded us across vast distances was unique, and a moment I look back on very fondly.”

Peter also opened up on the resilience writers need when embarking on this type of career: “As writers we’re used to rejection. Someone put a statistic out that around 90% of work that we send out for publication is rejected, or at least, early on in one’s career. That’s an enormous psychological hurdle to continue to have to overcome, time and time again. It’s one that I’ve experienced, and it’s one that rings true for competitions as well.

“There have been many times where I have made a long or shortlist, only to come up ‘short’ in the final decisions. I feel honoured and fortunate to have been chosen by the judges in this instance and I am forever in their debt for how it has impacted my career.”

Peter explained how the prize money has supported him to produce more work and also invest in his practice: “[It’s] helped in a variety of ways from helping to cover the long distance travel costs, to helping fund the launch of my book, and the renovation of my office and writing space. I’ve been able to undertake some more writing courses since then and generally re-invest back into my writing.”

He added that it gave him “a sense of space in my finances to take a few more of the next steps in my career”. He said: “The competition brought with it a level of recognition that I hadn’t felt before and I am forever grateful for the sense of acceptance it has brought to my work and the affirmation that some of what I write may connect with those that read my work.”

The 2023 Manchester Writing Competition is open to entries until 5pm on 1st September 2023. Entries cost £18 per submission for either the poetry or fiction prize. 

100 reduced price (£10) entries are available to entrants who might not otherwise be able to take part in the Competition.

For more information visit mmu.ac.uk/writingcompetition, join the mailing list and follow @McrWritingSchl on Twitter.

About the author / 

Samuel Ethan Jolly

Born and raised in Manchester (UK), Samuel grew up surrounded by markers of the Industrial Revolution: flats carved out of old Workhouses, murky canals, and grand chimneys. The Peaks and Lakes, of Derbyshire and Cumbria are all added to Samuel's mixed rural and urban experience of the North. He is an avid reader, writer, photographer, and general enjoyer of fantasy, sci-fi, history and many more.

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