I began writing this post on Thursday 2nd June, but life, specifically Covid*, intervened. Now, very belatedly, here’s my account of the Manchester Writing Competition Gala Prize-giving Ceremony…
which has the aura of a dream to me. An almost out-of-body experience. And I was only a judge! After months of reading hundreds of stories, rereading dozens, some several times over, conferring with my fellow judges Nicholas Royle and Simon Okotie to arrive at our shortlist of six stories and the overall winner, the evening was a celebration of some of the very best contemporary writing – both fiction and poetry.
Although as judges we’d known the name of the winner since shortly after making our decision, we were sworn to secrecy – I’d not even told my partner Nick – so I felt a degree of awkwardness at the reception for finalists and judges before the official ceremony. I felt nervous as well, as unfortunately Nicholas Royle, Chair of the Fiction Prize judges, had lost his voice, and had asked Simon and me to cover his duties. Simon very kindly offered to take on the fiction judge’s speech before the announcement of the winners, so I had the much easier – but still daunting – task of announcing the Fiction Prize winner.
I took no photos that evening, as I wanted to be present, not distracted by my phone. I have so much admiration for all the writers, who stepped up and read an extract of their work before the winners were announced. I can imagine how their nerves must have jangled, but they all did justice to their words, and gave a flavour of the quality and variety of poems and stories that made our judges’ task so difficult.
Malika Booker, Chair of the Poetry Prize judges, then gave her judge’s speech before announcing the winner: Peter Ramm, who was initially lost for words. As a fellow Australian, I was thrilled. His poems are deeply rooted in the Gundungarra lands of the New South Wales Southern Highlands where he lives and writes; lyrical but also reflective of this dangerous, disruptive anthropocene era.
Simon’s speech was funny and generous, much like himself and indeed Nicholas Royle. Then the golden envelope moment, as I stepped up to the dais, opened said envelope and announced: The winner of the £10,000 Manchester Fiction Prize is…
Leone was sitting in the front row, plum in front of me, looking confused and disbelieving, and seemed to mouth what? me? so I leant forward and said: yes, you! It was an amazing moment, and an absolute pleasure to hand her the golden envelope for her brilliant story When We Went Gallivanting. It’s a bold, inventive and ultimately joyous story, pulsating with life, controlled anger and dazzling imagery.
Once Leone had gathered herself, she spoke movingly of how she had almost given up on writing some years ago, until Nicholas Royle published one of her stories as a Nightjar Press pamphlet. Moments like these keep writers going, and it’s been an honour, pleasure and a great learning experience to have been on the other side of the judging fence on this occasion.
You can read all the shortlisted story and poetry entries on the Manchester Writing Prize website.
*I’m well over Covid, but have also been busy running my found ~ flow ~ flux workshops. More on these soon.