Manchester Writing Competition 2016 finalists

Senior Lecturer Nicholas Royle presenting at a previous year’s ceremony 

Since its launch in 2008, Poet Laureate Professor Dame Carol Ann Duffy’s Manchester Writing Competition has attracted more than 12,000 submissions from over 50 counties and awarded £115,000 to its winners.

The competition was designed to encourage new work and seek out the best creative writing from across the world, establishing Manchester as the focal point for a major international prize. Entrants submit a portfolio of three to five poems or a short story of up to 2,500 words, which are then judged anonymously.

The 2016 Fiction Prize was judged by Nicholas Royle, Janice Galloway and Juliet Pickering and the Poetry Prize by Adam O’Riordan, Sarah Howe and Helen Mort.

You can read the shortlisted stories and poems here.

The winners of this year’s £10,000 Manchester Poetry and Fiction Prizes will be revealed at a gala ceremony on Friday, November 25, in the medieval Baronial Hall at Chetham’s Library in Manchester city centre.

The event is free to attend but booking is required. You can find out more and reserve seats here.

2016 Manchester Fiction Prize shortlist (in alphabetical order):

• Michael Conley is a 32 year old teacher from Manchester. He mostly writes poetry: his first collection Aquarium was published as a pamphlet by Flarestack Poets in 2014, and his second, More Weight, came out with Eyewear in March of this year. He took third place in the 2014 Bridport Flash Fiction Prize, and his poem ‘These Three Young Ladies…’ was Highly Commended in the 2015 Forward Prize. His work has appeared in a variety of magazines including Magma, Rialto and New Welsh Review. He is a graduate of the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University.

• Erinna Mettler is a Brighton-based writer. Her first novel, Starlings, was published in 2011 and described by one critic as doing for Brighton what The Wire did for Baltimore. She is a founder and co-director of The Brighton Prize for short fiction and of the spoken word group Rattle Tales. Her stories have been published internationally and short-listed for The Bristol Prize, The Fish Prize and The Writers & Artists Yearbook Award. Her career highlight was having a short story read by a Game of Thrones actor at Latitude Festival. Erinna’s new short story collection on the theme of fame, Fifteen Minutes, will soon be published by Unbound Publishing.

• Laura Pocock was born in South Wales and is an English teacher living in Leicester. She holds a BA (Hons) in English from the University of Leicester, and will soon graduate with an MA in Creative Writing from Nottingham Trent University. Laura has written a body of Eco-poetry and enjoys experimenting with the sonnet form. Her short story, ‘Recruitment’, has recently been published in Monster, an anthology of literature by Nottingham writers. She is currently writing a futuristic young adult novel.

• Lucy Ribchester lives in Edinburgh. She has written two novels, The Hourglass Factory and The Amber Shadows. Her short fiction has been published in various journals and previously shortlisted for the Costa Short Story Award. She is a former recipient of a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award and this year was awarded a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship, during which time she wrote the story ‘Succubus’ (short-listed for the 2016 Manchester Fiction Prize). She also writes about dance and circus for The List magazine and tutors English.

• Sophie Wellstood grew up in rural Warwickshire in an unconventional family. She is the author of numerous short stories and poems which draw on the bizarre and absurd, and which reflect her love of wild places and people. Her fiction was first published in 2014, in Stories for Homes, an anthology for Shelter. She was long-listed for the Bath Award in 2016. Sophie recently won Triskele Books Big 5 competition, and her debut novel will be published in 2017. She lives in west London and is working on her second novel and a short story collection.

• D. W. Wilson is the author of Once You Break a Knuckle, a collection of stories, and Ballistics, a novel. He is the youngest-ever winner of the BBC’s National Short Story Award, and his fiction and essays have appeared in literary journals on both sides of the Atlantic. He is a nerd, redneck, and prolific procrastinator who once spent six-hundred hours building an Iron Man costume, for his wife, for Halloween. It had light-up eyes.

Nicholas Royle, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing, said: “The judges read stories about abusive uncles and misogynist magicians; stories of regret, revenge and retribution; narratives set in ancient times and missives from the far future. We read touching tales about dementia and heartbreaking accounts of the deaths of children. We read a story narrated by an onion and another by the axe used to execute Thomas Cromwell.
“For some bizarre reason known only to a surprisingly large number of the 1,500 or so entrants, we read a disproportionately large number of stories about seagulls. Well, all right, not exactly about seagulls, but in which seagulls were to be seen or heard.”

Nicholas introduces each of this year’s stories in the running for the £10,000 prize:

• ‘The God Quetzalcoatl Has Retired and Now Runs a Pub in North Manchester’ by Michael Conley: “The Mesoamerican god of wind and learning wakes up on the pool table of the Three Arrows pub and decides to stay and run the place.”

• ‘Sixteen Feet’ by Erinna Mettler: “A dog-walker finds a fisherman’s boot washed up on the beach. There’s something inside it. Something off-white, hard and knobbly.”

• ‘The Dark Instruments’ by Laura Pocock: “A man goes out to his garage in the middle of the night to check on his tools and knives and whatever’s under that tarpaulin.”

• ‘Succubus’ by Lucy Ribchester: “A mechanic is killed in a street fight. The following morning, the taste of tequila in her mouth, Rebecca wakes up in bed next to him.”

• ‘The First Hard Rain’ by Sophie Wellstood: “Rachael joins her ex-husband and his mother to scatter her former father-in-law’s ashes over the M6: ‘It was his favourite motorway.’”

• ‘All This Concrete Beneath Your Feet’ by D. W. Wilson: “A man and his young son drive down the Alaskan Highway. Motels, diners and Mounties. What are they running from and where will they end up?”
2016 Manchester Poetry Prize shortlist (in alphabetical order):

• Eric Berlin currently lives near Syracuse, New York, where he teaches courses like The Poetics of Stand-up, The Poetics of Prayer, and Ear Training for Poets. His poems have won the National Poetry Prize 2016 and The Ledge 2014 Poetry Prize. Runner-up for the Tor House Poetry Award, Able Muse Write Prize, Tupelo Quarterly Poetry Prize, and Ruth Stone Prize, he has also been given residencies at Vermont Studio Center, Art Farm, and Constance Saltonstall Foundation. His poems have appeared in Hunger Mountain, North American Review, Jewish Currents, The Poetry Review, and The Rialto among others.

• Dante Di Stefano is the author of Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight (Brighthorse Books, 2016). His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, and elsewhere. He is a correspondent for The Best American Poetry Blog, a poetry editor for the online quarterly, Dialogist, and a book review editor for the literary magazine, Arcadia. He lives in Endwell, New York.

• Sakinah Hofler is from Newark, New Jersey. She is an MFA candidate at Florida State University where she was a recipient for the Kingsbury Fellowship. She is the Assistant Moderator for A former quality and chemical engineer for the United States Department of Defense, she now spends her time teaching and writing fiction, screenplays, and poetry.

• Rebecca Tamás is a London born poet based in Norwich, where she is completing a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing at The University of East Anglia. She has most recently been published in Best British Poetry 2015, The White Review and The Suburban Review, where she was online poet-in-residence. Rebecca’s poetry pamphlet, The Ophelia Letters, was published by Salt in 2013, and she’s currently at work on her first collection which focuses on witchcraft, alterity and female strangeness.

• Ruth Tang writes poetry and plays. Her poetry has appeared in the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore. She has also won at the 2016 National Poetry Competition Singapore and been longlisted for the University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize 2016. She co-edited SingPoWriMo 2016: The Anthology with Joshua Ip and Daryl Yam.

• Eoghan Walls was born in Derry, and has lived in Ireland, Germany, Rwanda and Scotland. He has received an Eric Gregory Award, an Irish Arts Council Bursary and his first collection, The Salt Harvest, was published by Seren in 2011, and was shortlisted for the Strong Award for Best First Collection. He lectures Creative Writing at Lancaster University.

Adam O’Riordan, Senior Lecturer in Poetry Writing, said: “Judges Sarah Howe and Helen Mort worked tirelessly looking through almost two thousand entries. The beauty of the prize is that each entry is looked at by a judge (we don’t use sifters) which means when it came to forming the shortlist each judge had a link to poems we discussed. As ever this was a thrilling and a rigorous process in which we weighed the merits of each portfolio. As it should, in the end it came down to trying poems on our breath; the best defence of any poem was reading it aloud. The poems that made it to the shortlist seemed to live on the page and on the breath. There’s a pleasingly wide range of themes and experiences on show; the concerns of a globalised world in which sensibilities and experiences collide. But in each of the shortlisted portfolios is a sensitivity to the music and rhythm of the English language and also the potential of poetry to see life in new ways; to delight, to disturb to make the reader think and feel.

“Eric Berlin’s poems consider memory and nature in powerful and original ways. Dante Di Stefano offers poems which are both formally assured and daringly inventive with a deep connection to literatures of the past. Sakinah Hofler offers intense, powerful and at times searingly raw poems reaching from Mecca to modern day America. Rebecca Tamás give us poems as monologued dream visions blurring internal and external experience to compelling effect. Ruth Tang’s poems are clever and precise. They look at the intricacies and complexities of language with impressive results. Eoghan Wall’s work has an impressive range, showing just how supple poetry can be from the biblical to the everyday.”