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Spring Short Story Competitions 2016

Posted By: Anna Scrafield, 05 April 2016

Spring is the time of plans and projects, according to Tolstoy, and who are we to disagree?
Forget the spring cleaning, and get stuck into these short story competitions. With prizes ranging from cash, to publication, (and even a rather quirky competition for those interested in writing the future!) there's a lot to keep you away from the hoover and focused firmly on the keyboard!

Happy writing, and do let us know if you are successful!

Deadline: 25 April 2016
Open to publish and unpublished writers from the UK and abroad, this competition accepts short stories up 2200 words, and has an £8 entry fee. First prize is £1000, and winners will be published in the anthology. 

Deadline: 29 April 2016
This year, the festival is seeking stories of up to 1000 words written by or for children. Winners will read their work at Oxford Festival of the Arts in June. 

Deadline: 30 April 2016
Open to published and unpublished writers, both UK and overseas, this competition is very open with entries welcomed from any genre. There's an entry fee of £8, and a first prize of £1000 available.

The Cardiff Review Short Story Award
Deadline: 15 May 2016
Open to new and unpublished writers, this competition seeks short stories of between 1000-5000 words, and winners will be awarded a cash prize of £150. Entry fee £2. 

The Sunderland Short Story Award
Deadline: 1 June 2016 
Open to younger writers too, with categories for 11- 16 as well as Adults, this competition not only has a cash prize, but those shortlisted will have their work read by a literary agent and by publisher Unthank Books, who will consider work for publication in their anthology.

Deadline: 10 June 2016
A prize for both short stories and flash fiction, The Brighton Prize folk have asked to be challenged and excited. Prizes of up to £500 available. 

Deadline: 20 June 2016 
A prize founded in commemoration of the centenary of one of our finest short story writers of the 20th Century, the annual prize of £1000 goes to the best unpublished short story and is published in Prospect, and RLS Review. 

Deadline: 30 June 2016
A new short story competition, with a little bit of a twist! Entrants are asked to submit poems or short stories on the theme of an imagined future England, and the competition features a twist... but we'll let you find out about that yourself! Winners will be published online, and there's no entry fee. 

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A most crucial year: Ruth Dugdall talks about how Escalator helped her become a published author

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 15 February 2016

When ex-probation officer Ruth Dugdall applied for the Escalator writing competition in 2006, she saw it as her last-ditch attempt at pursuing crime writing as a career. Ten years later, she has published five successful novels and is living with her family in Luxembourg - 'the perfect home for a writer'.

Below, she explains how a year spent with Escalator made all the difference.

When I applied to Escalator in 2006 I had already experienced the recurring theme of any writer’s life: rejection. My second novel The Woman Before Me won the Debut Dagger in 2005, and despite my being signed on the spot by a literary agent, the subsequent submission met with the resounding slamming of doors. I was disheartened, and applied to the one year programme as a last-ditch attempt to make a serious stab at being a writer. 

Getting chosen was a wonderful boost. Not only was this a second re-enforcement of my writing, but during the Escalator scheme I would be mentored by the wonderful Michelle Spring, a seasoned crime novelist herself who was able to show me by example that writing takes persistence. The crucial difference between those who `make it` and those who fall by the wayside isn’t talent, but a certain doggedness that I saw in other writers who came to talk to us during the scheme. It was a year of learning, and of support. 

The ten of us chosen that year became familiar with each other’s personal journey into writing, and we also began rooting for each other in the quest for agents and publishing deals. This atmosphere, this shared purpose, was something I valued immensely and I still keep in regular contact with other Escalator alumni – not just from my year, but subsequent years too; there is  a shared kinship that I have not found on other mentoring programmes. 

The scheme is, in many ways tailor-made, as you apply for Arts Council Funding for the things that will most help you personally. For example, I went on a week-long Arvon course for crime writers (and bagged an agent as a result). I also had financial assistance with childcare, so I could put in the hours needed to work on my novel, and a dedicated number of hours with Michelle to critique and edit it.

Though Escalator does not make any promises of success, you will have exposure to and contact with agents (there is a showcase at the end of the year, and many industry professional are invited). What you can be sure of, though, is that at the end of the year you will have honed the tools you need to achieve publication, you will have gained a greater insight into the publishing industry, and you will have a network of support to draw on.

After I finished the Escalator scheme, it was to be another four years before The Woman Before Me was published in 2010.  Six years later, I have just published my fifth novel, and rights for my books have been sold around the world. I have a wonderful agent, and a new book is currently on submission. It has been a long, difficult, journey but Escalator was a crucial part of this, and I am very grateful indeed that it happened.

If you are about to apply, I wish you luck. You could be at the beginning of a very special twelve months!   

Ruth Dugdall was born in 1971. She holds a BA honours degree in English Literature (Warwick University) and an MA in Social Work (University of East Anglia). She qualified as a probation officer in 1996 and has worked in prison with offenders guilty of serious crimes, including stalking, rape and murder. This has informed her crime writing. Since she started writing, Ruth has won awards in several writing competitions, and has had short stories published in the Winchester Writers' Conference and the Eva Wiggins Award anthologies.

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From Norwich to New York - writer Megan Bradbury on her journey through Escalator

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 05 February 2016

When Megan Bradbury was selected for the Escalator Writing Competition in 2013, it started a journey that would take her from the East of England to New York City.

Below, she retraces her steps along the road she travelled with successful artists including Walt Whitman, Robert Moses, Robert Mapplethorpe, who form a part of her debut novel.

When I won an Escalator Literature Award in 2013, I possessed an incomplete draft of a novel and an empty bank account. Escalator helped me to address both problems. 

My debut novel is about some of New York City’s greatest artists, creators and thinkers, and one of the things I learnt during my research is that art isn’t created in a vacuum – every artist needs practical support and belief from an outside source at some point in their career. For the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who is one of the artists I have written about in the book, this came in the shape of the tall, athletic, cultured and super-rich art curator and collector Sam Wagstaff, who bought Robert a camera and a studio, and who introduced him to elite members of New York City’s art scene. For me this came in the shape of the Writers’ Centre Norwich and the talented, driven and exquisitely dressed author, Cathi Unsworth, who was my mentor during the programme. 

Cathi set me deadlines, gave me feedback, and encouraged me to experiment with my writing. With Cathi’s support I was able to push myself creatively, and this not only helped to improve the novel, it has also improved my writing and working practice more generally. Cathi has also become a good friend and an enthusiastic advocate.

During the scheme I also received advice about how to apply for Arts Council funding. My application was successful, and I used the generous grant to pay for a trip to New York City and Los Angeles, where I examined archives at the New York Public Library and the Getty Research Institute, conducted location-based research in and around New York, and interviewed experts on the book’s main subjects. The grant also enabled me to buy time to write over a period of four months, during which time I was able to finish the book. I would not have been able to afford the research trip or time to write without this funding. I urge everyone who needs financial support to help complete a writing project to apply for a grant.

I have always believed in my writing and in this book but all the self-belief in the world won’t pay the bills or show you what to do next. The best solutions to these problems are money and an excellent mentor. Escalator provided me with both. With Cathi Unsworth’s mentorship, and with funding from Arts Council England, I was able to finish my novel. Everyone Is Watching will be published by Picador in June. 

Megan Bradbury was born in the United States and grew up in Britain. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. In 2012 she was awarded the Charles Pick Fellowship at UEA and in 2013 she won the Escalator Writing Competition and a Grant for the Arts to help fund the completion of her first novel, Everyone is Watching.

The novel tells the story of New York City through the geniuses that have inhabited it – among them, Walt Whitman, Robert Moses, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Edmund White. 

“This beautiful, kaleidoscopic imagining of the artists' creation of New York means everyone should be watching Megan Bradbury from now on.” - Eimear McBride, author of A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing

Author photograph copyright – Alexander James

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Three Seasons in China: Reflections before the year of the Fire Monkey

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 03 February 2016

In celebration of the Chinese New Year on Monday , WCN commissioned a guest blog from former Escalator winner and poet Eileen Pun, who recently spent time at The Sun Yat-Sen Center for English-language Creative Writing in Guangzhou, China.WCN is proud to work with The Sun Yat-sen Center for English-language Creative Writing, to advise and support them in developing their International Writers’ Residency programme.

WCN Programme Director Jon Morley attended the 2014 Consultation where potential sites and schedules were tested, helping to shape a generous month-long package of support for 18 international writers each year. Following SYSU Center Director Dai Fan’s exchange visit to Norwich as a delegate to the International Literature Showcase in 2015, WCN decided to assist a small cohort of UK writers to benefit from this unique opportunity. Philip Langeskov of UEA and poet Eileen Pun have been the UK participants to date.

Picture: Wudang Mountains, view from Hui Long Guan, Temple

Eight years ago, before I knew I wanted to write poetry, I travelled to China with the idea that I was still young and sound in body enough to really learn martial arts. I enrolled at The Capital University of Physical Education (CUPE) and lived in the Haidian District, a corner of Beijing with several universities and a pleasant student vibe. The backdrop of the forthcoming Olympics was energising, and I felt welcomed as people seemed to embrace the idea of China opening itself to the globe.   

My daily schedule, which began at dawn was vigorous, exhausting and satisfying. I ate at the canteen at fixed times, socialised very little, wrote voraciously in my diary and always slept incredibly well. Outside of my studies and training, I joined a small, grass-roots poetry group and gravitated to places like The Bookworm Library and attended their International Literature Festival.

Picture: Chengdu Bookworm Library

Eventually, these small connections landed me a job in revising translations for the New World Press. In fact, I did this work remotely with the expectation that I would join their Beijing offices the following year. The plan was: return to the UK, amass some savings and within a year, begin living, training, and working in China's capital city.

These plans never materialised. After I returned to England, my life took an unexpected direction. Like many unfledged writers, I had been a casual diarist and simply wrote for leisure. Somehow, in another geography, my musings whilst in China felt loaded. I was overcome by a keenness to push my own writing in the way I had pushed myself physically. Fast-forward slightly and I was thanking my lucky stars to be a 2010 Writers' Centre Norwich Escalator Prize Winner. Fast-forward a little further, and I am fully relocated to England's heart of Romanticism, Grasmere in the Lake District.

Picture: Eileen Pun training Wudang Sanfeng Taiji Jian (Sword)

Sometimes, I wonder after the me that went back to Beijing. Naturally, she became superbly trained, fluent in Mandarin and careered in the fast-growing Chinese publishing industry. Deep down, I know that things went the way they should have. I'm a softie, I'm still trying to master the English language, I have a strong affinity to the outdoors, and the pace that suits me best is slow, real slow.

Nevertheless, I haven't let go of the memory of a well articulated sequence, pivot or kick. There isn't really a match to these satisfactions, expect perhaps in poetry. Say, the way I feel when I manage to write something that strikes me. The frustrations too are a bit similar, most of the time there is just self-correction, calibration and ache. I've struggled to find a way to connect these art-forms, mostly it feels too idiosyncratic, too eccentric.

Last year, I expressed this yearning in an application to The Lisa Ullmann Travelling Scholarship Foundation LUTSF:

As a mature practitioner I must admit that I feel a certain physiological pressure to prioritise the development of my own movement practice. As a poet, I have been working on a sequence based on a dancer in Chinese history, Lady Gongsun. These are based on translations from the Classical Chinese poet Du Fu. A segment has already been published in the important anthology of new British poetry, 'Ten, The New Wave' by Bloodaxe Books. Not only do I feel this project will determine my path as a poet, it will also inform how effectively I can advocate art across disciplines as transformative and enriching - experiential values I deeply believe in.

Picture: Painting & Calligraphy of 'Song of Dagger Dancing to the Pupil of Lady Gongsun' by Du Fu.  Located in Tao Ker Inn Youth Hostel, Wudang Shan.

In the spring of 2015 I received news that my LUTSF scholarship application was successful. A short time later, I also found out that I had won a Northern Writers' Award. Holy green lights! This was exactly the permission I needed to bridge the poetry that I had found, with the kungfu (skills) that I had lost. I composed a project that would span over six months, ambitiously covering: training in Wudang Shan (mountains in Hubei Province); a visit to the DuFu Research Centre and Thatched Cottage in Chengdu (Sichuan Province); taking part in a writers' residency (Guangxi/Guangdong Provinces); and connecting with many scholars and artists, wanting my work to be as researched, informed, rigorous and creative as possible.

I arrived into China in July last year, at the peak of Beijing's hot summer and spent to two weeks visiting old haunts, friends and making new contacts. Unbelievably, my bank account was still valid, money from my editorial work - all those years ago - still available. China had welcomed me back.

Picture: Wudang Mountains, trail to The Five Dragon Temple  

Wudang Shan is a place that has captured the Chinese imagination for hundreds of years. It is steeped in legends, Daoist temples and stunning landscape of lush, tree covered mountains. Certain regions of Wudang and its monasteries received UNESCO World Heritage status in 1994 and can trace a long lineage of philosophy, martial arts and spirituality. This particular fusion is the reason it is considered one of the birthplaces of Taiji, a history that contains its share of heroes, hermits and outlaws.  

Considering my Romantic leanings, I'm not at all surprised by how at home I feel in these surroundings. At the martial arts school, I have a love-hate relationship with the rusty bell that dangles from the courtyard tree, constantly chiming us into training (discipline) and meals (carrots) in alternation. During these hot, two and half months I learn the extent of my physical regression - my rigid Western body. Eventually, I succumb to all this. Slow learning, slow recovery and even slower writing are all OK. I take some comfort from the reliable sunshine and the few books I have with me: The Rough Guide to China, Spleen by Nicholas Moore, Yellow Iris by Janet Kofi-Tsekpo and an e-reader with all of the works of Mavis Gallant.

Picture: Chengdu DuFu Thatched Cottage Museum

By: DuFu

Sunset makes even my travel clothing
A little brighter; I have covered
Many roads and now arrive in a new
World for me; meeting new people,
Unable to say if ever I shall see 
My old home again; now the great river
Flows east, never halting, as indeed
My days of wandering have been; […]
Always there have been travellers,
Why should I lament?

Translated by: Rewi Alley
Foreign Languages Press

With my heart set to visit The DuFu Research Center and Thatched Cottage, I didn't need any extra reasons to visit Chengdu. However, its reputation as an exquisite centre for art, poetry, tea houses, pandas and 'delicious food', make it a welcome foray into a city. Nevertheless, the visit is a research trip and I wilfully keep myself focused on the reasons I am there. I need help to better understand Du Fu's work, and I want to connect with contemporary Chinese Art in some way.

Picture: Liu Yutong (Musician, Translator), Zhao Mi (Artist), Eileen Pun

After getting in touch with a number of arts related organisations, Catherine Platt, manager of the Chengdu Festival (BLF) and Liu Yutong, musician and event manager of the Chengdu Bookworm took it upon themselves to make me feel welcome and organise local introductions. One of which included a wonderfully dynamic afternoon with Zhao Mi, a well known calligrapher, painter and visual artist. We shared ideas about martiality, experimentation, the practice of art itself and the hope that we would extend our meeting into future collaborative work.  

I’m able to emerge myself in the happiness of thinking. When I’m painting, there’s a complex feeling of love and hatred. There are even moments where I have thoughts of escaping, and that is the ultimate of my emotions.  Zhao Mi, Artist

There is much too much to write here about how my visit allowed me to get a bit closer to Du Fu in my own work, or to convey the richness of conversations over tea and meals. I left Chengdu with renewed sense of purpose about my translation work, poetry, and very welcome new reading material; Du Fu Selected Poems from Foreign Languages Press and a copy of MaLa, The Chengdu Bookworm Literary Journal, Issue 3.  

Picture: Yangshuo karst mountains, strolling distance from residency quarters

Taking part in the inaugural Sun Yat-Sen International Writers' Residency (18 Oct – 16 Nov) was pivotal, dividing my time in China neatly in half. Professor Dai Fan, the programme director - also a writer  - met me and my partner at the Guilin train station in Guangxi Province after travelling over a 1000 km with all our belongings. I thought we must have looked a rabble, but if she thought so, it appeared she didn't mind. She was sleek and articulate, efficiently sweeping us into an organised car towards Yangshuo and explained the residency (a first for me) in great detail.  

Fifteen writers, as well as two documentary makers from eleven countries took part in a month long residency over three main locations in South China. These figures don't, however, give the correct sense of the territory that we covered, nor the number of people with whom we interacted. Translators, student volunteers, invited artists, academics, members of the community and the bureau of tourism joined at various points throughout.

Picture: Roberto Frias (Novelist, Translator), Professor Dai Fan (Programme Director,Writer), Lieve Joris (Writer), Catherine Cole (Writer, Poet), local calligrapher & poem by Wang Wei, Eileen Pun, Hu XiuZhu (Chairman of the Yangshuo Art Association)

The first phase was set in Yangshuo, a popular eco-tourism destination, surrounded by beautiful karst mountains. Choosing between, privacy for head space or, cultural activities (meeting mountain singers, musicians, calligraphers, painters to name a few) for stimulation was difficult, but possible. I had the annoyance of my laptop charger breaking, and needing plenty of solitude to write in long-hand and compensate for the inefficiency. Nevertheless, the setting was conducive for falling into interesting conversations, and the sharing of experience and craft. This shared link was particularly helpful to me, giving me courage and material for my poetry seminar, See Poetry Move that would take place the following week in Guangzhou.

Picture:  English Poetry Studies Institute (EPSI) Listed in no particular order Professor Tong Qingsheng, Professor Gao Wenping, Professor Li Zhimin, Associate professor Zhu Yu, Associate professor Lei Yanni and students at SYSU

The second phase took place in the garden-like campuses of Sun Yat-Sen's main campus, Zhuhai Campus, Xinhua College and Wuyi University where the residency had morphed into a conference. Here, more international writers joined the group. The number of ambassadorial students (all bright and heartwarming) grew and our timetable was packed with panel discussions, talks, seminars, workshops, readings, community presentations, tours, ceremony and banquets.

The discussions grappled with difficult issues, raising questions about censorship, the politics of publishing, identity, diaspora literature, feminism, language and the subversive. Of course, this list is not exhaustive. It was great to find ourselves stimulated, slowly drifting out of the lecture halls still talking about what had been discussed and exchanging reading material such as this article in the New Yorker.

By the time of the final phase, the rejuvenation promised by the hot springs of Jiangmen was needed. The region is known for its Chinese overseas ties and internationally recognised museum-villages with UNESCO world cultural heritage status. These have become architectural reminders of the social and global history of Chinese migration, of which, my own heritage is a part. More conversations happen and more sharing of personal stories, show how our talks have become deeper, warmer. One such exchange led to this touching documentary.  Maybe this is because we all know each other better, or maybe it is to do with the fact that a lot of our conversations are now taking place in our bathing suits in hot springs – it is hard to tell.   

Picture: My private hot spring! Gudou Hot Springs Resort, Jiangmen

Before emotional goodbyes, I am unable to resist some pretty amazing reading material and ignore my back-breaking luggage: A Cultural and Natural Jiangmen; The Art of the Knock, Short Stories by Philip Graham; Honeypants, poetry by Lynda Chanwai-Earle; Even the Hollow My Body Made is Gone and The Hands of Strangers by Janice Harrington.

There is a great deal more that can be said about the residency, and anyone with an interest about China, international literature and where these intersect might enjoy keeping abreast of the following: The School of Foreign Languages at Sun Yat-Sen University have written an in-depth article about the residency; The Ninth Letter, literary journal of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will publish work by participating writers in a forthcoming online issue; Radio New Zealand will also feature a programme about the residency; a documentary is currently under production by film-makers Wei Donghua and John Hughes.

When I returned to Wudang it seemed to receive me cooly, but is not to be blamed. I left in one season and returned in another. My favourite street corner, usually busy with mahjong and card players had dwindled. The air was now cold, the light wintery.

I also hadn't foreseen that in a month's time, the school would close for its winter break and everyone would disperse to their families and hometowns for the new year. The question, 'where will you spend your Spring Festival (Chinese New Year)?' entered every conversation, and each time, I didn't know how to answer.  

Picture: Ice-skating in the park, Sujiatun District, Shenyang 

Eventually, the answer did come. An unexpected move to Shenyang, a large historical city in northeast China not far from Russian and North Korean borders. A teacher of Daoist philosophy and published translator, Hu Xuezhi was in search of an editor to help with a new and annotated translation of Chuang Tzu (Zhuang Zi); I was in search of help with translating my research material and getting better access to ancient Chinese language and Classic literature – a worthy exchange.

These days, in the run up to the Spring Festival, the daytime temperatures are about -15, dropping to as low as -25 at night. Reflecting now - having made good on this long-awaited return to China - mostly, I feel a deep sense of gratitude to be here. I'm also chuffed that if I can handle temperatures like this, it probably means I'll not be such a softie when I get back.  

With thanks to the Lisa Ullman Travelling Scholarship Fund.

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Ed Parnell, author of 'The Listeners', on the long-standing friendships gained from Escalator

Posted By: Anonymous, 27 January 2016

Award-winning author Ed Parnell took part in the Escalator writing competition in 2007. One of its greatest benefits, he says, is the friendships he made with fellow writers, which still continue to this day.

It seems a long time ago now. September 2007, in fact, when an email from WCN’s (then the New Writing Partnership) Chris Gribble dropped into my inbox, saying that he was delighted to inform me that I’d been selected for inclusion on the Escalator Literature programme. I was delighted too.

At the time I’d just handed in the dissertation for my MA in Creative Writing at UEA, and was three-quarters of the way through a draft of my first novel, The Listeners. Things seemed good. I was writing daily, gradually creeping towards the book’s finish line (so I thought), and, having been buoyed up by talks from eager-sounding agents, the world of publishing was awash with possibility.

Things moved fast. I went on a long-planned holiday to Cornwall, getting back the day before the inaugural Escalator event at The Maid’s Head in early October. Here, I met the other Escalatees, and the biographer Midge Gillies, who was to be my mentor for the programme. Looking back, I can’t remember too much of the day itself, but my fellow winners –who’d descended on Norwich from north London, Essex, Cambridge, Suffolk and Norfolk – all seemed very pleasant, as did Midge. I had a good feeling about things.

First impressions were entirely correct. Over the next few months we had several more get-togethers, all equally convivial. I also met Midge for a number of mentoring sessions in Ely. Her most recent book was the excellent, non-fiction Waiting For Hitler: Voices from Britain on the Brink of Invasion, and as The Listeners was set in rural Norfolk in May 1940 – the end of the phony war up to which point nothing much had seemingly taken place, at least that affected the lives of people back home –we had much to discuss. It was also great just to get to talk to a published professional writer about the day-to-day practicalities of trying to make a living from writing, something I was discovering as a now-freelance copywriter(alongside ploughing on with The Listeners).

As well as the invaluable advice from Midge, and a very welcome grant from the Arts Council to buy writing-time for the novel, the main thing that I gained from Escalator was a long-standing friendship with my nine other fellow Escalatees. From the beginning we all got on famously and over thecourse of the next year met several times at WCN events, culminating in a reading we gave at Foyle’s bookshop in London (having been drilled by the poet Aoifie Mannix in the art of how to conduct a good public performance).

Beyond the year, we continued (and indeed still do) to keep in touch, forming an ad hoc literature collective called Absolute Fiction for awhile, where we performed other joint readings at Cambridge Wordfest among others. It was good to have a group of like-minded new writers for moral – and editorial – support, something I was finding particularly useful now I’d finished The Listeners and was in the drawn-out process of editing and rewriting, trying to get an agent and,ultimately, a book deal.

That story takes a little longer to conclude. Having finally found representation in 2010 – after a series of flirtations with three other agents who concluded, eventually, that my novel wasn’t commercial enough for them – The Listeners did the rounds of various publishers, gaining some encouraging positive feedback, but no publishing deal.

In early 2014, having effectively given up on it ever making the journey into print, I entered the Rethink New Novels Competition; The Listeners won and was published at the end of the year. To steal from Dickens, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, as the book came out just a couple of weeks after my brother Chris lost his too-short battle with cancer. The Listeners had its launch in December at an event hosted by WCN, where I read alongside Patrick Barkham and Sarah Perry. Given Escalator’s and WCN’s input into the book’s long road to publication,it seemed a fitting, albeit for me bitter sweet, occasion.

The Listeners is a novel about grief, and how we try to come to terms with the things we’ve lost –it’s dedicated to my brother, who was an untiring supporter of the book during its drafting process. I’m sure he’d be proud to see it on the shelf, though I have no doubt that he would take enormous delight in poking constant fun at the smirking face that gurns out from the back cover.

Edward Parnell is the author of The Listeners. Winner of the Rethink New Novels Competition 2014. Available in paperback, hardback, and on Kindle.

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More hand-picked writing opportunities for the New Year

Posted By: Anonymous, 07 January 2016

January’s a bit of a bummer isn’t it? What better way to raise your spirits and boost your productivity than by knuckling down with some serious writing! We’ve hand-picked our current favourites – from stunning residencies to screenwriting or a dip into the Romantic – so why not put on the kettle and get started?

An annual competition for essays and poems on Romantic themes, the Prize encourages writers to respond creatively to the work of the Romantics, and offers £4000 in prize money across various categories.
Closing date: w/c 1 February 2016

Birbeck University of London is offering a fully funded scholarship on their two year creative writing MA. Applicants to not need a first degree, and will benefit from in-depth support and mentoring, plus £1000 to purchase a laptop.
Closing date: 15 February 2016

A sort story competition, on the theme of “Ageing”. The winner receives £500, a place on an Arvon residential writing course of  their choice, and publication of their story on the Writers & Artists website.
Closing date: 15 February 2016

Escalator is WCN's popular talent development scheme open to all prose fiction writers in the Eastern Region of England. 10 successful applicants will win a professional development package which includes mentoring, workshops and meeting agents. 
Closing date: 26 February 2016

Celebrating the best writing for stage, screen and radio, the Nick Darke Writers' Award offers writers £6000 to provide the financial stability and free time necessary to focus on writing. This year’s category is Stage Play.
Closing date: 30 May 2016

Spend a month staying at Gladstone’s Library, reading and of course, writing. Lead a workshop and take the opportunity to focus on your writing.
Closing date: 1 June 2016

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Our hand-pick of writing competitions to keep you busy over the Christmas holidays

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 03 December 2015

Got some time to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) over the festive season? We’ve complied a list of writing competitions coming up over the next few months – and there’s something or everyone.

A new writer development scheme specifically aimed at Black, Asian and other Minority Ethnic writers who would like sustained support to write their first novel for children or teenagers. 
Closing date: Thursday 24 December 2015

Do you live, work or study in Fenland? Enter this free competition for a chance to win the coveted title of Fenland Poet Laureate, and share your passion for poetry.
Closing date: Friday 29 January 2016

Entrants are invited to submit short collections of 12 pages of poems, with four outstanding collections going on to receive a year of support and mentoring.
Closing date: Friday 29 January 2016

Brought to you by the BBC World Service and British Council. Open to anyone over the age of 18, living outside the UK, whether you're a new or established writer.
Closing date: Sunday 31 January 2016

The longest established book award based in the UK for independent and self published books. Overall cash prize of £1,000 to be won.
Closing date: Thursday 31 March 2016

Submit as many poems and short stories as you want. Judges are renowned poet Pascale Petit and short fiction writer and novelist Paul McVeigh. 
Closing date: Monday 1 February 2016

Coming soon...Escalator
Coming soon in the New Year, Escalator is WCN's popular talent development scheme open to all prose fiction writers in the Eastern Region of England. Stay tuned for application details and further details in January.

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An Inspiring Six Months for IdeasTap Inspires Winners

Posted By: Anna Scrafield, 11 February 2015

It's now six whole months since our IdeasTap Inspires winners, championed and selected by Ellah Allfrey and Ali Smith along with their mentors Daniel Hahn, Kerry Hudson, Alex Preston, Amy Sackville and Nicola Upson, started their professional development programme. In that time, our ten talented writers have engaged in a whole range of activities to help them not only to improve their work, but also to give them an induction into the complicated world of literary agents, publishers and public readings. Putting pen to paper is just the tip of the writing iceberg; our writers have been on a rollercoaster journey of discovery!

As they emerge, blinking blearily, from a very intense six months they do so clutching not just a chunky portfolio of work. Although this has been an intensive period of creativity for our writers, as their mentors encourage and inspire them to greater levels of output, this productivity has also afforded them other opportunities. They have had the chance to explore their own creative processes and to really find their voice, whilst the input of their mentor has helped to build the ability to self-edit effectively, and has allowed our writers to target specific areas of their writing that they felt needed working on, to tighten up their skillset. Meanwhile sessions with agents, along with the expertise of their mentors has given our winners invaluable inside knowledge of the publishing industry that can help them to publication, and a renewed sense of self belief that their work is good! (It really is, by the way, I’ve loved reading every single extract.)

As we prepare for our showcase event with them tomorrow, during which each writer will read from their work, and will have the chance to not only celebrate their successes with friends and family, but to share their work with agents, we are heartened to hear that agents are already showing an interest in our young writers. We hope that this will be the starting point of many great things for them, but as regards Inspires? Well, all that remains now is to raise a glass to their achievements and to enjoy watching them spread their literary wings and continue to achieve great things with their work. 

Why not read extracts from our winners, and find out a little more about them all?

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Judging the IdeasTap Inspires: Writers’ Centre Norwich Writing Competition

Posted By: Laura Stimson, 05 June 2014

Laura Stimson, IdeasTap Inspires judge and project manager, shares her thoughts around the tricky process of judging a writing competition, and exactly what it is that makes an entry a great one. 

Image courtesy of EflonThe inaugural Ideas Tap Inspires competition raised over 270 applications. It was a real privilege that so many young writers wanted to share their work with us at Writers’ Centre Norwich, and is a testament to how many talented creators of fiction there are out there, waiting to be read. And that’s no lip service. We were delighted by the level of ambition, originality and craft exhibited in these applications, although it made the task of judging so difficult. 

To explain my part in the project and judging process; as a part of the Writers’ Centre Norwich team (and manager for this project) I have helped judge seven years’ worth of talent development schemes. I wasn’t a lone voice and worked alongside our other trusted readers to select the writers for the masterclass series. I read every single one of these entries with enthusiasm. I hoped to find something I loved. I hoped to be transported, affected, amused, intrigued and horrified. But my purpose wasn’t to find work that fitted my preferences as a reader, but to find work that showed promise, passion and skill. My responsibility as a judge was to see sparkle despite tastes and preferences.

I was genuinely excited by the sheer breadth of these stories in both content and genre. The entries included stories that navigated the globe, journeyed to other worlds, and travelled through time and memory. The beauty of reading is to be delivered to another world in the space of a few words. This is the writers' most privileged and most difficult job: to transport; to create and manipulate a whole world. 

So, thinking about all these things, what are my top tips for competition entries? Firstly, that they need to grab, to be instant. Writers, by trade, delight in language. Words become visceral, intoxicating. But a story is made of more than words. Underneath all those gorgeous words something extraordinary needs to be happening, otherwise you wouldn’t be so passionate about sharing this story. 

What else? 

Technical things; take care in your work. This may sound like a strange word to choose but taking care over your work is the most fundamental thing you can do when entering a competition. Check for spellings and grammatical errors. Make sure your point of view and tense doesn’t flip. (If you haven’t shown care then I have to work extra hard to care for it myself.)

Writing, like all wonderful things, takes time. It isn’t instantly gratifying and doesn’t exist in a bubble. An understanding of the craft leads to mastery of it. Many of the applicants were creative writing graduates, or currently studying. Some of the work chosen was from applicants who hadn’t studied formally but showed that informally, perhaps as attuned readers, they had an understanding of story. Whichever writing path you choose, you will ultimately need to do the same thing; read, read, read, write, write, write. You may wrack up a thousand hours before you actually write something you’re happy with. But those hours are never wasted; they lead you toward learning the craft. You learn by making mistakes. Nothing is wasted.

Bravery can also go a long way. An interesting idea or an interesting voice may win out over how accomplished the actual writing is. (I mean this as a compliment.) Sometimes new writers are still learning the craft and get things wrong but if the voice or the idea is so relentlessly interesting, you can’t ignore it.

And so we’re back to story. Some of the stories that caught the judges' imagination were vast; they travelled and encompassed multiple characters, dealt with challenging subjects and asked questions. Some of these stories were small and concentrated and explored the human condition; presenting compelling vignettes of what it is to be that person at that time. 

It was a joy to read all of these stories. Thank you for them. And whether you were shortlisted or not, keep reading, writing and sharing.

Oh, and if you're on the look-out for more writing competitions and opportunities, give us a follow on Twitter @WritersCentre.

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A Brand New National Writing Competition

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 04 April 2014

We’re delighted to announce the launch of IdeasTap Inspires: Writers’ Centre Norwich Writing Competition!

We’ve teamed up with IdeasTap to offer ten winning fiction writers aged 18-30 a place on a unique national creative development and mentoring programme. Designed to help fledgling writers progress in their creative career, the winners will receive six months of mentoring, be given vital industry advice, attend a bespoke writing retreat and be introduced to agents and publishers.

This writing competition is all about giving writers the tools and the opportunities to take the next steps with their writing, so we’ve enlisted amazing professional writers; Daniel Hahn, Kerry Hudson, Alex Preston and Nicola Upson, to share their wisdom. They’ll also teach you essential writing skills, invite you to parties*, feedback on your work and generally be a supportive, encouraging presence.

And that’s not all- if you’re one of our ten winners you’ll also be invited to a masterclass, attend a writing retreat for a weekend of intensive craft development, meet your fellow winners at an inaugural gathering, be introduced to industry professionals (including agents and publishers) and celebrate all your achievements at a London Showcase event.

75 commended writers will also be invited to attend a free masterclass, taught by the likes of C.J Flood, Carolyn Jess-Cooke, Ross Raisin or Emma Jane Unsworth, and will receive support from Writers’ Centre Norwich and IdeasTap.

As Patron Ali Smith says; "Here's a programme which will help and inspire on all the levels. It starts with inspiration and it ends in good writing. You can't get better than that."

So, what are you waiting for? Head over to IdeasTap now, and send in your application or find out more about the competition.

IdeasTap Inspires: Writers’ Centre Norwich Writing Competition closes for entries at 5pm on the 12th of May.

(Of course, there are a few provisos. The most important of these are that you must be aged between 18-30 and a resident in England. You must also be a member of IdeasTap to enter**.)

IMage Copyright Henry Merino
Jump for joy! A new writing competition which is free to enter!

IdeasTap Inspires: Writers’ Centre Norwich Writing Competition is organised in collaboration with national arts charity IdeasTap, as part of IdeasTap Inspires, a free national training programme for young people building careers in the creative industries. IdeasTap Inspires is supported by Arts Council England, via a £250,000 Exceptional Award.

** You mean, you’re not a member? Quick, set up an account now.

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Congratulations to our TLC Free Reads Winners!

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 28 January 2014

Last year we teamed up with The Literary Consultancy to offer writers from the East of England the chance to have their manuscripts critiqued for free by professional writers. TLC Free Reads gives talented writers honest, constructive feedback, providing the writers with a framework for improvement and helping them to progress with their writing.

Meet our winners:

Salli Hipkiss was offered editorial advice on her novel As the Crow Flies.

Raised in England, I worked as a teacher in East Africa for several years before settling in Cambridgeshire and setting up my own arts and sustainability education business. I am inspired by opportunities for building international understanding and environmental stewardship through the arts, and these are themes that run through my writing. I have always written: journals, song lyrics, poems, but my submission for the TLC Free Reads is my first novel. As The Crow Flies is an ecological fable for young adults with a riddle at its heart. It explores the importance of diversity through a story that focuses strongly on individuals and relationships.

Jan Hurst was offered a critique of her novel Safe in the Dark.

I was born and grew up in Hackney and worked in London as a journalist on broadsheets and magazines for over twenty years. After moving to Cambridge I took an MA in Creative Writing at Anglia Ruskin University and during that time was shortlisted for the Hookline First Novel competition. I am a founder member of local writing group, Angles Writing Workshop and am currently working on my second crime novel. Safe in the Dark, concerns Laura, a thirty-something detective, who finds herself trapped in a dilapidated pub in Lancashire, surrounded by 10-foot snowdrifts and five people she can’t trust.

Anthony Irvin will receive feedback on his novel Cobra Strike.

Tony is a vet who trained at Cambridge then went to East Africa and became an expert on a disease of cattle and wildlife that no one outside Africa has ever heard of. Travelling throughout the region, he camped among elephants, canoed among hippos, photographed a rhino in his pyjamas and worked closely with the Maasai. Drawing on this background, he self-published The Ant-Lion and The Elephant-Shrew (fiction: 8-12 year-olds). Cobra Strike (teenage fiction – action, adventure), also set in Tanzania, involves the same principal characters, but some 10 years later when they have been recruited to a covert anti-terrorist organisation.

Helen Jameson will receive feedback on her novel; There’s No Such Thing as Seagulls.

I have been a voracious reader since childhood, have a passionate interest in Children’s Literature and have always enjoyed writing. My research work has been published in The Excellence of Play (editor - Janet Moyles). After thirty years of primary school teaching, I completed my Masters’ degree in Children’s Literature at Cambridge University and attended a writers’ workshop at the Writers’ Centre Norwich. These experiences inspired me to complete my first novel for children. There's No Such Things as Seagulls is about a boy struggling to control his violent temper among a group of children regarded as weirdoes and misfits.

Jen Morgan was offered a critique on her novel Stone Master.

Jen has always written stories for children but began to pursue this more seriously through doing an MA in Writing for Children at Winchester University. After raising two small children (they are still quite small) she finally completed the story she began during that MA. That is the story she has submitted to TLC Free Reads. She loves stories by Philippa Pearce, Lucy Boston and Susan Cooper, but is most inspired by the work of Kevin Crossley-Holland. Her story is about magic, memory and myth and is partly set North Norfolk, one of her favourite places.

Vanessa Morton will receive editorial feedback on her manuscript Patience Collier.

My entry is a life-writing project about Patience Collier, the twentieth century character actress. She is a compelling subject - outrageous, funny, and promiscuous: a late-blooming actor who left revealing personal archives and vivid memories among her contemporaries. Writing skills have been essential throughout my rather varied career. But telling the story of someone’s life presents a very special challenge. I gained enormously from the UEA Life Writing MA, graduating in 2010 with a distinction and a Lorna Sage Memorial prize. My self-published project, Travelling Towards War, introducing a Norfolk man’s eye-witness accounts of Central Europe in 1938-39, was shortlisted for the 2012 East Anglia Book Awards.

Nancy Stephenson was offered a critique of her novel Home.

I began to write in earnest about five years ago, initially concentrating on picture books, and receiving some encouraging feedback from agents. In 2010 I attended an Arvon residential course on ‘writing for children’ which was both an enjoyable and inspiring experience. My current piece of writing (Home) is a ghost story for the young adult genre, in which a long decommissioned phone box starts to ring night after night but Lucy, my fifteen year old heroine, is the only one to hear it. I see the TLC Free Read as an invaluable opportunity to polish my manuscript prior to submission.

David Vass
will receive editorial feedback on his piece An Unreliable Man.

I’ve written lyrics, screenplays, and short stories. Most languish in obscurity, though last year I won a short story competition run by Norwich’s Theatre Royal. I write the blog for Diss Arts Centre, and have had reviews in the Sunday Times and the Diss Express. An Unreliable Man combines my interest in literature, history, and conspiracy theories. Robert Poley languishes in obscurity too - in the footnotes of other people’s histories - but his life was extraordinary. Francis Walsingham, Mary Stuart, and Christopher Marlowe all knew him and thought him an incorrigible rogue. This is his version of their stories.

Many congratulations to all of our TLC Winners, and thanks to all those who applied for TLC Free Reads. We were delighted to have so many high quality entries, and we look forward to hearing how all of our writers progress.

Find out more about TLC Free Reads.

Find out more about The Literary Consultancy.

See last year's TLC Free Reads Winners


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Escalator Alchemy- A Guest Blog from Escalatee Jon Curran

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 05 December 2013

Escalatee Jon Curran writes about the transformative power of the Escalator Writing Competition

Most stories are about transformation – ugly duckling into swan, frog into prince, kilt-wearing Scotsman into wild-haired, woad-faced Mel Gibson. And like all the best stories, the Escalator scheme has been, for me, a story about transformation.

This time last year, I had a few thousand words written down and some ideas that excited me about where the story might go from there. I’d get up each morning before the sun had risen and the rest of the family was awake and write a few more pages, moving the story forward piece by piece. I didn’t think of myself as any kind of writer though, just someone who wrote in the spare corners of the day that no-one else wanted.

Over the last year, through the Escalator programme, that scant start has turned into something that’s starting to look like a real novel. More than that though, I’ve started to become someone who thinks of himself as a writer, albeit one still in the early stages of the journey. Being an Escalatee puts you in the company of nine fantastic and hugely-talented writers as companions in the journey, and that’s been a wonderful experience. The journey isn’t always smooth. After the elation of winning a place on the scheme comes the part when you wake up in the middle of the night and wonder to yourself how you’re actually going to manage to pull this off. Me? Write a novel? Are you kidding?

That’s where David Rain – Escalator mentor extraordinaire – proved himself as adept an alchemist as any in medieval Baghdad, where my novel is set. I would troop down to London with characters, plots, themes all jumbled around in my head– and David would somehow help me to make sense of them all. We’d wash it all around over coffee and there! A glimmer amongst the base metals, and lead would turn into gold. It seemed effortless, but I’m sure it wasn’t, so I’m eternally grateful to David for helping to get the thing off the ground.

The Escalator scheme has been about pushing myself, trying things I’ve never tried before, and growing as a result. Reading from our work at a special showcase for friends and family here in Norwich made for a great evening, and a fitting end to our Escalator year, but of course the real work – the actual writing – goes on.

I still get up early in the morning as it’s my best time to write, but I now think of writing as the thing “I do”, and other things rotate around that.

Over the summer, my six year old daughter made a sign to put on the door saying “Quiet Please – Writer at Work”.

That is quite a transformation for one year.

About Jon Curran

Originally from Rochdale, Jon Curran spent his formative years in West Africa, the Middle East and Suffolk. After leaving university, Jon worked in the magazine industry before following the dotcom boom into IT. He now lives in Norwich with his wife and two lovely daughters.  Jon’s fiction has appeared in Inferno magazine, and he was one of the co-founders of the community blog “This Low-Carbon Life”, writing on environmental and community themes. He is working on his first novel, The House of Wisdom, set in 13th Century Baghdad.

Visit Jon’s website.

Follow Jon on Twitter @jaysaulc

Read an extract from The House of Wisdom

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Permission to Write - A Guest Blog from Escalatee Kyra Karmiloff

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 19 November 2013

Kyra Karmiloff, 2012 Escalator Winner, blogs about writing nerves, her experience of Escalator and how the programme helped her to improve as a writer.  

It was about this time last year that my lovely friend, the talented novelist and past Escalatee, Susan Sellers, started breathing down my neck to enter this year’s Escalator Literature Writing competition. I was feeling very despondent about my writing – ready to give up on it all after 10 long years of heartache and two novels withering away in the lightless files of my laptop. Reluctantly, I agreed to give it a bash and set out revisiting old pieces, tossing one after another into the bottomless bin on my screen.

A pointless endeavor, I told myself, as I picked the chosen one and started dusting it down. Two weeks and eight-hundred edits later, I had my five thousand words ready. Or so I thought. With just days to go before the closing date, I printed out my competition piece, read it aloud for the nth time, made a few last changes and printed it again. Sixteen prints and two ink cartridges later, I put the blasted thing in an A4 envelope, addressed it, stamped it and put it in my bag. I dressed to go to the post office, took one final look at the words still humming on-screen, made a very final change, opened up the envelope, threw its contents away, printed out a fresh copy containing the much-improved first line, and sealed up the envelope again. I got in my car, started the engine, turned it off, went inside and repeated the whole process again, all for one word which was never going to make the difference between success and failure, but the opening sentence really was better in its original form.

It was a blessed relief to finally push the heavily-sellotaped envelope into the post box. It was out of my hands now. “All done,” I told Susan. Then silence. For weeks. Then an email, one morning before Christmas, telling me that I had made the shortlist and would hear in the New Year if I was one of the ten winners. Weeks of worry followed. A flicker of hope had been reignited: perhaps I would become a real writer after all. No no, said my brain. My bank balance agreed. Yes, yes, said my long-suffering friends and family.

And so it was that I became one of the 10 Chosen Ones. For this year at least.

What ensued was the most amazing, nurturing and spirit-lifting experience I have had as a writer. Writers’ Centre Norwich provided us not only with wonderful support and guidance, it gave us a stamp of approval, a permission to write. We received help applying for funding from the Arts Council, allowing us to cut down on work in order to focus on our projects, and were given months of invaluable mentoring. I was lucky enough to have been chosen by the amazing Tobias Hill, who not only helped me turn a scruffy idea into a fully-fledged story, but gave me back my confidence as a writer. Most of all, what the scheme provided us with was a license to be who we are – writers – and do what we love doing best: writing. No longer solitary scribblers, tossing hour after hour at a pursuit that felt like little more than pure indulgence, we were now recognized talent, bona fide novelists. It was like receiving Dumbo’s feather and jumping off a cliff, knowing we would fly.

I took my little competition piece, looked it in the face and decided that it deserved some limbs, a beating heart, a personality or two, and a name. What started as a few paragraphs bullied onto a page by a well-meaning friend now became the beginning of a novel, my third and hopefully the lucky one. The one that will make it onto the shelves of Waterstones, where there is space: I’ve checked. In fact, last time I went to peruse the rows of K’s, a thoughtful shop assistant had cleared a great big gap precisely in the spot where The Witchfinder’s Lover will, with any luck, sit one day. Yes, yes, said my brain!

Find out more about Escalator Literature Writing Competition.

View all the 2012 Escalator Winners.

About Kyra Karmiloff

Half-English, half-Russian, I did most of my growing up in London. After completing my degrees at UCL, I set up as a freelance writer and researcher, mainly in the field of Language and Child Development, while continuing to dedicate as much time as possible to my fiction. I am the author of three non-fiction books and have had many articles published in magazines and online. During tough times I have also been a DJ, a dog-groomer, a stable-girl and cleaner – anything to stay self-employed and keep writing. I live in Fen Ditton with my boys and my partner, Rocky, a film director with whom I collaborate. I now make a living writing film treatments and researching new material, while continuing to pursue my novelist ambitions.

The Witchfinder’s Lover is a coming-of-age story of two siblings growing up in Cambridge during the turbulent years of the Civil War, whose lives are transformed by the arrival of Matthew Hopkins, the man responsible for mounting the deadliest witch-hunt in British history.

Visit Kyra's blog.

Follow Kyra on Twitter @KKarmiloff

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A Lovely Bunch- Celebrating the 2012 Escalatees at the Showcase

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 09 October 2013

Escalator Literature offers ten winning writers a year of professional development, including one-to-one mentorship with a professional writer, a series of workshops designed to help the writers improve all aspects of their craft, support on applying for an Arts Council England Grants for the Arts award and the ever essential peer support.

Laura Stimson, Programme Manager at WCN, writes on our Escalator Literature Showcase, an evening event where our ten Escalatees read short extracts from their work to an audience of friends, family and literary agents.

On Friday we celebrated the end of the Escalator Literature programme with a showcase event in London. This sounds rather final but in fact, it felt like the beginning of things, with the ten Escalator winners spending the evening talking to agents and each other about what comes next. I came into the Escalator programme half way through, having been on maternity leave, but feel I’ve gotten to know the ten writers quickly. They feel like a group, each of them integral to the dynamic, each of them glad to be part of a cohort. They’re a lovely bunch.

Chair of Mentors Michelle Spring kicked off the readings by introducing her mentees. First, Mary Nathan, whose novel Michelle described as having a vivid sense of time and place. Mary read from a scene of her intricately visualized book that was rather aptly set just the other side of Charing Cross Road, where the showcase took place. ‘I smile widely enough so that it will reach my eyes,’ she read, as her protagonist battles inner torment in Georgian England. Next up, Bridport short story prize winner Lynsey White, whom Michelle described as having moved ‘confidently into the role of novelist’. Lynsey’s almost Dickensian story, gleaming with curses and extraordinary characters, nods towards gothic fantasy. The chapter she read from, entitled ‘Glass Worm’, contains the unique description of glass harpsichord, its melody ‘thin as a needle’.

Mentor Cathi Unsworth introduced her mentees with trademark wit, vigour and lyrical dexterity. Cathi mentored talented namesakes Megan and Meghan. UEA graduate Megan Bradbury’s book is a fact/fiction mash-up; perhaps too casual a term for her agile, sophisticated prose. Amongst other things, it is a sparkling psychogeography of New York city; weaving the reader through this ‘gap toothed’ city. ‘How long will it sit like this, straddling the seasons,’ one line asks. Cathi describes Meghan Purvis’ prose as ‘muscular’, a perfect expression for her book, a vampire novel which ‘swaggers the badlands’ between gothic contemporary noir. Meghan read from a scene which snagged us all; visceral, vibrant, menacing; a real cliff-hanger.

Like many of her Escalator contemporaries, L.E. Yates’ book re-tells history. Her novel From the Mountains Descended Night is framed by one of the greatest literary scandals of the eighteenth century, a story which her mentor David Rain described as ‘highly original, grippingly readable.’ Her scene describes an interaction between James McPherson and Samuel Johnson, in which Johnson first accuses McPherson of having created fiction. Jonathan Curran’s book is another fiction underpinned by real events; the fall of Baghdad in the 13th Century. Told through the eyes of a boy, it describes what was once a city bright with science, philosophy, and learning, destroyed by cataclysmic political events. As his protagonist daydreams the horrors to come, he imagines fires burning ‘high and bright inside his eyelids’.

Tobias Hill’s first mentee, Kyra Karmiloff also uses real world scandal to frame her novel. Set in the days of the Witchfinder, her book unpicks the delicate and destructive relationship between siblings. Kyra read from a scene describing ‘barber surgeons’, the game the siblings play, which involves lathering their bodies with lye suds and ‘shaving’ their bodies, removing the soap. Sue Healy, Tobias’ second mentee, read a hilarious, beautifully constructed scene from her book, The Hole in the Moon. It’s a vivacious, funny, often sad story of dwarfism, brotherhood, pornography, love and destruction. ‘Abroad shouldn’t be rainy,’ protagonist Dan P contemplates, on arriving into Hungary, ‘abroad should be roasting.’

Mentor Natasha Cooper worked with two historical novelists. Ian Madden’s story is a fictional look at the real life relationship between artist JMW Turner and ‘the woman who was not his wife’, whom he lived with. The scene he read from, a wonderful illustration of the passion and eccentricity of an artist, did something rather clever; it allowed the listener to omit the male voice and transport firmly into the mind of the female protagonist. We finished the night’s readings with Linda Spurr, whose story set in ancient Arabia, tells of woman’s struggle for autonomy. Using scent as its driving force, which she writes about with great agility and beauty, hers is a love story to frankincense and one woman’s ambition to capture it.

It was a special evening. Special because it marked the culmination of the programme. Special because it allowed the authors to meet and talk with agents. Special because they genuinely enjoy each others' company and have formed a true cohort. Special because listening to ten authors read may, on paper, sound excessive but was in reality a delight. One which was over all too soon.

Find out more about each of our Escalator winners, and read extracts of their work.

Read Sue Healy’s blog on the Escalator experience.

Find out more about Escalator Literature.

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Writing and Redemption: Sue Healy on Escalator Writing Competition

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 27 September 2013

Sue Healy was chosen as one of our ten Escalator Winners in 2012. Through Escalator Sue has received a year of professional development, including one-to-one mentorship with writer Tobias Hill, a series of workshops designed to help her writing career, peer support, and advice and support on applying for an Arts Council Grant.

This time last year I was looking at ten-or-so pages of notes for a story idea I had about a guilt-ridden, embittered dwarf and a cult in Hungary. I was fretting about how I could whip these scraps of writing into some sort of shape as a proposal for the Writers’ Centre 2013 Escalator Award for a genre novel. It was pretty raw material, but somehow, I did. I was selected and twelve months on, that angry dwarf has found redemption via the completed manuscript of my debut novel The Hole in the Moon. Moreover, I have the draft of a screenplay of the same story which has been selected for write2screen’s Script HotHouse, also supported by the Writers’ Centre. This progress is entirely down to the support and professional development I’ve received over the past year.

I’d had success as a creative writer before embarking on the Escalator Scheme. By that time, I had already won a number of national awards for my short stories, which have all been published in various anthologies, and I’d had my first radio play broadcast, and a play staged. However, my end goal had always been to write a novel but since graduating from my 2009 MA in Creative Writing from UEA, mustering the focus, determination and dedication to do so whilst working full-time, was proving difficult. Then along came the Escalator.

The first gift the Escalator provided was affirmation. If my project was good enough to be selected, then this tale of an angry challenged man and his (comic) journey towards self-acceptance, deserved my time and respect.

As part of the scheme, you are provided with a number of one-on-one mentoring sessions with an established writer. This writer selects the project with which they wish to work and mine was chosen by novelist Tobias Hill. Tobias was a perfect mentor, providing me with just the right balance of challenge and encouragement – and he ‘got’ my humour. Moreover, the deadlines we set of 10,000 words per month were achievable but enough of a stretch to help me keep on pace. I had the story down by the early summer and the present draft by autumn.

The financial support provided by a Grants for the Arts bursary was heaven-sent. The Escalator Award does not provide the funds, rather you are coached through the Grants for the Arts application – a Herculean task. However, rather like childbirth, the laborious application process dims in the bright light of reward. In my case, the grant meant I could cut down on the day job, book time at a writers retreat and travel to Hungary to research.

Throughout all this time, my Escalator peers and I kept in contact via email and occasional informal Norwich based meet-ups when we advised, cajoled and bolstered each other through the challenges the year provided and cheered for each other as the rewards began to notch up (successful grant applications, finished novels, agent interest etc…). We were also more formally assembled for the series of helpful professional development workshops that took place over the year. And we’re not done yet. I’m looking forward to a showcase presentation of our work at Foyle’s Bookshop in London, which will see us winding up the year in style.

Looking back over my journey from last September to today, I have a sense that I have made five years’ worth of progression as a writer. Perhaps my embittered dwarf is not the only one who’s found redemption via the Escalator Scheme.

About Sue Healy

From Ireland via Hungary but currently living in the U.K., I find both my homeland and Hungary mesmerising theatres, forming the backdrop of my novel, The Hole in the Moon.

I graduated from UEA’s MA in Creative Writing. My short stories and drama have won the Molly Keane Memorial Award, the HISSAC Prize, the Sussex Playwrights’ Prize, the Meridian Prize, the Waterford-Annaghmakerrig Award and the Ted O’Regan Arts Award. I have also been short-listed for the Fish Short Story Competition, and the BBC International Playwriting Award, amongst fourteen other prizes and my prose has been published in seven literary publications. My BAI funded radio drama ‘Cow’ was broadcast earlier this year and my radio drama series ‘The Daffodil’ will be broadcast in 2014. My screenplay adaptation of ‘The Hole in the Moon’ has been selected for Write2Screen’s Scripit HotHouse. I currently teach creative writing at a Norfolk prison.

Read a sample from The Hole in the Moon online

Follow Sue on Twitter @SueHealy

Visit Sue's website.

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