The Gothic splendour of Manchester Town Hall provided a suitably elegant backdrop for the 2009 Manchester Fiction Prize award ceremony on the evening of 23 October. This was the inaugural event in a weekend-long celebration of short fiction, which formed part of the Manchester Literature Festival.
Toby Litt was announced as the winner of the 2009 prize, for his hilarious short story ‘John and John’, which describes the sticky dilemma of a man who is comprehensively failing to meditate while recalling the action from a pornographic film. Accepting the £10,000 prize, Toby said: “This is the only thing I’ve ever won since I was at school, where there was a contest for the paper aeroplane which flew the furthest.”
First of all we were treated to readings by the distinguished judges.
Nicholas Royle’s short story, ‘Very Shortly’, was a masterpiece of gloomy apocalyptic rhetoric, featuring a tender evocation of the woman who reads the platform announcements at York railway station. Booker-shortlisted author Sarah Hall read a longish piece from her latest work-in-progress. The third judge, M. John Harrison, had been bed-ridden by a virus which had caused him to lose his voice. As one of the prize organizers commented, “There would be no point in asking him to read this evening when he can’t speak.”
After these treats, the six short-listed writers were invited to read from their work. These were Peter Deadman (better known as a klezmer violinist and authors of books about acupuncture), Michael Halmshaw (an English teacher based in Manchester), Vicki Jarrett (a mother who has recently returned to writing after a ten-year interval), Toby Litt (the author of ten published books, including Beatniks and Corpsing), Jennifer Mills (an Australian-based writer whose story was set on the border between Mexico and the United States), and Alison Moore, who works as an administrator at Nottingham University. There was not a single dud among the authors chosen, and any of the stories on the short-list looked like a possible winner.
After two hours of nail-biting anticipation, Toby Litt was announced as the winner of the 2009 prize, for his hilarious short story ‘John and John’, which describes the sticky dilemma of a man who is comprehensively failing to meditate while recalling the action from a pornographic film. Accepting the £10,000 prize, Toby said: “This is the only thing I’ve ever won since I was at school, where there was a contest for the paper aeroplane which flew the furthest. You’ve broken my duck, and I’m delighted."
The £2000 Jeffrey Wainwright Manchester Young Writer’s Award for a writer under the age of 25 was presented to Michael Halmshaw for his story ‘They Covered Him With Leaves’. Michael, who was born in Leeds and has been writing for five years, said that the prize would give him a strong reason to keep going. He added: “I was thinking about going to Morocco and developing a drug addiction like William Burroughs, but now I’ve decided I probably won’t.”
The international prize, which is now in its second year, was organized by the Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University. More than 1700 short stories were submitted from 40 different countries. The panel of three judges, Nicholas Royle (who lectures in English and Creative Writing at MMU), M. John Harrison and Sarah Hall, worked their way through 4 million words of unpublished fiction before establishing a short-list of six writers and an overall winner. All of the judging took place anonymously, and the names of the short-listed writers were not disclosed to the judges until they had arrived at their decision.
The organizer of the competition, James Draper, said that the Manchester Fiction and Poetry Prizes were intended to act as a launch-pad for upcoming writers. These substantial awards are among the largest prizes for unpublished literary works. He commented: “Collectively, these 1700 stories contained more words than the Bible, but with fewer miracles and more revelations.”
Next year’s Manchester Poetry Prize has already been announced. The chair of the judges in 2010 will be award-winning poet Simon Armitage, who teaches on the MA course in Poetry at MMU.
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