Leicester Writers’ Club Open Competition Prize Giving

… and a fond farewell to Wellington Street

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Thanks to Jacob Ross for the photographs.

Last night, Thursday 27th February, we held our Prize Giving for The Leicester Writers’ Prize, the club’s first open competition in many years.

By seven o’clock the room buzzed and hummed – what a fabulous turnout from members and their guests. Our judge Chris D’Lacey drove all the way from Devon to give us the low down on the many entries we received, explain his judging process, discuss the difficult (nay – impossible) task – even for a well-published writer – of choosing titles, and treated us to a sneak preview of his latest young adult novel, The Dark Inheritance, (a paranormal adventure romance!)

We were most delighted that the winning author, Alex Fender, drove up from Bristol for the evening, even booking into a ‘quaint and pretty country hotel’ for the night. Although the accomodation didn’t quite match up to its description, and smelled faintly of Dettol, it didn’t manage to dampen her energy or enthusiasm in the least.

Yevgeny Salisbury – our president – chaired the evening, and introduced Chris – a long standing member of the club and twice-president himself – and best-selling author of The Last Dragon Chronicles. Chris is an engaging speaker and the whole room was totally focussed as he took us through his shortlist explaining why various stories had stayed with him, and what eventually made him place the stories as he did.

The third place story, (winning £100) – Jack Jenkins and the Portal to the Past by Tracey Glasspool – is a lively tale for younger readers, containing a heady mix of everything kids enjoy most – two curious school boys, a mysterious mirror-thing which ends up being not a mirror-thing at all, but a portal to the past, and a staff-room full of teachers magically taking on the persona of their favourite (and sometimes terrifying) historical figures, causing high jinks all round. As Tracey couldn’t be with us, Lindsay Waller-Wilkinson read out the story to a rapt room of fellow writers.

The second place story, (winning £250) – Nobody by Wendy McArdle – aimed at slightly older readers, is an action packed tale, and tremendously pacy from the opening line to the last. Stepping in for Wendy McArdle, who also couldn’t be with us, Chris read the piece brilliantly. ‘Nobody’ is a dark tale of a young boy forced into acting as look-out while his abusive foster parents go about their violent burglaries. Everything goes awry when the boy makes a mistake, and they have to flee in the night from the police who are now hot on their tail. Much is at stake, and we were all left breathless, desperate to find out what happens next…

Finally, Alex Fender read us her winning story, Hide and Seek. Alex’s story is a most deserving winner, and she has created a truly original voice. The story centres around an at times disruptive, and at other times very disruptive, teenage girl whose best friend is called Emu, and whose worst memory is of ‘Mr X and the effing rope.’ Aimed at young adults the language is daring and real, and we find ourselves caring about this troubled and troublesome young person from the outset. Alex read her story beautifully, and we were all entranced. We were also thrilled to hear that, since writing the opening of the novel for the competition, Alex has gone on to finish her story, and is in the process of editing it prior to sending it out to agents. And that is the best result that any writing competition could hope for. Very well done!

Last night was also special for another reason: Leicester Writers’ Club has been meeting at the Leicester Adult Education College in Wellington Street for over fifty years, but we are moving next week to the Phoenix. We are all very excited about the move and feel that it is right for us to be based in Leicester’s rapidly developing, and sweetly vibrant cultural quarter, but with so much of our history tied up with Wellington Street, there had to be a feeling of nostalgia about last night being our ‘last night’. People brought jerk chicken, sausage rolls, falafels, sarnies, and cake. People brought ginger beer, elderflower fizz, Shloer, red and white wine, and cake. People brought trifles, brownies, flapjacks, cookies, and cake. We ate, drank, and made merry. Writers love cake.

I have only been a member of the club for three years and so it is relatively easy for me to accept that it is time for us to move to a new home, but many members have spent a lifetime of Thursdays meeting up in the slightly odd, very cavernous and rather echo-ey Satta Hasham hall. I have nothing but admiration for our members, young and old, old and new, in the way that they have embraced such change with unbridled enthusiasm. But that’s what writers do, isn’t it? Whatever age our bodies may be, our minds must remain young. We must accept opportunities with unabashed delight. We must embrace each new day with excitement and curiosity.

And we do.