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On a dark winter’s evening, I sat down in Costa with SCAN’s very own Arts & Culture Editor Ruth Walbank and Lifestyle Editor Lara Orriss. We discuss the uncertainty of eating revels, the various itises Lara has suffered from, and chat about the creative writing competition they have launched.
It’s called The Literary Lancashire Award and run in partnership with the Department of English and Creative Writing. There are two categories, poetry of up to 40 lines and prose of up to 2000 words, and there are five themes to choose from: together and apart, normal and the abnormal, the unsolvable, local landscapes and technology of tomorrow.
The pair decided to launch the prize when Lara was sat in a Creative Writing lecture in which the lecturer commented on how difficult it is for writers to get published, and how it is important for writers to be recognised through winning prizes and being published in journals in order to attract the attention of publishers. She then got in touch with Ruth and they decided to launch a small prize as an in-house SCAN competition.
It may have started off small, but it soon grew massively. After it had been created as a SCAN competition, Bailrigg FM soon got in touch because they have their own short story competition and were interested in collaborating. Then Lara says ominously, they took it to the department, and that is where Ruth jokes that it all went wrong. The English department encouraged them to make the competition bigger and to try to reach young people across the county, and so it became a competition open to young people aged 16-30 from across Lancashire.
To organise a prize so big Ruth and Lara were now going to need money and a team behind them. They received a £500 grant from the Duchy of Lancaster benevolence fund and £2000 from Lancaster Friends and they also have a gofundme page. They also held a bake sale the day after our interview with some joyous baking puns such as ‘Much Ado About Muffin’ and ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Scone’. I ask if there is only cake and it as it this point that we debate whether the Student’s Union has banned falafel. We also discuss how much of the baking is vegan since it is Veganuary, to which Ruth suggests that they are more concerned if there will be enough for the non-vegans as so much of the baking is vegan. Here Lara says she will eat all the non-vegan stuff. Ruth points out that they need to make money, to which Lara says she will pay and eat all the vegan stuff.
As well as money, they also have a huge team behind them. They have a team of ten, plus twenty judges, who will remain anonymous as well the poet Eoghan Walls and the novelist Jenn Ashworth, both of whom work in the English Department. The judges are a mixture of students with a Creative Writing background, as well as those who enjoy reading. Lara emphasises the importance of having a mixture of those who write and those who read. It will be the job of the student judges to decide on the shortlist, from which the winners will be chosen by Eoghan and Jenn.
The Literary Lancashire Award is not only a competition, but it also involves engagement with local schools. In an attempt to encourage young people to enter and introduce them to creative writing, they are offering free workshops to schools in the Lancashire area and hosting a day-long event at the University on the 23rd February. At this point, I ask Lara if she’s scared to lead Creative Writing workshops with Sixth-Formers without any staff there to which she says ‘Honestly, I was fine until you mentioned it’. However, she seems very enthusiastic, adding that it should be fun and exciting. It is at this point that Lara cries that there is an animal in her hot chocolate, only for it to turn out to be a marshmallow.
The competition closes on the 22nd March, so what happens after then? Ruth and Lara tell me they will then anonymise all the entries, so the judges will not know who has written the work they are judging. Then a two-month judging process will follow. The prizes for the competition are at least £250 for first prize, plus publication in SCAN and an anthology of all the shortlisted entries. They will also be interviewed on Bailrigg, and be invited to a prizegiving at the Lancaster Words festival. Second place will receive the same but the prize money will be at least £125 and excerpts of their work will be published in SCAN.
So what advice do Ruth and Lara have for those interested in entering? I ask them what they would enter. Ruth says she would enter Poetry under the theme local landscapes because she is from Lancashire. She also stresses that local landscapes don’t just mean physical landscapes but could also be political landscapes or social landscapes and that entrants should expand on the themes however they wish. Lara says she would do Prose under the theme the unsolvable and do a series of flash fiction on the moment before a person was revealed as a killer.
My final question is, after all the hard work they’ve put in this year, will they run the award next year? They say they are deliberating whether or not it will happen next year, but they would like to. It has been a steep learning curve, but all the infrastructure is now in place so it would be easier the second time around. ‘Once we reach the end we’ll look back and think: that was a wild ride’ says Ruth; they’re only at the beginning of the competition but already they have achieved so much, I look forward to reading the winning entries.
The Literary Lancashire Award is now open for entries until March 22nd. Details can be found at www.theliterarylancashireaward.weebly.com.