Transatlantic Debut for ‘Writing For Children’ Poetry Competition

Ashleigh Gill reads from her winning poems
The first ever Manchester Writing for Children Prize proved to be a truly international affair as two joint-winners were announced at a special ceremony held at the Royal Exchange Theatre. Louise Greig, of Aberdeen, and Ashleigh Gill, who travelled all the way from the United States to be at the event, each received a cheque for £1000.
For Ashleigh, the occasion was particularly memorable. The 25 year old student from Hinton, West Virginia explained, “It’s not only my first time in the UK, it’s the first time I’ve ever been on a plane!” Asked how she came to enter the competition, Ashleigh replied,
Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Judges Mandy Coe and Imtiaz Dharker and Festival Director James Draper
“Mandy Coe sent out the email requesting entries and I guess my professor saw it and thought of me. Anyway, my professor was the one who told me about it and encouraged me to submit. Later I got an email from [Manchester Children’s Book Festival Director] James Draper and I couldn’t believe it. My boyfriend Chris really pushed me to enter too.”

 

Chris explained, “This is a really big thing for Ashleigh. Writing has been her whole life, so to be shortlisted for a competition like this is a real confidence boost for her.”
The prize-giving was part of a very special edition of the sell-out ‘Carol Ann Duffy and Friends’ series of shows. The Poet Laureate began the evening by reading from some of her own poems, before handing over to the evening’s host, Chair of Judges Mandy Coe. Mandy said,
“For children, poetry is not just an art. It’s a shield for them. It’s a way of thinking. It’s a way of exploring their world and finding their voice. I’m passionate about it. It’s a shield against adult wars and adult troubles. So this is about poetry and the language of childhood. As adults, I think we’ve probably stolen it, so we need to share it back and get those young writers writing.”
Prior to the prize-giving we asked Mandy what the judges had been looking for in the shortlisted and commended poems, which have now been published in a special anthology entitled Let In The Stars. She told us,
“There were lots of things that we were looking for: Humour, seriousness, sound (we read them all aloud to each other). We were looking for something fresh, something that said ‘read me – and read me again.’”
The Manchester Youth Jazz Collective
Fellow competition judge, Imtiaz Dharker agreed, telling us,
“We were definitely on the lookout for something fresh. There were hundreds of entries and they were all marvellous, so it was really difficult even to longlist them, let alone come up with a shortlist. There were some that you really didn’t want to lose. There were those that kind of sang out to you and then there were others that hummed quietly and kept coming back to your mind – and to the lists.”
In the spirit of the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, the evening’s fantastic musical accompaniment was provided by the Manchester Youth Jazz Collective, led by the One Education Jazz Team. Asked whether the youngsters were excited to be playing at the event, band director, Steve Hawkins, told us.
“Absolutely. It’s a great cultural event for young musicians to be part of. It can be quite rare for Jazz to be appreciated at a large event such as tonight’s, so it’s great to be giving young Jazz musicians an opportunity like this.”
 Winner Louise Greig, centre, with the judges
Following readings from both Imtiaz and Mandy, as well as the six shortlisted finalists, the winners were announced. First to be revealed was Ashleigh who appeared jubilant at the news, saying, “Thank you! It’s just wonderful to be here, especially on what is my first time in this country, and to be among so many wonderful, breath-taking, amazing, beautiful poets.“
The night’s other big winner was Louise Greig who was visibly overwhelmed by the announcement. Louise fought back tears as she told the audience,
“I truly am, absolutely touched. I can’t quite believe it. I have had a dream to write poetry my whole life, ever since childhood. I’d like to dedicate this prize to the marginalised child, the child who, perhaps, doesn’t feel they belong or fit in – because I was that child. The world is big enough, there’s a space in it for all of us. Just try and find your space – where you can be you. I say that to that child. It took me a long time to find my little space but I think if found it tonight, here.”

 

A lovely sentiment to end a very special and touching evening.
***
Let In The Stars is available now. Order your copy here. To find out more about The Manchester Writing For Children Prize please visit manchesterwritingcompetition.co.uk/mwcp/
NH
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