Friday, 29 November 2013

Surprise, surprise ... I win Cheshire Prize for Literature

Roger McGough, centre left,with High Sheriff, extreme left, and me (to his left) with Clive McWilliam behind, Tonia Bevins to his left and Russell Morris on the extreme right. Not politically of course ...
You could have knocked me down with a quill-pen ...

Completely out of the blue, I found I'd won the High Sheriff's Cheshire Prize for Literature. I arrived at the award-ceremony late (road-works) and nearly didn't arrive at all. Someone ahead slammed on their brakes and the bloke behind skidded and swerved half-way across the road to avoid running into the back of him. I had to stand on the brake to avoid hitting him in turn ...

To be honest, I wasn't sure whether to go. I'd assumed entrants would be notified if they were shortlisted and, much as I like Roger McGough who was giving a reading and presenting the prizes, I'd hosted an event for him in the summer. Wonderful though that was, would it be worth driving all the way up to Chester on a cold, wet night to hear him again and so soon?

As it happened, I thought it was. I even put the bi-monthly Poems & Pints I host at The Lodge, Alsager back to next week. If you can get there, do so. Andrew Barrett, Stokie poet will be there and my twin brother form South Wales. It promises to be a great night. 8pm upstairs at The Lodge pub on Thursday 5th December.

I'd moved it partly because it was only a week after Bob Doughty's Nantwich Poets open-mic at Willaston Social Club and partly because I was curious to see who'd won. There's a thriving poetry scene here in Cheshire but we all tend to know each other from the various readings and events. I knew every single person who won a prize last night.

We meet again ...
Roger was in full flow and on form when I sneaked into the auditorium. He was excellent as ever and just as engaging in the Q&A which followed. Then there were some speeches from a former High Sheriff - what a terrific old card - and the current incumbent. Isn't it great to live somewhere where they have High Sheriff's? It's not all Lincoln Green and velvet these days, of course, but High Sheriff ... 'shire-reeve' ... a role first introduced for the collection of Danegeld. Stroll on.

Then Emma Rees the English academic who heads the judging panel said a few words about the competition and introduced the winners in reverse order. 'Worthy winners,' I thought, as they were called forward. 'It's no shame not to have been short-listed when writers of their calibre were receiving their just rewards ...'

Emma then said that she hoped the winner was in the auditorium as nothing had been said in advance. I must confess, I did have a flicker of intuition that might still actually be in with a chance. But that was soon extinguished when she started to describe the winning poem. This couldn't possibly be my poem. Full of allusions, obviously written by someone who read a lot of poetry, all about finding the ordinary transformed ...

It was only when Roger got up to read the winning poem that I realised it was mine! I was stunned. I still am.

Roger recognised me from the summer and seemed quite amused and genuinely pleased to find out that it was me. So there we were on stage, having our photos taken, Tonia Bevins, Russell Morris, Clive McWilliam ... Andrew Rudd wasn't there but he'd won something too.

As I can't talk about the poem just yet, I can talk about photos. My aunt Helen in Australia sent me a scan of one of my Grandad's family, the subject of my last (first) poem to win a first prize. I can't publish the winning Cheshire Prize poem online until after it's appeared in the anthology that'll come out in the spring. I'll give that a plug. Buy it.

So, belatedly, here's a picture to illustrate the poem Her People which won the Nantwich Words & Pictures Festival Prize - see previous post.

All surviving Tonks to adulthood (L-R): Olive, Dorothy (Dot or Doll), Elsie (Else), Hilda,
Beatrice (Beat), Harry, my Great-Gran Tonks (behind Nellie in the wheelchair, bless her), Great-Granddad Tonks, Lil (she preferred Lilly), Jack (my Grandad), Min. All 'golden'. 

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