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Welcome to The Literary Pig's blog - a safe haven for all those afflicted with
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Monday 23 December 2013

Bridport Prize success

I am pleased to welcome Shirley Waite as my guest on the blog today. I know Shirley from the
Swanwick Summer School, a lovely bubbly lady who (as you can see from her photo, left) is always smiling and a talented writer. Shirley joins us today to talk about her recent success in the Bridport Prize and hopefully share some of her secrets... Firstly, I wonder where she got that terrific hat ...

After a working life as a secretary, receptionist, PA and complementary therapist among other things, Shirley took early retirement and rented a flat in Scarborough for a few weeks.  Ten years later she is still there.  She started a part time BA (Hons) in Creative Writing at the University of Hull Scarborough Campus and is now in her final year working hard on her last assignment. She has been a runner up in several writing competitions but considers the Bridport her biggest achievement to date.  Since discovering the wonderful writing week known as Swanwick, she has been every August to meet up with some lovely writers (including The Literary Pig).  Thanks to encouragement from Swanwick, she has self-published a Kindle book about setting up a cafe church (‘A Menu for Cafe Church’ on Amazon).

Shirley, please tell us all about your success in the Bridport Prize this year.

Since hearing about the Bridport in my first year of a creative writing course, I have entered Flash Fiction three times with no success.  This year I entered two poems simply because the poetry judge was Wendy Cope who, as far as I am concerned, is our greatest living poet.  Just the thought of her scanning over my attempts was enough.  When I received an e-mail from Frances Everitt, Competition Administrator, telling me my poem had won a Highly Commended prize I thought it was a joke – except nobody knew I had entered.  They ask you not to publicise your win until prize giving day, apart from friends and family, so I did ring a friend straight away.  I’m afraid I babbled – possibly squealed a bit - and she hadn’t a clue what I was talking about but congratulated me anyway.

I'm a bit jealous as I've been entering prose for years without success. How did you decide which poem to enter and what is the story behind the poem?

I entered two poems.  The one I thought would appeal to Wendy Cope sank without trace.  The other was written during a class at university when we had to think of an object from our childhood and write about it.  I chose my mother’s pinking shears (don’t ask!) which fascinated me because of the noise   What started out as a light-hearted poem changed when I added the ending as my mum now has dementia.  It was originally called ‘Memories’ which was the only criticism from my tutor when I handed it in as part of a poetry assignment.  It took longer to think of a new title than write the whole poem but as Alison Chisholm says in her excellent book ‘Crafting Poetry’ the title is a vital part of the writing.  I made a list of possible titles and ‘Unravelling’ worked its way to the top.
they made when she was cutting fabrics out and probably because I was banned from touching them.

You kindly invited me to join you for the prize giving ceremony and lunch in Bridport and I’m still kicking myself for not joining you.  How did the day go?  Did you meet any famous writers and can you share any gossip?

Originally, I wasn’t going to go to the prize giving but a writing friend said of course I must as I’d probably never get another chance.   When I saw your tweet about Bridport I realised you had entered the competition and would probably enjoy going to the ceremony just for the experience.  For some reason I thought you lived in the Dorset area.  We got on so well at Swanwick  that it would have been fun to get together again.
The day was brilliant.  In fact, the weekend was brilliant.  I was lucky enough to book into a B & B (No.27, Bridport) where the owner, Juliet, was a member of The Arts Centre, theatre-goer and big reader.  She got me a ticket for the Friday evening when Wendy Cope was giving a poetry reading followed by a book signing where I managed to have a quick chat with her (see photo left).  Do I really need to say that was the best part of the weekend? 
The ceremony itself was better than I expected.  The prize winners, guests, judges, etc, all mingle in the art gallery with a glass (or two) of bubbly, which gave us a chance to chat.   I met a lovely author who writes as Rosanna Ley and lives in Bridport.  (Took her book ‘Bay of Secrets’ on holiday with me last month.)  Also reintroduced myself to Michรจle Roberts, the short story judge, who I met a couple of years ago when I attended her short course on writing stories in Beverley and also when she gave a talk at Scarborough Literary Festival one year.  The buffet lunch with wine was a credit to the Arts Centre, followed by the prize giving and listening to the top three prize winners in each category read out their winning stories/poems.
No gossip, I’m afraid, but if it is any help I sat on the same table as two ‘readers’ who said that every single entry is read, regardless of bad grammar, bad spelling, written in coloured chalk . . .  They said it was very easy to sort the good from the bad at the early stages but they were glad they didn’t have to decide on the eventual winners as there were so many good entries.  The judging is completely anonymous and fair yet some people have won a prize several times throughout the years, showing their consistent good writing.  In 2013 the total entries were: poems 7758, stories 5887 and flash 2720. 
All the winners received a copy of The Bridport Prize Anthology 2013 which can be bought from their website http://www.bridportprize.org.uk/.
Other highlights of the weekend:  a walk to West Bay where parts of Broadchurch were filmed.  No dead bodies on the beach and no David Tennant but you can’t have everything.  A preview showing of the film The Selfish Giant and a poetry slam, both at Bridport Arts Centre, Chocolatiers Cafe,  @Dorsetchocshop (I managed to squeeze in several visits for coffee and a chocolate frog plus took a bag of truffles home), meeting @RosannaLey who was so helpful with writing advice.

Ooh, I sort of know Rosanna Ley - she used to be a member of West Sussex Writers. What a small world! And the stats on number of entries puts your success into context, Shirley. Making the final Highly Commended list is a significant achievement.
Finally, any top tips for succeeding in poetry competitions?

I wish I had.  I can only repeat what has been told to me: 
Find out who the judge is and read their poetry to get a feel of what they enjoy. 
Read the judges’ reports from previous competitions on the websites. 
Read the winning poems in as many competitions as possible. 
Stick to the rules. 
Make your poem the one that sticks in the judge’s mind.
Keep trying.

 Also I think your comments earlier on selecting a title are appropriate too. A memorable and distinctive title can only help.

It's been lovely to chat with you, Shirley. Now you can relax for Christmas. And here is Shirley's poem

The pinking shears lived
On their own special shelf in the cupboard;
Shiny black handles, rows of silver teeth,
Too heavy to lift.  My mother could –
She could do anything when I was young.
Nights, weekends, her second job, cash in hand –
Singer, material, blue tailor’s chalk,
Tissue paper patterns, hedgehog of pins.
Then the shears: high priestess makes the first cut,
Blades grinding, shark-like, slicing through fabric.
A pile of soft shapes falls like a jigsaw,
Stitched into wedding dress, blouse, winter coat.

They still sleep on a shelf in the cupboard
And she likes to stroke the worn enamel,
Though they are too heavy for her to lift
And she doesn’t know what to call them
Or what they do.

(Reproduced here with kind permission of Shirley Waite)


  1. Great interview. Well done, Shirley - beautiful poem.

  2. I'm not a huge fan of poetry except when I come across a special one - and this one is. It is a worthy winner! Congratulations, Shirley. And thanks, Tracy, for sharing Shirley's success.

  3. What a wonderful poem, Shirley. No wonder you were successful. A great interview Tracy.

  4. Great interview, Tracy and I love Shirley's poem - no wonder she was Highly Commended.

  5. Thank you Patsy, Rosemary, Lindsay, Wendy and sjhigbee for your lovely comments.
    Tracy - you have some very, very nice people reading your blog!

    1. Thanks Patsy, Rosemary, Lindsay, Wendy and Sarah for dropping in this busy Xmas time. And thank you, Shirley, for being our guest and what a lovely thing to say. Yes, they are a well behaved bunch and most of all they appreciate good poetry!

  6. A beautiful poem, Shirley. Well done. And I agree with everyone else - a very good interview, Tracy.

    1. Thanks, Veronica. Hope you have survived all the Christmas visitors and having a relaxing time now :)

  7. good luck and that was a fantastic job you have done.Nice post. Thank you for sharing this informative post.
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  9. Hellio It is a great job, I love your posts and wish you all the very best. And I hope you continue doing this job well.