Poetry Judge: Lemn Sissay MBE
Lemn Sissay MBE is the author of several books of poetry alongside articles, records, public art and plays. He is associate artist at the Southbank Centre, patron of The Letterbox Club and The Reader Organisation. He is a regular contributor to radio and TV and a prolific speaker inspiring audiences on a weekly basis across the globe. His latest book Gold from the Stone was published in August 2016.
Lemn was the official poet for the 2012 London Olympics and the 2015 FA Cup. His Landmark Poems are installed throughout Manchester and London in venues such as The Royal Festival Hall and The Olympic Park. Bishop Desmond Tutu unveiled his landmark poem ‘Gilt of Cain’. In 2015 his Desert Island Discs was pick of the year for BBC Radio 4. He is Chancellor of the University of Manchester. His life story is nothing short of incredible. Google “Lemn Sissay” and all the returning hits will be about him.
Lemn says, “It feels difficult to say what I am looking for in your poems because to find what I didn't realise I was looking for is the experience of reading a good poem. Except to say I want your poem to electrify me, seduce me, grip me by the neck, carry me, whisper to me and sing to me. All of these things or one of them and much more. I am in the privileged and honored position of being your reader. I come to your work with an open mind and heart in the hope that I will be moved by your words”.
Photo credit: Aida Muluneh
Peter Hobbs is the author of two novels and a collection of short stories, and is the co-editor of Sex & Death, an anthology of new short stories. He’s a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and writer-in-residence for the schools charity, First Story.
Peter says, “I’ll be looking for stories that care about both sentences and overall form (and stories that demonstrate how closely those two are related). For stories that give the reader the experience of entering into a complete, true world, one that we then leave at exactly the right moment. And of course for stories that are about something – for fiction that has the feel of truth to it.”
Photo credit: John Rice
Kit de Waal writes about forgotten and overlooked places where the best stories are found. Her acclaimed debut novel, My Name is Leon, a heart-breaking story of love and identity, is a Times and international bestseller. Kit was born in Birmingham to an Irish Mother and Kittian father, and worked for fifteen years in criminal and family law. She was a magistrate and used to advise Social Services on the care of foster children, as well as writing training manuals on adoption and foster care. Her prize-winning flash fiction and short stories appear in various anthologies. She won the Readers’ Prize at the Leeds Literary Prize 2014, and the Bridport Prize for Flash Fiction in 2014 and again in 2015. In 2016, she founded the Kit de Waal Scholarship at Birkbeck University, a creative writing scholarship specially designed for budding writers who would not otherwise be able to afford a Master’s degree.
Kit says, “Flash fiction for me is just the container for a much bigger story. Not only will the flash have a couple of stories within it - the one the reader reads and the one that lies underneath - but it will also have a beginning that stretches back before the story began and goes on way, way into the future. What the flash will do is cut the reader a slice of time and say, ‘Look what happens here and you will know the rest.’ I’m looking for well-crafted and well thought out stories with a plot, the slow burn, the poetic and the surprise where each word has earned its place on the page”.
Photo credit: Justine Stoddart
Nathan Filer is the author of The Shock of the Fall. This won numerous prestigious literary prizes, including the Costa Book of the Year and the National Book Award for Popular Fiction. It was a Sunday Times bestseller and has been translated into thirty languages. His non-fiction and journalism has featured in The New York Times, The Guardian and many other national and international publications. His comic poetry has been broadcast on television and radio. He is a recipient of the BBC Best New Filmmaker Award. He holds a Readership in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, where he also lectures.
Nathan says, "I will be looking for a novel that grabs my attention from the first page and refuses to let go until the last. I want to meet memorable characters that feel completely real. I don't have to like them (I tend to think the best characters in fiction are flawed, and often difficult to like) but they must always be alive on the page, and I must care deeply about what happens to them. I'll be looking for a compelling plot, but this plot will not feel designed by its author. It will feel shaped by the characters that inhabit it – they will push against its edges, and give the sense that they might surprise me at any time. The language will be sophisticated and controlled. It will be brimming with energy and vitality. It will take risks. It will say something important. It will absolutely not be boring."
Photo credit: Matt Crossick