THE region’s reputation as a hotbed of literary talent was highlighted last night when 16 writers received Northern Writers’ Awards worth a total of £28,000.
There was a particular focus on poetry with nine of the awards going to poets – a welcome boost to an art form that has suffered badly due to funding cuts.
Judge Jacob Polley, himself an award-winning poet, said: “The art of poetry in the North East has done extremely well this year and in these very difficult times – when poets are not only losing their publishers but seeing these suddenly unfunded publishers unable to continue any publishing at all; when the Poetry Book Society has had its funding cut; when writers and artists across the country are facing questions not only about the quality but the very necessity of their work – we can be proud that poets are thriving and supported in this place, or are growing up here and discovering, along with their talent, just how this place thrives.”
Published poets Peter Bennet, from Hexham, and Colette Bryce and Anna Woodford, both from Newcastle, won Time to Write awards to support them financially while they finish their next collections.
Northern Promise awards, given to new and emerging talent, went to Luke Allan and Daniel Hardisty, from Newcastle, Wendy Heath, from North Shields, Amy Mackelden, from Gateshead, and Andrew Sclater, from Embleton, Northumberland.
The Andrew Waterhouse Award, given in memory of the talented poet from Northumberland who died in 2001, was given to Jake Campbell, from South Shields.
The prose winners were judged by literary agent Jenny Brown, of Jenny Brown Associates in Edinburgh, and Costa Award-winning novelist Catherine O’Flynn.
They said they had been particularly impressed with the standard of submissions by writers for children and teenagers.
Three of the awards went to writers in this category – Niel Bushnell, from Hartlepool, Danny O’Connor, from Marton, Middlesbrough, and Newcastle-based Gavin Williams.
Adult fiction writers Alan Remfry, from Stanhope, County Durham, and Alison Gangel, from Gateshead, whose memoir The Sun Hasn’t Fallen from the Sky was published to acclaim earlier this year, were given awards for novels.
Short story writer Paul O’Neill, from Whitburn, South Tyneside, received a Time to Write award to help him finish a short story collection.
The annual Andrea Badenoch Award was won by Shelley Day Sclater, from Northumberland, author of the Winkles, the very first in The Journal’s new series of Saturday short stories.
This award was set up in memory of the Newcastle novelist who died of breast cancer.
Last night’s awards ceremony took place at the National Glass Centre to celebrate Sunderland University becoming a sponsor of the awards along with technology firm The Leighton Group and Arts Council England.
Claire Malcolm, director of New Writing North, the writing development agency which runs the awards, said there were 300 submissions this year from across the region.
“Writing talent is clearly alive and thriving in the North East and all the judges commented on the high quality of the submissions in all genres,” she said.
“I’m delighted, too, that this year the winners hail from across the region – from north Northumberland to Weardale and Teesside.”
The Northern Writers’ Awards were first distributed in 2000, four years after New Writing North was established.
Since then nearly 100 writers have received sums ranging from £1,500 to £10,000.
Of those, more than three quarters have gone on to publish the work supported by the awards.
Over the last 10 years the awards have come to be recognised within the publishing industry as a useful introduction to new talent.
This year’s winners will all be invited to attend a networking event in London, hosted by New Writing North, where they will be introduced to agents and editors searching for the next big thing.
The first of the annual networking events took place in 2009 and within weeks two of the writers, Mari Hannah and Carolyn Jess-Cooke, had been signed to influential literary agencies.
Many other writers are still in talks with agents and editors about developing their work.
The awards and the very existence of New Writing North have helped to make the North East an appealing place for writers to live and work.
To meet some of the award winners, make sure you see the next Culture magazine, free with The Journal on Tuesday, July 26.