Sunday, 8 August 2010

Guest: Yeovil Prize Organiser - Liz Pike

Please Welcome Liz Pike, one of the people behind the Yeovil Prize.

Hello Kate. I am Liz Pike, the administrator of both the Yeovil Community Arts Association (YCAA) and the Yeovil Literary Prize. I’m an active member of a small group of dedicated people who give their time freely to organize these two linked endeavours.

Thank you for inviting me to do a guest blog on your website. As a past winner of the Western Gazette award for the best local writer, I know you are familiar with the international writing competition The Yeovil Literary Prize.

I’ll answer your questions with the greatest of pleasure.

1. Please could you tell us a bit about the Yeovil prize.

This truly international writing competition is now in its seventh year. It attracts entries from many countries and covers all genres. It is fairly unusual in that it has a category for novels, as well as short stories and poetry.

There are significant prizes as well as the cachet for the short-listed winners being able to add a placing onto a writer’s CV. Our judges are renowned in the literary world and give valuable advice to the winners.

Next year we have Daisy Goodwin judging the poetry category; Mark Lucas, literary agent of LAW, judging the short stories, and Katharine McMahon, who wrote Rose of Sebastopol and The Crimson Rooms will be our novel judge. 2011 looks like it will be even more successful.

Our numbers of entries are building and this year were record breaking. All profits from the Yeovil Literary Prize are ploughed back into the arts by sponsoring local talent and cultural events, via the charity Yeovil Community Arts Association.

2. How do you select the judges?

The YCAA discuss who we would like to have as our judges and I then send off an invitation to a potential judge for that particular year. I am now filling the 2012 list of judges. I currently have Louis de Bearniere judging the poetry, and Sophie Hannah judging the novels. I’m on the lookout for a good short story judge. Many writers decline as it impedes their own writing. I do keep pestering away though until someone offers to do the job!

3. As one of the judging team for the short story category please could you tell us a bit about the judging process?

There are two ways of entering the Yeovil Literary Prize, the original postal entry method, and the now very successful on-line way to enter. On-line is relatively easy to complete the entry form and paste the novel, short story or poem(s), with payment by PayPal or as a separate postal payment. Postal means that the entrant completes an entry form and sends their work and payment together.

On receiving a postal entry, all details are put onto our database. At this stage a number is allocated; the entry form is taken off and the entry is given to the judging team of each category. Therefore our decisions are always based purely on the writing of an anonymous entry.

The local judging teams read all the entries and finally bring their long lists to the table. Each entry then has a fresh pair of eyes looking at it. This year the debates as to which entries would be in the final short list were fierce. From our list we then nominate eight to go to the main competition judge. That judge will choose the first, second and third winners, making the other five Highly Commended. The other eight become our Commended. To be truthful, at this stage, I consider the entries in each category as potential winners; the standard of writing is superb.

4. You must read a lot of stories, do you notice any recurring themes?

Yes, simply because some writers use the short story, as well as the novel, to cleanse their past. Sadly, abuse of some form or another is often the theme. Writing can be very therapeutic but does the reader enjoy this type of story? If abuse is the theme of a powerfully written good story then that is good, but quite often it is not.

5. What do you look for in a story?

I think we all have personal preferences for a particular genre, but I enjoy anything as long as it is well written. By that I mean it has to involve me almost immediately, then build, therefore keeping me interested. If I find I’m reading faster, that’s good, I’m hooked. A short story still needs a plot and a theme. It may be more subtle than is found in a novel, but each story needs a good foundation to enable the characters to enthral the reader. My personal tip is to make the last line good. No reader wants to be deflated after reading what felt like a good read right up to the end. A twist in the tale or a satisfying unusual dénouement is what I usually enjoy. I always read every short story entry right to the end, not only out of respect for the writer, but to have the full benefit of that last moment.

6. How much does subject matter and genre matter?

I love reading a good short story and will happily read any genre or subject matter. As I’ve already mentioned, it has to be a complete tale with a satisfying ending to make me call something ‘a really good read’. My first encounter with the short story was H.E.Bates. I found a fat, battered old book in the library and wondered about how an author could fill a book with essays, or what exactly was it, as I flicked the pages? It was full of gems. Two of those stories were made into brilliant television productions; The Darling Buds of May and Fair Stood The Wind For France. From that first encounter I have enjoyed the short story. I bought a super book of Australian short stories whilst on holiday there, so as long as it is interesting and well written, I’ll read it.

7. Has the quality of entries increased over the years?

I would have to say a definite yes. I think there are trends or fashions in writing. Last year there were many that were obviously meant to shock the reader; heavy on foul language but light on plot and character. Having said that, it made choosing the winners a pleasure because good writing will always float to the top. This year bad language and so many obscure themes appeared less often, thank goodness. We had some cracking good reads. All the local judges commented on the extremely high standard of the entries in each of the categories. The Yeovil Literary Prize is now becoming known right across the world and quite often the ‘voice’ of the country is evident, with short stories and novels being set in new environs for the reader to enjoy.

8. Have there been many Yeovil Prize success stories?

Our 2005 winner, Sophie Duffy found her agent as a result of winning the Yeovil Prize.

Locally, as a member of the Yeovil Cre8ive Writers, I’m proud to see that the writers who have entered in the past have achieved such a lot of success. Our current star of the literary world (as far as the Yeovil Cre8ive Writers are concerned) is Jackie Gingell. Two years ago Jackie gained a Highly Commended for her first novel Ee Aye Addeo (the farmer wants a wife) in the Yeovil Literary Prize. This encouraged Jackie to send it off to an Agent. The end of the story is that she was published last March and is currently the No 1 bestseller in our local Waterstone’s.

But there must be many more out there, with writers owing something to the Yeovil Literary Prize writing competition. I would love to have more feedback from our prize winners.

I hope you will continue to enter for many years to come Kate. Thank you for asking me to do this ‘blog’; it was a pleasure.

Thank you Liz. You can find out all about the Yeovil Prize HERE, and about the Yeovil Community Arts Association HERE.


  1. Not sure I'd be brave enough to enter!

  2. I haven't heard of this contest before. I'll pass along the information.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  3. Thanks for a very interesting and useful post. Great to have this insight.

  4. Alex - don't be afraid!

    Thought I'd mention that, unlike the Frome short story contest which I blogged about a while back which seemed very women's fiction orientated, this one is very open to other genres, children's books and SF all getting a look in along with the more literary stuff that you might expect.

    The results will be out in September. And I might have something to tell you ;-)

  5. Congratulations to you! This price is absolutely amazing.


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