photo © Steve Rhodes, 2007
by Erinna Mettler
Rattle Tales – a spoken word collective based in Brighton, UK – has been putting on live lit shows for four years now. The collective came together whilst on the MA in Creative Writing and Authorship at the University of Sussex, and then met monthly to workshop our writing after we graduated. Our first show was staged on a whim: let’s hire a venue and read our work in public, we said, so that’s what we did. Four years, and many sell-out shows later, we took the next step and set up a short story competition. The aim of the Rattle Tales events is to bring the work of emerging authors to a bigger audience and we felt sure that a new short story prize that celebrated Brighton’s literary heritage would do just that.
The inaugural Brighton Prize was presented on Wednesday 14 May at a sell-out show of live readings at the Brighton Fringe Festival. Our winner was Linda McVeigh with her story ‘Ordinary Man In Suit’, and our two runners up were Allie Rogers and Melanie Whipman.
When the show was over, a few audience members asked us about the judging process and how we managed to narrow it down to the shortlist of ten and, ultimately, the three winners. During the six-week submission period, which started in February, we received three hundred and fifty entries from the UK and Ireland – a great response for our first short story prize – and nearly all of these fitted the entry criteria (here’s a tip though: if a competition specifies ‘Short Story’, don’t send an extract from your novel or a narrative poem). We had seven readers, each being randomly allocated fifty stories. We decided on a selection criteria based on technical ability, structure, language, characterisation, dialogue, originality, and suitability for performance. Rattle Tales is very much concerned with the performance, so, to win, the story needed to work live.
Eight of us read in the second round. We divided the stories into two groups of forty-five and each story was read by four people, who then voted ‘yes’ or ‘no’. In the end, it was simply a matter of counting the votes, and the stories with three, or more, made it into our top ten. The top ten was originally a top eleven but we considered one of the stories potentially libellous and, as an organisation low on funding, we really couldn’t risk it (tip number two: if you are using real people as characters at least change the names). These ten were checked for legal issues, plagiarism and previous competition wins/publication history. They were then forwarded to our guest judges, novelist Bethan Roberts and literary journalist Laura H. Lockington.
This felt a bit like sending your child off to the first day of school. Would our favourites be their favourites? We met with Laura and Bethan a week later to come up with the top three. Interestingly, Linda McVeigh’s story was the first one both judges mentioned – in fact, it was always the winning story with our judges and with most of the readers. It seems to be a simple thwarted love story – girl meets boy, falls in love, loses boy – but the lyrical detail made it so much more. Linda’s writing, though economical, has so many layers and she manages to convey a development of character that most novels struggle to achieve. The people in Linda’s story were never anything less than real and everyone was moved by it. The runners up were a little harder to decide; some of the stories were loved by one judge but not the other, although any one of the ten could have got through, as they all had something special. It’s a shame that all of them couldn’t be read live at our Brighton Fringe Festival show, but at least you can read them all now in Rattle Tales 3, an anthology made up of our prize shortlist and all the stories performed at Rattle Tales shows last year.
The Brighton Prize is back this year. We are open for entries from the UK and Ireland until 07 July 2015 and the winners will be announced in November. Our aim is to produce another print anthology – this year’s has been taken on by Brighton’s bookstores, Waterstones, City Books and The Kemptown Bookstore, as well as the local libraries, and is available on both Amazon and Lulu. All the money Rattle Tales makes goes back into promoting the work of new authors and this year we’ve kept our competition entry fee at just £6 and increased our prize fund to £700, with a top prize of £500. We are delighted to announce that our judge for 2015 is international, best-selling, crime thriller novelist Peter James. This is what he had to say about the competition:
“Brighton has been a source of inspiration for writers as diverse as William Thackeray, Patrick West, Graham Greene and James Herbert. It’s long literary heritage has never been so vibrant though as it is today, home to some of the nation’s most successful authors and home to some truly exciting fresh young writing talent.”
It did cross our minds that we might get two thousand crime stories with Peter as judge, but we think you’d have to be very brave to submit one! We are after amazing, original writing – the sort that makes us glad we set up the prize in the first place. We accept any genre (including crime, of course) and anything that defies genre. Last year’s shortlist saw sci-fi, romance, literary fiction, magic realism, fantasy and comedy. So, go on, astonish us.
You can find Rattle Tales at www.rattletales.org or @RattleTales on Twitter, and you can enter the 2015 Brighton Prize here. Read more about the Rattle Tales events in ‘Whoever Holds the Rattle Tells the Tale‘, from 2013.