Richard Booth Prize for Non-Fiction 2018 – Winner Announced

Richard Booth Prize for Non-Fiction

Article by C. Harris

richard booth image

Richard Booth MBE

We had a very good response this year with a wide variety of interesting submissions, and our judge, the award winning writer Oliver Bullough, commented that the entries were of a high standard.  We are also eternally grateful to Richard Booth, (known to many as the King of Hay) who generously sponsors this competition and Richard was recently on hand to present the prizes to our winners at the annual Hay Writers’ Summer Lunch.

oliver bullough 1

    Oliver Bullough, courtesy of Curtis Brown

Oliver was kind enough to provide a commentary on all the pieces and made encouraging comments on all of them.  He also suggested possible improvements, which was very helpful, as one of the major benefits of holding competitions is the opportunity to have constructive criticism from independent, skilled and recognized writers.

First place was awarded to Marianne Rosen for “Unspeakable”.   This is a poignant piece, originally written as a “homework” exercise.  Marianne was characteristically modest about it when she presented it to the group but was encouraged by us to enter it in a competition.  Oliver described it as “beautiful and very moving”.  He commented on the effectiveness of the “curious grammar” and the ambiguities that make the piece read “like someone who’s sleepwalking through life”.  It is a piece with many emotional layers which “slowly unfolds its secret”; “a very profound bit of writing”.

Joint second place went to Jean O’Donahue for “Seurat and Monet”. This piece was “a great story about seemingly small items with deep significance”.  Oliver commented on her gift for describing things from her own perspective and on her confidence as a writer, bringing in “massive things as if they are tiny” and “small things as if they are massive”.

The other joint second place went to Jo Hill for “Sandy – a case study”.   A “powerful piece” about an emotionally disturbed child, it impressed Oliver with the “bravery of writing”.  He commented on the effective narrative devices and the portrayal of the child.  His final comment was particularly encouraging – “I think it could even be a pitch for a book. I’d read it.”

The pieces entered for this competition demonstrate the talents of our writers, highlighting the quality and variety of the writing currently being produced.

Many congratulations to everyone who entered, especially to the prize-winners.

Our sincere thanks are due to Richard Booth, for his continued support of our group and also to Oliver Bullough, who has been a fantastic judge; generous with his time and his expertise. Thank you.


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Poetry Competition 2018 Results!

Hay Writers’ Poetry Competition 2018
by C. Harris

The judge this year was Libby Houston.  For the first time this competition was open to selected non-members, those who had attended our very successful poetry workshop in February of this year, and this undoubtedly enhanced the numbers.  The workshop was not only a useful educational exercise, but also a chance to meet other writers and to boost our membership.  We plan to organize more workshops in the future.  Check out our website Events Page for details of workshops and competitions.

libby Houston

Libby Houston (2011). Photo credit

Libby started her feedback by acknowledging that responses to poetry were highly subjective.  However, when she outlined some of the criteria by which she judged the poems, it was clear that she had been meticulous in her assessments.  The criteria included choice of form, use of language, and the sound of the poem.  She gave some very helpful pointers on line-breaks, on how the poem is laid out on the page and on “the pitfalls of rhyming”.

She then went on to discuss each poem individually.  Although her comments could occasionally be a little astringent, the criticism was always constructive, identifying not just weaknesses, but strong points and effective language.  Importantly, she gave suggestions for possible improvements in each poem, making this a highly effective learning exercise.

In first place was Corinne Harris’s “Golden Rose Synagogue, Lviv”, a pantoum about a holocaust memorial, with a “sustained and elegiac mood”.  This was followed closely by Emma Van Woerkom’s “Water Break-its-Neck”, an energetic poem about a waterfall, with a “profusion” of effective imagery “that responds to the waterfall’s violent name”.  Third place was tied.  Jean O’Donoghue’s “Sciurius,” with its flouncing lively squirrel, and with imagery “mirroring the creature’s jumpiness”.  Ange Grunsell shared third place with “Absence”, a melancholy reflection following a visit by her grandchildren that had a “flow and sound like natural speech”.  Three wildlife poems were highly commended: Emma Van Woerkom’s “The Weaver Bird’s Nest”, and “Adder” and “Hyena” by Corinne Harris.

It is clear that there is a wealth of poetic talent around.  In a sense the competition is not just about placement, as this is clearly subjective, but it is an opportunity to share work and, importantly, to get useful feedback from an experienced poet and tutor.  Our thanks go to Libby Houston for her careful analysis and her constructive suggestions.

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Richard Booth Prize for Non-Ficiton 2018 – Judged by Oliver Bullough.

The 2018 Richard Booth Non-Fiction Competition

We are honoured to announce that our judge for this year’s competition is the award winning writer and author Oliver Bullough.


oliver bullough 1

Photo courtesy of Curtis Brown

Oliver Bullough grew up in Wales, studied Modern History at Oxford and moved to St Petersburg in 1999. He stayed in Russia for much of the next seven years, working mostly as a correspondent for Reuters specialising in Chechnya and the Caucasus region.

On returning to Britain in 2006, he wanted to write more about his experiences in Chechnya. The result was Let Our Fame Be Great, a travel and history book published by Penguin in 2010, which described his journeys to find the scattered peoples of the mountains. It was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize in the UK, and won the Cornelius Ryan award in the US.

His second book, The Last Man in Russia, was published to brilliant reviews in 2013.

His highly anticipated latest book, Moneyland: Why Thieves And Crooks Now Rule The World And How To Take It Back, is due for release September 2018.

He lives in London with his wife and son.


The closing date for entries is Tuesday 10th July. Results will be announced in August.

Word count for this competition is 600 words minimum and 1250 words maximum.
The theme is entirely open.

Each applicant may submit only one entry.

Please click on the link below for the entry form and full rules.  GOOD LUCK! 🙂

Non Fiction Competition booking form

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Hay Festival Heaven – Imagining the World.


Hay Festival 2018


We’ve been blessed with fabulous sunny weather, a larger, high-spec venue and best of all an absolutely fantastic, sell-out crowd!

As the temperature soared towards mid-day our event got underway. An attentive audience were delighted by a wide variety of poetry, short stories and excerpts from novels.  Well rehearsed thoughtful, humorous and descriptive pieces easily gelled alongside fictional landscapes and characters – there was literally something for everyone to enjoy.

A huge thank you to Peter Florence and the whole team at Hay Festival for their essential support enabling the Hay Writers and giving them a valuable public platform to perform. Special thanks also to Bella from Hay Festival, who managed us perfectly and was an utter god-send of positive, calm efficiency. Finally, thank you to our audience who shunned the sunshine and ice creams for an hour and applauded in all the right places. Well done everyone!


Chairperson, Angela Grunsell with Bella from Hay Festival


If you feel inspired to join us, whether as a full time member or to attend one of our inspirational all-day workshops (see our events page), why not get in touch.

Email our secretary Marianne Rosen for more details: –

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It’s Festival Time Again!


It’s festival time again! How do I know? Well, it’s not from the throngs of people lining the roads, streets and country lanes, or the aroma of BBQ’s and a myriad of pop-up food stands serving all sorts of deliciously exotic fare; not even the colourful bunting zig-zagging over the streets or the distant throb from music carried for miles on heady evening breezes, or perhaps the increased volume of celebrities talking, reading, singing or even signing books.

No, it’s festival time again because my mother’s broom tree is blooming.

It’s little pea-type flowers explode in a riot of fountaining yellow, like a long awaited dazzling solar flare. We marvel at it, comment on it’s vibrancy and how popular it is with the bees who forage within a blinding forest of petals. There’s no mistaking this brilliant beacon and it’s annual declaration. Yes, it’s definitely festival time again!

***Hay Writers’ Circle will be performing at the Hay Festival 2018***
Sunday 3rd June, event 420, at 11.30am in the Compass venue.
It’s FREE but ticketed. 

Get your tickets HERE or direct from the festival box office.

There’s so much on at the moment, why not check out our EVENTS page too!

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Hay Festival 2018

2015-05-24-17-40-11.jpgHAY FESTIVAL 2018 – 24th May-3rd June.

It’s that glorious time of year again when we open our diaries, scan a scintillating programme crammed with stimulating events and slowly begin to fathom a literary-inspired jigsaw of lectures, talks and exhibitions – of course, I am describing the annual process which is the introduction to Hay Festival 2018.

How, who, where, when, what time, which venue – watches synchronised, pages pencilled, holiday booked, excitement levels start to ascend as anticipation begins fillings our dreams. Ten days of inspiration which makes the brain fizz and the heart soar.

The Hay Writers at Hay Festival 2018

microphone (1)We are extremely grateful to Peter Florence and the organisers for allowing us a slot at the Festival again this year.  We will be reading our latest short stories, poetry and prose (some prize winning pieces) on Sunday 3rd June at 11.30am in the Compass venue. In a change from previous occasions, this year our event is FREE.

It’s a ticketed event so don’t forget to book your place – everyone is most welcome.

Session number is 420 and tickets are available HERE 

To view the whole 10 day Hay Festival programme, click HERE

We hope to see you there.


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Libby Houston Announced as Poetry Judge 2018

It is with enormous delight that we can reveal that the 2018 Poetry Competition Judge is the incredible Libby Houston.

libby Houston

Libby Houston (2011). Photo credit

Libby Houston has been a working poet for more than half a century, starting back in the days of the Beats with her first performance in a cellar under the 1961 Edinburgh Festival. She has taken her work all over the world.

In the 80s, she toured the West Midlands with avant garde band Earth House. She has sung her work on Dutcvh radio to settings by the great Dutch surrealist Louis Lehmann.

Cover of Darkness (Slow Dancer Press, 1999) contains most of her poetry of the last century. Her storytelling poems for children, originally commissioned for BBC Schools Radio, are collected in All Change (OUP, 1993).

A veteran Arvon Foundation and Taliesin tutor, she also started the (now defunct) Bristol writing group, Practising Poets, and has led all kinds of poetry workshops for adults, children, schools and festivals. She pioneered the concept of pop-up poetry.

Currently living in Bristol, she also works as a botanist, specialising in roped surveys of plants on cliffs, killing invasive aliens on cliffs, and leading the unsuspecting public on quite exciting nature walks. She has discovered 6 tree species entirely new to science – here, in the English West country – one of which has been named after her: Houston’s Whitebeam. Her R4 radio poem for Brunel, Bridge, was broadcast in 2006.

She was married to the late artist, cartoonist & trumpeter (leader of the free jazz Amazing Band) Mal Dean, from Widnes, who died in 1974. They lived in London & had 2 children.


Rubric from Libby Houston’s bench. Photo by Ange Grunsell

Some quotes from reviews re Libby Houston

“…very much more satisfying than a packet of marshmallows.” Jean Chesterman (that was actually printed in like the Amersham Gazette or something)

“compelling and charismatic” Sandra Stevens

“If I was a jug I would give you ten out of ten and a prize.” Jonathon Osgood (8 ½)

“… consistently original and exciting…..

…….an inspiration to other writers, of all ages…..” Shirley Brown [Venue]

“… whiteface on the highwire….” Daniel Richardson [Avon Literary Intelligencer]

“… [her] unique and inimitable [gift]….” Jay Ramsay [Green Voices]

“Her taut, elliptical and rapid-moving voice mirrors a passionate concern with emotional precision that resonates through every line….” Jay Ramsay [Green Voices]

“characteristic writing-on-the-edge (never over the top).” Keith Jebb [Poetry Review]

“…from the profound to the pleasantly feckless … . I take my invisible hat off to her collection.” Judith Kazantzis [Spare Rib]

“ original voice …..” A.S. Byatt
[“She likes to contemplate rottenness” A.S. Byatt – ]

“an unusual metaphysical intelligence…” Carol Rumens [The Oxford Companion to Twentieth Century Poetry, 1994]

Selected Bibliography


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Landscape, Memory and an Earthquake.

Landscape and Memory Workshop, 17th February 2018.
with Dr Rhiannon Hooson.

Hay Writer’s Circle felt extremely lucky to have Dr Rhiannon Hooson facilitate an all-day poetry workshop in the comfortable surrounds of Cusop Village Hall. The sold out event was attended by four members of our group and ten non-member participants who were keen in further developing their poetry.


All work and no play – Participants enjoying feedback

Rhiannon was excellent. She squeezed every drop of lyrical imagination we possessed onto the page and many of us left the day a little shattered, but buoyant with notebooks filled with poems, part poems and notes for future expansion.

We wrote about the place and places we call home, how we travel to get there and what roots us to these individual landscapes. We read descriptions of places, picked out words, reinvented a line or thought from the prose extract and constructed new poems. We always edited and highlighted successful and interesting phrases as we went, (I found this very useful). Finally we looked at our ‘home’ and travelled back in time imagining the changes it had seen, even going back many thousands of years.

Then at around 3pm, with such intensive mental energy concentrating on the idea of landscape, the incredible happened… earthquake (4.4 magnitude), which caused a ripple of additional excitement to an already stimulating day.


I promise the above photo contains my original written notes minutes before it happened – I wrote the word ‘EARTHQUAKE’ after the rumbling ended.

Some feedback from the day: 


‘A busy, exciting and work filled workshop! Lots of interesting ideas and notes to forward for the future. Brilliant’
‘Supportive, productive, enjoyable.’
‘Excellent, thank you. Really well organised, great venue.’


**A huge thank you to Rhiannon for a truly exhilarating day which everyone thoroughly enjoyed and to Hay Writer’s Secretary, Marianne who organised us all so beautifully.**

Dr. Rhiannon Hooson is a Welsh poet and author. 

Rhiannon Hooson - Seren Books

Rhiannon Hooson – Seren Books

She has won major awards for her work, including an Eric Gregory award from the Society of Authors, and performed at literature festivals and venues across Europe and the UK, including London, Milan and the Hay festival. Her work has been featured in the Guardian, Magma, and Poetry Wales among others.

She is an experienced workshop leader and creative mentor, with five years experience of teaching Creative Writing at a university level, and fourteen years experience of creative mentoring and leading workshops.

THE OTHER CITYHer first full length collection, The Other City, was shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year award, and was described by the judges as “Stunning… at a pitch of achievement many of us will not reach across a career.”

To purchase a copy of The Other City – CLICK HERE

To find out more about Dr Rhiannon Hooson’s up and coming events, plus workshops and mentoring services follow this link to her website –

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Hay Writer at Brisons Veor 2018

Brisons Veor – Cape of Cornwall. I arrived for my artist in residence week to hail, sleet, wind and waves! Even the distant Long Ships lighthouse (I later found out I could see Wolf Rock Lighthouse too) became completely dissolved in the drenching low cloud. My journey along dark, busy motorways, over Bodmin with its […]

via Brisons Veor – Artist Residency – February 2018 — Emma van Woerkom ~ Poet

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“Not A Stone, A Water Bottle” – by Ange Grunsell

The Richard Booth Prize for Non-Fiction 2017 winner – Ange Grunsell.

Ange has kindly let us publish her prize winning piece below.

Many congratulations to Ange and to all who entered. The competition continues to draw a plethora of compelling and impressive new voices.


Not a Stone, a Water Bottle, by Ange Grunsell ©2017


Gourd by Ange Grunsell

My gourd is the size of a skull cap. It fits over my head perfectly. The hard, thin shell is a clean light brown. It shines softly in the light, marked all over with tiny pin pricks like pores in a skin. If you run your hand over it you can see and feel a raised line along its centre, so like a vein, this could be a bald head with all its irregularities. When you tap it, it echoes softly: the gourd contains its story.

The thickness of the tough waterproof wall between inside and outside is perhaps less than two millimetres. The inside, where once the pulp and the seeds were, is like suede. It is a very long time since this fruit hung from a calabash tree: a hundred years at least and I can testify to that. One hundred years of use have strengthened its skin, preserved its shape. Thousands of miles of Atlantic Ocean separate it from its first life in the Caribbean. The gourd’s story is a long one. Its growth, its life in St Vincent, in Trinidad and in London with my glorious aunt Winnie, and now with me, provides a surprising history of interconnections.

The gourd grown not primarily for food, but for use as water container, was one of the first cultivated plants in the world. The mystery of the calabash is that it has grown in the Americas for over 8000 years and genetic plant scientists are still unsure as to whether it was brought to the Americas by Paleoindians from Asia at the end of the ice age, or more likely, whether the seeds drifted across the Atlantic from Southern Africa to take root in the Americas, all that time ago. The history and human usage of gourds, that grow on all the planet’s continents, bar Antarctica, embodies the interconnectedness of our world: both its ecology and its people. It has served as musical instrument, decorative utensil and above all  that life saving and community necessity: a water bottle.  It is a celebration of human and plant migration, of diversity and of peaceful and artistic uses of the resources of the earth.

My widowed aunt Winnie was quite the most glamourous and interesting of my relatives when I was a child. She had been married to, ‘an oil man,’ whatever that was and lived with him in Wimbledon. She had the longest, slimmest sheerest stockinged legs rising from elegantly arched feet. I sat on the floor and admired them, looking up at her statuesque shoulders, her curly hair. She spoke in a musical way, unusual to me. She liked to tell how when she arrived in England for the first time, she had taught my eighteen year – old mother to Charleston and another cousin reported her teaching her the Black Bottom outside Selfridges,(not the front entrance you understand).

For Winnie, daughter of my Worcestershire grandmother’s brother, had grown up in Trinidad.  Dad was the bad-boy uncle sent away to where he could not damage family reputation, to become a newspaper journalist in  Trinidad. A common tale of colonial times, perhaps. But the story of Winnie’s mother’s family was a far from familiar one. This story I heard only for the first time when I was aged almost forty and we were travelling together to a family funeral.

Winnie had an Irish great grandfather on her mother’s side. How many ‘greats’ it was I don’t know. He was press – ganged off the west coast of Ireland into Napoleon’s navy around the very beginning of the nineteenth century. Napoleon’s fleet had been assisting the Irish in their rebellion against the English in 1798. Subsequently some of the same ships formed part of an invasion force of Haiti, to increase French control and attempt to re-enforce slavery, reversing their earlier policy of support for the resistance leader Toussaint L’Ouverture. A noticeboard on the quay at Killybegs confirms this history. According to Aunt Winnie, great, great etc. grandfather was taken down to Haiti by the fleet, where, somehow, he managed to stay and to marry her great grandmother, an emancipated ex-slave of African descent. Later generations included other ethnicities, other Caribbean islands and adventures of which she told me little, culminating in her own parentage that had introduced the English Midlands strain of my mother’s immediate family. But what does all this have to do with gourds or with my gourd, in particular, I hear you ask…even if the standard coin in Haiti is still called a gourde.

In 1991 I visited the Caribbean, myself, for the first time. I stayed in St Vincent, as part of a work tour with Oxfam, to interview Windward Island banana farmers whose livelihoods were under threat under changing international trade rules. On my return, I paid one of my regular visits to  Aunt Winnie, now in her eighties, who had remained a good friend as I grew up and who still lived close to my mother during my adult life.  She wanted to hear all about the visit, even though it had not touched Trinidad. I happened to mention that we had been stopped in our minibus by the sight of an agricultural workers’ land occupation protest.

“So, where was this in St Vincent?” she asked.

I replied that it was a place called the Hadley Estate, close to the East Coast.

“But that is exactly where I stayed on a holiday when I was eight years old.”

The echoes of that unlikely coincidence bounced off the walls of her small front room

Winnie remembered visiting the Windward Island of St Vincent, at the age of eight, and staying in the South East of the island. It was there, at the Hadley Estate, she had been given the gourd in around 1911, taken it back home to Trinidad and then brought it to England when she moved to London, as a connection for her with her childhood and as her lifelong daily tool. This was the day she offered the precious gourd to me.

When my aunt Winnie gave it to me she had used for over 80 years. She had used it every day to pour water over herself in the bath from when she was eight years old, up to this time, when, due to infirmity, she was now having to wash in a sit- down shower and had no more need of her trusty scoop.

In 2017 it has passed its century. But it remains as watertight as ever.

It sits on my shelf as a reminder that migrations, diversities and above all peaceful and life sustaining activity can prevail, link and unite. Our inheritance is not a stone it is a water bottle. (*)



This refers to Bertolt Brecht’s play ‘The exception and the rule’

The judge…Is this the stone? Do you recognise it?

Merchant   Yes this is the stone.

 Guide       Now see what’s in the stone. (He pours water from it).

Judge        It’s a water bottle not a stone. He was offering you water.

Merchant   But how was I to suppose it was a water bottle? The man had no reason to offer me water. I wasn’t his friend.

Guide        But he gave him water

Judge        But why did he give him water? Why?

Guide        He must have thought the merchant was thirsty.



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