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Critically acclaimed author Zoe Gilbert presented Cheshire’s finest short story writers with their awards at this year’s High Sheriff’s Cheshire Prize for Literature evening, hosted by the University of Chester at the Riverside Campus.

Zoe Gilbert is the winner of the 2014 Costa Short Story Award and this year published her debut novel, Folk. She teaches creative writing at London Lit Lab and for other organisations including the British Library, Arvon Foundation and Mslexia. She is also completing a PhD on folk tales in contemporary fiction, and working on her next novel.

This year’s competition was for a short story and attracted over 200 entries from writers across the country, and internationally, who all have a connection with the county. 

The two first prizes of £1,000 each were presented to Sophie Claire for her short story Fallen Sparrow; and to Clive McWilliam for his short story Satellites. Both stories were read out by Zoe Gilbert.

Sophie Claire said: “I’m absolutely thrilled to have won. I’ve entered a number of times before, but I’ve never even been a runner up! It’s a wonderful surprise and I think it goes to show that tenacity and perseverance pays off – and I would share that advice with other writers too.”

Clive McWilliam said: “It’s wonderful to win. I’m absolutely delighted. I have always entered the Cheshire Prize poetry competition and have been runner up three or four times but I have never entered the short story competition before. Maybe this is a sign that I should concentrate on short story competitions!”

The highly commended runners-up, who received £150 for their work on the night were:

  • Simon Gotts: Tell Us Your Story.
  • Angi Holden: Painting Stones for Virginia.
  • Fiona Holland: Traffic.
  • Yvonne Oliver: On the Dilemma of Whether to Speak Up When Your Baby Vomits into a Stranger’s Hood.
  • Nicola Russell-Johnson: Arpeggios of Anxiety.

As well as cash prizes, the winning entries and a selection of other submissions will be included in an anthology produced by the University of Chester Press next year.

Competition judge Dr Will Stephenson, Associate Professor in Modern and Contemporary Literature at the University of Chester, said: “This year the Cheshire Prize for Literature attracted a superb total of 209 entries from across the world.  The standard was very high indeed; three folders full of deft, daring and thought-provoking short stories arrived on my desk in early October. Reading them all in time for the awards ceremony proved challenging but also very exciting. The judging panel was looking for stories that packed a lot into a short space, where characters’ lives were tested, changes happened, and language suggested more than lay on the surface. 

“My congratulations to our two joint winners, Clive McWilliam and Sophie Claire. Their stories could not have been more different, but each dazzled with a combination of beautifully crafted prose and a sense of emotional depth. I wish Sophie and Clive every success in their writing careers. A very big thank you also to our fantastic guest speaker, Zoe Gilbert, who shared with us her ideas on writing, and read the winning stories in a way that brought out all their richness and power.”

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