About project

Our Arts Council supported project 'About'  has now concluded. The award-winning scripts are published in our anthology Words And Women:Two which is available to order from Unthank Books - see our dedicated anthology page for more details. Extracts from the scripts were also performed at our IWD event on 8th March 2015 at The Fusion Digital Gallery, Norwich. Here are some images and for further  information about the project and writers involved please scroll down
Etta Geras in Holding The Stones by Thea Smiley

Hetty Rance in Shaddup by Lilie Ferrari

Kate Cox & Adina Levay in Trouble & Strife by Jenny Ayres

Rosalind Burt in Counting The Pennies by Tess Little

In August 2014 our commissioning competition ‘About’ was launched! Women writers based in the East of England were invited to submit a proposal for a short text of 4,000 words or half an hour long exploring the life of one woman and her relationship to place. The woman could be famous or non, contemporary or historical, fictional or factual. The place had to be within the East of England. The text could be in any form, eg. script, prose, poetry, or a combination of forms.
Fifty writers entered this open competition, hoping to win paid time to develop their proposal for inclusion in Words And Women’s second anthology of writing and to perform an extract of their work on International Women’s Day in the Fusion Digital Gallery, Norwich, March 2015.

The proposals featured swimmers, vagrants,  mothers, clubbers, writers, prostitutes, teenagers, witches, a composer, a lepidopterist, an ecologist, even a station mistress. Many concentrated on historical figures. The most popular locations were Norwich and Cambridge. The coast featured heavily and The Broads. The difficulty of living in isolated small communities was a frequent theme.

The judges found it extremely difficult to select their four winners and twelve commended writers. Most of the entries had been developed with great care and imagination. On occasion we had to consult our funder Arts Council England for advice.

We provide more information about the judges and the judging process at the end of this feature. But first we’d like to profile our wonderful winners and also the twelve commended who have each won a place on a special workshop called The Tough Room taught by one of our mentors and judges the poet Hannah Jane Walker.

Our four winners are:

Jenny Ayres:
Jenny is a north Hertfordshire based writer, actress and mum. After studying at The Central School of Speech and Drama, Jenny was invited onto the Royal Court Young Writers Programme and in 2005 won the London Lost Theatre Festival with her one woman show ‘The Fourth Photo’. Jenny then travelled to Milan and Budapest, where she was commissioned to write two short films, before her first short story, ‘…but that’s who you are’, was published in 2007. Jenny continues to write for the stage and screen today, most recently working as Writing Director for a community based theatre project entitled ‘Through a Child’s Eyes’ in conjunction with Letchworth Arts Centre.
Jenny’s piece, ‘Trouble and Strife’, will explore the vital, but often unknown, work of the Hertfordshire railway women of World War Two. In the face of grueling manual work, frequent prejudice and nightly bombing attacks women worked to maintain our railway lines, not only keeping the country moving but changing the world of women’s work forever. From train sets to train drivers - the railway is a man’s world…until war comes.

Lilie Ferrari:
Lilie Ferrari worked in the South of France and California before gaining a Master’s degree in French Literature. She then went to work at the British Film Institute, where she worked in the Television Unit, taking a particular interest in popular drama and soap opera. From there she went to the BBC as a Script Editor and subsequently began her career as a full time writer.
She was co-creator and writer for the long running medical drama series The Clinic for RTE, and has written episodes of Peak Practice (Carlton), Dangerfield (BBC),Casualty (BBC), Berkeley Square (BBC), Holby (BBC) and numerous episodes of EastEnders (BBC). She co-created storylines for 60 episodes of the returning series of Crossroads, winning the ITV commission for Carlton Productions. She has also storylined for Family Affairs (Channel 5), and Playing the Field for Tiger Aspect/BBC.  Lilie has worked as a soap consultant in Finland and France as well as advising on a proposed new soap opera for Saudi Arabia. She has also had four novels published, and is currently working on her fifth.
Her proposal is based on a real woman called Jane Sellars, who was sentenced to hang in Norwich in 1631.  Looking at research around issues of vagrancy at the time, she would like to give Jane a voice, and tell her story.

Tess Little:
Born in Norwich, Tess studied history at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Her research focused on les femmes tondues – French women punished after the Liberation for collaborating with Germans in the Second World War. During her studies, Tess wrote non-fiction articles for student publications, and her short story ‘The Stitches’ was published in a student anthology. She has worked as a freelance journalist and previously gained experience at the New York Times in Paris, Ralph Appelbaum Associates in New York and Thomson Reuters in London.
Tess’s proposal, ‘Beyond the Britannia Barracks’, will explore the story of Anguish, a nineteen-year-old prostitute repeatedly detained at the Norwich prison on Plumstead Road in the 1880s. Based on archival research, the life of Anguish will be written into a fictional monologue. Voices of her cellmates – arsonists, thieves, drunkards and child abusers – will permeate the script, weaving together prison storylines. From pavements to courts and cells, the plethora of characters at Plumstead Road epitomised lives of countless impoverished women living in the East of Victoria’s Britain.

Thea Smiley:
Thea Smiley lives in Suffolk with her husband and three sons. A recent UEA graduate, she writes prose fiction, and plays for radio and the stage. Her first play was performed in 2012, and in 2013 she was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. In Boudicca of the Bungay Straight a ceaseless wanderer, and ‘lady of the road’, delivers a monologue in which she becomes increasingly convinced that she is the re-incarnation of the warrior queen Boudicca.

Our commended writers are:
Beatrice Armstrong
Peppy Barlow
Sue Dean 
Becky Demmen
Meghan Douglass-Ellis
Sharon Eckman
Louise Goulding
Claire Hynes
Poppy Kleiser
Rachel Clair Lewis
Syd Moore
Julia Webb

The judges for ‘About’ were Lynne Bryan and Belona Greenwood (the organisers of Words And Women ), theatre director Adina Levay, performance poet Hannah Jane Walker, and Professor Andrew Cowan, Director of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.

Writers were asked to submit a proposal, their CV and a sample of their writing, no more than 5 pages long. They were asked to choose which category they’d like their work to be judged under: 1. For writers who have publishing and/or live performance success, 2. For writers of significant merit but currently unpublished/unperformed, 3. For writers aged 16 – 21.

Many entries were received for Category 1 and 2, far less for Category 3. It soon became apparent that some writers felt unable to decide without Words & Women’s help whether their CV placed them in Category 1 or 2 . Eventually a rule evolved where writers with some small success eg. publications on-line or in an anthology, competition placings, the performance of a short play etc sat better in Category 2 rather than 1.

The first stage of judging was conducted by Words And Women and concentrated on the proposals. Was the proposal strong enough? Was  it well-written? Was it clear what the writer was hoping to achieve? Were there sufficient links between character and place? Was the character interesting? Was their journey interesting? Why did a particular place matter to them? Was the place interesting? The judges were looking for clarity and difference. Also the proposal had to feel like it was important to the writer; that this was a story the writer really wanted to tell.

It was soon obvious that none of the proposals submitted for Category 3 were sufficiently strong enough to be shaped into a 4,000 word text and half an hour performance. The judges, however, decided that three of the writers would benefit from being awarded a place on Hannah’s Tough Room workshop. The commission prize was then transferred to Category 2. So we were able to double the commissions awarded to this category. This decision was made in consultation with Arts Council England.

The close scrutiny of the proposals allowed Words And Women to draw up a shortlist. The shortlisted proposals were then circulated amongst the other judges with the samples of writing and condensed biographies adapted from the CVs. All names were removed. Judges had to make their first and second choices for each category and then inform Words And Women. The winning entries were the ones which received the most votes. There was useful feedback from the judges. Their primary response was that some proposals were very strong but the writing samples weak: the writing lacking punch and flavour. Some proposals, on a second and a third reading, needed more focus. On occasion there was an imbalance between character and place, the place seeming too much like background. Proposals with staging suggestions interested; also proposals which offered an idea of the shape the story or script or sequence of poems would take. Ambition mattered but not over-ambition.

All four winning writers will be mentored by Words And Women, Adina Levay and Hannah Walker at workshops which will take place in Norwich in October and November 2014 and February 2015.

The completed texts will be published in the anthology Words And Women: Two and extracts will also be performed at a dedicated read in the Fusion Digital Gallery at The Forum, Norwich, on the 8th March 2015, International Women’s Day.

There will be regular updates about ‘About’ on this blog.

We’d like to thank all the women who entered the competition, and also our partners: Arts Council England, The Writers Centre Norwich, Unthank Books and The Forum, Norwich. 

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