Artistic Licence 2021

This competition, one of our rolling programme of six, invites entries on any aspect of the arts and alternates between fiction and non-fiction. This time around it was fiction and our adjudicator was Oz Hardwick.

Once face-to-face meetings resume, we shall present the trophy to Solvig Choi and, with her permission, add a photograph to this post. Maggie Cobbett and Susan Perkins were in second and third place.

In the meantime, Oz’s adjudication can be seen below. He was also kind enough to furnish all the entrants with individual comments on their pieces.

Ripon Writers’ Group Adjudication – Oz Hardwick

Though primarily a poet, back when I left school I initially went straight into Art College. Many years later, I studied English and Art History at university, and have written a book and a fair number of articles on (mainly medieval) art. Apart from every other awful aspect of the past eighteen months, what I have particularly missed is visiting art galleries and museums, so it was an absolute delight to view this diverse and intriguing gallery of the real and imagined through the power of your words.

I’m happy to be able to say with complete honesty that I enjoyed reading all of the submissions and, as there was just a small number, I had leisure to enjoy each one several times. What particularly impressed me was the grasp of structure in each piece. Short forms can be very unforgiving, but something each piece did was lead me from a starting point to somewhere substantially different, via a discernible route. This may sound obvious, but it’s far from always being the case. The other thing that impressed me was the range of voices, from third-person omniscient narration to first-person limited in the voice of the central artwork, one of the figures depicted, or, indeed, an authoritative and lively expert. And each one of these had a distinct authorial style.

My day job, of course, is as an English Professor, so I am obliged to note that one can never over-proofread one’s work, and that very little can bring more joy to the heart of an editor/judge/pedant than properly laid-out paragraphs. However, moving on …

If it wasn’t for my strict remit, I would probably leave it at that, and adopt Carroll’s Dodo’s “Everybody has won and all must have prizes” approach. However, needs must and I am tasked with selecting a winner and two joint runners-up. So, unfortunately, there are no laurels for The Picture’s mysterious inheritance (of which I would like to read a longer version), Molly’s decades-spanning tale of innocence and experience (which again could be longer), or the absolutely fascinating Talking the Blues (which has been banished to the naughty step now for not being fiction, but which I’d love to listen to as an illustrated talk).

Drum roll here …

In third place, Petrified mixes history and myth to tell a story of the fragments of a marble statue from the Acropolis. What I like particularly about this is that, while it is packed with reference to events and stories, a framing narrative in which the reader is addressed provides a reason for this, in consequence keeping it convincing as a story being told, rather than – as can all too frequently happen with less well-handled research – a bit of showing off by the author. It’s an imaginative story, well told within the word count.

In second place is another voice from the past: this time that of VictorineMeurent, who is best known – if at all – these days as Manet’s most frequently-used model, most famously his scandalous Le déjeuner sur l’herbe and Olympia. Apart from being a celebrated model, she was also an artist in her own right, and this story, while focusing on Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, reasserts this status while nicely applying the connoisseur’s eye to some of the odder aspects of the famous painting.

Which leaves, in first place, The Thinker, a slightly satirical slice of absurdism in the tastelessly extravagant world of big business. What really enlivened this was dialogue. There are a lot of characters for a short story, but their convincing exchanges, interspersed with third-person narration to vary the pace, gives a sense of every one of them. The story itself is slight but full of incident, and left me with a sense of narrative satisfaction, but also the feeling that I would like to follow these characters into further bizarre situations, getting to know them better. Well done.

Indeed, thank you to all of you for inviting me to read your work. I’m so sorry that I can’t come and say hello in person (and of course try to flog you my dodgy books).



Our friendly group meets once a fortnight at the St Wilfred's Community Centre on Trinity Lane and is always open to new members from the Ripon area and beyond. Whether your interest is in poetry or prose, novels, short stories, plays, wacky humour, a more analytical style of writing, or just listening for the time being, you're very welcome.

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