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Prize-win boosts University's reputation as global hub of contemporary fiction

THE University of Chichester’s reputation as an international hub for contemporary fiction received a boost this month when Dave Swann of the department of English and Creative Writing scooped an unprecedented double-success in the famed Bridport Prize.

The Senior Lecturer’s 250-word story, Drought, saw off competition from more than 2,000 entries to take first prize in the Flash Fiction contest. His longer story, The War Against the Monsters, rose through a pile of nearly 5,000 entries - sent from more than 80 countries - to reach the top 12 in the Short Fiction category.

His double-success follows hot on the heels of the achievement of K J Orr who won the BBC National Short Story Competition after gaining a PhD at Chichester under the supervision of Professor Alison MacLeod, herself nominated for the Man Booker Prize in 2013. It adds up to a golden few years for the department of English and Creative Writing whose PhD student Zoe Gilbert carried off the £3,500 Costa Short Story Prize in 2014.

K J Orr - image by Lottie DaviesAfter attending the awards ceremony, Dave said he was delighted to have flown the flag for the University in a competition that has previously proved rich territory for a number of talented Chichester students - including Jane Rusbridge, Emma-Jane Hughes, Isabel Ashdown, Honoria Berne, Josephine Corcoran, Meredith Andrew, and Ann Jolly.

Dave has now won eight prizes at Bridport: two in poetry, two in flash fiction, and four in the conventional short story category. At the ceremony, in Dorset, he was told by Jon Wyatt, a long-serving member of the contest’s panel of readers, that he is the first writer to simultaneously win prizes in two categories.

The Bridport prizes round off a good year for the Senior Lecturer who has also recently won first prizes in the Frome Short Story Competition and Magna Carta Poetry Competition, second prize in the South Bank Poetry Competition, as well as first prize in the Literary Death Match cabaret evening at the 2016 Small Wonder Short Story Festival.

Of his short story, The War Against the Monsters, Bridport judge Tessa Hadley praised the “lovely asset” of Dave’s “gift for mimicry” in the voice of its central character. Flash Fiction judge Tim Stevenson called his story Drought “a quiet masterclass in detail and understatement”.

“It’s really exciting and humbling to have had my work recognised like this,” said Dave, second from left below. “I’ve always loved the hills and cliffs of Dorset, ever since I took a dodgy hitching trip there as a young man. It’s a beautiful place to visit, and I’ve got to know some lovely people. And it makes even more special when you go there to collect a gong.

Dave Swann at the Bridport Prize - second from left

“I have sympathy with those who argue that literature should never be treated like sport, and that it’s daft to turn it into a competition – but I like the democratic nature of literary contests. They’re judged anonymously by talented writers so it’s never a question of who you know, or whether you’re posh, or good-looking, or a celebrity! Instead, it’s simply down to the work itself, and to the views of the judge.

“It makes me proud to think of all the talented students I’ve taught who have shared in Chichester’s success-story at Bridport. Awards like these can give a real boost to writers, who spent a lot of their time in isolation, never fully knowing whether what they’re doing is any good or not. It’s like finding a piece of moss that points in the right direction when you’re lost in a forest. Maybe you’re going the right way, after all.”

The Bridport Prize is one of the world’s top creative writing competitions offering prizes worth £15,000. Success has launched the careers of well-known novelists and poets including Kate Atkinson, Tobias Hill, and Helen Dunmore - this year its judges were the writers Patience Agbabi, Tessa Hadley, Tim Stevenson, and Kerry Young.

Details of the Bridport Prize competition, and this year’s prize anthology, can be found at www.bridportprize.org.uk. Alternatively for more about English and Creative Writing at the University of Chichester go to www.chi.ac.uk/department-english-and-creative-writing.