Take control of the narrative with the Evening Standard Stories competition

2022 winner: Sue Ruben with runners-up Iqbal Hussain and Christina Care (Handout)
2022 winner: Sue Ruben with runners-up Iqbal Hussain and Christina Care (Handout)

What does it mean to belong — to feel at home, or that you’ve found your people? This is the theme we want you to explore in the 2023 edition of the Evening Standard’s hugely successful Stories creative writing competition, which launched today (Wednesday, 22nd February).

You might think about communities or clubs, or the groups you find at parties, football matches, school rooms, chicken shops or even barbers, and be inspired to write about the joy that comes from feeling like you’re part of something.

Or you might decide to put a darker spin on it because, of course, not all collectives are positive. From Andrew Tate to QAnon, a shared belief can be as problematic as it is powerful. But whatever your take on the theme, this is an opportunity to tell an engaging story and win invaluable mentorship plus the chance to be published by the Evening Standard.

Your work doesn’t need to be limited to a short story, either. You could write a piece of spoken word or performance, perhaps it’s a monologue, or a self-contained episode of a narrative podcast. If you’re more comfortable speaking than writing, submit your entry as an audio or video file. Judges will be looking at the quality of the writing, not the performance.

We’re searching for fresh new voices in fiction or memoir who can take this idea of “belonging” in a surprising direction or explore it in a way that stops us in our tracks. Perhaps it’s a personal story that holds a universal resonance, or maybe this is a chance to think beyond the real and write a compelling work of fiction. Belonging can encompass family, friendships, sexuality, race, gender — it could be about a parents’ WhatsApp group or a political ideology. There’s no end to where your imagination could take you with this theme.

The competition is open to people who haven’t been commissioned or paid for this piece of work before and winners will have their work published on standard.co.uk and invited to share their work at the Evening Standard Stories Festival, taking place in central London this summer. Last year, judges awarded Sue Ruben the first prize for her work, Dr Dandruff and Me, a deceptively humorous and nuanced memoir which used an encounter with a doctor and a surprising diagnosis to explore disability, identity and how the stories we tell about ourselves can evolve throughout our life.

Ruben tells us: “It’s boosted my confidence as a writer and getting support from Jessica Loveland from BBC Writersroom is amazing. She’s so encouraging. My advice to people is to enjoy the experience of writing and be yourself as a writer.”

So what are you waiting for? Explore the theme of belonging in 1,000 words — if submitting as audio or film it should be under two minutes. This could be your chance to have your work read and critiqued by leading names in publishing, drama and audio, and maybe kickstart something new.

The deadline for entries is April 12

How to enter

Explore the theme of belonging In 1,000 words or fewer, written as prose, as a script for any medium or performed in a two-minute audio or video. There is no fee to enter. Judges will select one overall winner and two runners-up. The winners will have their stories published on standard.co.uk, win a creative course at City Lit and receive a year’s mentor ship in their chosen field by manage-ment and production company, 42.

Entries close on April 12 2023 at 11.59pm. For more information and to enter go to: stories.standard.co.uk/competition

Meet the judges

Chair of the judges is author, journalist and podcaster Lotte Jeffs, who along with the Evening Standard’s head of audio, David Marsland, will be joined by a panel of writers whose work covers every creative medium.

Monica Ali, is the acclaimed novelist behind Brick Lane (shortlisted for the Booker Prize), and more recently Marriage Story.

Eric Ngalle Charles is a Cameroonian writer, poet, playwright and human rights activist whose work covers migration, trauma, and memory.

Monica Ali (Handout)
Monica Ali (Handout)

Scarlett Curtis is the writer and activist who curated the Penguin anthology Feminists Don’t Wear Pink & Other Lies. And Beth O’Leary is a Sunday Times bestselling author whose debut, The Flatshare, sold over a million copies.

Playwright, broadcaster and poet Lemn Sissay is additionally lending his incredible talent and wealth of experience to the judging panel this year. His memoir My Name is Why was a Sunday Times Best Seller. He was the official poet for the London 2012 Olympics and is chancellor of Manchester University.

Our next judge is the talented TV script writer behind Derry Girls Lisa McGee and finally we have Paterson Joseph who started his career as an actor and whose debut novel The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho was published last year.

Joseph says: “This year’s theme is belonging, a subject close to the heart of my first novel’s character. Tackling Sancho’s issues around this subject has forced me to question my own history of feeling an outsider in my own country.

“I’d advise any writer tackling this theme for the first time to break down the way that word is used in the English language, and how that impacts on the protagonists in their stories. Where these ideas coincide with the writer’s thoughts on belonging may unlock a wellspring of thoughts and themes that could surprise the author themselves.”