The PENfro Book Festival 2019 writing competitions!


The Penfro judges have read, re-read, pondered and puzzled over the entries to this year’s poetry and short story competitions, and have announced their winners! There is one overall winner for each category, and a shortlist of highly commended entries, all of which will be published in the inaugural Penfro Festival Anthology. Congratulations to you all!

The anthology will be launched on Saturday October 12th at lunchtime, with both Rhiannon Hooson and Niall Griffiths present. We really hope to see you there! If you can’t make it, we will be in touch with those winning entrants to arrange for their publication fee and complimentary copy of the book to be sent to them when it is published. If you have any queries please contact Carly on


Judges’ Reports


Perhaps naively, I was reluctant to ascribe themes to the work submitted to the prize.  It was a wide-ranging group; I wanted to see each as discrete, the body of submissions granular.  But of course, as I read the poems I found, inevitably, that patterns emerged, chords were struck from notes in many poems.

Grief, for our loved ones and for ourselves, for the world itself; the intimacy of the domestic, monolithic before distant hillsides; the ways in which we relate to the past in a changing world. In the work as a whole, time was a deeply felt thing.  So too single images are repeated: things being buried or unearthed, floods and rising waters, ice and glass, birds.

The submissions illustrated perfectly the fact that poetry takes place at the ragged edge of reality.  Its narratives are too real to be neat, too complex to be entirely self-contained.  The poem itself is an object in flux, never still on the page, and so the poems submitted each represent a way of navigating that strange space, each with its own trajectory, each with its own strategy.  Those poems which achieved the most success seemed, in their way, an arrival.  They gave a sense that they had travelled a long way to reach the reader at the moment of being read.  They also demonstrated how vital poetry is, both as documentation and response. 

There were many poems with sparks of insight, many with technical zeal, but as is so often the case, those poems which stuck with me were those which combined a technical proficiency with an emotional honesty that can, like a spark, leap the gap from the page to the reader’s mind and remain there, casting light. 

The winning poem, Heartland, is a quiet poem with a deeply resonant ending that I found myself returning to time and time again.  Most tellingly, I found myself reminded of it often by unconnected things; its simplicity is deceptive, and it manages to hold within itself the opposing truths of joy and grief, life and death, past and future.  It shows how powerful a poem can be without particular fanfare.

Rhiannon Hooson


Short Story

We’ve swapped the communal safety of flames for the blue glow of the computer screen yet we use both for the same purpose; to keep the beasts at bay, to see each other’s faces, to exchange tales, agog and ‘shock-headed’ (to quote EM Forster).

Here, in this collection of stories, are urgent explorations of human essentials, the fears and desires and losses and pains which inspired our earliest recorded story-tellers (Homer, the Beowulf poet, the Icelandic sagas); there is an intriguing pre-occupation with the end of life, not exclusively as a concept but also in the facts of it ‒ here are funerals, fatal accidents, rotting foxes, miscarriages, still births, unrealised conceptions. Which sounds ‒ and, indeed, would be ‒ unremittingly bleak, were the enlightening effects of artistic accomplishment and an irrepressible humour not so evident, as well as a certain, and curious, predilection with the magical; you will find kelpies in here, witches, doppelgangers, and a moving discussion of Keatsian/Platonic notions of truth and beauty that takes place between, well, vegetation, next to the more workaday concerns of hoteliers and teachers.

Myth looms large, and is used as it should be, as a prism through which to view the legitimacy of the individual in the vast and sweeping continuum of history. The writers herein each instinctively grasp the duties of writing (God help them); the imperatives of not just assessment but, more importantly, propitiation and praise. Where would we be without that?

This anthology is proof that in bedrooms and kitchens and offices etc., people are driven to write, to grapple with the fundamentals of being human, to express their unique selves. It’s an ancient and wonderful urge. That it continues to be realised with such ingenuity and endeavour as evidenced in these pages is cause for celebration, admiration, and hope. 

Niall Griffiths

Why Compete?

• enhance your technical skills
• pit yourself against others
• break through the barrier of self doubt
• see your work in print or hear it being performed