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Hunstanton writer shortlisted for national King Lear Prizes competition




An amateur writer from West Norfolk made the shortlist for the King Lear Prizes, a new national arts competition launched in March to encourage artistic creativity among older people during lockdown.

Bill Brakes, of Hunstanton, beat thousands of other entries in the inaugural Prizes to make the shortlist in the short story category.

The competition attracted more than 14,000 entries in total in six categories from about 5,000 people across the UK and British citizens overseas.

Bill Brakes of Hunstanton
Bill Brakes of Hunstanton

Mr Brakes gained his PhD from Trinity College, Cambridge, and worked as a mathematics lecturer in various universities. On retirement, he took an MA in Modern English Studies and he’s been writing ever since, with two unpublished novels and many short stories under his belt.

For Mr Brakes’ shortlisted short story ‘Flying Upside-Down’, he will receive a certificate of commendation.

Speaking about why he entered the King Lear Prizes, Mr Brakes said he wanted “to support an excellent initiative and to measure myself against others”.

Revealing the inspiration for his work, he said: “The time and location are from my student days. The character of Maria is an invention, the type of woman I'd like to have met in those days but didn't.”

The inaugural competition was supported by famous writers, actors, musicians and artists, such as broadcaster Gyles Brandreth, who judged the poetry category, cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, who judged the music category, and literary editor of The Spectator Sam Leith, who judged the short story category.

Speaking about the entries in the short story category, Mr Leith said: “The monarch for whom the King Lear Prize is named may have started out foolish and ended up mad, but the writers whose short stories I read showed no signs of either condition: here were first rate works of imagination and craft.

"These stories – composed, in many cases, in the difficult and isolating circumstances of a lockdown that has been especially hard on older people – showed what a wealth of talent there is among men and women for whom writing fiction is a resource and a recreation rather than a professional calling. It has been a great privilege to have had a hand in judging them."

The competition and its mission have also been championed by older people charities, such as Age UK.

When the competition was launched earlier this year, Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, said, “Spending more time at home and apart from our family and friends inevitably means big changes to our normal activities and routines. As a result, looking after our mental and physical health is going to be very important, and taking time to be creative can be really beneficial.

"Having a project to focus on, like a submission for the King Lear Prizes, is fantastic and will hopefully bring a sense of achievement and much joy to everyone who takes part, and I look forward to seeing what is produced during these challenging times.”

The inaugural competition was open to people over 70 with no professional experience in the arts, to submit new short stories, poetry, short plays, solo musical compositions and art during the time they were quarantined.

The Prizes take their name from Shakespeare’s play King Lear, which was written in 1605-1606 during outbreaks of the plague in London.



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