Poetry judge - Stephen Daniels

Stephen DanielsStephen Daniels is the previous editor of Amaryllis Poetry. His poetry has been published in numerous magazines and websites. His debut pamphlet ‘Tell Mistakes I Love Them’ was published in 2017 by V. Press. His second pamphlet ‘£5 for this love’ was published in 2018 by Paper Swans Press. His third pamphlet ‘Birth, Love, Work, Love, Death & Other B-sides’ is out in summer 2019, through Picaroon Poetry.

What I'm looking for

My favourite poems are contradictions. A push-pull feeling that leaves you eager to understand how did the writer do that? A wonderment at what is making the poem work.
The poem manages to be simple and complex at once. It has a tenderness and brutality. It feels restrained yet uncontrollable. My favourite poets are varied, but I think they all demonstrate these qualities, a subtle yet brazen (contradictory!) display of risk, with the reward being presented to the reader. Kenneth Koch, Hilda Sheehan, Natalie Diaz, Carrie Etter, Lorraine Mariner, Richard Scott, Rishi Dastidar, Kathryn Maris… the list could go on!
I want a poem to show me something I have not seen before or show it in a way I have not considered. I want a poem that takes these risks. That tries something new.
The risks can be in form, in language, in subject matter – it’s not important where the risk is taken, just that the poem is taking you, the writer, out of your comfort zone. In return it should stir the reader as much as it excited the writer.
This is where bravery is important – many people will submit poems that they consider to be their most polished. I want to feel the jagged edges of the poem, understand the place it has come from, where it has been, or where it is going.
Control and precision are vital to bringing those jagged edges to life. With this in mind, I am excited to read your contradictions.

Stephen Daniels

Prose judge: Amanda Reynolds

Amanda ReynoldsAmanda Reynolds’ debut novel ‘Close to Me’ was published in April 2017 by Wildfire Books (Headline) as their very first fiction title. It has been translated into multiple languages and was an eBook bestseller.
Her second book ‘Lying to You’ (‘Compulsively readable and beautifully told, Amanda Reynolds delves expertly beneath the surface of human relations in this compulsive thriller’ – Kate Hamer) was published in summer 2018 and has been in both the iTunes and Kobo fiction charts.
Her highly anticipated third book ‘The Hidden Wife’ will be published in summer 2019.
Amanda lives with her family and dog in the Cotswolds.

Twitter: @amandareynoldsj

What I'm looking for

This year’s chosen theme Numbers can be interpreted in any way you like and I would urge you to let your imagination take you in new and unexpected directions. Look beyond your immediate response and think again, then again, to the real meaning for you, because when we as writers put real emotions on the page, with honesty, that’s when our writing resonates with readers.
It will be a new experience for me, reading and judging the work of others. It’s such an honour, and surreal as for so many years I was the one submitting my stories and novels, waiting anxiously for replies and hoping someone would please say yes. I know how that feels and how much bravery it takes to send your writing out, but it’s such good practice for when you do get that yes. Believe me, the rejections and critiques don’t stop post-publication so it’s best to develop a thick hide! Every rejection should strengthen your resolve, every comment taken in the spirit it’s given, to help you develop and grow as a writer. Tenacity really is the key, so I urge you to give it a go, and I cannot wait to read your entries.
I will be looking for originality, but that doesn’t necessarily mean high stakes or drama. It may do, I love a good twist, but twists that sacrifice character or credibility are an immediate turn-off for me. I want the characters to feel real, and for the duration of the story that I am living their lives, seeing their world through their eyes. It might be a glorious technicolour land transporting me somewhere I’ve never been, or it might be a quiet reflective place, perhaps quite ordinary, but affecting and tangible. Maybe they will lead extraordinary lives, or maybe their ordinariness will draw me to them. Every character should talk to me and although you may only offer me a scant description, I should be able to see them in my mind’s-eye.
Plots should be well-structured with a punchy start, a focussed middle and a satisfying end. That doesn’t mean everything is tied-up with a neat bow, but that I am happy to leave them there, maybe wondering what they might do next, but not irritated by unanswered questions. And if there’s a twist, make sure it feels like I should have known all along and was an idiot for not spotting it before! The best twists are the ones that make you go back and read again and say, ‘Ah yes, I should have realised!’, but you didn’t.
Above all this, and I think this is the most important point of all, I’m looking for Voice. That esoteric quality of writing that tells me right from the first line I’m in safe hands and I’m going to love reading your story.
Best of luck and thanks so much for taking part, it’s a real honour to read your work.