The School of Arts at the University of Leicester runs an annual Joe Orton Creative Writing competition that invites A-Level students to write an Edna Welthorpe letter. 'Edna Welthorpe' was the persona that Orton invented to embody the values he abjured - a middle-class, middlebrow, conservative. Through Edna's letters of complaint (or praise), Orton mocks social and sexual convention.
The Joe Orton Creative Writing Competition is funded by a kind donation from Dame Vivienne Westwood. It runs annually. The deadline for entries next year is 30 June 2021.
You can read the winning and runner-up letters, by Emmy Warr and Josie Thornton respectively, here.
Below, Emmy and Josie talk about their writing processes, their experiences of writing Edna Welthorpe letters, and their success in the Joe Orton Creative Writing Competition 2020. Congratulations to both of them!
By Emmy Warr (winner)
I first heard about the Joe Orton competition through an email from my English teacher, and was immediately drawn to the humorous elements of the character of Edna Welthorpe.
I’ve always enjoyed Creative Writing and reading satirical pieces, so it was great to have the opportunity to merge the two, as normal school curriculum doesn’t often allow for this kind of comedic writing. I was also drawn to the social commentary aspect of the letters in Edna Welthorpe’s caricatured presentation of social conservatism, which lightheartedly explores the clash between the modern world and outdated viewpoints.
When it came to my own letter I tried to include these features to best capture the voice of Edna, choosing the subject matter of women’s clothing because it allowed for me to explore generational conflicts on a smaller scale. I also tried to replicate her pomposity and exaggerated outrage to reflect the caricatured nature of Orton’s letters, and the contrast between the mundane content and hyperbolic tone of the writing that is a key feature in his original Edna Welthorpe letters. It was great fun to write in the voice of such an over-the-top character.
Overall I think entering the competition gave me a great outlet to explore satirical writing and an opportunity to discover a hilarious and entertaining character. I was delighted to win and have a new-found confidence in my Creative Writing.
By Josie Thornton (runner-up)
For me, the appeal of Creative Writing is the experience of immersing myself in somebody else’s thoughts. It’s great to explore how people can have such different perspectives on the world that we live in, and it’s interesting to adapt my style of writing to suit each specific voice. Edna Welthorpe is certainly a strong and defined persona. Before I began to write my piece, I read through some of Joe Orton’s original Edna letters, to look at the different issues he was addressing, and also to explore exactly how Orton engineered Edna's distinctly priggish tone. The letters made me smile, and I couldn’t help but hear Edna’s shrill, disapproving voice, dripping with superiority. I could see her tapping away at her typewriter, peering over her glasses, rather pleased with herself as she signed her name, Edna Welthorpe, and of course not to forget the (Mrs), which in itself seemed to speak volumes about her traditional character.
I decided that my letter was going to be addressed to a grocery delivery service, since at the time when I was writing, towards the beginning of the national lockdown, society was going crazy for stockpiling and booking delivery slots for weeks in advance. I imagined that Edna Welthorpe would get caught up in this flurry of panic-buying, and felt certain that even despite the extreme and trying circumstances, she would still feel the need to voice her concerns, oblivious to the fact that Ocado might have more pressing worries to address than defrosting dauphinoise, during a time of national crisis.
I’ve loved having a go at imitating Orton’s style, and feel especially proud to celebrate his work since he is from my hometown of Leicester.