Friday 8 September 2023

Joe Orton Creative Writing Competition 2023: The Results

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 - middle-class, middlebrow, conservative. Through Edna's letters of complaint (or praise), Orton mocks social and sexual convention. 

The annual Joe Orton Creative Writing Competition is funded by a kind donation from Dame Vivienne Westwood.

You can read this year's two winning letters, by Hazel Morpurgo and Amelie Houseago, and the runner-up letter, by Chloe Howe, here

Below, Hazel Morpurgo talks about her writing processes, her experience of writing Edna Welthorpe (Mrs) letters, and her success in the Joe Orton Creative Writing Competition 2023. Congratulations to all the winners, and thanks to all the entrants! 

By Hazel Morpurgo

I first came across Joe Orton through A-Level English, in which we studied his 1965 play Loot. I learned about the Edna Welthorpe letters in his biography, Prick Up Your Ears, and found the concept of spoof letters hilarious, especially when I discovered that Edna had a counterpart: the endlessly congratulatory Donald H. Hartley, also constructed by Orton. The pair would even argue about Orton’s plays in newspaper review columns! I was already an Edna enthusiast, therefore, when my English teacher recommended this competition to the class.

Given my own participation in Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future, I wanted to provide a comedic account of the petty individualism which prevents many people from engaging with the important issues these movements represent. Through the prominent roles cooking, frying and charring play in this short narrative, I provide an allegory of climate change, a theme which I tried to make implicit further in the name I originally gave to my Edna Welthorpe, 'Constance Mundham,' which I derived from the Latin expression 'contra mundum.' I thought this phrase appropriate because it crops up regularly in Joe Orton’s defiant diary entries, and also because its literal meaning – ‘against the world’ – seemed to fit my character in every sense: against everyone around her and, in her inability to comprehend bigger issues than her cookery class, against the planet.

I really enjoyed using my knowledge of Orton’s style, which I had gathered from English lessons, and applying it to my own Edna Welthorpe letter. Writing the piece towards the end of studying Loot, the Edna Welthorpe competition was the ideal way to round everything up, channelling my various impressions of his work into this entry.

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