Open Call for Applications for: ‘New Narratives for the North East’ Commissions Programme

Posted by

What role might writers have in helping to shape the future of the North East? Our new ambitious commissioning project seeks to find out. In early 2020, we will commission at least twelve new pieces of work from writers who live and work in the North.

We are asking writers to look beyond the flux and rhetoric of the current moment to explore how the contemporary North East ticks; to consider the heritage of our region; and to inspire us with new ideas about what its future story might be.

With each piece of original writing, we want to get under the skin of the region. We’ll be commissioning broadly across the forms of creative non-fiction, documentary reportage, fiction, poetry, verbatim accounts, and personal memoir to find new narratives for the North East.


We need new stories

We are living in a moment when many people feel uncertain about their personal and collective futures. The result of the European Referendum and the ensuing political fallout presents an uncertain future for the whole country but especially for the North East, vulnerable due to our balance of trade and our economic inequality and located as we are between a resurgent Scotland and the vibrant cultural and economic powerhouse of the South.

Historian Robert Colls said that, ‘the North is one of the great English stories’ and that “‘northerness’ is a fiction, but it is a truthful fiction’. We believe that in order to thrive we need strong narratives and stories which help shape our collective imagination.  We believe that the North East needs new narratives to tell its story and to help shape its future.

This project will take place at a point in time when change is happening fast.

Big, urgent questions need to be asked about what role our region, built on coal and formed in the heat of the industrial revolution, has to play in a greener future.

And with the North East still on the receiving end of entrenched inequality there are parallels with the 1930s when the writers JB Priestley and George Orwell travelled here to document the landscape and its people and to ask questions about the future.


What we’re looking for

At a time when the North East is questioning its political and regional identity, we want to draw in voices that have not yet been heard clearly enough in our North East story: BAME voices, LGBTQ+ voices, working class voices, disabled voices and female voices.

We want to celebrate our regional distinctiveness: how the landscape and our proximity to the sea and to natural power has shaped our past and will inform our future.

Through the commissions we aspire to tell fresh stories about our region’s connections to other cultures and to draw out the complex and diverse narratives that are threaded through the region. We want to celebrate and spotlight the contribution of people to making this place.


Commission opportunity

We will aim to commission work in a variety of forms that will work on the page and which can be published in a book and are therefore happy to consider fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, essays, journalism and work made digitally. For this project we are unable to support theatre or radio plays, or any other form of work that requires extra production resources to be fully achieved.

Each commission has an inclusive fee of £2,000. The fee is expected to cover all costs related to the research, delivery and promotion of the creative work.

The work produced must be original and be made specifically for this project, however if it builds on an existing body of work or ideas we are happy to consider that too.


Everyday Innovation commission

At least one of our commissions will be themed around innovation in the region, made in partnership with the North East Local Enterprise Partnership. Through this commission we’re interested in exploring the language used to understand and describe innovation in the culture of the North East, in order to inform a new narrative that fits our local experience. Find out more about the Everyday Innovation commission.


Young Writers commissions

In addition to the adult commissions we will make available two Young Writers Commissions that will ask 12-18-year-olds to write about the region from their perspectives. There is a separate brief and application form for young people. Find out more about the Young Writers’ commissions and apply here.


How the work will be promoted and used

We aspire to imaginatively engage business and civic leaders and the general public with this work. To support this ambition, work will be shared with and used by partners across the North East Culture Partnership and beyond to help influence how others think and talk about the future of the region. We want the work that we commission to be original and to provoke debate and new thinking across different sectors and interest groups.

By accepting a commission, the writer will agree to their work being used online, recorded as part of a podcast series, and published as part of a publication. We will look to place recordings, interviews and publication of the commissions in regional and national media. Work will be presented across the region at public events such as Durham Book Festival and we will work with partners across the region to stage events where work from the project can be shared with audiences.


Selection criteria

Applicants need to live and work in the North of England; or be able to demonstrate why their skills and experience position them as an exceptional candidate for the work. If not resident in the region, applicants will need to demonstrate significant recent engagement with the region to underpin their application.

Work can be of variable lengths depending on the chosen form, though we do not expect pieces to be longer than 3,000 words in total.

Applicants are asked to respond to the following locations: Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, County Durham and the Tees Valley, including specific areas within those locations, or to create work that explores a universal North East experience, idea or theme.


How to apply

Application is by the submission of a 750-word statement about the new work that you would like to create, a 500-word summary of why you’d like to tell this story now, along with a 250-word biography of your writing achievements and a sample of your work which should not be longer than 1,000 words. Applications are to be made online only here.



Please note, as on Monday 20 January, we have extended the deadline until the end of day, Friday 24 January 2020. The commissions will be offered and contracted in February and the deadline for the delivery will be 30 April 2020. Events associated with the project are likely to take place across the year. The expected publication of the book in spring 2021 may also have associated promotional events.



A decision-making panel made up of representatives from the North East Culture Partnership’s staff and partners and New Writing North will make the final decisions on which commissions to offer. We will ensure that the breadth of work that is commissioned covers a wide diversity of location, ethnicity, age, gender and lived experience alongside regional geographical representation in the content of the creative work itself.


Queries about making an application

Queries about applications can be made to [email protected]. Please note that staff members associated with this project are on leave during December and that the NWN office will be closed over the Christmas and New Year period. We will endeavour to answer queries as quickly as we can in the New Year.



This project is created by New Writing North for the North East Culture Partnership and is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Durham Book Festival (which is supported by Durham County Council, Arts Council and Durham University), by Arts Council England and by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.