An Acre of Stories
A competition for new writers based in Norfolk to write a new work for the stage
Applications for this competition have now closed. 

Norwich charity Colton’s Acre Trust, in association with the National Centre for Writing and the Young Norfolk Arts Trust, are excited to announce a competition for new writers based in Norfolk.

The competition is called An Acre of Stories and the inspiration is the life of John Colton, fifteenth-century Norwich merchant and founder of the Colton’s Acre Trust.

Four writers will each receive a bursary of £1000 to write a new work for the stage. The writers will be mentored through the development process by Steve Waters, playwright, screenwriter, and Professor of Scriptwriting at the University of East Anglia.

The completed work will be staged by a professional cast at Norwich Arts Centre in November 2022. These performances will be open to the public and it will be an amazing opportunity to promote the new work and make contacts in the local creative community.


The starting point for An Acre of Stories is the tale of John Colton. However, we’re not looking for a period drama or re-staging of Colton’s life – his story is simply the spark.

Your interpretation can be contemporary, personal, based in fact or entirely fictitious, using John Colton as your inspiration. It might be the broad themes of his story that stir your imagination; or you might find inspiration in the detail.

The work can be a play, monologue, even a musical – there’s no restriction on format or genre as long as the piece can be performed live by a cast of no more than three, and lasts no longer than 15 minutes.

John Colton – his life and work

The story of Colton’s Acre begins on a winter night in the 1450s. John Colton is a Norwich merchant living in the parish of St Giles. He is making his way home across the Heigham marshes beyond St Giles’ Gate when a storm blows up. He begins to panic as he becomes completely disorientated until, out of the night, he hears the curfew bell of St Giles’ church in the distance. He is saved.

John makes his will in 1457: there are provisions for his body to be buried in St Giles’ church, masses to be said for his soul, and the purchase of one acre of land in Heigham to cover the cost of the curfew bell to be rung every night forever.

The city that John knew was the second largest in England, wealthy from the wool business, weaving, and connections in a multitude of trades across the continent from its port at Great Yarmouth. The bells of more than fifty churches competed with the roars of carters in the narrow streets, the cries of market traders and the constant clickety-clack of thousands of looms in the upper rooms of the close-packed wooden houses.

The turmoil of daily city life was, in John Colton’s time, matched by a national civil war – the Wars of the Roses – that saw local breakdowns of law and order about which his contemporary Margaret Paston famously wrote: constant struggles to keep property and business interests in family hands as magnates fought savagely and constantly litigated for advantage.

As a boy in the city, John would have witnessed the so-called Gladman Rising of 1443 when street violence erupted as part of an even older history: competition between the civil authorities and the powers of the church centred on the Priory next to the cathedral. Kett’s Rebellion one hundred years later showed again that Norwich was never slow to a fight.

One constant in these troubles was that John Colton, like all his contemporaries, had care of his soul in the dread of eternal suffering. The centre of his prayers and worship was his church, St Giles. He lived in a time of lush piety when churches all over England, and particularly in Norfolk, were being built or renewed; the cults of Our Lady and the Wounds of Christ were celebrated extravagantly; and there was galloping inflation in the value of the church’s power to reduce a person’s time in purgatory by the issue of ‘indulgences’. John died in 1497.

It is surely remarkable that down the centuries his church makes good on the promise to ring the curfew bell every night. Colton’s Acre, the land that was bought to fund this service, is marked to this day by the houses that the trustees built on Earlham Road opposite the Mitre Café: Curfew Terrace.

And remarkable, too, that the interest on the money that John bequeathed in the middle of the fifteenth century continues to find new expressions of his devotion, not least in this competition.

Written and researched by John Harben

How to enter

The competition is open to unpublished writers aged 18+ who live or work in Norfolk. Writers should have no previous stage commissions or professional credits in theatre or live performance.

To enter, please submit the following:

  • CV
  • writing sample (maximum 1 page)
  • short proposal about how you intend to interpret the brief for An Acre of Stories (maximum 100 words)

Email your application to: [email protected]

The closing date for applications is 6pm on Friday 6th May.

Terms and conditions

By applying for the bursary you agree to the following:

1. If selected, you (‘the writer’) will develop and deliver an original 15 minute stage work (‘the work’) to a schedule set by the Colton’s Acre Trust (‘the producer’) and detailed in clause 7 below

2. The work must be entirely original and you must be its sole author

3. The work must be suitable for live performance by a cast of no more than three

4. The work must be in English

5. The writer grants the producer the exclusive right to stage two public performances of the work, following which all rights in and to the work will revert to the writer

6. Any profit arising from the performances described in clause 5 will be reallocated at the discretion of the producer

7. Schedule for development and delivery of the work will be as follows:

(i) Writer will submit a 1-page outline of their intended work no less than three weeks after they have been notified of their successful selection

(ii) Following feedback on the outline from the project’s mentor, writer will deliver a first draft of the work no less than 6 weeks later

(iii) Following feedback on the first draft from the project’s mentor, writer will deliver a second draft of the work no less than 6 weeks later

8. Producer will pay writer a bursary of £1000 in two instalments as follows:

(i) £500 on successful selection for the competition

(ii) £500 on delivery of the first draft of the script

This agreement does not constitute a contract of employment between producer and writer

9. Competition winners will be notified no more than four weeks after the closing date of the competition

10. Producer is unable to respond to individual correspondence about the competition and these terms represent the entirety of the agreement between producer and writer

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