Sorry it’s taken to long to announce the winners of my Antiviral Writing Competition but I was the victim of the competition’s success – nearly 60 entries, all of which I had to read properly, and some of them many times! I fairly quickly created shortlists of each of the two age categories but from that point it became difficult. Really difficult!
I know lots of people are going to be disappointed. I hate this bit. So many writers worked hard and made me smile or cry or think deeply. Really, thank you all so much for your hard work and I hope you will ALL keep your pieces of writing and read them in years to come. Please don’t be disheartened if you weren’t picked this time. I’d hate to think any of you stopped writing – it’s a powerful tool for your lives and mental health. And if you keep trying, one day you could win a competition!
Before I announce my decisions:
A) This is all my personal opinion
If someone else had been judging, there might have been some different results, though I’m certain that all the writers mentioned would still have been mentioned, just not necessarily in exactly the same order. That’s just one of those things about writing, whether fiction or non-fiction: every reader is different. Of course, as a writer and a former English teacher, I do also have some technical knowledge about what is right or wrong, and I think I know as well as anyone how to try to be open-minded, objective and lateral in my thinking, but it is still just my opinion. So those who didn’t gain a mention or win a prize should NOT give up. Keep writing, please! You should be writing for yourself first – let other people’s approval come later.
B) I was hugely impressed!
What I most liked was that in almost every entry the joy of writing and creativity shone through. This was 100% what I wanted and why I created the competition – that and hoping that the act of writing about lockdown would make a valuable personal record for your future. Any adult who doubts the writing abilities of today’s young people should stop doubting right now. There were many really excellent pieces and many very promising writers. Some I am certain will become published writers if they want to be.
Older age category (15-18)
The outstanding winner was Cordelia (15), from Stoke Newington School and 6th Form College. Cordelia’s piece was stunningly original, bold and moving, a “love story” in which a person in a desperate mental state, in some kind of temporary hospital/rehab place/hostel, loves the bed, which is being taken away because the person has to leave the place of refuge and go back to sleeping in a bus shelter. The language is intense and deliberately confusing, as we are supposed to see the world through the disturbed and distressed eyes of the person themselves. I had to read it several times but I was more than happy to because each reading brought more meaning. Cordelia leaves a lot unsaid, which is a clever trick, making the reader work hard to enter the mind of the character and understand them properly. Not only were the language and the idea wonderful but also Cordelia had decorated the piece with incredible visual artwork. I’m not able to judge artwork but I thought this looked extremely mature and intense. Enormous congratulations for a brilliant piece of creation, Cordelia!
Equal runners-up were Thorne (17) from Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys and 18yo Sammy from Tunbridge Wells Girls’ Grammar.
Thorne wrote an emotional and yet excellently controlled story. Despite the fact that he only had 500 words he was able to weave two separate stories together, both with intense emotional power, two love stories in one piece. And the plot is so subtly and cleverly created that you can read it without even knowing the twist but the twist is excellent and satisfying when you realise! (Confession time: I missed it at first!)
I really liked Sammy’s poem “For you”. It reminded me of something – I don’t know what – but there was a lyrical, gentle, thoughtful quality and it would make a beautiful song. It was an optimistic piece but avoided big statements and just focused on the small intense feelings of two people in love.
- Gemma (16) from Balcarras School, whose very emotional story only just missed out on a prize . Again, I liked the fact that she didn’t feel the need to tell us everything kept things either unsaid or hinted at. Nice writing!
- Ella (15) St Leonards School – story told in diary form, well paced and with a twist. I’m always impressed when a young writer can tell a strong story in under 500 words without it sounding squashed or rushed.
Well done, Cordelia, Thorne and Sammy, as well as Gemma and Ella!
Younger age category (11-14)
This was difficult! It was a bigger entry than the older category, predictably, and I simply was not able to choose between the first two or the two runners-up.
Joint first prizes go to Holly (12) and Caitlin (14) both from Tunbridge Wells Girls Grammar School! Both Holly and Caitlin’s pieces were perfect examples of the short story form, with excellent structure and pacing. In both cases the language was powerful but not over-laden with adjectives. (Young writers often pile on the adjectives or “WOW” words (yuck) but it’s almost always better to be really selective, as they both were.) Holly’s story had several strands and characters – different people in different situations but all loving someone and dealing with coronavirus. It made me feel I was flying above a small town and seeing into the lives of people in it. Caitlin’s was a first-person story from the viewpoint of an NHS worker who lives alone and there was a nice, understated but uplifting ending. Beautiful writing, Holly and Caitlin!
And joint runners-up were Henry (12) from Woolmer Hill School and Martha (14) from Rossett School. Both had chosen the ‘Caring for Corona’ category, where they had to write to someone to help, advise or comfort them through the anxiety of this time. Both did it beautifully! Henry wrote a funny, sensitive piece to a friend just out of intensive care with coronavirus and tries to give him hope. Henry shows real empathy, drawing on an experience he’s had (I think not in real life but it feels real) to give his friend hope. Lots of emotion and characterisation in it, too. Martha takes a more ‘real life’ and practical approach, rather than creating something more fictional, and her advice is very sensitive, strong and wise. Both Martha and Henry sound like good friends to have!
Congratulations to Holly, Caitlin, Henry and Martha! I hope you’ll all use your writing skills throughout your lives!
Highly Commended younger writers
There were bits of lovely writing in ALL these:
- Milo (13) Epsom College – I really enjoyed this original idea of a new love between school and teenagers! Powerful language, too.
- Theo (12) Epsom College – Wonderful idea to show Boris Johnson looking back on his performance during the crisis and finding himself lacking!
- Keya (11) St Helen’s School – Exceptionally mature piece of discursive writing; excellent vocabulary and sentence structure.
- Ellie (14) Swanwick Hall School – a poignant account of her feelings and experiences during lockdown; the strong writing and observation made it feel very true.
- Mahzabin (13) Tunbridge Wells Girls Grammar School – some truly beautiful and powerful writing in this letter.
- Charlie (14) Epsom College – a story with real emotional power.
- Anna (12) George Heriot’s School – I loved the idea of writing from the moon!
- Sophie (13) Epsom College – another original idea from Epsom College: this time, a letter from a dog to another dog!
- Anna (13) Epsom College – nicely captures a happy day during the pandemic.
- Hannah (12) Balcarras school – a lovely story about a cat forcing his friendship on a lonely old woman during lockdown.
- Yasmin (13) Broughton High School – a positive poem with a great rap beat.
- Kirsten (13) Broughton High School – a short but neat poem with a simple and important message.
- Amanda (14) George Watson’s College – a very insightful and clearly written explanation and words of advice about anxiety and emotions during tough times.
- Will (14) Epsom College – good vocabulary choice and some impressive phrases.
LOTS of the others also had great elements to the writing. Not being mentioned here does NOT mean you can’t write really well! Please keep writing.
This was also very hard. I had to choose two schools and I’d said “These two schools would either be chosen because they’d entered the most entries or the best overall standard or something else that stands out for me and makes me feel they did the best job as schools.”
After weighing up all the schools, thinking about how many entries they had and what the overall standard was, the two winning schools, which will both be offered a free visit from me, are:
- Tunbridge Wells Girls Grammar School – This school is a winner for the incredible overall standard of the entries, as well as the fact that they won three of the seven individual prizes. I was struck by both the writing competence and the creative originality of all their entries, even the ones not mentioned on the Highly Commended list. I’m pretty sure that they not only have an inspiring English department but also, perhaps even more important, they are a keen reading school. You can’t be a good writer without being a reader.
- Epsom College – This school is a winner because not only did a lot of students enter (the biggest number of any school, with Tunbridge Wells Girls second) but their ideas were genuinely original and interesting. Sparky! So, although they didn’t produce one of the individual winning entries, as a team they were so strong and had so many Highly Commendeds.
Both schools will also win a selection of books from my publishers, Hachette Children’s Group and Walker Books.
All the winners and runners-up should have received an email from me to the person who sent each entry. Don’t forget to let me know your prize choices!
Most of all, keep writing, keep reading and thank you so much for joining in. We are all in this together.