2017 Competition Winners
2017's National Creative Writing Competition was devoted to a theme of 'Memory'.
National Memory Day is part of Dementia Action Week and a celebration of the power of poetry for those with and affected by dementia. It is the creation of a partnership of Literature Works, Alzheimer’s Society and The Poetry Archive.
The national writing competition in 2017 had four categories: Best Poem £4,000 (sponsored by the National Memory Day Project Partnership and judged by Sir Andrew Motion); Best Short Story £4,000 (sponsored by Literature Works); Best Young Writer £2,000 (sponsored by the University of Plymouth), and; Primary Carer Voice £2,000 (sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Society). Information about the 2017 winners together with the winning entries can be found below.
The 2017 winners were:
- Best Poem: Judy O’Kane, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, ‘The Fig Tree’
- Best Short Story: Angelita Bradney, Beckenham, Kent, ‘All That Water Must Be Unimaginably Heavy’
- Best Young Writer: Emily Breeds, Swindon, Wiltshire, ‘Overthinker’
- Primary Carer Voice: Sarah Veness, East Hunsbury, Northants, ‘The Inner Song’
Highly Commended were:
- Best Poem: Janet Lees, Douglas, Isle of Man, ‘Dunwich, 1973 & Sharon Black, Languedoc-Roussilon, France,’Letter Home, 1920’
- Best Short Story: Robin James Ganderton, Torfean, Wales, ‘You’re Here Because the Daffodils Have Failed’
- Best Young Writer: Caitlin Corcoran, Maidenhead, Berks, ‘The Memory Thief’
- Best Primary Carer Voice: Donna McLuskie, Coton, Cambs.,’For All Time’.
Sponsored by National Memory Day Project Partnership
The Fig Tree by Judy O' Kane
Sir Andrew Motion, former Poet Laureate and Founder of The Poetry Archive and judge of the Best Poem Category, commented:
‘I chose ‘The Fig Tree’ as the winning poem amongst a very good shortlist because it combines vigilant looking with generous feeling, and allows each to benefit the other.’
Judy said “This prize is incredibly meaningful to me. ‘The Fig Tree’ is my response to ideas of exile and belonging as well as the importance of family. I am thrilled to be associated with the hugely important work done by National Memory Day, and its increasing urgency.”
Judy is an Irish writer living in London Bridge. She trained at Ballymaloe Cookery Course in Cork on sabbatical form legal partnership, and worked the 2009 harvest in Bordeaux. Her work is an exploration of terroir, wine’s sense of place, and is alive to questions of where we are from, where we make our home, where we can survive.
Judy’s poetry is published in The World of Fine Wine (UK), Landfall (New Zealand) and is on display as part of Poems on the Move at Guernsey Literary Festival 2017. She won the Listowel Writers’ Week Original Poem Prize in 2015 and the Irish Post Listowel Writers’ Week Prize 2017. She is reading from her work on terroir at Ballymaloe LitFest in May 2017.
‘Thirst’, her non-fiction work-in-progress, was shortlisted for the Tony Lothian Award for 2016 for best proposal for an uncommissioned first biography. The judges described the work as ‘a quest in many registers, and a celebration of the mystery of wine. Written with verve and insight, it’s a very modern form of memoir, and one that leads its readers into many different worlds along the way.’
Judy holds an LL.B from Trinity College Dublin, and an MA in Life Writing from UEA, where she is completing a PhD. She teaches advocacy at the Law Society of Ireland. Twitter @judeokane
Best Short Story
Sponsored by Literature Works
All That Water Must Be Unimaginably Heavy by Angelita Bradney
Cathy Galvin, Director of The Word Factory and Co-Founder of The Sunday Times EFG Short Story Prize, commented:
“Angelita’s writing is clear, cold, seemingly dispassionate, taking us to the heart of trauma and its effects on memory, leaving the reader with the spaces to wonder what we and history may also choose to forget. This is superb writing: both imaginatively rich and confidently spare in crafting.”
Angelita said “I was thrilled to find I had won the prize for best short story. I found the theme of ‘memory’ intriguing and inspiring to write about. It is also lovely to support Memory Cafes which will use poetry to help those with dementia and memory loss- something that will have touched people close to many of us.”
Angelita Bradney’s short stories have been performed by Liars’ League and published by Litro, and will appear in forthcoming anthologies by Alerion Books and Stories for Homes. She has been shortlisted in several competitions including the Fish Prize, Shooter Literary Magazine and Writers’ Forum. She lives in London and tween at @AngelBradn
Best Young Writer
Sponsored by University of Plymouth
Overthinker by Emily Breeds
Jamie Edgecombe, Writer-in-Residence at the University of Plymouth, commented: “What amazed me about the young people who entered this competition was their maturity and insight. Some explored their own memories, while others the memories of those closest to them. In the end, I felt compelled to choose ‘Overthinker’ by Emily Breeds as the overall winner. The state of mind evoked, that of anxiety of what will and will not be remembered, well expresses the slippery nature of memory.”
Emily said “I got the email whilst studying in the school library and couldn’t stop smiling! I’m so grateful to have won, as the poem is very personal to me and came from the heart.”
Emily Breeds is 18 years old and lives in Wiltshire. She is studying Biology, Chemistry and English Literature at A Level and hopes to study English at university.
Emily has been writing her whole life but only started writing poetry last year in the summer after GCSEs and AS levels, the catalyst being told to simply ‘write’ by George the Poet at Cheltenham Literature Festival. Subsequently, she hasn’t stopped writing and has since been inspired by Savannah Brown and Simon Armitage. She decided to enter her first competition on a whim, and discovered poetry was amazing. Since then she has won the Foyle Young Poets of the Year award and the Young Poets Network’s Winter Poetry Challenge. These competitions built her confidence as a writer, inspired her and opened many doors. Emily is incredibly proud to have won the National Memory Day Writing Competition as it’s not only in aid of a wonderful cause but will be an essential stepping stone in her budding career as a writer. She hopes to be a playwright or screenwriter in the future.
Best Primary Carer Voice
Sponsored by Alzheimer’s Society
The Inner Voice by Sarah Veness
Best Primary Carer Voice was judged by Keith Oliver, former head teacher and Ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society and who has dementia. Keith said “I really liked the say the author has tackled the subject, the way she introduced and developed the richness of the characters, the twists in the story. I liked the intergenerational aspect. I could clearly picture the scenes and interaction between the characters. I thought it was realistic in its portrayal of Freda and her dementia without slipping into the negative traps which writers often do.”
Sarah said: “I feel humbled and amazed to have won this competition. I have been to Memory Cafes as a participant, a carer and a speaker and have found them a wonderful way of supporting people at the grass roots level. I hope I can help build bridges of understanding through my storytelling.”
Sarah Veness is a writer who is motivated by her own life events to encourage and inform people about dementia and memory issues. Inspired by the National Memory Day Creative Writing competition, Sarah is in the process of writing her first book, an anthology of short stories and poems based around the theme of memory. As someone who cares for a friend with Early Onset Alzheimer’s and also lives with memory loss herself, she hopes she can express the viewpoint of carers and those in a similar position to her own.
She has trained as a Dementia Champion and runs a reminiscence group to affirm people’s memories, called ‘I Remember It Well’ and gives talks on how to make memory books and boxes.
Best Poem (Equal Commendation)
Dunwich, 1973 by Janet Lees
Janet Lees commented: “I’m extremely happy and honoured to have my poem singled out for commendation by Sir Andrew Motion. I am particularly pleased to have a poem selected in this competition because the competition supports such an important cause. I’m also very happy that this poem has found a home in the world, because it recalls my relationship with my grandfather, who was my all-time hero and will live in my heart forever.”
Janet Lees is a poet and artist based in the Isle of Man. Her poetry has been published in journals including Lighthouse, Magma, Poetry News and The Missing Slate. She has been widely anthologised, most recently in the Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual and the Templar anthology, and won prizes in many competitions. Her poetry films have been selected for a wide range of international competitions and festivals, including Filmpoem and the Aesthetica Art Prize. Janet gained a BA Hons in Creative Arts many years ago, and more recently studied for a Creative Writing MA at Lancaster University, graduating with distinction in 2013.
Best Poem (Equal Commendation)
Letter Home, 1920 by Sharon Black
Sharon Black commented: “I am absolutely delighted to have been highly commended in this competition – partly because the judge was Sir Andrew Motion, whose poetic opinion I respect enormously, and partly because I support and admire the initiative that is National Memory Day. I’m acutely aware of the role memory plays in one’s personality and in one’s sense of self, and I think poetry and the other arts can play an important part in helping to ‘jog’ old memories into being. My poem was written in the voice of an imagined herring girl from the Scottish Hebrides, and in imagining her travels following the fleets down the country, I was painfully aware of how it can feel to be away from one’s home and one’s language, which in a way is like being away from oneself: our ability to speak and to write and to have experiences in common with others, is implicitly bound up with how we relate to the outside world, and to our sense of who we are as individuals. Which is what can make dementia and other memory problems so hard to bear.”
Sharon Black is originally from Glasgow where she worked as a journalist but now lives in the Cevennes mountains of Southern France where she runs a retreat centre and organises writing retreats (www.abricreativewriting.com). She once spent a year in rural Japan. Her poetry has been published widely. In 2017 she won the Poets & Players Competition and in 2016 the Silver Wyvern Prize (Poetry on the Lake). Her first collection, To Know Bedrock, was published in 2011 (Pindrop Press). Her second, The Art of Egg, appeared in 2015 (Two Ravens Press). www.sharonblack.co.uk
Best Short Story
You’re Here Because the Daffodils Have Failed by Robin James Ganderton
Robin, who is from Torfean in Wales, commented: “I’m delighted for my piece to be the only one in this category selected for special commendation, particularly considering the worthiness of the cause and the huge number of entries.”
Robin Ganderton has won the PEN Cymru New Voices Award and the Terry Hetherington Award, and been shortlisted for the Wasafiri New Writing Prize and the Hippocrates International Poetry Prize, among many others. He is currently reading for an MSc in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford and will feature at this year’s Hay Festival.
Best Young Writer
The Memory Thief by Caitlin Corcoran
Caitlin, who lives in Maidenhead, Berks, commented “I am blown away to have my piece highly commended. As a writer, to have a piece validated to this extent is all you can ever wish for, and has shown me I am on the right path. “
Caitlin told us further “Both sides of my family are highly intelligent and creative, this has nurtured my love and ability to write well. From a young age I would always write letters to both my Great Granny Rita and Granny Ann, thus my writing was driven forward. I have always loved literature and would sit with my mum whilst she read the texts for her literature degree, and read my own books about chocolate factories and marvellous medicines.
In September I will be embarking on a Creative Writing degree at Falmouth University, and hope to continue past that into a career within writing, whichever path that may be.
My poem was in the memory of my Great Aunt Fan who died as a result of Alzheimer’s. I would like to thank National Memory Day for bringing attention to the disease, together we can beat it. “
Best Primary Carer Voice
For All Time by Donna Mcluskie
Donna commented: `For All Time` means a great deal to me. This time two years ago my mother suddenly became the full-time carer of my father, when his health deteriorated. She has since borne this huge, additional responsibility despite being in her late 80`s. There was an opportunity for my father to be taken into a care home but Mum decided against it. At the time, I really couldn`t understand why she did not want this help but now that I have written through my entirely fictional story `For All Time`, which parallels my parents` experience through different characters, setting and lifestyle routine, I feel a great deal more empathy for my parents` situation.
I was also able to draw from very close experience with an elderly man who had Alzheimer`s. I got to know him during the last year of his life and would visit him weekly to build up information needed to write his biography. Sometimes I cared for him on days out or a weekend away.
Unfortunately, he died before this research work could be completed but I know that my visits greatly enhanced that final year of his life. Every week I would bring along one of his many friends to help jar his memory and celebrate their adventures together. Over that year, they sang wartime songs together, laughed, cried, joked and shared photographs. Sometimes he remembered things he thought were lost forever and it was a joy to experience those moments with him.
My parents and friend have inspired me to find a carer`s voice to share my understanding of a complex health condition and the nuances of how it impacts all involved. “
Donna, who lives in Coton, Cambridgeshire, leads a portfolio lifestyle in order to find time and means to work on her novel-in-progress, which is a modern saga. Last year she was funded by the British Council and Arts Council England to make two short research trips to Iceland, where her novel is set.
Donna also teaches creative writing to primary school and sixth form students, writes features for a specialist sports magazine and works as kitchen assistant in a vegan café. Donna has three teenage sons. She aims to finish her novel this year so that she can start writing the sequel.
All funds raised by the Creative Writing Competition will go towards supporting the National Memory Day project, including placing Poets-in-Residence in Memory Cafes around the UK to work with people living with memory loss. This project is delivered in partnership with Literature Works, the Alzheimer’s Society and the Poetry Archive.
The Competition received over 1,300 entries from across the UK, Ireland, Europe, USA, China, Japan and Australia in 2017.
2017’s competition invited entries from people of any age, writing in English to share poems and short stories that evoked the theme of MEMORIES.