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Young Writers’ Festival 2019

by on 12 March 2019

Recognising the Future of Culture

Young Writers’ Festival 2019

Art Richmond at The Exchange, Twickenham, 10th March 2019

Review by Eleanor Lewis

It’s always a pleasure to see emerging writers receiving recognition for the work they have produced. Few things are more encouraging than the validation that comes with a prize. At the Young Writer’s Festival, there is the additional joy of seeing the work in question professionally performed, putting the skill and talent in each piece on show for all to see.

The Festival follows a set structure, which had been slightly tweaked this year to provide a break between the younger and older writers during which they could talk about their work a little, and the actors presenting it could share how they felt about each piece.

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The performance of the work by three professional actors is an inspired part of this prize-giving. Tara Dowd, Emily Francis and Angus Woodward did a great job bringing out every element of the work they performed, Keith Wait’s direction being, as usual, highly efficient. The work on show was selected by three judges with a wide experience in the field of children’s writing: Anne Beach, Kavita A. Jindel and Guy Jones.

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The Mayor of Richmond, with the Junior and Senior Laureates 2019

Not all children approach creative writing with enthusiasm, it’s something that can be guided, and there are certain props (an idea to work on, dictionaries, pictures,) but there are no specific instructions to follow and the whole thing really has to come out of your own head and, even more of a challenge, other readers must understand what you’re trying to say, it must communicate.

It’s a measure of the skill on show therefore that I’m left with lots of images in my head. One of these is of a little, mad dog running around as described by Rosa Bruce-Ball (Y5) in her clever poem making great use of short lines and the effect of one-syllable words followed by two or more to create the picture of the dog dashing about. Another is the beautiful, gentle African child Alora, living under the hot Serengeti sun as described by Cordelia Harber. Lighting by Dan Johnson gently enhanced the performance of this piece.

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I’m drawn in, against my better judgement, by the conspiratorial tone of Hussain Ammar’s (Y4) piece Hussain’s Fabulous Fibs “If you want to be like me, come to 4J by the Y4 stairs and I will show you how to”. He’s going to show me how to tell fibs, but not without the warning that this might lead to trouble. I can’t wait! Assuming I escape trouble with Hussain, I probably shouldn’t be worrying about old age either. Megan Smith (Y4) has an impressively no-nonsense but inclusive view of it in her poem When I am Old: “I won’t be told what to do, Is that the same with you?”

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Striking in his understanding of conflict resolution and making sure everyone feels valued was James Siveyer (Y3) in his short story The Ghost and the Farmer, in which a ghost, a fox (James is clear that foxes obviously cannot speak but you can speculate about what they might say), and a farmer collaborate, problem-solve and leave everyone happy, “… they soon found it could actually be very handy to have a dark shadow following you around”. This was an entertaining and perceptive piece of writing, particularly for the age of the writer and I feel that James Siveyer should probably be in government.

Amongst the older group Rhodes Abukalil (Y9) wrote a striking description of a destructive, rage-filled relationship between father and son who realise their similarities too late, and Catherine James (Y7) put forward a philosophical view of the life ahead of her and the myriad of choices to be faced. Lilla Radek’s (Y9) Long Live the King, was so vivid in her creation of a dark forest that you could hear the leaves crunching “like small bones” and feel the damp in the air. Her exploration of the concept of personal darkness: “…pure, unsaturated darkness, the searing, tearing thoughts that grip one’s own heart and thrust it into an unidentifiable but terrifying abyss…” added further depth to her writing.

There was a striking immediacy about Natasha Syed’s (Y12) poem, Number 119, about a Palestinian nurse on the front line. It was pared down to short lines using only the most essential words, so that delivery was halting and jerky – nervous like the moments it described. “Hijab drawn tightly over face … Donned in white overalls, Arms raised, fingers fanned in gummy white medical gloves”, and later “Pockets filled with ammunition of sealed bandage rolls”. Again, it evoked the heat and the dust and the fear of the nurse in the moment. It was mature, sophisticated, very impressive.

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All the work on show at the Writers’ Festival was enjoyable and it would require a review of several pages to mention all 17 prize-winning pieces on display on Sunday – who, for example, knew what Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is? Zoe Taylor (Y5) does and she wrote a poem about it. I can confidently say that the future of culture is, at least in the borough of Richmond upon Thames, bright.

Eleanor Lewis
March 2019

Photography by James Bell Photography

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