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Sizzling with Creativity: Young Writer’s Festival 2016-17

25 April 2017

Young Writer’s Festival 2016-17

 Arts Richmond at The Orange Tree Theatre, 23rd April

 Retrospective by Georgia Renwick

 Here in Richmond borough we are very fortunate to have a richly diverse arts culture, and thanks to the annual Young Writer’s Festival produced by Arts Richmond, we can be assured the next generation are on their marks to take up the torch.

Arts Richmond works in close partnership with the borough’s Arts Services, the Orange Tree Theatre, local schools and voluntary societies to involve young people in the joys of writing and to celebrate their work.  The Young Writer’s festival, which has been running for a number of years, is open to any young person who lives in or attends school in Richmond borough.  Thanks to a dedicated team including numerous volunteers and to a high level of enthusiasm the event has gone from strength to strength.  This year there were nearly 400 entries, from which just 16 have been selected to be performed by professional actors at this special event, directed by local theatre practitioner Keith Wait.  From those sixteen, an overall winner is awarded in each age category and most special of all, just one Arts Richmond Young Laureate and one Junior Laureate are chosen for the year.  This year the prizes have been generously donated by well-known children’s author Dame Jacqueline Wilson, who was herself the UK’s Children’s Laureate from 2005-2007, and continues to be a Patron of Arts Richmond.

The judging panel have chosen an outstanding selection which sizzles with creativity, is rich in variety and is at once entertaining, touching and emotional in its sincerity.  The observations and insights that children of even the youngest age category have to share with us are quite profound.

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Youngest Age Group Collect Certificates

Winner of the School Years 4 and Under Category (children aged 9 and under), Yifei Wang, has written a harrowing diary entry in role as a soldier in WWI.  His work is, I understand, a creative and emotive response to the 100 years’ commemorations last year, which includes insightful factual detail as well as a central character a reader of any age can really empathise with.

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Years 7 to 10 Collect Certificates

 

Abina Prasad, winner of the broadest age category, School Years 7-10, was also influenced by a historical period and wrote in role as Anne Boleyn in her piece The Final Moments.  She is eloquently able to stitch together moments from the ill-fated Queen’s life with her final moment, her tragic beheading.  This type of writing offers such an insightful and creative way into accessing and engaging with history, if it is not already widely practised in schools, it certainly should be.

 

 

The winner of the School Year’s 5-6 category Camilla Salar also chose a writing in role format.  In her piece Never Give Up she writes in role as a young girl much like herself, but fleeing the war in Syria.  The topicality of her piece is indisputable, and the level of empathy she shows is mature and affecting.  I support the judges’ decision to also award her the title of Junior Laureate, and am sure that the experience will help her to grow and develop in her writing, as well as offering her further opportunities to share her work and grow in confidence.  She is a reminder that children can teach us grown-ups a thing or two about our perspective on our world, writers or otherwise.

The Young Laureate chosen by the judges for this year is Miranda Barrett, writing in the School Years 11 and Over Category.  Her poem The Wheelchair Kid which ambiguously depicts a wheelchair-bound nineteen-year-old pitched off a cliff edge, is a projection of her fears, she tells us, for her autistic brothers.  It is quietly distressing, rendered with exemplary observation and maturity.

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Philomena Murray Collects Certificate

A noticeable proportion of the writing addresses difficult, upsetting themes.  War, death, family tragedy and destruction of the environment are all raised.  Their prevalence is a strong reminder of the power of writing in helping us to process and understand life’s challenges, which these young people have commendably embraced at an early age, with creativity and sensitivity.

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The Older Authors Discuss Their Work

Children have a unique perspective on the perversity of the world, and this can be realised in a humorous way as well as a tragic one.  Much of the writing also had the adults, and children alike, chuckling away.  Olivia Day imagines a party hosted by a cupcake, and sabotaged by an evil jam tart whilst George Parson imagines the life of an unhappy fridge stuffed too full by its clumsy owner.

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Actors (l-r) Beth Eyre, Keith Wait (director), Jenna Fox and AJ MacGillivray

Although the celebration was about the children, the actors simply must be commended for the fantastic job they did in their delivery of the material.  The three performers worked seamlessly together to bring dynamic movement as well as their strong, compelling voices to the work.  The pieces were performed in full, unedited, allowing the children to speak as children, (small) grammatical errors and all, so their voices and personalities really shone through.  Hearing adults deliver the work could so easily have been over-done and potentially patronising, but instead it was earnest in its youthful energy and more ‘adult’ when it was called upon to be.  It was frequently easy to forget just how young these writers are for the maturity of their work, when read by adult voices.  The young people could be seen squirming but smiling, what a treat for them to experience the merits of their talents in this way, and for us to witness them.  After the performance was over, the actors were generously available for the children to talk to.  Perhaps there are some future performers, as well as writers, here today.

These exemplary children remind us that all children can surprise us in what they are interested in or capable of contemplating and addressing in our world.  We would do well to listen to their concerns, and encourage them to continue expressing these in creative ways, more so now than ever, when it is all too easy to allow them to plug into technology and purely consume.

If we continue to support and develop creative events such as the Arts Richmond Young Writers’ Festival, the futures of these children, and the artistic future of the borough look winningly bright.

Georgia Renwick

April 2017

For review of writers’ work see the Arts Richmond website here

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