Some of the region’s most talented young writers came to the fore in a ceremony at the Lit & Phil library in Newcastle.
They were the winners of the inaugural Lit & Phil Young Writers’ Awards and they rose to the top in prose and poetry categories.
Poet, playwright and editor Ellen Phethean, who managed the competition, said students from nine of the region’s schools had entered work which had been of a universally high standard.
The judging panel included Tony Williams, a poet and senior lecturer in creative writing at Northumbria University, and Debbie Taylor, novelist and editor of Mslexia, the North East-based national magazine for women writers.
Tony Williams, who judged the poetry, said among the entries there had been poems about the First World War, gothic nightmares, laziness, Alan Turing (the Second World War code-breaker) and even a spaghetti god.
The theme for the competition was ‘What if?’ and 57 youngsters in two age groups had risen to the challenge.
The poetry winners were Emily-Jo Trippett, aged 14, from Peterlee, for a poem called What if there was no love? and Rebecca Bradburn, 16, from King Edward VI School in Morpeth, for Portrait of an Afghan Woman.
In the prose category, the winners were Jesse Jones, a 13-year-old pupil at Heaton Manor School in Newcastle, for Sweet Dreams? and Jaime Chapman, 17, from Walbottle Campus for The Little Paper Boat.
There were also honorary mentions for Sophie Newman, 13, and Levi Croom, 17, from Heaton Manor, Naomi Kendall, a year nine pupil at King Edward VI, and Lainey Hawkes, 14, from Whickham School, in the fiction category, and also for Shotton Hall pupil Scott Dugdale, 15, in the poetry category.
Rebecca Bradburn said at the award ceremony: “I’ve been writing since I was about 10 or 11. I started writing prose but I realised that what I was doing was leaning more towards poetry.
“I find that with poetry you can be more succinct.”
Rebecca, who is studying for A levels in French, German, English Literature and Classics, said she had been moved to write her winning poem by a photograph in a newspaper.
Jaime said her piece of prose had been inspired by a place, a bridge in Newburn near to where she lives.
She was delighted to win the award but said: “It’s a bit strange because I don’t usually show anyone what I write.”
Currently studying for A levels in Philosophy and Ethics, English Literature, Psychology and Sociology, Jaime said she was thinking about a career as a therapist but she also fancied being a novelist.
Elizabeth Hammill, alluding to the celebrated Northumberland-based children’s writer David Almond, said: “Stories and poems are, for him, living things.”
She urged the young writers present to see them the same way.
Ellen Phethean said: “All of us are storytellers. We tell the stories of our lives every day, to our family, our friends, on Facebook... in a whole range of different ways.”
All the young winners received annual membership of the Lit & Phil, one of the country’s most venerable lending libraries which also has a busy programme of events.
The inaugural competition was made possible by a grant from the Sir James Knott Trust. It will be repeated thanks to funding from the Northern Rock Foundation.
FICTION WINNER 11-14
Sweet dreams? It will remember that... by Jesse Jones, aged 13, Heaton Manor School, Newcastle
I love the feeling of air beneath my feet; light, endless, liberating. I can do it all the time, relying not just on my eyes, but on my other senses.
Freezing air grates through my silicon throat as I leap through the pitch black night, inhaling and processing the vague chip shop scents that have grown faint at this altitude. My pistons burn with friction heat as I ascend, breath growing ragged and hard pressed.
Scaling the outside of a building, I ascend to the 5th floor. I enjoy looking into people’s lives through their windows – today I can see a frustrated dog yapping incessantly at his owner as the man attempts to get into bed, a grim look on his face. I hope to change that sadness someday for all.
Higher, higher, icy gusts of wind bite my fingers and shred through my chilled plates, and I – and I – and I – am frustrated as I have to stop what I was about to do to check my gears. As much as I love the freedom of skyscrapers, the ice creates breaks in my circuitry.
Quickly returning to my climbing, I victoriously drag my whirring body up onto the roof of a ten storey building, examining the wide field of possibilities. After the pitch black of the backstreets stretching from building to building, the maze of street lights look like fireflies dancing on water. I set my last sense free, feeling for something fascinating. Something catches my attention, and I turn. I‘m curious. Whose memories will I visit tonight?
He lifts his mask and pulls over his hood. Turning with a dark purpose, he faces the flat complex. He is situated in a small grassy area outside the building, sheltering behind several larger bushes. Leaves tickle his face, and he turns round with effort to bush them off, attempting to remain in his crouched position.
Carefully, he treads forward, seemingly uncomfortable in the bright yellow glow that seeps through the glass doors, so much unlike the shadowy, covered backstreets which his black clothing blends into.
Looking left and right, he emerges from the shrubbery, slowly standing up. Passing traffic masks the sound of a metallic mechanism clicking; he tilts his head to check the progress of the object in his pocket. Pauses. Proceeds to open the door and step into the building. The light that flooded the reception may have seemed warm and welcoming to one, but is glaring and exposing to him, as if it were suspicious of his malicious intentions.
The world continues to act like nothing has changed.
You turn, anxious. Pulling up your covers, the mattress grows warm beneath you, and not with your own body heat. Whoever invented these stupid things? What with the capabilities of computers growing you would think they’d invent something useful, but no. Poeple invent these stupid AI monstrosities. You can remember your own dreams! Why do you need a computer to store them? Why do you need your bed to help you to come to terms with your dreams? But you know why: because those idiotic companies can make more money that way.
Oh, you almost smile in bitter hatred. Help sessions, that’s what they called them. More like forced sessions in hell. Lying down, you wait in the dark silence that echoes around your cramped bedroom.
It’s been a long time since they’ve sold normal beds, and if you don’t have the money for a posh dream bed, what do they do? Make you buy a cheap, hacked one that blackmails you every night until you spend your life away on a high cost piece of rubbish you don’t want.
The feeling of dread increases in intensity as you await unconsciousness... well, actually, after your initial, natural dream you are going to be forced to be conscious to talk about it with the bed while still in your still state. If only you could find the epicentre of your dreams, find the part of your mind that the bed tampered with to make you return here again and again then you could be free, but no. Once you’ve slept in one, you really can’t get out, nor can you try to warn others.
You tried once to break the program, but that made your situation even worse, both in real life and in your sleep. It made them feel that they had to give you more talks, feel that they had to face your so-called problem. However, tonight you will have to leave your true dreams of freedom behind to be replaced with your subconscious’ swirling thoughts and the bed’s monotonous AI.
They’re not dark or horrifying, but the fake cover of it all, the automated smiles that force you into insipid fun activities, kill you slowly. The bed’s simulated doctors and carers try to make you happy, but don’t understand that what’s best for you is to leave. You have no choice but to face your twisted nightmares, literally. But as you drift off into oblivion, you pledge to try to be as resistant to its ideals as possible.
Listening to my senses, I hear your cry for help. Scanning the network, I connect to your bed in particular, a spike against one bed’s program that it is struggling to control. I link myself to you, and though I can feel you now, find you, you still can’t understand me or hear me.
I feel sadness inside, for when I let loose my last sense, the electrical pulses that return to me reveal the despair that echoes through the unforgiving night, but I can only help slowly. Tonight, I help you. Venturing forward, I spring freely towards you, hoping to make you happier like I made those others smile again.
My final sense can find you, and it’s pulling me toward you. I just want this difficult, confusing world to be better. Tonight, I help you. Nearly there, I run quickly, for there is not enough time in the night for the healing actions I wish so desperately to share.
Here. Here you are. Scraping my metallic nails down the side of the brick wall, I peer in through your 7th floor bedroom window. I raise my fist, pull it back, and then with my mechanical strength push it forward. The glass cracks. I can talk to you now.
He jerks at the sudden crash of a window as it shatters. Having passed through the reception, he makes his way up dull grey stairs, hurrying slightly to satisfy his bloodlust. Thud thud thud go his feet, though he doesn’t care, and appears to be more preoccupied with looking out for anyone and everyone, hoping nobody sees him.
The dingy staircase goes on and on, working upwards in a constant motion, up and along, up and along. He scuffs his feet, stalking towards the door of the person who wronged him. Still the mechanism clicks and whirs, a faint, light blue, neon light shining through the thin material of his jacket.
His vengeance won’t be physical, no, that would be too short-lasting and too brutish. Slipping his hand in his pocket, he comforts himself with the machine’s presence. The stairs stop. He is at the 7th floor entrance. He steels himself, swallowing any doubt. He can’t think about it going wrong now, even though he’s not completely sure how his machine works.... no. He pushes on the door and enters.
Yet again, you are cornered by the smiling workers and doctors, ready to talk about your most recent dreary dream. Your natural dream has been and gone, it was short lived today. You look at the exit that never opens, the fake sun shining into this bright yellow examination room that never changes, and once again resolutely ignore the things trying to talk at you. You hate them.
I jump down onto the shards of glass that litter the floor to aid you in your time of need.
He strides purposefully in, machine ready in hand.
You turn your head in panic. Nothing has ever changed before, why has your dream been interrupted by these sourceless, echoey sounds?
He spins about, shocked. Who is this? Who, on the night that he has planned for so long, has come in and messed up his ambition?
I fall through the sharp glass into the cramped, dingy apartment. I see you, asleep, and I see him. I scrape my plating on several glass needles, but only notice when one flies int- int- int- into my head as it knocks the floor. Frustrated, I ignore it. I have to help you! I look down at the bed, and run for the port that will allow me to directly connect with and influence your dreams.
He sees the newcomer and watches it as it moves, almost in slow motion, towards the bed port. No! He can’t let them interrupt the dream, on this night of all nights. He pulls out the furiously whirring mechanism and runs for a port.
All you can see is a hazy mess. You’re still stuck in the counselling room, but through the frosted wall of glass that the sunlight previously filtered through you are aware of two people running quickly towards you.
I must reach you. I reach out my arm, snapping my wiring into place and plug myself in, connecting myself to your bed.
He pushes in his machine, and as he establishes a connection a shock jolts the bed.
Now you see them both. They appear in your cell. The drone was sent to take you into an endless sleep and destroy any trace of you, but it came thinking it was doing good, just another slave of the company, however, the man is different.
The man who you used to work with is fuelled by anger. You went to the man’s bed and sold his dreams, his life, for a chance of escape, and now he has come to completely destroy yours. All that his life got you was more lucidity inside your dreams, a slightly larger chance of resilience, but nothing else. There is no turning him back. The ever smiling characters begin to glitch and crack apart. The dream falls apart, mixing with your old ones. Regular, confusing dreams warp the characters, and the drone and your colleague look about in panic.
He doesn’t know what he’s doing; he didn’t know that the virus would work like this. He thought he knew what he was doing, but he was never sure, he could never be certain-
The ground shakes, and you fall into the mess of colours and images and warped ideas. You see a black cloud emerge, the virus, and it heads for the drone. Crawling forward in a broken, pixelated haze it lunges suddenly at the drone-
The bed can’t cope with this stress. Electricity cracks and sparks as it tries to subdue the virus furiously. Both the bed and the drone begin to malfunction. All three figures twitch in the apartment, only vaguely aware of the real situation, struggling to get out of the dream and escape the building. The bed nears critical usage, and as the virus completes its last act the drone awakens.
Looking over my shoulder, safe on the roof of an adjacent building, I see the truth of it all. I used to think that I helped people, forcing them into submission when all they were doing was denying the company’s idea of a perfect world, but now I see the truth.
The cages must break. I think back to the bodies lying on the floor of the wrecked apartment. I have already given them an uncontrolled and unmanipulated sleep. Still, I can hear the wailing of the lost. I have freed two, and I can free more.
The port that used to lie in my hand is now cracked and mangled, a mark of the upcoming revolution. I can get the beds to work with me. I can enlighten other drones. The more I free, the better. Time to release the world.
FICTION WINNER 15-18
The Little Paper Boat by Jaime Chapman, aged 17, Walbottle Campus
He hears someone shout something behind him, the words fizzing and fading out before he could process what they were saying.
It’s no matter, he thought, probably just a mother calling for her child to keep up. He continues walking, twigs snapping beneath his boots, stray pebbles and stones scattering as he failed to pick his feet up and tripped hopelessly on the root of a tree, one time, two times, three times – how many times? It doesn’t matter, what matters is that he was under the protective green glow of the trees, their looming presence protecting him from the unseasonal chill that bit at his ears, nose, hands and toes.
He ducks under a low hanging branch, little drops of left over rain shattering on his coat, some trailing cool tracks down the back of his neck, and others nestling in his curling hair. He smiles. There it is; the sparkling stream, the old wooden bridge, the same old blossom trees hanging lazily over the water, the delicate petals falling ever so gently down, only to be washed away by the water – some gather on the banks, others are never to be seen again. Just like you.
They don’t walk side by side, they never had. Instead he walked in front, his black hair reflecting a sort of green tint in the shade of the trees, his wrinkled shirt half un-tucked at the back and one pant leg rolled just slightly higher than the other. The spring in his step was evident, and it was a wonder how he managed to avoid hitting his head on the low hanging branches. He’d ask a question, but never wait long enough for an answer.
As he sits on the bridge, his boot clad feet dangling over the edge, just skimming the water, he can almost hear the sounds of the children playing in the park – can hear their laughter echoing across to him, and for a moment he can’t quite tell if it’s real or a figment of his imagination. Suddenly, a small paper boat floats out from under the bridge beside him, somehow still standing strong against the ever-growing current, he wonders where it’s going, how far it’s come, who sent it?
Some days, when the sun was high in the sky, and not even the trees shielded them from the sweltering heat, they would take off their shoes and socks – his were always mismatched – and dip their toes in the slightly-not-warm water. He asked another question, and then laughed it off as some sort of joke.
Then the little boat crumples, finally giving in to the persistent current – giving up on its journey. Just like you.
The last day they came here together, they walked side by side in silence. The sun didn’t glow, and his hair didn’t reflect any green tint – it was just black. Plain and simple. That day it was too cold to dip their toes in the water, so they didn’t. They stood on the bridge in silence, and then he asked his final question, and they never saw each other again.
He can smell the damp soil and moss, the air around him was wet and woody, assaulting his cold-bitten nose. Blue eyes and toothy grins flash in front of his eyes and he heaves, as if he might be sick. He looks to his feet, and can almost picture another pair dangling next to his, can almost feel a cold hand clamped around his, and a breathy, lively voice in his ear.
“What if we just left?”
“What if we jumped?”
“What if we just ran and never looked back?”
Always asking, always dreaming. Well, I guess now you know the answers to your questions.
Suddenly, a small delicate petal floats down from the trees above him, the soft-pink weighed down by damp lands on his forehead, and he reaches up with his pointer finger, the petal coming away with it. He stares. Brown eyes unwavering, brown hair ruffling with the light breeze. It’s time to go.
POETRY WINNER 11-14
What if there was no love? by Emily-Jo Trippett, 14, The Academy at Shotton Hall, Peterlee
Would my heart still have scars from the times it was broken?
Would I still look into your eyes the way I did? And tell you every day
I love you.
If I told you I loved you, would it mean anything anymore.
Would your smile still make my heart
sway and beat a little faster?
Would every girl that’s ever been made to be nothing, feel like something?
What if there was no love?
Would everything be fine, and would I stop crying?
If I were to leave, to go, to disappear, would anyone even care?
Or would there be a little passion inside of you to pull me back and say
“please don’t go”.
Would I feel as strong as I used to? Or would my whole world slowly burn to ashes as I do too.
Would I even care anymore that you didn’t love me back.
What if there was no love?
Would you walk out the door again?
Would I watch you leave from the window one more time?
But would I even care?
POETRY WINNER 15-18
A Portrait of an Afghan Woman by Rebecca Bradburn, 16, King Edward VI School, Morpeth
She wears the rape of her sisters on the slope of her brow,
Stitches starvation into creases that should be laughter lines,
(Buries sadness in the hollows of her eyes).
She will not feel ashamed.
But she is aching,
And it has been so long since she felt anything more.
I wish I could say that she has fought her war.