A woman from south London has scooped top prize in a national creative writing competition aimed at highlighting the need for better support for vulnerable older children.
Rebekah McDermott, 25, from near Brixton, was joint winner in the 16-25 category of The Children’s Society’s competition, which is part of the national charity’s Seriously Awkward campaign.
The campaign aims to secure more support for vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds with everything from housing and access to education and employment, to the risk of child sexual exploitation.
Entrants were tasked with crafting a fictional story of up to 2,000 words based upon the ups and downs faced by teenagers of this age. Judges included award-winning novelist Emma Healey, who was inspired to get involved by her own experiences of teenage depression and another leading author, Harriet Reuter-Hapgood, whose debut novel The Square Root of Summer tells the story of a grieving girl trying to cope with love and loss.
Rebekah’s success with her story Mud means she will now receive expert advice and feedback on her writing from AM Heath Literary Agents.
It tells how a girl, Judith, and her parents, respond to the arrival of a Polish family in town. Despite coming from a seemingly supportive family Judith faces emotional difficulties caused by the kind of pressures faced by many older children.
Rebekah, who works for Bloomsbury Publishing and writes under the name Rebekah Fellows, said “I’m thrilled to have won. I enjoyed writing it and found the theme inspiring as a writing prompt, so I’m very pleased that others enjoyed reading it.
“Luckily, I grew up with a supportive network of family and friends. But I did want to depict that sense of isolation that I think everyone at some point feels in their school life, in that period between being a teenager and becoming an adult.”
Rebekah, who graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London with an MA in Creative Writing Fiction two years ago, added: “The main character in my story, Judith, comes from what looks like a supportive home, but things aren’t quite as they seem.
“If the story were to continue then the friendship between Judith and Rafal would evolve into something quite important. I wanted to suggest that sometimes it’s in the most unusual places that you can find help or friendship, and when you’re least expecting it.”
Emma Healey, who judged the over-26 category, and whose latest novel Whistle in the Dark tells the story of a teenager, Lana, who went missing, said: “All the competition stories I read touched on how frightening the world can be for young people, and how difficult it can be to admit that, or find someone helpful to talk to.
“This definitely corresponds to my own experience of adolescence, and more needs to be done to provide young people with the support they need.”
The Children’s Society wants to see more help for vulnerable older children – including those designated by councils as being ‘in need’ – and would like to see support continue when young people turn 18 where it is still needed.