Northern Ireland writers have come out top in a global writing competition.
Teacher Mairi McCurdy from Shimna Integrated College in Newcastle County Down and Strathearn School pupil Elena Gourley, have come first and runner-up in their respective categories in the Commonwealth Class Short Story Writing Competition.
The competition, an initiative of the Commonwealth Secretariat and British Council, offers teachers and children aged 7-14 years, a unique opportunity to celebrate the values of the Commonwealth through creative writing.
This year’s competition was around the subject theme of peace, and their winning entries will be presented as part of Peace and Beyond, an international conference taking place in Belfast next week (April 10-12) to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.
English teacher Mairi beat hundreds of entries with her winning story, Birds Eye View, a beautifully crafted tale about tree houses, rivalry and resilience.
Speaking about her winning entry, Mairi said: “I’m delighted that ‘Bird’s Eye View’ has done so well. I wanted to write a story firmly set in Northern Ireland, but I didn’t want the story to be driven by an adult conflict: the struggles and the peace-making had to belong to the children.
“Once I had the image of a seething Dervla Kennedy sitting in a tree ready to wreak revenge on her arch enemy, the rest just fell into place.”
While Elena, a first-form pupil at Strathearn, came 2nd in the 11-14 category, with her story; a strange and hypnotic tale abgout inner peace and the comforts of reading.
Speaking about her win was the school Librarian Ms O’Hare, who encouraged Elena to enter the competition.
She said: “I am absolutely delighted for Elena. Her atmospheric story conveys how powerful reading can be, and she obviously put a great deal of thought into her piece. We at Strathearn are so proud of her achievement in this prestigious competition.
“I have no doubt that she will continue to write creatively, sharing her voice and perhaps finding her own work on the shelves of Strathearn's library in the future.”
The Children’s Short Story category received over sixteen hundred entries from 53 countries, with Max Max Kamalarajah from Wallace High School also highly commended in the 11-14 category for his story, Heavenly Peace.
The competition was judged by Northern Ireland’s first Children’s Writing Fellow, Myra Zepf, who is based at Queen’s University Belfast.
Speaking about the entries, she said: “It was wonderful to read so many diverse stories from all over the Commonwealth, each interpreting the theme of 'Peace' in such unique ways. It was especially exciting to see Northern Ireland's home-grown talent shining on that global stage, and rightly represented among the winners of both the teachers' and the children's competitions.”
Also speaking about the competition was Jonathan Stewart, Director, British Council Northern Ireland.
He said: “The Commonwealth Class Short Story Competition demonstrates the breadth of talent we have here in Northern Ireland. The entries approach the theme with a depth of humanity, while celebrating our diversities and differences.
“We’re delighted that we have been able to showcase the local competition winners in our international Peace and Beyond conference in Belfast on April 10, marking the anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement. The themes of the winning essays eloquently illustrate the diversity in the interpretation in the meaning of the word peace amongst the competition winners and we are delighted that the conference will provide a platform to share these different narratives.”
The Commonwealth Class initiative enables schools to take part in online competitions and work on projects with the aim of giving young people a hands-on international learning experience based around the Commonwealth family of countries.
All of the winning stories and highly commended entries, each illustrated by Tarsila Kruse, Children’s Book Illustrator, can be seen on the British Council’s Commonwealth Class website: https://schoolsonline.britishcouncil.org/about-programmes/commonwealth-class/story-writing-competition/top-entries.
Writing tips from Children’s Writing Fellow for Northern Ireland, Myra Zepf and former Children's Laureate, Anne Fine can be downloaded by visiting https://schoolsonline.britishcouncil.org/about-programmes/commonwealth-class/story-writing-competition
For more information on Peace and Beyond and the full programme, visit https://www.britishcouncil.org/peace-and-beyond. You can follow the conversation on Twitter through #PeaceandBeyond or through following @BCouncil_NI.