A whirlwind Winners’ Week was held this November in London, to recognise the hard work and talent of four aspiring young writers from across the Commonwealth who won The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition 2018. Meeting publishers, broadcasters, and Members of Parliament, the week took us to some of London’s most highly-regarded cultural institutions including the Tower of London, Royal Society of Literature, Westminster Abbey and Shakespeare’s Globe, where our Winners learnt about new industries and the wonderful opportunities creative writing can bring. 

For the second year in a row, our four Winners were all young women. To introduce her fellow writers, Junior Winner Janine Shum age 13 from Singapore said: 

‘I met the other winners of The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition and their parents first thing on Monday morning. There was Floria from Canada, who had written a powerful poem about the environment. Woon Neng was also from Singapore. She was three years older than me and had written an intriguing story where the personifications of Happiness, Wealth, Health and Freedom gathered in a café for a conversation. Finally there was Zahra from Pakistan, who had written a poetic prose piece about a woman dealing with issues of gender equality, arranged marriage and rape.’ 

The Queens Commonwealth Essay Competition aims to provide young people with a platform on which to express their views, an opportunity to develop creative writing skills, and a celebration of their achievement. The Winners’ Week programme is an educational and cultural space in which these aims are realised, through exploration of London landmarks, introduction to new professions and getting youth voices heard in high level spaces.

‘I truly saw the opportunities writing and thinking could offer, and I will remember this unique journey forever!’ – Floria Gu, Junior Runner-up.

During the Week, the Winners met Deputy High Commissioner, Sarah Fountain-Smith at the High Commission of Canada in the United Kingdom and discussed their ideas on key issues such as education and climate change, and were encouraged to continue writing for a better world. They had lunch with H.E. Ms Foo Chi Hsia, High Commissioner for the Republic of Singapore, and considered how to increase access to the Competition for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and expand available educational opportunities.

To highlight the diverse range of departments and roles within theatre and performance, the Winners visited the National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe and the Fortune Theatre. They took in live performances of War Horse and The Woman in Black, backstage tours, and even talks from world-renowned authors about the process of taking a piece page to stage.  As aspiring scriptwriters, the Winners were delighted to gain insights into the world of theatre, from props to production to performance.  Floria Gu, Junior Runner-up said ‘ I especially loved the visit to Shakespeare’s Globe, which showed me how the entire city was moving forward and reinterpreting the past’.

We couldn’t finish the week without showing the Winners a peek in to the world of publishing and what their writing could lead to in the future. The team at Hodder & Stoughton Publishing invited us to their office to hear all about the journey of a book, which our Winners deemed ‘eye-opening’ and to have made them ‘appreciate my books a lot more now’. The group visited Cambridge University Library and The Royal Commonwealth Society archives, where previous winning pieces of The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition have been immortalised, as far back as the nineteenth century!

Woon Neng, Senior Runner Up,said ‘Winner’s Week has been a really fulfilling and enjoyable experience. Admittedly, I was a bit nervous about it all at first…however, I’ve met friendly and supportive people that have really made the week a truly fantastic one.  Whether it was the tour around Westminster Abbey or the trip to Cambridge, discovering and learning about the UK’s rich history has been an experience like no other. The visit to Hodder & Stoughton publishing house has been quite the eye-opener, not to mention the plays that stayed with me long after I’d watched them. I think my favourite part of the trip would probably be the visit to the House of Lords. It was fascinating to learn about the how the UK was and is governed, as well as how certain traditions came about. In all, I’ve much to be thankful for. A big thank you to the many wonderful people who have come together to make this week possible and the amazing people who have accompanied me on this journey.'

‘We got to see things we would never otherwise have seen as ordinary tourists, and even more importantly, we learnt from experts who were kind enough to patiently show us tantalizing glimpses of their wonderful worlds’ – Janine Shum, Junior Winner.

As part of Winners’ Week, the BBC World Service broadcast an episode of Outlook, all about the Winners and their journeys with writing; they featured each of the Winners at home, during the Awards Ceremony at Buckingham Palace, interviewed notable authors and included some remarks from HRH The Duchess of Cornwall given at the Awards Ceremony.

Floria said ‘I enjoyed the activities I would not normally get to do, like seeing the inside of the BBC headquarters and recording our written work to be put in a radio program!’  

The 2018 winning pieces are available to read online: Senior Winner, Senior Runner-up, Junior Winner and Junior Runner-up.