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Sawooly Li, Senior Winner of the QCEC 2022 shares her experience of entering the competition

To mark World Creativity Day 2023, Sawooly Li, Senior Winner of The Queen's Commonwealth Essay Competition 2022 shares her experience of entering the competition.

What is your favourite book and why?

One of my all-time favourite reads is Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, a graphic memoir depicting her childhood during the Iranian revolution. As a little girl, Marjane’s love for her religion and her country’s history is so sweet and touching. Persepolis really opened my eyes up to the beauty of a different culture and the strength of its people. As Satrapi explains, “I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists.”

Who is your favourite writer and why?

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of Jane Austen novels. Whether it be Pride and Prejudice or Emma, her vivid characters and storylines are gripping, and her ideals ahead of their time. From a more modern age, Ocean Vuong has been a great source of inspiration—he has such a powerful way with words and evoking strong emotions.

What inspired you to enter the competition?

As I’m sure many of you can relate to, reading and writing has always been a passion for me. The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition was something that I stumbled across online, but immediately knew I wanted to try. I remember reading several featured entries from past years and being inspired by their creative responses and captivating story-telling. Soon after, I decided to enter a piece of my own!

What was your writing process like?

I spent quite a while brainstorming and planning out my essay. For 2022, the prompt I chose to answer was related to service during the pandemic, so I read online about frontline workers and their stories to draw inspiration. The actual essay writing, however, only took me three days! I find that once I get in the flow, the story begins to shape itself.

What inspired you to write your piece?

Here in New Zealand, we are really lucky to have all this lush indigenous flora and fauna, so I knew I wanted to incorporate these elements into my writing. We also have a rich Māori culture with some beautiful concepts like Manaakitanga, which I centred my piece around. I thought it was a unique but insightful way to reflect on service and the prompt.

My Winner’s Week Experience

Last November, I was fortunate enough to attend a week of activities and celebrations with other talented prize winners from all around the world. From visiting Shakespeare’s birthplace to meeting Mr Speaker’s cat, our trip would have so many amazing experiences and surprises. One of my favourite activities during Winner’s Week was touring Westminster Abbey, the final resting place of kings, queens, notable scientists and famous writers. Whilst standing a few feet above Sir Isaac Newton, or beneath the busts at Poets’ Corner, I was awestruck by the sheer history the Abbey contained. I was mere fingertips away from some of the most influential figures the world had ever seen. My favourite aspect of the week, however, was not any physical place, but instead being able to share these experiences with other young writers from all across the world. Riding in the underground, I loved hearing about life in Singapore or the culture and traditions of India. Walking between one place and the next, we would listen curiously to details on the political turmoil in Uganda and the inflation crisis in Lebanon. This opportunity has truly shifted the perspective with which I view the world—I have learned so much from my peers, and have been inspired by their creativity and passion. Since then, I’ve been determined to continue improving my work. In her speech at Buckingham Palace, The Queen Consort touched on the power of the written word—its ability to evoke emotion and connect people together. In light of this, I hope many more students write and continue to write, and are unafraid to voice what is important to them.


The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Royal Commonwealth Society.

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