Fishy tales and cold custard

22nd June 2001 at 01:00
The winners in this year's Write Away autobiography competition were announced on June 7. One of the judges, poet Michael Rosen, introduces the three primary prize-winners. Illustrator Jake Abrams.

At a time when "writing" and "literacy" have come to mean a sequencing of words, it's refreshing to think instead about the fun and juice of story. The TESNational Association for the Teaching of English Write Away competition laid out important criteria, including a sense of audience, location and the importance of events happening around the writer. And a request for writers to develop curiosity, excitement or tension in the reader through narrative structure.

The rewards are here aplenty. Primary and secondary finalists showed an appreciation of 'the moment', the episode that reveals how people position themselves. Joan Lingard and I rad of extraordinary events: a swarm of killer bees, cattle testicles for sale. But we also read prose poems on the subject of the ordinary: an anxiety, a jealousy, bullying.

I found myself using my favourite yardstick: does the writing make the familiar unfamiliar, and the unfamiliar familiar? The winners do just that - a tribute to them and their teachers. We read of danger in a boat, a congenitally small foot and a weird noise in Costa Rica.

All this raises the debate about whether young people can write as well as adults. The issue for me is whether they can show something of what it means to be who they are, rather than what they might be when they're older. I guess that means a mark of authenticity: being authentic to the time, place and age you find yourself in. It was truly a delight to find this in the winners.

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