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The Children's Society creative writing competition

Are Writers Selfish?

Amusement A title to conjure with....

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Capo Famiglia
Full Member
Author urges wannabe wordsmiths to write about ‘awkward’ age

A best-selling author has told how her battle with teenage depression inspired her to support a charity campaign to improve help for vulnerable older teenagers.

Emma Healey is urging aspiring writers to enter a creative writing competition run by The Children’s Society in partnership with Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
The competition is part of the national charity’s Seriously Awkward campaign. The campaign aims to secure more help for vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds with everything from mental health issues, to support with housing and access to education and employment.

Emma said it struck a chord due to her own experiences of depression, which inspired Whistle in the Dark, the follow-up to her award-winning debut novel Elizabeth is Missing. Her new book tells the story of a teenager, Lana, who went missing, through the eyes of her mother.

“I keep meeting people who have faced these issues themselves or have children who are still struggling with this nightmare - it’s more widespread than people think,” said Emma, who suffered a breakdown not long before she turned 16.

“Like Lana I’d been self-harming and thinking about suicide and on one occasion I took loads of pills which my mum made me throw up.

“There are lots of things going on for teenagers, with exam stress, changing friendship groups, becoming independent and all those hormone changes affecting you.”

The Children’s Society says vulnerable older children – including those who are designated by councils as being ‘in need’ – are too often dismissed as troublesome teenagers or old enough to cope.

But Emma said that young people needed support – including to talk about their feelings.

“It can be a pretty terrifying time and I felt pressure from every direction, but you don’t really have the language to express any of that when you’re a teenager, even if you have supportive parents like I did,” she said.

“When I eventually saw a social worker and nurse it was suggested that I went into a mental health unit but there were no children’s beds so I was sent to an adult ward.

“Fortunately one psychiatrist got me talking by asking me about paintings, one of my passions. We were eventually able to pin-point the stresses in my life and come up with an alternative plan which involved dropping GCSEs and going into therapy.

“In the year that followed I found it hard to leave the house. I started taking anti-depressants but it wasn’t until I’d nearly finished my degree that I started feeling a lot better.”

Seriously Awkward also calls for support for vulnerable young people to continue after their 18th birthday – a change Emma wholeheartedly supports.

“It’s completely ridiculous to think that anyone’s problems can suddenly be solved because of one birthday but young people are slipping through the net between services which support children and those which help adults,” she said.

“It’s great to have a campaign to raise awareness of the need for young people to get more support to deal with the kind of challenges they can face.

“It’s really important to talk about these things and to write about them, and I would encourage anyone who has experience of what life can be like at this age to enter this competition. You can draw upon your own experiences if you want to but the most important thing for me is that it interests readers and surprises them.”

Anyone aged 16 and over can enter the competition. Emma is encouraging aspiring writers – or anyone inspired to pick up a pen for the first time – to write a fictional story of up to 2,000 words based upon the ups and downs faced by 16 and 17-year-olds.

She will be judging the competition alongside Alexandra – a young person supported by The Children’s Society – fellow author Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Alice O’Keeffe, Books Editor at national magazine The Bookseller and experienced literary agents.

There are categories for both young people aged 16-25 and adults aged 26 and over, with expert advice and feedback being offered to the winner of the young people’s category by Darley Anderson Children’s Book Agency and to the winner of the adult category by David Higham Associates.

Stories can be in any fiction genre and be written from any perspective. They could be about a 16-year-old making daunting decisions about their future, or falling in love and making new friends at 17. About a parent terrified about their child leaving home. Or maybe a social worker trying to protect a child from harm.

The best stories will be published on The Children’s Society’s website and celebrated at a special event in London.

Enter online at by 31 August.

Richard Wilkes

Interesting stuff. My wife is a psychotherapist, primarily working with 13 - 25 yr olds. Although, for confidentiality reasons, I don't know about individual cases, the themes that come up are 'seriously awkward!' (Very good title).

It is a very difficult time - surely the greatest change period in a human's life cycle - the change into adulthood. Physically it is overwhelming and the changes in emotions too. I look back on my own teenage period with some great memories but also unsettling feelings that are still real for me now (60). They are obviously felt differently, but they are real - and in that teenage time the real-ness can be profoundly disturbing.

I have teenage children and can see how tough it is for them. Even though on the surface things seem ok, parents are not often the best people for them to talk to and confidential services are great - well done to the Children's Society for campaigning.

Spookily, at this very moment I am writing a novel about two individuals who have life-changing events happen to them at 15 - and the effect it has on them, carrying on into adulthood.

Thanks for sharing this.
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Are Writers Selfish?

Amusement A title to conjure with....