Final Chapters winners announced
The winners of the first ever public writing competition to take death as its subject have been announced, after a huge response of almost 1,400 entries.
The Final Chapters Competition was launched in January 2012 by Dying Matters to encourage people to push against the taboos surrounding dying, death and bereavement by writing about them. The winners were announced at an awards ceremony during Dying Matters Awareness Week, which ran from 14-20 May.
Christopher Owen, a London-based writer and actor, won first prize for his 1,400-word story ‘An Honourable Life’, which painfully evokes the final days of an elderly couple who struggle and fail to maintain the dignity of a loving relationship as the husband's health fails. The 'Honourable Life' of the title is the one which the pair carefully nurtured for decades and which is now impossible to keep up against the onslaught of dementia and death.
Commenting on the winning entry, Roger Kirkpatrick, chair of judging panel and whose idea the competition was, said: " 'An Honourable Life' covers so much, so well, in so few paragraphs: the character, history and searing disappointments of a good, dying public servant and of his wife. That is done with several funny asides but without flinching from graphic, unsettling physical description."
Writer Christopher Owen said: "I’m just delighted, and very surprised. I’d written 'An Honourable Life' some time back, because it’s really a story about my parents. When I saw the details of the competition I found the story and sent it off, never imagining I’d win, let alone be chosen from nearly 1,400 entries."
Second prize went to Rebecca Goss of Liverpool for her profoundly moving poem ‘Ward at Night’ about the death of her daughter Ella, aged 16 months. Roger said that the poem conveyed a 'deep, deep sadness' by referring in a matter of fact way to everyday hospital sounds and sights. He continued: "The rhythm - Rebecca’s own - is right. We are in the ward. We share a parent’s quiet despair.”
Rebecca said her poems gave her a vehicle to verbalise her loss. She said: "My poems are my armour, my beekeeper suit, to enable me to talk about my daughter Ella. Without my poems, I would find it much harder. I think winning the prize will help me to take my writing into different directions. I’m currently a visiting writer at various creative writing university courses, and have been working with the Child Bereavement Trust."
Third prize was awarded to Merseyside writer Alison Wassell for her wry and emotionally stinging short story ‘The Mother Thief’. Roger commented: "The reader becomes the character Deborah, whose pangs of guilt and simmering anger are affectingly described in a story with a satisfying, unpredictable twist."
A number of entries were also highly commended. The prize-winning and highly commended entries have been published in a Final Chapters Booklet, available from Dying Matters (details at the bottom of the page).
Roger said that the high number of entries reflected the cathartic release that comes from writing about something so close to the heart. “This was the first time that people had been given the opportunity to write about dying and death in a public creative writing competition," he said. "The flood of entries has shown the hunger that the general public has to articulate emotions associated with dying, death and bereavement. Contributors were frequently prompted by raw and painful experiences. Many entries were strikingly original and some - not being professionally polished for effect - were particularly affecting. Several contributors remarked on the comfort of writing."
The other judges were playwright Nell Dunn, poet and academic Yasmin Gunaratnam and author Diana Melly, widow of the legendary jazz musician George Melly. The awards event, held at BT head office, was hosted by publisher and writer Carmen Callil. Actors Peter Eyre and Barbara Flynn read the winning entries.
Eve Richardson, Chief Executive of the National Council for Palliative Care and the Dying Matters Coalition, said: “End of life care is one of the biggest issues that each and every one of us will face. By talking about the type of care we might want and where we would want it, we can individually and as a society move a step nearer to living and dying well.
"The Final Chapters writing competition is one way of lifting the final taboo around death and giving a voice to ordinary people to articulate their most profound thoughts, feelings and experiences.”
Caroline Waters, Director of People and Policy for the BT Group who supported the awards ceremony, said: "All of us can benefit by communicating more openly about dying, death and bereavement, which is why the Final Chapters writing competition is such a great idea and why BT became a member of the Dying Matters Coalition last year. There are few certainties in life but dying is one of them, and unless we are more open about end of life issues we will never be able to provide the support needed to those who are ill, to their carers and family members and to those who have been bereaved.”
Buy Final Chapters
In February 2014, Final Chapters was published as an anthology by Jessica Kingsley publishers. It is available to buy from www.jkp.com, RRP £8.99, and can also be bought or ordered at all good bookshops. All royalties from sales go to the National Council for Palliative Care, the lead charity of Dying Matters.
List of winners and highly commended authors
Christopher Owen - An Honourable Life
Rebecca Goss - Ward at Night
Alison Wassell - The Mother Thief
Sarah Bakewell - Chubby Little Cheeks
Helen Barnes - Leave-taking
Alva de Chiro - A Matter of Compassion
Mike Cyra - I Should Have Let Them Say Goodbye Again
Harriet Davies - The Waiting Room
Sali Gray - Hypocrisy
Josephine Howard - The Milkman Cried
Anneliese Mackintosh - Google Maps Saved My Life
David Mohan - The Grief Schism
Brenda Read-Brown - Swan
Leissa Shahrak - Baseball Cards
Hope Uchio - Regrets
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