I have long been an avid reader of all forms of creative writing—not just novels, but poems, short stories, articles and conceptual pieces. However, my reading had only been for pleasure until I was invited to be a judge for the Nottingham Young Creative Awards in the Creative Writing category, which Walkgrove kindly sponsors.
I was excited, but also apprehensive. I’d never done this before, and what if I somehow ‘got it wrong’? I’d entered several poetry competitions when I was younger, and I remembered the mixed feelings of hope and anxiety—the delight when I won a prize, and the disappointment when I didn’t. That made the judging feel very personal, as I knew that there would be young creatives experiencing similar emotions.
The benefits of being a single judge on a wider panel became clear, and reassured me, as decisions would be made by consensus: if my choices were significantly out of step with the rest of the judges then it wouldn’t matter too much! But I also knew that I was willing to go to bat for any pieces that I felt stood out.
We received over 75 anonymised entries across three age brackets (11-15, 16-18 and 19-24), ranging from poems and pieces of journalism to short stories and scripts that could up to 4,000 words long. We had about a fortnight to read and digest the entries and formulate a shortlist for each bracket before we met (on Zoom, of course) to select the winners. Each category would have an overall winner and two or three ‘highly commended’ finalists.
I’ll be honest: it took more time than I’d anticipated! Many of the short stories were at (or close to) the maximum word count, and once time to properly consider the entries was added in it took days to work through all the entries, not hours as I’d expected! However, I enjoyed every minute of it. The broad range of topics, styles and subjects meant that no two entries were alike, and the creativity on display was fantastic.
Whittling the entries down into shortlists was not easy, and I ended up with longlists instead, albeit with some clear preferences in each age bracket. I felt there were some real standout pieces that I hoped would be included in other judges’ selections.
‘Judgment day’ rolled round, and I was ready with my spreadsheet of shortlisted entries (and a punnet of cherry tomatoes to sustain me) to meet the other judges. The four of us met on Zoom, which of course meant that there were a couple of technical hitches, but the judging itself went very well. We each had our favourites, but there was enough commonality that deciding on the winners was surprisingly painless. We’d all turned up ready to fight for our favourites, but it transpired that we had often identified the same entries!
All in all, it was a great experience. I loved the creativity that we saw across the board, and a couple of months on some entries still stick in my mind—a clear sign of some fantastic and thought-provoking entries. It was wonderful to see the talent and hard work of some of Nottingham’s young people and I would love to get involved again next year!