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Saturday, 1 July 2017

Top stories at the Evesham Festival of Words.

Earlier this year I was again asked to judge the junior category in the Evesham Festival of Words short story competition, which I was very happy to do. I really enjoyed reading all the stories, and choosing those to be short-listed and winners in both the 8-11s and 12-15s categories. I'm so often impressed with the talent and creative skills of our younger writers, and there were some really excellent stories with all kinds of twists and turns.

In the older category, the prize went to Charvi Jain for Boundless, a story filled with emotion which was a real joy to read. It was written with such care and attention and swept you along with the anguish of the main character – a young mother, trying to cope with a toddler when she is only a child herself. There was some beautiful descriptive narrative and not a single superfluous word to be found.

In the 8-11 category, the young writer, 11 year old Iona Mandal clearly has a great future ahead of her. Her story was Anne Frank Reborn. It wasn't just the way it was written with beautiful phrasing but this young writer had taken to heart the story of Anne Frank, and then taken it a step further, through her death and on to her re-birth. Iona also considered the fact that things rarely change, people fail to learn and prejudice continues.

I just had to admire an 11 year old's understanding and ability to articulate their own thoughts and feelings through their writing. So it was a really special moment to meet up with Iona at the presentation ceremony at Evesham Town Hall on Friday. She received her award from the Festival's special guest, TV presenter, chef and novelist Prue Leith. Afterwards I chatted to Iona and her proud parents and asked her what had inspired her to write this story.

Iona who is in Year 6 at King David Primary School, Birmingham said: “My school is a Jewish school even though I'm not Jewish. We learn about the holocaust as it's a very important part of Jewish history. It was through the lessons, school trips to places such as the Holocaust Memorial Centre in Nottingham, and having a survivor of the holocaust come to talk at our school, that I was inspired to write it – as well as my own experiences.”

Iona is no stranger to winning writing and poetry competitions. Her first win was when only eight when she won the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation competition with a poem about poaching. Since then she's won the Ted Hughes Poetry Award and recently she came tops in the Wicked Young Writers competition. She also took first in The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, winning herself a trip to the House of Lords.

“I've entered that twice. The first time I came second, and the second time I came first,” said Iona who has her heart set on being a cardiothoracic surgeon when she grows up – but continuing with her writing in her spare time. “If I have any spare time,” she added with a laugh.

I asked Iona if she has any advice for young writers. She had this to say: “Even if you don't win anything it is good to have a go for the experience and the fun – and it is a great hobby to get into. When you write you should dip your pen in your soul.”

Here's a short extract of Anne Frank – Reborn by Iona Mandal.

3rd September, 1944; Auschwitz: There was no moon or a star in the sky that night. To the whistle of the last train and barking of unfriendly dogs, I arrived. In the dead of night, in a carriage, Star of David pinned on my coat. The ground stood cold at almost freezing point. I could see tall lamp posts and fences with barbed wires - distanced by uniformly separated watch towers, manned by sentinels. The railway lines running aimlessly were meshed with broken flints. The smoke from the last carriage had settled by now. As black boughs of stark trees creaked in the ghastly wind, soldiers with blinding flash lights shouted, ripping the eerie silence.
There was no room for confusion. Everyone seemed in haste. It was now time for roll call to separate the men, women and children.The young and old were segregated in different lines. Dad went away with able bodied men, pushed by a soldier wearing a weird symbol stitched on his sleeve - black, circled by white, bordered on red cloth. Oh! How much I hated it! Reminded me of a creepy spider with four legs!

Your can read the rest of Iona's story and all the short listed and winning entries in a new anthology entitled: Short Stories (2) Best Stories from 2017. Available from the Evesham Festival of Words website: https://eveshamfestivalofwords.org/ also available from the Almonry Evesham. http://www.almonryevesham.org/

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