Emma Deeks, Future U Senior Coordinator

A student from Preston has won a competition to find some of the best young writers in Lancashire.

Alex Beattie, 15, who attends Myerscough College, was chosen for their story about the experience of isolation through a tale of a mermaid trapped in an aquarium and being watched by visitors each day.

The Future Writers competition was organised by careers support organisation Future U, as part of its creative writing programme which aims to inspire young people to explore the benefits of reading and writing and future career options.

The competition was designed to get young people to consider the different types of careers available to them in the creative writing sector, from authors and journalists to script writing and marketing.

Alex’s entry was chosen by a panel of experts, including academics from Future U’s partner universities and a guest judge, author Philippa Holloway, while the top 10 pieces have been compiled to create an anthology.

As part of the project, Future U also provided the county’s schools with sector skills sessions, designed to explore careers within creative industries and outline how young people can get started in creative writing careers.

Emma Deeks, Future U Senior Coordinator, said:

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the quality of young writers in Lancashire and the level of entries that we had for the competition.

“It was a difficult decision but Alex’s stood out most for its creative interpretation of the ‘Outside the Window’ theme.

“As well as written work, we broadened the criteria to include spoken word pieces too and encouraged even more young people to take up the creative challenge. Competitions like this are a great way for young people to express themselves, make their voices heard and hopefully inspire them towards a creative career.”

Dr Philippa Holloway, added:

“The standard of entries for this competition was very high, and so selecting the winners and anthology finalists was difficult. Each entry showcased creativity,
imagination, and intelligence in response to the competition.

“The winning piece is a tale of connection and confinement, in which the window theme is used to show the harrowing toll captivity can take on a character, and the longing there is to escape, to touch hands and engage with another life without a pane of glass as a barrier, and to discover more about the world beyond. It resonates with our shared feelings of entrapment over the last year but presents this in such a vividly imaginative way the reader can empathise without it feeling too familiar.”

Future U is part of the national Uni Connect Programme, funded by the Office for Students, and continues to support school pupils across Lancashire to encourage more young people to think about higher education and future careers.

The project involves institutions and organisations across the county including the University of Central Lancashire, Lancaster University, Edge Hill University and the University of Cumbria.

Lancashire’s Future U works with a network of schools, in addition to colleges, higher education providers and local agencies to create tailored activities to meet the needs of students for now and the future.

Its list of partners includes: Blackburn College, Blackpool Sixth Form College, Blackpool and the Fylde College, Burnley College, Edge Hill University, Inspira, Kendal College, Lancaster University, Myerscough College, Nelson and Colne College, Preston’s College, STEMFirst, Runshaw College, The Lancashire Colleges, University of Central Lancashire, University of Cumbria, West Lancashire College.

The Winning Entry

Mavis Quinlan had forgotten how many times she wished to be free. Her world was made up of exactly 1,100,000 litres of salt water and she had never known life outside the tank. Three of the walls were a deep ocean blue, with a ceiling to match; one, a clear glass wall for visitors to admire them; and a sandy floor in which kelp grew metres tall.

Mavis was one of two mermaids at Seven Seas Aquarium. Lira sat opposite her, a small gold mirror in one webbed hand, and a shell-covered hairbrush in the other. She brushed her short hair back, and powdered lilac blush onto her grey skin.

Pitch black eyes stared back at Mavis through her own mirror, she saw the thin gills on her neck open and close slowly as she breathed. This focused her wandering thoughts as she got ready for their first show of the day. Tourists from near and far gathered to watch the aquatic rarities, and with her and Lira performing for them three times a day, Mavis’s mind was regularly stressed.

She swam down to the tank floor and picked up a small sponge. Bringing it to her deep grey tail she began to clean the scales, they glistened as she rubbed it over them. Mavis sat herself on an open clam positioned in front the vast window. It looked out into an observation room, the walls and floor all covered in a thin black felt-like material. A long rectangular bench covered all twelve metres of the back wall.

From the right-hand corner, Mavis saw a sliver of light appear. As it grew, she realised that it was the door opening. A small child sized shadow came into view and spun as it shut the door behind it.

Panting, a young girl walked up to the window and looked up in amazement. Two curly pigtails swung from the top of her head tied up by green ribbons, a pastel pink and blue dress fluttered around her.
She paced the length of the window, swinging the small octopus toy clutched in her hand, admiring the variations of tropical fish and coral that lined the sandy floor.

It took the girl several moments to notice Mavis. Her eyes widened in bewilderment and the eight-legged teddy fell to the ground with a thud. She paused, eyes furrowing in confusion, and took a hesitant step forward. A hint of a smile played on Mavis's face as she watched the youngster walk towards the glass. Swimming closer to the window, Mavis held up her hand in a wave and saw the little girl’s eyes light up and her mouth move in a what looked like a giggle.

Mavis kept her eyes on the child as she made her way closer to the edge of the tank and rested her hands upon the glass. Her breath fogged up the clear walls as she brought her face up to the window. Mavis pressed her own webbed hand against the smaller one. Lifting her tiny head, the girl’s eyes met Mavis’s. Her hand was several times bigger than the one that lay opposite her.

She wondered if the girl on the outside felt the same connection she did when their hands met – a warmth that soothed her soul, made her realise that there was a world that lay just outside of her own. And that she would never get to experience it. Get to make friends not unlike the small girl that had sneaked into see her. A world she would forever dream about.

A world outside the window.

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