The competition was organised by the Scottish Review
and sponsored by the Young Programme charity. It was open to pupils in Scottish schools who were between the ages of 15 and 18 on 16 December 2021.
It was a condition of entry that work should be that of the author alone, unedited by a teacher (or anyone else), and that it should be a work of non-fiction. Pupils were asked to imagine that they were writing a feature or column for an intelligent magazine or serious newspaper. Examples given in the briefing were: a commentary about something in the news; thoughts about a cultural event; an account of a personal experience of some kind; a piece about a sports event; or a profile of, or an interview with, an individual. The articles were required to be between 900 and 1,200 words in length. No entries outside of these margins were considered.
A short-list of 11 papers was sent out to a panel of 18 judges, with no identification of author, age or school included. Members of the panel were asked to vote for their winner and two runners-up, and also append comments on their selection.
The winner will receive a cheque for £600 and each of the two runners-up a cheque for £300. All three articles are published in this special edition of SR. Eight highly commended and 10 commended writers will receive a certificate of recognition and book token. Our congratulations to all 21 long-listed pupils for their outstanding work and to the many other promising young writers who entered the competition. Special congratulations to Douglas Academy
, High School of Dundee, Kelvinside Academy
, Perth High School
and Tynecastle High School
– the schools with more than one pupil on today's roll of honour. All pupils who took part in the competition, whether awarded or not, should be extremely proud of taking up this challenge. Your hard work is greatly appreciated!
The panel of adjudicators
, journalist and broadcaster; Jean Barr
, emeritus professor of adult and continuing education, University of Glasgow; Dr Mary Brown
, freelance education consultant; Tom Chidwick,
manager, Mile End Institute; Howie Firth
, director, Orkney International Science Festival; Andrew Hook
, emeritus professor of English literature, University of Glasgow; Magnus Linklater
columnist and former editor, The Scotsman
; Fiona MacDonald
, managing director and chair, Young Programme; Alan
, patron, Institute of Contemporary Scotland; Islay McLeod
, editor, Scottish Review
; Sally Magnusson
, broadcaster and writer; Barbara Millar
, Young Programme adjudicator; George Robertson
(Lord Robertson of Port Ellen), politician and former secretary-general, NATO; James Robertson
, writer and poet; Mairi Clare Rodgers
, trustee, Institute of Contemporary Scotland; Anthony Seaton
, emeritus professor of environmental and occupational medicine, University of Aberdeen; Morelle Smith
, poet and author; Gillean Somerville-Arjat
, critic and writer.
There was much praise for the short-listed articles.
said: 'Picking three from the shortlist has never been harder in the years I've been involved. All our shortlisted writers can be proud of their achievement. They produced writing worth reading, and all of them have the potential to make a lifelong success of writing. I hope they enjoyed the experience sufficiently to do so'.
'This year's short list was very strong. They should all be commended for well-structured, well-written and, where appropriate, well-researched essays in a variety of forms: personal reflection, scientific fact, film critique and topical opinion piece,' stated Gillean Somerville-Arjat
said: 'I think this has been the most difficult year to judge. The sheer quality of the writing, the command of vocabulary, the emotions generated or the technology interpreted all combined to make the decision very hard indeed. Maybe, just maybe, the future in their hands might make for a better world'.
thought the entries were 'thought-provoking, relevant, and dealt seriously with issues of our time'; while Fiona Macdonald
said: 'Stylish writing and wide-ranging in subject and tone – another great crop of papers this year'.
'I have been blown away by (and become very envious of!) the fluency of writing and clarity of thought of each of these essays, and have found it really difficult to choose just one winner,' commented Tom Chidwick
. 'As always, a very high quality,' added Alan McIntyre
The winner: Holly Helbert
Theme: An examination of a family bond and grief
A stylishly written tribute to a grandmother. Moving, without ever straying into sentimentality.
This is beautifully constructed, and full of fine descriptions and very mature observations. Dealing as it does with the loss of a loved relative through deteriorating illness and finally death, it is full of emotion yet manages to avoid tipping over into sentimentality. A very moving piece of writing.
Simple, poignant, powerfully emotional and captivating. A modern parable with a kick to the senses. Had me choking with feeling.
A beautifully written and well-structured paper revealing the loving relationship between grandmother and child. The poignant refrain of 'in a while crocodile' at the end of each scene works superbly well. This is also on one level a coming of age story which takes us from the author, aged five, teaming up with her grandmother to boo mum turning the television off, to pondering what grandma would say if she knew that if the author ever marries, it will be to another woman. An impressive and touching piece.
Grief. Beautifully told, poignant, simple, about coming to terms with childhood, growing up and the loss of a close relative. The construction of the piece held it together.
This was what an essay should be, well-written with a clear theme that kept me reading and an ending that spoke so well of loss that it brought tears to my eyes. That writing it proved a moment of catharsis for the writer was a particularly nice point.
Written from the point of view of her present self, the writer presents a number of brief vignettes written in the present tense to convey the strong love she felt as a child for her grandmother. This is a beautifully crafted piece, which acknowledges the enduring influence of a key relationship and of the desire not to disappoint.
This is so powerful, with the story told so well, with detail and care. The narrative grips the reader, with the author's ability to reflect on her feelings and share them.
Dr Mary Brown
: Beautifully written, and the sense of poetry was very elegant – the references to the writer's perceptions at different ages was very well done.
A most assured and confident piece of writing that manages to capture the pain of young bereavement. The blend of intimate humour and well-observed grief creates a convincing and affecting warmth (anyone who has lost someone close at a young age will recognise the irrational guilt that goes with grieving).
This was such an exquisitely moving piece. There was an extraordinary clarity in its use of language. It's so honest, observant and acutely sensitive, but the emotion is never overplayed. The guilt and remorse she feels for having stopped seeing her grandmother after she has dementia because she finds it so difficult to deal with is frankly acknowledged, especially when she learns her name was the last one her grandmother forgot. Just brilliant.
This paper was lyrical, personal, poetic. The sentences are kept short – this keeps the momentum going and it is written with a deceptively light touch. But the writing is assured, confident and the story is memorably moving, utterly poignant.
Spirited, fast-paced but reflective, graphic and touching account of the effect that dementia has on both its victims but perhaps more importantly their families.
An evocative and memorable piece of writing, with careful thought put into structure and pay-off. Excellent work!
Theme: An insight into the impact of Covid on young people
Mairi Clare Rodgers:
A glimpse into the impact of Covid on young people, schooled at home, cut off from friends and desperately seeking connection. The tenacity of youth and its bottomless well of hope shines through.
The writer uses the ending of COVID-19 lockdowns as a way into an unpretentious but moving exhibition of what the restoration of social freedom feels like. The account of the day-long walk with friends is beautifully written. The rhythm of the short sentences often seems to echo that of the walkers' steps.
The author described the joy of walking after escaping the confines of the Covid lockdown. It conveyed a real sense of that delight in the outdoors, the need to explore new boundaries, and the challenge of new experiences. The relationship between friends and the way that friendship grew was moving and well-explored. It had a wider message for all of us.
I take this as an allegory of the Covid journey. Told as a physical journey, it captures the frustrations of self-isolation and the joy of the eventual liberation. A stylish way of summing up what so many of us suffered.
A thoughtful take on lockdown and the joy of the rediscovering lost freedoms of friendship and physical challenge. It's not always easy to write about simple things but this is beautifully judged. 'We pushed on,' the writer says. 'We still had hope.'
This is something special, with the unforgettable image of the walkers. This is the perfect story for today, with our emergence from the long months of lockdown. It is the kind of story that could make a film, to be enjoyed and shared.
A very personal response to the impact successive lockdowns during the pandemic had on the writer's life. It describes a long coastal walk home undertaken by the writer and two friends after restrictions were lifted. I found the story it tells, and the final paragraph in particular, satisfying and uplifting.
A lovely story about the not wanting a day of freedom to end. Some of the writing was beautiful – 'seeds of sunset had planted themselves in the sky' – and the image of running across the wet sand towards the end with sunlit faces had a cinematic quality to it.
My interest and attention was immediately caught by the vivid imagery. It was retained by the suspense created by the uncertainty over whether or not the walkers would go on. The language throughout uses unusual, evocative descriptions and metaphors.
What was so appealing about this piece was the sense of freedom the boys felt when they could go out and meet up and the palpable joy of their reunion, even if it meant tiring themselves out and worrying their parents walking so far and for so long during one whole day.
High School of Dundee
Theme: An analysis of gender traits through Lord of the Flies
I found it absolutely fascinating and loved the way the author cuts between personal experience and discussion of different film and theatre adaptations of William Golding's Lord of the Flies
. It deals with sexual politics and approaches this subject from a female point of view but does not shrink from making uncomfortable points about the capability of girls as well as boys to be cruel and bullying. Yet it finishes with an episode recalled from a stage performance of the novel which is a powerful affirmation of female solidarity.
An impressive entry. The character's experience of onstage cruelty is used very skilfully as a way into an illuminating discussion of gender.
This examination of the potential of girls to be just as barbaric as boy-lords of the flies is a terrific read. Arresting right from the start, it holds the reader's attention throughout as it moves seamlessly between a stage production dramatically evoked in the present tense, calm observation and the remembered trauma of a sleep-over. The ending reminds us in a beautifully understated way that girls can be wonderful too.
A mature piece of writing. Effective in moving back and forward from the action on the stage to thoughts and memories about playground bullying.
In addition to a good argument structure, some of the language in this paper was very evocative. Well-balanced and thought-provoking.
Mairi Clare Rodgers:
An incredibly well-written and insightful paper. Compelling from the first line, it uses art as a lens to offer a mature and interesting exploration of gender expectations, and how out of sync they can be with reality. Both personal and polemic, it effortlessly entwines lived experience with a view of the bigger picture.
Curiously, I read Lord of the Flies
the year it was published, when I was just a year older than the writer, so I was able to contrast my own feelings with hers 70 years later. She uses the device of putting her comments on gender-related issues in the context of performing in a school all-girl play based on the book, which is a satisfying way of framing her discussion.
A strikingly original take on familiar themes: gender differences (real or perceived), adolescence, power play, and assertive casting in the performing arts. These are brought together with a freshness that is beautifully sustained by crisp writing. The focus switches about restlessly, conveying a sense of exploration. The vocabulary is deep, and is used appropriately.
Written in short, often sharp, sentences the writer has chosen an innovative way to discuss gender roles and expectations, whilst managing to convey some of the horrors of being excluded from friendship groups as a younger girl. Pacey, with brio!
Dr Mary Brown:
Interesting and mature writing style, with many thought-provoking insights.
In alphabetical order
Feisty essay on parallels between Trump's Presidency and 1984
Lyrical paper examining art and its impact on our lives
St Joseph's College
Passionate essay on the plight of Afghanistan
Larbert High School
Entertaining paper on the history and merits of swearing
Sarah Reid Bendoris
Well-written review of French film, La Heine
Tynecastle High School
Mature essay on the 'Seven Deadly Sins' of social media
Mia Willis Bsaibes
Fascinating insight into the launch and subsequent journey of Voyager 1
St Margaret's School for Girls
Delightful paper on the author's fear of spiders
In alphabetical order
Berwickshire High School
Original paper advocating mining on the Moon
Tynecastle High School
Intriguing examination of the history of witchcraft
Rachel Dell Robertson
Well-researched essay on pros and cons of nuclear energy
Educational paper on the benefits of space exploration
Robert Gordon's College
Quirky essay on the power of disco
High School of Dundee
Illuminating paper on the addictive nature of TikTok
Bold essay on wokeness and cancel culture
Perth High School
Frank account of
living with autism
Lively essay about the significance of female villains
Perth High School
of food and all things edible
for the winning paper by Holly Helbert
for the joint runner-up paper by Tristan Bleak
for the joint runner-up paper by Eve Campbell