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 10 December 2020.
It was a condition of entry that the 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 19 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 Glenalmond College
, High School of Dundee, Hutchesons' Grammar School
, Lenzie Academy
and Perth 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 immensely proud of taking up this challenge during a year of such uncertainty and upheaval. 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; Howie Firth
, director, Orkney International Science Festival; Gerry Hassan
, commentator and author; Andrew Hook
, emeritus professor of English literature, University of Glasgow; Amy Jardine
, Scotland Young Thinker of the Year 2014; 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 chief adjudicator; Bill Paterson
, actor; George Robertson
(Lord Robertson of Port Ellen), politician and former secretary-general, NATO; James Robertson
, writer and poet; Anthony Seaton
, emeritus professor of environmental and occupational medicine, University of Aberdeen; Rachel Sharp
, secondary school teacher; Morelle Smith
, poet and author; Gillean Somerville-Arjat
, critic and writer.
There was much praise for the short-listed articles. Magnus Linklater
commented: 'The standard here is incredibly high. Any one of these stories or essays deserves some sort of recognition, either for writing style or original ideas'. George Robertson
said: 'Once again you pose a virtually impossible task. There is an eloquence and passion which restores one’s faith in the rising generation'. Bill Paterson
stated: 'Once again I was struck with the quality of the contributions. If I hadn't known they were the work of 15-18 year olds, I would assume that they were from much more mature and experienced writers. Having said that, the strength of the writing is that the experiences are from the coal face of young people growing up in our fractured and difficult times. This makes it all the more telling'.
said: 'All of these writers can be justly proud of their work. Pace is a difficult quality to achieve, and more particularly to sustain, in prose. For all the diversity of subjects and of styles, these pieces almost all built and held a pace that kept the reader aboard. I was particularly struck by the richness of the vocabulary at these writers' command. Well done to all our writers'.
'Each piece was terrific,' enthused Jean Barr
, 'I'm so impressed by the quality of writing!' Fiona MacDonald
agreed: 'How wonderful that despite current circumstances, the response to this year's competition is as good as ever. Feisty, thoughtful papers written with panache. Well done to all'. Amy Jardine
added: 'It was an absolute joy to read the short-list – each writer has so much talent'.
'What a tremendous mix of writing,' said Howie Firth
, 'It was a pleasure to read them all, and very hard to make the final decisions'. Sally Magnusson
agreed: 'An excellent selection again this year and not an easy task'.
The winner: Amy Campbell
Hutchesons' Grammar School
Title: Dancing on a Thursday night
Theme: Reflections on a life through the eyes of a daughter
A beautifully evocative piece of writing, which links past and present in a warm and affectionate tribute from one generation to another.
A very fine reflective essay on time's passage. The author paints a loving portrait of her mother whilst also recognising that they are of different times and that this means, however close the relationship, that there will always be part of her mother she cannot know. This paper was 'quieter' than most of the others but there was a real depth to it which made it stand out for me.
Imagination, observation and humour are deployed to produce a loving portrait of a mother and a thoughtful exploration of time.
There is a real originality in this essay on a mother's early photograph. It shows imagination and feeling at what was ahead of the mother as she aged. It is reflective and mature, and looks with affection at a life she could not know but was to be part of. It stopped me in my tracks.
I thought this was a well-constructed and very lively and entertaining piece. The idea of the contrast between the then and now works extremely well, and the issue of what children know of their parents is handled deftly through this personal account.
A coming-of-age paper in which the author acknowledges a life of someone beyond being 'just' mum. Written with huge affection and flashes of humour, it conjures up countless family stories, jokes, and painful moments. The interspersing of 'two kids and a miscarriage later' through the paper adds a poignancy and a 'what if…' quality. Tight, measured, evocative writing which resists tipping into over-sentimentality.
I liked the style of writing – short, sharp, descriptive sentences. It is a humane piece – bravely discussing the mother's miscarriage and what that would have meant for the author if the pregnancy had gone to term. There's a powerful honesty and compassion in the writing, which makes for a compelling read.
A mature piece of writing that was very generous in its tone and approach. It pushed the right buttons with me as my kids find it hard to believe that my wife and I were once poor students living in Partick bedsits!
I found this quite moving. So often teenage is a period of life characterised by rebellion, but this is an account of teenage discovery that one's parents were once young also. It is a moment during the period of transition to adulthood when fixation on self becomes concern about and for others, and in this essay we get a glimpse into this process – that even though we are different in many ways, we are also very similar. The style of writing is excellent and I loved the one-line ending.
This entry highlights the importance of mothers and the mother-child relationship. It addreses love, connection, growing older, memories and making sense of life.
: The writing is warm and affectionate, helped by a well-sustained conversational tone. This is an ambitious idea, confidently handled.
This is so well-written, so well-structured, with such finely drawn tones of feeling and something for a reader to enjoy going back to.
I'm sure I wasn't the only judge with a tear in my eye while reading this eloquent and touching entry. Good writing, with clever touches of humour, it held my attention throughout.
St Maurice's High School
Title: Time to face up to acne
Theme: Destigmatising acne
It is one of the blights of growing up but no-one ever talks about acne and facial spots. Even in a day and age when we discuss openly the most intimate of subjects, acne is largely unspoken. Here, the subject is spoken of in emotional and then unemotional terms but the message is clear. For millions of young, growing people it will resonate and the conclusion will reassure and comfort.
A raw and vividly written personal essay which leads us into deeper questions about human worth. From its arresting opening, 'I was 12 when I learned I was ugly,' to the concluding sentence, 'I was 17 when I knew I was worth something,' it is beautifully shaped.
Somewhere we've all been, the insecurity of growing up but hugely magnified by the appalling pressures of media images in today's world. Crackling dialogue too!
This piece of writing addresses a widely found problem for teenagers and does so with an element of bravery. The author combines self-knowledge and awareness with an understanding of the role and power of images and self-image.
This paper refuses to turn away from the face in the mirror. It is so full of youth's anxiety and self-doubt, yet the author does not succumb to self-pity and makes some strong points about the way the cosmetics industry reinforces young people's insecurities in order to make vast profits. It's also very well-constructed, with the two simple opening and closing sentences neatly bookending the rest.
This is a profoundly felt and consistently well-written account of what it feels like to suffer from a condition that peers consider 'ugly' at a time in their lives when teenagers, both male and female, are deeply concerned about how they look. Self esteem matters. It was intelligent, brave and felt thoroughly authentic.
This is not only is a graphic illustration of the problems associated with teenage acne, which it is, but also it expands into a broad attack on the society and commercial interests that demand of young females a perfect body. Most of us will remember the embarrassment of spots at that time of life, but severe acne is a terrible addition to the normal causes of anxiety and depression in teenagers, and the author describes this well. In her case, she describes how she overcame this and learned to accept and love her appearance.
This was an incredibly evocative reflective piece, stylishly written throughout and thoughtfully concluded. The writer's feelings and experiences are expressed poignantly with a high degree of self-awareness and help depict the adolescent acknowledgement of abstract aesthetic hierarchies as a quintessential coming of age moment. Overall, this piece should be commended for its mature insights as well as its confident and varied expression.
The descriptions are detailed, bold and personal, the language is original and the mixture of conversation with description and feelings draws the reader in. I admire the writer's courage in dealing with such a personal and difficult issue. It makes very relevant points too about the power of advertising, and ends on a positive note.
Hyndland Secondary School
Title: Rap women – liberation or exploitation?
Theme: Role of women in rap music
I like the way the author unpacks the subtleties and contradictions of a complex issue, interrogating her own attitudes in a way that gives force to her conclusions.
Not a single cliché in sight, this is a thoughtful, self-aware and impassioned piece of writing which explores the issue from various standpoints, subtly and perceptively. Some nice turns of phrase spice up the writing and directly address what is at stake in just a few words. I also like the sometimes clever juxtapositions and spikey humour.
: This is a mature exploration of a youthful conundrum, encapsulated in what might seem (but it isn't) a trivial context – what a slightly older generation might call the 'girl power' dichotomy: namely, is provocative sexuality as exhibited by female artists empowerment or exploitation? This issue is skilfully developed with well-chosen examples, and conflicting arguments are given thoughtful appraisal. It left me wanting to sit down with the writer and pursue some of the arguments raised: surely the measure of a compelling analysis.
A mature, tightly written paper examining the contradictions in how women are portrayed in popular culture and their freedom of choice on how they portray themselves. Nicely structured with a good introduction and pay-off.
I have heard of Jay-Z, but not Nicki Minaj, Cardi B or Megan Thee Stallion. I have never been drawn to rap music, not merely because of its sound, but also because of its inherent misogyny. But once I got through the barrier of unknown names and references, I was impressed by the writer's critique of the genre and the ambivalence she felt about the representation of the female performers in it. Were they expressing their own freedom within it or were they simply colluding in 'normalising misogyny'? This was well-written, well thought through and interesting to see the writer questioning a form of entertainment that she perceived as having less than laudable intentions.
Again, a mirror up to our times from the target audience. Very insightful and well-argued.
What I like about this essay is the way the writer does not claim to have the answers to this – as they admit – complicated question. The appeal is in their non-dogmatic stance, in their desire to probe beneath our surface attitudes, to admit to doubts and to the possibility that they may have their own underlying, unconscious even, prejudice. They don't say I'm right and others are wrong, they don't demand so and so should not do this or that, they are questioning, and then, quite rightly, point out that other forms of negative discrimination such as racism, is far less tolerated than sexism.
I know nothing whatsoever about this genre and its practitioners, but thought the writer convincingly provides a problematic feminist perspective on the issues raised by this popular form.
An excellent analysis of how women fit into the rap genre – are they being liberated or simply exploited? It's a good question and one that was explored throroughly by the author. A relatively modern issue was humanised and made accessible to all in this perceptive piece of writing.
In alphabetical order
Blistering analysis of Coronavirus and inequality in society
Entertaining take on the evolution of language
Illuminating essay on why ancient literature is still relevant today
Hutchesons' Grammar School
Quirky account of how Tunnock's has brought a community closer together
Firrhill High School
Personal examination of loneliness and fear
Original paper on the butterfly effect
Sprited advocacy of space exploration
Enlightening essay on plastic pollution
In alphabetical order
High School of Dundee
Compelling essay on what we can learn from Coronavirus
Punchy account of the effects of Coronavirus
Perth High School
Unusual examination of global issues – through the medium of song
St Benedict's High School
Vivid account of identity crisis among young black people
Mary Erskine School
Bold analysis of the relationship between Church and State
High School of Dundee
Intriguing exploration of faith and 'Pascal's Wager'
Trinity High School
Invigorating reportage on sustainable fashion
Perth High School
Energetic paper on the benefits of physical exercise
Dalbeattie High School
An essay on realising and accepting one's sexuality
Persuasive essay on mental health and self-care
for the winning paper by Amy Campbell
for the joint runner-up paper by Grace Houston
for the joint runner-up paper by Mila Stricevic