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UEL announces winner of inaugural CityLife Prize for Fiction by Young Writers

Moving short story by teenager Rebecca Hawkins impresses judging panel led by poet and performer Salena Godden


Rebecca Hawkins, 17, of Romford has won the University of East London’s (UEL) inaugural CityLife Prize for Fiction by Young Writers.

Rebecca’s winning entry was an outstanding short story, London Calling, which charts the unexpected life-and-death encounter between a homeless man and a businessperson on a chilly London evening. 

Head judge Salena Godden, the celebrated poet, writer and performer, said, “It was a story with a lot of empathy, a lot of joy and a lot of humanity. 

“It really gave me ‘my’ London and some of the things I see when I’m walking around the city. It was evocative and had real empathy for the characters.”

Rebecca was awarded the prize Thursday night at University Square Stratford during UEL’s Write Now showcase, an annual event which highlights the University’s best creative writing talent.  Ms Godden also performed at the showcase. (Rebecca is pictured above, centre, with UEL Creative Writing Professor Tessa McWatt, left, and Ms Salena Godden, right.)

Rebecca said, “It’s such a great honour to win, and it’s been such a great evening. To be able to stand up here with all the other writers who have read their work – it’s really an incredible experience.” 

Rebecca topped a shortlist comprised of 10 talented young London writers. 

Her winning story can be read in full on UEL’s CityLife project website. Rebecca is a student at Brentwood School in Brentwood, Essex. 

UEL’s CityLife Prize for Fiction by Young Writers is open to young people aged 16-19 living in one of the city’s 32 boroughs. As the winner, Rebecca will receive £500 and the opportunity to take a place on UEL’s BA (Hons) Creative and Professional Writing course, subject to eligibility.

This year’s theme – The City – asked entrants to ruminate on London and its denizens. However, UEL placed no restrictions on topic or genre, and only required that entries were in prose fiction and not be longer than 5,000 words.

UEL Creative Writing Professor Tessa McWatt explained, “There are many prizes in the UK, but there are no established and prominent prizes for London writers. There are also no prominent prizes for young writers which emphasise being in London. We wanted to rectify that.

She said, “The prize is about bringing new London voices to the attention of readers in the city and beyond.”

Ms Godden said, “I think the role of poet and writer has really changed, particularly in the last 18 months. I look for writers that can voice that, who have that empathy, who have that charge, who have that bold sort of courage.

“I really saw that in Rebecca’s work.”