South Londoner’s story about isolated teen wins national writing competition

A Brixton-based writer won a national creative writing competition to highlight vulnerable teenagers last month.

Rebekah McDermott, 25, originally from Bath but now living near Brixton, jointly won the 16-25 category for her 2,000 word story titled Mud.

The competition was run by The Children’s Society along with Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House, for the Seriously Awkward Campaign.

Ms McDermott, who writes under the pen-name Rebekah Fellows, said: “I was responding to the generalised pressure that a lot of children have when they’re younger, when their parents have a directed route for them and are not looking at what their children want or what’s good for them.

“When you’re a teenager everyone feels that weird isolation at some point in their teenage years regardless of their situation.”

The Children’s Society is calling for more support for at-risk 16 and 17-year-olds, including those classed by councils as ‘in need’, and that it doesn’t stop when they turn 18.

They want these teenagers to receive more help with employment, housing and education and better protection from sexual exploitation.

The Children’s Society chief executive, Matthew Reed, said: “We had a fantastic response to our competition, and the theme struck a chord with many aspiring writers who understand how difficult life can be for 16- and 17-year-olds, some inspired by moving personal experiences.

“Yet too often these vulnerable children are wrongly dismissed as troublesome teenagers who are old enough to deal with their own problems.”

With a Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway, Ms McDermott has worked for Bloomsbury Publishing for nearly three years in book rights.

Her story follows the reaction of a teenage girl and her own family to a Polish family moving into town, and the emotional turmoil the girl faces despite her seemingly supportive parents.

Ms McDermott said that although there were immigrants at her school there wasn’t any direct racism, but that there seems to be a lot more now.

Her joint-win was announced the day before footage appeared in the national news that showed a Syrian teenage refugee being attacked at a Huddersfield school.

Ms McDermott said: “It’s our innate human go-to that we are fearful of things we don’t know about. It’s a human trigger.”

Award-winning novelist and judge Emma Healey, whose latest novel Whistle in the Dark tells the story of a missing teenager, was inspired to be involved due to her own teenage depression.

She said: “All the competition stories I read touched on how frightening the world can be for young people, and how difficult it can be to admit that, or find someone helpful to talk to.”

Ms McDermott shares her prize with Jamie Moody, who was inspired by how they were treated when they came out as non-binary.

This was Ms McDermott’s first foray into Young Adult fiction, having previously worked on a World War 1 novel and a Sci-fi one when she was younger.

Although she has no plans to extend Mud she will receive expert advice from AM Heath Literary Agents.

“I’m writing a young adult (YA) novel at the moment about a young girl, I haven’t properly done it before. It’s fun. You can be more candid when you can write in the first person in YA,” Ms McDermott said.

Ms McDermott said that the winning stories will be published in a booklet and sent to MPs, giving them a personal scope on what is happening for young people.

Feature image shows Rebekah being presented with her certificate by The Children’s Society’s director of campaigns, Clare Bracey, alongside top author, Harriet Reuter-Hapgood. Photo credit: Josh Ransley.

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