Sunday, 20 September 2020

BBC Young Writers' Award 2020 Shortlist - PRESS RELEASE!!!

***Embargoed until Sunday 20 September 2020, 1800hrs ***


inspired by immigration, feminism, disability and care homes

#BBCYWA #shortstories @BBCR1

Giving voice to the ‘othered’ and reclaiming narratives dominates a ‘deeply impressive’ shortlist for the 2020 BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University, announced live on BBC Radio 1’s Life Hacks today (Sunday 20 September).

From the tender relationship between a boy and his grandmother inspired by family experience of Alzheimer’s, to a feminist reclaiming of the Greek myth of Persephone; from the memory and stories of a first-generation Indian immigrant, to a celebration of ‘otherness’ and the transformative power of difference, via a darkly comic exploration of humanity in a crowded tube carriage: the five sophisticated stories, penned by writers aged 15 to 18 were praised by the judges for their ‘startling confidence’ and ‘deeply impressive’ range of subject matter and style. 

Practising for GCSE English Language papers inspired two finalists to write, with one, Ben Marshall, never having written a short story before outside of the classroom. The shortlist also sees the return of 2018 finalist Lottie Mills – a second-year English Literature student at Cambridge University – for her ‘genuine triumph’ of a story inspired by her #OwnVoices experience of disability and her frustration at how difference is represented. 

Now in its sixth year, The BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University 2020 is open to all writers between the ages of 13 18 years and was created to discover and inspire the next generation of writers. It is a cross-network collaboration between BBC Radio 4 and Radio 1.

The 2020 BBC Young Writers’ Award shortlist is:

  • ‘Winds that Travel Across’ by Maleeha Faruki, 18, from Leicester
  • ‘Three Pomegranate Seeds’ by Mei Kawagoe, 15, from Leicestershire 
  • ‘Bingo Tuesdays’ by Ben Marshall, 18, from Otford, Kent
  • ‘The Changeling’ by Lottie Mills, 18, from Stevenage, Hertfordshire
  • ‘The Battle of Trafalgar Square’ by Naomi Thomas, 17, from Sheffield 

Katie Thistleton, Chair of the 2020 BBC Young Writers’ Award Judging Panel, says:

“Congratulations to our five shortlisted writers and thank you to everyone who entered the 2020 BBC Young Writers’ Award. This year has been an unsettling one for young people and writing has proved a powerful way to explore complex feelings and emotions. Gaining insight into the minds of teenagers and what they care about through their writing has never seemed so vital. I hope this year’s entries will inspire others.”

Thistleton is joined on the judging panel by: Laura Bates, Sunday Times bestselling author and founder of ‘The Everyday Sexism Project’; screenwriter, novelist and YA Book Prize 2018 winner Will Hill; winner of the Branford Boase Award and shortlistee for the YA Book Prize 2019 Muhammad Khan; and poet, critic and journalist Bridget Minamore.

The five shortlisted stories, each under 1000 words, will be read by actors including Hollyoaks and Derry Girls actor Dylan Llewelyn, The End of the F***ing World actress Jessica Barden, and comedian and actress, Nimisha Odedra and broadcast by BBC Radio 1 and available on BBC Sounds. They will also be available to read on the BBC Radio 1 website. The winner will be announced live on BBC Radio 4 Front Row on Tuesday 6 October.

The BBC Young Writers’ Award has a reputation for identifying the short story stars of the future. Shortlisting for this prize is a stepping-stone for writing success, with one of Lottie Mills’ fellow 2018 cohort, Reyah Martin, winning the 2020 Canada/Europe Commonwealth Short Story Prize aged just 20. In 2019, inaugural YWA winner Brennig Davies secured a place to study English Literature at Oxford University and won the coveted Crown literary prize at the Urdd Eisteddfod – a Welsh language cultural festival. 

Antonia Byatt, CEO, First Story says:


“Congratulations to the shortlisted young writers this year. What they have achieved is totally impressive - sophisticated dexterity, finely tuned sensitivity and a bold engagement with contemporary issues all stand out strongly in these stories. It’s warming, too, to see that creative writing in the GCSE curriculum has been a starting point for some of them, something it is important not to lose as schools concentrate on curriculum recovery this year. This years’ shortlistees are clearly all very committed writers and have great writing careers in front of them.”


Dr Sarah Dillon, Faculty of English, Cambridge University, says:

“The BBC Young Writers’ Award is such a crucial way of identifying and amplifying the voices of some of the UK’s best young short story writers. This year’s shortlist reassures that the form is alive and well with the younger generation. The stories reveal how some of today’s most challenging contemporary issues are feeding these young people’s imaginations and how, through writing and reading, experiences of hate, horror, frustration and despair can be transformed into sites of hope, humour and aspiration for a future this generation want to create, not just inherit.”

About the 2020 short stories:

‘Winds that Travel Across’ by Maleeha Faruki:

Over the course of a car journey, a father shares his memories of childhood, joys and hardships in India and the reasons he came to Britain. From frozen mountain peaks, to bustling bazaars and kitchens thick with the scent of lamb broth, this ‘effortless’ story was inspired by ‘people’s views on immigrants during Brexit’, a desire to reflect the stories that define us and the importance and humanity in individual experience. 

‘Three Pomegranate Seeds’ by Mei Kawagoe: 

In a highly imaginative and ‘fiercely evocative’ feminist retelling of a classic myth, Mei, whose writing has been performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Other Place, gives voice and agency to the kidnapped Persephone in this ‘visceral’ and rebellious story. Poetic and dream-like, it exposes societal constraints and the lessons girls are taught during childhood: to play small, be nice and not ask for more. 

‘Bingo Tuesdays’ by Ben Marshall: 

A ‘beautifully observed’ and ‘bittersweet’ story about family, loss and memory, Bingo Tuesdays was inspired by Ben’s personal experience of visiting care homes and the view that ‘sometimes care homes are where we discard the elderly’. Tender, emotionally mature and with a vividly realised sense of place, this story of a young man visiting his grandmother for their weekly bingo sessions was also inspired by memories of bingo sessions at Butlins, family experiences of Alzheimer’s and his grandparents love for each other. 

‘The Changeling’ by Lottie Mills:

Previously shortlisted in 2018, Lottie Mills #OwnVoices story was inspired by frustration with ‘how difference, especially disability, is represented in fiction’. Reclaiming the myth of the ‘changeling’ and transforming it from something used to persecute and exclude into something magical, she explores disability via the fantastic in this ‘heartbreakingly well-written’ and ‘genuine triumph’ of a fable about a young girl’s extraordinary coming of age.

‘The Battle of Trafalgar Square’ by Naomi Thomas:

Described by judges as a ‘a punch in the face of a story, in the best possible way,’ an ordinary commute on a crowded tube train is transformed into a surreal and darkly, comic experience when a woman has an unexpected and shocking accident. Written as practice for Naomi’s English Language GCSE, the story exposes both the good and bad in human nature via a short story that highlights the power of the form to ‘give us a complete literary experience in and of itself’. An avid short story writer, Naomi was Highly Commended in the Young Northern Writers’ Awards 2020. 

The shortlisted stories can be read and listened to online at:

Key Dates: 

  • From 6pm Sunday 20th September: The five shortlisted stories and interviews with the writers are available to listen to via the Short Works podcast on the BBC Sounds app and the BBC Radio 1 website
  • Tuesday 6 October: The winners of the BBC Young Writers’ Award and the 15th BBC National Short Story Award will be announced in a special short story edition of BBC Radio 4’s Front Row from 7.15pm. 
  • 46pm Sunday 11th October: The winner of the BBC Young Writers’ Award will be interviewed on Radio 1’s Life Hacks.


Maleeha Faruki is 18 years old and lives in Leicester. She credits her ambition to become a writer to a secondary school English teacher, who helped her to realise her love for writing. She finds connection with others through stories and uses writing as a way of processing her thoughts; she has kept her work mostly private up until now. In her shortlisted story, Maleeha addresses the prevalent issue of immigration, inspired by her own father’s stories of life growing up in India and moving to England. She reads across many genres, but in recent months has found herself leaning towards dystopian fiction, like Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and 1984 by George Orwell. Maleeha will begin her degree in English and Creative Writing at the University of Leicester this autumn.

Mei Kawagoe is 15 years old and lives in Leicestershire. She writes constantly – in her head, on scraps of paper, in notebooks or on her laptop – and in all forms, from short stories to journalistic pieces and poems. She has been a member of a monthly creative writing group for two years, for which she performed her writing at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Other Place in Stratford, and also attends a weekly journalism group. Mei loves how words make her feel and is an avid reader; some of her favourite books include Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, and Gravity is the Thing by Jaclyn Moriarty. She submitted her story after being inspired by the strength and brilliance of the 2019 YWA shortlist and has previously submitted her writing to BBC 500 Words; Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize; Fireside Magazine and Vogue Talent Contest. She is one of 15 winners of the Daunt Books Children’s Short Story Competition 2020, which will see her writing published in an anthology with an introduction by Patrice Lawrence. 

Ben Marshall is 18 years old and lives in Kent. This is the first short story Ben has written outside of the school curriculum and since finishing his English GCSE. His real passion is film and being shortlisted for the BBC YWA has given him the drive to start writing screenplays. His dialogue was inspired by film and TV, particularly Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s Inside No. 9 and Aaron Sorkin’s work, namely the opening scene of The Social Network. Ben is due to begin a degree in physics at Durham University this autumn.  

Lottie Mills is 18 years old and lives in Hertfordshire. She was previously shortlisted for the BBC YWA in 2018 for her story, Unspoken. Currently studying English Literature at Newnham College, University of Cambridge, books and literature are her greatest loves. When she isn’t reading, Lottie is writing, either on her laptop or, if writer’s block strikes, on her 1930s typewriter. As a disabled person who was often stuck indoors as a child, she knows how vital stories are to our wellbeing – her favourite children’s authors included Hilary McKay, Lemony Snicket and Liz Kessler, the latter of whom she has remained in touch with and has been a real inspiration to her writing journey. Lottie recently became frustrated with how difference and disability is represented in fiction and wanted to write a story which reflects the unique strength of outsiders. She is currently working on her first novel, a children’s book, and aspires to be an author as she knows first-hand how life changing the right story can be. 

Naomi Thomas is 17 years old and lives in Sheffield. She is part of the creative writing group Sheffield Young Writers, who encouraged her to submit her work for the BBC YWA, and a new member of the Writing Squad – a development programme for writers across the North. She sees reading and writing as two sides of the same coin and enjoys fiction that is distinctive, like Angela Carter’s Wise Children, or informative, such as Andrea Levy’s Small Island. Equally, cosying up with something familiar like Sherlock Holmes is one of her favourite ways to relax. Naomi believes art can be a formidable proponent for social change and sees creativity as a wonderful way to explore her faith, beliefs and identity. She currently writes mainly short stories and was awarded Senior Runner Up in the Orwell Youth Prize 2020 for her piece The Michelin Woman. She was also Highly Commended in the Young Northern Writers’ Award 2020 for a selection of her work. Naomi is currently in sixth form and is hoping to study English Literature at university.


  • This is the sixth year of the BBC Young Writers’ Award which invites all 13 – 18-year-olds living in the United Kingdom to submit short stories of up to 1,000 words. The Award was launched as part of the tenth anniversary celebrations for the BBC National Short Story Award – this year celebrating its 15th anniversary – and aims to inspire and encourage the next generation of writers. Previous winners are Brennig Davies (2015), Lizzie Freestone (2016), Elizabeth Ryder (2017), Davina Bacon (2018) and Georgie Woodhead (2019). 
  • BBC Radio 1 is the UK’s No.1 youth station, targeting 15 to 29 year-olds with a distinctive mix of new music and programmes focusing on issues affecting young people. The station is the soundtrack to young people's lives in the UK and has been for over 50 years. 
  • BBC Radio 4 is the world’s biggest single commissioner of short stories, which attract more than a million listeners. Contemporary stories are broadcast every week, the majority of which are specially commissioned throughout the year 
  • The mission of the University of Cambridge is to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence. To date, 107 affiliates of the University have won the Nobel Prize. Founded in 1209, the University comprises 31 autonomous Colleges, which admit undergraduates and provide small-group tuition, and 150 departments, faculties and institutions. The University sits at the heart of one of the world's largest technology clusters. The 'Cambridge Phenomenon' has created 1,500 hi-tech companies, 14 of them valued at over US$1 billion and two at over US$10 billion. Cambridge promotes the interface between academia and business and has a global reputation for innovation. The BBC National Short Story Award is being supported by the School of Arts and Humanities, Faculty of English, University Library and the new University of Cambridge Centre for Creative Writing which is part of the University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education, which provides a range of part-time and courses to members of the public.
  • First Story believes there is dignity and power in being able to tell your own story, and that writing can transform lives. We’re working towards a society that encourages and supports all young people to write creatively for pleasure and agency. We’re committed to bringing opportunities for creativity to students who may not otherwise have the chance. Our flagship programme places professional writers into secondary schools serving low-income communities, where they work intensively with students and teachers to foster confidence, creativity and writing ability. Through our core programme and extended activities, we expand young people’s horizons and raise aspirations. Participants gain vital skills that underpin academic attainment and support achieving potential. Find out more and get involved at 

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