Meet the 2016 Young Writers Competition's finalists

Reporting on the Around DB and Life on Lantau Young Writer’s Competition entries for 2016, Sam Agars discovers what really keeps Lantau students up at night.

The entries for this year’s Around DB and Life on Lantau Young Writer’s Competition (YWC) were many and varied, but there was again one constant – quality. Each year a new crop of local writers delivers engaging, thoughtful and hugely readable stories that belie their age and impress the judges.

This year, the competition’s fourth, entrants were asked to write about a particular community concern. Topics ranged from local littering to teenage lawlessness and the need to raise awareness about people living with spectrum disorders. In April, it was up to the judges Elizabeth Kerr, Peter Sherwood and Martin Lerigo (all regular writers for Around DB and Life on Lantau) to select and mentor the three finalists – Maria Andreeva, 14, Katrina Lowe, 14, and Ryan Harling, 16. The judges also chose three runners-up – Alix Leonard, 17, Xander Ito Low, 16, and Marcus Cheung, 16.

others winners

In the subsequent online vote, conducted on the Around DB and Life on Lantau Facebook pages, April 16 to 19, an incredible 12,470 people responded (by viewing, voting, commenting and sharing). Katrina placed first, Ryan placed second and Maria third.

You can read all the stories submitted at www.arounddb.com. But now it’s time to meet the three finalists.

Maria: disconnectedness

In her short story, Discovery Bay International School (DBIS) student Maria Andreeva, who was also a finalist in last year’s YWC, writes about disconnectedness – how many of us get so caught up in our own worlds, we choose to ignore the bigger picture. She urges readers to become more aware of what’s happening around them and of the small things everyone can do to help the planet and each other.

By focusing on the bigger picture rather than concentrating on a single, isolated issue, Maria has delivered a piece that makes readers think twice about how they are living their lives.

“My story is actually a very personal topic for me, as I used to hide behind my ‘shield’ and didn't notice the world and problems surrounding me,” DB resident Maria says. “But once I realised that I can make a positive impact and it would count, it changed my view on the world quite a lot.”

Mentor Peter is impressed with the insight shown by Maria at such a young age. “She is thinking quite deeply about life and human behaviour,” he says. “I feel she is on a good path to some significant insights. It’s unusual for someone her age.”

Maria took plenty away from her work with Peter and is planning on putting his advice and encouragement to good use in the years to come. “I gained a lot of knowledge and encouraged myself to give more to this world,” she says. “Writing has been my passion since I started reading a lot of books. I love creating my own unique worlds and characters the most, so fictional writing is my favourite genre.”

Ryan: commercialisation

Ryan chose to write about something he feels strongly about – the commercialisation of Ngong Ping and other parts of Lantau. “Walking around Ngong Ping during Christmas time there was Christmas music playing and I was wondering, ‘What is this? This isn’t real, this isn’t the real deal,’” he says.

In his story, Ryan looks at the government’s insistence to put the economy ahead of environmental conservation. He drew inspiration from The Planners, a poem by Boey Kim Hung, which explores alienation in the modern world. “It is about the setting up of communities and suburbia and how everything is structured and not authentic,” he says. “I tried to capture an element of the poetry within my piece.”

Ryan, who attends YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College and lives in Mui Wo, was encouraged to enter the competition by his English teacher. “Writing helps me to express what I feel,” he says. “It’s an outlet of my ideas and it gives me a more structured way of showing it than speaking.”

Ryan’s mentor Elizabeth is quick to praise his mature argument and understanding of the issue he chose to cover. “I was impressed that Ryan was such a thinker, for lack of a better word,” she says. “He chose a topic that surprised me – exploitation of heritage – and when I asked him a question or to explain himself he took the time to actually consider his words. He showed me his second draft too.”

Ryan, meanwhile, was surprised by just how much he gained from the mentoring experience. “Elizabeth went far beyond my anticipated ‘you used a comma here when you should use a semicolon,’ sort of deal,” he says. “She obviously put in a lot of time to develop her thoughts on my piece. I appreciated it immensely as her feedback was all highly relevant and very valuable to my improvement process.”

Katrina: technology

Katrina, who attends Discovery College (DC), is another first-time YWC entrant but she is by no means a stranger to the art of writing, having written her first book at the age of seven. The Discovery Bay resident’s fictional story is set in 2046 and looks at the way technology could further consume us in the future.

Katrina initially wrote her story for an English assessment and the impetus to tell it came from a real-life incident she witnessed. “I was walking to school and I saw a DBIS student walking uphill and a DC student walking downhill; they collided with one another because they were too busy on their phones,” she says. “It made me realise how much kids our age rely on our phones. They acted like nothing happened, like it usually happens.”

For mentor Martin, Katrina’s story had a real impact and he predicts she is in for a big future. “I love the imagination that has gone into it, Katrina has a real skill for engaging her reader,” Martin says. “She uses some lovely descriptive passages and phraseology that you would not expect to find in a writer of her age. She is diligent and attentive, and was enthusiastic to work on her style and creativity.”

Writing is something Katrina does as much as possible and she is pleased with how her winning story has worked out. “I actually took writing classes in primary and always really liked doing it,” she says. “I did it every week and I think I just got into the habit of writing books. I really like the part where I describe my protagonist’s struggles without any electronics. I think it really gets the message out about how the future might turn out to be.”

Making the top three – never mind securing the number one spot – came as a shock to Katrina initially. “My dad entered me, I didn’t know he had until I got the email from Around DB,” she says. “I’m glad he did.”

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