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Futuristic vision: The 2018 Young Writers Competition finalists

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In this year’s Young Writers Competition, local secondary school students shared their thoughts on what Lantau could look like – and how its inhabitants might be living – in 2030+. James Allen introduces the finalists.

Whether it’s one day, one week or a decade away, we all at some point wonder what lies ahead, for ourselves and our homes. With personal and environmental challenges facing us all, budding local authors were tasked with bringing their visions of Lantau’s future to life in this year’s Around DB and Life on Lantau Young Writers Competition (YWC).

Mentors Peter Sherwood, Trisha Hughes and Sharon Le Roux sifted through this year’s submissions before choosing their finalists: Eleanor Lambert and Kayla Adara Lee, 14, and Serena Wong, 13. These writers stood out with their deeply descriptive, thought-provoking narratives, which could well serve as a warning to us in the coming years.

The finalists’ stories represent just three of those submitted from students ranging from 11 to 17 years old, from Discovery College (DC), Discovery Bay International School (DBIS), YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College (YHKCC), and farther flung Island School, West Island School and Singapore International School – the best response to the contest to date.

After an online vote, the winner turned out to be Kayla Adara Lee (read her story here), though all three young women wowed with their savagely dystopian perspectives.

Kayla Adara Lee

Kayla Adara Lee writes around 2,000 words each day and is a veteran of the YWC, having won in 2017. Now in Form 4 at YHKCC, she’s been pursuing her passion for writing since primary school.

“I just really love to write, and writing competitions offer the opportunity for me to showcase my skills,” she says. “I want to keep winning the YWC until I become a mentor.”

It turns out that Kayla was reading before she could speak, and still prefers books to social media or TV. “I pretty much always carry a book with me,” she says. “I look around me and everyone else is on their phones.”

While she can’t commit to having a favourite book, Kayla loves George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series and reading “unpublished stuff online like Fan Fiction.” Interestingly too, she’s inspired by lyrics. “My favourite songwriter is Ryan Ross, he’s in Panic at the Disco,” she says. “He’s like the epitome of creativity and I’m trying to follow the way he sees the world.”

Kayla’s vision of Lantau in 2030+ is spare and symbolic; it’s also a call to action, in which there may still be time to save a futuristic Lantau that has fallen victim to commerce. “It’s kind of dystopian with a cyber undertone,” she says. “There’s not really a plot to be honest, it’s more of an account. We’re following the perspective of an omniscient being. It’s a bit grim; it’s like a corporate control, lack of autonomy sort of thing. I’m not really great at writing happy stories.”

Mentored this year by Peter Sherwood, Kayla first entered the YWC to prove to herself and her family that she could make it as a professional writer. “I want to pursue a degree in English Literature,” she says, “and I wanted to prove to my family that I could actually be successful.”

Serena Wong

Serena Wong’s love of writing and words also stems from early childhood, when her Mum gave her as much reading material as she could handle. A Year 9 DC student, she’s now into fantasy, sci-fi and crime fiction, listing Sarah J Maas, Dan Brown, J.K. Rowling, Chris Colfer and Ray Bradbury as favourite writers.

“A lot of my writing comes from the books that I read as a child. I was obsessed,” Serena says. “Now, I have a lot else going on – I love ballet and I dance every single day – but for a long time I’ve been considering putting my head down to write a proper book and sending it to a publisher to see what they think. I started writing something historic about a year ago.”

For the YWC, mentored by Trisha Hughes, Serena focused on air pollution, depicting in her story a Lantau where everyone has been forced into underground dwellings to escape from the toxic air.

“I mainly based it off real-life situations, especially the air pollution, so in about 2020 everyone had to be moved inside,” Serena says. “I know it might not sound extremely realistic but when you think how fast things are happening it might be possible.”

Serena draws attention to the way we are doing irreversible damage to our home. “There are amazing things in Lantau and I like it for its greenery,” she says. “I wrote this because it’s a scary thought that it could all go away, especially with all the construction and everything that’s happening. It feels so gloomy when you have air pollution; it changes the whole atmosphere.”

Eleanor Lambert

A lover of classics such as Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, Eleanor Lambert has been reading avidly since kindergarten, rarely letting books get in the way of anything else in her life. “People would refer to me as ‘Ellie the Bookworm’ and I literally used to walk around and read all the time, but I’ve stopped that now,” she says, “it’s probably a bit dangerous!”

A Year 9 DBIS student, Eleanor’s favourite subjects are Art, Design and Technology and English, and she plans to study Architecture at university. “I already have it planned out,” she says. “I wanted to be an interior designer first, but as my mum pointed out, architecture is more needed in the world.”

In her YWC story, with Sharon Le Roux as her mentor, Eleanor describes a future Lantau not dissimilar from the one we live on now. “It’s a slight exaggeration of how things are,” she says. “I don’t see things changing that much in only a decade or so. I basically took problems that we’re having today, like littering and pollution, and looked a few years into the future. I think of the girl in the story as a really depressing version of me.”

Eleanor’s image of the future includes seas choked with litter, apartment blocks blotting out the sun, and people so attached to their personal devices that human interaction is but a distant memory. “My story doesn’t really have a plot but the girl used to live here; she’s come back and she’s looking back and it shows her memories of different times in her life,” Eleanor explains.

“It’s about how Lantau isn’t really her home in the way it once was.”

This year’s YWC saw the mentors pick finalists Kayla Adara Lee, 14, YHKCC, Serena Wong, 13, DC, and Eleanor Lambert, 14, DBIS, and runners-up Renee Tan, 13, DC, Harsh Varde, 13, DC, and Cherry Tam, 14, YHKCC. The top three stories were then posted on the Around DB and Life on Lantau Facebook page for an online vote, April 17 to 22. Kayla placed first with 299 votes, Serena second with 83 votes, and Eleanor third with 57 votes. Our thanks go to competition sponsors Bookazine for providing the prizes – HK$1,000, HK$500, HK$400 and HK$200 book vouchers – and to DBIS for hosting the prizegiving on April 24 at the Globe Theatre.

Photo by Baljit Gidwani – www.evoqueportraits.com

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