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Why I Write

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From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books.

I was the middle child of three, but there was a gap of five years on either side, and I barely saw my father before I was eight. For this and other reasons I was somewhat lonely, and I soon developed disagreeable mannerisms which made me unpopular throughout my schooldays. I had the lonely child’s habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons, and I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued. I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts, and I felt that this created a sort of private world in which I could get my own back for my failure in everyday life. Nevertheless the volume of serious – i.e. seriously intended ­– writing which I produced all through my childhood and boyhood would not amount to half a dozen pages. I wrote my first poem at the age of four or five, my mother taking it down to dictation. I cannot remember anything about it except that it was about a tiger and the tiger had ‘chair-like teeth’ – a good enough phrase, but I fancy the poem was a plagiarism of Blake’s ‘Tiger, Tiger’. At eleven, when the war or 1914-18 broke out, I wrote a patriotic poem which was printed in the local newspaper, as was another, two years later, on the death of Kitchener. From time to time, when I was a bit older, I wrote bad and usually unfinished ‘nature poems’ in the Georgian style. I also, about twice, attempted a short story which was a ghastly failure. That was the total of the would-be serious work that I actually set down on paper during all those years.

However, throughout this time I did in a sense engage in literary activities. To begin with there was the made-to-order stuff which I produced quickly, easily and without much pleasure to myself. Apart from school work, I wrote vers d’occasion, semi-comic poems which I could turn out at what now seems to me astonishing speed – at fourteen I wrote a whole rhyming play, in imitation of Aristophanes, in about a week – and helped to edit school magazines, both printed and in manuscript. These magazines were the most pitiful burlesque stuff that you could imagine, and I took far less trouble with them than I now would with the cheapest journalism. But side by side with all this, for fifteen years or more, I was carrying out a literary exercise of a quite different kind: this was the making up of a continuous “story” about myself, a sort of diary existing only in the mind. I believe this is a common habit of children and adolescents. As a very small child I used to imagine that I was, say, Robin Hood, and picture myself as the hero of thrilling adventures, but quite soon my “story” ceased to be narcissistic in a crude way and became more and more a mere description of what I was doing and the things I saw. For minutes at a time this kind of thing would be running through my head: ‘He pushed the door open and entered the room. A yellow beam of sunlight, filtering through the muslin curtains, slanted on to the table, where a matchbox, half-open, lay beside the inkpot. With his right hand in his pocket he moved across to the window. Down in the street a tortoiseshell cat was chasing a dead leaf,’ etc., etc. This habit continued until I was about twenty-five, right through my non-literary years. Although I had to search, and did search, for the right words, I seemed to be making this descriptive effort almost against my will, under a kind of compulsion from outside. The ‘story’ must, I suppose, have reflected the styles of the various writers I admired at different ages, but so far as I remember it always had the same meticulous descriptive quality.

When I was about sixteen I suddenly discovered the joy of mere words, i.e. the sounds and associations of words. The lines from Paradise Lost

So hee with difficulty and labour hard
Moved on: with difficulty and labour hee,

which do not now seem to me so very wonderful, sent shivers down my backbone; and the spelling ‘hee’ for ‘he’ was an added pleasure. As for the need to describe things, I knew all about it already. So it is clear what kind of books I wanted to write, in so far as I could be said to want to write books at that time. I wanted to write enormous naturalistic novels with unhappy endings, full of detailed descriptions and arresting similes, and also full of purple passages in which words were used partly for the sake of their sound. And in fact my first completed novel, Burmese Days, which I wrote when I was thirty but projected much earlier, is rather that kind of book.

I give all this background information because I do not think one can assess a writer’s motives without knowing something of his early development. His subject-matter will be determined by the age he lives in ­– at least this is true in tumultuous, revolutionary ages like our own – but before he ever begins to write he will have acquired an emotional attitude from which he will never completely escape. It is his job, no doubt, to discipline his temperament and avoid getting stuck at some immature stage, or in some perverse mood: but if he escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write. Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living. They are:


(i) Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful business men – in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they abandon individual ambition – in many cases, indeed, they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all – and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

(ii) Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.

(iii) Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

(iv) Political purpose – using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

It can be seen how these various impulses must war against one another, and how they must fluctuate from person to person and from time to time. By nature – taking your ‘nature’ to be the state you have attained when you are first adult – I am a person in whom the first three motives would outweigh the fourth. In a peaceful age I might have written ornate or merely descriptive books, and might have remained almost unaware of my political loyalties. As it is I have been forced into becoming a sort of pamphleteer. First I spent five years in an unsuitable profession (the Indian Imperial Police, in Burma), and then I underwent poverty and the sense of failure. This increased my natural hatred of authority and made me for the first time fully aware of the existence of the working classes, and the job in Burma had given me some understanding of the nature of imperialism: but these experiences were not enough to give me an accurate political orientation. Then came Hitler, the Spanish Civil War, etc. By the end of 1935 I had still failed to reach a firm decision. I remember a little poem that I wrote at that date, expressing my dilemma:

A happy vicar I might have been
Two hundred years ago,
To preach upon eternal doom
And watch my walnuts grow

But born, alas, in an evil time,
I missed that pleasant haven,
For the hair has grown on my upper lip
And the clergy are all clean-shaven.

And later still the times were good,
We were so easy to please,
We rocked our troubled thoughts to sleep
On the bosoms of the trees.

All ignorant we dared to own
The joys we now dissemble;
The greenfinch on the apple bough
Could make my enemies tremble.

But girls’ bellies and apricots,
Roach in a shaded stream,
Horses, ducks in flight at dawn,
All these are a dream.

It is forbidden to dream again;
We maim our joys or hide them;
Horses are made of chromium steel
And little fat men shall ride them.

I am the worm who never turned,
The eunuch without a harem;
Between the priest and the commissar
I walk like Eugene Aram;

And the commissar is telling my fortune
While the radio plays,
But the priest has promised an Austin Seven,
For Duggie always pays.

I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls,
And woke to find it true;
I wasn’t born for an age like this;
Was Smith? Was Jones? Were you?

The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows. And the more one is conscious of one’s political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one’s aesthetic and intellectual integrity.

What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant. I am not able, and do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.

It is not easy. It raises problems of construction and of language, and it raises in a new way the problem of truthfulness. Let me give just one example of the cruder kind of difficulty that arises. My book about the Spanish civil war, Homage to Catalonia, is of course a frankly political book, but in the main it is written with a certain detachment and regard for form. I did try very hard in it to tell the whole truth without violating my literary instincts. But among other things it contains a long chapter, full of newspaper quotations and the like, defending the Trotskyists who were accused of plotting with Franco. Clearly such a chapter, which after a year or two would lose its interest for any ordinary reader, must ruin the book. A critic whom I respect read me a lecture about it. ‘Why did you put in all that stuff?’ he said. ‘You’ve turned what might have been a good book into journalism.’ What he said was true, but I could not have done otherwise. I happened to know, what very few people in England had been allowed to know, that innocent men were being falsely accused. If I had not been angry about that I should never have written the book.

In one form or another this problem comes up again. The problem of language is subtler and would take too long to discuss. I will only say that of late years I have tried to write less picturesquely and more exactly. In any case I find that by the time you have perfected any style of writing, you have always outgrown it. Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole. I have not written a novel for seven years, but I hope to write another fairly soon. It is bound to be a failure, every book is a failure, but I do know with some clarity what kind of book I want to write.

Looking back through the last page or two, I see that I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don’t want to leave that as the final impression. All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist or understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.

Gangrel, No. 4, Summer 1946

This material remains under copyright in some jurisdictions, including the US, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the Orwell Estate.

Ali Smith on Why We Write

Join us for an evening with Ali Smith and Sarah Wood as they discuss why we write today, politics, fiction and Orwell. There will be a screening of the film Why We Write, a film made in collaboration by Ali and Sarah, a well as discussion of Ali’s Seasonal Quartet, the final instalment of which, Summer, won The Orwell Prize for Political Fiction 2021, and her new book Companion Piece, an appropriately named companion piece to the Quartet.

Ali Smith was born in Inverness in 1962 and is the author of Summer, which won the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction 2021, as well as Spring, Winter, Autumn, Public library and other stories, How to be both, Shire, Artful, There but for the, The first person and other stories, Girl Meets Boy, The Accidental, The whole story and other stories, Hotel World, Other stories and other stories, Like and Free LoveHotel World was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Orange Prize. The Accidental was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize. How to be both won the Bailey’s Prize, the Goldsmiths Prize and the Costa Novel of the Year Award, and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Autumn was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017 and Winter was shortlisted for The Orwell Prize for Books in 2018. Ali Smith lives in Cambridge.

Sarah Wood is an artist filmmaker. Recent films include Beautiful Flowers and How To Grow Them (2021) made for Derek Jarman’s Modern Nature at John Hansard Gallery, Southampton and Here is Elsewhere (2020) for Kettle’s Yard Gallery, Cambridge.

Haroon Siddique: ‘How and Why Black Britons Suffer Unequal Outcomes at the Hands of the Police’

Haroon Siddique is a senior reporter at the Guardian, where he has worked since 2007. Before joining the Guardian, he worked at the Ham&High series of local papers in north London, where he began his journalistic in 2004.

Siddique writes: “Across a series of stories, my intention was to highlight the negative outcomes of black people at the hands of the Met police, but also the reasons for it, at a time when it was one of the key issues driving Black Lives Matter protests. My first submission made use of innovative interactive modelling to call into doubt the findings of the police watchdog (IOPC) inquiry – and inquest – into the death of Mark Duggan. The police shooting of Duggan is one of the most contentious cases of recent years – it triggered riots and was highlighted by BLM protesters last year. The innovative spatial reconstruction tools invited the reader to examine the shooting from different perspectives to enable them to fully understand the doubts which have been cast on the official version of events. In showing how the Met has been using software, which its own creator has said can aid racial profiling, the second article in my submission sought to examine how discrimination may have become embedded in the force. Finally, my third article showed how this criminalisation of black people can mentally scar them and affect their perception of police, which then gets passed down from generation to generation.”


‘Why Did You Organise the Protest?’ – Theo Burman

Secretary Milton, feeling like he hadn’t slept in a week, strode through the corridor of the police station. Dealing with the protest had taken up so much of his valuable time, and he still had one more interrogation to undertake for the Department of Law and Order before his work for the day was over. All he needed was a nice clean confession from the organiser
of the demonstrations.

Milton honestly didn’t understand why the protestors were so worked up. He was vaguely aware that the new electoral system had faced a decent amount of opposition, which was fair enough; deciding to assign the number of votes people could cast based on intelligence was always going to ruffle a few feathers, especially when it was reinforced with a law that forced everyone to publicly display their vote total, or “votal”, on their wrist, but these protestors had clearly failed to understand the purpose of the votal system: to create a fair society! It wasn’t as if they were taking votes away; everyone was guaranteed at least one, and from what Milton remembered, the exam that judged how many votes you could be given was rather easy to complete. If you didn’t do well, then that was simply your own fault!

As he approached the door at the end of the hallway, an aide ran alongside him, stumbling under the weight of a mountain of files. Without looking back or slowing his pace, Milton held out his hand and the aide scrambled to place a folder into it, trying to balance the other files in her free hand as she did so. However, she was put off balance by the action and tripped forward, falling to the floor in a flurry of documents. Milton sighed and continued towards the door. It was so difficult to find decent staff these days. One would think that his employees would be a tad more capable, considering he demanded a minimum votal of fifteen for everyone in his department. Then again, Stewartson over at the Department of Education had his minimum employment votal at twenty, and Milton was sure his aides never fell over whilst on the job. Maybe it was time to raise the bar again…

As he mulled this over, Milton reached the cell door, showing the number tattooed on his wrist to the policeman on guard. He knew giving identification was unnecessary; every officer in the country knew Milton’s face from the campaign leaflets, but he had just had his votal re-inked before this whole blasted riot had kicked off, and he wanted to show off the new style he had gone for. As the policeman opened the door, Milton indulged himself by glancing at the tattoo, the word “ThirtySeven” written in an extravagant ornate font. He had chosen navy ink to go with his favourite suit, and was rather proud of the design, as well as the number it displayed.

The policeman stood aside, and Milton stepped into the interrogation room. It was the standard layout: one table in the middle, with two chairs on either side. The table had a latch to attach handcuffs, just in case the occupant had a few violent tendencies, but it seemed completely redundant to restrain this one. He was sitting in a relaxed position, arms resting on the table, allowing the handcuffs’ chains to go slack. He didn’t match Milton’s mental image of protestor: he was no older than 18, with short neat hair and a well-shaved face. If you swapped the standard-issue orange prison clothes for a suit and tie, he might have passed as a young professional. Milton took a seat opposite him and placed the folder on the table.

“Good evening.”

The prisoner didn’t respond.

Milton groaned inwardly. It looked like getting a solid confession would take quite a while. Still, at least they had some information on him. Milton opened the file and glanced through
the details.

“Mark Webb, correct?”

The prisoner looked up at Milton for the first time. His eyes were slightly narrowed and seemed out of place among his calmer features.

“Yeah. That’s me.”

“And why did you feel the need to throw together a needless protest?”

Mark didn’t reply. He only maintained steady eye contact with his interrogator. Milton clenched his jaw. The silent treatment always infuriated him.

“I’ll repeat the question. Why did you start such a violent and destructive riot, Mark?”

Once again there was no answer, just the same determined stare, coupled with an antagonising smirk. Milton was close to losing it.

“Mark, it’s been a long day. I’ve spent the last twelve hours dealing with the clean-up of your little demonstration. Could you please answer the question?”

No answer. Milton had had enough.

“Listen to me, young man, it would be pathetically easy for me to twist a few arms and have you in cuffs for your entire life! Do you really want to spend the rest of your days in prison?!” he roared, pounding his fists on the table. Milton had been itching to stick it to one of these arrogant ruffians for the whole day, and he wasn’t about to hold any punches now that he finally had the excuse to let go. “I could make one phone call and you’d never look out a window that doesn’t have bars on it ever again! So, I advise you to cooperate!”

He stopped for breath, and suddenly realised that he had stood up his outburst. He sat back down, slightly taken aback to see that his display of power hadn’t broken Webb’s calm
exterior. He took a deep breath in and out, and when he next spoke, it was far quieter.

“I’ll ask one more time. Why did you organise the protest?”

Webb said nothing, but just as Milton was about to let loose again, he noticed that the prisoner was moving his arms. He raised his hands as far as the handcuffs would permit, holding out his left wrist to reveal the number “One” tattooed in haphazard red scratches.

“As you can see, I don’t really like the policies you guys introduced.”

Milton looked back at Webb’s face.

“Well, I hardly think you’re in a position to-”

“It’s not fair.”

Milton blinked.


“This whole votal system. It isn’t fair.”

Milton had not been expecting such an audacious response and could only splutter out an incoherent response.

“I don’t… How could you…?”

Mark shrugged. “I suppose from where you sit the whole system looks fine. When you’re sitting at the top with a huge number of votes on your wrist, I’m sure assigning votes based on how well you do in some stupid exam seems perfectly fair.”

Milton’s hand moved to protect his votal tattoo.

“Are you suggesting that the votal system isn’t fit for purpose?” He could barely keep the contempt out of his voice. Mark nodded earnestly.

“Of course. You’re worth thirty-seven of me. How is that fair?”

Milton didn’t know how to answer. Webb sighed and leant back.

“This is what happens when you lot try to do what you think is right. You tried to create a fair society, but you turned it into a perverted form of meritocracy.”

Webb made to get up from the table, but he had forgotten the handcuffs which bound him down and he was unable to fully rise into a standing position. He stared at Milton for a moment, then sat back down.

“So, when you sit there, worth more votes than my entire block combined, and tell me that this is all for the benefit of “a fair society”, you’ll have to forgive me if I have a hard time believing it.”

A long silence passed between the prisoner and the secretary, while they stared at each other. Both faces were a mask of fear and resentment. Milton was the first to break eye contact when he looked back down at the file.

“Mark Webb, you can expect to be charged within two days for vandalism and illegal protest.” He said in a quiet voice. He got up from the table and left the room, not looking at
Mark again.

Back in the corridor, Milton headed for the exit, meeting his aide on the way. She began babbling some profuse apology, but he wasn’t paying attention. Webb had given him too much to think about. Surely he was wrong, surely that whole episode had just been the ramblings of a desperate young offender. Milton gripped that thought like a lifeline. Yes! He had no need to listen to a one votal prisoner as if his opinion mattered to a man as qualified as himself!

But the things he had said about fairness…

No. Milton shook those thoughts out of his head, determined to remove the last vestiges of doubt from his mind. Every member of government, the best and most well-educated minds of the country, agreed that the votals were the fairest system they could have created…

Wasn’t it?




Theo Burman was an Orwell Youth Prize Senior Winner in 2019, responding to the theme ‘A Fair Society?’. We asked him where he got her inspiration for ‘Why Did You Organise the Protest?’ and what motivates her to write: 


What was the inspiration behind your piece?

We talk a lot in western politics about the importance of meritocracy, and for the most part, it’s seen as a core value of our democracy. The problem I have with this view is that it’s very hard to define “merit”, and far too often, it’s interpreted as just intelligence or education. While reading up on John Stuart Mill’s idea to give additional votes to those with a university education, I began to imagine what a government elected this way would look like, and the rest of the story built itself from there. My goal was to propose a less one-dimensional view of meritocracy, one made up of experience and wisdom, not just knowledge and paternalistic concern.

Why did you pick the form you did?
I briefly considered writing the story as a play, but I realised that form wouldn’t have allowed me to put in the necessary exposition at the beginning, because it’s delivered in a character’s thoughts rather than their words. The actual premise of my story is a bit awkward to explain, so in a first draft I just wrote down exactly what I meant it to be without any spin. That turned out to be a pretty effective way of explaining the background the plot, but it could only have worked as a short story.

 ‘Why I Write’
I think it’s because of the history behind writing, particularly in political spheres. Because of the incredible pieces of writing produced by the philosophers in our history, writing is widely respected as a method of political discourse, and I suppose it’s that history that I want to be a part of while writing. Thanks to people like Orwell, that discourse can be set in both fiction and non-fiction. In the same way that the paintings of Da Vinci and Michelangelo have inspired countless artists to pick up a paintbrush, I like to think that there is a new generation of writers picking up a pen. Political writing is now an art, and part of me wants to be an artist.

 Advice to fellow young writers
Commit to an idea and see it through. It’s very easy to come up with a brilliant idea, write the first half, and leave it for a bit before starting something else, only to find that you’ve lost interest in the original idea and want to work on something else. Working on one piece of writing at a time helps you focus in on the details. It can be tempting to branch off and explore a bunch of different ideas, but this spreads your attention across several different projects.

A piece of writing/poem/novel/article/film that has influenced me
The film I, Daniel Blake has quite a hold on me. My main take away from it was the importance of balancing your message to the audience with a compelling narrative. The greatest works of political fiction have always had intriguing plots that hold up on their own, even when the political context is removed, and this film helped me realise that. The writer who has influenced me the most is Roald Dahl, specifically through his collections of short stories. There’s such a wide variety to the themes and topics he explores, and they show how useful internal narrative can be in providing exposition, especially in a form as cramped as a short story.





Orwell Youth Prize winners revealed: Young writers attend Celebration Day

Today, Friday 5th July at Pembroke College, Oxford, the Orwell Youth Prize announced this year’s winners, runners-up and highly commended entries. The winners were awarded with their prizes by Bill Hamilton, Executor of the Orwell Estate, and Christine Richardson of Oxford University Press.

The awards were made following a day of workshops and debates featuring over one hundred entrants to the writing prize. The debate, hosted by Orwell Youth Prize patron Rick Edwards asked attendees to respond to the statement ‘Our education equips us for the future we want’, and featured contributions from 2019 Orwell Prize Winner Max Daly, 2005 Orwell Book Prize Winner Delia Jarrett Macauley and novelists Irenosen Okojie and Sarah K. Perry.

Congratulations to our winners, runners-up and highly-commended – and to everyone who entered this year and gave their responses to the theme, A Fair Society? Every entry was read by at least two assessors, and the final 6 winners were chosen by the 2019 judge writer Caitlin Moran, who, commenting on two of the winning pieces, had this message for our entrants:

In both the winning entries – Teeth and The Aptitude Test Kid – the reason they stood out, and won, was because they had taken a big topic matter, and drilled down to one little detail: a child that can’t clean it’s teeth. A child knowing that if she can’t conjugate this particular verb – “etre” – her family will be destroyed, and her future lost.

When you’re a young writer, you burn to write about the big subjects – to really take on the things that stir the emotions; and allow you to express yourself – and it can be a struggle to lasso such a big beast. But your strength as both a writer, and a young writer, is to pick a tiny detail that no-one else would think of. You’re like the kids in Honey, I Shrunk The Kids – that’s your strength: being small, and down on the ground. Writing about the people next door seems too dull, and boring – until you realise most journalists live in London, and live next door to no-one like your neighbours in Wolverhampton, or Cardiff, or Leicester. Every detail of your life would be exotic, surprising and revelatory to most established, professional writers now.

Telling a tiny story plays to your strengths. Telling a tiny story can be done quickly, and powerfully. Telling a tiny story tells a bigger story.


This year’s winners, runners up and highly commended entries are as follows: 



Junior Prize

Silke Dale Brosig, Teeth

Francesca Morgan, The Faceless Drug

Tom Warburton, The Man on the Side

Senior Prize

Nadia Lines, The Aptitude Test Kid

Jessica Johnson, A Band Apart

Theo Burman, Why Did You Organise the Protest?



Junior Prize

Sidra Hussain, Equal Importance

Elizabeth Tappin, Sewn Shut

Rosie Lewis, Care in the Community

Megan Robinson, Dignity

Clarissa Murphy, Through His Eyes

Senior Prize

Jazmine Bennett, Disable-Bodied

Asher Gibson, Brick Lane: A Case Against Social and Ethnic Exclusion in the UK

Cia Mangat, Britain

Devki Panchmatia, The Interview

Rhianna Prewett, Out of Body, Out of Mind


The following entrants were also highly commended:


In the junior prize:

Dean Chughtai, A Fair Society
Umme Hussain, Times Have Changed
Maia Biddle Mogg, Silence
Lidia Goonatilaka, Feminism
Aeneas Bonelli, 2055
Elan Davies, Mama
Tiana Chutkhan, Safe?
Ryan Vowles, The Peasant King
Niamh Weir, The Spike
Amos Miah, Apologies
Conor Holland, Partition of the Heart

In the senior prize:

Kylie Clarke, Her Story
Anna Young, The Fairness Tree
Morgan Davies, Property Law, and the benefits of violating it
Max Kelly, Once
Sally Piper, Discovery of Witches
Ella Tayler, The Britain you do not want to see, but undoubtedly have
Layomi Abudu, Society is as fair as I am white
Jade Van Jaarsveld, We, The Homeless (A Spoken Word Poem)
Isabel West, The Survival of a Moth
Aydin Maharramov, Potato Peel

Writer Caitlin Moran to judge Orwell Youth Prize

Foundation partners The Orwell Youth Prize have revealed that writer Caitlin Moran is judging this year’s Orwell Youth Prize, the theme of which is ‘A Fair Society?’.

Following Orwell’s example, entrants of the prize are encouraged to draw on their own experiences of the world around them and write in language that is clear, concise and compelling for their audience. The form the writing takes is up to the writer, previous winning entries have included poetry, prose, journalism and short stories. Moran will judge both the junior (aged 12-16) and the senior (sixth-form) categories of the prize and the winners will be announced at the annual Celebration Day on the 5th July.

If you don’t come from the “right” background or school, it’s hard to know how to break into writing as a career. Who do you talk to? How do you apply?  That’s why I’m delighted to judge this year’s Orwell Youth Prize – as my career started when I entered a writing competition, at the age of 15, so I know just how life-changing awards can be. It might not feel like it, but there really is a whole industry waiting to discover new voices. Please – write something. Show us what you’ve got.

Caitlin Moran 

Caitlin Moran wrote her first novel, The Chronicles of Narmo, at the age of fifteen. She has worked for The Times since she was eighteen as an interviewer, TV critic and columnist including, in the most-read part of the paper, the satirical celebrity column ‘Celebrity Watch’. She has won the British Press Awards’ Columnist of The Year, Interviewer of the Year, and Critic of the Year. Her bestselling memoir, How to be a Woman, won the National Book Awards Book of the Year, was an instant New York Times bestseller, and is published in twenty-five languages. The film of her novel, How to Build a Girl, produced by Channel 4 and Monumental Pictures, will be released later this year. With her sister, she co-wrote the Channel 4 sitcom Raised by Wolves. She has published two bestselling collections of her journalism, Moranthology and Moranifesto. Caitlin Moran’s latest novel, How To Be Famous, was a number one bestseller on publication in 2018. She is published by Penguin Random House in the UK and HarperCollins in the US.

About the Orwell Youth Prize

The Orwell Youth Prize is an annual programme for 12-18 year olds culminating in a writing prize. Rooted in George Orwell’s values of integrity and fairness, the prize is designed to introduce young people to the power of language and provoke them to think critically and creatively about the world in which they are living.

For more information and details contact: Alex Talbott, Programme Manager, The Orwell Youth Prize,

Jean Seaton: Why Orwell’s 1984 Could Be About Now

Director of the Orwell Foundation, Jean Seaton, has written about Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four for a BBC Culture series on stories that shaped the world. Audiences around the world are re-reading George Orwell’s 1984, which is ‘a handbook for difficult times’, she writes:

“But now we can read 1984 differently: with anxious apprehension, using it to measure where we, our nations and the world have got to on the road map to a hell Orwell described. Prophetic? Possibly. But stirring, moving, creative, undeniable and helpful? Yes. A book published on 8 June 1949, written out of the battered landscape of total war, in a nation hungry, tired and grey, feels more relevant than ever before, because Orwell’s 1984 also arms us.”

The full article is available on BBC Culture.

Last year, The Orwell Foundation and UCL Festival of Culture were proud to present 1984 Live, produced by Libby Brodie Productions and directed by Hannah Price. The event saw over 60 cultural figures read Orwell’s masterpiece aloud over the course of a single day. Watch the full reading.

For young writers

Your writing journey starts here!

We can’t wait to read your writing – and we want to help you to make it as good as it can be. Check out our simple five step pathway to help you on every step of the way, from coming up with an idea to submitting your finished piece!

Scroll down for an introduction to the five steps – and when you’re ready, click the links to each step for resources and inspiration to get you started. Explore the pathway at your own pace, and feel free to use the resources in any order and in whichever ways are helpful to you.

Step One: Inspiration

This year’s theme is WHO’S IN CONTROL? With such a huge topic, this is the place to start, with prompts inspired by Orwell’s own writing to help you find your angle, and an idea which gets you fired up to write!

Step Two: Research

Now you’ve got some ideas of what you want to write about, it’s time to investigate further! We have a range of resources to read, watch and listen to, to help you start researching your ideas in more detail – including this resource on Research by professional writer Sujana Crawford.

Step Three: Find Your Form

The Orwell Youth Prize encourages entries in all different forms of writing –  poems, articles, essays, speeches, scripts, stories and even game design! Start exploring different forms, and find the one which works best for your idea. Check out this resource on Finding a Form by poet and OYP judge Will Harris.

Step Four: Start Writing!

Now you’ve got your ideas, your research, and you form, it’s time to start writing! The blank page can feel intimidating, so why not check out our Style Guide and resource from professional author Susmita Bharracharya on Starting to Write?

Don’t forget to submit your draft before our feedback deadline on Monday 24th April to get personalised from our volunteer team of experienced readers!

Step Five: Responding to Feedback 

Once you’ve got your personalised feedback, it’s time to take a second look at your piece – what might you want to change or develop in a new draft, to make your finished piece as good as it can be? This resource from poet and fiction writer Anthony Anaxagorou on Responding to Feedback would be a great place to start.

And when you’re ready, don’t forget to SUBMIT your finished piece by Wednesday 7th June! Drafts for feedback and final entries can both be submitted through our online form.

Why I wrote Dead Men Risen

This is a guest post by Toby Harnden, winner of the 2012 Orwell Prize for Books

  • Toby Harnden on winning The Orwell Prize

  • In his essay of self-examination ‘Why I Write’, George Orwell wrote that “All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery”. Somewhat contradicting the lazy part, in the following sentence he describes the act of writing a book as a “horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness”. He was right, of course, that writing a book is not the effortless joy that some might imagine. At times I viewed writing Dead Men Risen as akin to wrestling with a large, slippery monster. On some occasions, it seemed like the pursuit of a quarry I might never catch. Towards the end, it was a test of sheer endurance. And after it was written dealing with a Ministry of Defence determined to gut it or bar it from publication was like a small war, complete with trenches (the offices of Quercus), comrades in arms (the Quercus CEO and his senior staff) and even a little espionage being conducted by either side. But alongside the pain, there is also the sheer pleasure of writing something that will be permanent, of gathering information that might otherwise have been lost in time, of recording how things were in order to prevent them being distorted for propagandist or other purposes. The question of why an author writes a particular book is always instructive. As Orwell argues, there is likely to be a mixture of public-mindedness and ego. Some books are written simply for the money, others as an act of vanity. A few could have been produced by Orwell’s Ministry of Truth in 1984. There are political books written in Washington DC these days by teams of ghost writers at PR firms churning out chapters to a preordained agenda. One of the questions about Dead Men Risen I hadn’t anticipated was one I have frequently been asked: “Why did you write it?” As with most people asked a particular question again and again, I developed an answer. The reason, I said, was that it was to honour my friend Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, the Welsh Guards commanding officer who was killed in action in Afghanistan. And it was because various people told me that the story of the Welsh Guards in Helmand needed to be told. In answering, I stressed external factors, as if acting on these made my motives more respectable. My answer was truthful but it was far from the whole truth. The book needed to be written but, equally, I needed to write it. Looking back (I finished the manuscript nearly 18 months ago), Dead Men Risen was a book that had been in me for almost as long as I could remember. Recently, leafing through some old childhood drawings and writings kept by my parents, I came across a picture of a battle between ‘Great Britain’ and ‘Germany’ in which I had totted up the ‘dead men’ on each side. I also found a work entitled The Cry of Death: The Adventures of Nigel Murphy – my first book, written when I was about seven. War stories and military service fill my memories of childhood. On my mother’s side, all three services were represented – her brother had been in the RAF, her brother-in-law in the Army and my father in the Royal Navy. My grandmother’s cousin, who we would see, had suffered terribly in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp. I remember him pottering around in his garden; we had been told to keep our distance because he had been very badly affected by his experiences. My paternal grandfather had joined the South Wales Borderers with the rank of Boy in the 1920s and retired as a Major three decades later. His father had been a Sergeant in the Royal Berkshire Regiment, serving in the Nile and Egypt campaigns of the 1880s. My grandfather would often bring out an old box and show us his array Second World War medals and the Egypt Medal and Khedive’s Star awarded to his father. Also in the box was a silver identity bracelet that my grandfather had taken from a dead soldier he had found in the desert in North Africa. After the war, he had tried to find his wife, without success. Around the same time, I remember watching a film about the D-Day landings and following a tiny figure storming the beach until he was shot and fell. I then followed another until he too fell. And another. Each man, I reflected, had been a child like me, with a family and a bedroom and things he liked to do. But in an instant, he was dead and anonymous. After leaving school, I followed my father into the Navy and, like him (neither of us got any medals), I never saw active service. I joined three years after the Falklands and, despite my best efforts to get involved – I have a letter chiding me for my excessive zeal in seeking to desert my shore billet for one in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia – the US-led coalition was able to win the Gulf War without me. I’ve seen a lot more war as a journalist than I did in a decade in the Navy. If I’m honest with myself, reporting on wars, and writing Dead Men Risen, has been partly a substitute for not having been a combatant myself. And my childhood fascination with war (and journalism – I would publish my own newspapers with a printing set and pin them up at school, inviting much derision from my peers) led fairly directly to much of what I have done as an adult. So perhaps I should come up with a new answer as to why I wrote Dead Men Risen. Yes, there were those external impulses. And I certainly wanted to know how Britain’s latest Afghan war being prosecuted and whether it was worth it, as the politicians and generals kept asserting in the affirmative. But I also wanted to tell a story about the reality of war and the men who fight it. In the end, Dead Men Risen wasn’t all that different from my counting up those dead Germans and penning The Cry of Death all those years ago. 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    The Proletarian Writer

    This material remains under copyright in some jurisdictions, including the United States, and is reproduced here with the kind assistance of the Orwell Estate

    Hawkins[1] I have always doubted if there is such a thing as proletarian literature — or ever could be. The first question is what people mean by it. What do you mean by it? You would expect it to mean literature written specifically for the proletariat, and read by them, but does it?

    Orwell No, obviously not. In that case the most definitely proletarian literature would be some of our morning papers. But you can see by the existence of publications like New Writing, or the Unity Theatre, for instance, that the term has a sort of meaning, though unfortunately there are several different ideas mixed up in it. What people mean by it, roughly speaking, is a literature in which the viewpoint of the working class, which is supposed to be completely different from that of the richer classes, gets a hearing. And that, of course, has got mixed up with Socialist propaganda. I don’t think the people who throw this expression about mean literature written by proletarians. W. H. Davies was a proletarian, but he would not be called a proletarian writer. Paul Potts would be called a proletarian writer, but he is not a proletarian. The reason why I am doubtful of the whole conception is that I don’t believe the proletariat can create an independent literature while they are not the dominant class. I believe that their literature is and must be bourgeois literature with a slightly different slant. After all, so much that is supposed to be new is simply the old standing on its head. The poems that were written about the Spanish Civil War, for instance, were simply a deflated version of the stuff that Rupert Brooke and Co. were writing in 1914.

    Hawkins Still, I think one must admit that the cult of proletarian literature — whether the theory is right or not — has had some effect. Look at writers like James Hanley, for instance, or Jack Hilton, or Jack Common. They have something new to say — something at any rate that could not quite be said by anyone who had the ordinary middle-class upbringing. Of course there was a tremendous amount of cant about proletarian literature in the years after the Slump, when Bloomsbury went all Marxist, and Communism became fashionable. But the thing had really started earlier. I should say it started just before the last war, when Ford Madox Ford, the editor of the English Review, met D. H. Lawrence and saw in him the portent of a new class finding expression in literature. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers really did break new ground. It recorded a kind of experience that simply had not got into print before. And yet it was an experience that had been shared by millions of people. The question is why it had never been recorded earlier. Why would you say there had been no books like Sons and Lovers before that time?

    Orwell I think it is simply a matter of education. After all, though Lawrence was the son of a coal miner he had had an education that was not very different from that of the middle class. He was a university graduate, remember. Before a certain date — roughly speaking, before the nineties, when the Education Act began to take effect — very few genuine proletarians could write: that is, write with enough facility to produce a book or a story. On the other hand the professional writers knew nothing about proletarian life. One feels this even with a really radical writer like Dickens. Dickens does not write about the working class; he does not know enough about them. He is for the working class, but he feels himself completely different from them — far more different than the average middle-class person would feel nowadays.

    Hawkins Then, after all, the appearance of the proletariat as a class capable of producing books means a fresh development of literature — completely new subject-matter, and a new slant on life?

    Orwell Yes, except in so far as the experience of all classes in society tends to become more and more alike. I maintain that the class distinctions in a country like England are now so unreal that they cannot last much longer. Fifty years ago or even twenty years ago a factory worker and a small professional man, for instance, were very different kinds of creature. Nowadays they are very much alike, though they may not realize it. They see the same films and listen to the same radio programmes, and they wear very similar clothes and live in very similar houses. What used to be called a proletarian — what Marx would have meant by a proletarian — only exists now in the heavy industries and on the land. All the same, there’s no doubt that it was a big step forward when the facts of working-class life were first got onto paper. I think it has done something to push fiction back towards realities and away from the over-civilized stuff that Galsworthy and so forth used to write. I think possibly the first book that did this was The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists; which has always seemed to me a wonderful book, although it is very clumsily written. It recorded things that were everyday experience but which simply had not been noticed before — just as, so it is said, no one before AD 1800 ever noticed that the sea was blue. And Jack London was another pioneer in the same line.

    Hawkins And how about language and technique? Cyril Connolly, you may remember, said last week that the great innovations in literature have been made in technique rather than in content. As an example, he said that there is nothing new in Joyce except his technique. But surely these revolutionary proletarians have not shown much interest in technique? Some of them seem to be little different in manner from the pious moralizing lady novelists of the last century. Their revolt is entirely in content, in theme — is that so?

    Orwell I think in the main that’s true. It’s a fact that written English is much more colloquial now than it was twenty years ago, and that’s all to the good. But we’ve borrowed much more from America than from the speech of the English working class. As for technique, one of the things that strikes one about the proletarian writers, or the people who are called proletarian writers, is how conservative they are. We might make an exception of Lionel Britton’s [2] Hunger and Love. But if you look through a volume of New Writing or the Left Review you won’t find many experiments.

    Hawkins Then we come back to this: that what is called proletarian literature stands or falls by its subject-matter. The mystique behind these writers, I suppose, is the class war, the hope of a better future, the struggle of the working class against miserable living conditions.

    Orwell Yes, proletarian literature is mainly a literature of revolt. It can’t help being so.

    Hawkins And my quarrel with it has always been that it is too much dominated by political considerations. I believe politicians and artists do not go well together. The goal of a politician is always limited, partial, short-term, over-simplified. It has to be, to have any hope of realization. As a principle of action, it cannot afford to consider its own imperfections and the possible virtues of its opponents. It cannot afford to dwell on the pathos and the tragedy of all human endeavour. In short, it must exclude the very things that are valuable in art. Would you agree therefore that when proletarian literature becomes literature it ceases to be proletarian — in the political sense? Or that when it becomes propaganda it ceases to be literature?

    Orwell I think that’s putting it too crudely. I have always maintained that every artist is a propagandist. I don’t mean a political propagandist. If he has any honesty or talent at all he cannot be that. Most political propaganda is a matter of telling lies, not only about the facts but about your own feelings. But every artist is a propagandist in the sense that he is trying, directly or indirectly, to impose a vision of life that seems to him desirable. I think we are broadly agreed about the vision of life that proletarian literature is trying to impose. As you said just now, the mystique behind it is the class war. That is something real; at any rate, it is something that is believed in. People will die for it as well as write about it. Quite a lot of people died for it in Spain. My point about proletarian literature is that though it has been important and useful so far as it went, it isn’t likely to be permanent or to be the beginning of a new age in literature. It is founded on the revolt against capitalism, and capitalism is disappearing. In a Socialist state, a lot of our left-wing writers — people like Edward Upward, Christopher Caudwell, Alec Brown, Arthur Calder-Marshall and all the rest of them — who have specialized in attacking the society they live in, would have nothing to attack. Just to revert for a moment to a book I mentioned above, Lionel Brittain’s Hunger and Love. This was an outstanding book and I think in a way it is representative of proletarian literature. Well, what is it about? It is about a young proletarian who wishes he wasn’t a proletarian. It simply goes on and on about the intolerable conditions of working-class life, the fact that the roof leaks and the sink smells and all the rest of it. Now, you couldn’t found a literature on the fact that the sink smells. As a convention it isn’t likely to last so long as the siege of Troy. And behind this book, and lots of others like it, you can see what is really the history of a proletarian writer nowadays. Through some accident — very often it is simply due to having a long period on the dole — a young man of the working class gets a chance to educate himself. Then he starts writing books, and naturally he makes use of his early experiences, his sufferings under poverty, his revolt against the existing system, and so forth. But he isn’t really creating an independent literature. He writes in the bourgeois manner, in the middle-class dialect. He is simply the black sheep of the bourgeois family, using the old methods for slightly different purposes. Don’t mistake me. I’m not saying that he can’t be as good a writer as anyone else; but if he is, it won’t be because he is a working man but because he is a talented person who has learnt to write well. So long as the bourgeoisie are the dominant class, literature must be bourgeois. But I don’t believe that they will be dominant much longer, or any other class either. I believe we are passing into a classless period, and what we call proletarian literature is one of the signs of the change. But I don’t deny for an instant the good that it has done — the vitalizing effect of getting working-class experience and working-class values on to paper.

    Hawkins And, of course, as a positive gain, it has left behind quite a lot of good books.

    Orwell Oh yes, lots. Jack London’s book The Road, Jack Hilton’s Caliban Shrieks, Jim Phelan’s prison books, George Garrett’s sea stories, Private Richards’s Old Soldier Sahib, James Hanley’s Grey Children — to name just a few.

    Hawkins All this time we have said nothing about the literature that the proletariat does read — not so much the daily papers, but the weeklies, the twopennies.

    Orwell Yes, I should say that the small weekly press is much more representative. Papers like Home Chat or the Exchange and Mart, and Cage-Birds, for instance.

    Hawkins And the literature that really comes out of the people themselves — we have said nothing about that. Take, for instance, the camp-fire ballads of the men who built the Canadian Pacific Railway; the sea shanties; Negro poems like ‘Stagolee’; and the old street broadsheets — especially the ones about executions, the sort of thing that must have inspired Kipling’s ‘Danny Deever’. And epitaphs, limericks, advertisement jingles — sticking simply to poetry, those are the special literature of the proletariat, aren’t they?

    Orwell Yes, and don’t forget the jokes on the comic coloured postcards, especially Donald McGill’s. I’m particularly attached to those. And above all the songs that the soldiers made up and sang for themselves in the last war. And the army songs for bugle calls and military marches — those are the real popular poetry of our time, like the ballads in the Middle Ages. It’s a pity they are always unprintable.[3]

    Hawkins Yes, but I’m afraid now we are drifting into folk literature, and it seems to me that we must keep the two things distinct. From what you say I imagine that this word ‘proletarian’ is going to be quite meaningless if you detach it from revolutionary politics.

    Orwell Yes, the term ‘proletariat’ is a political term belonging solely to the industrial age.

    Hawkins Well, I think we are completely in agreement that the theory of a separate proletarian literature just doesn’t work. For all its apparent difference it comes within the framework of what you call bourgeois writing.

    Orwell By ‘bourgeois’ and ‘bourgeoisie’ I don’t mean merely the people who buy and sell things. I mean the whole dominant culture of our time.

    Hawkins If we agree about that, we have still got to assess the contribution that these so-called proletarian writers have made. Because it is a contribution and it would be absurd to pass that over in disposing of the theory.

    Orwell I think they have made two kinds of contribution. One is that they have to some extent provided new subject-matter, which has also led other writers who are not of the working class to look at things which were under their noses, but not noticed, before. The other is that they have introduced a note of what you might call crudeness and vitality. They have been a sort of voice in the gallery, preventing people from becoming too toney and too civilized.

    Hawkins And then there’s another contribution, which you yourself mentioned earlier, and that is language. T. S. Eliot stressed the importance of constantly drawing newly minted words into the language, and in recent years it is pre-eminently from the working class that new words and phrases have come. It may be from the film or the street or through any channel, but the proletarian writer deserves credit for giving modern English much of its raciness and colour.

    Orwell Well, of course, the question is whether it has got much colour! But the thing you can say for the typical prose of the last ten years is that it has not got many frills or unnecessary adjectives. It’s plain. It is rather questionable whether the sort of prose that has developed in this way is suitable for expressing very subtle thoughts, but it is excellent for describing action, and it is a good antidote to the over-refined type of prose which used to be fashionable — very good in its way, of course, but tending to emasculate the language altogether.

    Hawkins Well, to conclude — it looks as if the slogan of proletarian literature has made a nice rallying-point for some work that was well worth having and it has been a focus for working-class writers, whether they were revolutionary or not, either in technique or in politics or in subject. But the phrase itself as a critical term is virtually useless.

    Orwell It has had a certain use as a label for a rather heterogeneous literature belonging to a transition period, but I do agree with you that for there to be what could really be called a proletarian literature the proletariat would have to be the dominant class.

    Hawkins Yes, and in assuming that it would certainly have to change its character. And that still leaves open the question we have only just touched on — how far can politics be introduced into art without spoiling the art?


    [1] For broadcasting convenience, parts of the discussion were spoken by a participant whether or not he had generated the ideas initially.

    [2] Britton’s name is spelt ‘Brittain’ in The Listener.

    [3] But see Songs and Slang of the British Soldier, 1914-1918, edited by John Brophy and Eric Partridge (1930; revised edition, also 1930). This includes words to bugle calls, chants and sayings (often with the ‘unprintable’ represented by dashes). Peter Davison

    ‘The Writer in the Witness-Box’, discussion between George Orwell and Desmond Hawkins. Broadcast on the BBC Home Service, 6 December 1940. Published in The Listener, 19 December 1940.

    Bernard Crick: Orwell as a comic writer

    Some years ago when working on my biography of Orwell I had a largely useless interview with Malcolm Muggeridge, the famous television personality, once a socialist and friend of Orwell’s, by then a self-promoting right-wing Christian convert and commentator. He seized the initiative with a malicious provocation, “Gloomy bugger wasn’t he? Don’t you agree?” “No, I don’t.” He was being deliberately perverse because he knew Orwell as a major English essayist and a good minor novelist long before reading Nineteen Eighty-Four. Nearly all Orwell’s essays use humour to make serious points. This prompted me to offer talks on Orwell as a comic writer, but what most tempted me to write up my notes was, a few years ago, going into Saughton prison, Edinburgh, to give that talk as part of a prison education programme – young offenders working for A levels or Scottish Highers. The lads seemed to like the talk but told me that the real ‘Orwell buff’ hadn’t come because he was desperately finishing a painting of Orwell that he wanted to give me. As I was about to leave, he appeared with a truly striking face of Orwell, stern, sad and terrible, painted all in gloomy blacks and greys. It is on my wall as I work but I wish he had come to the talk instead – ah, but then he might not have finished it.

    Most people throughout the world, indeed, have read Orwell backwards, if they read back beyond Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm at all. Nineteen Eighty-Four creates the grim preconception of “Orwellian”, rather than the “Orwell-like” image of the discursive and great humanistic essays of which not all, by any means, exist in translation. Some dedicated pessimist readers even seem to miss the humour in Animal Farm. One of the difficulties with multi-faceted satires is that we only see what appeals directly to our own experience. In lecturing in Poland and Czechoslovakia shortly after the fall of the Wall I found audiences quite angry at the idea that Nineteen Eighty-Four referred to anything other than Communism, or contained anything to laugh about. I tried to remind them of what was dear Julia’s job:

    She had… been picked out to work in Pornosec, the sub-section of the Fiction department which turned out cheap pornography for distribution among the proles. It was nick-named Muck House by the people who worked in it, she remarked. There she had remained for a year, helping to produce booklets in sealed packets with titles like Spanking Stories or One Night in a Girls’ School, to be bought furtively by proletarian youths who were under the impression that they were buying something illegal. “What are these books like?” said Winston curiously. “Oh ghastly rubbish. They’re boring, really. They only have six plots, but they swap them round a bit. Of course I was only on the kaleidoscopes. I was never in the Rewrite Squad. I’m not literary dear, not even enough for that”….

    “There was a whole chain of separate departments dealing with proletarian literature, music, drama and entertainment generally. Here were produced rubbishy newspapers containing almost nothing except sport, crime and astrology, sensational five-cent novelettes, films oozing with sex, and sentimental songs which were composed entirely by mechanical means on a special kind of kaleidoscope called a versificator.

    Well, of course it was to be called a synthesizer not a versificator. But the Poles got quite cross when I pointed out that the puritanical Stalin or Gomulka would not have stood for any of that Pornosoc filth, as Orwell knew quite well – and Hitler neither. He could only have been satirising elements of the British press and publishing. And if I hadn’t been losing my audience rapidly I would have pontificated, as I now do, that this was a typical Orwell-like device, not “Orwellian”: to wrap up a profound theoretical point in broad humour – here a black humour, or what Germans call “gallows humour”. For he really did believe that capitalism controls the “proles”, the common people, not by physical oppression, but by bread and circuses, as it were, by cultural debasement, “dumbing down” as we now say of our press, even of the BBC.

    Orwell was full of rage, a Swiftian satiric rage, that four generations of compulsory secondary education had led to the rise of what his generation still called the Yellow Press and a steady decline in the quality press, both in numbers and quality – even back then. Anthony Burgess called Nineteen Eighty-Four “a comic novel”. Well, that’s going too far, meant to shock us into thought; but I have long argued that the book is to be read as Swiftian satire, black humour, just like Gulliver’s Travels. Orwell used much the same device to talk about the great difficult subject of Britain in the 1930s. No, not sex: class.

    “Many people, however, imagine that they can abolish class-distinctions without making any uncomfortable change in their own habits and ‘ideology’. Hence the eager class-breaking activities which one can see in progress on all sides. Everywhere there are people of good will who quite honestly believe that they are working for the overthrow of class-distinctions. The middle-class Socialist enthuses over the proletariat and runs “summer schools” where the proletarian and the repentant bourgeois are supposed to fall upon one another’s necks and be brothers for ever; and the bourgeois visitors come away saying how wonderful and inspiring it has all been (the proletarian ones come away saying something different). And there is the outer-suburban creeping Jesus, a hangover from the William Morris period, but still surprisingly common, who goes about saying ‘Why must we level down? ‘Why not level up?’ and proposes to level the working class “up” (up to his own standard) by means of hygiene, fruit-juice, birth-control, poetry, etc. Even the Duke of York… runs a yearly camp where public school boys and boys from the slums are supposed to mix on equal terms and do mix for the time being, rather like the animals in one of those ‘Happy Family’ cages where a dog, a cat, two ferrets, a rabbit and three canaries preserve an armed truce while the showman’s eye is on them.”

    This is worth a whole barrel of academic sociology. But notice the deadly sociological precision, the precise observation of “summer school”: that is where the classes meet at their fleeting closest in England of the 1930s, even in the socialist movement; not in the thick prose of Marxist theory or in the once-a-month local meeting of a political party. His humour lies in literal truth-telling, removing all euphemisms, a way of wrapping unpalatable deep truths in sardonic homely observations. I suspect he learnt it partly from Dickens, partly from H.G. Wells and partly from George Bernard Shaw, but also from actually talking to ordinary people during his tramping days.

    Hardly has Orwell announced his conversion to socialism, when in the same work, The Road to Wigan Pier, he attacks the image that middle class English socialists have created of themselves. And he prefaces it with a wild and provocative generalisation: “As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents”. Notice the lack of any qualification in this. Victor Gollancz, the socialist and indeed fellow-traveller, then his publisher, must have screamed at him either to take that out or at least to put in that sensible, hedging, temporising, politic pronoun “some of its adherents”. However, that would have spoilt Orwell’s intended double effect: to shock his fellow socialists into thought, but also to mitigate their anger by forcing them to laugh – not Gollancz, by the way, who had no sense of humour whatever. When Orwell went over the top, he went over the top; and, as it were, two-tongued: one tongue sticking out rudely, the other firmly tucked in his cheek. England in the 1930s was not Spain.

    The first thing that must strike any outside observer is that Socialism in its developed form is a theory confined entirely to the middle class. The typical Socialist is not, as tremulous old ladies imagine, a ferocious-looking working-man with greasy overalls and a raucous voice. He is either a youthful snob-Bolshevik who in five years’ time will quite probably have made a wealthy marriage and been converted to Roman Catholicism; or, still more typically, a prim little man with a white-collar job, usually a secret teetotaler and often with vegetarian leanings, with a history of Nonconformity behind him, and, above all, with a social position which he has no intention of forfeiting. This last type is surprisingly common in Socialist parties of every shade; it has perhaps been taken over from the old Liberal Party. In addition to this there is the horrible – the really disquieting – prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together. One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist and feminist in England. One day this summer I was riding through Letchworth [a new model town favoured by progressive intellectuals] when the bus stopped and two dreadful-looking old men got onto it. They were both about sixty, both very short, pink and chubby, and both hatless. One of them was obscenely bald, the other had long gray hair bobbed in the Lloyd George style. They were dressed in pistachio-coloured shirts and khaki shorts into which their huge bottoms were crammed so tightly that you could study every dimple. Their appearance created a mild stir of horror on top of the bus. The man next to me, a commercial traveller I should say, glanced at me, at them, and back again at me, and murmured, ‘Socialists’, as who should say, ‘Red Indians’. He was probably right – the ILP were holding their summer school at Letchworth. But the point is that to him, as an ordinary man, a crank meant a Socialist and a Socialist meant a crank.

    I love “secret teetotaler”. Heroic exaggeration throughout, but also commonsense. Tom Paine used that word first like a sledgehammer, before Conservative politicians made it a soft rubber toy. Of course Orwell didn’t mean that all British socialists were cranks, but he was saying that a few such, perhaps more than a few if never a majority, spoilt the game for all. It was a wise warning needed at the time. Perhaps there is even some self-irony in it. For what was he doing on a bus in Letchworth? That was then a new town synonymous with the ambience of seekers and alternative lifers – riddled with vegetarianism, as he provocatively added. He was attending the annual conference and summer school of the Independent Labour Party, a force – if force it was – uniquely compounded of hard anti-Stalinist marxists (whom he had joined in Catalonia) and soft sandaled groupuscules of intellectual “alternative-life” doctrinaires. Many of his friends were like those he mocked. He enjoyed the company of the free left.

    In Coming Up For Air, a much underrated novel by the way, his humour is more gentle and elegiac. The character George Bowling, the lower-middle class commercial traveler running away from his nagging wife Hilda to recover his youth, has been denounced by critics as rotten with nostalgia. This is probably what his friend Cyril Connolly had in mind when he called Orwell “a revolutionary in love with the 1900s.” But I think a reader is pretty stupid not to see that Orwell, despite some nostalgia, is rejecting any possibility of putting the clock back. He is a shrewd proto-environmentalist who sees that the good life must embrace both town and country, agriculture and industry, or in the deeper symbolism of Nineteen Eighty-Four, both light and darkness.

    I’ve always had that peculiar feeling for fishing. You’ll think it damned silly, no doubt, but I’ve actually half a wish to go fishing even now, when I’m fat and forty-five and got two kids and a house in the suburbs. Why? Because in a manner of speaking I am sentimental about my childhood — not my own particular childhood, but the civilisation which I grew up in and which is now, I suppose, just about at its last kick. And fishing is somehow typical of that civilisation. As soon as you think of fishing you think of things that don’t belong to the modern world. The very idea of sitting all day under a willow tree beside a quiet pool and being able to find a quiet pool to sit beside belongs to the time before the war, before the radio, before airplanes, before Hitler. There’s a kind of peacefulness even in the names of English coarse fish. Roach, rudd, dace, bleak, barbel, bream, gudgeon, pike, chub, carp, tench. They’re solid kind of names. The people who made them up hadn’t heard of machine-guns, they didn’t live in terror of the sack or spend their time eating aspirins, going to the pictures and wondering how to keep out of the concentration camp.

    Does anyone go fishing nowadays, I wonder? Anywhere within a hundred miles of London there are no fish left to catch. A few dismal fishing-clubs plant themselves in rows along the banks of canals, and millionaires go trout-fishing in private waters round Scotch hotels, a sort of snobbish game of catching hand-reared fish with artificial flies. But who fishes in mill-streams or moats or cow-ponds any longer? Where are the English coarse fish now?’ When I was a kid every pond and stream had fish in it. Now all the ponds are drained, and when the streams aren’t poisoned with chemical from factories they’re full of rusty tins and motor-bike tyres.

    Again, heroic exaggeration; things are not quite as bad as that; but they could become so. And the unreflective, even rather stupid common man, George Bowling, yet is given by Orwell an insight into the natural beauty of things: this marvelous litany of the solid names of ordinary things. It certainly isn’t pantheism, but it is a kind of naturalism and pietism – a deep respect for, almost an attribution of sacredness to, natural objects. I think of Gustav Mahler’s song from the Knapewunderhorn of St Francis preaching to the fishes; the same mixture of irony and love. The piece of coral, useless and beautiful, that Winston Smith finds in the junk shop in Nineteen Eighty-Four will surface later, like George Bowling’s fish, in Orwell’s imagination. The master of plain prose used it to reach philosophical and moral depths which are closed to the common reader in works of academic philosophy. Or to put it more mundanely, had he lived long enough to get fed up with trying to fathom the compromised psuedo-philosophy of today’s New Labour, he might well have joined the Greens and they would probably have found him a hell of nuisance, for his arrows always shot inward as well as outward. Greens like making fun of their opponents, but never of themselves – a common human failing, after all. Orwell was somewhat exceptional, and a born member of the great English radical awkward squad – expertly marching out of step. He is that voice one can still hear from the North Bank of the Arsenal stadium shouting “What a load o’ rubbish. Sell ‘em!” – an Arsenal supporter.

    Only in the essay on dirty sea-side postcards, “The Art of Donald McGill”, did he reflect on the nature of humour. Mostly he saw it simply as release, a safety valve for the common people impotent to change the structures of politics and required to conform to the moral standards of their so-called betters. “Judge (in a divorce case). ‘You are prevaricating, sir. Did you or did you not sleep with this woman?’ Co-respondent. ‘Not a wink, my lord!’.” But he ended by raising a more profound imagery from Cervantes: the dualism of us all having inside ourselves both a bit of Don Quixote and a bit of Sancho Panza. Part of our self is lean, idealistic, austere and heroic, while the other is fat, cowardly and dedicated to surviving however dishonourably. The Don rides Rozinante, head in the air, and Sancho rides on a farting mule and is master of the deflating dirty joke.

    Whatever is funny is subversive, every joke is ultimately a custard pie, and the reason why so large a proportion of jokes centre round obscenity is simply that all societies, as the price of survival, have to insist on a fairly high standard of sexual morality. A dirty joke is not, of course, a serious attack upon morality, but it is a sort of mental rebellion, a momentary wish that things were otherwise. So also with all other jokes, which always centre round cowardice, laziness, dishonesty or some other quality which society cannot afford to encourage. Society has always to demand a little more from human beings than it will get in practice. It has to demand faultless discipline and self-sacrifice, it must expect its subjects to work hard, pay their taxes, and be faithful to their wives, it must assume that men think it glorious to die on the battlefield and women want to wear themselves out with childbearing. The whole of what one may call official literature is founded on such assumptions. I never read the proclamations of generals before battle, the speeches of Fuhrers and Prime Ministers, the solidarity songs of public schools and Left Wing political parties, national anthems, temperance tracts, papal encyclicals and sermons against gambling and contraception, without seeming to hear in the background a chorus of raspberries from all the millions of common men to whom these high sentiments make no appeal. Nevertheless the high sentiments always win in the end, leaders who offer “blood, toil, tears and sweat” [Churchill’s words in 1940] always get more out of their followers than those who offer safety and a good time. When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic. Women face childbed and the scrubbing brush, revolutionaries keep their mouths shut in the torture chamber, battleships go down with their guns still firing when their decks are awash. It is only that the other element in man, the lazy, cowardly, debt-bilking adulterer who is inside us all, can never be suppressed altogether and needs a hearing occasionally.

    This is the true humanist who sees both the tragedy and the humour of life. Please read Ninteen Eighty-Four again thinking that it is a Swiftian satire on the abuse of power and not a morbid prophecy.

    Professor Sir Bernard Crick (1929-2008) instituted the George Orwell Memorial Trust with the royalties from the hardback version of his Orwell: A Life, one of the definitive biographies of the man born Eric Blair. In 1993, he launched the Orwell Prize in its present form, and served as chair of the judges until the 2007 Prize and Chair of the Orwell Trust until 2008.

    Sir Bernard Crick instituted the George Orwell Memorial Trust with the royalties from the hardback version of his Orwell: A Life, one of the definitive biographies of the man born Eric Blair. In 1993, he launched the Orwell Prize in its present form, and served as chair of the judges until the 2007 Prize and Chair of the Orwell Trust until 2008.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    With special thanks to the Orwell Youth Fellows for their contributions to these answers!

    1. Why should I enter the Orwell Youth Prize? 

    The Orwell Youth Prize offers an opportunity for young people to think and write about issues of social justice – tackling big ideas in a creative way. By focusing on a theme, the prize offers a direction to writing, often making you examine a topic in a different light.

    As part of entering, you are offered personalised and detailed feedback. In this respect, the prize is unique.

    William, one of our Youth Fellows, had this to say about entering the Prize:

    “I think the Orwell Youth Prize is worth entering for similar reasons to why George Orwell himself wrote (as set out in his essay, Why I Write):

    1. ‘Sheer egoism’ – The Orwell Youth Prize is a chance to enter a competition if you like writing. It was brilliant that my work was read and the feedback gave me a confidence boost. There don’t seem to be many writing awards for young writers.
    2. ‘Aesthetic enthusiasm’ – The feedback on an early draft, made my work much better than it would have been without that advice. You can feel proud of your work because you’re writing for yourself.
    3. ‘Historical impulse’ – It’s a chance to record your concerns here and now. I wrote about some of the environmental issues that affect our time.
    4. ‘Political purpose using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense’ – I don’t see myself as political, but there are issues that I care a lot about and I like having the chance to raise awareness for my cause.
    1. What’s the point of the Orwell Youth Prize?

    Focused on young people’s voices, the Orwell Youth Prize provides space for their opinions to be heard by people in positions of power and responsibility. The Prize has a wide audience, connecting with writers, journalists and politicians, ensuring that your work has a strong impact.

    Alongside the annual writing prize, the Orwell Youth Prize also has a range of other events to give young people a vast array of opportunities. These include workshops, seminars, talks and resources encouraging a critical and creative examination on the world we live in.

    1. How many winners are there?

    There will be approximately 30 shortlisted entries and up to 3 winners and 4 runners up in each category. Shortlisted entries include runners-up and those who are highly commended.

    Both runners-up and winners have their work published and are invited to join the Orwell Youth Fellows.

    1. What happens if I win?

    The prize for winners of the Orwell Youth Prize is George Orwell’s complete fiction and full-length non-fiction works, a selection of essays and a cash prize of £50. Winning entries will also be published on the Orwell Youth Prize website. The schools of winning entrants will also receive the complete works of George Orwell for the school library. Runners up receive Orwell’s collected essays.

    Winners and runners up are also invited to join the Orwell Youth Fellows, a new programme through which you can meet other young political writers, work on new writing projects individually and collaboratively, and help shape the Orwell Youth Prize for future participants. You will also be encouraged to take part in other Orwell Foundation events and opportunities.

    Beyond winners, runners up and highly commended entries, we aim to create opportunities for sharing more of the brilliant work of young people we receive and for bringing entrants together to discuss their work and help us shape our programme and prize.

    1. Who are the Orwell Youth Fellows and what do they do?

    The Orwell Youth Fellows are currently the winners and runners-up from the Orwell Youth Prize in 2020, 2021 and 2022. Together, we work on forming ideas, producing responsive writing for the Orwell Foundation’s blog, and supporting engagement with the prize. We use our experience as previous winners and runners-up to help guide the direction of the Orwell Youth Prize. In 2022, we produced Axial Tilt, a collaborative zine on the climate crisis, which is available to purchase here.

    1. What should I write about?

    All entries should take their inspiration from the theme, but how you address the theme is completely up to you. Every year, the Youth Prize takes a theme from author George Orwell’s work to inspire your responses to the world around you. This year’s theme is “Who’s in Control?”

    The most important thing about writing is that it is on a topic you are passionate about – what do you care about and what should other people know about this? It can be interesting to take this broad topic and look at it from a different angle – what do you think about this issue? Find a small story to say something big.

    It is also important to remember that there is no ‘right’ way to write. Experiment with form, content and style. These provide a great opportunity to overcome the difficulty of starting.

    1. Which form should I choose? / How do you choose a form?

    The topic of a piece of writing is often matched to the form – what will create the most impact? However, not one form fits the theme or ethos of a particular piece, it is what you find is best suited.

    The form of a piece of work is also part of the voice of the author. Try to find what feels most natural and comfortable. Remember you are not constrained to particular techniques or styles: mix and match. Writing with experimentation in mind will help create exciting and dynamic pieces of work.

    1. Where can I get support for my writing?  

    Support for writing can come from different places for different people. Firstly, be confident and assured in your work; what you produce is unique and powerful in its own right. We recommend looking for resources from organisations which focus on providing a space for young writers. These include the Orwell Youth Prize’s own website.

    Support can also come from closer to home, perhaps from a local writing group, a teacher, or your peers. Speak to someone you trust to be honest about your work. A new view on your writing can completely change the direction and allow the piece to develop.

    The Orwell Youth Prize also offers feedback to all entries submitted by the feedback deadline, which this year is Monday 24th April 2023.

    1. I have an idea but am not a very confident writer. What should I do?  

    Start writing – anything and everything that comes to mind! Examine it. Edit it. Adapt it. Having something on paper will allow you to start exploring that idea.

    Try to find writing that explores this idea or re-read your favourite pieces of work. This can help drive you to go with that idea and also show the different ways you can approach it.

    1. What’s different about the Orwell Youth Prize to school work?

    The most important difference is that the Orwell Youth Prize is fun! Compared to writing for English Language, entries for the prize do not have a tick box approach, like with exam criteria.

    Rather than prescribing a specific topic, the Orwell Youth Prize’s annual theme provides shape to your work. You also have more creative liberty – this includes in the content, style and form of the piece.

    1. I was shortlisted, highly commended or won the Prize previously. Can I enter again this year?

    Yes. The Orwell Youth Prize is open to everyone who has previously won, or been shortlisted for the Orwell Youth Prize.

    1. Can I enter two pieces?

    No – we offer individual feedback to each entrant, and so we only accept one entry per person. However, you are welcome to submit one piece as a first draft and a different piece as your final entry.

    1. How long should my entry be?

    The word limit is 1000 for the junior category (if you’re in years 8 – 11) and 1500 in the senior category (years 12-13). There is no obligation to use the entire word count unless you need to: some entries, like poems, will be shorter than others. The Orwell Youth Prize reserves the right to check the length of all longlisted entries.

    1. I’ve written something with my friend. Can we submit a joint entry?

    Yes – we welcome entries written in a pair or small group, which may be particularly useful for the game design category. Please upload your entry to the form as usual and email us at with the details of any additional authors.

    1. How do I submit my entry?

    Please upload your entry using the online form on our website. If you have any questions about the form, please email

    A New Direction: Starting Small


    George Orwell demonstrated that the strongest writing almost always comes from a place of personal experience and direct observation. Through the last year, we’ve all been locked down. Many of us feeling like we know our towns, villages, streets and local parks better than ever before. With this year’s theme, it’s our goal to support you to think hard about your local environment, encourage you to trust your observations and use the authority you have to report and write creatively on the changes you’d like to see to create a better society, starting with what’s on your doorstep.

    Scroll down for our resources and interactive ways to engage with the theme – and some suggested reading to spark ideas. In the meantime, we better start with George Orwell himself.

    George Orwell and thinking small

    Orwell provides an example of a writer who addressed, in the clearest terms, the major political issues of his day, from economic injustice at home to imperialism and totalitarianism abroad, while also taking deep pleasure in the things which make places and people unique. As a columnist for the magazine Tribune he would write about war in Europe one week, and English cookery the next. His belief in the importance of seeing for oneself was not limited to taking an active part in history, as he did in the Spanish Civil War and the Road to Wigan Pier: it was an everyday injunction. It was only by paying close attention to what is ‘in front of one’s nose’ that the ordinary citizen could equip themselves to resist the barrage of political propaganda they are subject to and see more clearly what steps were necessary to make the world a better place.

    “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

    In Front of One’s Nose, George Orwell

    “I write… because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”

    Why I Write, George Orwell

    “Perhaps a man really dies when his brain stops, when he loses the power to take in a new idea.”

    Coming Up for Air, George Orwell

    Here are some examples of essays from The Orwell Foundation library, where Orwell starts small:

    The Need for a New Direction – Prompts

    The world feels overwhelming at the moment. A pandemic, the looming threat of the climate crisis, increasing inequality, and the rise of big data seem insurmountable due to the sheer magnitude of the problems we face. At the same time, the urgency of these threats is galvanising young people like you into action but where do you start when these issues seem incomprehensibly large?

    To get you started, you might want to consider:

    • What does your support network look like? (is it a person, is it online, where is it?)
    • What do you most like about where you live? What makes it unique?
    • Think about your daily routine. Which bits do you look forward to, which bits could be better and who/what could help you improve your day-to-day?
    • Go for a walk and examine the built environment and nature around you. What do you see? What is worth protecting? What steps can be taken to ensure that future generations can value the environment?
    • Research the street names in your local area, who or what is represented? What’s interesting/disappointing/exciting about that?
    • Many young people feel pessimistic about the possibility of changing the future. What do you think is the cause of this pessimism, and what steps can be taken by young people to regain their agency?
    • The pandemic has increased our reliance on digital spaces and communities. Digital spaces can bring us together, provide entertainment, joy and help us learn, but constant connectedness also raises concerns about privacy, status anxiety and mental health. How do you relate to the online world? What problems can you identify with digital spaces? What could be done to address them?

    Resources and reading

    We’ve teamed up with writers, journalists and experts to create a series of resources around specific topics relating to this year’s theme: each resource includes an introduction to the topic and more prompts to get writing and researching, from creative writing to football.

    Stories From the Ground Up: Local Journalism

    • Learn about the importance of local journalism, and get some tips for trying your own, from the team at The Bristol Cable.

    Politics, Football and Place

    • Football teams are rooted in places, but that link is being shaken by globalisation. Wyn Grant, author of Political Football, explores the implications.

    Ways into Creative Writing

    • in a series of videos and prompts, poet Miriam Nash will help you play get writing about the places you know.

    In addition, we are creating a reading list below for you to explore how to approach this question. We will update this list throughout the course of the prize, but your reading doesn’t have to be limited to it: be inquisitive and critically engage with news items and articles you read.

    Climate Change and Local Action



    Orwell Youth Prize Inspiration




    Orwell Youth Prize Writing

    Public Spaces




    Place and Identity




    Orwell Youth Prize Inspiration




    Orwell Youth Prize Inspiration




    Orwell Youth Prize Inspiration

    Daily Life & The Self



    Orwell Youth Prize Inspiration

    Local Democracy


    Writing Advice (new writing, short stories, writers discuss their work)


    • New Writing North
    • Our writing resources:
    • Also remember that all youth prize winners and runners up from 2019 and 2020 gave their own writing advice, visible in interviews at the bottom of their pages



    If you have any further questions, suggestions, or thoughts, please get in touch with Alex Talbott,

    2020 Theme: The Future We Want – Resources

    What does the future you want look like? What’s standing in the way? How can we work to realise a better vision for our future together?

    George Orwell wrote to alter perceptions on the kind of future society we want. In 2020, the Orwell Youth Prize asked young people aged 12 -18 to decide that future.

    Journalism, essays, short stories, blog posts, poems, and plays were all welcome. Like the future,  responses to the 2020 theme was their choice. These resources, however, were used to provide that initial spark, and we hope they will continue to assist young writers articulate their vision of the future.

    George Orwell and the Future

    An Online Workshop – The Future We Want Now

    Delia Jarrett-Macauley – Creative Writing Prompts and Ideas

    A Message to the Orwell Youth Prize Entrants from Richard Blair, George Orwell’s Son

    The Future We Want – Covid-19

    Reading Recommendations



    ‘To take a rational political decision one must have a picture of the future’

    (George Orwell, ‘Arthur Koestler’, 1944)

    ‘Nearly all creators of Utopia have resembled the man who has toothache, and therefore thinks happiness consists in not having toothache…whoever tries to imagine perfection simply reveals his own emptiness.’

    George Orwell – ‘Can Socialists be Happy?‘ 1943.

    ‘One often has to aim at objectives which one can only very dimly see.’

    George Orwell – ‘Can Socialists be Happy?‘ 1943.

    ‘Political purpose – using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.’

    George Orwell – ‘Why I Write‘ 1946

    ‘All revolutions are failures, but they are not all the same failure.’

    George Orwell – ‘Arthur Koestler‘ 1944.


    It makes sense to start with the man himself. Orwell wrote in a time of momentous historical change and critically engaged with the intellectual current of his time. Grand ideologies competed for dominance, where capitalism, communism, socialism, and fascism were pitted against each other on the international stage. His contemporaries were deeply optimistic about the potential for the seemingly relentless advance of technology to reshape human society and, in consequence, human nature itself.

    Orwell is best remembered today for his satirical account of totalitarian regimes and his sceptical approach to the motivations underpinning utopian visions. Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) offer dystopian accounts of failed utopian projects and act as a ‘warning’ for his contemporaries. Orwell, however, never lost his faith in the possibility of a more humane society. His writing aimed ‘to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.’

    If you are interested in learning more about Orwell’s writing on social change and the future, you can read a more detailed account here.



    Today we tend to share Orwell’s scepticism towards grand utopian impulses and prefer to allow each of us to decide our own futures. However, we are currently living through uncertain times that impact our collective future. The climate crisis, divisive politics, deep inequality, and technology’s irreversible impact on society forces us to consider a question that pervades Orwell’s writing: what kind of society do we want to live in?

    We have included a few links below for you to explore the factors that define how we approach this question. We will update this list throughout the course of the prize, but your reading should not be limited to the list below. Be inquisitive and critically engage with news items and articles you read. Most importantly, keep questioning the world around you and be radical in your solutions.



    Extra ideas…


    Greta Thunberg’s Speech ‘You Did not Act in Time’

    RSA Resources on Climate Change

    Nine Original Poems on Climate Change


    Naming and Shaming the Polluters (The Guardian)

    Are Extinction Rebellion the new Suffragettes?


    Samsa – Anthropocene ft. Atlas



    Should there be comprehensive universities?

    The Stormzy Effect

    Getting In


    The Future of Education (Sajan George)




    Elon Musk: The Architect of Tomorrow (Neil Strauss)

    Would you recognise yourself from your data?




    Meanwhile Use of Buildings

    The Alternatives: making the economy work for everyone (Aditya Chakrabortty)

    The rebel bank, printing its own notes and buying back people’s debts (Anna Leach)  

    The Brixton Pound




    What’s The Future of the Feminist Movement? 12 Leading Voices Respond

    Should kids be brought up as gender netural? (Catriona White, BBC)

    Intersectionality: Why it Matters?

    Does Extinction Rebellion have a Race Problem?

    ‘Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan’s poetry gives us tools to fight back’, an interview by Rosel Jackson Stern for gal-dem

    6 Young Women On What The Black Lives Matter Movement Means To Them (Naomi Pike, Vogue) 

    The Kids are Having None of It

    Black Lives Matter: Parents and children talk about racism (BBC)


    Kate Bornstein: The Future of Gender




    RSA The Future of Work

    Ending the Poverty Premium

    Crumbling Britain: Big Issue competitors arrive as rough sleeping rises, Anoosh Chakelian, New Statesman 

    Need some more information on what we want to change. Check out our resources on: Food Poverty  & Poverty Premium Resource


    Deprivation Discourse – podcast series where young people are co-creators by Elif Emma True




    In Mind: Found on Mental Health (The Guardian)

    Is young people’s mental health getting worse? 




    What will art look like in 20 years?


    New Ways of Seeing

    Tate Podcast: Art & Protest 



    Politics as usual can’t fix the climate crisis Maybe it’s time to try a citizens’ assembly

    The Case for Reparations

    Why Donald Trump is proving George Orwell wrong


    Knock Down the House

    The Tate Podcast: Art & Protest



    Ecotopia (1975), Ernest Callenbach

    Island (1962), Aldous Huxley

    Herland (1915), Charlotte Perkins Gilman

    The Dispossessed (1974) Ursula K. Le Guin

    What We Can At Least Afford to Lose, Luke Kennard


    Avatar (2009), James Cameron



    Guide to Style

    Guide to Form

    Encountering Orwell

    The brilliant work of previous winners of the Orwell Youth Prize

    If you have any further questions, suggestions, or thoughts, please get in touch with Alex Talbott,

    Out of body, out of mind – Rhianna Prewitt

    The sale of a kidney is a complicated matter. Many things must be considered: the price of your kidney, who the recipient will be and, most importantly, whether your kidney is worth a dangerous passage to Europe.

    At first, I was approached in a friendly manner by a stranger. He offered a considerable sum of money I had never before had the opportunity to obtain. The discussion quickly became sinister. It became clear he wanted to buy my kidney. Time was required to decide, but the broker was impatient through no fault of his own. He too wanted to travel to Europe. The procedure, he claimed, was safe. The reward? Five thousand pounds. How could I say no? Nothing in life is handed on a plate, so I knew I had no choice. Of course, I did not want to sell my kidney. Even the idea of allowing strangers to put me to sleep made me feel sick. Realistically I was given little choice. The broker visited daily to persuade me into agreement, he recalled stories of distant friends who had also sold their kidney, one now lived in a chalet in Sweden, another in a high-rise tower block somewhere in the UK. Eventually after many weeks of persuasion and a couple of sleepless nights, I reluctantly called the broker and told him I was ready to have the operation. After the phone call, I spiralled into panic. A lump emerged in my throat and I became restless, there was now no alternative and I was forced to accept the terms of the arrangement. I had been told that I couldn’t go back. No matter the circumstance.

    Us immigrants, the Eritreans, the Sudanese and the Yemenis who populate the streets of Cairo all know of poverty, violence and instability and we all know that we must make sacrifices. When I found myself living in a cramped refugee camp in Sudan, I met many who had sacrificed far more than me to leave Eritrea. Many Women there had been trafficked for sex and many men had worked for many weeks in harsh conditions only to receive little or no pay. Although Malnourished and beaten, the people I met still felt that they had more they were willing to sacrifice. Forced military service and desperate poverty in my home Eritrea meant that I could not turn back, to turn back would to be to give up. We can choose not to leave and stay hungry, stay ill and stay desperate. But what sort of life is that? I am not trying to migrate just for me, I am trying to migrate to earn money for my family and to create a life for my brothers and sisters. The stories of those who finally make their journey and arrive in safe asylums without the threats of war and hunger motivated us and made sacrifices seem worthwhile.

    The operation itself was far easier but more daunting than what I had imagined. I was brought to a cold, makeshift operating theatre full of strangers. As an Eritrean immigrant trapped between home and Europe, one gets used to living and breathing amongst strangers, but the cold was something new, something unfamiliar especially when I had grown use to the scorching heat of Northern Egypt. One man instructs me to strip, hesitantly I did. Then after pulling the gown provided over my body, I noticed the needles and sharp hospital knives by the side of the mattress that the strangers would use to cut open my stomach and retrieve my kidney. I began to feel light headed. I was then instructed to lie on the cold operating bed, which appeared to be a mattress dressed by a sheet of plastic. A feeling of total vulnerability overcame me. Then my worries were lifted as the anaesthetic they injected me with took effect and I entered a deep sleep.

    Then I woke with a sharp piercing pain in my lower abdomen. I began to swear under my breath. I realised that I still felt cold despite being away from the operating theatre. The scar hurt a lot, but I was alive and appeared to be okay, if anything just a little confused and very alone. I felt an emptiness in the pit of my stomach. I had no one to care for me through the recovery, no representation guarding me and no laws protecting me. I knew Europe cared more about keeping me out than keeping me safe, this was made clear by the rising costs of the painful journey to Europe. My kidney was gone, sold and processed and I was paid a visit by a smuggler. His name was Yonas, a young fellow Eritrean hoping for something better. We joke about films, music and family and he seems honest. He claimed he was a talented musician also hoping to earn enough to send home to his family who like mine were struggling. I trusted Yonas so when he suggested that the kidney money should be paid directly to him in exchange for a safe passage into Europe, I agreed.

    Over many weeks I recovered, I built up strength slowly but surely and started to feel even more enchanted by the promises of a new life. I decided when I arrived in Europe, I would train to become a teacher or a nurse and buy a house in a coastal town. I had felt that in return for kidney, I had been given hope. I laughed with the strangers I met and slept better than usual in the crowded apartment I lived in. Eventually I felt ready to leave, to migrate further than I already have. I had been displaced for so long, that my motivations for leaving had seemed to have grown thin. The cause forgotten and my emotions numbed, I had been in no rush to reach Europe. But now I was ready, I was in a rush.

    After I had adjusted to the pain in my stomach, I called Yonas, it rang but there was no answer. I rang again. And again. And again. My patience grew thin, so I attempt to call my broker but again no answer. My heart racing, my mind spiralling I felt tricked.That same feeling of dread that I first felt in the operating theatre revisited me. Perhaps I rang the wrong number. Or maybe they were busy. I made the decision to not immediately throw away hope. Soon a daily routine emerged as I called each number day and night until both numbers eventually became inactive. Out of desperation I asked around, talked to fellow immigrants and described Yonas and the broker but to no luck. As the situation became increasingly clear I began to hear of others who were tricked and stolen from. It was far more common than organisations like the EU would like to accept, it is a reality here. We sold our organs and received no pay nor European destination. Instead we received ridicule.

    Soon after I realised what had happened, I took it to the police. I explained the tragedy, the desperation, the dire circumstances of what had happened, and they explained it was in fact me who as an illegal immigrant had broken the law by selling my own kidney and that in fact, I was powerless and a criminal. Not only had my kidney been ripped from me but so had my dignity. So, I left the station and contemplated the events of the past weeks. The sacrifice I had made were now a complete waste and I felt I had been naive; I could not sell another kidney. In a literal sense, I had nothing left to give. I lost my trust in myself and others, I lost trust in the journey I was trying to make, and I lost trust in Europe itself. Anger was another emotion I had to come to terms with. It made me angry that governments recognised but neglected our needs. We did not ask for much, just a home and a stable job, we wanted to contribute to society not stagnate within it.

    Over time I came to terms with what happened. I am still trapped in the scorching heat and busy streets of Egypt without a job or real accommodation and no real plan to migrate further, but I am resilient and take each day as it comes. To shed light on the situation, I have met many new friends who have approached me with stories of their own about the kidney trade here in Cairo. Together we warn fellow immigrants like you of the dangers of the kidney trade to provide some protection to those like to us. If the governments won’t do it, we will. So, with my kidney out of body and my dreams of reaching Europe temporarily out of mind, I have no other choice but to remain hopeful.


    Rhianna Prewitt was a senior Runner Up in the 2019 Orwell Youth Prize responding to the theme ‘A Fair Society?’. We asked Rhianna about the inspiration for her piece and what motivates her to write: 

    What was the inspiration behind your piece?
    I was motivated to write my piece because of a Guardian podcast discussing the hardships faced by refugees and immigrants and why they are being forced to result to sell their organs to pay for their travel. This was due to the harsh regulations placed by the EU that had put pressure on Egypt to keep immigrants out. I was also motivated due to the negative bias adopted by British newspapers when discussing the migrant crisis. I hoped that my story would change the narrative of the stories of those who aren’t being listened to.

    Why did you pick the form you did?
    I chose to write a short story because I felt that it was the best way to share migrant stories from an empathetic view. I wanted the reader to really connect with the story so they can understand the unfairness of the situation.

    ‘Why I Write’
    I write because it is an alternative method to communicate political ideas and can connect with people in a way that oral debate can’t.

    Advice to fellow young writers
    Write about what you care about. If you care, your writing will be passionate and will be able to engage others.

    A piece of writing/poem/novel/article that has influenced me

    ‘Organ trafficking in Egypt: ‘They locked me in and took my kidney’ -Seán Columb, The Guardian 



    The Interview – Devki Panchmatia



    Welcome to the Zoo, Miss. So-and-So. Come in.
    Take your coat off, you’ll be much more comfortable. Yes, that’s it.

    He’s got big blinking lizard-eyes, and spotty reptilian skin.
    He’s sat in a bookcase, cross-legged like a Caucasian Buddha. Asexual, he’s
    Looking at his fan of papers, reviewing my sentence and planning a full-stop before I’ve
    even begun.

    His colleague, blocky and square-faced, sits down, silent.
    The lizard won’t stop blinking or talking.
    Would I like a glass of water?
    Would I like a cup of bleach?
    Would I like a live eel to chew on?
    I’m alright for now, I say, sure to be gracious and humble and thankful. It begins, and I’m
    smoother than windless water.

    LIZARD: Tell me about Book No.1: Volume No.1.
    ME: uuuuuuuhhhhhhmmmmmmmmmmm
    LIZARD: That was terrible. Tell me about Book No.2: Volume (Irrelevant)
    ME: Well-
    LIZARD: You’re answering the question wrong. No matter. On to Book No. 12.



    I think that’s enough for now, Dr. Lizard (Phd.) That’s his colleague speaking.
    He’s pig-eyed and beary, an animal-turned-circus-master
    Lizard obeys, slinking into his bookcase.
    Now, Miss So-and-So. It’s time for some fun.
    He prowls to his own bookcase and, with a flourish, pulls off the curtain.
    Out falls a woman (Ooooo! A woman!) and she’s a carcass, foul and punctured and
    patched with gossamer fish-skin. Moths fly out of her in a clump of wingéd fury. (The
    lizard eats them before they can go any further.)
    This, Dr. Ringmaster (Phd.) says, is Sappho.
    Dissect her.

    With trembling hands, I reach into the musky lead crumble where her face should be.
    She is bloodless, just as I expected. Her ribs have burst into mothballs at somebody else’s
    careless touch. There is a scroll of parchment where her liver once was.
    Who has done this to her?, I cry. Who?
    The Zookeepers are smiling. Their faces are blindingly white now, like masks of eggshell.

    We did, Miss So-and-So.
    We have a lovely gold bookcase for you.
    Will you come in?




    Devki Panchmatia was a senior Runner Up in the 2019 Orwell Youth Prize responding to the theme ‘A Fair Society?’. We asked Devki about the inspiration for her poem and what motivates her to write: 

    What was the inspiration behind your piece?

    The piece is loosely based off an experience I had in a similar setting as the speaker in the poem. As a woman of colour, I am heavily interested in the place of women in academic settings, and for me, a ‘fair society’ is one in which women and people of colour are given equal opportunities in education. I wanted to convey the anger, immense discomfort and sense of displacement that myself, and many other women have felt in a highly Male-dominated academic sphere. Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Applicant’ was a key piece of inspiration behind the poem, too.

    Why did you pick the form you did?
    Free form has always appealed to me since I began studying poetry. A poem written in an unstructured, loose style draws attention to the rigidity and the sense of suffocation my speaker feels.

    ‘Why I Write’
    I write because the written word is far harder to silence than speech.

    Advice to fellow young writers
    Read as much as you can. Find your style, your voice, and be patient with yourself. We will only get better with time!

    A piece of writing/poem/novel/article that has influenced me
    Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own’. It is a reminder that the personal is always political.


    Brick Lane: A Case Against Social and Ethnic Exclusion in Britain – Asher Gibson

    Straddling the border between zones 1 and 2 and diverging from the bustle of Whitechapel High Street is a road with a “Jekyll and Hyde” history of struggle against a shadow of social deprivation. Brick Lane, introduced to many by the talking heads of young, affluent YouTubers reporting “THE BEST PLACE TO GO THRIFT SHOPPING IN LONDON”. The street resembled the bright, bohemian North Laine Bazaar of Brighton, which stood firm as the place-to-be for young alternatives, from the “goths” of the 1980’s to the “softbois” and “eGirls” of today. Brick Lane was like London’s sixth form sketch book; illustrated by the residents with street art and stickers, models, murals, and tiles painted to tell the stories of the people who lived there. Its artwork was a sign of possession. The people who painted Brick Lane loved this street and showed this with posters, paints, and prints.

    In contrast, the street’s visual noise was coated by a blanket of quiet. This may have been the fault of the late Wednesday morning, but the upper end, Osborn street, was nonetheless tainted by an air of deprivation. Shops were closed and their grates were painted over, but not with street art. Instead, with the haphazard graffiti signatures that declared a place “abandoned”. The few people I passed on Osborne Street were far removed from the young, middle-class bohemians I met near the lower end – the group who introduced me to the street in the first place. They were would once be called the “salt of the Earth” by people who want to show them a distant sympathy, but on the basis of their usefulness, not their humanity.

    Many were not rich, and many more were migrants from one to three or more generations. These have been Brick Lane’s people for decades. The street began its life as Whitechapel Lane, as a slum area that, during the Victorian era, was one of the worst hit streets by the Jack-the-Ripper murders. Over the years, it began to rise in its economic status, becoming a haven for many migrants escaping poverty, war, and deprivation in their home countries. During the 19th and 20th century, they were mostly Jewish and Irish, but today are mostly of Bengali heritage. However, the affectionate defacement of an ATM sign with “HALA MADRID” paired with a love heart in black spray paint shows that this is not the limit to the diversity of people that have come to make Brick Lane their home.

    The people of Brick Lane were not just the bright, white talking heads on YouTube. Instead, they were more like the pixels in the DSLR in my hand. They were bright, varied, multicoloured
    components of an image that reflected the reality of both London and Britain. Its artwork, defacement, stickers and storefronts showed Brick Lane as a unit pushing back against the battles of
    it’s past. It is a case study of Britain’s story as a whole. Its language is a blend of Latin, French, and German with loan words from Arabic. Its cultural symbols, from the cup of tea to the tikka masala, were taken from once distant colonies in South Asia. Its universities and research are funded by the European mainland, while its buildings are built on the sweat of Slavic expats. The very essence of Britain’s cultural character has been built on the contributions and the exploitation of others. If one lesson can be learned from Brick Lane, it’s that Britain’s current trend of isolating itself from the rest of the world will be suffocating. It will lose the very things, the very people, that brought Brick Lane up from the ground and made it the wonderful, dog-eared sketchbook street it is today.

    Asher Gibson was a Senior runner up in the Orwell Youth Prize 2019
    responding to the theme ‘A Fair Society?’. We asked him where he got the inspiration for his piece and what motivates him to write: 

    What was the inspiration behind your piece?
    When I wrote the piece, I had two interrelated goals in mind. I knew that I wanted to write something orientated around a social issue related to London so that, if it received any commendation, I could use it to apply to the student newspaper at the university I had applied to. Around this time, I had stumbled upon a YouTube video of a student who was reviewing the thrift shops in Brick Lane. In the first part of the interview, I noticed he showed a marked discomfort as he navigated the streets in front of Brick Lane, which he described as a “rough area”. His demeanour completely changed, however, when he arrived at all of the ritzy, slightly overpriced shops, and it made me curious as to why there was such a significant difference in this young man’s attitudes towards two places that were less than a 5 minute walk from each other. As I was going to be in London the week after for a visit to what is now my University (King’s College London), I decided to investigate the area for a bit of ethnographic study to see for myself, what was the difference between the two areas? Why are they there? How do the people who actually live there, day by day, feel about the area and how do their attitudes differ from those held by the people like the YouTuber? How might the history of the area and political issues like class, race, national identity and London’s multiculturalism have affected these discrepancies?

    Why did you pick the form you did?
    Although I have written literature in the past, most of my recent work (including this piece) has taken the form of long-form essays and journalism. These are the forms I’ll have to familiarise myself to develop professionally as I begin to seriously pursue a career, either in journalism or political communications.

    ‘Why I Write’
    At risk of sounding cynical, I write because I’ve been told I’m good at it since I was very young. Teachers and family members saw something in the way I wrote, and so I was encouraged to practice and hone the craft. It became a source of positive reinforcement. It’s just lucky that I love it too. I also write for a wider purpose, but this was borne out of the initial, Pavlovian reason. Because I love it, I learned why it is important. By formal and informal education, watching the news to see how it’s produced, speaking to those affiliated with the Orwell Prize, I came to realise that society needs people putting words to paper, artistically and factually, for humanity to progress and to allow us to try and go about building a good and fair society. There is a reason why fascist governments burn books and ban the marginalised from learning to read and write. Writing can be an art or a technology. Art lets us imagine how we would like the world to look and technology lets us change it. If you don’t want the world to change, you stop people writing about it. I was born in a country where I’m allowed to use my skills, to write and to learn. If I didn’t, I’d be disposing of something very powerful – like tossing a Molotov into the ocean, for instance.

    Advice to fellow young writers
    Do not be disheartened by failure. This whole practice is completely subjective. I entered a competition before Orwell Youth Prize where, despite my teacher’s praise over my work, my piece, and I, received no attention. It knocked my confidence so severely that it almost caused me to forego attending the OYP Celebrations Day, which would have meant sacrificing some very useful advice from Max Daly, engaging political debates, the pride of standing as a Runner Up in this competition, and a very nice set of George Orwell’s essays. Failures are inevitable because a) not everyone is going to like your writing style and b) not everyone is going to like what you write about. That does not make you a bad writer.

    Also, practice, and practice in a range of styles. Write essays, academic and non-academic. Write short stories, poems, journalism, anything you can think of. Write for competitions like Orwell Youth Prize or the New College of Humanities essay competition or the John Locke Institute essay competition. If your school has a student newspaper, write for it. If not, start one, then write for it, or start blogging, or contact a local magazine, newspaper, or radio station for work experience. Volunteer for the communications department at a local charity. Get as much published as you possibly can. Keep your momentum going. Throw spaghetti at the wall until something sticks, then keep throwing it so more sticks. Eventually you will build up a portfolio, experience, and confidence that will set you in good stead for whatever you decide to do as a writer, whether you make it your career, as a novelist, poet, administrator, journalist, PR consultant etc, or if you keep it as a hobby.

    Also, learn to code and use Excel. You don’t have to be particularly good but writing with data, using data to tell stories, is a very helpful skill to have right now, in many different industries.
    A piece of writing/poem/novel/article that has influenced me

    Aptly, I have to be honest and say the essays of George Orwell influenced my journalistic and academic style. His way of being able to use a perfect balance of technical, classics-borne words with more simple, Germanic ones to create clear, distinct meanings in very few words is a skill I’m in awe of. It’s something I try to emulate in most of my writing (and hopefully I’m getting better.) I also find that a lot of the poetry and fiction I write comes out with the unconventional rhythms and grammar I’ve seen in The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood. I suppose it’s difficult to not let a book you’ve studied inside out for 2 years influence your writing style. It’s great for literature, but I have to make sure that those tendencies remain separate from my academic writing, where language is more prescriptive than descriptive.

    Remember kids, different styles call for different rules. That’s why you should write in as many as possible.



    Through His Eyes – Clarissa Murphy

    From the damp doorway that he calls home, he stares at the outside world; with nothing more to his name than the grimy mattress and matted blanket beneath him, the clothes on his back and a battered paper Costa Coffee cup. The only sense of comfort for him is the feeling of the cold walls on his back that keep him alert enough to defend himself if needs be.

    His favourite of a depressingly short list of pastimes involves vacantly watching the passersby on their way to work, school etc. Groomed, middle-aged men in ironed suits stride to the tube station, a swinging briefcase in one hand and a constantly ringing phone in the other. Flustered teachers attempt to herd hoards of jittering school children across the zebra crossing on the way to some school trip that the kids will most likely spend playing ‘Truth or Dare’ rather than learning. Groups of sniggering teenage girls with short skirts and high ponytails gabble about the latest
    celebrity gossip in Okay! that morning, completely unaware of and unconcerned about the slowly crumbling political system around them.

    People are very fascinating to this man.

    Strangers love to gawk at him as though they can’t comprehend how someone would ever stoop to his level and actually sleep on that filthy ground. Luxury is so relative in this world. The sense of satisfaction that most people get after having a nice meal at a posh restaurant for him is found by waking up to see it hasn’t rained overnight and he doesn’t have to sit in sodden dampness all day.

    Parents hurriedly drag their dawdling children past him as though he is not even worth the glance of an unknowing 5 year old. They keep their perfect creations of humans swaddled in bubble wrap, completely oblivious to the bad in the world as if that will somehow protect them from receiving the same fate. Ignorance is bliss.

    He receives glare after glare as he drags at the cigarette he managed to buy with a few cobbled together coins. They do not understand how this stick of possible lung cancer creates a sense of warmth in his blood that is not really there. It wraps its toxic arms around him and shields him from the hunger and the biting cold and the loneliness of his reality, like the mother he never had. Everything good is nothing more than a mirage.

    As the sun sets and the floods of figures finally begin to trickle out the quiet starts to engulf him. The only sound left to be heard is the last few pairs of shiny brogues knocking on the gum-ridden pavement.

    Tap. Tap. Tap.

    The repetitive monotonous rhythm sparks a far off memory from deep within him. Anxiety bubbles in his stomach as he remembers the sheer despair he felt as he knocked and knocked on what was once his own front door. Awful things, doors. Nothing seems more isolating to an already spiralling individual than the constant closing of a looming wooden slab.

    When he can no longer take the pounding thoughts in his head and the crushing pressure of day he slips into an uneasy and dreamless sleep. He has wasted too much time dreaming about what could have been. So there he lies on his grimy mattress; bundled in his matted blanket, the empty coffee cup at his side. Beyond his damp doorway the world goes on.


    Clarissa Murphy was a junior Orwell Youth Prize Runner Up in 2019, responding to the theme ‘A Fair Society?’ We asked Clarissa about the inspiration behind her piece and why she writes. 

    What was the inspiration behind your piece?

    My inspiration for this piece came from the real world, and what I observe on a daily basis. In London homelessness is everywhere, and I wanted to make a piece to potentially provide insight into what it is like to live in a homeless person’s shoes and to tackle the stigma around homelessness.

    Why did you pick the form you did?

    In terms of form, I settled on what came naturally and I think, in turn, it fitted better with the piece. The first person narrative is almost like a diary entry from the homeless man, and allowed me to get across his cynical views about society.

    ‘Why I Write’

    I write because it is a way to let your mind be creative in a world that is so focused on academics. It is also really satisfying to see a finished piece on a page and feel like that is something you have created and has meaning to you.

    Advice to fellow young writers

    To fellow young writers, I don’t really know if I can give advice because I still have so much to learn, but I would say don’t try to write to fit the mould. Just let it come to you naturally and that is what will be more interesting for someone to read.

    A piece of writing/poem/novel/article/film that has influenced me

    I am interested by playwrights and their works which I think is why I like to focus on the characters and their emotions. Some playwrights that inspire me are Jez Butterworth, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Alice Birch.