Writing competition engages adult learners

Our Adult GCSE English and Adult Functional Skills students have been keeping engaged and motivated during the lockdown by participating in a writing competition.

Adapting to lockdown life hasn’t been easy for a lot of adult learners. Juggling the changes in work, homeschooling, and not being able to see family members has made keeping on top of their studies an extra challenge.

Teachers decided to ease the pressure by adapting their learning schedule and promoting the positive and restful process of writing creatively. Staff launched a letter-writing competition for the students, focusing on creative writing and techniques.

Tat Ruck, English Tutor for additional adult cohorts, and Susan Slater, Professional Adult Learning Administrator, judged both the Adult GCSE English and the Adult Functional Skills competitions.

Check out the winning entries below…

Adult GCSE English Winners

First: Dean Squire

Dear Isobel,

I can’t tell you why I’m writing this. Fear, I suppose. I have been repeating today’s events over and over again in my head, trying to make sense of what I’m doing here Izzy. I guess I’m wishing you could help me like you usually would.

Infantry life is challenging to say the least, on operations we cover most of the ground on foot, looking for the enemy or trying to gather as much intelligence as humanly possible to. The repetition is becoming immensely stressful Isobel. Every day, I put on my helmet, body armour and webbing including my rifle along with my newest best friend, The Mine Detector! (Of course, no one could replace you, but the Mine Detector is quite critical to my survival). I’m often told that we have to be lucky every day and that the enemy only has to be lucky once. I simplify that in my own terms as Russian Roulette.

But today, that term sat with me heavier than usual. My mind keeps going back to this one moment. I had just slowly pushed away from the vehicles and my hands were trembling as I swayed my detector from left to right. This intense nausea starts brewing in my stomach and secretly I know it’s the fear setting in deeper with every small step I take. My heart was beating in my ears and all I could do was continue swaying the detector. Back and forth. Back and forth. All the while I have this constant nagging thought that claws its way over every other emotion… Please God, not like this.

You know what I mean by that, don’t you? Death was always a possibility. I know that. I had come to terms with that Izzy, I swear. But I always had the expectation of a glorious end in a fire fight battle. Be a hero. Have an honourable death. However, this was the moment reality kicked in. This was no glorious battle. It was me and a few other men, stood in the middle of a desert, dehydrated, swinging mine detectors around like fucking idiot’s! All I do is replay it. The heat scorching down. The dusty air. Grains of sand in my mouth. Then for a whole minute I just stand there and take it in. My tongue is sand-paper, my skin is fire and my eyes are raw. In that minute, I pray to god these were not my final hours. This is not the last thing I want to see before I go.

This repetition is constant, day after day, night after night. I’m left alone with my thoughts in the loneliest place on earth. I know there isn’t much you can say to me to make sense of this turmoil. I suppose my battles are more personal now.

The truth is, I am dancing daily with death.

I am so sorry. Sorry to write this. Sorry I’m here. Sorry if I don’t come back.

All my Love,

Judges Comments:
Tat Ruck:
This heartrending letter from a soldier to his girlfriend brings to life the boredom and fear of modern warfare. The ending especially brought tears to my eyes.
Sue Slater: A really good description of the reality of his situation and emotions.

Second: Alice Olivier

Dear table,

You have been in my life from the very beginning.

My grand-parents accidently became your owners when you were included in the purchase of a farmhouse they acquired in rural France in the 1970s, long before I was born. I don’t think they paid you much attention – you were cumbersome and built out of humble pine, not the refined centrepiece they longed for.

Luckily for you, you were soon passed on to my parents. They had just got married, bought their first home and needed furniture. They weren’t picky. I am not sure how much you were loved at that point. I am sorry to say that you simply happened to be free and available at a convenient time. But I guess that’s okay in the life of an item of furniture.

You feature in the vast majority of my family’s photographs, spanning nearly fifty years. In fact, you provide the set for my very first family photo, albeit not a very good one. My dad had set the timer on his then state-of-the-art Canon camera and swiftly propped it up onto your top, before rushing back to sit with the rest of us by one of your sides. Somehow he still managed to look surprised when the shutter clicked. Meanwhile, my mum and older siblings were posing with lovely smiles. Unfortunately, my sister had awkwardly placed her whole hand on my face as a sign of affection. The result is that the face of the new-born baby me is totally obstructed. Still, I love that photo. And you’re in there, discreet in the foreground.

Your great size became very useful when the family suffered a cataclysm in the late 1980s. Instead of being at the service of six people, you were now being used constantly by ten people. That number went up to thirteen – that was a bit of a squeeze – when a family of Yugoslavian refugees joined us for a few months in the early 1990s. I am sure they remember you very fondly too.

All this work on your part took its toll. Over the years, various body parts were often leaning on top of your smooth surface, predominantly elbows but sometimes feet and bums too (sorry!). You silently put up with many things: pots and pans, tableware, many spilled water jugs (that was my speciality), toys, messy craft, hidden chewing gums left to harden in your unseen corners. My dad was aware of this and he would varnish you periodically, giving you a renewed sense of pride.

When the weakened family finally imploded in the late 1990s, you were sadly left behind, but not forgotten. You were the only object that I really wanted to keep from the house. I gained full ownership of you by winning a game of heads and tails against my sister. It sounds trivial I know, but great decisions have been taken that way. Fair and square.

As a young student, I didn’t have a home big enough or for long enough to be able to take you back. Sadly, you drifted for many years in various garages and sheds. By the time I came to get you, you were battered and bruised. You had suffered a broken leg and were now infected with woodworm. I drove you back 700 miles and found a professional to restore you to your former glory. You actually ended up looking younger and healthier than you ever did!

I had finally found a place big enough. Space for you was one of the top criteria while I was house hunting.

With freshly trimmed edges, new legs, and many thick layers of garish varnish removed (no offence dad), you are now sitting proudly in my house. In fact, you are the hub of the house. For some reason, whenever friends and family come over, they instinctively ignore the comfy sofas and come to you right away. You provide the most perfect background to many pictures that will one day become my children’s cherished childhood photographs.

You, welcoming, imposing and beautiful, have witnessed the best and the worst events of my life. You have received tears of sorrows and tears of joy. You have stepped up to provide the best celebrations at Christmases and the most comforting gatherings at funerals. You are a survivor. Experience tells me that whatever the future holds, you will always be loved, not least by myself and my descendants.

So, dearest table, I thank you for all your loyal service, past and future.

Yours truly.

Judges Comments:
Tat Ruck:
This is a beautifully written and heartfelt letter to a much-loved and cherished piece of furniture, full of evocative memories of family events that many readers will recognise.
Sue Slater: Whole family history told, I almost forgot it was about a table!

Third: Lauren Wardell

Dear Aunt Agnus,

Forgive me for being so silent but the last time we spoke, I was terribly disturbed by what was said. Our meeting – when was it now? A year and a half ago? It caused a deep-rooted uneasiness in me. I couldn’t sleep, Aunt Agnus. That’s how bad it was.

We have always had a special relationship and since Mother died, our bond has become stronger. I know you are wondering why you have not heard from me. Please believe that you have been in my thoughts constantly. When Uncle Patrick told me you injured your knee, I was really worried. I baked some cupcakes, but I could not visit you. After your vision, I could not face you.

It’s ridiculous I could not stop for an afternoon tea (a common ritual of ours!) but I couldn’t shrug off your vision. In truthfulness, I never appreciated your Gift. As a child I would sometimes overhear you talking to the ladies who came to visit you, like strayed cats. I knew you were helping them find their way. It never occurred to me that you could help me find mine.

Yet quite ironically, you said it was not in my nature to do so. You saw a wanderer, an independent spirit and then you delved into the depths of your mind and spoke to my past self. It’s a lot to take in and I’m sure most people would say that. I was going to laugh it off with Charlie but I was scared of scaring him. Or worse, he would say we were crazy. Perhaps we are.

The thing is, I need to see you Aunt Agnus more urgently than ever. There has been an incident. I ran away the other night trembling from head to tail? I stepped out of a very hot shower and when looking upon my face, noticed something peculiar. I flinched when I touched my ears and cheeks. Then the moonlight lit up a set of whiskers!

Charlie called from downstairs but I leapt out the window onto the lower balcony and raced through the hedges. I have not returned since but I need to talk to you. I cannot confess where I am for fear this letter be found. I will drop it at your door and when you are ready to see me, I will appear.

With sincere love,
Your niece.

Judges Comments:
Tat Ruck:
This wonderful letter from a niece to her aunt tells a gothic tale of mystery and witchcraft – beautifully executed and creates a real sense of unease – skilfully written!
Sue Slater: Could be an intriguing fantastical story.

Adult Functional Skills Winners

First: Khadija Abdullah

Dear sea,

You are my favorite place in this big world and I want to write for you and saying thank you for making my life so beautiful.

God has given us many blessing one of the most beautiful and wonderful of which is the sea.

I love you sea because I have so many memories with you, so you were the only place I could play and I did spend all my childhood with you so I will remember you forever.

The sound of your waves for me it is a beautiful poem, full of mystery and full of pleasure …is like a riddle.

Any pain any illness, and any problem we have has a cure but in my opinion you are the only pace that is more relaxing than anything from my house and treatment in the worst possible conditions.

How beautiful is that moment when the wave slowly comes to the shore and slowly becomes of roar. How beautiful of stones and oysters and pearls, can be beautiful, sitting on a big rock and staring at your waves and looking around at the sunset, that becoming more colorful every moment.

Suddenly and unknowingly the waves hits the rocks and breaks the silence that lived and built a house.

Every moment and every time, it creates a waves of the insoles and the pearls bring their radiance, when the sound of your water is mixed with the sound of the birds and sparrows they create music, that I don’t know what to call it.

I always wanted to be like you, sometimes full of silence and sometime full of noise, deep and deep. You are not just a word. You mean pace you mean beauty, you mean pleasantness.

We have to learn from you that people take her or his bad life to the beach put it there and go. You are the most emotional and proudest blessing in the world.

The pleasant sound fills the depths of my eyes; the wind that blows my hair has drowned me in pleasure.

At the end I want to say thank you to the god for created you in this such as big world.

Khadija Abdullah

Judges Comments:
Tat Ruck:
This is a beautifully poetic story, full of sound and colour and movement – very evocative and soothing.
Sue Slater: ‘How beautiful is that moment when the wave slowly comes to the shore and slowly becomes of roar’. Such an evocative thought, and one many of us can relate to.

Second: Raquel Gallardo

Dear Kindle,

I have no words to describe how important you are to me. I always knew that but during this pandemic, I just realized I could not live without you.

You were a present from my mum. That makes you special from the beginning. I truly believe that you are the most precious present I have ever received. You have brought so much joy to my life. All those long Sunday afternoons in front of the fire would not be the same without you.

The thing I love the most about you is the capacity of being there for me, day or night, indoors or outdoors always with what it seems a never-ending charge. You provide me with books in my mother tongue which are the ones, let’s be honest, that are the most enjoyable.

I had my reserves at the beginning. It seems impossible that a machine can replace physical books. Paper books are special. The texture, the odour, the colours of the cover… Of course, they are wonderful and a totally different experience. I still buy them every now and again and I will always will. But for someone like me, often in the move, it makes no sense to fill my shelves. You are the most convenient, light-weighted and handy device I could dream of.

My little kindle. Your case is a bit worn out but I know you don’t mind. As long as it keeps you safe, you are happy. I am happy too. Happy for having you in my life.

There is no dull moment with you. Particularly in these strange times, when we are not able to even leave the house, having a whole world of adventures, drama and humour with me at all times, makes me feel so much better. I never feel alone because I have you with me, my personal storyteller.

I can only say, where have you been all my life?

Live is much better with books, any type of book, that is one of the few things I am certain of.

Take care, my little friend,

Judges Comments:
Tat Ruck:
This lovely letter to a Kindle shows that the joy of reading never gets old – even in this age of technology.
Sue Slater: ‘I never feel alone because I have you with me, my personal storyteller.’ Following initial resistance Raquel has come to love her Kindle and the joy it brings.

Third: Adeline de Rocco

Dear Tango,

There you are, such a ginger little fluffball. This is my very first letter writing to you, so I am very excited for you to see this, but I know you won’t understand any of this. You are such a lovely ginger cat who are grown up now and became very fluffy and soft. You can be a naughty kitty, but your mischievous ways are what I love most about you.

I know everyone give the attention you deserve after your morning outing; you are very lucky to be able to go out and visit the neighbour’s houses. I know you are probably visiting the cows and ships too. It’s probably very disturbing for you in your routine to see everyone in the house every day; no one it’s going to work we all stay at home and you can get the attention of everyone anytime. You always get the full attention anyway! You are very spoiled little fluffy pet; you have the power to get fed anytime you come back in the house even if you don’t need to. You test everyone patience daily with your food obsession and attempts to get my toast on the table.

You came into my life very unexpected and I love hugging you in my arms when you came back from your little cat door, because your too cute and you give me your two big cat eyes looking at me. I can see this is love, I feel comforted.

In those difficulties time, we all need kitty snuggling around us. You are like guide to peace and love pillow at night when life gets me down, I can tell you anything I want, and you won’t make any judgements. You have unique personality and story to tell, alongside your beautiful colourful hair you have and elegant allure.

Meow kisses,
Judges Comments:
Tat Ruck:
Any pet owner or animal lover can relate to this simple yet lovely letter describing the comfort and joy that pets bring.
Sue Slater: ‘…alongside your beautiful colourful hair you have and elegant allure.’ Good description encompassing the movement and personality of the much loved kitty!

Well done to everyone who took part – some wonderful and inspiring ideas!

If you’re interested in studying a Professional Adult Course at Exeter College, you can apply online today.