‘Generation Lockdown Writes’ Book

25 Mar 2022

In the first lockdown in March 2020, I started a creative writing competition called ‘Generation Lockdown Writes’ with a wonderful former student of mine, Amy Langdown. You can read about the competition here: www.generationlockdown.co.uk  I am so excited and proud that to mark the two year anniversary of the lockdown, next week the book will be published by John Catt. All the profits from the sale of the book will be donated to BookTrust, a wonderful charity that does amazing work to get kids reading across the UK.

Amy has done a brilliant job of editing the book – and I can’t tell you how many hours she and I invested in reading the 6000 entries and putting it all together! You can order a copy here. Thank you so much for your support.

This post is the foreword I wrote for the book:

March 2020. Overnight, life for young people across the country changed completely. No school, no meeting friends, and restrictions on leaving their homes. Lockdown. Seven-year-old Evelyn Nolan-Cook captures the confusion felt by everyone with impressive imagination in her winning entry to the Generation Lockdown Writes competition: ‘Am I living in a backwards mirror wonderland? Flipped, upside down like Alice, I just do not understand.’

As an English teacher, I have always believed (and ranted about in my lessons) in the power of writing to help cope with and make sense of our unpredictable world. The new Covid-19 world couldn’t have been more unpredictable or disruptive. That, and the result of feeling utterly useless as a teacher without a classroom or young people in front of me, led to the idea to start a national writing competition about young people’s experiences of lockdown.

Very quickly, a small army of people were on board to help, fuelled by that altruistic spirit to offer something positive that dominated the first pandemic. Ten generous children’s authors agreed to be judges, scores of teachers from all over the UK wrote blogs offering writing advice, more authors filmed videos providing guidance to young writers, and the competition launched. The only rule: write a piece about your experience on lockdown in 700 words or less.

Two months later, 6000 wonderful entries surpassed even my wildest expectations. Every morning at 6am, before my toddler awoke and rudely interrupted, I would spend an hour reading through the entries that had flooded in the previous day, and sorting them into categories. Every morning, these windows into the complex and challenging experiences of young people from all over the world forced me out of my own selfabsorption and miserable complaints about the situation we found ourselves in. Instead, I was transported into young minds.

And what minds they are.

As a teacher, I have the pleasure of working with young people every day, and I know the joy and inspiration they bring. If ever a defence existed to the negative accusations at times hurtled towards young people, this collection of writing would be it. Kindness, compassion and care sing out of every piece – in ways that might well make adults and those who criticise stop and pause.

Eight-year-old Rushank Allugari, to pick just one example, was determined to channel the lockdown experience into something meaningful for his own life:

‘This is the new world, the Corona world. I want to make this a better world, so I make little promises to myself every day – that I will be kind to others, that I will make less waste, that I will not harm animals, that I will remember what a mess this world is now when I grow up and never forget it.’

Discovering the beauty of nature and its many benefits is also a theme of this collection, as nine-year-old Emily Ward captures so vividly in her secretive escape into nature:

‘Pick the flowers,

so discrete.

Then out of the Hollow,

creep, creep, creep.’

Finding humour in times of darkness is hugely challenging, but doing so has the ability to make us feel so much better about things. The young people’s voices that dominate this collection certainly found that capacity. I’m sure you will find yourself smiling at some of the unique versions of the pandemic on display. Consider this purrfect and hilarious example from Nikita Unni, ‘The Catronavirus’:

‘One fine day, Belle, a grey moggy was drinking her milk happily, when the BBC news turned on in her little home. Belle and her kittens watched on intently as the Ginger-Cat, president of The United States of Americats, came on TV asking all cats to stay at home and not travel to Meowrope, where the Catronavirus has been making quite a few cats poorly. …’ And that was how it all started….’

My own adult-themed moaning was frequently challenged when seeing time and time again young people’s ability to empathise with others. The advice of Atticus to young Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird is powerfully captured in so many entries in this competition: ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’

This empathy often goes further – with an urgency felt by young people to do something positive, to help, to prevent some of the sufferings that was felt throughout Britain. The conclusion of Tobias Philip James Bromiley’s brilliant entry ‘Ark’ is one powerful example of this:

‘Let’s anchor our ark next to another,

Exchange news and good wishes with the lonely and sad,

We can help them patch the holes,

Stop the water leaking in,

We can help,

Make their ark watertight once again.’

Yet, there is no doubt that many of the entries capture the emotional strain of lockdown for young people – this is an important emotion to document, to show future generations the impact Covid-19 has had. Many entries envisioned a dystopian future run by fear, and hinted at insecurities that we might never return to ‘normality.’ Fifteen-year-old Bethany Simons’ story concludes with this terrifying image of a surveillance state:

‘The announcement was over, and the cameras were undoubtedly watching again. Attempting to not look guilty for violating the rules, I made my way to my bed. The silence after the loud announcement was appreciated. I changed into night-clothes and lay to rest, attempting to fall asleep as fast as possible.

But clearly not fast enough.

There was a knock on the door.’

Alongside the challenges, fear and anxiety the winning entries also speak of a newfound appreciation of gratitude, the desire to recognise all that was and is joyful in their lives.

Sarah Meziani, at the tender age of 11, captures the value of a perspective based on appreciation beautifully:

‘This mere feeling of gratitude,

overrides the inevitable solitude in our hearts

It has the ability to turn sadness and happiness,

a house into a home, an enemy into a friend.’

Beating through this anthology is also the desire from young people to not be defined by the lockdown experience but instead to make sure that the future will be better. 17-year-old Tallaluah Cox, standing at the precipice of adulthood, captures this spirit of frustration and refusal to enable more of the same:

‘We are also the generation that

Will be the end of this world and the start of a new one

We are angry we are ready

Don’t tell us we are too young’

Reading thousands of lockdown reflections from young people has moved me in ways I thought would never be possible – and in dark times provided a powerful vision of how bright the future is. I hope as you read it you find as much joy, solace and inspiration as I have.

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Jamie Thom

English teacher, host of @TES English teaching podcast. Author of 'Slow Teaching.' MEd in Practitioner Enquiry, doctorate student #StrathEdD. Runner.

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