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Carers UK’s fourth creative writing competition has once again provided so many insightful and moving perspectives on the diversity of the caring experience. This year, we particularly welcomed poems and stories on theme of ‘This was not in the plan’, and for the first time we asked members and the general public to submit photographs on the theme of ‘This is caring’. As part of our collaboration with the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, we also awarded The Jo Cox Poetry Prize for the poem which best addressed the issue of loneliness.

During the past four years we have received nearly 2,500 entries to our competition from experienced writers and photographers and from people who have shared the ups and downs of their caring roles for the first time. As you’ll see, these winning and commended entries address all the emotions involved in looking after a loved one and record and celebrate some of life’s most vivid, challenging and memorable moments.

We would like to thank our judges, Cheryl Moskowitz and Bella West. We are also thankful to the following organisations for promoting the competition: The Poetry Society, The Reading Agency, The Poetry Library, The Poetry School, Poetry London and The Society of Authors


Report from our judge

'I've always associated the moment of writing with a moment of lift, of joy, of unexpected reward. (Seamus Heaney)

In caring too uplifting moments of joy and rewards can often be surprising and unexpected alongside alongside moments of pain, sadness and difficulty. It is the element of the unexpected that links the world of caring so closely with the world of the writer. The sense of wonder that comes from realising ‘This was not in the plan’.

Seamus Heaney also believed that ‘whatever had to be written would somehow get itself written.'

The poems and stories in this year’s anthology are evidence of this. Not all writers necessarily plan or set out to be writers and certainly for most carers, a lifetime of caring was ‘not in the plan’. But look what stories there are to tell about the experience, what reward and learning there is to be had from a poem that condenses into a few words, the true essence of caring. In these poems and stories you will encounter the unexpected joys, and difficulties that arise when the course of our lives and the lives of those we care for, take on turns we were not prepared for - which they do, and they will.

Greta Ross’s ‘Leavings’ was a poem that clung, lingered and left a lasting impression like the soap that serves as the poet’s central metaphor for what has been lost. It is a poem about love, about the need for closeness, a poem which manages to be both directly and indirectly about the caring experience but above all it is a poem about the importance of human relationships and how we leave our mark.

Elizabeth Dunford’s ‘This was not in the plan...’ speaks to this year’s theme perfectly. The poem is beautifully lyrical, seduces us with its playful childhood references and then takes the ground from under our feet. You will be charmed, surprised and changed by the reading of this poem.

Love’s Lepidopterist’ by E. K. Wall and Fiona Ritchie’s ‘After the Caring’ were both such deserving winners I had to award a joint third prize. E. K. Wall’s poem demonstrates the capacity of the poet to capture a moment through writing and brilliantly weaves close human observation with the delicate language of moths and butterflies. Fiona Ritchie’s spare and heartbreaking poem employs detail with such precision, All the bones of the day gone, we cannot help but be touched.

So many of the entries this year were deserving of prizes. The commended poems in this year’s anthology are a true feast of craft, imagination and skill. I’m sure you will be challenged, moved and delighted, as I have been, in the reading of them.

I am continually impressed by the range and volume of stories submitted to this competition - to write a complete story that can transport the reader, hold their attention and leave a lasting impression in 1000 words or less is an enormously difficult task for any writer. There were so many strong entries this year. I love the pace and the poignancy of James Ellis’ ‘Early Days’, the economy and charm of Ellie Wood’s ‘So your Grandad has Alzheimer’s?’, the inventiveness of Ayfer Orhan’s ‘Counting the Hours’ and the wit, imagination, and insight that went into so many of the others.

In the end there were three that rose to the top for me, each for very different reasons. ‘La Casa Cernicalo’ by Michelle Perkins (3rd prize), ‘Syndrome’ by Nicky Jones (2nd prize) and the first prize winner, ‘School Fate’ by Sarah Jones. 

‘La Casa Cernicalo’ is a beautifully realised, almost filmic, piece about aging and dependency set in Columbia, where Salvatore lives with his wife of 60 years, Myra. The story places us Up there with the Gods on the 19th floor of a municipal building and inside the heads of the old couple. It’s a lovely read. ‘Syndrome’, is the quirky narrative of a mother, who recounts, with disarming ease, her son’s neuro-psychotic breakdown allowing us, the reader, to feel deeply for what the family must be going through and admiration for the way they are coping.

‘School Fate’ is a story I loved immediately and have read and re-read, always with a smile on my face. It is the kind of story that, in the moment of reading it, absolutely delivers that sense of lift, joy and the unexpected reward Seamus Heaney was referring to.

The winning and four highly commended poems for the first ever Jo Cox Poetry Prize are also Included in this anthology. The theme was ‘Loneliness’. Carer’s UK member Catherine Graham, whose poem ‘The Washing Machine’ won first prize, advises other carers who may be feeling isolated or overwhelmed to ‘write a few lines of poetry... to process things too difficult to say. In my own experience, says Catherine, poetry has rescued me.

Cheryl Moskowitz - Creative writing judge 2017

Winning poems

1st prize
Leavings by Greta Ross

2nd prize
This was not in the plan... by Elizabeth Dunford

Joint 3rd prizes
Love's lepidopterist by E.K. Wall
After the Caring by Fiona Ritchie Walker

Highly Commended

How he tells it squint by Beth McDonough
Patient by Margaret Wilmot
Treatment by Vicky Morris
Last cut by Jane Lovell
Best laid plans by Jill Franklin
Lovers by Deirdre Maher
The ageing rocker by Eithne Cullen
Carers well by Marie Alvarado
Now, then by Maria Isakova
Too far by Audrey Arden Jones

Winning short stories

1st prize
School Fate by Sarah Jones

2nd prize
Syndrome by Nicky Jones

3rd prize
La Casa Cernicalo by Michelle Perkins

Highly Commended

So your Granddad has Alzheimer's? by Ellie Wood
The impracticality of home by Eilidh G Clark
What Benjamin would say by Alexandra Davey
Early Days by James Ellis
Counting the hours by Ayfer Orhan
Egg and cress on a rainy day by Jane Lomas
Expectations by Jacqui Law
Unplanned love by Jude Robinson
Nine minutes and forty-two seconds by Jenny Watkins

The Jo Cox Poetry Prize

The washing machine by Catherine Graham

Highly commended

The befriender by Louise Smith

Instructions for a new city by Bryony Littlefair

The biscuit by Jack Houston

Not lonely by Lorna O'Connell

For more on the prize, the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness and the winning poet, see our press release


View our photography winners and highly commended entries.

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