The TogetherintheUK’s Story-Telling Competition has now closed!
No further submissions will be accepted at this time
Thank you to those who have entered. We will keep the voting panel open for a further two weeks before selecting the winning shortlisted entries which will be presented to the judges.
You can still vote for your favourite stories, poems and essays for the next two weeks until Sunday, 16th May, after which we shall close voting and shortlist the entries to be submitted to the judges to select our final winners in the various categories on the 8th July 2021. Good Luck all!
Please do read up on the judges below the submissions
A Bowl of Soup
The day Dao discovers that Ma is a witch is so cold that the children dare each other to lick the school fence, their tongues briefly sticking to the frozen metal bars.
‘The witch is coming,’ Dao hears them whisper. Most run and hide. The bolder ones crowd around to gawk.
Ma’s skin glows as if the sun is shining through the clouds, and her black hair floats open around her waist. She just appears out of the fog so, that day, even the bigger kids run. All except for Kev McKinley.
Kev, who started the witch thing, has licked the frostiest metal bar and now Kev is stuck. He pushes against the fence, fat bottom wriggling, but he can’t break free. As Ma reaches the gate, Kev squeals. She lifts her hand. Dao holds her breath. Maybe she will turn him into a pig.
But Ma just waves and smiles. Then Kev’s mother is there to unstick and scold him. She jumps a little when she notices Ma, then drags her son away.
Dao pulls Ma away too, so fewer people can see that Ma’s hilltribe jacket is threadbare. So fewer people can hear Ma’s bangles jangle around her wrist. They turn into the street where the cold house huddles against other identical brick houses.
‘Come in quickly.’ Ma says, opening the door, ‘and take off your coat. We’re home now.’
Dao shakes her head. She still feels cold. Ma shrugs.
‘Nice to be home, na?’
She says the word home a lot when they are inside the red house, repeats it like a spell. Dao begins to doubt the other kids. Then she thinks of Kev’s frightened bottom and smiles.
Dao hangs up her bag and notices her sister’s empty peg.
‘Where is Pear?’ she asks.
‘At Anna’s.’ Ma says.
Pear has friends. And when they came here, Pear already knew things; like what a coat peg and what Dairy Milk was. Dao doesn’t know anything.
‘I’m hungry.’ Dao says.
‘Let’s get a snack.’
Ma leads the way into the kitchen, the only warm room in the house. Dao sits at the table, while Ma climbs a step to reach a high cupboard. Dao looks her mother up and down: black hair, milk-tea skin, bright clothes. She is just Ma. But maybe, in this place of white fog and grey rain, she does look different.
‘Ma, what’s a chink?’ Dao asks.
Ma turns around, frowning.
‘It’s a bad word for someone from China.’
‘But we’re not Chinese, are we?’
‘No, Dao. We came from Thailand.’
‘So why do they think you’re a chink?’
‘Sometimes people just don’t know better.’
Dao does not tell Ma that they also call her a witch. She does not want to hurt her feelings. Ma finds the biscuits and hands one to her.
‘I want to go home.’
‘This is home, Noo. This is our home now.’
Ma says it twice again, like a broken spell.
Dao bites her lip, but Ma can see the tears before they fall. She rushes over to hug her.
‘Noo, shall we have something special for dinner?’ Ma asks.
Dao nods. Ma heats up silky-white coconut cream. She adds leaves and stalks, roots and bulbs to the pot. Familiar smells fill the room: sweet with lemon grass, hungry with garlic.
Ma fetches a straw mat and spreads it on the linoleum floor next to the big radiator. Dao sits cross-legged on the mat, as close to the radiator as she dares. From here the tiny kitchen looks bigger and instead of the backs of other houses the window now frames the distant beckoning sky. In her wool coat, Dao starts to thaw happily. Then she notices Ma’s precious photo hanging above the sink. A black and white younger Ma, draped in a long cape is reaching forward, head bowed before the King.
‘Why were you wearing that funny dress?’ Dao asks.
‘Because I was graduating.’
‘It’s when you finish studying and get a diploma.’
‘That magic scroll the King is giving you?’
‘Yes.’ Ma laughs, ‘It gives you the power to get a good job.’
Jobs are the reason they have come to this country. It is why Dad goes out every day to a special place to find work.
‘So why don’t you have a job, Ma?’ Dao asks.
‘When would I have time?’
Ma is very busy; cooking, cleaning, sewing. She fixes things in the house. Like when that rock smashed through the front window. Ma patched it with cardboard until the council put in new glass.
‘When I graduate,’ Dao says, ‘Will the King give me a scroll?’
Ma cocks her head.
‘Only at Thammasat University.’
‘Where’s that?’ Dao asks.
‘In Bangkok, but you need to speak Thai to study there, Noo.’
Dao thinks of all those painful afternoons when her and Pear had to sit and copy the sing-song voice on the cassette. Ma was annoyed because Dao got the tones wrong again. Then there was reading and writing, tracing symbols that had heads and tails. They looked like animals or people. They told a story, just not the one Ma wanted her to read. But at least they had been home, where it was warm, where her friends were.
‘If I promise to learn Thai, Ma,’ Dao says, ‘Can we go back home, please?’
Ma does not answer. She goes to stir the soup, tapping the spoon on the edge of the pot like a wand.
‘It’s ready,’ she croons.
They eat their tom kha gai sitting on the mat in the warmth of the radiator. Dao feels cocooned in the coconutty broth. When she slurps the last drops straight from the bowl, a little bit dribbles down her chin. Dao wipes it up with her palm and licks that too. Ma is a witch and her potions work better than her spells; she can fly across oceans with you, all in a bowl of soup.
Meet the Judges
Director, British Future
Sunder is the Director of British Future, a thinktank with a particular interest in migration. His career includes working as a Commissioning Editor at MacMillan, he has worked as a journalist and leader writer for the Observer. His parents came to the UK from Ireland and India to work for the NHS. TogetherintheUK is very pleased that Sunder has agreed to be a judge as someone who will be able to judge what works on a literary level and who has a deep understanding of migration.
Sunder says, ‘Sharing and hearing personal stories can often be the most effective way to build empathy and understanding, so I very much look forward to seeing what the competition brings’.
Founder and Executive Director
Nazek started Migrant Voice ten years ago when she identified that migrants were scapegoated and talked about and that migrants needed to speak out and be part of that debate taking place about them without them. Migrant Voice is a campaigning organisation speaking out on issues of injustice and working to strengthen different communities. Nazek is originally from Lebanon so understands migration very well both from her own personal experience and as a campaigner. TogetherintheUK is very pleased that Nazek has agreed to be a judge on the Creative Writing competition as someone whose organisation has just published a fantastic ebook, celebrating Black History in the West Midlands and someone with deep insight into migration. Nazek has kindly donated a place on her Media Lab programme to one lucky winner.
Nazek says, ‘ Migrant Voice has led on lots of different campaigns over the years, all geared to developing migrant voices sometimes through arts and poetry, through engaging with the media or through images. Its therefore obvious to me that I would want to encourage more voices, more creativity so of course, I want to be a judge on the TogetherinthUK competition.’
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Dubs came to Britain from Czechoslovakia in 1939 on the Kindertransport. He is a Labour politician having spent many years as the Labour MP for Battersea and he is now in the House of Lords.
Lord Dubs says ‘I am delighted to be a judge for TogetherintheUk’s creative writing competition 2020. I know from my own experience how disorientating it can be to arrive in a new country and I think it is fabulous that the competition will give migrant children the chance to write about their own experiences. This is an opportunity for children to tell your own stories about what it was like for them and what helped them get through this challenging time. I am really looking forward to the difficult task of choosing the best poem or story and seeing all entries published by TogetherintheUK’.
Public Relations Officer of the NCBA
Tyrone Roach is the Public Relations Officer of the NCBA – National Council of Barbadian Associations UK, an umbrella group for Barbadian Association in the United Kingdom. Where he has previously served as Chairman; He is also Chairperson of the Barbados Overseas Community Friends Association
Presently he is UK correspondent for the Barbados Nation Newspaper, a publication he has written for periodically over ten years, with responsibility for UK content, Editorial, advertising and Distribution – Online and in print
He has been responsible for several large events in the Barbadian community in England, where he worked closely with the Barbados High Commission. Events include the Independence Panel discussion, Barbados Forward Thinkers – Youth Seminar, A lil bit of Bim and the Barbados day event in Ipswich, both EXPO of Caribbean culture and products
His experience of working with connecting migrants from the Caribbean to the UK with their country of origin has given him a depth of knowledge of the challenges and joys of migration, plus, of course, he knows good writing. Hopefully!
Tyrone says, ‘ I am looking forward to seeing the creativity in the under 18 category I know that these young people will have their own, unique perspectives – and this will enable me to see how society has changed significantly over the last year’.
Professor of Economics and Public Policy
Jonathan is a Professor of Economics and Public Policy at King’s College, London. His current research is on labour mobility both within and outside the European Union. He is a much published author both of academic books and articles in the press. He is well qualified to act as a judge in the TogetherintheUK creative writing competition as someone who has lived in both the USA and the UK and whose many talents include synthesizing complex topics like migration into something easily understood by most of us.
Jonathan says ‘I am continually fascinated by how and why people migrate and their experiences so I am very much looking forward to reading the entries and I am sure that I will be inspired by what people write’.
CEO and Founder
David Marshall founded Marshalls Elearning Consultancy in 2002. It specialises in diversity bringing together technology with experts in diversity. Marshalls provides all kinds of creative products to the market, all of which are designed to help organisations become more inclusive and diverse – constantly developing the ability to listen to different voices. David has very generously donated a Chromebook as the Marshall’s prize.
David says, ‘I am a sponsor of TogetherintheUK’s work as I love how they find different stories from different people, I have learnt so much from reading them about how people arrive in the UK and what works for them in building their lives here. I was delighted to be asked to be a judge on the competition as I want to know more’.
Consuelo is the publisher of the Victorina Press, she is a writer of poetry and short stories both in Spanish and English. She is Chilean/British and an academic and a publisher. She came to the UK in 1992 and before leaving Chile, she was an active political campaigner against the regime of General Pinochet. The mission of Victorina Press is to publish ‘inspirational books’. TogetherintheUK is delighted that Consuelo has agreed to be judge, as someone with personal experience of migration, a publisher and an author.
Consuelo says, ‘I love poetry and I love to read original work so I am very much looking forward to the creativity that I am sure will pour out of people when they sit down to write their entries’.