Oxford Writers' House is proud to announce this years' Peregrine Prize winners!
We received entires from across Oxfordshire, from dozens of schools. Our prize judge, Dr. Jon Day, a Man Booker Prize judge in 2016 said "I was intrigued, fascinated, frightened, moved and inspired by their stories. It was a great honour to judge the inaugural Peregrine Prizes."
"I was intrigued, fascinated, frightened, moved and inspired by their stories. It was a great honour to judge the inaugural Peregrine Prizes."
The winner from the oldest category (Fledgeling), is our 2017-2018 Oxford City Young Writer. Josias Saviola Santoso and Mukahang Limbu both gave brilliant readings at the Peregrine Young Writers awards ceremony. Two stories are published below:
Native Heart by Jaya Leahy
(A short story exploring the emotions of a refugee who had fled with his parents from the Sierra Leone war at the age of six, as he returns to his place of birth when he is 20 years old to discover what he left behind and the true meaning of a free and happy heart.)
My name is Abdu and 20 years ago, my whole life was completely altered with one sentence. Let me explain. On Thursday the 25th of September 1997, my mother and father told me I had a sister called Imani. I was told that 6 years before, when we fled from the Sierra Leone war, they could just afford three tickets to England. They decided to take me.
16th of June 1999
As I took my first step into my home country, euphoria mixed with anticipation pulsed through my blood. I was going to meet my sister. After a jerky and dusty car trip, we turned into a ragged shantytown. The first thing I saw was a beautiful young girl, who looked about four. Her eyes enchanted me, they were so wondering and delicate yet so wise. Emerald green specks sprinkled into a deep, trusting brown, her eyes were gorgeous. The next thing I noticed was the vivacious nature that this patched community held. It was simply bustling with life. Women were wearing stunning colours like vibrant orange, hot pink, mango yellow and fiery red that danced gracefully around their bodies. Children were running barefoot through the dusty ground, giggling blissfully with each soft patter of their small feet. A group of men near by were roaring with laughter as one announced a seemingly hilarious joke. I could see that pure happiness was being found in an entirely horrific time.
“Who are you?" A small boy jerked me back into reality.
“Um, I’m looking for Imani. Have you seen her?”
I was met with a puzzled expression.
“Imani. Have you seen her?” I asked methodically.
“Ah! Imani! Yes. Why you want to see Imani?’’
“Imani is my sister.” I replied proudly.
The boy gasped and yelled something in Mende before running wildly into a decrepit shack near by. Was I about to meet my sister after 8 years? A silhouette of a girl filled the doorframe. She cautiously stepped into the sunlight and my heart stopped. Imani had chocolate coloured eyes, a slightly pointed nose, a beautifully curved mouth and a perfectly sculpted face. She had long limbs that hung just like mine did and neatly plaited hair tucked away from her face.
“Imani, it’s me, Abdu.”
I walked towards her. She let out a small sob of glee and I embraced my sister.
As the sun sunk out of view, Imani and I ran down the hill content after another day immersed into simply being children. Imani broke the silence.
“Abdu, when are you going home?” Her eyes were focused on her grimy nail, too upset by the prospect of her brother leaving again.
A deafening silence followed.
“I’ve been thinking, Imani… I’m going to stay, I can’t leave you again.”
Her eyes darted up, buzzing with excitement.
“But Abdu, it is dangerous here.” She suddenly sounded dejected.
“I know.” Once again I clutched my sister, knowing that was where I belonged.
The sky is ablaze with the light of a thousand stars, directing my mind to a place full of magic and wonder. The gods look down upon me as I swing into the night. Faster, faster, faster. Matching the rhythm of my heart. The swing creaks under my weight as I propel myself towards Ursa Major and the galaxy beyond. I know it’s unusual for a sixteen-year-old girl to enjoy the sense of freedom a childhood toy, forged from metal and plastic brings, but I can feel the supporting hands of Persephone and Demeter within their constellation of Virgo holding onto me.
I recall the story my mother would tell me as I drifted off into a peaceful night; a woman, goddess of fertility, harvest and vegetation, had a daughter named Persephone. Kidnapped by Hades, Demeter retaliated and stopped the growth of all plants. In order to regain regularity within the world, Zeus commanded that Persephone was not to eat anything within the realm of the dead. However, when caught eating some pomegranate seeds she was sentenced to spend three months of the year with Hades in his kingdom. These three months became winter, reflecting the solemn desperation a mother feels when her child is gone. I could see the constellations in my mother’s eyes when she explained this to me, smiling at the thought of such extremes. It is on warm spring nights like this that I feel closest to her. Memories of her arms entrapping me, yet giving me the relief of support and comfort. Love radiating towards me.
I miss her.
But I am certain she is watching, waiting and loving me from up above, in the sky.
The darkness melts into a range of vibrant yellows, highlighting the loss of time and allowing me to succumb to the start of daybreak. The whole night had disappeared into a mess of fantasy and illusions, interwoven with memories of the past. Quickly and nimbly I sneak into the house, careful to lock the door behind me and scramble up the stairs. I have just about time to slip into bed, pulling the covers over my head, before I hear the familiar sounds of my father’s alarm clock. It’s elvish chime squeaking inconsiderately.
“Elizabeth… wakey, wakey….” He stumbles into my room, rubbing the fairy dust from his eyes; the last drops of illusion the night has to offer, disappearing into the musty air in my bedroom.
“Mmmm….” I mumble, slowing my breath to match the rhythm of interrupted sleep. “One more minute….”
“Time to get up…. Morning has struck….” He laughs to himself as he sings a little rhyme and begins to make his descent to the kitchen for breakfast.
I roll out of bed, still in yesterday’s clothes. Slowly, I stand, stretching, before catching a glimpse of myself in the dusty, broken mirror. My dirty brown hair a mess of knots of tangles, fondled by the wind in last night’s adventure. The rings under my eyes like the back of the moon. I shuffle towards the bathroom next door, giving myself an inspection in the full-length mirror. Slowly I peel back my damp clothing revealing the endless stretches of skin beneath. Purple blotches blemish its pale glory. The physical signs of hard work and determination – temporarily marking me, body and soul.
My mother taught me to run; through fields and woods. Etching my path through life.
These days I constantly fall. Distracted. Alone.
I keep fighting though.
I’m going to qualify this year. No doubt about it. She is here with me and my spirit grows inducing a fire within that powers my legs. Faster…. Faster…. Faster….
Icy water suddenly pours over my head, snapping me back into the present. I don’t recall getting into the shower but it is what I need right now, quickly squeezing out as much shampoo as possible from each of the bottles scattered around my feet.
Hopping out of the shower I reach for any towel wiping my eyes and tying another around my hair, hoping wishfully that I now appear more alive. I scramble into my room, drying myself down as I do so and snatching up the first set of clothes I see on the floor. I elegantly slip into them and turn back towards the mirror. Hopefully no one will notice that I wore this outdated teddy bear shirt yesterday; but I guess that’s wishful thinking.
“Elizabeth, 5 minutes!” I hear my father’s ill-tempered shout.
I nimbly sweep my bag of the floor, grabbing the hairbrush off the desk and swoop down the stairwell. After snatching a breakfast bar out of the cupboard, I tear at my hair with the brush, regaining control over it and tying it into a messy bun out of the way. Taking one last look at my ghostly features in the kitchen mirror, I rush out to the car where my dad sits impatiently tapping his thumbs on the wheel.
The agonisingly silent man hunches over the wheel and speeds towards school. His early childish mood slowly evaporating as the realisation of past and present consumes him. I wish I could talk to him…. About everything.... but the darkness that enthrals him is deep and his anger towards me, with my mother’s features, lies even deeper.
My school looms in the distance, increasing its size with every mile and soon the car comes to a halt outside its gates. The caretaker hovers nearby waiting for the last of us to scuttle in. Jumping out of the car I look towards the darkened building, meeting the caretaker’s eyes, making sure not to be locked outside. I glance back at my father. Still. Staring straight into the distance. The lines across his face deep and the bags under his eyes dark.
“Thanks…. Dad….” I pause. Unsure he heard. “I love you…” his head turns towards me. Slowly. Creaking in its stiffness. I see a slight twinkle in his eyes. Something I hadn’t seen for a while. My real father, not the man who tries to wake me with false smiles and sing-songs. Not the man who’s anger leaves me fearful of the day. But a man whose love is enriching and fruitful, lighting up the world around him. And for once, since the worst day in my life, I believe everything is going to be alright.
I smile back. Closing the door behind me and beginning my march towards the gates of the future. The world that is yet to come.
I see Demeter with me now. Her soul blossoming with each step, guiding me into the light and away from the dark months that have passed. My mother’s laughter intertwined with the thriving life that erupts around me. Excitement blooming inside me, opening my heart to a new world. Content, we walk, fresh and new, finally alive. Taking the final steps. I stop. A tugging in my head forces me to turn. The car, though rusty and old, shines brighter than anything I’ve seen before, except, perhaps, for the smile of the driver glistening in the springtime sun. Peaceful with his tears.
The winning categories were as follows:
Age 8-11 - Hatchling (Prize: £50)
Age 12-15 - Nestling (Prize: £100)
Age 16-18 - Fledgeling (£150) + Oxford City Young Writer, 2017-2018
1. Mukahang Limbu, Ghazal, To See
2. Beth Cole, The Princess and the Dragon
3. Chris Poole, This Time Tomorrow
1. Lily Skinner, Road to Nowhere
2. Jaya Leahy, Native Heart
3. Alex Ringer, The Dinosaur Ate My Homework!
1. Josias Saviola Santoso, Railway Life
2. Pranit Narain, Fetch’d
3. Milo Hamilton-Raimondi, City Heat
The Peregrine prize was supported by: Professor James Basker, Rhodes House, Oxford University Community Fund, and the Deputy Lord Mayor, Councillor Christine Simm, who presented the Prize at Rhodes House on 15 July, 2017.