We are excited to announce that the results of our recent travel writing competition – with the theme of ‘Reinvention’ – are in! Our fantastic entrants interpreted the theme in a variety of entertaining and illuminating ways, and wrote about areas all over the world. We were spoilt for choice when whittling down our 10 favourites to send to our judging panel, but we’re sure you’ll agree that the winners well deserve their prizes, and are a great escapist read!
Our winning entry was by Clare Gleeson, who wrote a very cleverly structured and well-observed piece, about the oft-reinvented, vibrant and cosmopolitan city of New York.
A special mention must go to Rob Tye, who has entered both this year and last year’s competition, and has been runner-up both years. It is a great achievement, and underlines his undeniable creative talent. His entry was a thought-provoking and unique observation of visiting a classic tourist destination with a tragic past.
Our third-place went to Miriam Thomas, with a humorous and endearing tale of non-reinvention set in the picturesque St.Vincent – I wonder if the pilots are still applauded?
The winning entries, the rest of the top ten, and indeed our pick of the rest are well worth a read, and they’re all on our interactive Reinvention map, where you can click on a pin and read a tale of travel and transformation.
Our judging panel are all keen and accomplished travellers and writers themselves, and have cast their eyes over the top ten to rank their preferences, and comment on what they liked. Our gratitude to them all:
The ‘Reinvention’ Judging Panel
Naomi Alyssa- Chief editor, Writer and Photographer on Anywhere but Home: a lifestyle travel blog
20-something expat & perpetual traveller celebrating an infatuation with the whole wide world! Fired up on street art, street food, street scenes. Yoga, photography, archaeology and solo / female / budget travel fill in all the gaps. Come follow along on my adventures!
Jade Stutely – Independent traveller, travel blogger and keen crafter, creator of ‘Tiggerbird’s travel site’
In 2006, Jade took her first big overseas trip, and started a travel blog to keep friends and family updated on her travels. These days she contributes to a number of sites and regularly shares travel advice and experiences on her blog.
Jade has recently returned from a year travelling in Europe and South East Asia and has a number of trips planned in the coming months. Having now visited 66 countries she writes extensively about her experiences whilst volunteering, getting creative and finding hidden treasures everywhere she goes.
Flora Baker – Writer, traveller and creator of Flora the Explorer –travelling the world with a different perspective
I’m a writer and traveller with a self penned obsession for the weirdnesses of the world.
Over the last six years, I’ve studied Italian in Florence and literature in San Francisco, volunteered with villagers in Kenya and orphans in Lithuania, and worked with musicians in Iceland and celebrities in India.
My vague aim is to visit every continent twice before I turn thirty one – and explore as much of the world as possible in the meantime!
Frances Bibby – Writer, ex-expat, eclectic blogger, creator of TLB – A personal blog about travel, adventures and life
My name is Frances. I’m a twenty-something northern lass from the UK with a penchant for food, wine and happiness.
I love writing and I love adventures, here I combine the two. My niche is somewhat chameleon like, I first began blogging about books and films, this then developed into writing about my travel experiences then to blogging about the ups and downs of living in Melbourne (where I lived for a year, just for a change of scenery). Now I will blog about anything that interests me, like a magpie will pick up anything that shines.
Liz Cleere – Writer, traveller, creator of Follow the Boat – travel, photography, videos and more
Liz is editor of the Itinerant Writers Club. She is a contributor to Wanderlust magazine and Sailing Today and has won or been placed in numerous writing competitions. She lives on board sailing yacht Esper with her partner, Jamie Furlong, and Millie-the-cat. They have been sailing round the world since 2006 but have only got as far as Thailand.
The Winning Entries
First Place – Wins a Google Nexus 7 16Gb Tablet
Clare Gleeson – New York
New York, New York
1937. My grandfather, on a business trip to the US, Canada and Europe, has three weeks in New York. As well as business meetings he takes in the sights, tastes and smells of the city. He admires how beautiful the skyscrapers look against the sky. He dines in the Rainbow Room of the Rockefeller Center and views the city from the observation deck, noting in his diary that the city lights lie like a spangled carpet beneath. He goes to the Cotton Club where he sees Duke Ellington and the Astor Roof Garden where he meets Rudy Vallee. He visits the Empire State Building, Wall Street Coney Island, and the Statue of Liberty, is there for Declaration Day and writes “What a remarkable and impressive city New York is”. When he gets home he tells his son “New York is the centre of the world.”
1963. My father visits New York on business. Ripped off by a cab driver at the airport, he’s dismayed when he sees the city of which his father thought so highly. He finds it dirty, rough and unappealing. New Yorkers are pushy and unfriendly. How it must have changed he thinks.
1980. A young man, my husband, is backpacking around the US. He visits New York where there seem to be junkies and homeless people everywhere. He feels threatened and intimidated, particularly in Time Square. He’s scared on the subway, hassled on the streets and comes away disappointed and disliking the city.
2007. I float the idea of a family trip to New York. My husband is reluctant “New York’s too dangerous, it’s full of drug addicts and thugs”. My father looks at me as if to say, “Why would you want to?” We book our tickets.
2008. We land at JFK airport and travel to our hotel by yellow cab. Our driver is cheery and informative, the hotel small and friendly. Our first morning we breakfast in a diner and excitedly order eggs sunny side up. Our waiter grins. We walk up to Pennsylvania station and catch the subway, with not a gun, gangster or word of graffiti in sight. In Times Square we are jostled along with thousands of others and while the rest of us are overawed by the familiarity, size and excitement of it all my husband is amazed at how much it’s changed and how safe it feels. We visit the sights – the Empire State building, Wall Street, the statue of Liberty and Ground Zero. We walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and see a musical. We ice skate in Central Park, cheer at a grid iron game and go to the ballet. We shop and wander, celebrate a birthday in Little Italy and visit Harlem and Queens. We ride the subway with Adrien Brody. When we go home I tell my father “New York is the centre of the world”.
I loved this author’s use of dates as a frame, as well as the way they looked at changing impressions of New York through their family history. Certainly the most unique piece.
I enjoyed the neatly cyclical arc to this story, as well as the strong narrative line. I felt part of the generational observations of NYC; the details used were brief but well chosen in creating a well rounded image.
Well structured with simple but engaging statements. This piece is very well written with reference to personal history and experience which the reader can relate to.
Second Place – Wins a Sandisk Sansa Clip +
Rob Tye – Pompeii
Tour groups swarm through the maze of alleys and ancient cobbled streets, accompanied by the shouts of parents, teenage laughter and irate guides trying to shepherd their flocks. My family and I could be in Disneyland for all the flashbulbs, ice creams and sunburnt tourists. Apart from the immaculately preserved, ruined buildings, one thing sets this place apart from all others. The ominous hulk of Vesuvius looms in the distance like a spectre, always in the corner of our vision, a constant reminder of the devastation that buried Pompeii.
“Quickly, please. Quickly. There is a lot to see,” our harried Italian guide urges. She is on a mission, waving her gaudy umbrella, whilst relating stories of graphic paintings in houses of ill repute. I cover my teenage daughter’s eyes, mostly so she does not see me blushing.
Our guide jabs a finger towards holes in the wall that turn out to be fast-food pizza ovens. “This is where they baked the bread.” We whizz on, stumbling over deep ruts in the cobbles, dashing in between other tour groups wandering lost in search of their own guides.
We step into the towering amphitheatre. “This is where they watched the gladiators then had a fight with a nearby town.” I sit down to imagine the clash of swords then realise she is rushing off again. I’m over dressed. I should be wearing be wearing jogging shorts and trainers.
With so much to experience, over such a vast site, it feels like a tornado blasting through history, not stopping to understand any of it. People hurry to catch up through twisting tunnels, chasing after our guide like a fox after a brightly coloured rabbit.
“Here is the hot water baths. This is the market. That is the hospital.” The sights merge in a blur of crumbling stone and confusing stories as rain falls, turning the polished cobbles to slippery ice.
Then it all changes when we reach the ‘The Garden of the Fugitives’ and see the solidified casts of thirteen victims who attempted to flee the ash cloud. Even the toughest among our group feels moved to silence at the emotional sight of the figures huddled together, parents hugging children in a permanent sleep.
Some cameras click, the odd movie rolls, but for most, it is a moment of contemplation, and a glance at the ever-present volcano. I feel overwhelming sadness sticking in my throat, but also I’m embarrassed as if I’ve been taking these poor people’s suffering for granted. Staring at what remains of a family buried alive is enough to change anyone’s view on tourism. In that instant, everything falls into stark clarity and I realise Pompeii is not about risqué paintings on the walls or unique plumbing. It is about a tragedy on a huge scale, summed up by the unlucky thirteen.
A skilfully written piece, this entry stood out for me because of both the quality of writing and the vignetting of its storytelling.
I really enjoyed the perspective given on how touristy Pompeii has become, juxtaposed with a sudden realisation of how tragic the site actually is. The author’s descriptions paint an evocative scene for the story to take place within, and I think the theme of ‘reinvention’ is wonderfully executed in this piece.
Great descriptions that take you along with the story and make you feel like you are there with the writer. The sudden change in pace and a thought provoking ending is refreshing and original.
Third Place – Wins a Lonely Planet Guide Book of your choice.
Miriam Thomas – St.Vincent
“Those are exposed live wires you can see there”.
Being an electrician, my dad liked to impart his knowledge, but this was one occasion that I could have done without it. When he noticed this electrical phenomenon, we were peering through the clouded window of a Liat airplane that was just commencing its descent into St Vincent.
“I bet these are the same planes we flew over on. Doesn’t look like they service them since”.
Another thing that, at this somewhat critical point, I didn’t want to hear.
My dad had left St Vincent in 1965, a boy of 11, and this year, 2004, was the first time he was going “back home”.
The descent into St Vincent was as turbulent as expected, but when we finally touched down, the palpable fear in the cabin was replaced by rapturous applause. We had landed, and the relief was overwhelming. Then, and only then, could I truly take in the wonder of the island. The narrow runway jutted out miles into the abyss of the sea, hence the clear appreciation for our pilot’s skill.
We were in the airport for some time. Not because there were hoards of people but because the border control system seemed as antiquated as the plane we had arrived on; each person was manually registered by a single officer whose only tools were a notepad and pen. The process was painstaking and gave my dad another reason to reflect on the lack of change:
“It’s a pen he’s using? What is this I’m seeing? St Vincent hasn’t moved on at all. That’s the same paint they had when I left, too. My goodness”.
The dilapidated paintwork was quite a sight, but I couldn’t help but appreciate the charm of ending up here…a land that time seemed to have forgotten.
In the days that followed, we lived slowly and simply. Our journeys were punctuated by frequent stops at the roadside; if we weren’t buying fresh coconuts from a local street seller, we were stopping to “chook down” fruit from loaden trees. We would often find bamboo rods, abandoned thoughtfully by some other passerby. These proved the perfect tools to puncture the vulnerable skin of fully ripened mangoes. And once we’d speared them, we’d gorge on their tender and golden flesh. Fruit was abundant here, and no one minded you taking it for free.
I loved the simplicity of island life.
At the end of 2014, St Vincent International Airport opens its doors to the world. With the demolition of three large hills and the backing of the Atlantic ocean, it’s a project that’s already changing the island’s landscape but this is only the start. Mass tourism will mean mass change. More jobs. More prosperity. And inevitably, more sun-seeking travellers who don’t have the same appreciation for St Vincent’s stunted growth as an island.
It’s an exciting time, but I can’t help but wonder if change is really for the best.
Will St Vincent’s pilots ever be applauded again?
By comparing the author’s present experience with the father’s memories, the reader really notices the similarities between old and new St.Vincent, but also the difference between it and the modernised world. In particular, this piece made me think not so much of reinvention, but of its absence – and how tightly a place can cling to its old ways.
The story is well structured, focusing mainly on the doubts that accompany the protagonist’s arrival to somewhere that was once familiar to his father. I felt immediately involved in the story and easily understood the author’s referencing to reinvention.
The rest of the Top 10:
4th Place – Amanda Brandt – Romania
5th Place – Richard Lakin – Liverpool
6th Place – Sharon Waters – Cornwall
7th Place – Sarah Talbot – East Africa
8th Place – Paula Walters – Egypt
9th Place – Jenn Gillies – Syria
10th Place – Pamela Wilkin – Dorset
Once again, thank you to all of our entrants and to our judges, without whom, we wouldn’t be able to run the competition.
Congratulations to our well-deserved winners, and we hope you enjoy the fruits of your labours, as much as we enjoyed reading your piece!