Lottie Mills, 19, from Hertfordshire, has won the 2020 BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University (YWA) for ‘The Changeling’, a story inspired by ‘otherhood’ and her frustration with ‘how difference, especially disability, is represented in fiction’.
A second-year student at Cambridge University, Lottie, who has Cerebral Palsy, was previously shortlisted for the Award in 2018. Praised by judge and YA Book Prize winner Will Hill as ‘heartbreakingly well-written’, her story reclaims the myth of the ‘changeling’ and transforms it from something used to persecute and exclude, into a magical, fantastical fable about a girl’s extraordinary coming of age.
Lottie Mills said:
“My previous shortlist experience really fuelled my writing. Hearing so many amazing people – the judges, the representatives from the University and First Story, and of course, the BBC – praise my writing – had a huge impact on me, and for the first time a career as a writer seemed to be a realistic prospect. As a disabled person, my stories are quite often preoccupied with ideas of otherhood, based around characters who are outcast from their society in some way or another. I had been researching fairy-related myths for a university essay and when I came across the idea of ‘changelings’, it really stuck in my mind – especially the modern theory that children suspected of being these fairy imposters were actually displaying symptoms of various disabilities. I really wanted to write a story which would show the strengths of disabled people or people who are ‘othered’ in some way, rather than portraying them as disadvantaged and in need of ‘fixing’ as so many stories do.”
The news was announced this evening during a special short story edition of BBC Radio 4 Front Row (Tuesday 6 October). ‘The Changeling’, and a further four shortlisted stories, are available to listen to via the Short Works podcast on the BBC Sounds app and the BBC Radio 1 website. Lottie will be interviewed about her win on Radio 1’s Life Hacks on Sunday 11 October, and will be mentored by award-winning YA author and Judge Will Hill.
Katie Thistleton, BBC Radio 1 presenter and Chair of Judges for BBC YWA 2020 said:
“We were blown away by ‘The Changeling’, it’s simply beautiful. I love the way it uses fairy mythology to tell a story about difference, disability, acceptance and coming of age. We had no idea that Lottie, who has been shortlisted for the Award before, was the writer when we chose the winner, but it shows what an incredible talent she is. I’m so happy she has won and is considering a career as an author after being inspired by the Young Writers’ Award.”
Lottie beat stiff competition from Maleeha Faruki, 18, from Leicester for ‘Winds that Travel Across’; Mei Kawagoe, 15, from Leicestershire for ‘Three Pomegranate Seeds’; Ben Marshall, 18, from Otford, Kent for ‘Bingo Tuesdays’ and Naomi Thomas, 17, from Sheffield for ‘The Battle of Trafalgar Square’.
All five shortlisted writers attended a virtual workshop on Saturday 29th October designed to develop their writing skills and inspire them to consider different career paths within the arts. The session included personalised feedback for each writer from the YWA Judges, and covered how to take stories from page to broadcast with BBC Audio producers, a close reading of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own led by Cambridge University’s Dr Lisa Mullen, and an interactive creative writing activity with YA author and Judge Muhammad Khan based on a Pixar short animation. Their work is also published in an anthology.
Antonia Byatt, CEO, First Story, said:
“Congratulations to Lottie Mills for such an extraordinarily powerful and beautifully crafted story. ‘The Changeling’ challenges us to look beyond our own expectations and boundaries. Lottie’s writing is a superb flight of the imagination for a world now even more narrowed down for so many of us; it opens a door onto a wider, more tolerant view. It really is the right story at the right time. The judges had an immensely difficult task choosing from such a very strong shortlist; congratulations to all this year’s young writers and I urge everyone to read their fantastic stories.”
Now in its sixth year, The BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University has quickly built a reputation for discovering the literary stars of the future with one of Lottie’s fellow 2018 award cohort, Reyah Martin, winning the 2020 Canada/Europe Commonwealth Short Story Prize aged just 20. Open to all writers between the ages of 13–18 years at the time of entry, the Award is a cross-network collaboration between BBC Radio 4 and Radio 1.
Elizabeth Rawlinson-Mills, Fellow in English at Robinson College and Lecturer in the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, said:
“I am delighted to congratulate Lottie Mills on her winning story, from a diverse and exciting shortlist. ‘The Changeling’ is an astonishing, moving and important story in which grief and pain are transfigured and difference is rendered magical. Lottie’s prose is remarkable for its subtle economy; as in all the greatest short stories, carefully chosen details open up a whole beautiful life, a whole convincing and complex mother-daughter relationship. Drawing on folklore and fable, Lottie’s story is nonetheless entirely contemporary – a particularly fitting winner in a year when issues of marginalisation and representation are increasingly receiving the critical attention they deserve. Lottie was inspired to apply to Cambridge after a visit she made to the University as a shortlisted writer for the 2018 Award. It is clear that her journey as a writer, and as a student, has been shaped by the Young Writers’ Award, and we are very proud of her achievement.”
All five shortlisted stories can be read and listened to online at: www.bbc.co.uk/ywa