Jean Yeates Writing Prize 2021
Posted on August 17, 2021
Jean Yeates was a long-serving staff member with a passion for the English language and a devotion to education. She was considered an inspirational mentor who changed the lives of many students over her 30 years service at The Friends’ School. Her passion for teaching and strict adherence to dress and decorum standards, along with her lively hockey coaching and her regular addresses to the boarding girls earned her legendary status at The Friends’ School. Jean Yeates is remembered at the School through the Year 11/12 Jean Yeates Writing Prize and also the Jean Yeates Service to Sport Award. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Jean Yeates Writing Prize.
This year’s Jean Yeates Writing Prize engaged with the theme of ‘True North’. The winning entry titled ‘True North’, a short story by Elizabeth Scott (year 12), explores the idea of True North as a final destination through the eyes of a child talking with an old man who is considered “off his nut” kind of mad.
Judge Sam George-Allen discussed collaboration, community and how all the stories from this years’ competition centred around the concept of connection. Of Elizabeth Scott’s winning entry, Sam said:
“Short stories are often efforts to evoke a single mood, and that’s exactly what Elizabeth has done. It’s not a simple mood either: ‘True North’ deftly evokes both the cusp-of-understanding curiosity of a precocious ten-year-old and the good-natured rambling of an elderly man who is (perhaps) having quite a good time going dotty. The story is a light-fingered exercise in tremulous hope, and a meditation on connection across the small, big and endless worlds that we all move through. It was a delight to read, and while it was very difficult to select just one story as the winner of this prize, I feel truly lucky that I had the opportunity to read them all.”
Sam has also offered all entries for the Jean Yeates writing prize this year publication in the podcast and literary journal project that she has recently started called First Word.
You can read Elizabeth’s winning entry below.
True North | by Elizabeth Scott (Year 12)
There’s a lot of world to see from the front steps of number 12 Dobson street. There’s the little world, like the line of ants carrying crumbs of honey sandwich across the concrete and the big world like the cars and hedges and dog walkers. I don’t know the word for something which stretches past big into foreverness but there’s that world too, the sky world. That’s my favourite. If I lie on my back I can see clouds that sometimes look like sheep and other times like double-decker buses, I can see patches of blue, which mum calls elephant pants because they are “just enough sky to sow an elephant a pair of trunks”, and I can see sun, but only for a little while as staring makes my eyes dance with spots. My little brother draws the sky in one blue line across the top of his paper, like a very high ceiling, but that leaves too much nothingness, I think. The sky should wrap from every blade of grass to tree top; that way we can breathe sky, like fish breathe sea. From the steps I watch the birds too; they fly in arrow headed flocks, riding the wind like kites without strings. Always going somewhere, always moving. I wonder where. Mum says “North, where it’s warm”. I don’t know how they know which way north is without a compass, but maybe they’re like Raymond and just know.
Raymond is mad. Not angry mad but “off his nut” kind of mad. That’s what Dad says anyway. Every morning, at eleven o’clock, Raymond stands at his front gate, completely naked bar a pair of brown lace-ups. He recites poetry in cursive, the words all joined in drawl, and his head is always tilted to the sky. I know this because I often sit at my front steps at eleven o’clock to eat honey sandwiches and watch the clouds. I know that his skin wrinkles like a rainbow above his knees and that his chest is pale and creased like milk skin. I’m not meant to talk to Raymond because Mum says, “he’s not quite right in the head sweetie” but I do anyway because he does an awful lot of sky shouting and sometimes it must be nice to get an answer back.
Raymond says that the north the birds fly to is not north like compass north but North as in True North. North with a capital letter because it’s a proper noun. We learnt that at school. It’s a proper noun because it’s a place, and that place is the sky. True North, Raymond says, is the place everyone wants to go. He says the birds just get there first because they have less thinking stuff between their ears to confuse them. I said that I didn’t think birds had ears but he said that was beside the point and had a swig of whiskey. Raymond doesn’t call it whiskey he calls it “something stronger” like, when I come to his kitchen, he’ll ask, “A cuppa lass, or something stronger?” and I’ll say “tea” because I know something stronger doesn’t mean Ribena with not enough water, it means whiskey and I’m only ten. True North is the reason Raymond stands at his gate every morning at eleven o’clock, I know this because I once asked him “Why do you stand at your gate every morning at eleven o’clock?”
“‘Cause eleven’s when they dies.” he said.
“Who dies?” I asked.
“The people.” he said.
“Why does the train come at twelve thirty?”
I didn’t know why the train came at twelve thirty so I said, “I don’t know.” And he said, “Exactly.”
“So, are you waiting to die?” I asked.
“No.” he said.
“Then why do you stand at your gate at eleven o’clock every morning?”
Raymond flung his hands like he was conducting something more than dust mites, “Do you know nothing! You can only die if you’re living, and if I be waiting at my gate I ain’t living I’m waiting.”
I was getting confused, “Then what are you waiting for?”
“My ride to True North darn it!”
“Oh,” I said, “If you just wanted a ride, you needn’t stand at your gate, my dad has a Subaru, he can take you.”
“Is your dad The Devil?” Raymond asked, which I thought was a silly question as my dad doesn’t have any horns.
“Then how the hell is he gonna get me to True North! True North is the land of the dead.”
“But you said you didn’t want to die.”
“Of course I don’t, I want to go to True North.”
“Which is the land of the dead?” I was now what mum calls discombobulated.
“Yes, yes but don’t you see, if The Devil has to come down at eleven o’clock anyway, and, if I catch his attention, he might as well pick me up on the round trip.” he said.
“Is that why you are always naked?” I asked
“And the shoes?”
“At my age they isn’t easy to take off.”
Raymond says that it’s all about the destination, that we only care about the endings. Like how no one cares that Rapunzel is probably “not right in the head” after spending so many years alone in a tower because in the end she married Prince Charming. He says that True North is the happily ever after everyone wants. You can only have happily ever afters, he says, in the sky because everything on earth ends and so it’s not ever after. The sky isn’t a texter ceiling like my brother draws but big blue foreverness. I don’t know if Raymond is right because Raymond is mad but I like to lie on my front steps and think that the birds are all flying to their happily ever afters.