Two Swindon teenagers have been recognised for their creative writing talents in a local competition.

Agata Spasik and Alex Masters both won cash prizes after their work was chosen as winners in The Cotswold Challenge, a competition set up by five business owners to inspire young people affected by lockdown.

Agata Spasik, 16, a student of Bradon Forest School, Purton was named the winner in the Creative Writing category with her poem ‘Toaster Poetry’.

She said: “I can’t believe it. I’ve never won anything before, so it’s quite nice!”

“The first thought that always goes through my mind when I get a call from an unknown number is I hope it’s not someone selling insurance. So I was completely surprised.”

Agata will receive £500 for her winning entry which was chosen by the judges because it was ‘so simple, so beautifully put together and really quite profound’.

She said: “It’s mostly about experiences of being very anxious and overwhelmed and when you’re in a very low place mentally something as little as burning toast can enforce the feeling that ‘oh I can’t do anything right, I’m worthless, even this simple thing is something I can’t do’.”

“When I started writing I had no ideas or inspiration and I asked my friends for a prompt, and one of them said toast. I started writing about toast, and for me, a lot of my stress happens in the kitchen. With toast, the way you can kind of tear through it made me think about how all of those mistakes you make can kind of build up.”

Agatha, who plans to continue her studies at New College in Swindon said: “I’ve been using writing as a way of venting and in a therapeutic kind of way. I just thought ‘hey maybe I could try entering’.”

She continued: “For me, what’s important is how something is laid out on the page dramatically, that’s a focus for me.

“A lot of my writing is based on images and metaphors. I try sometimes to find the beauty in things.”

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The Challenge was set up to inspire teenagers who would have been taking sitting exams and are in years 11-13 at school or undertaking apprenticeships, and who live or study within 25 miles of Cirencester.

Pupils could enter three categories Art & Design, Creative Writing and Innovation & Entrepreneurial Thinking.

Agata said: “I think it was a really good idea actually and that a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t have entered did, because it was something creative to do in lockdown and I think a lot of people appreciated it.”

Alex Masters, 16, from The Ridgeway School in Wroughton took fourth prize in the category, receiving £50 for his short story ‘The Boy’ about a young man who has to face a terrible task during war time.

He said: “It wasn’t really expecting to get any kind of awards for coming fourth so that was really nice. I wasn’t expecting the call.

“One of my teachers sent me the link to the competition and I was really bored in lockdown so I thought ‘I’ve got nothing else to do’, so I entered.”

“I read a book about someone who killed one of his friends in war, and I thought it would be scary to be executed in war, but it would be terrifying to have to execute someone you know and like,” he said.

Alex, who wants to continue his studies and join the Merchant Navy, mainly writes short stories on online forums and is hoping to write a novel in the future.

One of the creators of the Challenge was Swindon media consultant Fiona Scott.

She said: “On behalf of all five of us who created this challenge, we would like to thank all of those young people who took the time and trouble to take part from all across Swindon and the Cotswold area. In all we had around 500 entries which were supported by funds from 18 sponsors and judged by 20 judges who are all successful in their chosen fields. It’s been a huge success.”

The judges for the Creative Writing category were:

Paul Cornell – novelist, screen writer (including Doctor Who) and comics writer.

Simon Kernick – thriller and crime writer, books include Relentless and Payback

Sarah Pinborough – writer of young adults and adult thrillers and an accomplished screenwriter.

Kevin Wignall - thriller writer

Fiona Sampson – poet and writer.

Winners of The Cotswold Challenge were:

Art & Design:

1. Charlotte Evers for ‘View Thru Window’ of Cirencester College.

2. Ella McClenahan for ‘Black Lives Matter’ of Chipping Campden School.

3 (joint) Ben Waldron for ‘Biotica’ of Cirencester College.

3 (joint) Caitlin Turner for ‘Surreal Painting’ of Burford School.

In this category there were four highly commended entries and 21 commended – entries numbered over 200.

Creative Writing:

1. Agata Spasik for ‘Toaster Poetry’ of Bradon Forest School.

2. Charlotte Minett for ‘Jackson & Olivia’ of Chipping Campden School.

3. Jamie Moody for ‘Your Name Is’ of Cirencester College.

4. Alex Masters for ‘The Boy’ of The Ridgeway School.

In this category there were four highly commended entries and 12 commended – entries numbered almost 100.

Innovation & Entrepreneurial Thinking:

1. Sam Groves for ‘Bird Box’ of Cirencester Deer Park.

2. Apple Yeung for ‘Plastic Waste Recycling’ of Rendcomb College.

3. Issy Spurway for ‘Kloves’ of Farmor’s School.

4. Ollie White for ‘Explore Rural’ of The Cotswold School.

In this category there were four highly commended and eight commended – entries numbered almost 60.

The winners and their work can be read or seen on The Cotswold Challenge website here -