Ex-teacher wins Lewisham section of the City of Stories (COS) writing competition

Patricia Paula Simon has had to fit her writing career around her hospital appointments.

The 48-year-old has had two potentially fatal spontaneous blood clots, she has stage 2 kidney disease and anaemia.

This means she has to travel around eight miles several times a month from South London to attend hospital appointments in Newham.

Any spare moment she gets, she takes out one of the notepads she carries with her all the time and starts scribbling.

She said: “Anything can inspire me.

One day I saw a butterfly trapped inside a bus on one of my trips to the hospital, something about that started me writing.

“I’ve got more of a stream of conscious style. I like to feel the rhythm of the writing and try to get it out of me on to the page.

At school I used to hear songs in my head all the time. I didn’t get a chance to play an instrument though, so I think my writing comes from that musical spirit.”

The ex-teacher has just won the Lewisham borough section of the City of Stories (COS) writing competition. The social enterprise award saw more than 800 people in the capital submit pieces in 42 workshops in the summer.

There were 21 regional winners – Patricia was one of them.

Patricia’s story, called Watching, is about domestic abuse and violence told from the point of view of a neighbour.

The neighbour witnesses the beginning of a dubious union and tracks the relationship to its powerful finish when the victim takes revenge on her perpetrator.

It’s written in dialect which anchors it to a particular place and time, set on a South London estate.

Patricia, who lives in Peckham but qualified for the Lewisham borough region because it was the closest one running a COS workshop, said: “I have lived in council houses my whole life and I’ve heard so many things through the walls.

“I wanted to focus on social responsibility. What would you do if you heard something going on that you knew wasn’t right? “Do you just gossip with neighbours? I’ve met so many people like that. Or do you step in and help?”

Along with the 21 award winners, 41 contributors have been highly commended.

All 62 stories are featured in the COS anthology alongside specially-commissioned pieces by the programme’s four leading writers in residence, Leone Ross, Gary Budden, Olumide Popoola and Meena Kandasamy.

Patricia and the other 20 winners will also have the chance to read their stories at open mic events in libraries across London this month and will attend a writers’ development day.

She said: “I entered the City of Stories competition to see if I could win, but I am truly shocked that I did. I’ve been writing since the age of 17, after I’d left school, initially badly.

“Currently, I am unemployed due to lifelong chronic genetic health problems, which began in my late 30s.

As well as submitting work to any suitable writing competitions, I am in the process of preparing submissions of a recently completed novella and a collection of poetry to publishers, whilst completing two further collections of short stories – one autobiographical, the other fiction – and writing more in notebooks.

It’s an inspiration.” COS is funded by Arts Council England Grants and is managed by the Spread the Word charity. Ruth Harrison, Director of Spread the Word, said: “It’s been fantastic to see how Londoners have responded to City of Stories – showing a real appetite to engage with and develop their writing and short stories in local libraries, such as Manor House Library in Lewisham.

“We’re looking forward to London’s readers discovering the breadth and range of the stories from 62 talented writers in the new anthology, and celebrating London’s writers, readers and libraries at events taking place in libraries across the capital in November.”

COS open mic events will be held on Thursday at the Central Library, Townley Road, Bexleyheath, on Saturday at Manor House Library in Lewisham and on Sunday at Woolwich Central Library in Wellington Street.

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