A promising literary career could beckon for Farnborough Hill student Imogen Usherwood following her win in the 15-18 age group of the nationally renowned Chalke Valley History Prize. This is an especially impressive achievement given that Imogen is only 15 years old.
The Chalke Valley History Prize is a historical fiction writing competition which is sponsored by Penguin Books and the Daily Mail. Students are asked to write the first chapter (up to 1,500 words) of an historical novel. They are also required to write a 500 word synopsis of their proposed book.
The competition prize consists of £500, £100 of Penguin Books, £500 for the winner’s school and a one-to-one session with a senior publisher at Penguin Books. Among the judges this year were internationally best-selling author Sebastian Faulks, acclaimed actor Haydn Gwynne, best-selling and award-winning biographer Claire Tomalin, and comedian and best-selling novelist Charlie Higson.
The first chapter of Imogen’s novel 300 seconds, 300 days, chronicles a Jewish family en route from the Krakow Ghetto to the Sobibor extermination camp, oblivious to their fate. Her book would then see the key protagonist, Elsa, return as a ghost, watching over her family, as they live through the terror of situation.
Once Imogen’s entry was shortlisted for the prize she was given a free family pass to attend the Chalke Valley Festival on Sunday 28th June. She commented: “As soon as I heard my name announced as the winner, my eyes started to water; I couldn’t believe that something I had written in my spare time had been so well received.”
One of the judges, Alex Clarke, publisher of Penguin Books said: “This year’s entries were fantastic. The writing is full of wit and acutely observed, with bold, engaging characters and refreshingly original plotlines. We’re looking forward to seeing how these exciting new voices develop, influence and shape historical fiction over the coming years.”
Imogen’s history teacher at Farnborough Hill, Mr Phil Gillingham, who encouraged her to enter the competition, added: “This is a truly exceptional achievement. To even be short-listed for the award is a tremendous success. To win the 15-18 category, aged 15, is an extraordinary feat and one Imogen will never forget. Well done, Imogen!”