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Caian shortlisted for BBC Young Writers’ Award

  • 18 October 2021

Gonville & Caius College undergraduate student Tabitha Rubens (Chinese 2020) has been shortlisted for the BBC Young Writers’ Award for her short story, Super-Powder.

It is the second time Tabitha has been shortlisted in the annual competition for 14 to 18-year-olds writing 1000-word short stories. She was 18 at the time of entry, and was previously shortlisted in 2018 for her story Oh Sister, Invisible. The winner will be announced live on Radio 4’s Front Row on Tuesday 19 October at 7.15pm. Tabitha also won the HG Wells International Short Story Competition last November, for The Invisible Zoo.

Super-Powder was written during the winter lockdown in Cambridge, amid the global Covid-19 pandemic which forced many of us online; the story addresses our perception of perfection.

Super-Powder is a story that considers insecurity, seeing it as something that affects even those we see as ‘perfect’,” Tabitha says.

“I wanted to emphasise that ‘perfection’ doesn’t exist; it’s not an achievable reality, but rather a construct we’ve created. We’d do much better rejecting it. That’s what Super-Powder explores.

“It’s not just young people on social media who deal with this problem; I don’t think social media is the only culprit. The story looks at how people are made to feel inadequate; exploiting insecurities is key to the sale of many products and services.

“I think that while we should definitely strive to achieve, we should abandon the idea that there is always something we need to change about ourselves; we’d be much happier investing all that energy into things which really matter.”

Tabitha enjoys writing and the discipline of short stories.

She adds: “I love short stories because they challenge you to condense a world into a few thousand words. To try and make the most of the 1000-word limit, I wrote the story so that the text moves around on the page, and the story itself reads a bit like an advertising campaign. The BBC also produced a podcast on BBC sounds with a recording of the story, which was really exciting.

“The story gives the perspective of someone selling a ‘miracle product’ in a corner shop. The product, Super-Powder, promises to fix all the customers’ perceived inadequacies, but in reality, it’s no more than talcum powder. Gradually through the story the speaker comes to realise that Super-Powder, though lucrative, is dangerous.

“Sometimes in short stories, writers use a really miserable tone. I think that there’s enough misery in the world already; you can address heavy topics without placing them at the forefront.

“I try to address big issues, such as mental health and the environment, but to do so through a lighter lens, making the story more pleasurable to read, more accessible and more memorable, I hope.”

Listen to the story, read by Rebekah Murrell, on BBC Sounds and the BBC website.

Updated 20 Oct 2021: Tabitha won the prize, which was announced on Radio 4 Front Row at 19.15BST on 19 Oct, visit: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0010pw5 - congratulations!

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