Janet Coats Memorial Prize winners announced at conclusion of Paisley Book Festival

Mariya Javed - winner of the Under-18s category in the Janet Coats Memorial Prize with judges Mairi Murphy, Shaun Moore and Courtney Stoddart
Mariya Javed - winner of the Under-18s category in the Janet Coats Memorial Prize with judges Mairi Murphy, Shaun Moore and Courtney Stoddart -Credit:Paisley Book Festival

The winners of the 2024 Janet Coats Memorial Prize have been revealed at the conclusion of this year’s Paisley Book Festival.

More than 100 entries were whittled down to just two for the prestigious award, which commemorates the Paisley poet and philanthropist who died in 1918.

One of the winners was Mariya Javed, an S3 pupil at St Benedict’s High School, who won the under 18s category for her beautiful and heartfelt tribute to her late brother Ahmar, who tragically passed away in 2017, aged just 13.

And in the over 18s category, Catherine Wilson Garry was picked as the winner.

Motivated by the theme of this year’s festival - Imagine Something Different - Catherine Wilson Garry’s poem, entitled If they ask me for hope, I say is an ode to the ‘well-worn floors’ of community centres - town halls, libraries, cafés and charity shops.

The judging panel for the prestigious prize included the acclaimed Scottish-Caribbean poet and performer, Courtney Stoddart; local poet Mairi Murphy, winner of the 2016 Alistair Buchan Prize for poetry; and the Tannahill Makar for Renfrewshire Shaun Moore.

In total, 75 poems were submitted in the over 18s category and 67 were submitted in the under 18s category by pupils attending Renfrewshire schools.

Catherine will receive a cash prize of £850 for winning the award. She said: “I am absolutely delighted to have won this year’s Janet Coats Memorial Prize. I was totally blown away by the other poems on the shortlist, so it’s a total honour to have been chosen as the winner. I’m so thankful to the judges and other poets, and beyond delighted to hear the work of the younger writers who prove that Scotland’s ability to imagine and speak for a better world is strong and alive in its young people.”

Mariya will receive a cash prize of £50 plus a £200 donation to St Benedict’s school library supported by the Peter Coats Charitable Trust.

Shaun Moore, Tannahill Makar said: “The judges thoroughly enjoyed reading the shortlisted poems. It was a tricky task to select winners, but made pleasurable as we relished the impressive writing skills on show, the variety of styles and emotions they evoked for us.

“We found the Young People’s submissions particularly inspiring as many writers used the Imagine Something Different prompt to show great empathy for others and concern for political and environmental issues.

“Our thanks to OneRen for promoting creative writing and to all the poets who shared their work.”

Catherine Wilson Garry - winner of the 0ver-18s category (Janet Coats Memorial Prize with the judges Courtney Stoddart, Mairi Murphy and Shaun Moore)
Catherine Wilson Garry - winner of the 0ver-18s category (Janet Coats Memorial Prize with the judges Courtney Stoddart, Mairi Murphy and Shaun Moore) -Credit:Paisley Book Festival

Andrew Givan, children and young people co-ordinator at OneRen, added: “Thank you to all the young people who submitted poems this year to the Young Person’s Prize. We were so impressed by the creativity, expressiveness, and the many different poetic styles on display on the theme of Imagine something different. We hope they will all keep writing as they have so much to offer!”

The prizes were awarded at the conclusion of this year’s Paisley Book Festival, which ran over four days from Thursday, April 25 to Sunday, April 28.

It was a record-breaking year for the event, with 2,113 attendances across 42 events including workshops, talks, and live music.

The accompanying schools’ programme attracted 24 primary schools with over 1,490 children attending 38 events in the newly-refurbished Paisley Town Hall, their school or a public library.

The poems that were short-listed included: Over 18s Commended: Bobby Motherwell - The Swift in the Passing, David Ross Linklater - Only It’s Just Before Dawn, Beag Horn - Keep Dancing, Fraser McKechnie - The Sleeping Beauty .

Under 18s Commended: Lewis Hulley (S2, Castlehead High School) - Imagine there was no Gravity, Maya Keir (S2, Gryffe High School) - Imagine something different, Heather Brander (S6, St Benedict’s High School) - The end of destruction // The beginning of creation and Gavin Barr (S2, Castlehead High School) - My Story.

Winning poems:

To My Brother, By Mariya Javed

I often imagine how my life would be,

If you were still here with me

Would I feel happy and content, like I’m floating in the air?

Instead of feeling sad and lonely, full of sorrow and despair?

Like a candle in the dark, your smile lit up the whole room,

But that dazzling flame was extinguished far too soon

I never imagined you would leave me alone,

To confront this existence on my own

If you were here right now, all my sorrows would fade,

We would spend every moment together, with memories being made

On a roller coaster ride, in the shimmering sun,

We would take on the world, everything and everyone

I constantly think about what you would look like now

Yet the pain still refuses to ease somehow

Everywhere I go, I see your face

I keep an eye out for you, just in case

Although you left me alone, you sent a gift in your place,

A facsimile of you that I could embrace

He has your eyes, he has your smile

He makes living life worthwhile

However, I’m still left to imagine something different

When emotions swirl around my mind in a torrent

But I know we will meet again

My brother, my hero and my friend

You are out there looking over me

My guardian angel, you are now free

Shine bright and fly high

My beloved brother, Another Star in the Sky

If they ask me for hope, I say By Catherine Wilson Garry

Down the road, someone just bought their first

welcome mat. A child sneaks a torch under

their duvet to read past dusk. New trysts

unfold as exciting and reliable as the spring

crocuses. Someone’s grandma is picking

a paperback in a second-hand shop, smiling

at the fact she’s still capable of killing time. A patient

is ringing a bell in a hospital ward. The clouds

are opening themselves like a letter we were

all waiting for. The flowers unfold petals to the sky like

a confession. A toddler sits on someone’s shoulders

where people gather to call for the better world. She’s unaware

that they’re fighting and dreaming for her, warm in the

cardigan a neighbour knitted for her; who spent

hours with a creased pattern of stitches that’s held

a hundred other children. A volunteer is making soup

to give away to someone they don’t know yet. A mother

is collecting a chip in a town hall. Consolation is given

and exchanged in the cafes and community centres with

well-worn floors. In some history classroom or internet

spat, it’s easy to convince ourselves our compasses

point towards selfishness. Yet, every day, there’s people

singing something gentle into this world, watching

their notes rise to mingle with the rain. Soon it falls

and covers everything.

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