English: RSL’s Sara Wheeler Presents First Year Travel Writing Prize


The Bede’s English department was delighted to welcome celebrated author Sara Wheeler to Upper Dicker last Wednesday to mark the culmination of the school’s annual First Year Travel Writing Competition.

The afternoon saw Sara, who was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999, regale a beguiled audience of First Year pupils (and a few Lower Sixth Geographers) with tales of her life and work, including her travels and experiences in the Arctic and Antarctic.


Aside from sharing rich, humorous and thought-provoking anecdotes, which ranged from seals popping up in jerry-rigged, sub-zero lavatories to whole towns maintained and organised under the patronage of Russian oligarchs, Sara also read an extract from her book The Magnetic North.

She also spoke with great passion about the experiences that had gone into one of her other celebrated chronicles, Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica, explaining the multitudinous challenges facing those who try to live on that isolated, inhospitable landmass.


“One of the many issues people face when arriving in Antarctica is knowing what time it is, as Antarctica has no agreed time-zone,” she explained, sending the crowd into total befuddlement.

“When research stations are established, someone will normally simply decide, ‘Right, it’s now 7pm. Set your clocks,’ and they will go from there.”


In addition to amusing and challenging all in attendance with a rich array of wit and complex socio-political issues, Sara sat down with Bede’s Head of English Mr Oliver to discuss the practicalities of life as a professional writer of non-fiction.

After this warm, fascinating discussion, Sara answered questions from the audience before presenting prizes for this year’s First Year Travel Writing contest.


With almost every child in the year group having submitted entries for the competition under the theme ‘Displaced’, it was with great satisfaction that Mr Oliver celebrated the runners-up, with Joe Marks, Elodie Fletcher and Esther Tuson Commended for their efforts, and Maddie Rico Highly Commended for her story Drowning.

An agreeable tension then rose in the Recital Room before the announcement of the ultimate winner, and when Mr Oliver declared victory for Holly Bromley, with her stunning piece, Greek Violin, the room duly erupted in rapturous applause.


After tea and cake with Sara and the winners in Crossways House, Mr Oliver said of the event, “I speak on behalf of everyone in the English department when I express a debt of gratitude to Sara for giving of her time and sharing so many thought-provoking and inspiring ideas with our pupils.

“No doubt there are dozens of talented young authors in the year group who will recognise the extraordinary opportunities good writing can make possible in light of her visit, and congratulations again to Holly, whose hard work and creativity have earned her a Kindle, a place in this year’s Bede’s Small Island writing collection, and the admiration of her peers.”


Learn more about the Bede's English department >

Learn more about life in the First Year at Bede's >