Winning the Luke Bitmead Bursary back in 2008 changed my life in many ways, some of which I’ve detailed on the blog before.
One thing I haven’t written about so much is the wonderful people it introduced me to, most notably Luke’s mother Elaine Hanson.
Losing a son is one of the hardest things for a human being to experience, and losing that son to suicide at a young age must be even harder. Elaine has had the strength to create something wonderful from the wreckage: an annual prize that gives money and a publishing contract to previously unpublished writers. This was something Luke had dreamed of setting up himself one day.
I have stayed in touch with Elaine over the past seven years, mostly by email, and have been inspired by her unfailing compassion and insight. Attending the Bitmead Bursary award nights used to be a highlight of my autumns when I lived in London—partly for the heart-warming sight of a writer struggling to hold a huge plastic cheque, choke back the tears and smile for the cameras at the same time, and partly also for the pleasure of listening to Elaine’s speeches.
Since I’ve been travelling and living abroad, I’ve had to rely on internet accounts of the event—first pictures and transcripts, and now, for the past couple of years, YouTube videos. The video of Friday’s event is below—Elaine’s speech is shorter than usual, as she shares the stage more with other people and interviews last year’s winner Tara Guha—but it’s still worth watching, as she touches on the loneliness of the writing life and the value of starting to write later in life, when your experiences are ready to be examined.
Or you can also skip to around the 25:55 mark to see the new winner, Lyn Farrell, in crying/smiling/plastic-cheque-juggling mode. It’s good stuff!
The Luke Bitmead Memorial Fund serves two important purposes: supporting new writers, and raising awareness of mental health issues. You can find out more about it and see how to make a donation on Luke’s original website, which Elaine has lovingly maintained since his death. Be sure to look at the gallery of photos of Luke too, and to read his blog.