Four Orwell-inspired short stories about human rights

Writing from the Orwell Youth Prize 2023

This year’s Orwell Youth Prize invited writers, aged 12 to 17, to explore the idea of control, resulting in fiction and non-fiction stories on topics including colonialism, feminism and mental health.

The annual prize, for pupils in years 8 to 13, uses the writing of George Orwell to spark inspiration in developing the ideas of young writers. The theme for 2023, “Who’s in control?”, set the challenge of writing creatively about the various forces that control the world we live in. From 570 entries, whittled down to 43 shortlisted pieces, the judges have chosen seven winners, seven runners-up and two highly commended submissions. This selection of four shows the breadth of topics and talent.

Tick Tock

by Priya Floura (one of the Junior Winners)

“17 seconds. 16. 15. 14 seconds for her to finish washing her hands and start her next task”

This sci-fi story is set in a dystopian world where civilians are imprisoned by the ticking clock as well as faceless guards. The short tale explores the shackles of control – imposed by others and oneself – and the bliss of freedom. Read the full story here.

Men’s Shoes

by Lara Wong (one of the Senior Winners)

“Men’s shoes are not for girls to wear, she said”

In just four stanzas, this short and stylish poem gets to the heart of the control exerted by gender expectations. The reader feels the narrator’s sense of suffocation, but also their determination to break free. Read the full story here.

The Radcliffe Line

by Zaeema Assad (one of the Senior Winners)

“It is a crack in the foundations of an entire subcontinent, the Radcliffe Line, the cleaving in two of an entire nation, the edges ragged like a slab of butcher’s meat.”

Through the figure of Viscount Radcliffe – the man who drew the line dividing India, Pakistan and modern-day Bangladesh, which led to 14 million people being displaced and as many as two million losing their lives – this short story deals with a series of big issues. It not only examines the legacy of colonialism and partition, but also examines personal identity and the labels and stereotypes used to control and conform. Read the full story here.

Why is it so dark?

by Ruxue Jia (one of the Junior Runners Up)

“I was exhausted: tired of life, tired of myself, tired of fighting against this nightmare-like disorder.”

This tale of a narrator battling beneath the control of depression shares the exhausting daily routine of donning a mask before braving the outside world. It’s a story of finding hope in nature, as well finding strength in oneself. Read the full story here.

All stories by winners, runners up and highly commended participants can be found and read in full here.

Every year, Lacuna’s Writing Wrongs programme invites talented teenagers to craft bold and original stories about the human rights issues that matter to them. They create poetry, journalism, memoir and sci-fi, ranging from Orwell-inspired stories about politics and corruption, to climate-fiction imagining a future world. Students learn from professional journalists and authors in group workshops and one-to-one sessions. You can find stories from our previous participants here. If you have an interest in taking part, or in running a similar programme, find out more here and contact us at

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