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Young Creative Awards 2021: Writer Andrew Tucker on Creativity and Why You Should Enter This Years' Competition

9 April 21 words: Andrew Tucker
illustrations: Kate Sharp

Writer and 2019 winner Andrew Tucker talks to previous winners of Nottingham’s Young Creative Awards about their creative process and how your life can change by entering this year’s competition… 

Restless in lockdown, I got back onto my bike. It was more than a trainer for my spindly legs – it was a change-of-scene-machine. I saw half the county’s streets over four months of summer, spokes whisking down the left of artery roads, any number of shirty towpaths, doing U turns out of unpromising cul-de-sacs. It was a joy, but it was hard work.

By August I needed a day off (saddle sore) and set off on a long walk from Beeston to Strelley, podcast on, footfall inclining upwards. There’s a path that pilgrims used to walk along called ‘Monk’s Way’, heavy with sticky mud, that opens out and reveals how high you’ve come.

And a funny thing happened. I looked to my right – across to the south, where the Clifton Tower Block marks the horizon – and didn’t see the cascade of fields, the tops of trees in Wollaton Park, or the King Charles spaniel off his leash. Having plugged its geography into my brain, what I saw in that moment, I felt, was Nottinghamshire. Not the parts, but the place itself.

That’d be irrelevant if I hadn’t been plodding through a Bertrand Russell book the other day. But his polymath’s brilliance jolted this memory out of me – because that process is exactly how he describes his creativity. First, the exploration of detail, he says, then:

‘Some day if I am fortunate, I perceive the whole...the nearest analogy is first walking all over a mountain in a mist, until every path and ridge and valley is separately familiar, and then, from a distance, seeing the mountain whole and clear in bright sunshine.’

What a way to think about creativity! So often, it’s spoken of as a parcel of inspiration that arrives or doesn’t – ever the romantic, Paul McCartney says he dreamed the melody to Yesterday. For Bertrand Russell though, that moment of inspiration isn’t the first spark but the final one – when all the explorer’s learning has added up, and there’s nothing left for it to do but become an idea.

The stress, then, is on the legwork. I’ve been talking to a bunch of Young Creative Award winners about their processes, how germs of ideas grow: “I'll rediscover old unfinished voice memos that suddenly have a new meaning in my life and repurpose them,” Rob Green tells me, the R&B extraordinaire who after winning a YCA for music has had Radio 1 airplay, an iTunes top 40 record and supported Earth, Wind and Fire on tour.

Charlotte Ashley, a graphic design winner – her work beams with quick-wittedness –  said that knowledge comes first: “I think the best designs are a result of real problems that the designer has a deep understanding of – that’s how they know the best way to solve it.”

“Recently,” says Jamal Sterrett Phoenix, an artist whose breath-stealing fluency bagged him a YCA for dance, “I’ve been trying to take more inspiration from the banality of life... I reflect a lot more on my day and try to see the connection between everything, big or small.”

The most surprising thing for me about the award, when I picked one up in 2019, was what came after the rush of theatre, trophy and cheques. Personal emails arrived with connections between disciplines and with projects to help my development. I got to know the team at Young Creatives first hand. These people, I thought, care.

And if Bertrand Russell’s right about creativity, that passion for a steady tread of progression is crucial. Because what his eventual vision of a ‘bright mountain’ means in practice is that even fruitless routes we take are adding to our internal maps, and talent isn’t then a characteristic fixed at birth, but the growing collection of paths we’ve mapped out. So, while eyes and ears are open to the world, and young people are given the right guidance and assurance, incredible products will, by nature, follow.

Should unsure readers enter? ‘ONE HUNDRED PERCENT.’ says Rob in caps lock, so that I imagine he’s singing it to me in his satin-smooth baritone. “I was introduced to very influential people on the scene - that really helped me get my career moving.” Charlotte agrees: “Winning was, genuinely, the best thing that has happened for my career. The awards night is one of my favourite memories. As a result, I came away with my first full-time job, a mentor, the opportunity to design the 2020 brochure, a commissioned project and also to be part of a social action project with other winners, which is so much fun!’

If lockdown has scuppered some end products, then it hasn’t stopped young minds searching – when I’ve been exploring on my bike, they’ve been putting in their own miles, slide by slide in animation, brick by brick in architecture. Learning, charting themselves and the world as they view it.

The mists will roll back. They’ll look down from the hill and see then – the form it’ll take – their hit single, sold-out play, talk of the film festival – their idea at last, the whole mountain, the lightbulb that refuses to stay unlit. 

The Young Creative Awards is open to anyone aged 11 to 24 who lives, studies or works in Nottingham. There are 11 categories: Animation & Digital Media, Creative Writing, Dance, Design & Architecture, Fashion & Textiles, Film, Graphic Design, Music, Photography, Theatre and Visual Arts. Entry is free. 

Young Creative Awards website

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