We are proud to announce Jo Gatford as the winner of the Luke Bitmead Writer's Bursary 2013

31 Jul 2020


7th November 2013

Standing listening to the vibrant conversations being held around me it makes my heart sing with joy knowing that like minded people are talking and hopefully listening to each other. This is a healthy way to be. Engaging with each other bringing our own thoughts, experiences and ideas to the conversation, and listening to different and maybe challenging responses. It is what writers perhaps don't get the opportunity to do enough of as writing can be a solitary profession.

Luke loved telling stories about his travels in many parts of the world and the interesting people he engaged with. I remember him telling me about one of the best meals he had ever had. He shared it with a Thai family who lived in a shack with little as far as material possessions were concerned. They invited him to eat with them. Fresh fish straight from the sea simply prepared and served with great generosity of spirit. As many of you know he wrote TBisaT following the two years he lived in Thailand and that is what gives the book its authenticity. He experienced the beauty of the country and its people but also got caught up in the darker narcissistic side of life where people took what they wanted for themselves with no concern for the trauma imposed on others. It's a tense story of survival combined with a strong desire to live in a finer way. It's Luke's story.

Maybe this sounds as if I am grappling with nostalgia, regret and the relentless passage of time. Yes there is a devastating wistful pathos in these words of mine, a mother who had to stand and watch her son die. Helpless to save him. We can't legislate to make people care about each other but surely life is a never ending learning curve and one has to give of oneself to reap any reward.

I have learnt a huge amount since Luke's death. I could decide to lead a much quieter existence and make speeches which were purely replete with platitudes but inside me is a determination to make Luke's death something I work with to create an opportunity for better understanding. To encourage both the medical profession and families to increase their knowledge and understanding of how our brains work and what is required to enhance our mental health. I know the government have at last realised that there is "no health without mental health." It is an important step forward.

Gross Domestic Product is rising at a healthier pace and this brings financial stability but this is not sufficient to give us a healthy society. To achieve that what we need is to care about each other. Luke cared about people and even when life was very tough for him he thought about others. He had the idea to create a writer's bursary to provide some support for unpublished writer's to help them make the momentous leap to becoming published with a bursary to ease the financial strain.

You can't start a fire without a spark and Luke was that spark but to keep it burning we have had to keep stoking the fire. Chief stoker is Tom Chalmers of Legend Press he embraced the thought of a bursary from the moment I told him of Luke's idea and with Lucy Publicity Director, Lauren Editorial Director they have this year had many more entries to read and what an amazing selection of books were finally selected.

Donations are a vital part of enabling us to present this Bursary and we will be passing round sparkly bags during the evening and hope you will help us to start replenishing our empty coffers in preparation for next year. We feel encouraged by every contribution we receive and excited by the ingenuity of our donators who undertake all sorts of activities to raise money. Things that have been done in the past include a swimathon, running a half marathon, giving a talk, renting a field for parking for Kate Moss's wedding, tax advice - yes we will be receiving the fee for this. That was really inventive and a first! Tom did mention a cycle ride to Paris but since his daughter was born he has gone quiet on that one something to do with lack of sleep, I think. It is wonderfully inspiring to hear how you raise money and we really enjoy hearing your stories.

The Personal Statement is an important part of the judging process and for the first time this year we are giving an additional prize for the best one. To read about a person's life experiences and how they have been drawn to writing as a career gives me, a psychodynamic counsellor working closely with people all the time, an idea of what depths this person has to draw on enabling their characters to feel real and readers to become immersed in the story they are telling. Thank you all for listening and I shall end with Thomas Aquinas's intuition, that too much information blocks the act of understanding.