Hukarere Girls’ College student wins national award

A young Hukarere Girls’ College student’s portrayal of her nana’s battle with Alzheimers disease has earned her a national accolade.

Lenaine Merrylees-Clarke, who is in year 12, won the Editor’s Choice Award in this year’s Write Off Line: Not There but Somewhere Young NZ Writers Secondary School Annual Writing Competition for her prose Forget-Me-Not.

While she says she gave it her all, she did not think she would receive an accolade given she had  never entered any sort of writing competition previously. But seeing her name on the competition’s website was a humbling experience.

Lenaine wrote the story not long after she found out about the competition. The title is a nod to Alzheimers New Zealand’s logo, and is a repeating phrase throughout her story.

At first, she didn’t know what to write about, but when her father suggested her family’s experience with her 83-year-old nana, she says it felt right.

“When you’ve heard the stories behind the memories so often it was kind of easy to put pen to paper.”

Her nana’s diagnosis was only confirmed over the Christmas holidays, but it has become gradually worse over the last four or so years.

“When I first started to notice, I was nine maybe 10-years-old, but even then, you didn’t really notice it that much. It was only a monthly thing that happened but then it got more frequent.”

Lenaine says the main theme of her piece was forgiveness. “It’s not her fault that she has Alzheimers, and she doesn’t need to be frustrated or upset at the fact that she does have it, she just to be accepting with that fact.”

“As I was writing it I did well up just because it was so personal and because my family have to live with it all the time.”

“I really hope it sends a message to people that that whether they have Alzheimer’s or Dementia, or have a family member who suffers with it, that they are not alone, and that it can be forgiven,” she says.

Although Lenaine has not told her nana about the story, she plans to one day.

Judge A.J. Ponder, who is a Sir Julius Vogel Award winner, said the judges thoroughly enjoyed it.

“A stunning prose poem which reflects the ‘somewhere else’ of dementia (memory loss and Alzheimer’s) which, while not exactly speculative, when represented this way, works sufficiently well as magical realism.

“Excellent use of the second person point of view, with only a couple of small shifts out of that perspective which are readily rectified. Poignant and yet full of hope, with its theme of family and forgiveness, this work is especially compelling.”

Her story will be included in an anthology of the best writing, which will be published as both print and e-book versions. She will also attend a Young Writers Day Out in Tauranga in June.

Hukarere Girls’ College Principal Shona West congratulated Lenaine on the award.

“We are very proud of her for having the courage to write about such a personal, but very important, subject.”

“As the newly-appointed Principal it is my goal to showcase the many talents of our girls in the public area.”

Hukarere Girls’ College – “Kia Ū Ki Te Pai”