GCL New Faces Winners Q&As

The three winners of the Great Canadian Longform New Faces of 2021 contest were Claire Bradbury, Yannick Mutombo and Wednesday Bell. This fall each received a $100 cash prize, a mentorship chat with GCL editor Rob Csernyik and assistance with developing pitches for their pieces. Hopefully you’ll be reading work from these writers soon in a Canadian newspaper, magazine or digital outlet. The below Q&As give you a chance to learn more about these emerging writers, and if you’re an editor and their story strikes you — contact us and we’ll put you in touch.

CLAIRE BRADBURY: “You, Me and the RV

Written as an assignment for “Advanced Feature Writing” at Ryerson University

Tell us about your winning piece in 50 words or fewer.

CB: This piece describes how the RV lifestyle for travelling and living provides a unique opportunity for people to explore different places. My story discusses the environmental, economical and historical background to RVing. After all, it’s no secret that RV’s are a fun way to travel.

What inspired you to pick this topic?

CB: I’ve wanted to write this story for a long time. Growing up travelling with my family in our RV, I saw the value in this alternative way to travel and experience vacations. Especially with COVID-19 restrictions, I knew that people would be looking for ways to get out while doing it safely. My passion came through and it felt rewarding to write about something that I think is very special not only for my family but for lots of other people as well.

What was the most challenging part of writing your piece?

CB: I found it difficult to narrow down everything that I wanted to write about. I could have gone on and on and included a lot more details and perspectives, however I had a word limit to stick to for my instructors. There was so much to share and I wanted to do each section justice, but I had to keep my word count in mind. Even after I had written a ton, it was also difficult to edit and cut out parts that I wanted to include. I’m overall proud of how it turned out and happy that I could share this piece as a longform story.

Was there advice or feedback your writing instructor gave you that was particularly helpful in writing your piece?

CB: For my class, we went through three drafts of writing all semester long and received feedback in great detail after each one. After getting my first draft back, my instructor told me that he liked hearing my own personal stories about how my family used our RV. It motivated me to change the tone of my writing and make my story sound more personable. I knew I wanted to give a lot of voice to the piece and I’m grateful my instructor pushed me to do so even more.

Who are some of the writers you enjoy reading most?

CB: I’ve always appreciated the reporting and coverage that Stephanie Apstein does for Sports Illustrated. She’s thorough with her work and doesn’t hold back when it comes to important issues to discuss. I chose to highlight her piece on the MLB’s attitude towards domestic violence for a class I was taking because of how well written and timely it was. I’ve also had the privilege to work with some talented young journalists at The Pigeon, which is a youth-led publication. Tegwyn Hughes, Josh Kozelj, Maia Herriot and Leila El Shennawy are a few of the writers I admire for their dedication and attention to detail.

Do you have particular topics you like writing about (or would like to write about) most?

CB: I find it difficult to narrow down what particular topics I like to write about the most. I love to write stories about people and their passions, what’s important to them and how they are contributing to their communities. It can range anywhere from buying thrifted clothes online to how excited fans are to see the Blue Jays return home again. I’m hoping to dive into a specific niche of writing in my future, but for now I’m happy to explore and try new topics.

What are the next steps you’d like to take in professional writing?

CB: I’d like to start pitching and working with other publications on a freelance basis. I gained a lot of experience and sharpened my skills during school, so now I want to apply myself more. Now that I have more confidence in myself and my abilities, I want to try my best to get my work out there. I’m excited to never stop learning and growing as I move forward with my journalism career.

YANNICK MUTOMBO: “If it don’t make dollars, then it don’t make sense”

Written as an assignment for “Advanced Workshop in Creative Non-fiction” at the University of Ottawa.

Tell us about your winning piece in 50 words or fewer.

YM: My piece is about being in a difficult situation and taking a risk to get out of it. Doing something bold that pays off, but you don’t know for how long. Showing that things like sex work aren’t always about empowerment, sometimes people just want to keep the lights on.

What inspired you to pick this topic?

YM: When I found out my friend “Mona” (a pseudonym) did OnlyFans, I wanted to know what it’s like. Plus, with the pandemic and everything, I knew there was something to say about side-hustle culture, how it’s evolved with the internet, and the pressures young people are facing to make ends meet.

Also, I saw a lot of opportunity to muse on the socio-political implications of sex work being so easily accessible and profitable, particularly in regards to young women.

What was the most challenging part of writing your piece?

YM: I wanted to challenge myself by writing in Mona’s voice, from my perspective. It was difficult to find a balance between my own narrative style and the way she spoke naturally; I don’t know that I completely pulled it off.

Was there advice or feedback your writing instructor gave you that was particularly helpful in writing your piece?

YM: Read your stuff out loud and kill your darlings. (You like that line because it’s corny, not because it’s good.)

Who are some of the writers you enjoy reading most?

YM: Zadie Smith, Alice Munro, James Baldwin.

Do you have particular topics you like writing about (or would like to write about) most?

YM: I write a lot of personal essays about various afro-diasporic subjects. This was my first time writing on something not related to those things or centered on my own experience. I’d like to write more pieces like this.

What are the next steps you’d like to take in professional writing?

YM: Get published in a major publication.

WEDNESDAY BELL: “Live music has an accessibility problem. COVID-19 is making things better.”

Written as an assignment for “Developing Form and Repurposing Writing” at Humber College

Tell us about your winning piece in 50 words or fewer.

WB: When the pandemic forced concerts to move online, many disabled music fans realized that they not facing the accessibility challenges they had experienced at in-person concerts. My article explores why this was the case and what lessons about accessibility the live music industry can carry forward post-pandemic.

What inspired you to pick this topic?

WB: I’m both disabled and a huge music fan. I attended concerts regularly pre-pandemic and often noticed that many, if not most, of the venues I attended had accessibility problems. However, I never really saw anyone discussing the issue.

When the pandemic happened and concerts moved online, I noticed how online concerts were more accessible to me personally, then noticed other disabled music fans talking about how they also found online concerts more accessible. However, they were worried to the push to return to in-person concerts would be a return to inaccessible concerts. I wanted to write about this and examine how the music industry can begin to address this huge, long-ignored issue.

What was the most challenging part of writing your piece?

WB: I interviewed three amazing people for my piece, all of whom are both disabled and heavily involved in the performing arts industry. Each provided a great deal of information and perspective about the issue of venue accessibility, and I ended up having long and detailed conversations with all of them.

I ended up with lots of great information to use in my piece, which was amazing. However, it was also a challenge because I now had to figure out how to condense all of this wonderful, detailed, wide-ranging information into a structured, cohesive piece of writing. Adding to this challenge was that my sources had also brought up issues that I hadn’t even considered before speaking with them, such as the experiences of disabled music industry workers working in inaccessible spaces.

I got overwhelmed by all this information and trying to figure out what include and not include in my piece.

Was there advice or feedback your writing instructor gave you that was particularly helpful in writing your piece?

WB: My instructor helped me out by reminding me to focus on the story I wanted to tell in my piece. By doing that, I was able to see what information fit into the story and what didn’t.

Who are some of the writers you enjoy reading most?

WB: Recently, I read Sarah Kurchak’s memoir I Overcame My Autism and All I Got Was This Lousy Anxiety Disorder, which I absolutely loved and found hilarious and relatable. I also enjoy reading writers including Samra Habib, Alicia Elliott, Desmond Cole, Eternity Martis, and Anthony Oliveira.

Do you have particular topics you like writing about (or would like to write about) most?

WB: As you can probably tell, I enjoy writing about disability issues. Around 1 in 5 Canadians have at least one disability, but I don’t often see disabled people or disability issues being discussed in the media. I’m hoping to help change that. Besides disability, I also enjoy culture writing, particularly music writing.

What are the next steps you’d like to take in professional writing?

WB: Right now, I’m focusing on starting a freelance writing career by pitching and writing pieces whenever I have the time. Over the next few months, I’m hoping to publish more pieces and start getting my byline out there. Modest goals, but hopefully attainable ones.

All responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity.

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