I’d always loved writing stories when I was a child – so much so, that I used to get in trouble for writing rather than doing my schoolwork. But after I entered foster care, I stopped writing – it was too hard. I had lost interest in everything. I stopped caring about myself and my hobbies. I didn’t feel worthy enough to write, but I did continue to read.

I rediscovered my love of writing at the age of 21. I decided I wanted to write a fiction book, so I bought loads of books promising to teach you how to write and I wrote and edited my manuscript every day for a year. I began following literary agents on Twitter to find out what types of books they were looking for – and finally, I felt ready to send my submission.

It was through a literary agent I followed on Twitter in 2019 that I first heard about Coram Voice and their writing competition. I had heard of many writing competitions but never one that was aimed specifically at children in care and care leavers.

I’d always been pushed aside and left out because of my care status – now it felt like I could use it as an opportunity. For my competition entry, I decided to write a poem, something I’d never done before. I also chose to write about my experiences in a very raw and honest way as I knew there would be no judgement. Everyone entering the competition was either in or had been through the foster care system.

I submitted my poem two months before the shortlisted finalists would be announced. Over these two months, every literary agent I had submitted my book to (about 26 agents in total) rejected my book.

I was devastated. I’d spent so much time, energy and emotion on my work that the thought of my dream being over just like that was hard to accept. The rejection stung. After so many knockbacks, my confidence plummeted. It didn’t take me long to decide to quit writing. I swapped my pen for the television remote, my notebook for social media apps.

A month went by and I thought I’d never write again – until I received an email from Coram Voice. “Congratulations”, it read. “You have been shortlisted.”

I couldn’t believe I had been shortlisted. Just like that, my confidence started to return. Writing about my life and its complexities felt more natural but most importantly, more rewarding. I loved writing about my life because I could just write. I didn’t have to think of plot twists or ‘what happens next.’ I already knew. It was also an outlet for me and a way of taking my power back. For years I had been ashamed for growing up in care and would try to keep it a secret. Now, by being open and putting it out there for anyone to see, it was my way of saying to myself and the world that I was fine and if anything, proud.

Since coming second place in the Voices 2019 competition, my writing has been published in national newspapers and magazines. This has boosted my confidence and helped me to trust in my potential again. Writing and getting published makes me feel like I didn’t go through the care system for nothing. I could be on my way to making a career from this.

This year, I am delighted to be returning to the competition as a judge. It is an honour for me to encourage other young care-experienced people to believe in themselves. Children in care can grow up feeling unimportant and unheard. Reading their poems in the best way for us to relate to them, challenge the stigma and gain a real insight into their experiences.

This blog was written by Lauren, a care leaver.