By Natalie Haynes

A few months ago, I wrote an adaptation of an Ovid poem (Hypsipyle, from the Heroines) to be performed onstage at Jermyn St Theatre. They had invited fifteen women to adapt fifteen poems and it was an amazing project to be involved in – the plays should be available for students via Digital Theatre in the coming months. Jermyn St has had the same difficult year as every other theatre, so they mailed to ask if they could auction off a trip around the British Museum with me to raise money for their programming next year. I said yes, of course, assuming they’d raise £100 or so, all for an excellent cause.

The auction opened a couple of weeks ago, and I shared the lot on my social media channels to try and help raise the money. And also, if I am honest, because there is something deeply mortifying about being available for sale with no bids on you: like being picked last for rounders, but where everyone can see it. I told a friend to bid, promised him I’d give him the money back when he won.

Within 48 hours, the bidding had gone insane. By the time the auction closed, the winning bid was for £1600. I was (and am) delighted that the theatre had made so much money, and thrilled by the generosity of all the bidders who took it to such a huge amount. But I was also a bit uncomfortable with the idea that my time was only available to someone with a large sum of money to spend on it. I usually do a lot of school talks (and I even have this year, online. Although I have to cut back a bit next year, as I am running low on time to write, which is how I pay my bills).

My friend M and I came up with a solution. We would have a competition, with the identical prize at stake: a trip to the museum with me (I vaguely feel like second prize should be two trips, but there we are). But this wouldn’t be decided on how much money someone has. Kids just need to write a few sentences about what they might like to put in the British Museum: real or imagined, past or future. So please encourage your students to send something in if they’d like to: they have until Christmas Eve. It doesn’t need to be long (the maximum word count is 250, and they’re very welcome to do less: we’re not looking to create work for them, just want to know that they’re interested).

Mostly, teachers have been thrilled. A few have complained it’s too near the end of term. It probably is, but the auction which prompted it only finished a week ago, and the woman who organises this stuff for me works part-time elsewhere, so we didn’t have limitless options. Please don’t feel obliged to enter, but please encourage your students if you and they would enjoy it. Just to clarify, the competition is open to all schools across the UK – not just those in England.

It can be any time next year (subject to our respective diary commitments), so we can easily wait until restrictions ease in your/my area. If things are really impossible, I’ll do a zoom talk for your kids instead if you like.

Good luck getting to the end of what I know has been a difficult term. Hope to see you next year, and in the meantime, Merry Christmas.


Important stuff: Email your entry to haynescontest@icloud.com. Please include your first name, year group, teacher’s name and the name and address of your school. This competition is open to students from Years 11-13 (ages 15-18) in UK schools, sixth forms and colleges. You need permission from your school to enter. A maximum of 10 students from the school can go on the final trip. The school, sixth form or college will be responsible for arranging the visit with the museum. Natalie will confirm available dates and attend the visit, but administration will be done by the school. The deadline for entries is 24th December 2020. The winner will be announced on 7th January 2021. The judges’ decision is final.