by | Nov 02, 2022 |

As part of our celebrations for Perito Prize 2022 we invited our top 4 placed writers to share a little about themselves and their amazing work. In this interview we talk to Iona Wyn Chisholm who was the joint 3rd place in the 2022 competition with the story ‘The All Inclusive Club’.

Q1: Tell us a little about yourself, what are you up to at the moment?
Iona: I am married to James and the proud mum of four sons. I enjoy dancing, singing in a gospel choir, gardening, art and writing. I worked as a Solicitor, specialising in personal injury litigation. After the pandemic, I pursued my dream of working as a writer. This year, I wrote, illustrated and published my first rhyming children’s book, ‘Jubilee Bee.’ As Jubilee Bee is red, white and blue, a primary theme of this book is being different and finding where you fit in. I write regularly in Garden News Magazine and have also featured in Amateur Gardening, Garden Answers and Birdwatching Magazines. I am currently illustrating my second book, ‘Jubilee Bee and the King’s Christmas Present,’ which I hope to publish on Amazon later this month.
Q2: What matters most in the creative world - ambition, luck or talent? 
Iona: I think that a successful creative world is built upon a diverse group of open-minded people absorbing every detail of their surroundings and life experiences, to interpret and then express them in an ingenious and meaningful way for others to share. This expression can take many forms such as movement, paint, words, plants or music, but it should connect with other people, provoking a change, inviting empathy or sparking a significant and important response within them. Ambition, luck and talent are all ingredients for individual success, but I feel that a creative world needs a collective sense of inspiration, gives the freedom to follow your own path and provides the support that comes from a powerful feeling of community.
Q3: What made you enter the prize and how did you find out about it?
Iona: My friend Lisa Dean told me about the prize, having searched ‘writing competitions’ on Google. This followed a conversation that we had about how we would motivate, support and inspire each other in our writing by starting to attempt writing competitions on a regular basis. I thought that the competition brief was an interesting challenge and immediately felt motivated to write about the important issues of inclusivity, diversity and accessibility.
Q4: Some people may not have read your story yet. Tell us what ‘The All-Inclusive Club’ is all about?
Iona: Grandpa John is telling his blind Granddaughter, Annie, her favourite bedtime story, which is about his life as a wheelchair user. He describes himself, but the world just sees a wheelchair. Grandpa John shares the struggles of his story in a way that allows Annie to experience it through all of her senses – listening to the rustling leaves, drawing her name on a damp and squeaky bus window or smelling flowers. As the bedtime story progresses, more people with needs call, listen and join John in what he calls The All-Inclusive Club. Numbers increase and the local park isn’t big enough for meetings, so a child asks might the world be big enough? The message is that from the struggles of one person, the club to build aids for accessibility, destroy discrimination, instil inclusivity and embrace diversity becomes worldwide. I hope that every reader that finishes the story wants to be a member, if they aren’t already!
Q5: Tell us a little about who your creative inspiration or mentor is and why?  This might be a favourite author or place to work.
Iona: I go to a local weekly writing group with friend my Lisa, led by Joss Musgrove Knibb. Joss’ tuition and every person there are creative inspirations for me. The exercises that we are challenged to do help us to find new abilities and ideas within ourselves and the variety and depth of writing that members create from the same brief amazes me. Our collective belief in the value and fulfilment of writing is very important to me, as I struggle sometimes to feel justified in spending my time writing whilst I am at the beginning of my journey, hoping that the steps I am taking now will earn me a credible reputation as a regularly published writer. I like books that teach me something or reflect my interests. I have just read ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank and ‘Anne Frank Remembered’ by Miep Gies. You cannot read these books without being truly moved. Before that I read ‘Earthly Joys’ by Philippa Gregory and enjoyed the historical accounts of gardening very much.
Q6) Does the place you live or are from inspire you in your work or life and if so how?
Iona: I live in Staffordshire, England. Anything I hear, see or experience at home or away seems to soak into my mind and be filed away to be recalled one day and feature in my writing. My children are a constant source of inspiration. Children can see the world simply and with a clarity that adults miss and so I always endeavour to hear their voices. My sister-in-law, Maggie, is blind. When I think of her and all that she has been through, I am inspired by her bravery, strength of character and quick-witted humour. As a Primary School Chair of Governors, I remember meetings to make our school inclusive and accessible for Ollie and his wheelchair. Maggie and Ollie both inspired my writing of ‘The All-Inclusive Club’.
Q7) As you know the Perito Prize is dedicated to inclusion, access and inclusive environments. Did you find the topic difficult to write about?
Iona: I celebrate the inclusion, accessibility and diversity featured in daily primary school life and I really enjoy programmes such as ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ which features increasing diversity - and so I did not find this topic difficult to write about because it is widely accommodated and discussed within our family and local community. However, I did feel a responsibility to be sensitive and write something of value to anyone who feels excluded or denied access and show that there is still work to do to improve matters that we can all be a part of. I wanted my story to inspire every reader to join ‘The All-Inclusive Club’ and believe that they can and should continue to make the world a better place.
Q8) What was most valuable about going through this writing process for you?
Iona: I think it gave me an opportunity to reflect upon the issues that the Perito Prize promotes; think about how times have changed since I was a teenager; to think about my family and friends and the people around me and remember their needs and to make sure that going forwards, these issues are at the forefront of my mind because improvements can still be made.
Q9) Has this prize made you think differently about how inclusive and accessible the world we live in is?
Iona: Yes, definitely. I have been fortunate enough to enjoy friendships with people with differing needs and those facing accessibility, inclusivity and diversity issues. But as an able-bodied person, I realise that I should think about these matters more. This prize has reminded me to find the best of myself to be the best friend and neighbour that I can whenever and wherever I come across anyone with these needs.
Q10) Are you planning on building the concepts you incorporated into your entry into more of your work? If so, how?
Iona: Yes, I think that there are more stories to tell, perhaps the stories of those with different needs to John and Annie who were joining ‘The All-Inclusive Club’ in this first story - and maybe writing a futuristic story of where the club is in, say, 1,000 or even 10,00 years from now would be an interesting exercise? The topics promoted by the prize are worthy of inclusion in any stories written at any time around the world. Let’s hope that as time passes, more worldwide efforts in the areas of inclusivity, diversity and accessibility become successful and permanent, so that writing about this area gives an opportunity for many writers to record many happy endings.