A Glasgow writer has become the first winner of a short story competition to raise awareness of the degenerative neurological condition Huntington’s disease (HD).

Claire Hamilton Russell from Anniesland picked up the £500 prize for her entry to the flash fiction competition ‘Writing out of the HD shadow’ organised by the Scottish Huntington’s Association (SHA).

Claire’s winning entry was said by the judges to capture the complex impact HD had on families affected.

Judged by leading Scottish authors Alan Bissett and Michael Malone they were impressed by the quality of the entries.

‘It is a very difficult skill to tell a story in such a short number of words and I think Claire has really captured something special with her entry, but all the shortlisted stories were of a very high calibre. This competition has really succeeded in getting a lot of people thinking about HD and that can only be a good thing,’ said Alan.

The competition received more than 130 entries from as far afield as New Zealand and the USA.

The SHA is the only charity in the country supporting families with the HD. It is an incurable genetic brain disorder that usually starts between the ages of 35 and 45 years. It causes three main groups of symptoms: changes to thinking processes – a type of early onset dementia, loss of muscle control and involuntary movements which lead to loss of speech and swallow and mental illness. As it progress those affected will need 24 care. It is also hereditary with each child of those diagnosed at 50% risk developing the disease.

It is estimated there are around 1100 people living with HD in Scotland and about 5000 potentially at risk.

Picking up her prize Claire said:
‘I have genetic conditions myself and a friend of mine’s family had the misfortune to be severely affected by HD so I was aware of the impact it can have. By entering I just wanted to spread the word of how devastating a condition it can be and to increase understanding. Winning was just a bonus.’

The SHA works with HD families providing lifeline services, including specialist nurses; the world’s only HD youth support service and a financial wellbeing team.

“HD is a neurological condition that is still hidden in the shadows and we wanted to use the power of storytelling to raise awareness of the terrible toll it takes, not just on those directly affected but whole families. The response has been fantastic and I’d like to thank everyone who took part,” said SHA chief executive, John Eden.

Claire’s winning entry
She glances at her watch again. Her thighs stick to the unpleasant plasticky upholstery of the seat.

She recalls sitting in this very waiting room 25 years ago, swinging her tiny feet while her father got his diagnosis inside the office. She had always sworn she would never be back here. She would take each day as it came; a blank page she could write her own story on without an inescapable tomorrow to rob her days of sweetness, as they had for Baba.

She looks down and realises that, without meaning to, she has taken the little stick out of her bag.

She turns it over in her hands and looks again at the two faint lines in the little window. Such little things to change everything.

“Parvinder Lalnar?”

The receptionist calls her name. She peels herself painfully from the seat and squares her shoulders. The future beckons.

Scottish huntingtons association hd shadow winner claire hamilton russell story alan bissett michael malone SHA
Image shows: Michael Malone, Claire Hamilton Russell and Alan Bissett