Shannon is now a shining example for her daughter

Shannon Henderson
Shannon Henderson

A frank and unsparing account of how one Cumbernauld school girl has navigated motherhood has won a top award.

It is unflinchingly told by the very same girl who was asked by a doctor at the age of 14: “Is there any way you could be pregnant?”

But Shannon Henderson from Westfield has another title now too.

For the 17-year-old is Scottish Schools’ Young Writer of the Year – after telling her story in a competition organised by online magazine, The Scottish Review.

Judges did not hesitate to give the coveted prize to a young lady who has defiantly soldiered on in the face of public disdain from total strangers of all ages in Cumbernauld, while she was visibly pregnant.

Painfully for Shannon, who has since split from the child’s father, that disdain continued as her doted-upon two-year-old daughter Brooke called her ‘mummy’ in public.

And state aid wasn’t forthcoming either – some readers may be surprised to learn that Shannon was refused the financial help which would be afforded to an adult in the first year of their daughter’s life.

The level of help she received from well-wishers also disappeared soon after Brooke was born.

It is the expert re-telling of these incidents and her focus on how support ebbed and flowed, from often unexpected quarters, that saw Shannon beat hundreds of other young Scottish scribes to secure the prize.

Magnus Linklater, former Scotsman editor and judge, stated: “It was such an unusual and frank response to an age-old issue.”

Columnist Ian Jack said it was “the most compelling of all” because the writer was relating an intimate, distressing, socially awkward and life-changing experience.

He added: “It was a rare and all too brief glimpse into a world that most of us know nothing about.”

And his colleague John Lloyd added: “It’s a rare testament but it isn’t deserving of the prize only because it is touching.

“With the mixture of honesty and detachment she showed, she will most likely be a writer in some form in later life.”

Shannon hopes to become a journalist and couldn’t be happier at the reaction to her first published piece.

She said: “The impact the essay has had has been amazing.

“I was very surprised but absolutely delighted when I was informed that I had won the competition.

“I hoped the essay would reflect the challenges I’ve faced as a young mum but also the joy that I have on a daily basis sharing my life with my daughter.”

Singled out for particular praise in the essay is St Maurice’s High School, which Shannon refers to as “an essential place for me, a place I wanted to go”.

Staff rallied round when she broke the news and continue to be an unwavering tower of kindness and support.

Head teacher James McParland said: “We are extremely proud of Shannon and what she has attained; particularly in winning such a prestigious award.”

That attitude is in marked contrast to the fate of another young mum catalogued in the tale who was politely asked to leave her seat of learning and try for a college place instead.

Shannon added: “As I was listening to her, I realised just how lucky I was to be a pupil at my school.

“It is very easy to judge – my life didn’t just stop after I created another one. In fact, becoming a parent at such a young age, I believe, made me a much better person.

“Brooke is my reason to work hard, finish my studies and build a better future.

“Before my daughter, I hated school and couldn’t wait to leave. I had no goals.

“When I think back to that afternoon at the doctor’s and how my life changed afterwards, I can’t believe where I am today – last year of high school, part-time job, applying for university and saving for a new home for me and my daughter.

“It was very easy for many people to turn their backs on me and it might have been easier for me just to give up.

“But I didn’t because of the support of a few: my family and my school.

“Today there are people in similar situations, struggling to find any support and instead only finding isolation, vulgar comments and cruel judgements.

“It’s not the compassion a caring society should extend to its young people when they find themselves in vulnerable situations.”