“Davao’s young Palanca winner”
Sun.Star Davao, Sept. 17, 2016
At the age of 16, Jill Esther Parreño checked off a precious item in her bucket list.
It was an outstanding feat that most creative writers could only dream of achieving in their lifetime. Her piece, “To Thine Own Self Be True”, won first prize in the recent 66th Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature (Palanca Awards) in the Kabataan Essay category.
Considered as the longest running literary competition in the Philippines and organized by the Carlos Palanca Foundation, Inc., the prestigious Palanca Awards is deemed as the “gold standard in writing excellence” This year’s contest bestowed awards to 51 writers in different categories.
Jill is currently a Grade 11 (Senior High) student of Davao Christian High School and serves as the editor-in-chief of DCHS’ student publication, Hillstar. She is the only child of Leo Elcid Europa Parreño, a businessman and Rowena Velarde-Parreño, a customer service seminar facilitator and online tutor.
Let’s get to know Davao’s young and fascinating Palanca winner in this one-on-one interview:
When did your love affair with writing begin?
I started writing seriously sometime around Grade 6, where we had a lot of writing activities and I tried writing a short fantasy story. Some time after that, I joined Wattpad and continued attempting to write creative fiction.
How did you discover that you had a talent for writing?
I never really considered it a talent- it's more of skill in the sense that it's something I've learned to do well after countless hours of reading and writing. Skill is honed through experience and hard work. I don't believe there's such a thing as being naturally good at something without having prior experience. People learn at different speeds, so that's also something to consider. In the end, whatever I have is a gift from God.
Who or what inspires you to write?
I started writing back in Grade 6 because I loved the idea that I could send messages with my work. My main inspiration was the “Chronicles of Narnia” series - a set of stories that subtly told the story of Christianity while not shoving the messages down the reader's throat. I loved the idea that stories could bypass the usual skepticism of readers and plant the seeds of ideas straight in their hearts. That was - and still is - my main inspiration for writing: to let the world know about Christ. Writing, after all, is powerful - the Bible is one of the prime examples of this.
How do you hone your writing skills?
I read as much as possible. It's impossible to write well without knowing what good writing is like. I also try to keep a daily journal, and of course, manage Hillstar as the Editor-in-Chief. I also occasionally write online on a few collaborative creative writing sites.
Aside from the Palanca Awards, do you have any other writing awards in the past?
I won first place in the English Secondary Category of Feature Writing in the Division and Regional levels of the National Schools Press Conference 2016, and sixth place in the national level.
Who encouraged you to join the Palanca Awards? What was the experience like?
I heard about the Kabataan Essay category of the Palanca Awards from Teacher Tes Derequito, my English teacher from my elementary school, Abbas' Child Science School. She was also the one who started me along the path of writing. She is very inspirational. The experience of writing the piece was beyond stressful, but in the end, it was worth it.
How long did you prepare for your winning piece, “To Thine Own Self Be True”?
I knew about the contest a few months before the deadline but was hesitant to start writing because I had little experience writing personal essays. I started writing three days before the deadline - three extremely stressful days of hating myself for procrastinating, frequent prayer, and countless attempts of nearly giving up. I kept reading Colossians 3:2, which says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters”.
The awarding happened recently, how did it feel to be recognized as one of the country’s finest writers?
Overwhelming. If anything, I hope this opens more opportunities for me to influence people with my work, as well as glorify God through my skill. I'm not sure how to respond to all the congratulations, but I really hope people would spend more time thanking God. My skill is a result of experience, and experience is a series of events that God has planned for my life. In the end, really, the glory belongs to Him. It's also nice to know that Philippine creative writing is more than Wattpad-published Taglish romance novels, and that there is an entire, relatively-unknown community of skilled writers here in our country.
In the awarding ceremony, did you see any writer you’ve always wanted to meet?
National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose
What were your prizes as the Palanca Awards’ 1st prize winner for the Kabataan Essay category?
I received PhP 11,000, a certificate, and a medal. Davao Christian High School also received a cash prize of PhP 8,000.
Any future plans to join another writing contest?
I plan to join the Division level of NSPC 2017 this September. I'm also planning to submit a short story I'm still working on a young adult fantasy anthology.
What is your advice for other young writers?
Write to express yourself, not to impress others. Keep reading good books. Don't be content with mainstream titles, but search for the great classics of literature, the obscure award-winners that not many of the youth know about. Write something that you'd want to read. Expand your horizons. Educate yourself. Get more ideas.
The internet is one of the greatest resources of our generation, bringing the world to our fingertips - explore the endless seas of information out there. Learn to love knowledge. Try to see the world from the eyes of others. Learn to accept criticism of your work and use it to refine your creations.
Above all, keep writing. Skill is not something that springs up overnight but a tool honed by hours of working. Do not consider your current abilities as your permanent skillset, but always seek to improve your capabilities. Persevere.