Could self-isolation find the Dickens in you?

29 March, 2020

150 years after his death a search is launched to find the kind of characters the great Charles Dickens would have been describing in the uncertain times of today.

Founded by the great Charles Dickens, the Journalists’ Charity has launched a competition to discover the kind of people living today who might have captured the writer’s imagination and would be his great inspirational characters of the 21st Century.

In just 300 words – with Dickens’s descriptive flamboyance – can you pen a portrait of the 21st century character you think would have deserved his attention?

Launched with the support of the Dickens Fellowship, funds raised from the competition will help the charity assist those journalists who are now facing hardship because the coronavirus pandemic has had a serious impact on their livelihoods.

The competition is open to everyone and although free to enter we are encouraging participants and non-participants alike to make a donation to the charity. Full details and rules can be found at

In the present climate we might be inspired by Dickens’s own thoughts from Christmas Carol: “It is a fair, even handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.”

So who are today’s heroes and heroines who might capture your imagination?

Judges for the competition will include Dickens’s great, great, grandson and the Dickens Fellowship. The winning character will be brought to life in a unique illustration by one of Britain’s greatest cartoonists.

Dickens began his glittering career as a freelance Parliamentary reporter and helped set up the Journalists’ Charity which, since 1864, has supported journalists and their families in the UK and Ireland who may have fallen on hard times.

Mr Ian Dickens, President of the Dickens Fellowship said: “This is such a wonderful competition, full of rich potential and modern-day relevance. The joy of Dickens is the range of characters that inhabit every page. Drawn from acute observation of those he knew and those he chanced upon, they connect with the reader because we all recognise elements within them. And such rich pickings continue to place themselves firmly in front of us every day, if we bother to stop, listen and imagine. I can’t wait to meet them.”

Mr Ramsay Smith, Chairman of the Journalists’ Charity, said: “Our charity is delighted to launch this competition with the support of the Dickens Fellowship. As a pioneer of the charity, Charles Dickens embodied a remarkable charitable spirit that has remained at our core for more than 150 years.

“Journalists the world over are doing a brilliant job reporting the Coronavirus pandemic but the reality is that many, particularly freelance journalists, are facing an extremely challenging time.

“This competition provides a great opportunity for people – journalists and non-journalists alike – to put their creative skills to work in these strange times. We hope everyone who holds the works of Dickens dear will take part.”

Board members from the Journalists’ Charity will be among the judging panel and Mr Ian Dickens, will be joined by Professor Malcolm Andrews, Editor of The Dickensian and Professor Jenny Hartley, Editor of The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens.

It was Dickens who said: “The most important thing in life is to stop saying ‘I wish‘ and start saying ‘I will,’ consider nothing impossible, then treat possibilities as probabilities.“

So, get writing and Good luck!

Ends: Notes to editors

  • Entries must be received by the charity by 5pm on June 9th 2020 the 150th anniversary of the death of Charles Dickens. Entries online can be sent before the same deadline to please or by mail to Dickens House, 35 Wathen Road, Dorking, Surrey, RH4 1JY.
  • The winner will receive a certificate and the original drawing of their character by veteran Fleet Street cartoonist, Stanley McMurtry, MBE  – better known as MAC.
  • The Dickens Fellowship has 56 branches worldwide. The winner will be announced on the Fellowship website and on the Journalists’ Charity website and the Dickens Fellowship website on July 15 2020.

Further information: The Journalists’ Charity

Ramsay Smith: 07788 414856;

Charles Garside: 07834 568076;

James Brindle: 07940 728139:

Some examples of Dickens descriptive skills.

SCROOGE  (from A Christmas Carol)

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind- stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

MISS TOX (from Dombey and Son)

[Miss Tox]…was a long lean figure, wearing such a faded air that she seemed not to have been made in what linen-drapers call `fast colours’ originally, and to have, by little and little, washed out…. She was accustomed to wear odd weedy little flowers in her bonnets and caps. Strange grasses were sometimes perceived in her hair; and it was observed by the curious, of all her collars, frills, tuckers, wristbands, and other gossamer articles–indeed of everything she wore which had two ends to it intended to unite–that the two ends were never on good terms, and wouldn’t quite meet without a struggle…. She was much given to the carrying about of small bags with snaps to them, that went off like little pistols when they were shut up; …These and other appearances of a similar nature, had served to propagate the opinion, that Miss Tox was a lady of what is called a limited independence, which she turned to the best account.

MR BOUNDERBY (from Hard Times)

[Mr Bounderby] was a rich man: banker, merchant, manufacturer, and what not. A big, loud man, with a stare, and a metallic laugh. A man made out of a coarse material, which seemed to have been stretched to make so much of him. A man with a great puffed head and forehead, swelled veins in his temples, and such a strained skin to his face that it seemed to hold his eyes open, and lift his eyebrows up. A man with a pervading appearance on him of being inflated like a balloon, and ready to start. A man who could never sufficiently vaunt himself a self-made man. A man who was always proclaiming, through that brassy speaking-trumpet of a voice of his, his old ignorance and his old poverty. A man who was the Bully of humility.

The rules of the competition.

  • To create and describe a modern-day Dickensian character in no more than 300 words.
  • The prize will be a certificate and a unique depiction of the winning character drawn by
  • Veteran Fleet Street Cartoonist Stanley McMurtry (MBE)…better known as MAC.
  • Free to enter although donations to the Journalists Charity from participants and non- participants would be most welcome.
  • Entrants must certify that their contribution is original and entirely their own work. They also must agree to waive any copyright in regard to publication of their work to promote the aims and work of the Journalists’ Charity.
  • Entries must be received by the charity by 5pm on June 9th 2020.
  • The winner will be announced on the Journalists’ Charity website on July 15th 2020.