Ancient Chinese poetry holds special appeal for Winnie Tsui Wai, a winner in a prestigious Hong Kong poetry competition. The classical novel Story of Stones cast a spell over her as a 14-year-old. But it was not until two years later when she met another lover of poetry that she embarked on her own poetry-writing career. Now 22, she is the champion in the students' category of the 13th Chinese Poetry Writing Competition. The novel, which is about an imperial family, is filled with poems. 'I think writing poetry is elegant behaviour,' Winnie says. 'Chinese ancient poems have a particular sense of beauty.' Winnie was encouraged to write poetry in secondary school by her Chinese teacher, who later suggested she study Chinese language and literature at the Chinese University, where he himself had studied. 'Without him, I wouldn't have been writing poetry myself,' says Winnie, recalling the day when she was asked to try to write a poem while her classmates were still learning to write couplets. Not only did he teach her how to write poetry, he also encouraged her to enter competitions to test her progress. This was third time Winnie had entered the Chinese Poetry Writing Competition and it was her first major win, after winning a special prize the first year and second prize last year. As the only child in a family that immigrated to Hong Kong from Wuhan, in Hubei province, Winnie developed a different interest from her accountant parents. 'I was poor at figures but good with words. My parents were open-minded and didn't interfere,' she says. For Winnie, the most difficult part in writing poetry is self expression under the conventions of poetry, just like 'dancing in chains'. 'It is hard to find the appropriate word which both fits the rules and conveys the right feeling, especially at the beginning,' she says. 'But once you are familiar with the form, you will fall in love with this challenging word game.' Winnie seldom forces herself to write, only doing so when inspired. There is always a short paragraph first to describe her feelings at a certain moment. This is followed by a sentence or two, which are pieced together into a poem after polishing. The whole process often takes weeks, even months. 'The times when one can compose within seven steps has been passed,' she said, referring to the legendary poet who wrote a poem within the time it took to walk seven steps. It took Winnie two weeks to finish her prize-winning poem. The inspiration was a beautiful late-night scene she observed while walking beside a beach on her way home to Ap Lei Chau. 'I was very busy at the time, but such a nice view gave me a feeling of standing aloof from worldly affairs,' she says.