Book ends: 17,000 frustrated writers try to finish novels started by their heroes

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Britain has been revealed as a nation packed with aspiring writers after a staggering 17,000 people entered a BBC short story competition. More than 20 million words flooded in after viewers were invited to write their own endings to stories begun by authors including Fay Weldon, Ian Rankin, Alexei Sayle and Sue Townsend.

Britain has been revealed as a nation packed with aspiring writers after a staggering 17,000 people entered a BBC short story competition. More than 20 million words flooded in after viewers were invited to write their own endings to stories begun by authors including Fay Weldon, Ian Rankin, Alexei Sayle and Sue Townsend.

The End of Story project was launched by BBC3 in April and, after a steady trickle of entries in the early weeks, the organisers were astonished to discover 50 giant bags of entries the day after the closing date of 31 May, which were followed by a further 100. Together they weighed 2,900lb (1,330kg).

Claudia Winkelman, the series presenter, said: "I visited the offices where the entries were being collected to see for myself and couldn't believe this avalanche of words in front of me. I have to admit I'm gobsmacked, but also delighted."

Fifty professional readers are ploughing through the stories before a judging panel, including Muriel Gray, Giles Coren, the actor and playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah, and the literary agent Carole Blake choose 24 finalists, three for each of the eight authors.

In a series to be broadcast this autumn the writers will get to meet the author whose story they completed. Each author will select his or her personal winner, who will receive a hand-bound edition of their efforts under a joint credit.

The openings provided by Alexei Sayle and Fay Weldon were the most popular, although Ian Rankin's rated highest among entrants from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Alison Black, the series producer, said it had been impossible to gauge the potential level of interest before the entries began to come in. Two years ago, WH Smith had 13,500 entries when it ran a Raw Talent competition, which asked entrants to write the first chapter of a novel with synopsis. Another recent BBC competition to write a Canterbury Tale attracted 4,000 entries.

But Ms Black said the response to End of Story had "exceeded all our expectations. It really seems to have tapped into a creative drive to write across the UK and touched a nerve with people who wanted do something for themselves."

Interest seems to have been particularly spurred by 20,000 copies of a book that contained the story openings provided by the authors, who also included Joanne Harris, the horror writer Shaun Hutson, the best-selling Irish writer Marian Keyes and the crime writer Ed McBain. These pocket-size books were hidden around the country, in places such as train seats or behind park benches, which could be discovered by chance or from cryptic clues published on the BBC website.

"People quite liked the idea of the treasure hunt," Ms Black said. "And the book was kind of cute. Rob Newman [the comedian and writer] found one on the Tube but he left it there."

The half-written stories, about 2,300 words long, were also published on the BBC's website, where they can still be read, even though the closing date for entries has passed. Entrants were asked to provide a final 1,200 words.

THE AUTHORS AND THEIR TEASERS

Fay Weldon

Ursula loiters in an airport departure lounge, killing time before boarding a plane to Italy where she is to meet her successful fashion-designer husband. But Ursula is a nervous flyer and is also plagued by doubts. Is her marriage to David as happy as it once was? How close is he to Lola, his glamorous assistant? Will the flight pass without incident? What will she discover at the other end?

Sue Townsend

When the unnamed narrator of this story meets a mysterious man in her shoe-shop, he seems to be all that she's dreamed of. But is he a potential lover, a substitute son, or something less wholesome? A comic and disturbing tale about a life gone sour, and the mystery man who could put it back on the right tracks.

Ed McBain

When a literary critic, Helen McReady, dies from arsenic poisoning at a restaurant, Detectives Carella and Mayer are soon on the scene. Who could be responsible for bumping off one of the city's most feared reviewers? A writer whose work she trashed? Or someone close to her? As Helen's complicated private life gets unveiled, there is no shortage of suspects.

Ian Rankin

When Billy Bone, an Edinburgh ne'er-do-well, gets knocked down by a car, his thoughts turn first to compensation, then retribution. But Billy's revenge on the young couple in the car is more effective than anyone could have believed. Could there be something supernatural at work? Or does Billy's "curse" have a rational explanation?

Marian Keyes

When Alice is dumped by her boyfriend, she devises an unusual way to mend her broken heart. But is she making a fool or herself or striking out for a woman's right to shoes? And exactly how long can she keep it up?

Alexei Sayle

When Rory's irritating friends Byron and Danuta overstay their welcome, he invents a lodger to get rid of them. But in the process, he gets drawn into a fantasy world that takes over his daily life. Has Rory's invented woman become an obsession? And what happens when his friends insist on meeting her? A tale of social embarrassment, overstayed welcomes and a play that has gone too far.

Joanne Harris

An unhappy marriage, a lonely woman, and a very unusual affair with a tree. But is the woman mad, or misunderstood, and what happens when her husband realises something is wrong?

Shaun Hutson

When Frank Tate boards a train, with a very important object in his pocket, he is prepared for a predictable journey. But then his fellow passengers vanish and he discovers something unpleasant in the lavatory.

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