'I felt as if I had won the pools'

In the final week of our children's story competition, we talk to last year's winner; Story of the Year; 3
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The Independent Culture
Robert Richard, 38, is last year's winner of the Independent's Story of the Year contest, with his story "Dear Norman". He grew up in Virginia, in the US, but has lived in the UK for the past 10 years. He is director of Pilgrims, an English language training company based in Canterbury.

"I have nine nieces and nephews back home in the States, and I've always sent them about two stories a year. Last February I wrote 'Dear Norman' for them, and sent it over. About two weeks later I was sitting in a train, reading the Independent, and I read about the Story of the Year contest. I was going up to London to hear a concert which had been composed by a friend of mine, Simon Rowland-Jones, which was to be broadcast live that night from the South Bank on Radio 3. Reading the paper, I suddenly thought: well! If Simon can have his work aired in such a public manner, live on the radio, then I should try and do the same, in my own way. So I thought about the story I'd just written for my nieces and nephews, and just sent it off.

"I missed all the stuff about who was on the shortlist; in fact, the next thing I heard about it was at work when my secretary interrupted a meeting I was having, to tell me it was the Independent on the phone, and that I had won the Story of the Year contest. It was amazing; I felt as if I had won the pools I was just so shocked. It's the nearest thing to magic that's ever happened to me. I have never craved any recognition for my writing, it had always been a rather private hobby of mine, suddenly I was dragged into the limelight.

"The story was published in the paper, and in Scholastic's publication of the winning entries. Then the agency Peters, Fraser & Dunlop called me and said they'd like to see some more of my writing. When someone says that to you it has an amazing effect on your work. "I've written three times as much this year as I did last; I've really got the bug. I've just finished my second novel, Clever Ethel (the first was one of those bottom- drawer things), and I've since had four meetings with publishers about it.

"I'm just about to take six months off to write full-time; I had been planning for a sabbatical before I won the contest, but I'd never have had the motivation to write full-time without this boost. This year has been incredible for me; it's rather like being tapped on the shoulder and being asked 'How about doing what you've always wanted to do?' I never wanted to be a businessman; I always wanted to write.

"Of course, I sent copies of the book and the story in the newspaper over to my nieces and nephews, for whom I'd written 'Dear Norman'. But they were strangely blas about the fact I'd won. They just said 'Of course you did. It was the best story.' But maybe it's because children take magical events in life for granted.

HOW TO ENTER

You are invited to submit short stories of 1,500 to 2,500 words, written for six- to nine-year-olds. There is a £2,000 prize for the winner and £500 for each of the two runners-up. The stories must arrive before Tuesday 9 May at: Story of the Year, PO Box 3908, London NW1 OAQ.

You may enter only once, and entries must be made by the writer. Entries must be typewritten, double-spaced and on one side of the paper only. We regret that stories cannot be returned. The stories submitted must be unpublished elsewhere, but the competition is open to previously published writers. We will not accept stories with illustrations. The first page entry must consist only of your name, address, and telephone number. The story should start on a separate sheet, with no name on any of the pages.

The winning story will be published in the Independent in early June. The top three stories and up to 10 other entries will be published in the autumn in a Story of the Year 3 anthology by Scholastic Children's Books.

The competition is not open to employees of, or relatives of employees of, Scholastic Publications Ltd or Newspaper Publishing plc. The judges' decision will be final, and no correspondence can be entered into. Entry grants Scholastic Publications Ltd and Newspaper Publishing plc the exclusive rights to publish your story throughout the world. Any story chosen for publication in the anthology that does not win one of the top three cash prizes will receive a flat fee in accordance with publishing practice. If your story is not published in the anthology or the newspaper by the end of 1995, these rights revert to you.

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