The Independent / Scholastic: Story of the Year: Writing for children: pounds 3,000 of prizes to be won in a new competition

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The Independent Culture
THE YEARS between the ages of six and nine are perhaps the most crucial for opening up a child's mind to books. That is why we have launched a competition to find the best short stories for this impressionable age group. The invitation is open to professional authors, but we also want to encourage new writers.

The winner will receive a prize of pounds 2,000 and his or her story will be published in the Independent. Two runners-up will win pounds 500 each, and the best entries will be published in a Story of the Year anthology by Scholastic Children's Books.

The judges include Judge Stephen Tumim, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons; Suggs, lead singer of the group Madness; Michael Rosen, children's author and presenter of the BBC Radio 4 programme Treasure Island; and Angela Lambert of the Independent.

Stories teach children how to concentrate for long periods. They teach the pleasures of the long, slow unfolding of a plot, of patience in waiting for characters to develop and the denouement to spring its surprises. They also teach the consummate pleasure of words, which are used to inform, inspire and delight; to describe and amuse, and mock and terrify.

The most common mistake made by writers for children is to underestimate them. Children are likely to relish books that are written for a supposedly older age group than their own. The next most common mistake is to set the story too close to their everyday worries. Most children prefer stories that take them into realms of fantasy, where they can find the space they need to develop, to rehearse life without damage. The setting can be as weird and wonderful as the adult imagination can devise. We would like you to write us such a story.

SALLY BURGESS, the opera singer, currently starring in Bluebeard's Castle at the Coliseum, recalls the books that meant most to her during childhood.

SALLY BURGESS, the opera singer, currently starring in Bluebeard's Castle at the Coliseum, recalls the books that meant most to her during childhood.

'I WAS born in Durban, though my parents are Londoners, and I grew up in South Africa, in the suburbs of Durban. We had a small public library near my house, and I had this routine: I would trot round to the sweet shop on the way to the library and buy myself a quota of penny chews. And when I'd chosen my books - I remember loving Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Secret Seven - I'd go straight home and settle down in our lounge, which was considered rather special because it had air-conditioning. I'd settle myself on the sofa, eat my sweets and read.

Among my books one stands alone in my memory: A Little House of Your Own, by Beatrice Schenk de Regnieris and Irene Haas, given to me by an auntie for my birthday in 1959. An extraordinarily long, thin book, with black-and-white pictures, it was all about how a child might make a house with an umbrella, or a clothes-line covered with sheets, hiding in a box, or in a tree, or in a paper bag. We had a big garden and my sister and I used to love making hidey- houses in it. We would fantasise about what we would do if we got locked out for the night, and the book added to that fantasy.

When I was 13 we moved to England, and while we were packing I remember finding Lady Chatterley's Lover in a box of my parents' things. It must have been just about the time of the famous court case because I remember leafing through it thinking, 'Come on, come on, where are the naughty bits?' They weren't so naughty really, but I thought the book was great.

Having lived abroad I missed a lot of English children's classics. When I was studying at the Royal College of Music a girl made a reference to someone called Pooh and I thought, 'what the hell is she talking about?' Now I look at Winnie the Pooh and think how confusing it is.

With Timothy, who's four, I don't have much time for reading. Though I do treasure that half-hour in bed before I go to sleep. I read then. I used to read books because I thought I ought to. At college I read War and Peace but I was just skimming the words. It didn't sink in or grip me at all. Now I read anything, though occasionally - like the original novel which Carmen is based on - it's something to do with my work.'

ENTRIES: Your story should be between 1,500 and 2,500 words, and must not have been previously published. Entries must be type-written, double-spaced and on one side of the paper only. We will accept text-only stories - no illustrations please. The first page of your entry must consist only of your name, address, daytime and home telephone number. The story should start on a separate sheet, with no name on any of the pages, so that it can be judged anonymously. The closing date for entries is Saturday, 15 May. Send your entry to PO BOX 3018, London NW1 OAH. Please DO NOT send entries directly to the 'Independent' or to Scholastic Children's Books. We regret that entries cannot be returned, so please keep a copy.

PRIZES: The winner will receive pounds 2,000 and the winning story will be published in the 'Independent' in late June. Two runners-up will receive pounds 500 each. The top three stories and up to 10 of the other best entries will be published in the autumn in a Story of the Year anthology by Scholastic Children's Books (a list of stories chosen will be published in the 'Independent' at the same time).

RULES: The stories submitted must not have been published elsewhere, but the competition is open to published writers. You may enter only once, and entries must be made by the writer, not on his or her behalf. The judges' decision will be final and no correspondence can be entered into. For more details see next week's 'Independent'

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