NICOLA MUNTZER, a 38-year-old mother of two, from west Sussex, is this year's pounds 2,000 prize winner of The Independent/Scholastic competition to write a short story for six-to-nine year-olds.

She wrote her short story, Toebiter, about a monster who lives under the bed of a little girl called Katie, while working as a cleaner during the week.

She said: "I've been writing for a while now. I've written two novels and a couple of short stories for children.

"I didn't get anywhere when I entered this competition last year, so I was amazed when Scholastic called. I actually thought it was a man trying to sell me double-glazing!

"My two daughters, who are six and eight, were really helpful when I was writing the story. Toebiter smells really awful and I asked them what smells they hated.

"It really made me laugh when they said burnt toast and packets of peanuts.

"I really enjoyed the writing, I felt a real freedom creating my own stories.

"I would definitely love to write more children's literature in the future, but I will always test the water by trying them out on my own girls first.

"My family are absolutely over the moon. Because it was just a hobby, winning a competition like this has somehow made my writing more authentic.

"I would advise anybody to have a go. If I can do something like this, and I've got no background in this area, then anyone can."

Geoffrey Henderson, 76, author of The Little King Who Broke Things, is one of our two runners-up, who both win pounds 500 each.

His story is about a spoilt little prince who grows up to be a good king thanks to the court bootboy who helps him mend his ways.

Mr Henderson said: "I'm probably the oldest person to enter this competition.

"I've done a lot of different things in my life. I've been a fighter pilot, a barrister and then a writer. I've got a novel on the go at the moment which a publisher is interested in.

"This story is based on problem children I've known, but as with all my work everyone turns out to be good in the end."

The other runner up is Fiona Gibson, 33, a freelance writer for women's magazines.

She wrote Uncle George's Magic Painting Set, the story of twin brothers who get fed up with receiving identical birthday presents. She said: "I've been reading all my old children's books to my 15-month-old twins and I just thought it would be great to write something of my own.

"It has been really fun to do. There is a tremendous freedom just letting your imagination run wild and not answering to any commissioning editor."

The following stories will also be included in the Story of the Year 6 anthology to be published by Scholastic Children's Books in the autumn: Aisha and the Fish by Sara M Ebowe; The Black Cloggs of Castle Doom by Rosamund Annetts; Ella and the Egyptians by B.J.Weir; The Giant Sized Yuck by Simon Cheshire; Sisters, Not Twins by Jenny Hughes; Sticky Bun and the Sandwich Challenge by Janet Frances Smith, Snowy by John Nevison.