Bare necessity helps bored father to book prize

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Andy Blackford, above, winner of The Independent and Scholastic Children's Books Story of the Year competition, yesterday received a pounds 2,000 prize for his winning entry, Spare Bear.

Mr Blackford, 47, wrote his book after "downshifting" last year from a career in advertising to pursue his writing. He is the author of five published works, including a biography of Tyneside rock group The Animals. He has always enjoyed writing for children, but it was the arrival of his third child two years ago, and the "jail sentence" of "the prospect of having to read and re-read the same bland and formulaic books for years" that prompted Spare Bear, the story of a "spare" teddy bear, bought for a child, that lies languishing in a cupboard, and then has to cope with feelings of both happiness and guilt when his bear rival is incapacitated, bringing him into the fold.

ML Greenall and Nadya Smith, as runners up in the competition, each won pounds 500. Ms Greenall, 67, has painted and drawn all her life. Her Harry the Street Pigeon tells the story of a pigeon who decides to stand up to a shop owner.

Nadya Smith's Joe and the Lion tells the story of Joe, bullied for being black and wearing glasses, who undergoes a transformation upon seeing a brave lion at the zoo. As in her two collections of short stories, Will You Come on Wednesday and Imran's Secret, the 70-year-old former Birmingham teacher draws on her experience in mainly Asian schools to explore the particular growing pains that children of ethnic minorities suffer.

The Story of the Year Competition has been running for five years, and this year attracted more than 2,000 entries. The stories were narrowed down to a final 10, all of which have been printed in a Story of the Year 5 anthology to be published shortly by Scholastic Children's Books. Pupils from 10 schools read the shortlisted stories, and, along with a panel of seven judges, helped to choose the winner.