I have been lost in stories for a couple of weeks. Can you imagine it? Story after story, full of incredible adventures, ideas and situations. The authors, all under eighteen, had chosen some fascinating storylines; for example:
Assassinating a witch
I have to admit it wasn’t the best costume for fighting a witch. It was a soldier’s outfit I had found in the dressing up box. The day after that I did find a weapon and my weapon was a knife I sneaked out of the cutlery drawer used for cutting vegetables (it had the biggest blade).
Jemima, age 8
Meeting a dinosaur
Absolutely nothing could have prepared him for this sight: a paradise jungle with great beasts that he had never seen. Strange. Wait, he had seen them before, but how could they be here? How could DINOSAURS be here?
Isaac, age 9
A terrifying initiation test
“The final step in your initiation is to leap from this tower,” said the grey-robed figure.
Issy peered off the edge and gulped. “Is it?”
“Yes,” said the robed figure.
“Is it safe?”
“What do you think?” Argontly answered.
Lisabeth, age 17
I receive these exciting tales to read each year when I help to judge the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition (HBWC) for young writers between the ages of 8 and 18. The entries stream in from around the UK from children who have accepted the challenge to write a short story of no more than 1500 words. The judgement to find six winners is based on a quite simple set of criteria:
- Each story should be a well-structured narrative which:
- keeps the reader wanting to know what is going to happen from beginning to end
- is imaginative, original and unpredictable
- is written with a genuine reader in mind (i.e. not a school examiner)
A sad beginning
I was delighted to be invited to be a judge, and I always enjoy being involved, but there is more to this event than winning a competition. It commemorates a greatly admired writer. The HBWC is called so, after a very successful children’s author, Henrietta Branford, whose book, Fire, Bed and Bone, won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize in 1997. Sadly, in 1999, Branford died of breast cancer, but not before she had conceived the idea of a writing competition for youngsters. In the same year, Wendy Boase, Branford’s editor at Walker Books, also died of cancer. To commemorate both these outstanding contributors to children’s literature, two annual awards were created by Julia Eccleshare (Children’s Book Editor at The Guardian) and Anne Marley (head of Children’s, Youth & Schools Services for Hampshire Library & Information Service). The awards are the Branford Boase Award (BBA), given to the author and editor of a debut children’s novel, and the HBWC for children, which made Branford’s idea into a reality.
How does it work?
The two awards are run alongside each other, so the place to seek more information about the children’s writing competition is on www.branfordboaseaward.org.uk. March 2018 will be when next year’s competition is introduced. Look at the pages on the website that are dedicated to the HBWC and you will find what to do to when entering. You will find – all the instructions; advice from a judge; and, an opening paragraph to help eager writers to get going. A deadline for entries will be given and an email address to send them. The writers of the six best stories will be invited, with their families, to a London venue to celebrate both awards. Part of the HBWC prize includes meeting all the BBA shortlisted authors and copies of all their books. It is a great party!
Writing a good story
Children who want to enter should be actively encouraged to, but remind them that this is not an assessment task such as they get at school. Although it is preferable to write using conventional punctuation, spelling and language structure, it is the quality of the story itself that will matter most. All writers know that capturing ideas and getting them on paper in the white hot moment of inspiration may cause a letter or two to slip in a spelling or the occasional missed punctuation mark. It is more important for young authors to reveal developing literary voices. As a judge, I am looking for a narrative that I can’t resist, that is so intriguing I am impelled to read on.
This year the six winners spanned the age range, had travelled from all over the country and were a delightful mix of personalities. Make a visit now to www.branfordboaseaward.org.uk. Look to the right hand side of the page and click on HBWC 2017 to see photos of this year’s event. I would imagine there will be many FCBG youngsters who would enjoy joining that party next year!
This guest blog was provided by Prue Goodwin, Freelance lecturer in literacy and children’s books. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.