500 Words is in it’s third year and the competition has never been more fierce. 90,000 entrants submitted stories to this year’s judges in the under nine and 10-13 categories before a shortlist of fifty was selected. Earlier this month the five judges – Richard Hammond, Jacqueline Wilson, Charlie Higson, Frank Cottrell Boyce and Malorie Blackman – met together with Chris Evans to debate over which entrants should be chosen as this year’s winners.
Following two and a half hours of intense discussion, we caught up with judge Malorie Blackman – author of the popular Noughts and Crosses series – to hear all about her first year on the panel, her favourite stories and what makes children’s writing so great….
Malorie, it’s your first time judging the competition – what made you want to get involved?
I love the idea of anything that gets children expressing themselves and creating literature and stories – it’s a wonderful idea and opportunity to say to children, write what you care about but do it in a 500 word framework. That’s quite hard. I expected the standard to be high because I do a number of writing workshops in schools and sometimes even the teachers are surprised by what the children can come up with.
Did you enjoy the judging process?
It was a really good judging morning – it took longer than I thought it would but that’s good because we really argued the point and read them and analysed them so I don’t want anyone to feel they were passed over because each story got a fair airing.
What would you say to young people aspiring to be writers?
I used to be a computer programmer and I wanted to be a writer however it took a while to get anything accepted for publication. But I’d rather try and fail than not try at all, so hats off to all the 90,000 who actually tried – good for them. Sometimes you just have to go for it and my philosophy on that is don’t ask, don’t get. If you enjoy yourself in your writing, others will enjoy reading it and I think that came across very strongly.
What qualities do you think young people bring to story writing that adults don’t?
Children are less inhibited and less concerned with style, especially in the nine and under category. They were more about telling the story and saying what they want to say. Style should never be a substitute for content and the stories we’ve selected have got both style and content. They’re very honest in their writing in a way that sometimes you lose or get a bit inhibited as an adult.
Tell us about the stories you’ve picked out as winners…
They’re beautifully written – some very funny, some very moving, some quite chilling – but they absolutely work and that’s what it’s about.
And finally, what do you think can be done to encourage young people to read more?
What we have to do is present stories in a form that’s as exciting and accessible as television – having a story as a foundation but you could then have the author talking about it. This is a lot easier to do with electronic books but there’s no reason why we can’t have links in printed texts suggesting websites or pages where you can see the author talking about the story. There are so many things you can do so it’s about the book being a starting point to then let your imagination fly. Reading is so important and crucial but we need to stress first and foremost that it’s fun and all these other activities can spring from it.