500 Words: Jacqueline Wilson offers her advice to young authors

"Be a little bit different - don't just copy other stories that you've read or even the sort of thing that your friends are writing"

This year’s 500 Words competition has attracted a whopping 90,000 entrants in the nine and under and 10-13 categories. On Friday 31 May the winners in both categories will be announced after a fierce judging session between Richard Hammond, Charlie Higson, Malorie Blackman, Frank Cottrell Boyce and Jacqueline Wilson – who is taking her place on the panel for the third consecutive year.

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After the final decision had been made, RadioTimes.com caught up with the Tracy Beaker author to hear all about this year’s entrants, her advice for young story writers and her favourite childhood books…

Welcome back, Jacqueline – this is your third year of judging! What is it about the 500 Words competition that makes you keep coming back?

It’s the judging process – we always do it very carefully and yet there’s a lot of laughing and joking too. It’s nice to be amongst people who all take writing and children seriously and yet can still have a good time doing it.

What can you tell us about this year’s entrants?

They’re incredibly accomplished and the response is astonishing. 90,000 is just amazing and the fifty stories I read have all got something about them. In both categories this year the prizewinners are absolutely excellent. And what’s so interesting with writing is there’s no right or wrong story – it’s all a matter of opinion. But we really did reach the most amicable conclusions and I wish I could be at Hay this year to see the kids’ faces when the announcement is actually made.

Do you find it hard saying no to so many young hopefuls?

Often you think if there were a different set of judges on a different day, people would have had different ideas entirely. Going in for a competition as a child is a bit like trying to win the lottery but luckily each time I’ve always felt the winners are very much deserving.

As an accomplished author, what advice would you give young story-writing hopefuls?

Be a little bit different – don’t just copy other stories that you’ve read or even the sort of thing that your friends are writing. Anything that has a different viewpoint, a different voice to it will always make the judges sit up and say, “Here’s something that we’ve never read before – this is great.”

How do you think we can get young people more interested in reading?

I’m sure the sales of my books, particularly the Tracy Beaker ones, have been enormously helped by the successful, long-running television series. I also think there’s room for everything – children, certainly in the last ten years, have been turned on to reading and the younger kids read with great enthusiasm. I don’t know about the older teens who might consider it uncool and old-fashioned to be a bookworm but judging from all those who write to me, reading is one of their number one hobbies.

If you had to provide a reading list for young people, what books would you recommend?

There are so many wonderful contemporary books around but I would also like to promote some of the children’s classics that meant so much to me when I was little. Often in my books I have a pertinent reference to a particular favourite book like The Secret Garden or Little Women in the hope that maybe a child reading them will think, “This sounds quite interesting – maybe I’ll give it a go.”

Why do you choose to write for a young audience?

It’s just the way I feel most comfortable. I have long, long ago written for adults but I vastly prefer writing from the point of view of a child. Mostly I write in the first person and it somehow seems easy for me to assume the persona of a ten-year-old.

Read what Richard Hammond, Malorie Blackman and Chris Evans had to say about their experiences of judging this year’s 500 Words entrants.

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