By Deb A.
The world's richest short story competition—this year's winner of the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award will take home around $38,000—closed for entries this past week. While writers around the world cross their fingers, British public radio has an incentive for the next generation of authors to start typing.
BBC Radio 2's 500 Words is the world's biggest short story competition for young people. Open only to UK residents aged 5–13, it nevertheless attracted nearly 135,000 entries last year, and more than 800,000 stories altogether since its inception in 2011. The rules are simple: Children can submit one original story that is no longer than 500 words. And mixing up your and you're is no tragedy: Spelling, grammar, and punctuation don't count. Originality, plot, characterisation, language, and enjoyment do.
Created to foster a love for reading and writing at an early age, the competition offers some fantastic prizes for the winners of each age group (5–9 and 10–13). Gold Award winners will receive a stack of books as tall as the competition's chair, former Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans (that's 1.88m); 500 books for their school library; and a tour of a BBC children's TV show. Silver Award winners will take home the Honourary Judge's height in books; a quick search for Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall's height yields 1.73m. Entrants should make sure to eat their vegetables, as a Bronze Award will earn them their own height in books. All six winners will also receive an illustration of their story by an acclaimed children's illustrator.
Every entry has been sent to the Oxford University Press since 2012, creating a corpus of 328 million words and counting. An analysis of the data showed that last year, the environment, gaming, women in history, and unicorns were all popular themes. Plastic, used to indicate pollution, was the word of the year.
The 2019 submission deadline is March 7; aspiring authors can find learning resources as well as inspiration (for instance, David Walliams's enthusiastic reading of last year's Gold Award winner for ages 5–9, Evan Boxall's The Poo Fairy) on the 500 Words website.
For slightly older short story enthusiasts, 500 Words is also looking for UK teachers and librarians to act as volunteer judges and whittle down the entries to a long list.
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