Magazine article The Spectator

Radio Word Challenge

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio Word Challenge

Article excerpt

The first competition had 30,000 entries; the second more than 74,000. How many will be attracted to this year's 500 Words challenge, launched by Chris Evans on his Radio 2 morning show on Monday? It's open to any young person - under the age of 13 - to come up with a winning short story.

To create a fiction that works as a vivid, compelling narrative in just 500 words, and no more, is no easy task. Shorter means crisper, sharper, edgier and more focused; no dead wood. That's hard enough for a seasoned grown-up. The young writer must quickly learn how to stick to the point, to conjure up a scene or say what they want to say, in just over a page of single-spaced A4.

On Monday, at the launch, Evans directed prospective winners to the competition's webpage, where this year's judges give their tips on how to begin. Just think, what if? says the award-winning children's writer Jacqueline Wilson. 'Think of something ordinary and then couple it with something extraordinary . . .Don't copy other people's ideas.

It's always best to be original.' But none of the panel of experts gives the best tip of all: read what you've written out loud to yourself. Check the rhythm of the words. Cut what doesn't sound right.

In spite of being a Radio 2 competition, no story was read out on air as an inspiration. There was no mention at the launch of the power of listening to stories on radio.

Probably, I suspect, because children don't expect to find stories that were written for them, and only them, on radio. They're so hard to find now on the BBC's schedules.

There's the four o'clock slot on Radio 4 Extra, and the odd dramatised adaptation on Radio 4, but these tend to be stories that adults can enjoy as well.

Yet hearing stories, rather than reading them, is how we first discover the power of the imagination, of being taken out of ourselves, and away into another, quite different world. In the past 90 years, radio has been keeping our ears attuned to the necessary skill of listening, but for how much longer?

Without enough stories being broadcast, tempting and encouraging children to begin listening, how will they pick up the radio habit?

At the end of the very same day Seamus Heaney was on Radio 3, giving us a master-class on how listening to well-chosen words that have been well placed in poetic sequence can help us deal with winter's necessary melancholy. …

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