Today, the UK’s most successful writing competition for children, 500 Words, launched on BBC Breakfast, live from a primary school in Abergavenny.
Once again, the competition has been given the royal seal of approval, with Her Majesty The Queen announcing that it was open in a special poem to Sir Lenny Henry, one of this year’s judges, on BBC Breakfast.
It is also confirmed that this year’s winners will have the chance to meet The Queen, with the grand final taking place at Buckingham Palace in February 2024.
Primary school aged children from across the UK can submit their own original short story from today, Tuesday 26 September, until 8pm Friday 10 November.
The competition, which is supported by BBC Teach, encourages children of all abilities to dive deep into their imagination and write the story they would love to read in 500 words or less, without fear of spelling, grammar or punctuation errors.
Jon Kay, BBC Breakfast presenter said: “Filming at the Palace with Sir Lenny for BBC Breakfast this week has given us a glimpse of what next year’s 500 Words grand final will be like. The opulent state rooms which usually host royalty, ambassadors and heads of state from all over the world will be taken over by primary school kids from across the UK. It doesn’t matter where you live – or what your spelling and punctuation are like. If you have a brilliant story idea that will amaze, excite and entertain the judges, you can be one of our winners meeting The Queen at Buckingham Palace.”
50 finalists, along with their parents or carers, will be invited to attend the grand final in February 2024 at Buckingham Palace. The event will be shown as part of a special 500 Words programme with The One Show on World Book Day®, Thursday 7 March 2024.
At the event, the bronze, silver and gold winners of both age groups, 5-7 and 8-11, will receive a selection of exciting prizes, including having their stories read by famous faces and a bundle of books to help continue their love of the written word.
The two gold winners will receive not only the height of judge, Sir Lenny Henry, in books, but 500 books for their schools.
Silver winners will get their hands on the height of Her Majesty in books, and bronze winners will receive the average height of a 7 or 11 year old in books.
All of their stories will be illustrated by children’s illustrators – Joelle Avelino, Axel Scheffler, Fiona Lumbers, Sue Cheung, Jamie Smart, and Steven Lenton – framed, and put into a 500 Words winners’ book.
Every finalist will receive a £20 National Book Token and their stories will be recorded and published to the BBC Teach website.
Every story will be entered into a random draw, where one lucky winner will receive a ticket to the grand final, and their school will receive a bundle of 500 books and literacy wall art of their choice.
Helen Foulkes, Head of BBC Education said: “We are delighted to be running this year’s 500 Words competition. It goes to the heart of everything we do in BBC Education. Ever since it began, the short story writing competition has always been for EVERY child, no matter what their ability. It is all about creativity with no need to worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar. This year we want children to write the story they would LOVE to read. We can’t wait to read all the incredible entries we know we will receive and support children across the UK with their creative writing.”
Meet the judges
This year’s stellar line up of judges include World Book Day ambassador, actor, comedian, presenter and writer, Sir Lenny Henry, who is making his 500 Words debut.
He will be joining the original 500 Words judges: award-winning and best-selling authors Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Francesca Simon, Charlie Higson and former Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman.
500 Words judge, Francesca Simon, said: “I am beyond thrilled that 500 Words is returning. It was always one of the highlights of my year: I love reading the stories, I love the excitement around writing, I love celebrating with the 50 finalists and their families, I love getting together with my fellow judges. I am thrilled that over 100,000 children take part, and I hope even more will participate this year”
Since the competition first launched in 2011, it has received over one million entries, and this year it wants to continue to encourage children of all abilities from across the UK to unleash their creativity and get involved.
The competition is open from Tuesday 26 September, and all stories need to be typed and submitted by an adult by 8pm on Friday 10 November.
To celebrate the launch, and help children get started with creative ideas for their stories, a star-studded 500 Words Live Lesson will be available to watch at 11am on Wednesday 27 September on the BBC Teach website and CBBC.
Blue Peter’s Mwaksy Mudenda and CBBC presenter Joe Tasker will be joined by 500 Words judges Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Francesca Simon and Charlie Higson to share tips with children on how they can develop and write their own original short story.
In addition to this, a special series of school visits will take place across the UK to encourage entries from young creative minds, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. From 27 September to 16 October, BBC Teach, in partnership with Oxford University Press and the National Literacy Trust, will visit eight primary schools with various children’s authors and CBBC and CBeebies presenters Rhys Stephenson, Ben Cajee, Lauren Layfield and Alex Humphreys.
BBC Teach will run 500 Words in partnership with: Anderson Press, HeadteacherChat, Libraries Connected, National Book Tokens, National Literacy Trust, Oxford University Press, Pobble, Publishers Association, The Reading Agency and World Book Day.
Alex de Berry, MD, National Book Tokens said: “Story writing is one way that everyone can tap into their creativity, an opportunity for your unique voice to run wild. 500 Words is a fantastic celebration that encourages all children to get involved and to have fun with writing. We are proud to be involved and to help the 500 Words team spread the word via hundreds of UK bookshops to communities everywhere.”
Cassie Chadderton, Chief Executive, World Book Day said: “What could be more exciting than creating your own irresistible read? At World Book Day we’re excited to know what children love to read – in their own words! For anyone who hasn’t found their favourite book, or who knows there are so many reading worlds to explore, BBC 500 words is your chance to tell everyone which book you’d love to pick up if you saw it on a shelf.”
Just as 500 Words opens, the BBC’s writing competition for older children – the BBC Young Writers Award – and adults – the National Short Story Awards – announces its 2023 winners live on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row.