A winning way with words

23rd June 2000 at 01:00

For three years the Write Away competition has offered inspiration for junior-aged pupils to create pieces of autobiographical writing. On the next three pages we present the five primary finalists including the three top winners chosen by children's book writer Michael Morpurgo and the poet Grace Nichols

St Matthias Church of England primary, London. Autumn 1950.

It was Thursday morning. I was next to Belinda. Clever Belinda. Kind Belinda who let me copy, who saved my life every Thursday morning.

Miss Maynard sharpened the pencils, her face contorted with the effort of it. She handed out the paper. "Giraffe", she said, sitting down. "You have 45 minutes. Two sides. Neat." She clapped hands. "Starting NOW. Use your imagination."

I couldn't do it. I had no idea what imagination was, how to get going, and no interest in giraffes either.

For many years afterwards - even at university - whenever I faced the empty page, all I could think of was "Giraffe. Two Sides. Neat" or "I can't do this. Clever people do this, clever like Belinda".

Then, I found myself teaching, trying to encourage children to write. I did it the way Miss Maynard should hve done it. We looked, we listened, we soaked in the world around us. We spent time weaving tales in our heads, listening to stories, poems, all the time filling our lives with new wonder. We wrote together, in-tensely, letting the spoken word flow on to the page. I didn't know then how fulfilling writing would become for me, what it is to be engrossed in your own tale, carried along by it, yearning to discover how it will end.

And that is what I look for in writing. I want to be swept along on a tide of words. I need to believe absolutely in the characters, to care deeply about what happens to them. For that to happen, the writer must first believe, must first care. That is the quality I was looking for and have found in these terrific stories. We've come a long long way from "Giraffe. Two sides. Neat". Write Away is organised by The Times Educational Supplement, the National Association for the Teaching of English and McDonald's Restaurants, Ltd. The five winners were awarded pound;100 for the writer and pound;400 for the school towards a writer in residence, sponsored by McDonald's, at a ceremony at the Globe Theatre on June 16. Write Away 4 will be announced in the October issue of TES Primary

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