The story of my life

20th June 2003 at 01:00
The TES Write Away competition, launched in 1997, celebrates the literary talents of pupils by encouraging them to produce a short autobiographical essay. This year it attracted more than 7,000 entries.

Here we publish the four winning pieces

Literacy can be fun. Literacy hour can be a creative time. These ideas seem to have found their time at last, with teachers in primary schools responding positively to the TES Target Creativity campaign and taking back control of planning their lessons.

Write Away was invented six years ago to help teachers inject innovation and originality into the curriculum. After receiving free resource materials containing newly commissioned autobiographical pieces, teachers encourage their pupils to write their own recollections about a memorable incident, person or place.

Now we can take pleasure in the extremely high standard of work submitted to Write Away 2003. Sponsored once again by McDonald's Restaurants Ltd, and jointly organised by The TES and the National Association for the Teaching of English, the competition attracted more than 7,000 entries from key stage 2 and 3 pupils.

The first rounds of judging, by teachers, were organised by NATE. A hundred or so entries were then scrutinised over an enjoyable couple of days by representatives of NATE, McDonald's and The TES, and 20 of these were chosen for publication on the TES website. Four overall winners, two primary and two secondary, selected by guest celebrity judges Michael Rosen and Jacqueline Wilson, are published here.

We were especially pleased by the number and standard of entries from boys, giving, for the first time, a line-up of 20 finalists almost equally divided between the sexes. They found inspiration in Terence Blacker's ghost story, Anthony Horowitz's tale of near-death experience and Geraldine McCaughrean's account of her brother, Neil, all published in a TES Teacher pull-out last September, in pages funded by McDonald's.

All the finalists, each accompanied by a teacher and a parent, attended a prize-giving and a performance of Richard III at Shakespeare's Globe yesterday. Jacqueline Wilson, prize-winning author of The Illustrated Mum and Tracy Beaker, and Michael Rosen, poet and broadcaster, presented the finalists with certificates and signed books. Each of their teachers received vouchers worth pound;100 and each school pound;200 towards a writer's residency.

Jacqueline Wilson said: "It's great that so many children write with such style, flair and heartfelt emotion." Michael Rosen added: "Children are encouraged to write about subjects important to young people, but in such a way as to appeal to readers of all ages."

Read on to discover some of the writing the judges enjoyed so much.

HEATHER NEILL, TES arts editor


By Alex Gerrald Martin, 13, Studley high school, Warwickshire

Today I was told to go see Miss Mason at break. At first I thought I was in trouble or something, but it was actually about entering a competition called Write Away, a story competition. Initially I thought it would be fun. I'm good at that sort of thing (writing stories), and as Miss went on (and on and on and on) my brain was formulating stories and ideas. I was really getting into it all, until I was told the subject. The story would have to be autobiographical: there were two things wrong with this subject: 1, I could only spell that word with spellchecker, and 2, I have the most dull life that a person of my age could possibly have - in my life absolutely diddly-squat has ever happened to me! Should I do the competition? I enjoy writing stories but I couldn't lie. I'm sure Jeffrey Archer would oppose, but a lie is a lie even on paper. I said I'd do a story - what should I do? Should I lie? Well I have to do the story. So I have to lie.

Maybe I could get ideas from other winning stories. What about this one...? What! Her cat's Osama Bin-Laden? No one would believe that! How did she win (last year)? Was there a tailiban or something? Maybe I could use that in my story or an adaptation of it.

This story is a good one, written by an actual author. That's a clever line, "When I was closest to death I was the most alive." I'll nab that for my story.

Miss also said to use different length sentences, for example, "He opened the door expecting to hear an uproar of disapproval. Silence."

I think I'll adapt that for my story, even though Miss said that one was a bit of a cliche.

Some other people in the competition had really interesting ideas like getting run over and stuff; I'll incorporate that in my story.

What do you think of this?

I was playing football out by the drive when my dogSaddam Hussein skipped up and into our Toyota Yaris and released the handbrake. I was directly in line for a flattening by the new car. I expected everyone to move hurriedly and try and push me out the way. Stillness. Except for the car and Saddam hurriedly exiting the scene of the crime. Then, gathering speed, the car rolled until it hit me...WHAM! I hit the earth with an almighty bump. Then CRUNCH! My leg. And the strange thing is when I was closest to death I was most alive.

I can't write this, it's all lies, and copies, and the last line doesn't make sense. I wish I had an interesting life.

PS. Don't laugh while drinking it may come out your nose.

December 8

How about this for a story?

Dear Miss Mason, I regret to announce that I cannot participate in the Write Away story competition due to my dull existence upon this planet.

Yours, Alex Martin

And to reach the word limit I could go into detail about my pathetic existence. It's boring, but true and original; I'm not willing to compromise my beliefs for a competition.

PS. Don't put a ping-pong ball in a saxophone and then blow really hard. It usually bounces off the wall and hits you on the face.

Heather Neill writes: Alex says he doesn't always know where to take ideas for stories, but he'd like to "go into writing", and enjoyed meeting author Geraldine McCaughrean last year. "I normally read Terry Pratchett, and I like Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. I like fantasy, but it's harder to write now because so many people are influenced by The Lord of the Rings - which I think is really good." Alex plays the saxophone and enjoys football and says the "tips" he gives refer to incidents that happened that day.

Alex's teacher, Amanda Mason, ran a Write Away club for more able students in Years 8 and 9 and discussed the stimulus material. Anthony Horowitz's tale was especially popular.


By James Goode, 13, West Bridgford school, Nottingham

My dad had made for me a magnificent pirate ship. Its red plastic tubes and panels groaned as its captain, James Goode, strolled along the deck. My gigantic crocodile apron sail fluttered high as I sailed across the stormy seas of my living room and gazed up at the lightning-scarred sky of my childish brain's imagination.

Thomas, my friend and shipmate, waved his cutlass as the waves crashed on to our mighty vessel, but never did we think that blood of the real world would be spilled. Never would I have guessed that mutiny lay in the heart of my most trusted friend. Suddenly, he pulled a gun from his belt and fired a bullet at point-blank range into my unprotected heart.

Then the real world came back to me and I realised I didn't have to die. So I didn't. The mutineer, seeing this unfortunate turn of events, pushed me over the side and I fell, arms and legs flailing, desperately trying to grab on to something. My head struck not the ice-cold waters of the sea but the hard wood of the skirting board. I felt blood seeping through my blond hair as tears sparkled in my eyes. The greatest pirate of all had fallen.

In the car, blood-soaked tissues littered around me. Another held to the wound with grimy hands. Two cars were left far behind in red and blue blurs. My two worlds merged together and I started to question which one was real. Both seemed to contain pain, violence and blood. Which one was truly real? The answer was simple and literally in my face and hair, and strewn all around me, absorbed by tissue paper. In my fantasy world there were no tears and blood did not stick to your hair.

Later that evening, the greatest captain of all was resurrected from the sea. Blood had spilled, but still I lived on in my world, the world of harmless slaughter, playful execution and calm waters with ten-foot waves and huge monsters of the deep. My ship sailed on. Through treacherous places I went, against hordes of enemies I fought. I found secret treasure stashes and sailed through the dimensions. I was King of the Sea.

As I looked out over the deck, my cloak billowed out in the wind. The mast creaked as a gust of wind howled across the ocean. My time had come. I adjusted the feather in my hat and rested the cool blade of my sword on my cheek for one last time. Then I left the world of pirates forever, never to return.

Like most boys his age, James enjoys playing computer games, but also finds time to play the piano (he's reached grade 3) and the bass guitar. He likes Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, The Lord of the Rings and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and he's also a fan of Brian Jacques.

He's obviously a good all-rounder because he says his best subject is maths. English teacher Karen Gavey, who entered James for the Write Away competition, left the school last Christmas, but the head of West Bridgford's English department, Jed Savage, is keen to encourage creative writing among his pupils, despite the difficulty of fitting it into an exam-dominated curriculum. He made the Write Away pull-out, published in September, available to staff. He says: "Any kind of writing competition is valuable - and increasingly so, as the curriculum becomes ever more overcrowded, the result of which is that we do less creative writing than before."


By Henrietta Argent, age 10, Bute House preparatory school, London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham

I always think that memories are funny things: you can completely forget that they're there, and then a fragment of a picture, or a smell, or a sound can jolt them wide awake. Suddenly, you can see those memories as clearly and as vividly as if they had just happened. For example, if I see the back of someone's grey, curly hair, or hear somebody laugh out loud in a certain way, or catch sight of a particular make of spearmints in a shop, memories of Grandma Pam come flooding back to me.

Mints and reading, mints and cuddles, mints and Florida! As you might have gathered, my Grandma was very fond of mints and always had a packet handy.

"One for me, one for youI" that was her catchphrase! She would have them stuffed in the pocket of her favourite pink apron when I sat on her knee and read to her. She would have them poking out from beneath the cuff of her right sleeve when I was cuddled up close, and she was reading to me.

And I was convinced that she took a whole suitcase of mints away with us when we all went on a big adventure to Florida!

Florida was a wonderful holiday. We saw all the exciting attractions that I had only ever seen before on television. However, my most precious memory of my Grandma took place when we visited Seaworld. We had watched the whales, been dazzled by the dolphins and had laughed out loud at the sea lions. It had been a boiling hot day but then, quite unexpectedly, it started to rain. Not a little sprinkling shower, not even a very heavy downpour: it seemed as though the heavens had opened and somebody up there, with a mischievous sense of humour, had decided to spray us all with a hose-pipe turned on at full blast!

"Never mind!" exclaimed my Grandma. "We haven't come all this way to be stopped by a bit of water! We still have the manatees to see!"

"But Grandma," we all protested, "it's raining too heavily. Everyone else is running for cover."

It was true: all the Americans and other tourists were, sensibly, huddled together sheltering from the storm. My Grandma cast a scornful eye at them and defiantly stepped out on to the main path firmly clutching my hand, and telling me to grab my sister's. There were eight of us in total and we marched off in a long line, towards the manatees' aquarium. My Grandma led us along, whilst singing the old song, "I'm Singing in the Rain", at the top of her voice! Everyone just stood and stared at us, open-mouthed, but none of us cared. And what did Grandma produce to help us "dry off" on the way back to the hotel? You've guessed it! A packet of spearmints!

Grandma Pam was an extremely special lady. She was young at heart, made the best of every situation, and had an indomitable spirit. I feel honoured that she was mine because she has filled the early part of my life with happy and colourful memories. Life simply isn't the same without her.

However, those memories will stay with me forever - and I'm determined to keep them in mint condition.

Henrietta says her gran, who died a few years ago, was "a really strong influence. Mints were her cure for everything." Henrietta wants to be "a vet who writes animal stories, like James Herriot". She has a cocker spaniel called Sinbad and four fish, and enjoys reading stories about the war, such as Goodnight Mr Tom, by Michelle Magorian, and books by Robert Westall and Judith Kerr, but finds time to play the piano and the Hammond organ.

Henrietta's teacher, Jonathan Brough, taught three of last year's 20 finalists and two of this year's. He uses Write Away to introduce autobiographical writing, including books by Floella Benjamin, Roald Dahl and Dick King-Smith. He believes in discovering "what's important in education, not just testing".


By Sophie Rogers, 11, Thomas Russell junior school, Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire

My story begins about six years ago, which seems a long time ago for me, as I am only 11 years old. I had woken up at about midnight and it was pitch black apart from a pale orange slither of light that sliced through the gap in the curtains, hinting about the streetlights outside.

As I was so little, I promptly decided that there was some sort of horrific monster in my bedroom, waiting to pounce. I don't know if I imagined the next part or not, but I began to hear a strange high-pitched giggling, that came from the end of my bed. I shook vigorously as I pulled the covers up to my nose, my breath came in short gasps, and when the floorboards creaked again I could barely breathe for fear. I can remember thinking "This must be what asthma's like."

Whilst I lay there in the darkness, listening to the enemy creep closer, I realised that I would have to get to my parents' bedroom. But this was not as easily done as said. I was paralysed, so suffocated by my own fear that I couldn't move.

Suddenly I began to wonder if I was awake at all, perhaps this was just a nightmare, and soon I would wake up...The floorboards creaked again, I shivered - and knew that I wasn't dreaming - that there was something in my bedroom - and that I had to escape.

I crawled out of bed, my eyes firmly on the floor, not daring to look up, in case I saw the enemy. Finally I got to the door, I pulled down hard on the door handle, it didn't open, I pulled still wouldn't open!

As I crouched there on the carpet looking up at the disobedient door, I began to panic. And when the floorboards creaked again, I exploded, pummelling the door and yelling at the top of my lungs simultaneously, oblivious to everything apart from the cold, hard, merciless door. I don't know how long I kept this up for, but it was long enough to wake up everybody in my house, and possibly the neighbours too.

The next think I knew, my Dad was shouting, "What on earth do you think you're doing?" I can remember myself sobbing a reply.

"The door's stuck!" Suddenly there was a loud thud, and the door flew open.

I rushed into my parents' room like a bullet, still yelling as loudly as I could.

Half an hour later, I lay asleep in my parents' bed, finally satisfied that I was safe from the terrible monster. Ever since then I have dismissed my reluctance to go to bed with the door closed as claustrophobia. Perhaps I am claustrophobic, or maybe I am just afraid that there was something in my bedroom that night, and that one day it will return in a situation that I can't escape from.

Sophie says she enjoys reading horror stories and books by J K Rowling, Tolkien and Jacqueline Wilson, so she is very excited to be able to meet the author of Tracy Beaker, who is a Write Away judge. She likes drama, playing the piano ("I've been playing for six years and I've got grade 6") and writing poems. She wants to be a barrister. "I have an uncle who works in law and it sounds interesting." She used to be afraid of the dark, and still likes to keep the bedroom door open a crack.

Jill Waller, Thomas Russell's literacy co-ordinator, says the Write Away materials were helpful, especially as the school has been emphasising writing skills this year. All the school's entries for the competition are on display in the entrance hall so visitors can read them while they wait.

Sophie's teacher, Angela Jones, accompanied her to the presentation at the Globe.

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