When I first looked at the Story Catcher website at the turn of the year there appeared to be grounds for caution. Could this "exciting (free) literacy schemeI designed to encourage creative writing whilst supporting the Literacy and ICT curriculum" be an online vanity publishing scam to make a profit from publishing the winning stories?
The complex website and database interactivity had been well thought through in terms of the initial regional competition, but there were tell-tale dead areas. The guestbook was hardly used, and the "Stories from Famous Authors" section included just one story, by a little-known writer.
The guestbook is now a little busier, but the plea for professional authors to "donate" a story has so far gone unanswered, although Laurence Anholt and Julia Jarman provide quotes for the glossy back cover of Spooky!, the first collection of winning stories. This paperback contains the best 40 stories (as voted for by other participants) from the first round - confined to London schools and attracting some 8,000 entries.
Julia Waring, the editor, sensibly took the view that young writers deserve to be edited in the same way as professional authors, so all the stories are properly punctuated and correctly spelt. The quality of proofreading in the book surpasses many titles from mainstream publishers. But it is the writing itself that really validates the scheme and should encourage many more entrants for the first national round in September.
Each participating child receives a "Top Tips" workbook, pen and "I've Been Caught" badge. The workbook provides the story theme and takes each pupil through the planning, writing, editing and constructive evaluation stages of the competition as well as the ICT process of evaluating five stories written by other pupils.
Administrative costs (about pound;1 per pupil, according to Julia Waring, plus database and website development) are being borne by Dreamcatcher, although it hopes to recoup some of this with sales of the paperback story collections to the young authors' schools and family. Spooky! is also available via Amazon.
Schools wishing to register for September or January should visit:www.storycatcher.co.ukSpooky! Dreamcatcher Publishing, pound;7.99.
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