When I was fifteen years old, I started my first novel. It wasn’t a particularly good novel, and fortunately it was never published — but it was a product of my uncontrollable need to write. I was lucky enough to discover my passion at an early age, and I wrote around every obstacle that stood in the way of my pursuit of it: GCSEs, A-Levels, UCAS applications, stress, and the need for human teenagers to get some sleep every once in a while. It wasn’t until I was nineteen, several years later, that I wrote ‘The Bone Season’, which was published in 2013. Although that first book never saw the light of day, it taught me a lot about how to fit writing in to my life, how to format a manuscript, and how to tell a story.
This year, the BBC and reading charity Booktrust have teamed up to create the BBC Young Writer Award to seek out young writers with a passion for their craft, whether they’ve been writing for years or have never put pen to paper before. If you’re a writer aged 14 to 18 and living in the UK, this is a fantastic opportunity to get your work read to the whole nation on BBC Radio 1. All you have to do is send in a short story of up to 1000 words on any subject. Entries will be judged by presenter Alice Levine, author Matt Haig, and me. As a judge, I will be looking for experimentation and courage in the entries — whether that’s in the mixing of genres, unconventional styles and voices, or an original and unpredictable plot. Here are four tips to help you get started.
- Don’t be afraid. It can be daunting to look at an empty Word document or a blank page, but think of it as an exciting prospect. This is raw material to be shaped purely with your imagination. You can create absolutely anything on this canvas.
- Make time. As an author, you often hear “I’d love to write, but I don’t have time”. If you really want to write, you’ll find time here and there. Whether it’s scribbling a sentence in your lunch break or squeezing in a couple of paragraphs before you sleep, there will be moments in your day when you can set pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.
- It’s not too weird. Books are doorways to new worlds, new ideas, new ways of thinking. You don’t have to confine yourself to what’s been done before.
- And finally, trust your gut. Literature is incredibly subjective; there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to tell a story. Constructive criticism is great, and you might want to share your writing with someone to get an opinion on it — but remember, it’s your story, and nobody can tell it like you can. Follow your own instinct first.
The deadline for entries is 5pm (GMT), Wednesday 25 February 2015. For more information about the BBC Young Writers Award, please visit –http://www.booktrust.org.uk/prizes/21