Prizes, fame, fun: writing contest for kids 7-13

Queenstown author Jane Bloomfield on a writing competition which unlocks kids' imaginations during the lockdown.

Encouraging young minds to roam wild is what drives myself and nine other children’s authors to run the online story-writing competition, Fabostory. With the current lockdown in place, we invite writers aged 7–13 to unlock their imaginations and get plotting.

Each Monday, one of our team of authors sets up the beginning of a story. It always stops with a cliffhanger; the kids who enter the competition then have 500 words to keep the story going any which way they want.  Entrants have until Sunday night to type up their story on the website and hit submit. We usually start in Term 2, but with families on lockdown, we wanted to give young minds a creative outlet while they're cooped up inside. Occasionally we run a theme but this year it’s open. Oh, and we’re discouraging apocalyptic and lockdown stories. There's enough of that in real life.

Fabostory is now in its 10th year. I joined four years ago and was amazed at the quality of writing sent in by young Kiwis. All the stories make me smile, in fact. Except the ones that are travelling so well and then end abruptly with and then I woke up.

As well as choosing a winner and publishing their story on the website, each author writes a report which highlights their favourite excerpts from other participants. Our young writers are really encouraged when they receive such personalised feedback.

Indigo Tomlinson, 12, of Ohope, was a stand-out last year for many of us. She has a huge vocabulary for her age and a great eye for detail and story. This passage is from her winning entry, Weird Tuesday: “It was an elephant. A teeny tiny miniature elephant. It blinked, bemused, then looked up at me, sending a small squirt of water into the air with its trunk. It fractured into hundreds of shimmering diamonds and just for a second, it felt like the world was bathed in rainbows.”

Indigo has been my winner twice. When she’d read my Lily Max trilogy of books, I asked her if she’d like to be a beta reader on my latest manuscript, as her prize. She jumped at the chance. And read it twice. She pulled me up on quite a few things - stronger verbs I could have used, cajoled instead of called for example. She wrote a very succinct report. I can see Indigo as an editor, should she follow a writing career.

Another outstanding writer, from 2010, was Angus Smith, of Auckland. He could have won each time he entered, but that’s off-putting for the other regular entrants. Angus ended up winning an overall prize and acting as a Fabostory author, and wrote the story set-up. It’s cool to feel this competition may have shaped future writers. This year there will also be an overall winner who’ll receive a Puffin prize pack.

My slot is scheduled mid-August. Hopefully, by then, we’ll know a different New Zealand. However, I’m guessing my story-starter will have a medieval theme - with horses.

I've written three novels for kids and often my imagination runs away with itself, down rabbit holes and beyond. For instance, just before the lockdown, I drove to Glenorchy to buy a black horse. It was a strangely still day. The road from Queenstown winds alongside Lake Wakatipu, and a pearl-coloured ceiling hung low over the lake. I counted three white rental SUVs, and 12 white-chested kereru swaying on powerlines, mostly in pairs, one set of four....It was around about then that I began to wonder if we might need to revert to hunting for food in an unknown, distant future. I also wondered if the Clydesdale-cross (with hooves the size of side plates) I was going to test-ride would double as a pack-horse, should I need to ride to market to buy a sack of wheat.

There’s a tiny historic stone cottage just over the fence from our property. Over the years, we’ve found lots of treasures from the family that lived in there, back in the 1900s. I’ve dug up a child’s leather boot, a tin gunpowder pouch, and numerous bottles in blue glass. I’ve often wondered about that family, whether they had a daughter who picked the wild plums and gooseberries that spilled over the fence, back when times were simple and they rode the bullock trail into Queenstown. I cannot meet this family, so I’ll have to unlock my imagination and make them up. Hopefully, while riding a large black horse.

Fabo is a free writing contest for kids aged 13 and under, held weekly during the lockdown. This week's story-starter begins, "It was a dark and stormy night, so Rona made sure her torch worked before she stepped off the deck into the long wet grass..." Entries must be up to 500 words. Register now!

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