500 Words: Chris Evans announces young winners

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Stories by children about the perils of reality TV judging, dementia, and a bloodthirsty pig are among the winners of this year’s 500 Words.

Now in its sixth year, the BBC Radio 2 contest challenges under-13s to write a story about any fictional topic.

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Winners were announced on Chris Evans’ breakfast show from the Globe Theatre, with Julie Walters and Tom Hiddleston among the celebrity narrators.

This year had a record 123,436 entries, up from 2015’s 120,436.

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Evans said: “Once again, the children of the UK have proved that they are amazing wordsmiths. It’s been such a treat to hear the finalists’ stories brought to life at the final by our very special guest narrators.

“Keep those imaginations flowing – I absolutely cannot wait for next year!”

This year, the Duchess of Cornwall, who is an honorary judge, presented the winners’ prizes at the London theater. She was also one of the judges and Malorie Blackman, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Charlie Higson, and Francesca Simon.

Charlie Higson said of Poor Pig’s Revenge: “What I love about this story is that it really shows how much kids love blood and guts and all things gory, nasty and yucky.

“What starts out looking like it’s going to be a nice little goody-goody story about vegetarianism soon turns into a hilarious horror story as the pig turns the tables on the butcher.”

Francesca Simon added that e-courtroom was “brilliantly original” and said: “I loved the way Ned used the 500 Words format to write a tense story while commenting on our modern craze for voting and judging.”

The Sands of Time depicts the impact of dementia, seen through the eyes of a dementia patient and her granddaughter. Malorie Blackman said it was “poignant, heartfelt, evocative and beautifully written.”

The Grannies who Flew to the Moon is about Dirty Gerty and Messy Bessy knitting parachutes, and Frank Cottrell Boyce praised the “swaggering self-confidence” of the writing.

Smoking Pipe was a “genuinely frightening ghost story,” according to Simon. She described it as a “time-slip story” which “deftly captures the smells and sounds and spooky atmosphere of the Thames at night.”

The Great Cookie Quest was a comic tale, and Cottrell Boyce said: “When we read this story out loud, everyone was laughing. It’s a story that escalates from sneaking a biscuit to demolishing a house.

“Lots of people try to have a twist at the end of a 500 Words story, and it hardly ever works, but Ben really pulled it off.”

Use of ‘refugee’ tripled.

As part of the competition, organizers found that the Children’s Word of the year was a refugee after it appeared in hundreds of stories submitted.

It found that the word refugee usage had more than tripled since last year, while Star Wars, Shakespeare, Tim Peake, and social media were some of the other most common themes.

Stories featuring the word refugee were most frequently about children’s plight the same age as the writers leaving home and undertaking difficult journeys.

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