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A neighbouring village recently held its inaugural story-writing competition, ‘The Horningsea Tales’, and I was honoured to be asked to help judge the Under 12s’ category.

The writing theme was ‘Lines’, a powerful prompt that sparked various story ideas – from surreal, talking lines to sinister wartime borders – all brimming with originality and imagination. Well-deserved prizes went to several runners-up as well as the overall winner.

Finding ideas for stories is something I’m often asked about, so when we gathered for the prize-giving in the uplifting venue of Horningsea Church, we naturally talked about inspiration.

Horningsea Church 2

Illustrators speak of ‘taking a line for a walk’ when they’re looking for ideas. They make a doodle, and then find hidden pictures within their scribbles. Like most people, I did a version of it as a child.

Author-illustrator Anthony Browne used this trick for his book, ‘Play the Shape Game’. He drew one random shape and gave it to 45 celebrities to turn into a picture. It generated an amazing range of characters and objects, all potential story-sparkers.

The Shape Game
Play the Shape Game

So, we played the Shape Game at the prize-giving, with one volunteer drawing a random shape, and someone else transforming it. Here are a few of the brilliant, spontaneous results.

Shape Games

It was a fun afternoon, and fabulous to see so many children and adults happily bitten by the story-writing bug. I’m sure the 2019 ‘Horningsea Tales’ will be the first of many.

Separately, another thing I’m often asked is how to get stories for children published. SCBWI – the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – offers support and advice, including critiquing, to published and unpublished writers. Once you’re happy that your work is as good as it can be, consult Bloomsbury’s Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook for all the information you need. Good luck!



GIVEAWAY: The wonderful Rosalind Beardshaw illustrated six of the picture books I’ve written. If you don’t already have them on your bookshelf, your local library may be able to find them for you. The English language titles are: ‘Daddy’s Little Star’ (or ‘My Little Star’ or ‘Mommy’s Little Star’), ‘A New Home for Little Fox’ (or ‘Daddy’s Little Scout’), ‘Goodnight, Magic Moon’, ‘Night, Light, Sleep Tight’, ‘Little Deer Lost’ and ‘The Best Present’.


Rosalind put in lots of cute mini-beasts, including dragonflies and beetles. I think there are only two spiders among them. Can you spot them?


I’ll send a PRIZE* to the first person who correctly names the two picture books and tells me where these spiders are hiding. Anyone can enter. Just leave a comment on this website.


*The prize is a copy of the toddler-sized My Little Star board-book, now out of print. Good luck!



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