The UK’s longest-running writing competition for children!

For the past eight years, Explore Learning has been inspiring children to write, from the young authors in the making to those a little more reluctant. So far we’ve had over 47 million words written by children eager to win the prestigious first prize – a family trip to Disneyland Paris and £500 worth of books for their school presented! These exciting prizes are presented by our guest judge, and this year none other than Steve Backshall is taking on the role!

Each year, a new theme is created and this year’s theme is ‘The Future’. Children aged 4 – 14 are transported to the year 3017 where a lot of things have changed. They will need to consider the new buildings that have been constructed, new technology that has been invented and the fancy new transport that everyone whizzes around on. We are looking for the best story of 500 words or fewer which is set one thousand years in the future.

Are you a parent?

If whizzing off to Disneyland Paris sounds like something your family would love to do, your child will be able to send us their 500 words when the competition opens on 6th March!

If your pupils would love to take on this challenge and win your school £500 worth of books, get in contact today to register your school!

Register now

Steve illustration

OUR JUDGE: STEVE BACKSHALL

Steve is a man with many strings to his bow, he is a TV presenter, wildlife expert, adventurer, public speaker and a prolific author. You may know him best for his hugely popular, BAFTA award-winning Deadly 60 show.

There could be no one better to judge this year’s competition, having published 13 books, Steve knows what it takes to make a fantastic author.

 Amazing prizes

 Famous judge

 Most established

Top writing tips from past judges


Cressida Cowell

“I love to read a story with beautiful language that takes me on a journey. I want to meet the characters and be touched by the tale, with an ending that is satisfying and yet still mysterious.”

Jonathan Meres

“Use some wonderfully descriptive and spine-tingling language. Try and manage to pull off a cracking and most unexpected twist at the very end, that you doubt anyone will see coming. This can be tricky in a remarkably short space of time.”

Lauren Child

“I love to see the voices and the personalities of the people who have written them and that’s really, really important. It’s very hard to write such a short story with a beginning, middle and end without losing the thread. Be careful to construct your story carefully and move your reader along with it.”

Liz Pichon

“Grab my attention right from the start and hold it all the way through to a lovely ending. Have everything you could want in a great story, including excellent descriptions throughout.”

Previous winners’ stories


Happy Never After!

This is not a good story; neither is it a bad one. It’s just a story. A story of a brave, young, rather dashing Prince and a rather fed up Princess. By fed up I mean really fed up. Anyway, side-tracking a bit: where were we? Oh, yes I was telling you about the story of our Princess, Roxanna.

Roxanna lived in, well, in the middle of a thick, dark, dense forest filled with dangers, in an extraordinary tall, ivy covered tower with cracked and broken slates and shattered windows. However, it didn’t matter as she had only one task …… to sleep and sleep and hope a Prince either called Jack, Joseph or even Jacob might come and rescue her. Well, they had clearly not done a very good job, as she had been waiting for a lot more than 50 years and was really quite frustrated.

I know what you’re thinking, how can it be frustrating if your asleep? Its rather simple. She woke up!
You’re probably wondering “Where are these useless Princes, who should be rescuing the lovely Princess Roxanna?” But they are closer than anyone could have imagined, in fact, here they come through the woods now.

Bang…
Clash…
Ow…

The final thud came as young fair Jacob was catapulted over his brothers and SPLAT, into the wall with such force the whole tower shook and a rather large brick, dislodged by the force of Jacob, came shooting down and bounced centimetres away from the young man’s head. Up in the tower a silent grin blossomed over the Princesses’ face as she heard the cries of horror below.

It was a nightmare of cacophony. Each Prince attempted to climb the wall of ivy and each time, on their final pull the ivy would simply come away in their hand and they would tumble back down to earth with an almighty clatter. But, at long last, Jacob made it. Being the youngest he was the most determined to prove himself true and with surprising agility, the youngest brother scampered up the tower and somersaulted himself through the window with a yelp of ecstatic joy. He had done it! He, the youngest and most pathetic of all had done it!

Creeping softly towards the sleeping figure of the Princess edged on by envious voices below, he scurried cautiously forward… until… “Crash!” …the foolish Prince had been in such blinding bewilderment he had walked smack into the bed. Rather self-consciously he bent over the sleeping Princess and her eyes slowly fluttered open. She had found her Prince.

The next few days past in a blur and before they knew it they were getting married. As the wedding bells chimed Roxanna walked up the aisle. She was petrified but then a thought struck her… Would she rather spend her life moping about in a forgotten, abandoned tower with spiders for company than spend the rest of her life washing elegant china and Royal pants? She fled into the gathering dusk…

By Gracie Harding, aged 11, from Winchester

That’s a Wrap 

Softly, silently, under cover of darkness, the gently lapping waters of the nearby, meandering stream, swelled. The level rapidly rising, its width, broadening. In blackened skies, only spears of moon beams pierced the gathering clouds. They bore witness to the rapidly increasing danger to those living in the isolated Mill cottage. Danny, his sister Hannah, dog Archie and their Mum had moved into their new home, a week earlier than planned. Mum said, she had made a helpful arrangement, we were too excited to ask what she meant. Semi-circular stone steps, which led to the front door, were hewn from the long since discarded Mill grinding stones. Double arched wooden front doors swung open on rusted, wrought iron, arrow shaped hinges. Beyond the mill house, were endless outbuildings. Some constructed from flint, others from wood. Most were in a seriously ramshackle or derelict state, now all held together by moss and a prayer! So much potential, thought Danny, to house all the pets he had longed to own. What better place for a budding Vet to start his menagerie of ducks, hens, lambs and ponies? This was their perfect ‘forever’ home. On a bright winter’s morning, the views from Danny’s window stretched over a rolling patchwork of farmland to the distant horizon. However, this night, as Danny closed his bedroom curtains, he could scarcely see the ground below there appeared a dark and unpredicted change in the weather. Jumping into bed, Danny pulled his duvet over his head, “a bad storm looming”, he thought as he snuggled down, eyes wide, ears listening hard. Rain and hail beat against the now rattling window panes. The aged wooden Mill wheel creaked and groaned and, after almost a century of turning, several loosened slats clattered loudly in the wild winds. Eventually, from staring into the blackness, his eyelids closed. Gusting, howling winds roared through every crevice of their house. Diagonally falling rain pounded the ground. Metal framed windows, long in need of repair, finally weakened by the relentless beating wind sent shards of glass across the room. Startled by the sound of breaking glass, Danny woke to his room filled with blue and white flashing lights. In panic, as he called for his mum, for Hannah, for anyone to help, he leapt from his bed, stumbling over his incomplete Lego models on the rug. His cries seemingly unheard, he peered through the broken window. A mix of rain and tears blurred his view. Above, a hovering helicopter turned away into the black night sky. Its bright searchlight diminished to a distant speck, its blue tail lights now barely visible. “and cut!”. The film crew gave a spontaneous round of applause. Hannah and Mum cheered, Archie bounded to smother his beloved friend in wet nosed kisses. “Brilliant job” boomed a commanding voice. It continued, “So glad your mum let us return to finish our filming Danny. We just needed that final rain scene. Hope you forgive us for not letting you in on our plan.”

By Alexander Boxall, aged 12, from Eastbourne

The Milkman and the Fairies

Once upon a time there was a poor and kind milkman called Drew. He lived with his wife Emelda in a tiny timber hut which was in a very small village surrounded by forests and mountains. Drew was as poor as a church mouse but he loved his wife with all his heart and would do anything to keep her happy.

Drew was a very hardworking milkman. He had few cows that provided him with milk. Every morning he had to travel to distant villages on his very old and rusty bike to sell his milk. It was a very long and hard journey for him and very often his milk wouldn’t be sold so he had to return home empty-handed. This would make Drew and his wife heartbroken but they still got over their sorrows and kept working very hard from dawn to dusk.

One evening as usual Drew was returning home without earning any money. It was a very stormy evening and it was raining cats and dogs. Drew was exhausted from a long days’ work and his body felt frozen as ice. His legs could not carry him any further. Besides he was very starving.

“My poor Emelda! You’ll be very upset when you’ll find out that I haven’t earned any money today as well,” mumbled Drew. “Another day of starvation!”
Since it got darker, Drew did not realise he completely lost his way back home.

“Oh no!” exclaimed Drew “how am I supposed to get home now?”

Drew sat down under the enormous tree thinking that he would find his way back when the rain stops. Soon, the trees towered above him and the grass whispered secrets to him. All of a sudden the whole place became dead silent and before Drew could realise he fell asleep.

Little did he know that the place he was resting, was enchanted! It was the celestial fairies favourite location where they would come every year to have their earthly ball.

Suddenly the rain stopped and the clouds cleared out. The full moon appeared as intense as ever and a blanket of stars twinkled very dazzlingly in the sky. There was a bright flash and a group of heavenly fairies appeared. They had little golden wings, crimson and pink dresses, ruby tiaras, diamond jewelleries all over their body and long blonde hair.

They were rather surprised when they saw Drew sleeping as nobody has ever been in such a thick and dense forest.

The fairies saw Drew’s threadbare clothes, his milk container full of sour and foul-smelling milk and his rusty old bike. With their divine power they were able to understand Drew and Emelda’s sorrowful state. They felt pity on him and made their mind that they would come to help and change his life forever. The magical fairy dropped a few leaves in his milk container which would make his milk aromatic and everlasting. This would be the finest milk ever to exist on earth. The fairies then disappeared into mid air before Drew woke up.

The next morning Drew hurried home. He took no heed of the pleasant and sweet-smelling aroma that came from him magical milk container. When he got home everyone from his village got fascinated with the lovely smell of the milk. They swarmed to Drew’s house to buy his milk. Before long people from other distant villages started to flock to his house to buy his milk. His milk never ran out from its container. Drew and Emelda worked day and night selling milk.

In a short time Drew and Emelda got very rich and wealthy and their lives became very comfortable. Drew’s wish of keeping Emelda happy finally got fulfilled. However the couple never stopped wondering about the mystery behind how the milk container got magical and never ran out.
“Patience and hardwork pays off; one should never lose hope in them.”

By Hansraj Ramlagan, aged 10, from Tunbridge Wells

Around the world

My skin was pounding like a fish heaved out of the water. My thin paper skin flapped in the wind, I knew that the bottle had opened to let me free. I was made from the finest tree shavings and produced into the highest quality paper. A young man bought me one day to write a letter to his beloved on the other side of the world.

He must have missed them, I could feel the pen digging into me and his tears staining me. He kept me sandwiched in his pockets for a long time before throwing me out to sea.

I’m not sure where I was heading but the winds guided me to different places, I travelled from dry deserts to cold continents. They called it Antarctica and I was trapped in between icebergs and cold winds for several years before I set off on my journey again. I travelled many miles across foreign lands and saw many spectacular sights.

Until .. One night a storm attacked the sea. The battle was so fierce that the thunder shuddered in the sky. I woke up to the screeches of a young girl, she stared at me in awe before opening me. I felt a rush of fresh air as she opened the bottle. I had been breathing the same dry air for so many years and I was grateful to feel alive again after such a long time. She began reading my secret;

Dear Betha,
How are you? I am well. I have travelled across the globe to fight the enemies that had killed so many lives. I may not return so this may be the last you hear from me. I am only doing my duty for our country. I have missed you and our children terribly.
With love,
Charlie

She stopped reading and tears were clinging from her eyes. She wiped them away quickly, and read the address scrawled on the back of me. ‘United Kingdom’ it said. She threw me back into the never ending ocean. As I was floating away, I saw tall skyscrapers lining the sky and twinkling stars above me. The lights in the city shone brightly and reflected in the water. The skyscrapers grew smaller into the distance and my heart sunk as I knew a long journey was awaiting me…

I found myself riding along with many coloured fish until there was a sudden rush and I could feel the ground closing up on me. We were being captured by fishermen and I was being drawn slowly out of the sea. I fell on my side along with all the wriggling fishes.

A fisherman picked me up and raised his eyebrow. He unscrewed the cork and as he sat down and read, I could hear him gasp. His face was astonished. The next morning we reached ashore and the fisherman eagerly clasped me in his hand and waved me in the air. ‘Mother, mother, it is a letter from father, come quickly’.

By Shathana Sivanesavajah, aged 8, from Tooting London

The Black and White Bear

Once in my attic I found a cuddly bear. He had black and white stripes and was very old. He had a shiny, black nose, a smiley expression and brown eyes like the earth. I wondered who owned it. I asked Mum if it was hers. She said “No, it was your great grandfather’s. He lived at the beginning of the twentieth century.”

I asked Mum if I could keep him. Mum said yes. I decided to call him Night because the moon is white when it shines at night and the sky is black.

I wondered what life was like at the beginning of the twentieth century. So I went to the library. I took Night with me. First I thought we would feed the ducks. We saw a duck with some of its feathers missing like a wounded soldier. I made Night wave at him.

We went into the library. I found a book called “All about the Twentieth Century”. It was a big book with pictures, as heavy as a brick. I found a comfy sofa to sit on, opened the book and saw a picture of the duck pond. Suddenly I felt a shock like lightning and toppled right into the picture.

By the duck pond I saw something very familiar – it was the duck with the feathers missing. A little boy with a teddy bear was feeding it. He looked worried, like a baby owl that’s fallen from its nest. I went over to the boy and said, “What’s your name?”

He said, “My name’s Richard. What’s yours?”

“Mine’s Jamie,” I said.

“My teddy bear looks just like yours,” said Richard.

“Yes, the only difference is that mine is old and yours is new.”

“I just got my teddy bear today,” said Richard. “My father is a colonel in the army, he had to go off to war. He bought me this teddy bear to keep me company while he’s gone. He said this is where he will meet me, because we feed the ducks here every day. I’m worried about my father.”

“I’m sure he’ll be all right,” I said.

“I hope so…”

He asked if I would like to play with him. We were going to play war. We both wondered what was going on in the trenches. We took off our coats and found some twigs to stick the coats up. Then we covered our hair in grass to camouflage ourselves. We thought what it was like to be a soldier. I thought it might have been a nightmare.

Then everything went a bit funny and I found myself back in the library. I asked the librarian if I could borrow the book.

I went home. I told Mum about my adventure. Then I asked her, “Did the boy’s dad survive?”

Mum said, “Yes, your great great grandfather did survive and they had a party to celebrate, by the duck pond.”

Jamie Reger, age 7, from Richmond

The Blue Guitar 

“Pick-me! Pick-me!” At that moment Connor walked through the door, and guess what, HE PICKED ME! HE ACTUALLY PICKED ME! He lifted me up and played a gentle song on my strings.  In fact, it almost made me fall asleep with his sweet song. Out of all the beautiful guitars HE-CHOSE-ME!
It was so warm and cuddly in my case. I loved it all, except… NOTHING!

He took me home and played me every day but then … over the years his hands got too big and one day, one of my strings broke, then two, then three, then four, then five! It made me feel unwanted, I was falling apart, and he didn’t seem to notice! He got a new guitar! That is how I ended up here, on top of the rubbish dump.

I like the dump sometimes, but there were bad times like when Connor stepped right over me, like he didn’t know me. Other times where at night a mechanic roar sounded and suddenly I would get covered in rubbish! I could hardly breathe, I felt like a fish out of water. It wasn’t all bad, once an injured robin red breast came to nest in my body. I felt needed and useful! But he left, it made me feel sad, he still visits me, but I miss him. Then one miserable evening, a hand with black fingernails gripped me round the neck, then darkness. A mechanic roar sounded, just like the one in the dump. Suddenly, I remembered, I must be in the back of a car!

When the boot opened a gush of sunlight and wind hit me in the eyes, this time a clean hand, smelling of lavender reached out to me. I was carried into a bedroom with the embroidered name ‘Sam’ on the door. Could this be the start of a brand new adventure! Sam and I became the best of friends, Sam had eyes like a baby bush baby and a smile like a banana. He fixed one of my strings, then another, then another, then another, until all my strings were fixed! Afterwards, he painted me and polished me until I glowed and shined in the sunlight. However, I still had a fear in the back of my tuners that he would grow up and give me away.

Samuel played me every day for many years. We played in concerts all around the world, from New York to Tokyo. When he got older he didn’t play me much but when he came back from work he polished me until he could no longer look (I was so bright). Then one day he brought me to work and guess what? HE’S A TEACHER! All the children tried to play me, but boy did they need lessons so Sam gave them lots of lessons, they got really good! Sam taught them to treat me with love and care. As they got older new ones came in and this is how we spent our days for many magnificent years.

Samuel Groves, Age 8, from Wimbledon

Lost and Found

Fact 1:  Every kid in my class has lost more than one baby tooth, except me.
Fact 2:  I am seven and a half on January 6th and I’ve lost zero.
Fact 3:  My friend Aran, who lives in America, said the dentist takes out your teeth if they’re late coming out.
Fact 4:  My dentist said to me that it’s nothing to worry about which is confusing.

From the second I noticed my tooth wobble in the Christmas holidays, I fiddled with it, pushing, pulling and praying for a visit on Christmas day form the Tooth Fairy.  Mum got cross.  “You don’t know where that finger has been!”

Dad offered to pull it out for me with pliers on Christmas Eve.  My baby brother offered to unscrew it with his Bob the Builder toolkit.  “No thank you”, I said politely to my brother.  “It’s mine.”

I even tried to eat a hard crunchy apple and it really hurt.  I know whether Father Christmas is real, but I don’t know if the Tooth Fairy is pretend.  At school there were rumours and I didn’t know what side to take.  Jake said he saw his mum put the money under his pillow but Amira said she saw the Tooth Fairy.

My tooth let me down on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.  So I went back to school with my finger superglued to my mouth.   My teacher kept telling me off for talking with my mouth full.

Then one snowy playtime a snowball hit me right in the face.  When I spat it out I suddenly felt the cold air whistle through the gap in my mouth.  I knew straight away.  I looked down into the white snow and saw the red snowdrops of icy blood.  Camouflage!  I dug as fast as I could and my friends helped me.  At lunchtime we went back and looked again.

At school I felt miserable.  I told all my family.  I didn’t tell mum or dad about the note because of what Jake said but I explained about my lost tooth in the snow.

The tooth fairy never came, but that’s because there was no tooth, so I still can’t prove if she’s real.  The next day at school I searched again.  On the third day the sun shone and the snow melted but I couldn’t find it.

“I’ll have to wait for my next tooth”, I said to my dad, disappointed.  He was polishing my shoes.

“Come here”, he said showing me the bottom of my shoe.

“What?”

“Look carefully in the sole,” he said.

Stuck in the groove of my shoe was a dirty tooth shape.

“I found it!” I shouted.  “I want to have a tooth party”.  I went to bed super excited.

The Tooth Fairy does exist.  She gave me £2.

The End.

Adam Bhatti, aged 7, Ruislip

The Door to Darkness

The mysterious door, that was always locked, was slightly ajar, so I opened it and crept inside.

I stumbled blindly in the darkness, as the door swung shut behind me. I tripped over something long and snake-like, coiling around me, entwining my legs. Standing up again, I got a sudden shock as something soft and feathery flittered past my face like a silent owl. As I stepped forward, I felt a sense of horror as something soft and furry squashed beneath my unsuspecting feet. So far I had been relying on my sense of touch but this thing, however, gave off a stench like rotting cheese and decaying banana peel…yuck! I edged away from it, warily.

I soon discovered a sturdy steel barrier blocking my path. I couldn’t possibly budge it. I then realised there were more of them. I tried to squeeze between two of these barriers, bumping myself painfully on a knee-high solid, swinging object. I then had a startling shock – something with a leathery hand struck me in the face! I forced my way through the barriers and hurried on with fear.

Suddenly I tripped and my legs caught in some kind of rigid cage. I tumbled clumsily into it. A trap! I was caught behind the strange door! Then something nearby made a rustling sound, like small feet in crunchy autumn leaves. I froze. What was it? I thought I could hear it shuffling away so I tried to stand up, however I noticed that I was now stuck fast in this fiendish trap. After a few moments of frantic struggling, I freed myself from the cage’s clutches and stood up gingerly.

Suddenly, brilliant light seeped in from a widening gap back in the direction I’d come from, stinging my eyes.

“Found you, Eddy!” called Cathy, triumphantly.

I clambered back over Dad’s stinking slippers, and his neglected, folded treadmill with my old boxing gloves dangling off the ends of two of its poles; Mum’s plastic washing basket (now cracked from when I sat in it); a large plastic bag stuffed full to bursting with other plastic bags; a pink feather duster; and our vacuum cleaner, with its curled hose; and stepped back through the door of the cupboard under the stairs.

Laura Henderson, aged 10, from Peterborough

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