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Having been overwhelmed by entries to its first bedtime story writing competition Lighthouse, Poole’s centre for the arts, is to commission three winning stories to be performed in its weekly Sunday evening Bedtime Story video on Facebook. 

The competition was part of the ‘It’s All About You!’ #Lockdown-themed creative engagement programme at Lighthouse and was open to writers of all ages. The entries covered an incredibly diverse range of styles, but an unofficial shortlist of ten was selected for consideration by the judgearts journalist Donald Hutera whose work has appeared in The Times as well as many other publications and websites around the world. 

All of the entries showed, to varying degrees, imagination and flair,” he explains. “Finding perfection, an elusive and even illusory quality at best, wasn’t a major issue for me. Rather, a combination of skill with words, plus a sense of fun or adventure, would do quite nicely, thank you very much. 

“I love words and language as a tool to convey ideas and feelings, and to spark the same within others, but there’s an additional understanding I brought to the selection process. As a performer and public speaker, I like to think that I’ve developed some solid instincts about what constitutes a ‘playable’ piece of writing. And so for me ‘judging’ Bedtime Story was based not only on my response to the words I was reading, and how artful their order and arrangement, but also how engaging they might be when delivered aloud.” 

And the winners are: 

Party Animals by Diana Morrissey. “A playful, quick-witted rhyming text that might work a treat especially, but not at all exclusively, for young listeners.” 

Saving Bindi by Susmita Bhattacharya. “A longer and more traditionally literary choice, is brought to life via a vivid shipboard setting and its central characters, a pair of dynamically contrasting siblings. I suspect it could have a special appeal for ages eight or nine.”  

The Pants Snatcher of London by seven-year-old William Howlett. “A short, original and audacious satirical comedy that flirts with topicality (Boris Johnson and the Queen feature). It’s also slightly naughty. And it was written by a child. While it might seem particularly suitable for age five and up, please note that it made this seasoned 63-year-old laugh out loud.” 

Party Animals story will be performed this Sunday 2 August from 7pm by Dorset theatre maker Michele O’Brien (pictured), with Saving Bindi on 9 August performed by Lighthouse writer-in-residence Jack Thacker and The Pants Snatcher of London on 16 August performed by Lighthouse Associate Artists Black Cherry Theatre. 

https://en-gb.facebook.com/lighthousepoole/  

The winners say: 

Diana Morrissey: “Im thrilled to bits and can't believe Ive been selected! I am so looking forward to listening to Michele bringing my story to life on Sunday. Its wonderful to have this recognition for my story, and Im very grateful to Lighthouse for this opportunity as I believe Party Animals would make a colourful, fun and slightly naughty picture book!” 

Susmita Bhattacharya: “I’m absolutely delighted that Saving Bindi has been chosen as one of the winning stories. This story is inspired by my husband’s experience as a cadet on an oil tanker, when a dog stayed back on board as the ship sailed away. He insisted on saving the poor dog by hauling him onto one of the tugboats and ensuring that the dog was reunited with his master. 

Karen Howlett (for William): “This is brilliant news and we are so proud of William. He has just got home from holiday club and heard the news and he said: I am really happy and amazed about winning and really excited to see my story come to life. I can't wait to see it on Facebook on the 16th! 

The Shortlist in full: 

Party Animals by Diana Morrissey 

Saving Bindi by Susmita Bhattacharya 

The Pants Snatcher of London by William Howlett 

Edward and the Tea Party by Steph Daisy 

Arthur Goes to the Moon by Jacqueline Addison-Brown 

Dr Cuthbert Cuthbert’s Useless Inventions by Lochlan (age 8) and Keiron (age 45) Maguire 

Happy Birthday Elephant by Sheila Golding 

Mousie Gets Into Trouble by Pennie Wilton 

Starman by Kat Long 

Stephanie in the Dragon World by Paul Roker and Wayne Groome 

::

Judging Bedtime Story

By Donald Hutera

You sometimes hear an author described as being ‘a born writer.’ Is there such a thing? I might dispute such a claim. I would, however, also argue that most of us are born readers – or listeners. By which I mean that as human beings we’re predisposed to stories, and storytelling. What’s more, although the lives we lead can at times seem random, even haphazard, in their essence they can be deemed narratives. Each of us is a huge bundle of stories, and we’re living them every day.

These are some of the thoughts that have been swirling round my head since I accepted the invitation to judge Lighthouse Poole’s first Bedtime Story Writing Competition. A call was put out to any interested members of the public, regardless of age or experience, to write a text of up to 2,500 words that might be read aloud before a child goes to sleep. There were, I’m told, 35 entries in total. I was sent an unofficial shortlist of ten. From these I’ve selected three of the best. Each will be read – or, you might say, performed – by one of the venue’s artistic associates, and made available online.

You might be wondering what qualifies me to judge such a competition?  Well, I’ve been writing professionally since 1977, primarily as an arts journalist. I love words and language as a tool to convey ideas and feelings, and to spark the same within others. I owe much of my impetus to become a writer to two key books from my childhood: ‘Someday You’ll Write,’ by the award-winning children’s author Elizabeth Yates, and Louise Fitzhugh’s classic ‘Harriet the Spy.’

There’s an additional understanding I brought to the selection process. As a performer and public speaker, I like to think that I’ve developed some solid instincts about what constitutes a ‘playable’ piece of writing. And so for me ‘judging’ Bedtime Story was based not only on my response to the words I was reading, and how artful their order and arrangement, but also how engaging they might be when delivered aloud.   

In terms of style and genre the ‘top ten’ selections demonstrated a gratifying range. Fantasy was prominent, ditto a protagonist facing their fears; both are staples of children’s literature. Animals also featured largely, as did dream scenarios – no surprise, given the bedtime context. There was also a pretty generous amount of playfulness that could, and did, tip over into just the right kind of silliness. All of the entries showed, to varying degrees, imagination and flair. Finding perfection, an elusive and even illusory quality at best, wasn’t a major issue for me. Rather, a combination of skill with words, plus a sense of fun or adventure, would do quite nicely, thank you very much.

So here are my choices, in no particular order. (I didn’t plan it this way, but each of the winning texts is accompanied by a runner-up that operates from a similar place in terms of subject matter and/or tone.):

Diana Morrissey’s ‘Party Animals’ is a playful, quick-witted rhyming text that might work a treat especially, but not at all exclusively, for young listeners. (Runner-up:  Steph Daisy’s jaunty verse text ‘Edward and the Tea Party.’)

Susmita Bhattacharya’s ‘Saving Bindi,’ a longer and more traditionally literary choice, is brought to life via a vivid shipboard setting and its central characters, a pair of dynamically contrasting siblings. I suspect it could have a special appeal for ages 8 or 9. (Runner-up: Jacqueline Addison-Brown’s polished ‘Arthur Goes to the Moon.’)

William Howlett’s ‘The Pants Snatcher of London’ is a short, original and audacious satirical comedy that flirts with topicality (Boris Johnson and the Queen feature). It’s also slightly naughty. And it was written by a child. While it might seem particularly suitable for age 5 and up, please not that it made this seasoned 63 year-old laugh out loud. (Runner-up: ‘Dr. Cuthbert Cuthbert’s Useless Inventions,’ a lively, sharply-detailed piece of fun by Lochlan (age 8) and Kieron (age 45) Maguire.)

Honourable Mention goes to Sheila Golding’s spare-as-a-picture-book ‘Happy Birthday Elephant,’ Penny Wilton’s ‘Mousie Gets Into Trouble’ (which actually, and impressively, arrived accompanied by illustrations), Kat Long’s ‘Starman’ and the equally ambitious ‘Stephanie in the Dragon World’ by Paul Roker and Wayne Groome.

Donald Hutera is, among other things, a free-lance writer whose work has appeared in The Times of London as well as many other publications and websites in the UK and abroad. His most recent work as a performer is in the short dance-theatre film ‘Drowntown Lockdown’ which can be viewed on the Rhiannon Faith Company website: https://www.rhiannonfaith.com/drowntown-lockdown

Published 30 July 2020