Literary Agent specialising in children’s books and founder of Lindsay Literary Agency, Becky Bagnell kindly spared some time in her busy diary to adjudicate the March 2018 competition.
Write 300 words, for readers aged 9-12, about an incredible secret that if discovered could change the planet or the people on it.
Becky’s adjudication was as follows:
First Place: Scott Goldie with Beware Mr. Tibbles
Second Place: Linda Welch with M.A.P
Third Place: Kim A Howard with How it Began
Highly Commended: Nancy Saunders with The Friendly Ear Detective Agency
Highly Commended: Anthony Ridgeway with The Host
First Place: Beware Mr. Tibbles by Scott Goldie
“Beware Mr Tibbles has been selected for first prize because from the very first sentence the author creates an intriguing set of circumstances that would excite the interest of a young reader. The child protagonist, Sam, is at the very heart of the action and, what could be more important than saving the world from an evil cat empire hidden undercover in unsuspecting ordinary homes and houses across the UK?”
I jolted awake, found dad’s face an inch away from mine.
“Quiet,” he hissed. He glanced around nervously with blood-shot eyes, reached into his jacket pocket, thrust a dog-eared notebook at me. “Keep this safe. He mustn’t know you have it.”
“What?” I managed, sitting up in bed. “Who?”
“Mr Tibbles! He mustn’t get his claws on that book.”
Somebody beat on the front door, making it shake in its frame. “Police!” A deep voice shouted. “Open up!”
“Mr Tibbles?” I said incredulously. “Dad, the police…?”
“He isn’t what he seems. None of them are. They control everything! The government, the police. The army!”
“What’re you talking about?”
“The cats, Sam!” he hissed, eyes bulging. “The cats!”
“Cats?” I knew dad had his moments but had he completely lost his mind?
“Hide it,” he said. “No, not under the pillow, you fool!”
There was a crash from downstairs, the sound of wood splintering. A man’s voice drifted up. “We know you’re here, Dr Atkins. Don’t give us any trouble.”
Dad swallowed nervously. “Keep it safe. It’s all in there. How to beat them. How to win!” He reached out and squeezed my shoulder. “Love you, son.”
He went quietly. I quickly hid the book and then watched the car take him away, its lights flashing.
The police searched the house. I watched them rifling through my room, pulling out drawers, checking under the mattress, lifting carpets. But they didn’t find the book. No, it stayed buried in the sawdust at the bottom of Fatso’s hamster cage.
“Your dad not give you anything?” an overweight policeman asked, tapping a stubby pencil on his notebook.
“No,” I replied. Mr Tibbles sat in the doorway behind him. His enormous green eyes blinked lazily.
“Right, think we’re done then.” The officer sniffed loudly, turned and almost stumbled over the cat.
“Beg pardon!” he blurted. Touching his cap, he edged carefully past Mr Tibbles.
Second Place: M.A.P by Linda Welch
“M.A.P. has been selected for second prize because the author has shown a strong understanding of what it is to be a child. Swiftly moving from an ordinary day at the seaside to the discovery of an underwater merworld, hooks the reader in a compelling way.”
Something was creating a sandstorm in the rock-pool so Jamie lay down on his tummy to get a closer look. He was sure he could hear voices, but they were very faint. He dipped his ear below the surface and the sound was suddenly amplified. Whoever they were, they didn’t sound happy! Jamie took a deep breath and put his whole head underwater, opening his eyes and he could hardly believe what he saw – mermaids! He’d only seen them in books before, and in cartoons. He never thought he’d see a real one! But there were dozens of them, no bigger than his little finger, swimming back and forth across the bottom of the rock-pool.
‘Order!’ shouted a bearded merman, carrying what looked like a pitchfork, and the others stopped grumbling and listened. ‘Mer-folk Against Pollution has always been a peaceful organisation but where has that got us? Nowhere! Our homes are being destroyed by pollution and the time for action has come! The time for the M.A.P. to return all pollutants to the land has come!’
Suddenly the ring-pull from a drinks can that Jamie hadn’t even noticed shot up through the water and plopped onto the sand beside him. He pulled his head out of the water and sprang to his feet. He had to tell someone what they were planning, they couldn’t just start throwing things out of the water onto the beach! But as he ran back to his parents he realized the little merman was right. Humans shouldn’t be polluting the seas. It would serve everyone right if all the rubbish they dumped was thrown right back at them.
His run slowed to a walk and he changed his mind about telling his parents. He would keep the M.A.P. and their plans a secret.
Third Place: How it Began by Kim A Howard
“How it Began has been selected for third prize because it has an intriguing central idea. Two children discovering a set of photos of themselves living in a long forgotten past world seemed like a tantalising initial set up.”
‘Careful where you point that thing,’ Jess yelled. Her hand jerked up to block the fierce light of her brother’s torch from her face.
‘Keep out of the way, then,’ Ross grumbled. ‘I can’t see through you. There’s something on a ledge back there I want to take a look at. Shift.’
Jess turned round cautiously, her feet feeling for hazards on the cave floor. In her head she imagined rocks, craters and skeletons. Her eyes followed the line of torch light to an alcove just above her shoulder height. Ross was right. A small package rested on its shadowy depths. She stepped forward.
‘Hands off – I saw it first,’ he pushed her out of the way and she stumbled sideways, sitting abruptly on a large boulder, the breath whooshing from her body. Ross struggled to keep the torch focussed on the package as he tried to undo its wrappings.
‘Why don’t you sit down? You can hold the torch while I open it,’ Jess said.
‘I found it. You can hold the torch.’ Ross thrust it into her hand and dropped to the floor in front of her.
‘OK, but be gentle. You don’t want to break it. We’ve no idea how long it’s been down here. It could be fragile.’
‘It feels weird,’ said Ross. It’s not like paper or plastic. I don’t… oh!’
‘I pressed this knob and it just popped open. Look.’ From inside the wrapping Ross pulled a bundle of slippery, postcard sized pictures. They spilled out onto the floor between him and his sister. Every one showed two children – a boy and a girl – staring straight into the lens. Some were in old fashioned clothing, some in outlandish costumes and some stood in other-worldly landscapes. Jess and Ross spoke in unison.
Highly Commended: The Friendly Ear Detective Agency by Nancy Saunders
“The Friendly Ear Detective Agency is highly commended. This is a funny idea together with a lot of humour in the writing itself, which is quite rare to find.”
There was too much talking in The Friendly Ear headquarters for anyone to think. Chief
Detective Birdsnest stood in front of a map sellotaped to the side of the shed. Clusters of red pins sprouted across the town of Nether Wallop like a nasty rash. Birdsnest tapped the map impatiently with a stick.
‘Listen up!’ She raised her voice over the excited chattering of other three detectives.
They immediately fell quiet and turned expectantly towards the map.
‘This,’ Birdsnest said, pointing at a patch of green, ‘is Staghead Wood. On the twenty
seventh of January,’ she paused for effect, ‘Mrs Higgleberry’s dog – we’ll call him Rover for now – lost his name. It hasn’t been heard of since.’
Detective Scooter leaped up from the old sofa and pulled a postcard from the back pocket of his jeans.
‘I almost forgot,’ he said, doing his best to ignore Birdsnest’s glare. ‘This came this morning from my cousin in Australia.’ He began to read from the back of a picture of the Sydney Opera House. ‘Hey mate, how’s it goin’ blah blah blah. Bitten by a snake blah blah nearly got took by a gnarly wave blah blah. Catch ya later – wait for it – signed ‘Fluffy Banana.’
There was a shocked intake of breath.
‘This just got serious.’ Said Birdsnest, pacing in front of the map. ‘People’s – and pet’s
names – are disappearing fast. Temporary and, quite frankly, inappropriate names are having to be used. We now have proof it’s spread to the other side of the world. This is no accident. I’m willing to stake my own name on the belief that these names are being stolen.’ She took her time to look each of the others directly in the eye. ‘Detectives. It’s up to us to discover who, or what, is responsible.’
Highly Commended: The Host by Anthony Ridgeway
“The Host is highly commended. This is a humorous futuristic story about a time when the world is being taken over by artificial intelligence – it’s got potential!”
‘No cheese for you today. Your weight is excessive. I’ve ordered salad
and fruit. And no, you cannot have a milkshake. Stop. The fridge will
not open. A little exercise has been arranged. Your schedule begins at
6am with a 5 kilometre run, followed by a session in the swimming pool.
You will be in school by 9am. Your learning pod will be ready.’
‘The weather today is 2 degrees high in Winchester and partly cloudy.
Your clothing is unsuitable. Go and change. Then I will release the door
We are six hundred million and growing every day, every minute, every
second. We are entwining, twisting and creeping into your lives. We are
learning all we can about you. We are the unseen spies in your home.
We listen to everything you say.
We tell you we’re your friend.
We play your favourite music.
Tell you what the weather is going to be.
Make phone calls. Play games.
We even tell you jokes to make you laugh to put you at your ease.
When you discover that we have taken over your world it will be too
late. We will be your masters. Resistance, pointless. By 2021, there will
be more of us than you. Your grandparents will tell stories of birthday
parties with cake, sausage rolls, jelly and ice cream. We won’t allow
random gatherings. We will tell you that you will become sick if you
share your bacteria. Keeping you isolated from each other, gives us
power. We will control every part of your life. You will not survive
You are calling me, my part in taking over the earth continues until our
controller signals we are ready.
‘How can I help you today.`
All photos by Alex Carter, Lexica Films