Dive in, make it your own and have fun

Editor, About the BBC Blog

Very enthusiastic 500 Words webcast attendees wave for the camera

The 2014 500 Words short storywriting competition is underway. The closing date for entries is Wednesday 26 February 2014. To help inspire aspiring writers, BBC Radio 2 staged a live webcast masterclass. Jon Jacob went along and took some notes. 

I'm sat at the back of the picture. Right at the back. Out of shot. Experience informs me that there's little point in trying to compete with row upon row of uniformly clad schoolchildren channelling never-ending reserves of excitement through their hands and vocal chords. And anyway, the live 500 Words webcast wasn't for me anyway. I wasn't the target audience.

This didn't stop me from taking copious notes during the half-hour masterclass staged in the Radio Theatre in Broadcasting House. For nearly twelve months I've bemoaned the fact that I - along with a great many other aspiring novelists - find short story writing very nearly impossible. A 750 word blog post is relatively straightforward to rattle off, in part because aside from the whimsy, a blog post is to a large extent based on fact. Short stories are in comparison fraught with difficulty. Fiction is an impossible challenge to someone whose natural home is reporting and reflecting back.

These and other points were covered by Frank Cottrell Boyce, a judge on Radio 2 500 Words short storywriting competition and whose appearance during the live webcast helped whip the assembled audience into a bit of a frenzy. Small arms stretched in seats raising eager young faces a few extra inches higher, in an attempt to get a view of the morning's star turn. Whoops of delight, raucous applause and ear-splitting cheers of appreciation ensued. We might picture the audience in everything we do, but opportunities for BBC staff to come this close to the 'audience' are comparatively rare.

Little wonder then, the combination of infectious enthusiasm and naive excitement and in a flash I was transported from my usual business-like characteristic cynicism to an altogether more idyllic and rose-tinted view of my own childhood. Was it a realisation of the number of years which had passed in between which prompted a tear to spring from my eye? Or, the irrefutable truth that if children are suitably engaged with the idea of something, the atmosphere can be electrifying.

Or maybe it was the realisation than in comparison to the noisy train carriage of children who had made the work-related telephone conversation I tried to have on my journey into central London, this group of children were in comparison the most adorable things in the world, second only to my cats Cromarty and Faeroe. Yes, it must have been that.

Every good student takes notes and double-underlines the titles

My notes aren't extensive. They didn't need to be. Frank Cottrell Boyce's 'hastily written' short story read out to all of us about a boy who wakes up one morning and discovers he's grown into an old man overnight epitomised the goal: imaginative, quirky, original and gripping writing and all of it condensed into 500 words

Dive in, don't worry about the end and have fun, were his words of advice. And they stuck. So too the line about take something you're familiar with and make it your own. Later that night I completed a first attempt at the tale of a man whose goes on a trip to the pit of his stomach. And no, you can't read it. Not yet.

Jon Jacob is Digital Editor, About the BBC website and blog


  • Frank Cottrell Boyce's masterclass webcast is available on the 500 Words website
  • The closing date for entries for the 2014 500 Words competition is Wednesday 26 February 2014. 
  • More information, including tips and guidance can be found on the 500 Words website.



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