Writing competitions! Lots!

Are you writing a poem, a short story, a play, a novel, a screenplay …?

Are you under 16, over 16, or even 16 exactly?

Would you like some amazing industry professionals to see your work, and possibly even publish or perform it? Lots of people are looking for new writers right now. Some great competitions end soon, so get your skates on …

Chapter 1

I became a published author by winning a competition. It was the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition, and you can find out more about it here, including Barry Cunningham’s writing tips. He discovered JK Rowling, so he knows a thing or two … The competition is closed for this year, but if you’re still polishing your children’s manuscript, keep an eye on when it reopens later in the year for 2017.

If you can’t wait, ITV’s Lorraine has just launched a nation-wide hunt for the next bestselling author for 5-7s. You’ll need to send in the first 1000 words of your masterpiece by Monday, 29th February – so not long now – and may appear on TV.

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There are loads of other writing competitions around meanwhile, and here are just some of them. Thanks to Joan Lennon on Girls Heart Books for the details on these two

“The Betjamen Poetry Prize – it’s for poets aged 10 – 13 and the deadline for submissions is 31 July 2016, so you’ve got plenty of time.  But there’s lots on the website to get your poetic juices going, courtesy of Indigo Williams, so have a look.

500 Words – a story writing competition for ages 5 – 9 and 10 – 13.  The deadline for this one is much closer – 25 February 2016 – so you’ll need to get your skates on.  There are some good prompts and interesting articles on this site too – well worth a visit.”

The BBC Writers Room is of course full of opportunities for plays, film scripts and comedy.

The Sky Blue Theatre Company even have a video about their British Theatre Challenge!

And finally, Creative Writing Ink has a wonderful list of competitions for everything from poetry to playwriting to fiction to sitcoms.

Whatever it is you’re working on, there is probably a competition you could enter it for, where you might be lucky and get shortlisted and get some invaluable feedback. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get far this time. Having the courage to polish your work and enter is what matters. You might at the very least make friends with fellow entrants (I did). And you’re bound to learn a lot from the process – even just imagining what the judges might be thinking, and making your work as great as it can be to impress them.

Good luck, and let me know what happens.

Sophia xxx

The best Valentine’s day present …

Valentine’s Day

This year we’re staying in. My present is time. Time, and a discovery I made years ago … The best pudding in the world. Not too heavy, easy to make.

You don’t have to do this just for a lover. You don’t have to have a lover at all. You can do it for friends, or just for yourself. Sometimes Valentine’s Day is all about looking after you.

I discovered this translucent apple tart recipe years ago in Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat book. Now my version of it looks like this …

apple tart

For this recipe, you will need:

Time (not much), a freezer, a shallow tart tin of some description, pastry, an apple, a grater, some butter … Ideally, Nigella’s How to Eat.


Nigella does it better than me. I love the way she describes her hostess, at the party where she discovered it, making the pastry in advance and casually grating the apple in between courses while she chatted. I wanted to be that hostess – so in control, so convivial, so on top of her game. I’m not sure I ever have been. And my kitchen is tiny so I can only chat to one guest at a time, and only then if they come and find me. But that’s was the dream anyway. And this time my husband can nuzzle my neck while I grate. Multi-tasking – it’s what I was made for.

Translucent Apple Tart
from ‘How To Eat,’ Nigella Lawson, adapted from Jane Grigson’s ‘Fruit Book’.

1 quantity of sweet pastry, enough to line a shallow 23cm flan tin.
60g salted butter
60g caster sugar
few drops vanilla extract (or use vanilla sugar)
1 egg
1-2 apples, peeled and grated – preferably sour i.e. Granny Smith.

-Preheat oven to 210C
-Melt butter and sugar together over a very low heat, so they are barely warm. Remove from stove and beat in the egg.
-Add the grated apple and stir thoroughly into the butter mixture. You may prefer to wait until last minute to peel and grate the apple, to prevent any browning.
-Pour and spread over the pastry-lined tin and bake for about 15 minutes, until golden brown. Lower the heat for 180C and cook a further 15-20 minutes until golden on top.
-It is best to wait until the tart has settled a little before eating it. Warm is better than hot, but cold is also good.

I have never known this tart not be gobbled up in one sitting. If you have two tins, make two. Serve with creme fraiche or Greek yoghurt.

If you don’t have Nigella’s sweet pastry recipe, you can always use thinly rolled shortcrust, or very thinly rolled puff. (If it’s too deep, the puff will expand to vast proportions, chucking all the apple out of the tin. This is what happened to my first batch of mince pies at Christmas, and it was very exciting. The second batch were great, though. Not pretty, but delicious.)

For a full list of How to Eat recipes, check out:



How to be magic at pancakes

I was shopping in a supermarket on the King’s Road a few days ago and I noticed it. The first few signs. Big bags of flour on the promo shelves. Sugar. Eggs. Squeezy bottles of golden syrup … Pancake day is on the way. Easter’s not so very far behind.


Can you make a pancake? Can you flip it? Can you turn those simple, cheap ingredients (you don’t have to use the golden syrup) into something delicious and fun that takes five minutes and seems like a celebration and a gift, every time?

If you can’t, it seems impossible: something experts do, with aprons and frilly white hats. If you can, it’s like magic.

When I was growing up, Shrove Tuesday was slightly about pancakes, but mostly about Giving Something Up. I’m all for the power of self-denial, but last year my littlest, Tom – then eight – was asked to do something different at school. Instead of Giving Something Up, the was encouraged to Learn Something New. Tying your shoelaces. Juggling. A poem. The ukulele …

Panake day

We decided to learn how to make pancakes. I found a recipe online and we tried it. Our first couple were terrible, but by the fourth or fifth we were brilliant. Actually, Tom was brilliant. He’s a natural cook and he quickly became more reliable than me. He makes them now, and I help them with the flipping. It’s quicker than making cupcakes, and involves a lot less sugar. Try them with sliced banana and raspberries … mmmmmmmm.


Here’s that recipe:

You will need:

100g plain flour
2 medium eggs
300ml milk
1 tbsp sunflower or other vegetable oil
pinch salt

Lots of pancake recipes say you need to prepare the batter in advance – but you don’t! You can make this batter and use it straight away.

  1. Put the flower and salt into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the middle with a spoon.
  2. Crack the eggs into the well, then pour in about 50ml milk and the oil. Start whisking from the centre, gradually drawing in all the flour. (We use a hand whisk)
  3. Once the flour is incorporated, keep whisking until you have a smooth, thick paste. Add more milk as necessary.
  4. Get the toppings ready! We use Nutella, jam, golden syrup, and lemon and sugar. But not all on the same pancake at the same time! (Or not often …)
  5. Finishing the batter: add the rest of the milk in a smooth steady stream, while whisking. (It’s quite good if one person can pour while the other whisks it in.) This will give you thin, crispy pancakes. If you want them thicker, don’t add all the milk.
  6. Heat the frying pan over a moderate heat, then wipe it with oiled kitchen paper. We tend to use about a tsp oil per pancake.
  7. Add a ladle-ful of batter to the pan, tilting it to create the thinnest, widest area you can. Leave to cook for 30 secs. This feels like a long time but trust me, you’ll need it. Then flip. If you’re a pancake genius, you can do this with the pan alone. Or use a fish slice. We tend to use a wide plastic spatula, which does the job well.
  8. Cook the other side for at least 30 secs, then lift to check if it’s the right golden colour. Once it’s ready, turn out onto a plate, cover with yummy stuff and eat!

If you’re cooking Nutella pancakes, it can be helpful to add the Nutella while you’re cooking the second side. Then it will gently melt and be easier to spread along the pancake.

I also rather like the look of these this year:


Design a Wig!

What Joan Lennon said! Love the Design a Wig idea. And Marie Antoinette’s dress in the main image is insane. In the best possible way. (My wig would feature a sailing ship worth of Pirates of the Caribbean, in honour of Philip Treacy’s magnificent hat for Isabella Blow. Or possibly the Taj Mahal.)


I love historical fashions, the weirder the better.  Take Europe in the 18th century for example …

marie-antoinette3b_koningin_der_fransen Marie Antoinette with a dress the size of a house and hair to match

18th century women’s wigs put simple modern hair extensions to shame!

V0019865ER The heads and shoulders of five women who wear elaborate wig Five 18th century wigs, each wilder than the next!

But why just look at pictures when you could be having a go yourself?  Now you can – digitally – at the V&A Design a Wig page here.

Have fun!

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Fame, Fashion and Heroes … Let’s Dance

It’s 10.08, and it’s already been a rollercoaster day.

David Bowie’s death was announced. My friends and I have been knocked off-course, like Sandra Bullock in Gravity. He was 69, but he was eternally young. He was still making music, still surprising and inspiring people around the world. I’ve just heard an interview with him where he said he felt eternally 20 (he was 57 at the time), and that’s how he felt to us too. His classic songs were the sound-track of our youth. It hurts. It really hurts.

I wrote about Bowie in Love Song. I had to, as it’s a book about lots of my musical heroes. I’m so glad I included him – more than once. Nina dances to one of his songs, and the musicians reminisce about playing with him. It’s a tiny, fictional connection. My tribute to a star of stars. RIP SpaceMan

Meanwhile, the bound copies of Love Song (with their beautiful yolk yellow covers, and some rather lovely swag) have gone out into the world. It’s always scary for a writer. Like sending your children off to nursery school. What will happen? Will anyone like them? Will they make friends? LoveSongSwag

Well, so far people seem to be falling in love. (So not like nursery school: more like college.) I’m so, so happy! Thank you to everyone who’s fallen for Jamie (and/or Angus, and/or Nina, and/or the other boys), and taken the time to tell me so.

Now back to writing. I have four stories on the go. Today I have Lauren Laverne in the background, on 6 Music, playing Bowie. In his honour, I will dance.