THE six finalists have been chosen for a prestigious children’s story writing competition which attracted hundreds of entries from across the North-East.

The “Little Did I Know” competition – organised by Darlington Building Society – is now poised for an exciting virtual grand final next week.

The building society, with the support of The Northern Echo, launched the literary challenge last November following the success of an inaugural contest the previous year.

Budding authors, with ambitions to be the next JK Rowling or Roald Dahl, were invited to write a story of no more than 500 words, starting with the phrase “Little Did I Know…”

The competition is split into two age categories – primary and secondary – with the winners receiving their own height in books, plus £500 of literacy equipment for their schools.

The grand final was to have been held at Theatre Hullabaloo, in Darlington, with the finalists reading their entries in front of a judging panel made up of professional authors Adam Bushnell, Liz Million, and Jessica Shepherd.

The coronavirus pandemic led to the event having to be cancelled but, like every good book, there was a twist to the plot because it was decided that a ‘virtual final’ should be held online.

A team of volunteers from the Busy Readers initiative, run by Darlington Cares to support literacy in schools, sifted through more than 300 entries and chose the final six.

The primary finalists are:

  • Caitlyn Bygate, 10, from John Emmerson Batty Primary School, Redcar, with “Big Bamboo and the Strawberry Garden”.
  • Sanjana Vasireddy, 10, from Yarm School, with “A True Friend”.
  • Alisha Nelson, 9, from Lakes Primary School, Redcar, with “The Magic of a Good Book”.

The secondary finalists are:

  • Joshua Greenwell, 12, of St Francis Xavier School, Richmond, with “The Developer”.
  • Sally Sheridan, 13, of All Saints Academy, Ingleby Barwick, with “Random Acts of Kindness”.
  • Valerie Fiamavle, of All Saints Academy, Ingleby Barwick, with “Life Will Continue To Go On”.

Videos of each of the finalists reading their stories will be posted on Darlington Building Society’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The judges will then announce their decisions on the Society’s Facebook page during the virtual grand final from 3pm next Tuesday.

Andrew Craddock, Chief Executive of Darlington Building Society, said: “It was quite a logistical challenge to bring this competition to a climax in the midst of the lockdown, but we are indebted to the Busy Readers volunteers, provided by Darlington Cares, who have done a fantastic job in shortlisting the entries.

“The standard was extremely high, and we are grateful to everyone who entered. It was an unenviable task to whittle more than 300 entries down to a final three in each category, but we are now in a position to move on to the virtual grand final, and we can’t wait to find out who the winners are.”