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BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show host Chris Evans today launched the children’s story writing competition 500 WORDS for 2014. 500 WORDS asks children aged 13 and under across the UK to put pen to paper to compose an original work of fiction using no more than 500 words.

Every single story submitted will be read by a brilliant, book-loving army of librarians and teachers from around the UK, and head judge Richard Hammond will lead the competition’s judging panel of best-selling authors Charlie Higson, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Francesca Simon and Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman, to pick three medal winners in two categories: 9 & Under; and 10-13 years.

Chris Evans says: “500 WORDS provides a glimpse into the brilliant minds of kids around the country. These stories will amuse, thrill, delight and inspire you. So please: spread the word about 500 WORDS. And if you’re aged 13 and under, get writing!”

The Top 50 entrants will all be invited to the Hay Festival for the 500 WORDS Final on Friday 30 May to hear the winners announced live on The Chris Evans Breakfast Show. The gold winners will take home Chris Evans’ height in books (6ft 2”) plus 500 books for their school, while the silver medallists pick up Alex Jones’ height in books (5ft 6”); and the bronze winners get to read their way through their own height in books! All six medallists will get to hear their stories brought to life by celebrity readers at the Hay Festival.

For more information please see Hayfestival.org and BBC News


Hay Festival Winter Weekend runs from 29 November to 1 December with a stunning programme highlighting tales of adventure and the natural world.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes explores Cold: Extreme Adventures at the Coldest Temperatures on EarthPatrick Barkham delves intoBadgerlandsJennifer Potter discusses seven iconic flowers in history; Archie Miles expounds on the The British OakJohn Bradshaw purrs about Cat Sense; and Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party, launches a new programme with the Environmental Justice Foundation.

For historians, Simon Pearson honours The Great EscaperRoger Bushell, and David ReynoldsThe Long Shadow: The Great War and the 20th Century radically reinterprets the effects of 1914-1918 on modernism and industry, democracy and empire, nationalism and capitalism.

Phil RickmanGF NewmanPhilip Kerr and Rhidian Brook'snovels explore crimes and misdemeanours, while Vicky Prycetalks to Erwin James about Prisonomics.

There are intriguing insights into classic popular favourites asJoanna Toye rakes the muck on The ArchersSimon Singhcounts the numbers in The Simpsons and Ella Hickson rewritesPeter Pan for the Royal Shakespeare Company days ahead of the opening of their new family show Wendy & Peter Pan.

And in the evenings there are carrolling singalongs, concerts and a lot of laughs with the QI Team and Haymate Marcus Brigstocke.

Events for Families and Children

For families the utterly fabulous Michael Rosen performs Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story.

Younger audiences can experience a Royal Shakespeare Company storytelling workshop of Peter Pan in Hay Castle, and join drop-in art lessons and crafting workshops at Booth’s Bookshop. Tracey Corderoy tells her story Hubble Bubble: The Glorious Granny Bake Off, comic children’s author Marianne Levy introduces her heroine Ellie May, and for a festive occasion for all the family, Theatrix Shadow Puppet Theatre presents A Christmas Carol. 


The Hay Festival Winter Weekend is based at The Swan Hotel, Hay Castle and Booth’s Bookshop in Hay-on-Wye. Add Christmas shopping in Hay’s many lovely independent shops, the annual celebration of turning on Hay’s Christmas lights and the food and vintage fairs in our pretty town and it’s a perfect weekend to launch the festive season.

The full 2013 programme: Hay Festival Winter Weekend

For more information contact: hannah@hayfestival.org

Hay Festival Xalapa is a celebration of ideas and stories – more important than ever when writers and journalists put their lives on the line to tell truths. The festival is held in various venues across the University City of Xalapa from 2 to 6 October.

Novelists, film-makers, musicians, artists and journalists, and of course a great audience, will meet at Hay Festival Xalapa 2013 for the third edition of this festival celebrating culture, debate and knowledge. 

Highlights of this year’s programme include Derek Walcott, Carl Bernstein, Jody Williams, Irvine Welsh, David Safier, Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Vicente Molina Foix, Rory Carroll, Ernesto Cardenal, David Rieff and Sergio Pitol.

For further information in Mexico please contact
tel: (+52) 554 340 3598

For the full programme please see Hayfestival.org/Xalapa

Our eighth Hay Festival Segovia, in the beautiful and historic Castilian town of Segovia, north of Madrid, took place 26–29 September 2013 – a thrilling long weekend of exhibitions, conversations, performances and screenings. 

Programme highlights include Nobel Prize-winner Mario Vargas Llosa, the recently-awarded José Caballero Bonald (Premio Cervantes), Antonio Muñoz Molina (Premio Príncipe de Asturias de Las Letras) and Lorenzo Silva (Premio Planeta), and Daniela Krien, Luís García Montero, Nativel Preciado, Rosa Montero, David Foenkinos, Val McDermid and Lukas Bärfuss, among many others.

The 2013 festival celebrated the 40-year relationship between China and Spain, including the 2012 Pritzker Architecture Prize-winner Wang Shu in conversation, and an exhibition curated by Fang Zhenning, Architecture China – The 100 Contemporary Projects.

Follow the festival on Twitter @hayfestival_esp

For the full programme please visit hayfestival.org/Segovia.

It is with great sadness that we have learned that the Ghanaian High Commission in Nairobi have confirmed news of the death of the poet and statesman Kofi Awoonor in the Westgate Mall siege. We send our deepest condolences to his family and friends.

We were honoured to be graced by his appearance at Storymoja Hay Festival last weekend, and deeply humbled by his desire to impart knowledge to the young festival audience. Professor Awoonor was one of Africa’s greatest voices and poets and will forever remain a beacon of knowledge and strength and hope.

In honour of the late Professor Kofi Awoonor, Storymoja and the Hay Festival held a memorial tribute at the National Museum on 23 September 2013. A report can be read on our International Hay Festival blog.

Listen here to the BBC’s recording of Kofi Awoonor reading his poetry.

For news and tributes this week click on links below:

The Telegraph           Ghana Presidency           Ghana Business News

The Guardian       The Guardian       The New Yorker

Wall Street Journal            University World News


One man stood up and shouted at the top of his voice, desperate to alert the world at large about the horrors of ethnic genocide in Darfur. He had little hope that his words and actions would have much impact. Still, he kept sending reports – every day – to the UN headquarters in New York, about the atrocities taking place in the Sudan.

Mukesh Kapila was a senior UN representative who turned into a whistleblower when he found himself deep inside a crisis few of us would know how to deal with. In a conversation with Alice Wyllie since published in Scotsman.com, Kapila describes his encounter with Aisha, a woman from a town named Tawila, who was gang-raped in full view of her family. This woman’s testimony gave Kapila the courage to keep lobbying even though he was continually met with a ‘wall of silence’.

After all official avenues had been exhausted, Mukesh Kapila stepped into the studios of the BBC and gave the ‘interview of his life’. And from there, he kept talking until people listened. Unfortunately, this was also the beginning of the end of his career with the UN.

Since then, Mukesh Kapila has moved on to become Professor of Global Health and Humanitarian Affairs at the University of Manchester. He is also Special Representative of the Aegis Trust for the prevention of crimes against humanity, and Chair of Minority Rights Group International.

His book Against a Tide of Evil, published by Mainstream (Random House Group) was released in March 2013.

On Saturday 21st September, at 11am at the Louis Leakey Memorial Hall, Nairobi National Museum, Mukesh Kapila will deliver the Wangari Maathai Memorial Lecture.

The title of his lecture is: Why are we Cruel?

The Memorial Lecture is part of the 4-day Storymoja Hay Festival[September 19-22, 2013]. 


Kofi Awoonor has led an illustrious life, working as a teacher a diplomat, a senior government official. Awooner says that his greatest love and highest occupational engagement is that of being a writer. He is a master orator. From the moment he rose to speak, all eyes were trained on him. His voice filled the room and I felt like every breath I took was infused with his wisdom.

He began by telling us his definition of a writer. “A writer is essentially a story teller. He gives an account of what has happened, what is happening and what will happen. Like a prophet, he forecasts the line of human movement and tells us where we are going.”

Awoonor then launched us into a discussion about what we need as writers, about what we have that we can use. First, we have our basic five senses, which have a higher purpose. It is by means of these gifts that we record our varied experiences in our brains. The “oppositional forces” we encounter: joy and sorrow, love and hate, peace and turmoil and so on, give us material to write. It is the writer’s duty to store.

A writer must watch very carefully and listen. Talk less. A writer must also be skilful in the use of whatever language (s)he has chosen to write in. Awoonor advises that one should not begin to write until language has been acquired. As he worked towards this end, Awooner read all the Classics: from Shakespeare to Tolstoy and everything in between. But one must also reach back into ancestry. Listen to the songs and spoken words of your ancestors. In them , you will find a rich storehouse of language to use in your writing.

We got four sets of questions every writer must ask and answer before beginning the writing journey.

  1. Who am I? What is my identity? What is my ancestral connection? This is what makes you who you are. Have no baggage or complexes about it. Be confident in yourself.
  2. Where do you call home? Nobody has two homes. Where is your heart?
  3. What makes you think you can write? From where do you get that presumption?
  4. What would you want to write about? There is so much material around us. 

The class ended with eager students asking for advice about their own writing: from short story writing to understanding poetry and finding mentorship. I’m glad I went for this class. I’ve been looking for my writing voice and Awoonor has shown me where to find it. I’m eternally grateful.

-Julie Muriuki