THE plot is thickening ahead of the grand final of a story-writing competition aimed at inspiring the next generation of JK Rowlings and Roald Dahls.

Judging is now taking place for the “Little Did I Know” competition, organised by Darlington Building Society, in partnership with The Northern Echo and TFM Radio. Budding authors were challenged to write a story of no more than 500 words, starting with the phrase “Little Did I Know”, and hundreds of entries have flooded in.

Judges include Sheila Graber, award-winning Paddington Bear and Rudyard Kipling animator; Stuart Trotter, Rupert Bear illustrator and owner of Rockpool Children’s Books; Jessica Shepherd, whose Grandma books have been widely praised for helping children understand dementia; Liz Million; prolific Darlington-based author and illustrator; and Peter Barron, children’s author and Darlington Building Society literacy ambassador.

The competition is split into two categories – primary school age and secondary school age. Three finalists will be chosen for each category and their stories will be read to the judges, families, and VIP guests at Darlington’s Theatre Hullabaloo tonight, ahead of World Book Day.

The winning entries will be published in The Northern Echo and broadcast on TFM Radio, with the two winners also receiving £500 worth of books for their school library, plus their own height in books.

One school which has really entered the spirit of the competition is Croft C of E Primary School, near Darlington. Form teacher Tony Williams said: “It’s a fantastic initiative and the children have really latched on to it. They’ve been coming into class, talking about the competition and bouncing ideas off each other. It’s given them a real purpose and they’ve loved it.”

Croft pupil Olivia Curbeson, ten, said: “It’s been really fun to see how one idea can lead to such a big story. It would be really important if I won because it would make my family really happy.”

Natasha Thornton, ten, added: “I’ve loved being able to use my imagination as much as I can. I don’t think I’ll win but I hope I do.”

And Alfie Robinson, ten, said: “I’ve really enjoyed taking part, but it was hard keeping to 500 words because I could have written a lot more.”

Caroline Darnbrook, director of products and marketing for Darlington Building Society, said: “Little did we know that the standard would be quite so high, so the judges are in for a really hard job. We can’t wait for the grand final to see who wins.”