Short stories are brilliant fun, both to read and to write. The challenge is to captivate a child’s imagination, tell a story and leave a lasting impression…all in about 1,000 words! There are certain skills involved, such as writing concisely and making every single word on the page count. Many aspiring children’s writers are interested in writing short stories, so I had a chat with Freya Hardy, the editor of children’s magazine Aquila for some insider information…
Freya, you’ve recently become the editor of AQUILA. Can you tell us a bit about the magazine?
Aquila is a magazine for kids who love challenges. We produce 12 issues a year, each on a different topic. Within that we cover science, maths, history, language, craft, wildlife and the environment; anything that whets children’s appetite for learning. We’re a subscription only magazine and we don’t carry advertising, so parents who subscribe can be safe in the knowledge that their children aren’t being surreptitiously sold to.
Short stories feature in every issue. How important is the inclusion of fiction to you?
Very. We get a lot of letters from our readers. They will always tell us what they like about the magazine, as well as what they don’t, and, for a fair few at least, the stories are their favourite bit. We love anything that might encourage a child’s interest in reading, or spur them on to learn more about a particular point in history.
You must receive a lot of submissions for short stories. Which qualities do you look for in a short story?
We do receive a lot of submissions from all over the world, and we read them all. Funnily enough, though, very few people actually get the tone right. First of all, our stories need to be about 1000-1500 words long, and they need to appeal to both boys and girls between the ages of 8-13. We tend to steer clear of anything too young or too cutesy. Our audience thinks of itself as quite sophisticated. We never talk down to, or underestimate them.
They want loads of action and suspense. The hero must be a real ‘doer’, but personally I stay away from anything too moralising. The action is of primary importance, not the message you want to convey to your reader. Also, if you’d like to submit, try to be as original as possible. For some reason we received a lot of stories with a ‘time slip into World War I’ element this year. At least two or three were really very well written but because they were so similar we could only choose one. Sometimes an idea is in the ether, the trick is to spot when everyone is thinking along the same lines and do something different.
What sort of short stories appeal to your readers?
Animal stories are always popular, as is anything with an element of magic, mischief or mystery. They like heroes with a really adventurous spirit – but then again, who doesn’t? A lot of our readers are huge Harry Potter fans. They’re also reading David Walliams, Rick Riordan, Jacqueline Wilson and, maybe more surprisingly, C S Lewis and Enid Blyton. Personally I would love to squeeze a bit more humour into our fiction pages, so if 10 year olds consistently find you hilarious, you could be just the writer we’re looking for.
To find out more about Aquila, please visit www.aquila.co.uk
And to all of you who are feeling inspired to have a go at short stories – happy writing!