The Sunday Times in partnership with international best-selling novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford is asking girls to write a short, fictional story with a central theme of 'friendship'.
"Friendships are hugely exciting but also can be complicated, and sometimes difficult.
All sorts of things can happen between friends - from rivalry, jealousy and competitiveness right through to someone undertaking an amazing act of kindness that helps a friend in a time of need. Whatever the scenario, there must always be a resolution to the story to satisfy the reader. If you don't have trouble or a problem, you have no drama and you don't pull in the reader. The theme can be quite dramatic in a personal way. It has to have emotions and real feelings."
"I always enjoy writing about female friendships because I know how important they are in a girl’s life."− Barbara Taylor Bradford OBE
"Friendship, or the lack thereof, is something that affects us all, that concerns us all, throughout every stage of our lives. Friendships can have all the complexity and intensity of love affairs and can sometimes last longer, sometimes a life time. The best friendships involve liking as well as loving. That’s why they are so important and that’s why we love reading about what makes them work, what makes them fail, what makes them develop, what makes them tick."
Malorie Blackman, Children’s Laureate
A ‘season’ might be someone you work with, or are at school with, or who goes on the same bus; while your lives are in sync you are mates, joined by circumstance while it lasts.
There are other friends who come into our lives for a reason – maybe we need them to teach us a specific lesson, or to help us through a hard time – but somehow when that reason is gone there is very little left and the friendship fizzles.
And then there are the A grade friends, the lifetime mates, the ones with whom it doesn’t matter how long it has been since you saw each other, what the other person has been doing or where you are, you pick up the conversation exactly where you left off. These are the friends to whom you bare your soul; where there are no barriers. The people in your life who you trust to see you whole and with holes, flawed and floored – the ones who know your mighty faults and love you anyway. And whom you love back, just the same.
The lifetime friends are the ones you know you can call at any time. Who might stagger groggily to pick up their phone in the middle of the night but will listen to you and help you because they love you and are on your side. Every year on my birthday I try and gather together as many of these true friends as I can; they make me laugh until my stomach hurts, they remind me who I really am and what my best self looks like - even if they do remember all the embarrassing stories I've tried hard to forget!
Of course such relationships are not without risks. In any intimacy we have to let the other person in, familiarise them with our weaknesses, let them know our deepest frailties and insecurities. It is precisely because they know our worst fears and love us anyway that we value these true friends so highly.
But when such friendships go wrong, the fall out is agonising. Just as they bolster us when we are down, so a good friendship that goes sour is deeply destructive and toxic because they know all the secrets, where all the bodies are buried – and so an ex-friend can hurt us more profoundly because they have such an understanding of our frailties.
It is the complexity of friendships – particularly close female ones that makes them so enticing to write about. None of us is perfect, and even with the friends we love most there can be elements of competition, or anxiety, rivalry or jealousy. Sometimes our own shortcomings can hurt the friends we love the best - and vice versa. Navigating those difficult emotions and hanging on to the good bits is a lifelong challenge. Sometimes our friends drive us bananas, or make terrible choices but the thing about real friendship is that we still love them. These relationships go deep, right into the soul, because unlike family we aren’t just given them, we choose them, they define who we are, who we'd like to be. When one of our chosen ones turns against us it is like a core bit of ourselves being thrown to the wolves. Nothing can make you doubt yourself more than the once good opinion of someone you love and trust turning against you. But of course, such complexity is the very heft and weave of fiction, the essence of narrative and story.
This is why friendship is the theme of our new writing competition for girls. The Sunday Times and master story teller Barbara Taylor Bradford (her big novel, A Woman of Substance should be a must-read for any ambitious girl) have got together to launch a special story competition for girls aged 11-18 who live in the UK. We would like you to write 1000 words of a fictional story about friendship (it can be based on something true if that makes it easier for you just change the names and disguise your characters - that’s what novelists do).
Too many young women start out as brilliant, imaginative story writers, do well at fiction in primary school and then stop using that muscle as they grow up – in fact the National Literacy Trust found that while two thirds of girls aged 8-11 enjoy writing at junior school, this decreases to under half in the 14-16 age group. Journalism is all about telling stories as is novel writing Barbara also began her career as a journalist. We want as many girls as possible to use their creativity and take up our friendship story challenge.
The prize will be a story-writing master class with Barbara Taylor Bradford and me, Eleanor Mills, Editorial Director of the Sunday Times, and a chance to have your story published by publisher HarperCollins and on the Sunday Times website.
© The Sunday Times
Eleanor Mills, Editorial Director of The Sunday Times
"Friendship is crucial to good stories. In fact, after love and fear, I would say it is the most powerful force in fiction; very few plots can function without it.
Friendship, especially in teen fiction, is what binds the characters together, what sends them running into dangerous situations, provokes them to acts of brilliance or courage, saves them from evil again and again. Friendship in fiction is more versatile than love: it is conditional, based on experience rather than uncontrollable instinct; it can take any form, from absolute trust born of years of companionship and shared secrets, to mistrustful alliances forced by unwelcome circumstances. This makes friendship very interesting to write about, as no friendship is ever the same from person to person or even from year to year. It doesn't have to be complete and unquestionable, or even mutual, so don't be afraid to put in things that will make the friendship you're writing about individual and intriguing: taboos, unspoken histories, tensions or secrets.
Friends don't always have to say things to each other to make them known, and this can provide all manner of fascinating subtexts or situations. Above all, female friendships are just as rich, complex, fragile and funny as male ones, so don't feel you have to limit your characters just because they're girls. And you don't have to look far for inspiration- everyone (including me) has had friendships that have stood the test of time, those that have simply faded, and those that have imploded spectacularly. All real friendships have something interesting in them that deserves to be recorded."
Helena Coggan, 15-year-old author