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The BBC runs an annual writing competition for children called "500 words", with the simple premise of writing a short story with less than 500 words.

This year, the closing date is 19th February. Many children have already worked with Mr van Loo, discussing plots, tweaking language and editing to make the word count. All Carlton stories will be submitted by Mr van Loo on Sunday 18th February. A special email address has been set up - - for anyone who wants to enter to send in their stories.

Please make sure you have proof read your stories for missing words, spellings and punctuation before submitting them. You will also need to include your age. There are a couple of winners from last year written below to give an idea of how exciting short stories can be which are less than 500 words.

Good luck!

As the sun feebly shines its rays through a curtain of grey clouds, a biting wind whirls through the branches of an old oak tree, setting up a great rustling that fills the empty clearing with hushed whispers and murmurs. A fiery leaf dislodges itself from its branch, and twirling on a gentle breeze, it ends its dance with a graceful landing in the hands of a young boy. Perched on the edge of a park bench, a quiet thump as a girl sits down next to him jerks him out of his reverie.

He promptly pushes her off.

Her screams of indignation drown out the rustling of the trees as she wails out the unfairness of her treatment. Captivated by the leaf in his palm, he ignores her - but mere hours later, the bonds of an easy friendship bind the two together, assisted by the forgetfulness and honesty of childhood. Their energy is boundless as they caper around the old oak tree, laughing.

It's a war dance. It's glorious.

The leaf lies, forgotten, on the park bench.

Fierce winds and searing suns alternately warp the wood of the bench, twisting it out of shape as time passes. Laughter echoes up the path to the clearing as a girl, eyes shining with mirth, drags a boy behind her as they dash up to the old oak tree, feet pounding on leaves underfoot. Time has stolen the baby fat from their faces and cursed them with gangly limbs and awkwardness. Sniggering, the boy gives the girl a shove, reminiscent of his younger self, who gave the same girl standing before him a push for entirely different reasons. Drunk with youth, they swing each other round in a fast-paced tango, the staccato sound of crackling leaves underfoot providing all the music they need.

The cycle of time continues. Years of hazy afternoons spent in each other's company lead up to this moment, where a bride and a groom sway in each other's arms under the sunset, breathless from escaping their own wedding reception. None of their teenage awkwardness remains - slow dancing under the stars, their silhouettes against a flaming sky are the epitome of grace. Clasping hands, in that moment nothing exists except for them - and the old oak tree that watched over them as they grew from children into adults blesses their marriage with a shower of autumn leaves.

Time passes. Autumn paints the leaves of the oak tree shades of flaming orange and earthy brown. An old woman sits, shoulders hunched, on a gnarled park bench. Loss has deepened the lines on her face and grief, dulled the spark in her eyes.

She's alone.

And there, with the rustling of the oak tree as her music and the night sky as her backdrop, the old woman rises to her feet. She raises her hands to the sky, and alone, partner-less, waltzes tearfully under the stars, dreaming of times long past.

A fiery leaf rests on a weathered park bench. (Edwina Wang - age 11)

Paperballio is a small red planet in a far off solar system. As its name suggests, it used to be completely covered in weird and wonderful trees which actually produced shiny rolls of brilliant white paper from their branches. Sadly, a huge blazing meteorite smashed into Paperballio a few centuries back, starting a large fire and destroying most of its beautiful trees. From that moment on, paper became the most precious thing on the planet. The inhabitants of Paperballio are very strange creatures indeed: blue (as you would expect), with ten eyes, four arms, three legs and just ten centimetres tall. One sunny day, as both green suns were shining in the sky, Atlin, the royal guards' chief in command, was patrolling the beautiful tree-lined Paper Mall (the only road on the planet with trees), leading to the king's palace. He whistled cheerfully with two hands on his police hovership's steering wheel and the other two crossed at the back of his blue neck. Everything was quiet, as always, and Atlin was daydreaming and staring at the sky with five of his eyes and the other five fixed on the road. Little did he know that someone was mischievously hatching a bold plan. Alvin, a wicked robber, was determined to steal the most precious thing on the planet: the King's paper crown! The crown was made out of a piece of ancient glossy paper, skilfully folded by the royal craftsaliens. Alvin had noticed that one of the windows on the ground floor of the Royal Palace had been carelessly left open. With a cheeky grin on his face, he tiptoed to the open window. He looked in every direction, which is quite easy when you have ten eyes, and he climbed inside. He could hear the guards laughing loudly while playing cards - which on Paperballio are made of thin sheets of iron - and not guarding the crown! Alvin sneaked unnoticed all the way to the grand Throne Room and grabbed the paper crown which was lying unguarded under a shiny glass cage. He could not believe his luck and ran away with his precious loot as fast as lightning. Just in that very moment, Atlin passed by on his police hovership and spotted Alvin sprinting away with the priceless crown. He jumped out of his hovership and started tickling the mischievous robber with his four arms (very good for tickling!) until he burst into laughter and dropped the paper crown. Alvin managed to escape but Atlin picked up the crown and held it up with all his four arms like a trophy. He returned the paper crown to the King who was so grateful that he rewarded loyal Atlin with a glossy paper medal! Atlin could not believe his ten eyes as he waved to the cheering crowd of aliens which had gathered outside the palace to celebrate him - among them was a cheeky robber already plotting to try again in his quest to steal the Royal Crown!  (Alexander Sperotto - age 7)