Author and Teesside University academic Gabrielle Kent has been visiting schools to encourage children to write their own stories.

Gabrielle, Senior Lecturer in Computer Games Development in the University’s School of Computing, organised a writing competition to help inspire children to boost their literacy by getting more involved in reading and writing.

Although she worked in video games for twenty years, avid reader Gabrielle always had a passion for writing and dreamed of writing her own book. This dream became a reality two years ago when her debut novel Alfie Bloom and the Secrets of Hexbridge Castle was published by Scholastic UK.

The story follows Alfie as he inherits a castle and discovers he must ensure the mysteries of Hexbridge remain secret. The book has since been translated into eight languages.

Gabrielle, who has written two more books in the Alfie Bloom series, wanted to share her enthusiasm for reading and encourage young children who might not otherwise think about developing their creative writing talents.

She visited eight schools to invite Year 5 and 6 children to each write a short story, choosing their own theme. During her visits she taught the children methods of generating story ideas, how to structure a story and how to edit their work.

Gabrielle said: “I had a wonderful, creative teacher when I was in Year 5 and he inspired me to become a writer. I got together with Teesside University’s school liaisons team and we devised this competition to offer a free creative writing talk to eight schools across Teesside, along with an incentive for the children to create some really exciting pieces of creative writing.”

Gabrielle funded a prize of £100 book vouchers for the winner, with vouchers for the runners up. Her publisher Scholastic also supplied books for the libraries of participating schools.

Each school submitted ten shortlisted stories and 10–year-old Annabelle Foulds, from Corporation Road Primary School in Darlington, was chosen as the overall winner.

Annabelle said: “I’m so excited to have won the competition. When Gabrielle came in to our assembly I didn’t think I would have won because my story is really serious.

“My story is about cancer, but told from the perspective of the disease. I wrote about this because I know a lot of people have been affected by cancer and it is something a lot of people can relate to.

“I can’t wait to use my book vouchers and I hope to become an author myself one day.”

Commenting on the winning story, Gabrielle said: “We were so impressed with all of the schools’ entries, but Annabelle’s story really stood out as a truly stunning piece of creative writing with an emotionally impactful twist ending. She is a very talented writer and I look forward to buying her books one day.”

Ann Pringleton, Corporation Road Primary School head teacher, said: “As a member of Lingfield Education Trust, we place a strong emphasis on reading and writing, both within school and as part of extra-curricular activities.

“We’re passionate about encouraging our pupils to embrace their creativity and all the children who worked with Gabrielle thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Annabelle’s story was a wonderful expression of her feelings. We are extremely proud of her fantastic achievement.”

Children also took part from Oakdene Primary in Billingham; Breckon Hill Primary in Middlesbrough; Abingdon Primary in Middlesbrough; Coatham Primary in Redcar; St Margaret Clitheroe Primary in Middlesbrough; Thorntree Primary in Middlesbrough; East Whitby Primary in Whitby.

The competition runners up were Ella Ramsden and Enaya Ali, from Oakdene and Tom Knight from Coatham.