Category Archives: FULL BLOG

Short story competition – ‘4 stories for the fee of only 3’ offer continues!

Last quarter we received the biggest number of entries into our short story competition since it began over a year ago. No doubt this was thanks to our special offer of allowing 4 entries for the price of 3, and we’re delighted that it inspired so many of our writers – both new and regular – to create even more great work. We’re currently reading through all eligible entries and creating the longlist.

And because we love it so much WE WANT TO READ MORE!

Which is why we’ve decided, for the next quarter, to extend the offer and do it all over again! (deadline 31st October 2020).

The fee for one or two stories remains the same – £5 for one, £8 for two – but if you pay the fee of £10 you will qualify to enter FOUR stories, instead of the usual three. This equates to just £2.50 per story entered; we know of very few paid competitions which are better value than that!

So go on – take advantage of the offer once more. Enjoy creating your four new stories – you have three months in which to write them.

We look forward to reading them.

You can enter the competition here. Make sure you carefully read and abide by all the rules of the competition. If you would like to read previous winners and placed entries, you can do so here.

April 2020 – Shortlist and winners

Here it is – the results of our latest short story competition. The judges have had a tough time chosing from the longlist of entries. After much deliberation, the shortlist and three placed stories have now been selected. Congratulations to:

1st: Alan KennedyThe Storyteller’s Gift

2nd: Gillian WelbyNews Flash In Manchester

3rd: James HancockFlip Flop

Prize money is on its way to you, and your stories are published here on our website.

Well done to the following writers who made it onto the shortlist:

Peter Boyle; Carole Garrett; James Harvey; Ali Said; Alexis Wolfe; Jack Young.

Our next competition is now open, and we have a special offer on it: maximum 1500 words, any theme/genre, deadline July 31st. We look forward to reading your entries.

The Storyteller’s Gift by Alan Kennedy (1st place Apr20)

For the fourth time in five minutes, Jimmy Sanderson scrutinises the notice on the door, then his Mickey Mouse wristwatch. He sniffs his armpits, cups his hands to check his breath, licks a mint, rubs it over his underarm hair before popping the sweet into his mouth. He glares at the poster once more. A face from before his breakdown grins back.

‘After twenty years it’s embarrassing, they still put, ‘…winner of the Dunoon Burns poetry recital…’ I was only ten.’

‘Very cute you were too in your wee kilt and ginger curls. Remember to wind the show up early today as this room doubles as the dining hall.’ Bridie’s nostrils twitch. ‘Get a whiff of that. School dinners. Steak pie, caramel cake with custard. Takes you back. Remember Mrs Watson?’

The old familiar memory of the six-foot dinner lady looming over him while he choked on the powdery scoops of mashed potatoes only quickens his already racing pulse.

‘You’re not helping, Bridie.’

To distract himself, Jimmy counts the grease-coated tiles on the wall. He gets to two hundred before clutching his sister’s arm. ‘It’s not working. Let’s leg it before the brats arrive. I’ll phone in ill.’

‘You’re self-employed, silly. Anyway, we’re already here. What is it this time? Reading someone else’s mind?’

‘I don’t read – . No, this hot weather is making me dizzy.’

‘It’s fifteen degrees.’

‘Too hot for March. It’s not normal.’

‘Take off your duffle coat, your mittens and your beret, you daft bampot.’

‘What if I forget to put them …?’

‘Give them here, numpty. I’ll look after your stuff, as always. Just a week’s worth of shows, then you’re off for Easter. Shape up. The great horde is coming.’

A high-pitched throb of sixty twelve-year-olds gearing up to tear him apart charges the air. ‘Why did you accept this gig? I won’t – I can’t – I hate kids.’

Ignoring her brother’s tantrum, Bridie strokes his hair like when he used to see monsters behind the bedroom wardrobe. ‘Because you bring in a pile of cash for two songs and a story, sweet boy. Stop blubbering.  Think of what you did before. Flogging TV filter screens door-to-door. That was worth grumbling about.’

‘What if I pass out in this heat?’

‘For crying out loud! Please, change the record. You’re doing my head in. You’re cool. You’ve run this project for five years, why do you still lose it like that? You’re the best paid storyteller in the country.’

Outside the assembly room, the hum rises three semitones. Any minute now, they’ll unlatch the door and Jimmy Sanderson will transpose into his alter ego, Sandy Jameson, raconteur. Funny, spontaneous, guest artist at this school culture week.

His palms drip, his throat dries, his tongue sticks to his teeth, he forgets the first line of the story.

Jimmy brushes Bridie’s hand off. ‘Don’t you get it? It’s getting warmer. I can’t –’

‘James Eaton Sanderson. Catch a grip. You’ve acted out this play every day since the start of October. You could do it in a coma. Remember the stage fright coaching sessions. Breathe in for two, out for four. In for three, out for six … That’s my boy. Take a big slug of water from the jar on the table. Have you been to the lavatory?’

‘Three times.’

Bridie, her brother’s chauffeur since his seventh failed driving test, fiddles with the car keys. ‘Can’t work out why you don’t start a teaching diploma.’

Jimmy blows out for ten. ‘Sis, I’d rather snog Mrs Watson.’

‘She’s dead.’

‘Exactly.’

Bridie tuts and turns to the entrance. ‘I’ll tell them to -.’

‘Wait… Ok.’

He blows into his ebony mouthpiece and starts the ritual, nestling the tasselled tartan bag under his right arm, his expert fingers covering the holes.

The small circular stage is bare apart from a tall stool on which Jimmy plants himself, both feet rooted on the varnished floorboards. With practised ease, the storyteller squeezes his right elbow towards his ribs.

When the double doors burst open, dozens of hormone-crazed youngsters storm in.

The howling wail of the bagpipes usually drowns out the kids’ yelling. Today is different. A volatile blend of full moon, last week of term along with an unexpected Cup triumph of the local third division team rockets the decibel level above that of the pipes.

The time-tested combination of bass drone tonic and fifth only harmonises the group if they can hear it. The skirl which loosened the bowels of enemy armies from Bannockburn to El Alamein has no effect on this shapeless mass of youthful exuberance.

When he read the headmistress’s e-mailed apology two days ago, he should have cancelled.

But Jimmy, up to his bald patch in bills, cannot afford to turn work down. Only a few months till the July recess, after which he’ll have to rely on busking round Europe for the summer. He needs this cash.

He scouts out the alpha kid, usually a boy. Pre-warned by one of the fraught, prematurely aged teachers, he learns the target’s name is Gerald Cartwright.

Big Gerry, as his followers call him, barges in, toppling over the younger kids like skittles, slaps two girls on their heads then lets rip a deafening burp, seasoning the already heady atmosphere with Gerald’s fried breakfast.

Bridie reaches for her mint scented Kleenex, grins and points him out to her brother. Gerry Cartwright is about to step down from his hero status.

As Jimmy coaxes more volume out of the four-pronged beast, his face puces up. Although their father and grandfather played bagpipes in two world wars, Jimmy brought discredit on his people by not joining the army but becoming a storyteller.

‘A showman,’ said his mother.

‘Damn cowardly show-off, more like,’ snarled his ex-army, pipe-major father, the only piper of his regiment to survive the D-day landings.

The adolescents sit, grouped in little cliques, conspiring how to mess up the show.

Every time Jimmy struggles to make them clap in time, they speed up as if at a football match. As the rhythmic breathing into the blowpipe subdues Jimmy’s panic attacks, he studies the throng round the bully, and breathes out for twelve. He is tuned up for the next stage.

The storyteller weighs up the mathematics of the youth. The statistics of his body. The pulsing of blood on his temple artery, the regularity of his hand gestures, the speed of his blinking, the inflection of his stupid guffaws.

Jimmy’s gift impressed even the late Staff Sergeant Sanderson in his final years, when his son helped him recall his darling Peggy despite his stage four dementia.

His eyes flicker at the identical frequency of the youngster’s, his head nods in the same rhythmic pattern, he plays a simple melody echoing young Cartwright’s chortle. The bellowing laughter cuts off like a shut tap.

As if blasted by lightning, the lad goes rigid. His jaw slackens. He latches onto the storyteller’s face. When Jimmy breathes slower, Gerry follows suit. Jimmy cocks his head to the left, the boy mirrors him.

Without losing eye contact, Jimmy trills a top C on the chanter, five hundred and twenty-three saw-like vibrations per second prise open Gerry’s cerebral synapses. Jimmy momentarily loosens his grip on the bag, Gerald Cartwright’s eyes snap wide open with the abrupt silence, until the renewed bass pulse cradles him like a mesmerised cobra.

Jimmy is in.

Inside the boy’s head.

Gerry Cartwright’s mind is a dizzying minefield of yells, curses, dodging blows. Memories of abuse mix with changes of foster families. Men unzipping their trousers mingle with mourning for his mother, killed by a drunk driver days before his fourth birthday.

No one else in the hall catches this exchange which hardly lasts two breath cycles, but Jimmy Sanderson tiptoes around the disjointed images with skilful care.

He selects Fanny Cartwright’s three most repeated expressions. A motherly tone whispers, ‘My little soldier,’ ‘Sweet child,’ ‘Curly burley.’ She coos, ‘I’m here with you, my love. Everything is magic in your life.’

Adopting Fanny’s breathy voice, Jimmy croons a lullaby from Gerry’s memories.

‘Ally bally ally bally bee,

 sitting on yer mammie’s knee…’

Baby Gerry stretches out his arms to be picked up. Balls of saliva roll down his wet chin. The class tutors can’t explain the boy’s behaviour nor the torrent of tears, nor the awed hush from his normally rowdy crew.

Jimmy loops the chorus ten times till Gerald Cartwright is cried out, then closes his eyes for three seconds, severing the link. Weeks have passed since he last used his gift, he’s out of practice.

A whimpering Gerald Cartwright slumps into his chair, humming his mother’s bedtime song, his head rested on his neighbour’s shoulder.

When Bridie gives her brother the prearranged signal, he presses harder on the bag. The instrument’s low growl spreads throughout the hall. Jimmy Sanderson observes the pacified, expectant faces of Gerry Cartwright’s gang and starts.

‘One day, in the North of Scotland…’

News Flash In Manchester by Gillian Wellby (2nd place Apr20)

Ellie is on the train to her hometown of Manchester.  Courtesy of social media Ellie has been tracked down by little Ann Wheeler –  that is to say the daughter of little Ann Wheeler has tracked her down.  There is to be a  ‘This is your life’  style party  for Ann’s sixtieth birthday. Ellie has been invited along as the long lost school friend.

Ellie  is a small woman who tries to be invisible.  She does not like parties. She has agreed to go to this one because …because what?  Curiosity?  Something deeper?  She wears her straight brown hair with a side parting letting it fall over her damaged left eye. She dislikes talking about herself.  The questions are always the same.  Are you married? No I’m not married. Oh! Divorced? No. Not even divorced.  I am an unmarried spinster.   Oh well, people  say, no need for marriage these days.  Children then?  No . No children.  Really?  Not even an accident from a drunken one night stand. No. No accidents.  No one night stands.   Hah! A career woman then.  No. No career. Just a series of mundane office jobs.  Ellie has to  reassure people  that she is happy with her life.   Their expressions give them away.  How can you be happy with no man  and  no children. What else is there?

The train has arrived at Winchester. Ellie likes Winchester. Every year she has a weekend there, in December.   She once took a man-friend with her – she is not completely adverse to male company, but she found that having to consider someone else’s requirements was very wearing – waiting around while he took photographs.  Plus there was his endless talking…  talking about things he thought he knew about, but didn’t.

The train is approaching Basingstoke, rumbling her ever nearer to the party. Does pretty little Ann Wheeler know Ellie is coming she wonders.  Daughters don’t know all their mother secrets.  Ellie sighs.  Maybe she should pretend, just for tonight, that it had all worked out with her man-friend. She knows enough about him to talk about him. She could describe him as a reliable, solid man. She wouldn’t  use his real name though. She could not imagine herself ever marrying a man called Cedric.  Perhaps they’ve been married for years.  Divorced even. Yes. Divorced.  That would make it easier. She will tell pretty, clever  little Ann Wheeler she is a divorced woman who has chosen to have a few years single to take stock and decide what to do. She has spent too many years letting her husband have the limelight. Now she is deciding what to do next with her life. She might go travelling.  Perhaps she should invent a child too. Just the one. No need to make it too complicated.  Perhaps a son. Jake.  He’s been a bit of a wild child in his day. She doesn’t want a goody-goody son . She wonders why there is so much crime about these days because it would seem everyone she talks to tells her how wonderful  their  children are.   Pretty, clever, sneaky  little Ann Wheeler  has somehow managed to produce a loving thoughtful daughter.   Ellie’s son Jake will be a carpenter. No.  A plumber.  A manual trade cannot be looked down on, even in these days of digital, cybertronic codswallop.  Everyone still needs a plumber. Grandchildren? No. Keep it simple.  Just an ex-husband, she will call him Colin, a reliable, trustworthy name,  and a grown-up son that she doesn’t  see very often. He’s so busy. So busy … fixing pipes.

Ellie sees  Stafford  station approaching. She now has less than two hours to get used to being a mother and  a divorcee.  Why did we  split up she wonders.  Did Colin have an affair? Did I have an affair? No. None of that.  We just grew apart. You’re not the same person at fifty that you were at eighteen are you she will say.  She can see pretty, clever , sneaky, evil,  little Ann Wheeler nodding at this.

The train is leaving Stockport. The next station will be Manchester, Piccadilly . She has had quite a creative journey. All this mumbo -jumbo about  imaginary men and imaginary sons. What twaddle.  She is a spinster. She has a disfigured face.  People have to deal with the consequences of their actions.  Does she think about what life might have been like if she had not lost her eye.  Sometimes.  Definitely today.  Ellie tugs her case down from the luggage rack and makes her way onto the platform

Tonight, when it is her turn, and they say ‘and here, all the way from Bournemouth, is your childhood friend from fifty-five years ago’, Ellie will allow Ann a good look at her face before saying “Shall we talk about what happened to my eye  pretty, clever, sneaky, evil, guilty, little Ann Wheeler.”

Flip Flop by James Hancock (3rd place Apr20)

Barry was a flip flop. Kid’s size eleven, regal blue, with white stripes and a slightly worn underside. He was the right, and his brother, Gary, was the left. Brothers, and similar in most ways, except for personality. Gary was your typical flip flop; laid back and quiet.
Barry was the opposite; excitable and talkative.The morning of the seaside day trip, Barry wouldn’t stop talking… packed in the car boot, yapping away at the sun lotion, Susan’s paperback romance novel and Arnold the beach ball.
“What if there are slushies? Oh, and ice cream. I had some ice cream land on me once. A big dollop. A plop on Jonathan’s flip flop.” Barry laughed. The other items in the bag weren’t amused, and Gary made an embarrassing sigh.
All the way there, Barry talked about fish and chips, seagulls, and the one time it was so windy he saw a beach ball roll off along the sand with people chasing after it. Probably never to be seen again. Arnold the beach ball told Barry to shut up! Barry didn’t shut up.
After an hour of Barry’s chatter they arrived, the car boot was unpacked, and Barry and Gary were set in place on Jonathan’s feet and introduced to pebbles and sand. Good times! Until the rain came. Two hours into the afternoon the skies turned grey and the heavens opened. It poured. Jonathan’s parents packed everything up as quickly as they could and ran back to the car. But they’d forgotten something. They’d forgotten Barry. In their haste, Barry had been overlooked and found himself alone on the sand. Barry was frightened.
The rain didn’t ease up for nearly an hour and by then the beach was deserted.
Unknown to Barry, Jonathan and his parents had driven to a restaurant, eaten burger and chips, and driven home. They wouldn’t realise Barry was missing until they unpacked the car boot, and by then it would be too late. Barry stared at the tide as it advanced ever closer.
Hours passed, and although the sun was out again, it was late in the day and high tide. Barry was picked up by a shallow water wave and carried off. Off to sea.
Barry had never been to sea before. He’d heard Philip snorkel talk about it, but hadn’t ever been out beyond the shallows. Never so far out that land couldn’t be seen, like now, floating further and further into the vast expanse of ocean. Barry thought his fear of being left alone would have amplified, or his lack of night-time experience might have made him freak out, but he was okay. Calm, just like the ocean waters. He was seeing this for what it was… a big adventure.
After three days of cooking in the hot sun and suffering a reasonable amount of salt water damage, Barry wasn’t as convinced this adventure was going to be anything more than a long game of count the seagull. Until there was land. Land at last. Barry was washed up on the sandy beach of a small island, late morning on the fourth day. An island without people. An island whose beach was dotted with objects similar to Barry. Washed up and forgotten. This was The Island Of Forgotten Things.
“What you looking at?” came the snappy and unfriendly welcome of a half chewed dog’s toy. As far as welcomes go, this was very unwelcoming.
“Hello, I’m Barry,” said Barry. “Can you tell me where I am, please?”
“The Island Of Forgotten Things,” the dog’s toy glared at Barry and made him feel uncomfortable. “Go and check in with Margaret.” The dog’s toy gestured to a deflated armband further up the beach.
Barry wasn’t the best reader of body language, but the dog’s toy looked like he wanted to hurt him, so Barry smiled and moved on. Maybe Margaret would be more willing to enlighten him on how things worked on the island, who was in charge, and the likelihood of him ever getting home again.
Margaret was much more pleasant, although incredibly dull and matter of fact. Barry needed to speak with the king, and was taken to him directly. An impressive figure, and fully understandable how he was elected ruler of the island, the king was nearly two metres of solid pine wood. A rowing boat oar. He stood tall and proud over all of his subjects.
“Welcome!” said the king in a booming voice. “We have been waiting for someone like you.”
Oh how special that made Barry feel. Until he knew the truth of it. He learned quickly that everything on the island is paired up with a similar item. They operated on the buddy system. Which would have been nice, except Barry’s partner was a bad-tempered wellington boot called, Gladys. Oh how Gladys moaned at Barry.
‘Sweep the shingle out of my way, Barry’. ‘We’re looking for snails, try to keep up, Barry’. ‘Pay attention, Barry’. ‘Stop talking, Barry’. Barry was miserable and decided that tonight, under cover of darkness, he would sneak off the island and leave grumpy Gladys and the other forgotten things behind him.
Before night there is dusk. A time when the sun has sunk and darkness is on the way, and at this time all islanders are expected to meet in the centre of the island, at the great clearing. Gladys made sure Barry and herself weren’t late. Over two hundred objects gathered around a low burning camp fire, and the king stood on a tree trunk to address his people.
“Once again, my friends, names have been taken from a hat, and one of you has been selected.” Everyone looked at each other, concerned, uneasy. Barry stopped chuckling with excitement and his smile dropped. From the looks on faces of those around him, selection wasn’t the reward Barry thought it was.
“The fire must never extinguish, and our supply of wood is limited. Tonight’s offering will be made by…” the king looked around at the dog’s toy which Barry had encountered this morning.
The dog’s toy stepped forward and cleared his throat, “Kenneth!”
A torn and faded baseball cap yelped in shock, and a pair of sunglasses next to the cap burst into tears.
“No wait!” the last words Kenneth the cap got to blurt out before a lifejacket grabbed him and threw him onto the fire. A dozen or so cuddly toys made excited yelping noises and gathered closer to the warm fire as Kenneth burned and the fire increased. Margaret consoled the sunglasses. Barry stared in horror. Kenneth was gone in sixty seconds.
As the crowd slowly dispersed, the king made a speech about greater sacrifice and everyone working together, but Barry wasn’t listening. Barry moved into the shadow of a nearby boulder, away from Gladys, and away from the other islanders.
That night Barry flopped his way back into the ocean and let the tide take him. Goodbye to The Island Of Forgotten Things. Goodbye to the evil king and his doomed subjects. And although he expected nightmares, Barry slept well as he floated further and further away. The moon shone and the stars twinkled in the sky, but Barry slept.
It was the next morning and Barry was awoken to the lifting sensation of being picked up. He was about to shout ‘weeeeee’, but stopped himself. He had been picked up by a little girl. A human. Once again, Barry was on the mainland, gathered up from a pebble beach by a happy-faced eight year old, whose smile widened as she examined Barry.
“I’ve got the perfect shell, Karen,” called a man from nearby. Karen’s dad held up a smooth and well-formed shell. Karen ran over to her dad, Barry in hand.
“Oh boy! That’s a beauty. Thanks dad!” Karen took the shell and added it, and Barry, to her bag. They joined the bag’s other occupants… Some dried seaweed, a small piece of driftwood, a bottle top, and the pincer of a crab. The pincer  freaked Barry out a little bit. Barry kept quiet.
Later that day, Karen placed all of the objects into a cardboard display box with words painted on the side… ‘Life’s A Beach’. Barry was part of a school homework project. Not ideal, but at least he was safe. He considered what his fate might have been if he’d stayed on the island, or what his brother Gary’s fate might be as a lone flip flop. Nobody keeps a single flip flop. One day the school projects would come home again, and Barry’s days would be numbered. He looked at the cat flap in Karen’s kitchen, and listened to the seagulls calling to each other overhead. The sea was nearby. When the time came, Barry would be ready… ready to escape, through the cat flap, and flop his way to the sea. Once again, he’d let the tide take him wherever it pleased. Take him across the ocean on another adventure.

April 2020 – Long List

There’s no denying it – it’s been the strangest of times over the past three months. The number of entries we receive each quarter continues to grow – and we’re certain that, this time round, lockdown has played a part in that. In fact, we’ve decided this quarter to put on a special offer for our competition: you can enter 4 stories for the price of 3 – read all about it here.

Meanwhile, the judges have enjoyed reading all qualifying entries for the April 2020 competition, and we’re delighted to publish our long list below.

However – We’re still receiving some entries that do not adhere to our rules, and therefore have had to be disqualifed. If you’re entering the competition, please read all the terms of entry very carefully, to ensure your story is in with the best chance of being considered.

Even if you’ve entered our competition before, go back and check the rules again. Make sure you’ve got everything right – not just the word count, but the layout and document title requirements too. Make sure your document has a covering page, containing all the information we need.

It’s all there in the rules – make sure you read them thoroughly.

In the meantime, we’re delighted to reveal our long list of authors for the April 2020 competition:

Peter Boyle
Carole Garrett
James Hancock (for 3 stories)
James Harvey

Alyson Hilbourne
Peter Jones

Alan Kennedy (for 1 story)
Matt Oliver  (for 2 stories)
Melanie Roussel
Ali Said
Gillian Welby (for 2 stories)

Sue Whytock
Anne Wilson (for 1 story)
Alexis Wolfe
Jack Young (for 1 story)

Congratulations to you all!

We now have the dauntning task of whittling down your great stories to a short list, before chosing first, second and third places. The short list will be announced, and the three placed stories published here on our website, on 11th June.

Short story competition – enter 4 stories for the fee of only 3

It’s fair to say that most people are finding that they’ve got more time on their hands in the current climate, with Covid-19 confining people to their homes for much longer than they would normally spend there.

We know that professional writers – those who earn their living by writing, in whatever genre or capacity – are practised and experienced in spending hours on their own at home, sitting in front of a laptop and bashing out the words to hit their word count or their next deadline.

But those whose writing is more of a hobby are finding they have a lot more time to spend creating stories, characters, and plot lines – and are obviously enjoying doing so! We have seen this with our most recent competition quarter, as the number of entries we received was higher than any before.

Which is why we’ve decided, for this quarter, to extend a special offer for anyone – professional or hobbyist – entering our short story competition for this quarter (deadline 31st July 2020).

The fee for one or two stories remains the same – £5 for one, £8 for two – but if you pay the fee of £10 you will qualify to enter FOUR stories, instead of the usual three. This equates to just £2.50 per story entered; we know of very few paid competitions which are better value than that!

So go on – take advantage of the offer. Enjoy creating your four new stories – you have three months in which to write them.

We look forward to reading them.

 

You can enter the competition here. Make sure you carefully read and abide by all the rules of the competition. If you would like to read previous winners and placed entries, you can do so here.