Category Archives: FULL BLOG

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.

£255 prize money to be won in our latest writing competition

There’s no denying it: the lockdown has had a huge effect on everyone. (Understatement of the year!) But in true British stiff upper lip fashion, we’ve seen that people have, for the most part, been keeping calm and carrying on. Even here at Cranked Anvil HQ we’ve finally been able to devote more time and give birth to a long-planned project. (More to come on that soon).

In the meantime, our quarterly short story competition continues, and it has grown from strength to strength since we launched it just over a year ago.

If you’ve found yourself with more time on your hands recently to write that short story you’ve always thought about (or even if you can see yourself setting aside some time over the next couple of days) the current competition is currently running (closing date for entries is 30th April). If you find your story placed in the top three, you could win a share of £255 in prize money, plus full publication here on the Cranked Anvil website. (You can read all of the the winning stories from previous competitions, as well as checking out all the long and short lists.)

We have made the process as simple and clear as possible, with dedicated pages on our site for an overview of the comp, the rules (PLEASE make sure you read them if you’re entering) and for paying your entry fee. (Just £5 for one story, plus £3 for the second, plus £2 for the third. You can enter up to three stories each quarter.)

As always, we’ve kept the competition open to any theme or genre, with a maximum word count of 1,500 (not including the title). If you’ve got a short story lying around that fits the bill – or if you’d like to try rustling one up in the next few days! – then why not give it a try and enter?

Stay safe.

And good luck – we can’t wait to read your writing.

January 2020 – Shortlist and winners

Our competition grows bigger every quarter, and the judges have had their toughest time yet chosing from the longlist of entries. After much deliberation, though, the shortlist and three placed stories have now been selected. Congratulations to:

1st: Nicki ParkinsTurnstone

2nd: Joe BedfordThe House Always Wins

3rd: Sherry MorrisNever Going Green

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:

Susan Conrad; Richard Garcka; Connor Gherasim; James Harvey; Lauren O’Donoghue; Ruth Saunderson; Michele Seagrove; Jack Young.

Our next competition is now open: maximum 1500 words, any theme/genre, deadline April 30th. We look forward to reading your entries.

Turnstone by Nicki Parkins (1st place Jan20)

I brought the stone home from the beach. I often do that. There are so many beautiful stones and I end up bringing home too many. Then I have to perform triage and take most of them back to the beach, where I drop them among other beautiful stones and fight the urge to take home a new clutch.

This stone survived the triage. It’s not large – about the size and shape of my terminal thumb joint, which is small for a man’s. It’s mostly grey, but with a tinge of pink, because if you look closely the surface is covered with minute circular depressions where particles of sand lodge, the red sand that’s distinctive of this part of the coast. But the thing I love about this stone, the thing that made me pick it up and carry it home and that ensured it survived the triage, is the thin band of white quartz that bisects the grey at one end, like a factory-reject liquorice allsort.

I’m on the beach again, but today I’m not here to pick up stones. It’s raining, an enervating mizzle that coalesces into beads on my anorak and mists my glasses. I wipe them on my sleeve; the mist turns to a blur. I slip my hand into my pocket in search of a handkerchief and find the familiar knobble of the liquorice allsort stone. I rotate it between my fingertips, my thumb tracing the line of hard quartz that forms a ridge in the softer sandstone. There’s comfort in the repeated movement, a numbing of other sensations as my brain focuses on the eternal circle of quartz turning under my thumb.

I don’t mind the rain; it keeps the crowds away. A man in a waterproof walks a dog on a slack lead. Further along the bay, the head of a swimmer bobs between the waves; there’s always some fanatic who’s not deterred by the weather. Apart from that I see no-one. There are no surfers today in their sleek wetsuits because although it’s raining, there’s hardly any wind, so the waves are small. Even the holiday cottages on the seafront proclaim absence from blinded windows.

I’m glad there are no surfers. They’re everything I’m not. They play in the waves like seals; I can’t swim. They laugh and call to each other in strong, deep voices; my voice is thin and high, like a music track with the bass turned down. On sunny days the girls nudge each other and watch the surfers’ bodies with desire in their eyes. Nobody has ever wanted my body. Even I don’t want my body.

I walk down the slope of the beach, my boots crunching on the stones. The sea is brown, for although it’s calm now, there was a storm yesterday that churned up the red sand on the seabed. There’s just enough breeze to waft a salty tang on to my face. It’s a smell I feel I’ve known forever, from my earliest childhood holidays – or even before. I inhale a deep breath and lick salt from my lips. The low mood that is my constant companion lifts for a moment, rippling like a blanket shaken out across a bed; then it settles back down to its usual deadweight.

The stones at my feet are at their most beautiful today. The rain and the tide darken and enrich their colours: gold, silver, coral, purple, amber, onyx. They glow like sea anemones in a rock pool. I pick one up and watch the colour fade as it dries in the warmth of my hand, like life ebbing from an animate object as it transitions to inanimate. I drop the dead stone back on the beach. I’m not here today to collect stones.

The tide’s coming in. The waves gather and rise, then crash on to the shingle with a thud. A swirl of foam hisses towards me, then recedes with a noisy rattle. Another wave, higher this time, laps at my toes. Instinct tells me to step backwards, but I stand my ground. A few smaller wavelets, and then there’s a stronger one that washes right over my boots. A trickle of cold seeps into my socks.

The smell of the sea… why is it so evocative? It’s not as if those childhood memories of mine are happy ones. I was always the skinny, sunburnt kid who built sandcastles on his own, only to have the other boys come along and kick them to pieces. They’d run off laughing into the waves, knowing I couldn’t follow and didn’t have the bottle to attempt any kind of riposte anyway. Yet I love the smell of the sea. Doesn’t everyone? Perhaps it’s to do with origins. The sea, where life first emerged: a place of beginnings and endings, flow and ebb, setting out and return.

A small seabird with a brown back and white chest is dabbling along the tideline. It’s a turnstone, searching for marine grubs among the stones. As long as I’m still it’s happy to come quite close. Its dark, liquid eye looks kind; I imagine stroking the tiny soft feathers on its head. When I shift my position it retreats, orange legs skittering over the shingle, then resumes the behaviour for which it’s named. I’m saddened by its retreat but not surprised. There are patterns in life that you get used to.

The water is above my ankles now; the bottoms of my trousers are soaked. My feet aren’t cold any more, but there’s an icy ring creeping up each of my calves. I let my gaze roam far out over the water, all the way to the turquoise-tinged horizon. How deep is it out there? I imagine being surrounded by luminous green light that fades and darkens as I sink towards the bottom. A fragment of a poem: When that which drew from out the boundless deep / turns again home – I see the glimmering surface of the water receding above me, the fathomless darkness below.

In my pocket, my fingers are still turning the stone. Animate turning inanimate; transient turning intransient. The rocks around here are hundreds of millions of years old. I can’t hold in my  head the idea of something surviving for that long. I’ve only existed for a few decades and I was worn to the quick long ago.

When the boys used to destroy my sandcastles, I’d wait till they were out of sight and I could no longer hear their jeering laughter. Then I’d pick up my bucket and spade and start to build another one. I’d build it even bigger and better than the first. Sometimes I’d build stones into it for strength, like the quartz at the heart of my sandstone. Often I’d have tears on my cheeks as I did so, but I always managed it, always built my new castle of sand.

The tough rock runs deep in the soft, even if you can’t always see it.

The turnstone is back. It’s joined by a second, then another two; soon there are more than I can count. They scamper back and forth in the surf, levering the stones aside with their bills to snap up whatever lies beneath. A large wave surges up to my knees. I take the stone out of my pocket and cradle it in my palm. The quartz has a silvery glint to it, even on this sunless afternoon. I close my fingers tight around it and turn for home.

The House Always Wins by Joe Bedford (2nd place Jan20)

The banknotes were transported in several large cases to the Bank of England. From them, a dozen batches were picked for inspection. Staff in rubber gloves examined the print, the watermark and the motion thread. From one inspector, the Chief Cashier took a note and held it idly up to the light.

A genuine, newly-printed £50 note: the ink freshly-pink, the Queen’s face staring out from light cotton, the Cashier’s signature, the crest of the Bank of England.

She replaced the note and walked on. It was re-bundled, delivered to a bank and loaded into a cash machine. When the note was withdrawn, it was hustled quickly into a wallet and shoved into the jacket pocket of an expensive suit. The suit, the wallet and its owner jumped onto a bus.

The money, crisp and anticipant, sped into circulation.

*

Khalid was broke and in desperate need of investment, but he knew that if anyone at the champagne mixer caught wind of that, his chances were slim. His course of action was instinctual – posture and denial.

He approached the businessmen in the centre of the room: bankers from Hong Kong. He met them with low bows. As they spoke, he sensed immediately that they could tell his laughter was false and that he needed something from them. He was exposed. His conquest wavered. Waiters drifted around offering free drinks. Khalid saw opportunity.

A waiter passed with a tray. Khalid stopped him with a prod against his chest. With the young man frozen on the spot, Khalid took the glasses of champagne one at a time and handed them out amongst the businessmen. Then, leaving the last glass on the tray, he took the £50 note slowly out of his wallet and stuffed it conspicuously into the waiter’s jacket.

When he turned back to the group, four glasses were raised towards him.

Then, he began his pitch.

*

The students in the kitchen had almost run out of booze. When volunteers for the shops were called for, Ramesh waited for Ayanna to lift her hand and then leapt off his chair to follow. Two other boys ambled with them to the door. They set off together. Ramesh sidled up to Ayanna.

Most of the beautiful women he knew were medical students with no free time. Since meeting Ayanna, Ramesh had spent most of his time trying to decide whether he stood a chance with her or not. She was incredibly beautiful and spoke five languages. He veered on the side of not.

He made jokes about his Indian heritage on the way to the shops. She laughed, but the two boys ahead of them seemed to be having more fun. As the boys entered the shop, Ramesh pointed Ayanna to the shop next door. It was cheaper. She seemed happy. They gathered up an armful of tonics and asked for two bottles of gin. With no idea whether he was being gentlemanly, or patronising, or cloying, Ramesh pushed her debit card away and reached into his pocket. He slid the £50 tip he’d received at work across the counter.

He didn’t dare look at her face, but he hoped, secretly, that she was smiling.

*

No one seemed more pleased with the new facade on Kwasi’s AfrikMart Global UK than the owner. Kwasi was so pleased that after the last screw was in place, he took the labourers around the merits of every single corner of the shop’s new signage, even the parts which had not been done to his specifications. He gave each worker a free beer to keep them there while he spoke, and made sure everybody faced towards the sign. As they finished up, he pointed out the shop next door.

The sign above Convenience Xchange now looked tacky and rotten. The wood had splintered at the edges and the paint was cracked. The photographs of fruit and vegetables by the entrance were faded and ugly.

Kwasi explained how easy it would be now to defeat his neighbour – ‘Kinaade. Nigerian bastard.’ The new sign, with the glamour of its glass and lighting, would surely mean the end of Convenience Xchange. The end of their rivalry. His neighbour Kinaade, leaning on the doorframe, heard everything.

Kwasi took the labourers’ bottles and paid the foreman in £50 notes from the till. When they’d left, he took one more look at his sign, then at the shop next door and laughed.

The street was his.

*

In Nicosia, Osman had been a musician. Since living in the UK, he had never become accustomed to the life of a workman. The bosses he found cruel, his colleagues dull. The work itself was so monotonous that he finished every day tired but still burning with impatience. At the bookies on payday, he struggled to find a distraction.

Nobody had bet on Sheffield to win and it was unlikely that anyone would. By the second half, the odds had risen to 18–1. But Osman was bored, utterly bored, and still relatively sober.

With his workmates loafing on the bench, he approached the desk with a £50 note – one day’s wage. Sheffield to win. One of the labourers overheard him, and he daydreamed through their chiding. He had planned to be a professional folk singer, like his father, but that had been put indefinitely on hold. If he won on Sheffield, that would give him the money for equipment, a demo, a chance to fly back to Cyprus. The dreams at least were not mundane. Their intangibility kept them somehow alive.

The bookie took the £50 and replaced it with a paper slip.

In front of the screen, Osman held the slip tightly, let the background noise fade, and hummed ‘Come on Sheffield, Come on Sheffield’ to a traditional Cypriot tune.

*

The street, empty an hour, suddenly clattered with footsteps. A voice mumbled in Afghan Persian – Abdur Zahir, loud and incoherent. Someone told him to ‘Shut it’ from a low window. He held his winnings under his shirt. He called back in English: ‘Beginner’s luck!’

A friend had told him there was a bar on this street with no windows, where the barmaids fucked the customers for money. He hadn’t been able to afford a drink for a month. He hadn’t slept in the same bed as his wife for a year. He tried to blot out the faces of his children as he wandered: Ashraf ten, Vida just six.

He stopped at the edge of a building and looked up. Images of women and drink rose in front of him. He ascended the stairs heavily as if his winnings wore him down. At the top of the stairs, he found a door with a board over the window. He knocked hard. A woman answered. He fell inside.

Abdur Zahir and his wife cried together openly on the floor. They held onto each other’s clothes and Abdur let the £50 notes spill out. They cried loudly, unquestioningly, and kneaded their shirts in their fists. Ashraf and Vida watched from a doorway.

Their family would make the rent.

*

The accountant seemed unable to explain to his client why the unpaid tax would cause her to foreclose on her mortgage. The landlady had let several flats already, and her father had told her there would ‘be no problems’.

The accountant left her in her dining room, undecipherable documents scattered on the table. Her name was on every one. She felt sick when she saw it. Shepa Begum – a failure. Shepa Begum – she’d tried to conquer the system. Shepa Begum had gambled and lost.

She walked to her cabinet and took out a whole drawer. Inside, duplicates of the Queen’s face smothered each other in a heap. She stuffed the notes into a carrier bag, bundled the documents into another. She cleared a space on the table and thought about what her father would say when he returned from Lahore.

It was a few hours till the banked opened. She started counting.

*

It was not the first time someone had brought in thousands of pounds in a carrier bag. The cashier took it unblinkingly and tipped it out on the desk.

He separated the notes into four piles. Then, he placed the fives into the money-counter, let them flutter through, replaced them with the tens, the twenties, the fifties. The batch of fifties was largest, almost £20,000. These were placed separately in a large sealable bag, dropped with the others into a cotton sack and taken to the vault.

Some of the fifties would be returned to the Bank of England for fraud inspection. The rest of them would rejoin the polymer notes in the cash machines.

Eventually, one of them, a few of them perhaps, would end up back in the Chief Cashier’s hand. She might lift one up to the light, glance fleetingly at her own signature on the front and then say ‘Two more!’ before slamming it finally on the bar.

Never Going Green by Sherry Morris (3rd place Jan20)

In Lesterville, we know the phrase Recycle, Reuse, and Reduce, we just choose to ignore it. Not because we’re against saving the planet, or don’t understand the plastic problem. We do. But when we hear or see that slogan, we think of Merin McCallister. And shiver.

 

She doesn’t live here anymore, and the house never sold. Removers came — a yard sale was never gonna work there — but there’s still stuff inside. I knew Merin, we weren’t kin-close, but we walked our babies together and talked like new moms do. She told me it was Martin who found the chair. I’m not saying it’s his fault what happened, I’m just saying it started there. Though, it must‘ve started long before.

 

They were the outdoorsy type, Merin and Martin, taking baby Ollie hiking nearly every weekend. She said the chair was a fair distance from the trail, lying on its front, deep in weeds and undergrowth, as if someone had tried to bury it. Covered in cobwebs, streaked with dark slime and wet leaves, two of its plastic white legs tilted skywards. The tray laid a short-flung distance away, half-sunk in bog ground. Martin, a handyman, proclaimed the chair in perfect condition.

If Merin felt uneasy reusing an abandoned highchair dumped miles from roads and homes, she never said. I’d like to think she was unsure. That when Martin said they’d take it home and clean it up, she shivered. But maybe as Martin wiped away a spread of slime, the baby gurgled and reached for it, making Martin say, “Two against one,” and she told herself the chill was just a passing cloud covering the sun.

She gave me a photo of the three of them. Ollie’s strapped in the chair while they stand on either side wearing big, stupid grins. I burned it.

 

Merin used an entire bottle of disinfectant on the chair, said it sparkled when she finished though plastic doesn’t sparkle. They all fell in love with that chair. Preferred it to the wooden one they got from her parents that cost $500. Especially Ollie. He cried when they took him out of it. He didn’t want to be in his playpen. Or his car seat. Or his bed. Or held in his mother’s arms. He just wanted that highchair.

“Teething,” Merin told me, “is rough.”

But it seemed like more than teething. Any toy with a face the boy chewed away.

Then there was the banging. Ollie with a spoon, or his sippy cup, against the tray. A jackhammer that went on for hours, giving Merin a headache and making Martin yell, then pound the counter. When Merin took away the spoon or cup, the look of pure hate on Ollie’s face chilled her blood, made her hands and head shake. He’d scream the scream of foxes in heat, a sound that made Merin think of babies being skinned alive. She’d give him back his jackhammer with trembling fingers.

She tried talking to Martin, to whisper-ask as they lay awake if he heard the noise even while Ollie slept. Was that why neither of them slept anymore though they were both beyond exhausted. But Martin had become brusque. Rarely showered, shaved or changed clothes. Their sex was rough now, painful and barely with consent. When she asked if he remembered to bring home milk, he threw a plate that smashed inches from her head.

 

The last time I saw Merin, she looked like she’d just emerged from Hell. Eyes bugged and bloodshot, mascara and lipstick smudged and smeared around her face, hair dishevelled. I was sure she’d slept in those clothes and didn’t know she wore mismatched slippers.

Standing on my porch steps swaying, Ollie swaddled in a blanket and pressed tight against her chest, words rat-a-tatted from her mouth. Martin was missing. Three days now. He’d lunged at Ollie. Punched her out. She’d woke to find the chair knocked over, empty. Discovered Ollie in his bed, silent, his head a funny shape.

“Like Lumpty Dumpty,” she said cry-laughing.

I invited her in, but she wouldn’t come. Said she and Ollie were gonna take a little vacation. I asked to see Ollie but she shook her head, stepped back.

“A bad baby’s better than no baby,” she said.

A watery cry came from the bundle. There was an earthy smell. A spider scuttled from the blanket, then another, then a cluster burst from beneath the folds and scattered. Merin brushed them all away without blinking an eye.

For a moment, the blanket slipped. I saw Ollie’s face. And a forked tongue flick.

Merin saw me see, said it was time for them to go. Added the highchair was on the curb if anyone wanted it, still in perfect condition. It’d comforted Ollie after his fall, but Ollie didn’t need it anymore. He was—

I couldn’t catch her last word. It didn’t sound like ‘better’.

I watched as she walked to her minivan, ignored the car seat, and placed Ollie on a pillow inside a dog crate in the back, then drove away.

We found her vehicle in a ditch, a short distance outside town. Just her purse and the blanket inside. We speculated of course. Word went ‘round about her showing up on my porch. I held back from telling all I saw. Maybe I shouldn’t have.

Nobody heard from Merin again. The highchair sat outside their house for a week, too big for recycling or curb-side pick-up. Then it started appearing around town in odd spots: the bushes next to the community centre where new moms meet. Lined up alongside the park swings. In front of the Goodwill thrift shop. Eventually the chair disappeared. We all knew not to touch it, but we get out-of-towners passing through. They wouldn’t have known any better.

Since then, other pieces of furniture have popped up around town — there’s a bookcase leaning against a disused shed near the library over on Elm and a mirror standing coquettish in the alley next to the gym. The stuff is always in pristine condition. Always tempting to take. But I leave them. We all do.

This place is never going green. People have it firm in their minds why. At least I think they do. But I’ve started hearing something at night that sounds an awful lot like foxes.

January 2020 – Long List

It’s been the longest period of time that we’ve taken to announce our long list this quarter – due to the increasing number of quality entries we’ve received from all around the world. The judges have enjoyed reading all qualifying entries, 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.

Our competition is featured in this month’s Writing Magazine Competition Guide, which is expected to reach 30,000 subscribers, so we’re expecting a further considerable increase in the number of future entries. So make sure yours has the best chance of being considered by sticking to the rules.

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 youre document has a covering page, containing all the informatio 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 January 2020 competition:

Joe Bedford
Susan Conrad
Richard Garcka (for 2 stories)
Connor Gherasim
James Harvey

Phillipa Hawley
Richard Hooton (for 2 stories)
Sherry Morris  (for 2 stories)
Lauren O’Donoghue
Nicki Parkins
Ruth Saunderson

Michele Seagrove
Gary Smillie
Barbara Young
Jack Young

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 13th March.