‘Skyscraper’ Random Word Competition – Shortlist

SkyscraperI bet you thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you? Well, it’s 11pm-ish so it is, strictly speaking, still Friday. Sorry, did mean to do this earlier but I got caught up with other stuff.

Anyway, here is the shortlist of 5 stories, with their authors.

If you’re new to this, the idea was to write a 100 (max) story or poem that included the words: vote, sunshine, frost, skyscraper and toy. Additions to the words (eg: ‘voted’ or ‘frostily’) were allowed.

If your story or poem didn’t get a mention this time around, don’t be too disheartened. I know it’s a really hard thing to do, in just 100 words (and I think the words were particularly tricky this time).

Two things I would say, for future reference:

(i) Use all the words you’re allowed!

You were allowed up to 100 words for this exercise and some people only used 40 or 50. It’s no coincidence that none of the shortlisted entries is that short. They’re all within the 97 – 100 word bracket because you need all those words to make your entry the very best it can be. A 50 word story is going to have to be pretty exceptional to beat a 100 worder.

(ii) I know you’ve heard this before but don’t go with your first thought.

Half the 32 entries used a skyscraper for their setting. After a while, all those skyscraper stories (and one poem) started to blend into one another. If you can be original and different, your story will make more of an impression on a judge. And 5 of the skyscraper stories were set in – or made reference to – New York. Most of us associate skyscrapers with New York but that’s a first thought, isn’t it? Why not The Shard or The Gherkin? No one set their story definitively in London or somewhere like the Burj Khalifa, which is the tallest building in the world. Just saying…

On Monday I’m off to Writers Holiday in Fishguard for (almost) a week, so the winners will be announced on here before then.

The judge has already made his/her decision, so if you’d like to comment on which is your favourite story, then feel free, as it won’t affect the final result and it’s always interesting to see who likes what!

1. A Little Learning – by Christine Cherry

They laughed in the factory when she told them. “You? College? Little Miss Bluestocking? Never!”
She’d left school at 14, but she’d read; she’d remembered; she’d dreamed. Endless facts- tallest skyscraper? Deepest ocean? First Prime Minister? When did women get the vote? Endless lists- monarchs; battle dates; famous lives.
But here now, a row of black-gowned crows facing her, she was shrinking. Words, knowledge deserting her. The day was warm but the room remained frosty. Forbidding.
“Try once more,” the voice barked. “War and Peace?”
“Was written by…” her head spun, “Leo…Toy Story.”
Outside, the sunshine disappeared.

2. Deal or No Deal – by Linda Mallinson

“Hi, Grandma.”
“It’s Thursday, why are you here?”
A little ray of sunshine, Grandma is not.
“I’ve come to take you out to vote.”
“Out in a boat? I hate water.”
Grandma was sitting, with three others, round a table looking at a toy train.
“These are the people waiting at the railway station,” said Grandma, waving a handful of matches.
Pointing, I asked, “Is that a skyscraper?”
“That’s a pile of matchboxes, obviously,” said Grandma frostily.
“See you Monday then?” said Grandma.
On my way out I heard cards being shuffled and Grandma saying “Is it my deal?”

3. The Possibilities Are Endless – by Kathy Schilbach

So tiny. I hold you in my arms, stroke my fingertips across your cheek, and think of your future.
Maybe you’ll be an architect and build bridges and skyscrapers. Or you’ll be a TV weather girl and forecast frost and hurricanes. Or will you be a designer, creating toys for the super-rich? Or an MP, voted in to champion the poor?
I blink away a tear. There were complications at your birth. They say you’ll have severe learning difficulties. But I look at your smile, like sunshine filling the room, filling my heart, and I think: ‘What do they know?’

4. Treasure Hunt – by Alyson Faye

Our little gang of scavengers always take a vote before we head out. We’re democratic that way.
That January day, the waste ground behind the newly built skyscraper won.
It was Billy who found the doll, lying in the frosty tipped grass. Weak sunshine gleamed on her glassy eyes.
Shoving it at me, Billy rubbed his hands on his denims, ‘Yuk, it’s slimy. Here Jem. You have it.’
None of us had toys, so this was real treasure. Grabbing the doll’s tiny hand, I instantly recognized it.
From the ‘Missing’ poster. The lost girl was holding it.

5. Unseen – by Julie Durdin

Frosty face; polished obsidian eyes; blackbird-winged hair, glossy with oil.
“Don’t toy with me.”
I wasn’t.
Punches, burns, vicious kicks to ankles – I suffer them all.
My nose mashed on the window. Outside, placards held aloft. I know what’s on them. Vote for Gilmour. That benign smile.
Don’t believe him, I silently scream. Know what he does to me up here in this skyscraper he built with your money. All this glass, but you don’t see me.
One day I’ll jump. You’ll see me then, head spread across the pavement, bright red blood glistening in the summer sunshine.

Posted in Competitions | Tagged | 6 Comments

Putting On The Ritz!

 We were in London last weekend for birthday celebrations! (his). We had dinner at The Ritz and afternoon tea at The Dukes Hotel in Mayfair. Get me! Yes, we were living the high life (although we did balance it out by staying at the very thrifty Premier Inn Hub on Brick Lane. More of that in a moment).

The first time we went to The Ritz (in 2008! I’ve still got the menus), I had a horrible headache, my man was hobbling due to a tennis injury and the next day, back home, he came down with pneumonia which necessitated a 999 call (nothing, I’m sure, to do with The Ritz but one remembers these things!).

This time, we assured ourselves, we would be ‘injury free’! But no – I am still bandaged up from my sprained ankle (tennis injury) and had to stop at the entrance of Green Park before we got to The Ritz, to slip off the tubi-grip – and the next day, due, I am sure, to all that champagne – and the London heatwave – I got another of my lovely ‘heads’. Anyway, we will have to go back again and hope it’s ‘third time lucky’.

You’re not supposed to take photos in The Ritz but we sneaked a few in at the bar and then, after dinner, when most people had gone home (and in fact, the cleaners were heading out with their Hoovers), we managed a few more. The Ritz is, in my humble opinion, quite perfect. (You can even have afternoon tea at 7.30pm!). It was opened in 1906 and Charlie Chaplin was a regular. It’s a little oasis of luxury and calm in a mad, mad world. I could quite happily have stayed there forever..

London 006

But no, after one more naughty cocktail at the bar, we jumped into a cab and went off to Brick Lane (immortalised of course, in the Monica Ali novel, which is one of my favourites). Brick Lane is famous for galleries, curry restaurants and markets, Spitalfields market is just down the road, as is Liverpool Street Station and I can highly recommend the Premier Inn Hub place.

We had a mooch around on Sunday morning and found a lovely book shop (which has a book club and a writing group, according to the website)..

book shop

AND this sign – which made me laugh and we had to take a photo.

London 009

If you read Writers Forum, you may have spotted the articles that Douglas McPherson has written about my People’s Friend serial and the process of writing it. The family that own the chocolate factory in the serial – the Allens – are Quakers, as were many of the chocolatiers of that time (Cadburys, Frys and Rowntrees). Somehow, during our telephone interview, Douglas and I got our wires crossed and in this month’s article, he states that I’m a Quaker. (That really made me laugh). Anyway, of course, there’s nothing wrong with it – in fact, some lovely people, like Judi Dench, are Quakers – but just for the record, I’m not one. Or at least, I wasn’t last time I looked.

Longlist: Random Words Writing Competition (Skyscraper, Vote, Frost, Sunshine, Toy)

I have appointed a judge for the random words writing competition and he/she is beavering away as I write, considering the (anonymous) shortlist.

But here, in the meantime is the long list of 10 entries, in alphabetical order by title:

• A Little Learning
• Battered by a Borzoi
• Deal or No Deal
• Life Changer
• The Most Unlikely Person To Enter A Beauty Pageant
• The Possibilities Are Endless
• Time To Go
• Treasure Hunt
• Unseen
• Window to Someone Else’s World

The shortlist will be published TOMORROW (Friday!) so make sure you come back then…!



Posted in Books, Magazines, The People's Friend | Tagged , | 7 Comments

The Devil’s In the Detail

A male orange tip

A male orange tip

I go to a poetry group that meets once a month.

I don’t make it to every meeting but I try to go as often as I can because it’s good for me to mix with some excellent poets. Their comments are really useful and I can learn from them.

It’s also a way of making myself write some new poetry – because the idea is that we all bring one or two of our poems to read out to the group. Sometimes though, like yesterday, I just run out of time (and inspiration!) and have to take a couple of old poems with me. It’s still good to revisit them though. They can always be tightened up and improved.

One of my verses yesterday included the lines:

“…where pairs of white butterflies,
their wings dipped in carrot juice,
danced over nettles.”

A member of the group pointed out – very nicely – that ‘orange tips’ (as those butterflies are apparently called!) differ according to their sex. The males have the orange tips and the females don’t (typical! male birds get the best plumage too). Also, someone else asked, do they lay their eggs on nettles?

I needed to check my facts.

Turned out, they were both right. So I changed that line to read ‘where white butterflies…’ (instead of ‘pairs of white butterflies’). And no, they don’t feed on nettles. According to the trusty internet, the caterpillars hatch and feed on ‘garlic mustard and lady’s smock, sometimes also sweet rocket and honesty in gardens’. So, I may need to rethink that line too.

Perhaps you think that’s all a bit pedantic but in poetry, perhaps more than in any other written form (flash fiction too, I’d say), every word counts and has to earn its place. You can’t afford to get your facts wrong because for every 100 people who read that poem (I wish!), there are bound to be one or two (maybe more) who know their butterflies and the poem would be spoiled for them.

And talking of getting the words just right, we had a new baby boy born in the family yesterday so while I was out at the shops today, I grabbed a congratulations card to send.

I was in a rush. I usually take a little more care – and I didn’t even have my glasses on – but when I got home and looked at the card properly.. well, what do you think?

Baby boy 001

Just in case you can’t see it on the photo very clearly, the rhyme says,’A new born baby, so full of charm.. a tiny bundle, to keep safe from harm.’

Aaagh. It’s wrong, isn’t it? That word – ‘harm’ – you don’t send that to two new, potentially-anxious parents, do you?! So I’m going to have to either buy another card or put a sticker over that ‘poem’ and write something a little more tasteful.

Note to self: do not buy cards in a rush, without being able to see properly, ever again.

PS: I am collating all 32 entries to the 100 word competition and I will be drawing up a long-list and then a shortlist very soon!

Posted in Competitions, Poetry | Tagged | 4 Comments

Festival Frenzy & A Bubble Burst!

the quiz! (with obligatory bar)

the quiz! (with obligatory bar)

This time last week, as you may remember, I was panicking about getting ready for the Evesham Festival of Words Book Quiz, which my friend Chris and I were running.

It was not without its heart-stopping moments in the run-up. Firstly, would anyone come? Despite everyone’s best promotional efforts, no-one booked for ages.

Then, the weekend before the quiz, Chris was admitted to hospital, which was bad enough but then, of course, there was the possibility that I’d have to do it all by myself….!

I was also worried that England might be playing a Euro 2016 match that night, which would keep some people at home (but thank you, Iceland) and then I fretted about the weather. The venue was on the banks of a river, reached by something of a dirt track…! If we had any more torrential rain, I had visions of it turning into a quagmire, with cars stuck and people’s best shoes ruined. Sometimes, a vivid imagination is not a blessing!

But, as they say, it was ‘alright on the night’. (Lynne Hackles assured me that would be the case and she was right! Is she psychic?!). Chris valiantly dragged herself off her sick bed (hurrah!), we had 8 teams booked and another turned up unannounced, which was actually an ideal number. And the ‘interval nibbles’ turned out to be a BANQUET – chips, pizza, samosas, sandwiches! (We were all expecting a few crisps!). So next year – and yes, there’s going to be a repeat performance – we shall brand the quiz slightly differently (‘Don’t eat before you come!’ for example or ‘bring Tupperware’).

The winning team!

The winning team!

The following day, we attended a couple of events at the Festival: ‘Romance, History, Psychology: inside the minds of three authors’, an afternoon with authors Alison May, Janice Preston and Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn, (which was excellent), then there was just time for a delicious afternoon tea before hot-footing it down to the Town Hall to see an interview with novelist Katie Fforde and the presentation of prizes to the winners of the short story competition.

Over a glass of wine at the end of the event, we were approached by a jolly woman who’d been at our quiz the night before. “Great quiz, great!” she gushed and we beamed and thanked her. “Now – “ she continued, “I’ve got a low boredom threshold….” Chris and I exchanged smiles and glances. We knew what was coming. Something along the lines of “but I was captivated from start to finish…”

“SO,” she went on, “next year, how about just four rounds, picture round and then FINISH!?” She made a chopping action with her arms. My wine nearly went flying. “I mean – “ she went on, “it didn’t end until 10 o’clock! It was almost half past ten before we got home…!”

If you think you can cope with such a late night, then next year’s quiz will be on Thursday 29th June. But bring matchsticks for your eyes and maybe – oh what the heck, just come in your pyjamas.

It was a great couple of days and now that it’s over, I feel rather lost and in need of another festival. In fact, I’ve got my eye on Bewdley Book Week

What I’m Reading

And in other news, I’ve just read ‘Call The Midwife’ – the first in a series of books by Jennifer Worth, on which the popular BBC TV series is based. It was beautifully written and very funny in parts but oh so harrowing in others. I always cry at the TV series but I can’t stop thinking about some of the really sad stories I read in the book. For example, she writes about the workhouses, where husbands, wives, parents and children were separated for years, or never saw each other again.

One is sad, one is funny

One is sad, one is funny

So, I needed something jolly to cheer me up after that. I love Bill Bryson but I haven’t read any of his books for a while and I’d read a rather scathing review of his latest travel book ‘The Road To Little Dribbling’ which said it was basically just a whinge. So I picked it up rather reluctantly and braced myself for disappointment.
And guess what? Within 30 seconds, I was laughing.

PS: There’s still time to enter my 100 word writing competition. Details here. The closing date is 12th July and I have 17 entries so far…

Posted in Books, Competitions, Events, Novels | Tagged | Leave a comment

Trials & Tribulations of ‘Turning Pro’

Pic courtesy of http://cliparts.co/

Pic courtesy of http://cliparts.co/

As I write this, British hopeful Marcus Willis is playing Roger Federer at Wimbledon and I’ve got it on the TV (TV or tv? anyway…)

Bless. It’s a bit of a David and Goliath match. No-one of course, expects him to win but at the moment I’m just willing him to get a game! Or a couple of points in a row would be nice.

He’s a local lad, too. He plays at Warwick Boat Club, not far from me. When I went on my tennis holiday in May (yes, the one in which I sprained my ankle, which still hasn’t mended completely), there was a big group from Warwick Boat on the same holiday (sadly not Marcus, or I could have claimed to ‘know’ him!)

Whoops that’s the first set over. I’d better hurry up or the whole thing will be finished before I’ve written this.

But what the heck? He’s making the most of the opportunity and he’s going to get £50,000 just for reaching that far and playing! (I might be prepared to make a fool of myself on Centre Court for that kind of money).

Anyway, enough of that. Here’s the latest news from me!

1. There’s still time to enter my FREE ‘random word’ writing competition, which closes on July 12th. Full details on the post before this one. I’ve had 8 entries so far…!

2. The last part of my People’s Friend serial has been published today. I am a little disappointed, I have to admit. They’ve chopped out a lot of words, changed characters names and even … sob.. changed my last line! Which I liked! But there you go, perhaps that’s just par for the course and I shouldn’t be precious about my work, once it’s been sold!

3. Tomorrow night, my friend Chris and I are running a book quiz as part of the Evesham Festival of Words. Eeek! We have 8 teams booked in and we’re hoping to get a couple more on the night. Although we’ve run quizzes for a few years now, at Writers Holiday in Wales, this is the first time we’ve done it for money (a little bit of money). Yes, we’ve turned pro. But when you turn pro, it puts the pressure on! So I’m a bit nervous but I’m sure it’ll be fine – and fun!

4. I’m going to be a guest on the lovely Wendy Clarke’s blog on Sunday!

5. And finally, I have discovered that The Scottish Book Trust has a great website, full of tips and competitions. Here’s a post for example, on ‘writing around the 9 to 5‘. And every month they run a 50 word writing competition, with categories for ‘all ages’ or under 18s.

The prompt for this month (and there’s a photo – you could use it as a general writing prompt if you don’t want to limit yourself to just 50 words) is: Write a story about swimming…


And given the awful weather out there today, that’s pretty apt!

Posted in Competitions, Finding Time To Write, Successes, The People's Friend | Tagged , | 12 Comments

New writing competition (free!) & Short Story Collection

FINALTheSunshineBoardHere’s a surprise for you. To celebrate the publication of my new short story collection (TA-DERR!), I’m running another of my random word writing competitions. It’s FREE to enter and open to everyone, wherever you live.

But more of that in a minute. First, ‘a word from our sponsors’…

The Sunshine Board contains 12 short stories, most of which have been previously published in magazines and a couple that are competition winners.

There’s a touch of humour, some romance and ‘The Normal Course of Events’ (which won the Chudleigh Phoenix competition in 2014), is written in a series of emails and was definitely the most fun I’ve ever had with a story.

I deliberately chose the word ‘sunshine’ and the bright sunny cover (more about that dragon in a minute!) as this little collection is intended as a light summer read, whether you’re sitting on the beach in Marbella or at home staring out at the rain. There’s nothing sad or depressing in it, I promise: just pure escapism and hopefully, a lump in the throat and a smile or two.

Now, you might be wondering about the dragon on the front cover. Hmm, I was wondering about that too, when the illustration came back from the graphic designer. I used Shar on fiverr.com and she was very good but – as you probably know – you don’t pay a huge amount on fiverr (although I did pay more than $5!) so there’s not much scope for to-ing and fro-ing and tweaking designs.

It was actually my fault for choosing something that was difficult to illustrate (I mean, what is a ‘sunshine board’? You’ll have to read the story to find out!). Luckily I had a story called ‘Dragon’s Den’ that would fit into the collection quite well and phew, suddenly the random dragon on the front cover made sense!

Those of you who’ve also self-published on Amazon will know that it’s quite a fiddly and time-consuming business (I’m sure it gets easier, the more you do it) but I couldn’t have managed it (even though this is my second book!) without my writing buddy Sally Jenkins’ book ‘Kindle Direct Publishing For Absolute Beginners’ to hand. I can highly recommend it if you’re thinking of having a go yourself.

Anyway, all that remains to say is that should you wish to buy this little splash of sunshine for your holiday Kindle reading, then you can do so here. Thank you!

Random Word Competition – closing date 12th July 2016
I promised you another of these when I reached 700 followers. Well, I’m not quite there yet but I thought we could have another one anyway. You need to write a (max) 100 word story or poem, which includes 5 specific words.

The words this time are:
• toy
• frost
• vote
• skyscraper
• sunshine*

*I used the random word generator for the first four and then added ‘sunshine’ as it seemed appropriate

The words can be used more than once and can be used in the title as well as, (or instead of), in the body of the story. And you can use ‘extensions’ of the words – eg: ‘frosty’, ‘toying’ or ‘voted’.

Check if you’ve used them correctly by doing a search on your finished document for the 5 words. As long as they come up, then you’re OK.

I’m giving away a £25 Amazon e-voucher as first prize and a £10 Amazon e-voucher as second prize. And then, of course, there’s the glory and honour of being the winner, which is priceless.

1. One entry per person.
2. Open to anyone, anywhere and it’s free to enter
3. You don’t have to buy my e-book in order to enter!
4. Maximum 100 words (you can submit less), plus title.
5. Please don’t copy or plagiarise. You will be found out! (and it will be embarrassing and shameful)
6. Your story/poem’s title is in addition to the 100 words
7. Any theme or genre is acceptable (but anything too graphic or ‘sweary’ is unlikely to be shortlisted, as I won’t want to publish it here, so do consider that!)
8. Your entry must not have won or been placed in another competition.
9. Judge’s / judges’ decisions are final.
10. Email your entry in the body of the email, NOT as an attachment, to: helenyendall600@gmail.com by midnight on Tuesday 12th July 2016 (3 weeks today), along with your name.
11. By entering, you agree that your entry, or an extract, can be posted on this blog if it’s one of the shortlisted stories.
12. I will shortlist 5 entries and someone else will choose the winner, anonymously. I am being vague about the ‘someone else’ because I don’t know who it will be yet, but someone other than me and someone who will take their task seriously.
If you have any questions, feel free to post them as a comment, so that everyone can see the response!
Thanks – and good luck!

PS: We’ve done this lots of times before and I’m sure most people know the drill but if you’re a new-comer (welcome!) then have a look here and here to see past winners and shortlisted entries.


Posted in Competitions, E publishing, Short Stories | 15 Comments

My People’s Friend Serial Is About To Hit The Shelves

July's Writers Forum magazine

July’s Writers Forum magazine

If you get Writers Forum magazine, you’ll notice that (*puffs up*) I am featured in the July issue, which is already out to subscribers and probably about to appear in the shops.

When I won the People’s Friend serial competition, Douglas McPherson contacted the editor Shirley Blair asking if she’d be interested in a “fly-on-the-wall type of feature on Helen and her winning entry, following the whole process from her original idea to the writing of the concluding episodes and any input you have into the story along the way.”

Obviously I was asked if I’d like to take part and although Douglas’s original idea was that it would run over a couple of issues, it’s actually going to be running over 3 – or even 4 – issues of Writers Forum now (maybe I talked too much?).

My friends think this is hilarious and that Douglas will be padding his articles with all kinds of random facts about me but I can assure you, that we’ve spoken on the phone three times, for about an hour each time and there is LOADS to say about the serial- writing process and I really don’t think he’ll have to include details such as how I take my tea (but if you’re reading this Douglas and kicking yourself that you didn’t ask me, it’s quite strong, not too milky and no sugar, thank you).

Part one is out now to coincide with the first part of the PF serial – now called ‘Where The Air Is Sweet’ – which is out THIS WEEK (tomorrow, in fact)! So, if you’re in or around WH Smiths, you might want to have a flick through the magazines (or even.. dare I suggest it.. buy them?!)

First instalment of my serial in this week's People's Friend

First instalment of my serial in this week’s People’s Friend

Posted in Competitions, Successes, The People's Friend | 22 Comments