‘Order’ Random Word Competition – Shortlist

Here’s the shortlist of 5 stories (listed in alphabetical order by title) for the latest Random Word competition (and chosen anonymously by our judge Sally Zigmond):

• Indulgence
• The Apprentice Dwarf
• The Caretaker
• The Exuberant Miss Kettle
• What did I do?

Well done if your story’s on there! And ‘if you’ve just joined us’, the 5 words that had to be used in the 100 word story challenge, were: order, naughty, eight, kettle and exuberant.

The final results (winner + runner-up) and the judge’s report will be on here in the next few days. Feel free to give a ‘shout out’ to your favourite in the comments!

1. Indulgence
‘Kettle Chips, brother?’ Father Ambrose homed in on a fine dusting of crumbs on Brother Gregory’s habit. Not everyone was cut out for the self-denial of Holy Orders.
‘Only eight, father. Naughty, but nice.’
Was that a flicker of guilt, or was he … smiling? Guidance was required, thought Ambrose. But then, they’d had no new postulants for five years. Surely, to err was human, and to forgive …
Deciding that God must surely have a place for the exuberant, Father Ambrose rested his hand gently on Brother Gregory’s head.
The smile broadened. ‘Bless me, father, for I have binged.’

2. The Apprentice Dwarf
The kettle boiled. Snow White put eight mugs out in order. One lump for Doc and Sleepy. Two for Sneezy, Dopey, Bashful and Happy. Three for Grumpy. None for the new guy.
Meanwhile in the bathroom…
“Mirror, mirror, on the wall. Who is the naughtiest of them all?”
“Why, you are, oh mischievous one.”
Naughty smiled. The magic mirror, stolen from the wicked queen, always told the truth.
“You may want to get out though,” the mirror continued. “After you’ve laced the sugar, there’ll be a rush to get in soon.”
“That’ll stop all their exuberant singing. Hi ho.”

3. The Caretaker
Every night, he’d saunter into my classroom. Whistling.
“Kettle’s on,” he’d say.
“No thanks,” I’d say. Always.
Tonight he threw down his keys.
“Put me on the naughty step, Miss?” he leaned forward.
I moved back; carried on with my display.
“Alphabetical order: E,” he read. “Exuberant, exciting…See me.” He breathed.
I stapled an elephant. Bang.
“Over there please.” I passed him a box.
He winked. “Yes Miss!”
He strolled into my stockroom. Whistling.
Simple. I grabbed his keys, slammed the door, locked him in.
I’d be back eight o’clock, Monday morning.
Lights off, alarms set. I left.

4. The Exuberant Miss Kettle
Amongst the congregation, was Polly the green-winged Macaw, beloved companion of the late Miss Kettle.
The vicar strived to deliver the order of service in a dignified manner, hindered by interjections each time Polly heard mention of her dearly departed mistress.
‘Miss Kettle was a great supporter of our church’
‘Polly put the kettle on!’
‘A colourful character, loved by all’
‘Pieces of eight, pieces of eight!’
‘A wicked sense of humour’
‘Who’s a naughty boy?’
‘And a generous bequeathal to church funds.’
The condition of the windfall had the vicar ruffled. Reluctantly, he resigned himself to parrot keeping.

5. What did I do?
Emily flew into the kitchen.
‘Stop being so exuberant. It hurts,’ groaned Jane to her teenage daughter, ‘Oh, I wish we hadn’t ordered that eighth tequila shot last night.’
‘Eight! Wow, my mum’s been naughty on a girl’s night out. I’ll put the kettle on.’
Jane lifted her head from the table and glared at her daughter.
‘I’m a single mum, I need to let go sometimes. We did share the eight tequilas’
‘Did you meet anyone?’
‘Can’t remember.’
‘Can’t remember what?’ said the blonde Adonis from the kitchen door.
Jane’s jaw dropped.
‘Don’t worry mum, he’s mine.’ Emily laughed.

Posted in Competitions, random word competition | 6 Comments

‘Naughty’ Random Word Competition: Longlist

Thanks to everyone who took the time and trouble to enter my ‘naughty kettle’ (!) flash fiction competition!

There were 42 entries in total and my helper and I have drawn up a longlist of 10 entries, based on:

a) adhering to the rules (sadly there were a few stories that had spelling mistakes and/or mis-spelled the 5 required words and had to be eliminated. This included a couple that would otherwise have made the longlist, which was a real shame)
b) good use of the 5 required words
c) originality
d) entertainment value/’good writing’.

The longlist has been sent to Sally, the main judge – anonymously – and she’ll now whittle it down to her top 5, which I will print in full on here on Monday, so watch this space!

The longlist, by story title and in alphabetical order, is as follows:

Caught in the Act
Heart Wrecking
Keep the Receipt
Last Orders
The Apprentice Dwarf
The Caretaker
The Exuberant Miss Kettle
The Visits
What did I do?

Well done if you’re on the list but please don’t give the game away – it’s still all anonymous at this stage, remember – by leaving a comment saying how pleased you are or which story is yours! Mum’s the word for a little bit longer!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Posted in Competitions, random word competition | 1 Comment

All Roads Lead to Leeds

All writing ground to a halt recently, as I went to Leeds from last Friday to Sunday with my friend.

Many, many years ago we were students at the Uni (that’s it there, on the left – the Parkinson Building, to be precise) and this was only the second time I’ve ever been back for a trip down memory lane! It was fun and amazingly, I didn’t feel too old.

It probably helped that we treated ourselves to lovely food (lunch at Whitelocks, the oldest pub in Leeds and a Thai dinner on Saturday night), Negroni cocktails, G&Ts and prosecco, a play at the West Yorkshire Playhouse (Still Alice, starring Sharon Small. Well worth seeing but do take your tissues..) and a swanky hotel (the Malmaison).

All those years ago, as skint students, we were lucky if we could manage a couple of halves of cider or, as a special treat, a bottle of Blue Nun between three of us. So, getting older does have its advantages!

As chance would have it, the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) are holding their annual conference from 13 – 15th July in.. you’ve guessed it… Leeds this year.

It’s open to non-members, for a small additional fee although as I’m a member of the New Writers’ Scheme this year, I’m assuming that means I get members’ rates. If anyone else has been – and I know some of you reading this have – please let me know what it’s like! The programme hasn’t been published yet, so it’s difficult to know what happens over the weekend.

And finally, just a quick reminder that my Random Word Flash Fiction competition (42 entries so far), closes tonight, Monday 12th Feb at midnight (GMT). As I write, there are just 15 minutes left and I bet I still get one or two entries popping through the email…

The Malmaison, Leeds (formerly the City Tramways Office)

Posted in Competitions, Events, Plays, random word competition | Tagged | 12 Comments

Still Plugging Away…

The good news is… I finally made it to the Pilates class last week and I really enjoyed it, despite getting cramp in my foot at one point.

There were toys! Well, mats and bands and squidgy balls to put behind your back and little rests for those of us with tender necks, that needed support. Aah. There were also men in the class! (that’s not why I enjoyed it, I hasten to add!).

I also discovered that one side of my body – the left, in case you’re interested – is definitely much less supple than the right. Weird! Anyway, the plan is to go again in the morning and let’s see if it’s a bit easier this time. If you sit down a lot (which I have been – see below), it’s really love to s-t-r-e-t-c-h.

The bad news is… I still haven’t finished my draft of the novel! I have been excused by my critique-person, who is busy with her own stuff and is, quite rightly, not just hanging around waiting for my mine to ping into her inbox.

It’s not through want of trying and working hard. Last week I spent 28 hours on it! It’s just taking me much, much (much!) longer than I thought it would. There are so many scenes to write and revise (although I’m trying not to do too much revision) and I seem to have quite a complicated plot (why, why, why?) so it’s like fitting a jigsaw puzzle together. One of those 2000 piece, all-the-same-colour jigsaw puzzles.

My main character’s name keeps changing. She’s been Dee (Delia), Lou (Louise), Gen (short for Genevieve), Gail, Becky, Rachel… aaagh. And I still can’t decide. For reasons that I can’t reveal, it would be great if she had a name with some ‘poetic’ connection so if anyone can suggest one, I’d be grateful!

So, I’m getting there. Just…. slowly.

Writing Competitions

There’s still time to enter my random word writing competition if you want to have a go. I’ve had 20 entries so far but I usually get about 40, so I’m expecting a rush in the last week!

You’ve also got a week before the closing date of the Writers & Artists Yearbook free short story competition, which has no theme this time and an even better prize than mine – ie: an Arvon writing retreat. If you’ve got a 2000-word unpublished story hanging around doing nothing why not zap it off? What have you got to lose? (Only condition is that you register on the website before submitting your entry. Don’t forget to do that or your entry won’t count!).

Right, back to the grindstone…

Plugging away

Posted in Competitions, Finding Time To Write, Novels, Poetry, random word competition | 24 Comments

Secrets and Promises: Guest Post – Sally Jenkins

Welcome to my first guest post of the year!

I’ve invited my writing buddy Sally to talk to us about her brand new psychological thriller – The Promise – which is being published this week. Exciting times! I’m certainly looking forward to reading it.

I met Sally on a course several years ago, when we were both writing magazine short stories, with some success. Back then, the thought of ever having a book of any kind to our names was just a distant dream.

How things have moved on! Take a look here at Sally’s Amazon page if you want to see her other publications and I’ll let you into a little secret of my own: I’m usually a step or two behind Sally, so I’m certainly feeling inspired by this, her second novel and hoping some of her writing ‘luck’ (ie: hard work and talent!) rubs off on me.

When we became writing buddies, we made a kind of unspoken promise to each other: to swap work for constructive criticism and to support and encourage each other. I hope Sally agrees that we’ve done that and I hope we continue to do it for a long time yet!

So, it’s over to Sally, who’s written a very honest and though-provoking post! If you have any questions about the novel or her writing process, leave them in the comments and I’m sure she’ll happily answer them:

Publication Fright – Sally Jenkins

“Like Olivia in The Promise, I have a secret. But, unlike Olivia, I’m going to share it with you and hope that it won’t bring my writing career crashing down.

Just as an actor gets stage fright, an author gets publication fright – or at least this one does!

There was the initial euphoria of being taken on by The Book Guild, seeing the book’s wonderful cover design and having meetings to talk about publicity. Then there was the slog of reading the type-set proofs, once before and once after The Book Guild’s proof reader. It was on that final read through that the nerves set in. I’d read and re-read The Promise so many times that I knew bits off by heart. It had become boring and mundane. It was impossible for me to judge whether a reader picking up the novel for the first time would find it gripping (essential for something that’s supposed to be grip-lit!).

I needed to quash my anxiety. All authors, whether traditionally, self or partnership published, have to do their own publicity, in person, online and in the media. And confident book promotion is difficult if the author has doubts about his or her product.
So I’ve forced my anxieties into a dark corner, polished my pitch and taken heart from the comments of the few people who read the whole book before publication (none of whom has anything to gain by not telling the truth!).

My beta reader, Sharon Boothroyd, described it as, ‘a brilliant, carefully crafted, tense story.’

On accepting The Promise, The Book Guild said, ‘We receive many submissions for our thriller list, but we only take on those that we feel stand a good chance of commercial success in a very competitive market.’

Prolific crime writer, Judith Cutler, agreed to read the manuscript and gave me a wonderful shout line for the cover, ‘Jenkins spins a web of intrigue.’

Olivia’s secret in The Promise is much darker than my publication fright and she has far more to lose if it gets out. She has so much to lose that she becomes the target of a blackmail attempt. The root of that secret goes back to Olivia’s teenage years and a promise made behind bars that must now be kept in the outside world.
The Promise is available on Kindle and other e-readers. It is also available in paperback from all major online retailers and from a book shop near you.”

About Sally
Sally Jenkins writes grip-lit/psychological thrillers and commercial women’s fiction. She lives with her husband in Sutton Coldfield and has two grown-up daughters. Find out more about Sally and follow her blog at https://sally-jenkins.com/ or follow her on Facebook, Twitter @sallyjenkinsuk or on Amazon.

About The Promise
A man has been stabbed. A woman is bloodstained. The nightmares from her teenage years have begun again for Olivia Field just as she is preparing to marry. Ex-convict, Tina is terminally ill. Before she dies, the care of her younger, psychologically unwell brother, Wayne must be ensured. So Tina calls in a promise made to her thirty years ago in a prison cell. A promise that was written down and placed with crucial evidence illustrating a miscarriage of justice in a murder case. Tina believes Olivia is perfectly placed to provide the care Wayne needs, but to do so, Olivia must be forced to cancel her own wedding and wreck the lives of those close to her. Tina’s terrible blackmail demands put Olivia’s entire future and, ultimately, her freedom under threat. The Promise is a fast-paced psychological thriller told from several third person viewpoints. The novel explores the lengths to which people are prepared go in order to protect those they love and the impossibility of ever fully escaping our past actions.

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800 followers: Random Word Flash Fiction Competition (free to enter)

A few days ago I reached over 800 followers on the blog, so I was all set to run another of my random word flash fiction competitions but I checked the figures tonight and obviously, some people are ‘spring cleaning’ the blogs that they follow and the number has dropped from about 804 to 796!

Never mind. I am going to run it anyway, assuming that the number will bob back up again in the next few days. But just thought I’d better explain, in case you think I am ‘jumping the gun’. (I have actually ‘missed the gun’!)

So, it’s the usual formula:

The trusty random word generator (I used a different one this time, just to ring the changes) came up with EXUBERANT, KETTLE, ORDER and NAUGHTY (I’m saying nothing about that one. No, no, I’m not worried at all) and I’m adding EIGHT for good measure and for obvious reasons, so those are your 5 words.

I’d like you come up with a flash fiction story OR poem, max 100 words, (plus a title), that includes all 5 of the words and my biggest TIP for you is to try to be original and use the words in as clever a way as you can (yes, that’s actually 2 tips).
Just to be clear, the words are:

* eight
* exuberant
* kettle
* order
* naughty

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 add letters to the end of the words – eg: ‘orderly’ or ‘eighth’

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 (ie: they’re in the document in their entirety), then you’re OK.

The prizes are significant! I’m giving away a £25 Amazon e-voucher as first prize and a £10 Amazon e-voucher as second prize. Yoo hooo! And then, of course, there’s THE GLORY of being the winner, which is priceless.


1. One entry per person & no alterations can be made once it’s submitted.
2. Open to anyone, anywhere and it’s free to enter.
3. Maximum 100 words (you can submit less), plus title.
4. Please don’t copy or plagiarise. You will be found out! (and it will be embarrassing and shameful)
5. Your story/poem’s title is in addition to the 100 words
6. 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 – this is a ‘family blog’!).
7. Your entry must not have won or been placed in another competition.
8. Judge’s/judges’ decisions are final (and details of the judge are below!).
9. Email your entry in the body of the email, NOT as an attachment, to: helenyendall@yahoo.co.uk by midnight on Monday 12th Feb 2018 (3 weeks today), along with your name. You will get an emailed response, confirming receipt of your entry, within a day or so.
10. By entering, you agree that your entry, or an extract, can be posted on this blog if it’s one of the shortlisted stories. Copyright remains with the author and any entries that are not shortlisted will be deleted/destroyed once judging is complete.
11. I will shortlist 10 entries and another judge (a published writer) will choose the winner, anonymously, and runner-up, from those 10 entries.

The Judge:

The lovely Sally Zigmond will be judging the shorlist of 10 – anonymously – and choosing her winner and runner-up.

Here’s some more info about her:

Sally has been writing for publication for over 20 years. Her stories have been published widely including Women’s Weekly, The People’s Friend, My Weekly and The Lady. They have also won prizes in short story competitions. In years past, she has been the UK reviews editor of The Historical Novel Association and still review for them. For a while, she assisted Jo Derrick, the wonderful editor of QWF magazine. Her novel Hope Against Hope was long-listed in for the Romantic Novel of the Year 2011. She lives in the North York Moors National Park with her triathlon-mad husband. They have two sons and two grandchildren.

Good luck!

Posted in Blogging, Competitions, random word competition | Tagged | 10 Comments

Staying in the Bubble

A new pilates class started last week in our village hall and yesterday my neighbour asked me, via our ‘message wall’* if I’d like to go with her tomorrow morning.

Ooh, I was so tempted. It’s actually one of my new year’s resolutions, to start pilates or yoga.

It’s only for an hour, I thought, plus travel time there and back (say another half an hour, to allow for chatting) but in the end, I saw sense and said no.

I will go with her once January’s over because I have got to get this second draft finished, I am waaaaay behind and I need to stay in my bubble.

When you’re writing a ‘longer piece’ – and this is definitely one of the tricky parts of it – you’re creating a whole world. And that imaginary world is fighting for time and space with the real world. The more time you spend in the real world, the harder it is to get back into the imaginary one. At least, that’s what I’m finding. I think that’s why writing gurus often dole out the advice to ‘write every day’. It’s about staying connected to the world you’re trying to create. I’ve just been to Center Parcs for four days (hence this post is late). And yes, the only bubble I connected with there, was the ‘subtropical paradise’, so trying to get back into writing today was hard work.

Stephen King advises writers to place their desk so it’s facing a blank wall (not even a window is allowed). Because you’re creating – you don’t want anything ‘real’ to distract you.

Marian Keyes gets into the writing zone by lighting a candle and telling herself ‘I’ll just do an hour’. (I’ve been trying this but I worry that I’ll burn the cave down).

I find it helps to: do my Morning Pages (which is like a writerly meditation. You could do yoga or actual mediation instead), stay off the internet until at least 4pm, avoid the tele’ until the evening and engage with the real world as little as possible.

I know I’m in the zone – inside that bubble – when the imaginary world I’m writing about starts to feel real. Perhaps, for that hour or so, it feels more real than the real world. Time flies – I don’t even notice it because I’m so absorbed in what I’m doing. It doesn’t happen as often as I’d like though, so I have to try to protect that feeling – that immersion – at all costs. And that means no pilates, for me. At least, not yet.

* The ‘message wall’ is state-of-the-art communication technology. You write a note by hand, stuff it in a plastic bag so it doesn’t get rained on and place it on the wall between your two houses, with a stone on it to weigh it down.

Other Stuff:

On a slightly different note, I’ve just (1 minute ago!) reached 800 followers so watch this space. In a couple of weeks time, hopefully, there’ll be a new random word competition, to celebrate!

Also – I always mention this so I’ll give it a little plug here – the Readers Digest 100 word writing competition (for UK residents only) is open for entries until 5pm on 19th February 2018.

It’s free to enter, there’s a top prize of £1000, you can enter as many times as you like, your title is in addition to the 100 words and for the first time they’ll be putting shortlisted entries into an anthology, which might appeal to you.

Just bear mind though, that – naughty, naughty – they take ‘worldwide copyright’ in all entries and can do whatever they like with your story (“We may use entries in all print and electronic media. Contributions become world copyright of Reader’s Digest.”). In the past, when they’ve published shortlisted entries in the magazine, they’ve paid the authors £60 or so but there’s nothing mentioned in the terms and conditions about paying entrants whose stories appear in the anthology.

The Center Parcs bubble

Posted in Competitions, Finding Time To Write, Novels, random word competition | Tagged , | 14 Comments