A Cat May Look at a King – Tracey Walsh

3000 words Historical / Romance

It’s 1617 and Catherine, Thomas and the rest of the household staff at Hoghton Tower are keen to see their royal visitor, King James, but life will never be the same again after his visit.

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That day in 1617 started the same way as every other day Catherine had spent as scullery maid at Hoghton Tower in Lancashire. But as she hurried downstairs to begin her early morning chores Catherine remembered that today was different after all. It was her sixteenth birthday and the housekeeper, Mrs Baines, had promised that if Catherine worked hard and behaved herself she would be promoted to the position of housemaid. That would mean no more nights staying awake, ensuring that all the fires in the house stayed lit. It would also mean that instead of just one half-day off a month she would have half a day every fortnight.

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Castaway Dreaming – Suzie Hindmarsh-Knights

3000 words Romance

A lifetime ago Suzanne fell in love with a Fijian man while on holiday at Castaway Island. She accepts his proposal of marriage but on her return to America – to tidy up her affairs – reality hits with a vengeance and she doesn’t return to the man she loves. Years later she finds herself in a position to return to Castaway and while exploring old haunts discovers more than she’d bargained for.

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‘The Island is approximately five Ks from end to end. It’s sandy here but is rocky most of the way. Are you sure you’re up to it.’ Suzanne’s companion looked at her with eyebrows raised. ‘Sami, I might be twenty years your senior but I’m not an invalid.’ She got the impression he disliked her. ‘Lead on.’ Sami’s reply was lost as he turned into the wind. His hair whipped back from his handsome Fijian face and Suzanne’s stomach lurched. He looked like someone she once knew. Damn, she hadn’t wanted a guide, but if she had to have one why did he have to look like Michael. She’d told the resort management she’d walked Castaway Island many times in the past. But they deemed it foolish a woman venturing to the furthest side of the island alone and so Samisoni was summoned.

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Crying Wolf – Judy Upton

1700 word General Fiction

Trapped after a jeep accident, a property developer is about to have an encounter that will change his attitude towards wildlife.

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Once Daniel had recovered from the initial shock of the accident, he was angered rather than frightened by the realization that he was trapped. He cursed his own stupidity and clumsiness. Apart from the dull ache where the Jeep’s axle was resting upon his shoulders, there was no pain. He could not lift his head at all, restricting his view to the underside of the vehicle and a narrow strip of the forest floor beyond. His limbs remained free, yet he dared not attempt to drag himself from under the jeep for fear of bringing its full weight down upon his neck. Only the soft, springy layer of leaf litter and the unevenness of the ground had saved him from serious injury.

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Dave’s Christmas – Lynda Franklin

2000 words Christmas story

You think being a guardian angel is easy? Think again! When Dave arrives on Christmas Eve to do his usual stint of helping someone in need, he comes face to face with a Santa impersonator who has just died. Does this man have something to do with Dave’s mission to help someone? Things don’t turn out quite as he expected.

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Well, it’s that time of year again. You know the one I mean. The season of goodwill to all men … and women of course. Unfortunately, things can go wrong at Christmas, just as they do any other time of the year. I suppose you might say that’s where I come in. Problems? Believe me, I’ve seen them all! But then I’ve been around a long time. Dave’s the name, and I’ve been a guardian angel for almost one hundred years. And believe me, trying to be in the right place at the right time, doesn’t get any easier. This year I’ve been allocated the early shift.

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Essence of Dust – Annette Siketa

6850 words Fantasy / Romance

After rejecting a host of arranged suitors, the wizardene, Sukor, uses her powers to marry the mortal King, Gerrain.  But one of the rejected suitors has other ideas, and is determined that if he can’t have her, nobody can.

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To the south of the city on the edge of the Great Forest, where the roots of the trees are kissed by the waves of the sea, stand the ruins of a once imperial palace. Directly in front and either side of the crumbling entrance gate, are two weatherworn statues. Once bedecked with gold and jewels, the now naked stone is a reminder of the fickleness of fate. Some of the old ones still worship these statues, for in their hearts’, the tragedy of King Gerrain and Queen Sukor still lingers. The young ones however, regard these symbols of the past with undisguised resentment, for it was the strange, untimely, and simultaneous deaths of the royal couple that instigated the war.

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Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway – Tracey Walsh

2200 word Women’s Fiction

Jan’s fear of flying is threatening to cost her a dream job in a travel agency. She’ll try anything to overcome her fear but visiting a hypnotist has unexpected consequences.

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Jan gazed at the breathtaking view in front of her. The balcony looked out over the edge of the cliffs and it was impossible to tell where the sea met the sky as the infinite number of shades of blue merged. One day, she thought. One day. “Jan, are you with us?” The voice of her manager, Steve, snapped Jan out of her reverie. She reluctantly tore her eyes away from the poster in front of her desk and followed Steve to the meeting room where the rest of the team were waiting. Monday morning meant staff meeting at the travel agent’s where Jan had worked for the past six months. She’d been elated when she received the call telling her she’d got the job. Jan had been taken on in a trainee position because she had no experience at all, but her languages qualifications had impressed the interviewers.

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Last Respects – Barbara Brockway

2500 words General Fiction

Alice has a specific motive for attending her elderly sister’s wake, although it isn’t to mourn. Saying goodbye to a beloved sibling is never easy, let alone one with whom you’ve had a complicated, strained relationship. Alice’s unique way of sending off her estranged sister is anything but orthodox, but it gives her a peculiar sort of closure.

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Alice walked slowly through the funeral home’s hushed lobby, her shuffling footsteps drowned out by soothing music being piped in through unseen speakers. The hem of her dark grey dress hung crookedly below her knees, her panty hose bagged at her thin ankles. She stopped and checked her wristwatch. Her plan had been to get there just as it was starting, there would be fewer people around. She didn’t want to mingle, she wanted to accomplish her task and get out.

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Letting Off Steam – Amanda Lunt

1200 words Feel Good story

New mum Jane’s hopes of relaxation on a spa day are dashed by her career-driven friend, Martha, embarrassing encounters with strangers’ laps, and a swimsuit that doesn’t quite fit. But Martha is not quite all she seems and Jane realises that friendships are not made in a steam room.

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“Isn’t this fab?” purred Martha, taking a sip of her iced water. “Just the two of us, chilling together?” Jane nodded silently. A bead of sweat trickled down her forehead. ‘Chill’ was not quite the word she would use to describe it. She gave the legs of her black swimming costume a firm tug downwards. Then she noticed with alarm that her cleavage was threatening to erupt from the top and yanked it back up. She had spent the previous weekend trying to find swimwear that concealed and flattened as much flesh as possible.

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Mr Woolly’s Fossil Shop – Lucy McGinley

2300 words Children 8 – 11 years

Mr Woolly’s Fossil shop will close unless he can compete with online suppliers. Mr Woolly is not a man of action but a man of dreams and big mugs of tea. A hooded stranger darkens his doorway with a steaming Tyrannosaurus poo. Could this be the answer to his problem?

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“Turn the sign to ‘closed’ on the way out will you?” said Mr Woolly to his only customer that day. He watched Mr Shark dart between the dusty cabinets and out the door clutching his prize. If business wasn’t so bad I wouldn’t deal with you, you haggler! But it was, so he did. Mr Woolly clicked open the till and began to count out the money. He curled a rubber band around a thin roll of 10 pound notes. “That’s not even going to cover this month’s rent.” He sighed. Then he pulled out the tray and felt around underneath in the hope that something might have got caught there. Nothing.

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Partners – Annette Siketa

1500 Ghost Story / Humour

An undiscovered diamond mine turns Melville into a killer.  His partner’s retribution however, is priceless.

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James Melville stood in the centre of the room, feet slightly apart and hands in his trouser pockets. A short, rather plain-looking man, his slender frame and narrow neck belied his strength, the same strength that moments earlier had killed his business partner, Gerald Holt. He looked at the body lying at his feet – the closed eyes, the calm features, the right arm resting peacefully on the carpet, and contemplated why the attitude conveyed sleep rather than death. He had not derived any personal pleasure from committing the murder, though he had been a little surprised that it had been easier and quicker than expected.

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Post Safe – Ingrid Heyn

1200 words Crime / Christian Story

Sixteen-year-old Simon has had a troubled life, but since living with his Uncle Martin and Aunt Sarah in a village far from his chaotic and destructive childhood, everything changed for the better. On break from school, he has been working at the village post shop in a trusted position. Then abruptly, Simon is accused of a crime which all the evidence seems to indicate he must have committed, and he is thrown back into the whirlpool of shame and despair which overlay his childhood. If he is to find any comfort or hope of justice, it seems there is only one place to which he can turn…

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Hot salt-burning was in his eyes; there was an acrid ball that killed words in his throat as he staggered into a stumbling run. They’d looked at him, eyes knowing and hard. “I didn’t take the money,” he’d said. He had known his voice was sullen and flat. Not a convincing denial; he’d looked guilty as hell. “Oh, Simon,” was all that Mrs Timms had said. Her down-drawn mouth with the odd disillusioned quirk on the left side was more eloquent than those two words could convey.

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The First Time in Manchester – Vesna Main

3200 words General Fiction

An academic, an expert on suffragettes, travels to Manchester for a meeting. On the spur of the moment, he calls a prostitute but immediately regrets it. Thinking it would be unfair to cancel, he decides to pay her when she arrives but tell her that her services were not required. However, the situation does not develop according to plan.

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His first prostitute was in Manchester, a couple of months before his wife and her best friend opened their gallery. He travelled by train to attend a late afternoon meeting at the university. During the journey, looking for an escape from the boredom of marking exam scripts, he picked up a copy of a provincial tabloid lying on the seat opposite. The paper was full of the usual parochial news and syndicated material. He didn’t expect to have any free time, but out of curiosity, he searched for the ‘What’s on’ section. Next to the entertainment, there was a whole set of ads under ‘Adult Services’. He amused himself by decoding the language. ‘Curvy’ presumably meant fat, but what was BBW? There was even one from a ‘mature lady’, offering sensual massage.

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The Lonely Troll – Rob Clucas-Tomlinson

3600 words Children 6 – 9

Bright-beard the happy troll has only one living relative, his grumpy cousin Long-beard, who wants nothing to do with him. Long-beard eventually learns his lesson – but at what cost?

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Long ago in London town, beneath Kew Bridge, there lived a troll. Not an angry troll with a gruffly roar and a smelly coat and an old pair of boots where his toes poked through, but a pleasant troll who combed his hair and tipped his hat at passers by. Beneath the bridge the river ran, the grand old Thames where the herons fished. The herons, still as water fountains, stood all day, waiting for fish to wriggle into their beaks. But as they toiled the old troll slept, waiting for the night air to tickle his senses. Because it was then, when the stars appeared and the moon set forth to keep the city from falling into darkness, that he woke and stretched and smoothed his beard and sat upon the bridge to think.

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The Moulting – Nalini Ramesh

1500 word General Fiction

In desperation towards a basic instinct.

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Eshwari stood unmoving at the far end of the great marbled Hall. An elaborate casket lay at its centre, under a jasmine-festooned marquee. She envisioned his body, draped in white silk, in a permanent yogic stillness. A paralysis no tantric magic could penetrate. There would be a stiff smirk on his sensual lips. She sighed, taking in the scene and the solemn, sandalwood-scented air.

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The Pearl Necklace – Judy Upton

1900 words Children 9+

Mum starts acting strangely after joining a local choir. Is there something fishy going on?

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The Super Sporty Sheep – Amanda Lunt

850 words Children 3 – 7 years

A flock of hungry sheep have to jump over the fence to the next field. Steve, the super sporty sheep, jumps too high and lands on the moon. Wise sheep Walter hatches a rescue plan but Teddy, the tubby sheep, is flattened when Steve misses the flock’s landing sheet.

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The farmer’s sheep were tired of their field. “There’s not enough grass in this field to feed all of us,” complained Teddy, the tubby sheep. “We need a new field where the grass is long and green, not this rotten stubble. See how thick the grass is in the field the other side of that fence? Ooohhh, my mouth’s watering already.”

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The White Lady – Tracey Walsh

3200 word Historical / Ghost Story

In the 1850s Sarah is grateful to her Uncle James for employing her after her father’s death, but the ghostly White Lady reveals her uncle’s sinister secret.

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Sarah decided to put what she had just seen to the back of her mind until later, when she’d have time to think about it properly. For now she had quite enough to keep her occupied. Two weeks into her job at Samlesbury Hall Boarding School for Girls, Sarah was only just beginning to find her way around. The sound of a dozen chattering young voices told her she had finally managed to track down her English class. “Good morning, girls,” Sarah said as she entered the room. The girls fell silent immediately, shuffled to attention and then chorused, “Good morning, Miss Southworth.”

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