'These darkly comic tales place the author snugly between Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. Be sure: Chris Fielden is one funny feller.' Allen Ashley, British Fantasy Award winner.
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Devil’s Crush

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Devil’s Crush was first published in issue 116 of Writers’ Forum magazine, the July 2011 edition, where it won first prize in the monthly short story competition.

Writers' Forum issue 116 magazine cover, devils crush, Christopher Fielden

Devil's Crush was published again in July 2013 by InkTears after being selected as highly commended (basically getting down to the final 6) in their 2012 annual short story competition. InkTears are one of the few competitions out there that accept previously published work.

Ink Tears .com Logo

Below is the story, the write-up it received in Writers' Forum magazine, followed by my comments based on the experiences I’ve had with the competition. Beneath that you’ll find the critique Lorraine Mace provided for the story, which an entrant can request for a fiver. At the bottom of the page you'll find details on the InkTears competition.

Devil's Crush by Christopher Fielden


The problem with inhabiting a body with legs for 35 years is that I became accustomed to having legs. When those limbs were taken from me, I thought my subconscious would catch up quickly and I’d instinctively regard myself as legless. I was wrong.

It’s been almost two years since my date with the grenade. Yet still I wake up oblivious to the fact that I’m missing limbs. Moments ago I swung myself out of bed, thinking to walk to the kitchen for a drink. I embraced the morning, and the floor, with a thud. I swore, I cursed, I laughed. What else could I do? If I were unable to laugh at the ridiculous broken mess I’ve become, I think I’d deteriorate like Steve. At war he lost an arm, a foot and half his face. Back home he lost his mind. Watching him deteriorate into a lifeless husk was hard. Could I watch my own body wither along with my personality? No. The same will not happen to me.

I struggle into my wheelchair, making a mental note to invest in some 25 millimetre tufted-twist-pile carpet to make my morning routine less painful, and trundle into the kitchen.

The first thing that strikes me is the stink of fire. I can see no smoke, no blackened furniture, no indication of a blaze. Aside from the smell, the kitchen is exactly as I left it, apart from one small detail. There’s a bottle in the middle of the kitchen table.

I edge my chair forward to look more closely. The bottle is filled with red liquid that dances like fire. On the front is a label that reads, ‘Devil’s Crush’.

Intrigued, I pick the bottle up and almost drop it; I wasn’t expecting it to be hot. I sniff the bottle, trying to determine if it’s the source of the burning smell. It isn’t. I turn the bottle over. On the back is another label. Underneath some text that is too small to read, it says, ‘Made in Hull’. Somehow, this seems apt.

As I study the strange liquid, wondering if the ‘u’ in Hull might be a misprint, I hear someone clear their throat behind me. Instantly, I drop the bottle into my lap and swing my chair around. The 9mm Browning L9A1 I keep tucked beneath my chair’s cushion is in my hand without me having to think.

As I take in my surroundings I realise the bottle had captivated my attention so fully that I’d forgotten my training. Questions fill my mind. Why didn’t I clear the room? Why had the bottle intrigued me so? And how could I have failed to notice the demon in the corner?

There are black hoof-prints scorched into the kitchen’s tiled floor. He’s sitting on a chair that appears to be made of iron. It glows beneath his bulk.

I know the demon is a he because he’s naked. He’s a he with the right to be proud of just how much of a ‘he’ he is. His skin is the colour of burnt rust, his body slender, yet muscular, and he wears a goatee on his chin more like the animal it is named after than a man. His two horns are long and curved like warped blades of molten rock, his hairline a mass of flickering flames and in his eye sockets are two glowing coals, which ping and hiss like the embers of a dying fire. He is the source of the acrid stench that fills the room.

‘I’m sorry to interrupt at such an ungodly hour,’ he says in an unnaturally deep voice. ‘Put the gun away. It is useless to you.’

I do as he commands, not because I want to, but because I am unable to disobey. There’s a mesmerising quality to his voice, which I realise I will have to fight if I want to act of my own free will.

‘Are you Sergeant Joshua Purvis?’ he asks.

I’m aware that I’m gawping. I try to say, ‘Yes,’ but all that escapes from my mouth is a slurping mumble. I decide to forget talking and nod.

‘Do you know who I am?’

‘Satan?’ I guess, pleased that I manage to speak.

He snorts laughter, smoke spiralling from the holes in his face that I assume must be nostrils. ‘No,’ he says. ‘My name is Colin.’

I hear myself snigger.

‘I’ve taken a human name to seem less threatening,’ Colin continues, in a tone that suggests he is only imparting this information so he won’t find it necessary to tear my head off. ‘Names aside, you must concur, my master has excelled with the physical manifestation conjured for my eternal servitude.’

I find myself unable to disagree.

Colin rises slowly from his chair and takes a step towards me. His horns score black marks into the ceiling.

‘I’m dreaming,’ I state, rather than asking a question to which I may not like the answer.

‘No,’ says Colin. I can feel my scepticism manifesting itself as a squint about my eyes. Seeing this, Colin moves forward and pinches my arm. I scream in pain, not just from the pinch of the serrated talons that are Colin’s fingertips, but at the impossible heat, which emits from his body.

He takes a step backwards, politely waiting for me to stop swearing, then says, ‘Point taken?’

I nod. At least the pain has helped me to focus. I can think and speak again. ‘Why are you here?’

‘To deliver the Devil’s Crush.’

‘To me?’

‘Yes. It’s a gift.’


‘My master.’

‘Why is your master sending me gifts?’

‘You possess a skill we wish to employ.’

‘So this isn’t a gift?’

Colin smiles, as if pleased with me, revealing a myriad of teeth like needles. ‘It depends on which way you look at it.’

I pick the bottle back up and watch the fiery liquid writhe within. ‘Am I supposed to drink it?’ I ask.

‘I believe so.’

‘What happens if I don’t?’


‘What happens if I do?’

‘Your legs will grow back.’

Now he has my interest. ‘And what must I give in return?’

Colin subjects me, quite literally, to a burning stare. ‘Oh, you know,’ he says, ‘the usual stuff about the sale of your soul. It’s all in the small print on the back of the bottle.’

Immediately my instincts tell me to say no. I’ve never heard a story where the selling of one’s soul ends well. But I feel a tingle of hope and I don’t want it to stop. I’ve been to Afghanistan. I came back crippled. Living in this body is a lonely misery beyond imagining. I have no doubt there is trickery behind Colin’s offer, but could it be worse than the life I currently endure? I could have my legs back. To me, that sounds more appealing than a sauna full of voluptuous nymphomaniacs. At least with legs I could enter said sauna without fear of humiliation. At the moment, I can barely summon the courage to leave my home. Day by day, although I fight it, I increasingly understand the mental spiral that led Steve to take his own life.

‘I must press you for an answer,’ says Colin.

‘Deal,’ I say. Before Colin can say anything else I uncork the bottle and swallow the liquid. It burns, sweet mercy, it burns so badly. I fall from my chair, coughing, gagging. I clutch at my throat and try to scream before my consciousness goes AWOL.


Want to read the rest of 'Devil's Crush'?

You can do so in my short story collection Book of the Bloodless Volume 1: Alternative Afterlives, published by Victorina Press.

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Writers’ Forum Competition Round up

The following words appear here with kind permission from Sue Moorcroft, the Writers’ Forum short story competition judge, and Carl Styants, the magazine’s editor. Each month, Sue examines the stories she has chosen as winners, explaining why they won. The following was written by Sue and appeared in issue 116 of Writers’ Forum magazine along with my story.

Writers Forum magazine logo

Competition round-up – Fiction is fantastic

A sensory and linguistic feast, plunging protagonist and reader into a hellish fantasy

Our winning story, Devil’s Crush by Christopher Fielden, is the primary definition of fantastic – ‘imaginative, fanciful; remote from reality’. Of course, it’s also ‘extraordinarily good’, the informal and secondary meaning.

By genre, Devil’s Crush is fantasy, because an ordinary person is thrust into an unreal situation. From that point, the writer’s imagination takes over, decreeing how Joshua Purvis will act and react to a demon called Colin in his kitchen duping him, via a demon/human bargain in the best tradition, into taking part in an experiment to determine human nature. Christopher does a good job of creating Colin and, also, Helven, the other world that he moves Colin and Joshua briefly into.

Christopher has to make us accept, for the span of the story, that there really might be a demon called Colin who recruits human lab rats on behalf of his boss, Nature. He has to make the reader suspend disbelief. It’s what we all aspire to, when we make things up and then set about making others believe in them.

Readers’ imaginations hold all kinds of familiar scenarios – supermarkets, offices, mountains, aircraft – and humans, birds, insects and animals to put in them. Unconsciously, they draw on these memories when they read. So to supplant these stock images with something that exists only in the writer’s mind – that takes a particular creativity.

Christopher begins his description of Colin with the smell of burning. To smell someone before you see them is, I understand, part of certain military training, providing subtle character development for an army veteran. The visual description comes later:

I know the demon is a he because he’s naked. He’s a he with the right to be proud of just how much of a ‘he’ he is. His skin is the colour of burnt rust, his body slender yet muscular and he wears a goatee on his chin more like the animal it is named after than a man. His two horns are long and curved, like warped blades of molten rock, his hair line a mass of flickering flames and in his eye sockets are two glowing coals which ping and hiss like the embers of a dying fire in the breeze. He is the source of the acrid stench which fills the room.

After that, the visual hints about Colin are fewer – his horns leave tracks on the ceiling, smoke spirals from his nostrils, he has talons – because that first sketch was powerful enough to create the visual image.

There’s so much about this story that I like: the insight into the stark reality of active military service; physical loss; human nature; and the darkly laconic humour that made me smile, often when I felt as if I shouldn’t.

And the ending brought us hope. I hadn’t really expected hope to round up my trip into the fantastic.

About Sue

Sue Moorcroft writes romantic novels, short stories, serials, articles, blogs, courses and writing 'how to'. She's a creative writing tutor, head judge for Writers' Forum and a Katie Fforde Bursary Award winner. She works hard to ensure that she doesn't have to get a proper job.

Sue Moorcroft Writers' Forum short story competition judge

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About Writers’ Forum Competition

This is a monthly short story competition, with a 3,000 word limit. It offers a first prize of £300, a second prize of £150 and third prize of £100. If you win any of these three prizes, you also receive a free copy of the magazine with your story published in it along with Sue’s comments.

Writers’ Forum offers an excellent introduction into the world of writing competitions as there is so much you can learn from the magazine. I’m a firm advocate of this competition for many reasons.

  • A lot of competitions say they accept any genre of story, but I’ve found some of them tend to choose similar styles or genres as winners over and over again. Writers’ Forum not only accepts different genres, the judges allow them to win and be published. They’re not afraid to publish stories containing risqué subject matters or content, if they are written to an excellent standard and not gratuitous.
  • Entry is cheap, especially if you subscribe to the magazine (which is essential if you’re serious about winning).
  • You can ask for a critique for an extra £5. The critiques are simple, but valuable, allowing you insights into any problems with your work and what you could do to improve it. You can see the critique I received for Devil’s Crush at the bottom of this page.
  • As the competition is run monthly, if you don’t win (or if you do), you only have to wait a short time before entering another story. It’s not necessary to wait a year, like it is with annual competitions.
  • The frequency of the competitions also means there are fewer entries in each round to compete against. Annual competitions, especially competitions of renown, will have thousands of entries. Writers’ Forum competition is run monthly, so you’re more likely to be competing against hundreds of entries rather than thousands – it’s just a matter of maths. The standards of winning stories are always extremely high, but as there are fewer entries, if you write an excellent story, this does give you a better chance of success.
  • Due to the detailed round up Sue writes every month, you get a very clear idea of what is required to win. This is rare in the world of competitions and another reason why I rate this competition so highly. I love the transparency they offer. It’s one of the reasons I won. By reading Sue’s comments, I learnt that she is a fan of hopeful endings. I was writing Devil’s Crush and originally it had quite a dark ending, but I tweaked it to encompass hope, which actually improved the story by making the climax more satisfying. I entered. I won. This proves the popular ‘research your market’ theory does work.
  • The team who run the competition are communicative and professional, keeping you in the loop about receiving your story. Critiques are delivered quickly. If you’ve been shortlisted, you find out on delivery of your critique.

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Devil's Crush Critique

You can read the critique I received from Lorraine Mace, one of the Writers' Forum judges, below:

Hello Chris,
Devil's Crush
Thanks for entering the Writers’ Forum competition.
Presentation: Manuscript layout is generally good, but there are a one or two typos and a few bits of missing punctuation.
Title: Apt for the story, but not intriguing enough. You need a title which does justice to the storyline and makes the reader want to find out more.
Opening: Excellent. This introduces us to the narrator and tells us a great deal about him. It also contains a nice hook with the mention of Steve who didn’t manage to come to terms with his disabilities.
Dialogue: Considering the unreal aspect of the dialogue, this was very well written and believable. It not only aided characterisation, it also helped to drive the story onwards.
Characterisation: You managed to make Colin credible, no easy task. I liked the way you made the narrator react to the various changes in his circumstances. In each case, he behaved in character.
Overall: You have a lovely style and I enjoyed reading your work very much indeed. I’m short-listing this story – congratulations! Should the story move forward to the top three, someone will be in touch to let you know.
Best wishes, Lorraine Mace

About Lorraine

Lorraine Mace has had fiction published in various magazines including That’s LifeThe Lady, My Weekly and Ireland’s Own. Lorraine, a tutor for Writers Bureau, is also a member of the Freelance Market News appraisal panel for both fiction and non-fiction.

Rhiannon Lewis

Welsh writer, Rhiannon Lewis, read this page. She then used the process to write a story and won the Writers' Forum short story competition. You can read her winning story 'Gabriel's Halo' and accompanying case study, How to Win a Short Story Competition, here.

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InkTears Reader's Comments

The following comments were received from the InkTears' readers. Overall they scored the story 8.3 out of 10.

When sending the comments to me, Anthony, who runs the competition, said this:

You got a good score!  As usual, there were some people with some critical points - hope you find that interesting. We find this with every story we publish. After running this site for several years, I'm beginning to think that if you don't upset a few people with your story then there is something wrong with it!! Having published my own stories on the site, I know that it can be quite painful to read the negative comments (but very nice to read the positive ones), although I have found that if many people have the same comment then it makes me look more closely at my writing. 

You had very few negative comments. In fact, the most striking thing about your feedback is that you inspired very short, sharp, succinct comments. Sometimes people write a novel in feedback!

Below are the reader comments:

“Very good build up + foreshadowing”

“Ripping yarn.  Loved it.  Tinged with overwriting at the edges though.”

“This story is great -- humorous, sad, topical, unbelievable, believable. Would like to read more of this man's work.”

“Clever, several twists on an old theme and an end unexpected but good.”

“Thanks for the story - really enjoyed it and will always read the small print in future.”

“For me the story was humorous, scary, but also had a moral and something of  happy ending which is not always necessary.”

“The writer has a good imagination but I think he should make his point more clearly; unfortunately I lost him somewhere in Helven (although that could be because I am not really into this genre of fiction)."

“I love the concept of this story. It was well written and held my attention all the way through.”

“I really enjoyed this -  imaginative, unpredictable and thought-provoking. A tiny bit repetitive in parts, but I can forgive that for the quality of the story.”

This type of feedback is very useful to receive. While it can be mixed, you can learn from it. It's always nice to receive praise, but if many negative comments highlight the same issue, you know you have a problem. Once the problem is apparent, you can address it and improve your writing.

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About InkTears Competition

This is an anuual short story competition, with a 3,000 word limit. It offers a first prize of £1,000, a runner up prize of £150 and 4 x highly commended prizes of £25. The winner, runner up and highly commended stories are all published on the website. A lovely looking PDF of each story is emailed to all the InkTears members.

Competition administrator, Anthony Howcroft, said this when he emailed me to tell me I'd been selected as an honourable mention:

We had over 500 entries this year, and competition was fierce - it was very close amongst the shortlisted entries. We really liked the unusual theme behind this story, and the humour despite some of the dark aspects of the subject matter.

I have enjoyed being involved with this competition because:

  • They accept previously published stories. This means that, as a writer, you can make the most of your stories and have them read by an ever increasing audience. I guess it also works for the competition's quality control assessment, as other professionals have already thought the story was good enough to publish. This helps ensure their readers are provided with higher quality work. I'm surprised more competitions don't do the same.
  • As InkTears have an extensive mailing list, you're guaranteed to gain new readers when they do a mailshot about your story.
  • The PDFs they produce of the short stories look really professional (see link above) and are great for a writer's portfolio.
  • The InkTears website has its own writing community and, if you sign up, you can join in and comment on the stories they publish, providing InkTears with feedback about the work they have published which can then be passed on to the authors. This is a really nice feature.
  • The prize is very generous - always a good thing.
  • Anthony Howcroft, who runs the competition, offers really good communications, so you know what's happening once you've been selected as a winner.
  • InkTears also offer the winner, the runner up and the highly commended authors the possibility of publishing a collection of their short stories. This is an amazing opportunity for new writers. My stories were published by them in Death of a Superhero.

How to Write a Short Story Book Ad

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Your comments:

Rob R
great news Chris :)

Clare H
woohoo! you go chris!! xxxx

Janey J
YESSSSSSSS! Well done Topher!

Chris Fielden
Thanking you, Janey, Claire & Rockin Rob!

Allie M
This is an amazing, imaginative story that I will reread and reread!  Well done!!

Chris Fielden
Thanks Allie - compliments are ALWAYS nice to receive. I shall now take my massively swollen head downstairs for a celebratory beer :-)

Andrea H
Fabulous story, I really enjoyed it, certainly not surprised it won 1st prize.

Chris Fielden
Thanks Andrea, much appreciated :-)

William B
Nice story. I'm just starting to develop my writing skills and I think I will use this tale as one of the foundation blocks.  Congratulations on your prize and thank you for all of hard work you've done on your site. Enjoy.

Ed P
Just a thought - is it commonplace for the same short story to be submitted to multiple magazines /competitions?  I assumed if previously published, that would limit using the same material.  Hoping to start my own short story journey and found your website very informative.

Chris Fielden
Thanks very much William!

Ed, No, it's not common place as most competitions and magazines require first publication rights.

Some magazines will accept previously published submissions, but will generally pay less for them.

There are a few competitions, like InkTears, The BBC, The Sunday Times and my short story competition that will accept previously published work, so it is good to explore opportunities like this. Personally, I can't see why more magazines and comps don't do this, especially the smaller ones - it might mean they receive better quality entries. I've found that with my competition already, and it only opened a month ago. A lot of the short story market has limited readership, so I can't see the harm in accepting previously published work. Many magazines and comps make a point of discovering and publishing new talent, so that might be part of the reason. I guess they want to make sure they offer their readers something new that they won't have seen before. As always, there are two sides to the argument... :-)

Hope that's helpful.

Christopher B
I've just read this and loved it! I agree, the style is great - it's quirky and has a dark vein of humour throughout even though there's a serious story being told. Really enjoyed this..

Chris Fielden
Thanks Christopher!

Amanda T
Very good, Chris. I felt I was there the whole time, fantastic x

Chris Fielden
Thanks Amanda :-)

Barbara B
I really appreciate your site and all the work you do putting together the necessary information. And the fact that you got this Honourable Mention!! - congratulations - just proves that entering comps can reap dividends. It is so good to hear when an entrant has some success. It can be a bit disheartening when time and again one hears nothing after entering; but I guess one has to keep on trying.

I think the reviewer got it wrong about your title - in my view, it works well.

BTW, from above, just so you can fix it:

The Ink Tears website has it's own writing community - ITS...

Chris Fielden
Thanks, Barbara - I'm glad to hear you like the website .

Yes, you do have to keep on trying and never give up :-)

Thanks for pointing out the typo - I've fixed it.

Richard G
I am relatively new to the battle-scene of the 'trying to interest someone in my work' game, so found your comments and approach refreshingly helpful. I do hope you're not the kind of snake-oil salesman I have already encountered once or twice! I 'm minded to give you the benefit of the doubt...

Thanks for everything I've seen on your site so far though. Oh, loved the story, by the way. Cheers. Rick

Chris Fielden
Thanks very much, Rick. Glad you liked the story.

I do my best to be as un-snake-oil-salesman-like as I can, but you know, we all have to eat, so I do promote my books and courses. That said, there's plenty of free stuff on the site too, and I don't employ pushy sales tactics. Ever. So hopefully that works for everyone :-)

Good luck with the battle - I wish you all the best with your writing.