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The Ninja Zombie Knitting Circle

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The Ninja Zombie Knitting Circle was first published by Writers’ Village in October 2012 after being short listed in their Autumn Short Story Competition. Prior to that, the story was short listed in issue 132 of Writers’ Forum magazine. It was also entered in the Sunday Times EFG Competition but failed to be shortlisted (stories in this competition can be previously published, as long as they are printed during the year the competition is run).

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As a runner up, I won £50 and agreed to have my story published on the Writers' Village website. The runner up prize is not mentioned on the website, so receiving it was a nice surprise.

Below is the story that was published by Writers' Village, along with the feedback and scoring I received from John Yeoman, the Writers’ Village competition judge, followed by my comments about the competition.

Sadly, John (AKA Nick) passed away late in 2016. The Writers' Village website disappeared early in 2017. John was a legend – a positive force, tirelessly encouraging and guiding authors in all aspects of their writing. John very kindly wrote for my blog and contributed to my How to Write a Short Story book. I found him to be consistently supportive and full of wise advice. He is deeply missed.

Because of this, Mike Scott Thomson and I dedicated Adverbially Challenged Volume 1 to John's memory as we thought it would appeal to his wicked sense of humour.

The Ninja Zombie Knitting Circle

by Christopher Fielden

1

Heavy, infrequent droplets of rain began to pelt from an inky sky as Detective Inspector Eric Carter parked his car outside number seven, Cedar Walk. He ran under the overhang of the porch just as the deluge became biblical.

The large house was set back from the road, surrounded by tall trees that swayed in the stormy gusts of wind. For burglars, this secluded property offered an ideal location to work, concealed in the safety of shadow.

Carter looked at his watch. It was approaching his most coveted time of day. Deep night, he called it. Two until three a.m. A time regarded as late at night rather than early in the morning, when the drunks were retiring and the milkmen were rising. Most people slept through the glory that night had to offer. It was the time of day when Carter felt most alive. Tonight, the rain brought an extra depth to the dark. The night felt close, like a protective cloak about his shoulders.

Savouring the taste of damp air and tree pollen, he rang the doorbell. It clanged. The door opened almost immediately, answered by the elderly lady who owned the house, as if she had been anticipating his visit. She wore a flowery dress, worthy of prime position in an Oxfam shop window. Her slipper-boots were fluffy, her grey hair smart, her eyes glinting with what Carter took to be mischief.

‘I’m sorry to bother you at such an hour, Mrs Eckless.’

‘Inspector Carter, how nice to see you again, dear. Do come in.’

Carter walked into a dated but pristine hallway. The wallpaper and carpet were a swirling mass of flowery patterns and gaudy colours from the 70s. The skirting and ceiling shone white in contrast. He removed his coat and hung it on the newel post at the bottom of the stairs.

‘I was worried I’d wake you, Mrs Eckless.’

‘Oh, there’s no danger of that on a Tuesday, my dear,’ the old lady replied. ‘And do stop being so formal. My name’s Ethel.’

Carter smiled his best policeman’s smile. It was appropriate for any occasion, be it pleasant, awkward or disagreeable. He liked to believe it was unreadable.

‘So, what is it that keeps you up so late on a Tuesday?’ he asked.

‘The ninja zombie knitting circle. We meet every week, without fail.’

There was a twinkle in Ethel’s eyes that Carter didn’t like. He’d been mistaken about mischief. It was a testing twinkle, like you find in the eyes of devout believers in God who are prying to see if you share their belief or if you need converting.

‘That’s an unusual name,’ said Carter, challenging his judgement. Had he simply misread a joke?

‘Not really,’ said Ethel. ‘You have to be a ninja or a zombie to join. Gladys is a ninja and Joan is a zombie.’

‘Which are you?’

‘Oh, I’m a little bit of both, my love.’

Carter had a lot of experience with people. He could read them, ascertain underlying hints in their character from the way they said and did things. And he was particularly adept at spotting lies. In this instance he had no doubt about one thing. Ethel believed her words were the truth.

Up until this point, Carter would have readily accepted a cup of tea, had it been offered, and maybe some cake or homemade biscuits. The house was spotless. Cleanliness ticked one box in Carter’s list of rules for accepting hospitality. But the second box was mental stability. At the first sign of senility he would politely steer the conversation towards business, rather than doing his bit for community relations by risking imbibing poison via off milk or the dubious cake mixtures employed by the partially sighted and mentally unsound.

‘It sounds like a very unusual and exciting knitting circle,’ said Carter.

‘Oh, it is, my dear, it is. Gladys and Joan are having a knit-off. We forget the time when war commences.’

The frenzied clack Carter could hear from behind the living room door suggested this particular knitting battle was likely to continue in rampant fashion until sunrise.

‘Would you like a nice warm cocoa, dear?’ asked Ethel. ‘You must be freezing.’

‘No thank you, Ethel, I don’t want to intrude on your fun. I’m actually here because there’ve been two burglaries in the area and a neighbour has reported suspicious activity outside your house.’

‘Do you think it’s those people I reported last week?’

‘I very much doubt it,’ replied Carter, remembering his previous visit. It turned out that the robbery Ethel Eckless had reported was of the daylight variety. She’d received a bill from her energy supplier which she’d described as criminal. At that time, Carter had assumed the old lady to be entertainingly eccentric rather than demented.

‘Did you manage to arrest them?’ Ethel asked.

‘British Gas? No.’

Ethel tutted. ‘It’s wicked what they do to my generation. Wicked.’

Carter nodded sympathetically. ‘Is it OK if I take a look around the house?’

‘Yes, dear, yes. You do whatever you need to do. I’ll put the kettle on.’

‘There’s really no need.’

‘I insist, dear, I insist.’

2

Is Ethel a zombie? A ninja? A bit of both? Or is she senile?

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

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Comments from the Writers’ Village Judge

The following words appear with kind permission of Dr John Yeoman, founder and judge of the Writers’ Village short story competition. John provides scoring and feedback to every entrant in the competition. The following words contain spoilers, so - for those of you who have skipped to this part - I’d suggest you read the story prior to reading this section!!

The Ninja Zombie Knitting Circle

  • Overall power to engage the reader incl. use of conflict (points out of 10): 9
  • Originality of story concept (points out of 10): 9
  • Appeal of first paragraph(s) (points out of 8): 7
  • Unity of story structure incl. closure (points out of 8): 8
  • Aptness of language to story-line (points out of 6): 6
  • Professionalism of presentation (points out of 3): 3
  • Total marks out of 45: 42

Comments: An immaculately crafted story that holds the reader's attention through every unexpected twist! Perhaps the only small thing that might be done to enhance it would be to locate it at a plausible hour. There seems to be no plot reason for having Carter visit the house at 3am but every reason for the reader to be perplexed. Why did Carter choose to make a routine visit at such an unseemly hour - or think he'd find an old lady awake at that time?

Bring the story forward to, say, 9pm!

You might also have Carter mention (or think) towards the start - somewhat cryptically - that he would not normally have made such a visit himself, having mysteries far more important on his hands. Hopefully, the reader will forget that allusion. But it will return with ironic force at the end. Carter has cracked his case! Those mystery disappearances in the area are now accounted for. But, alas, 'tis too late...

I hope these remarks, although brief, are helpful.

John Yeoman, Writers Village

Dr John Yeoman

I had entered the Writers' Village competition once before (in the 2012 summer round of the competition), and received some excellent feedback on why my story, ‘The Day My Prayers Were Answered’, was not selected as one of the winners and how it could be improved (it scored 39/45). After receiving John’s constructive criticism, I altered the ending with his comments in mind, and have entered it into another competition. I will find out if it was successful next year. Watch this space...

This time, again, John’s comments are useful. In my mind, Carter had purposely chosen 3am, hoping to wake Ethel, assuming she’d be confused and therefore easier to trick. Maybe I could have made this clearer. This illustrates why constructive criticism, like John provides, is so valuable. You can always make stories better, sometimes by implementing very simple tweaks. I find that I often lose site of what those changes might be, as I become too close to the work to spot faults having read it so many times. Having other people read your work can help enormously.

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About Writers’ Village Short Story Competition

The Writers’ Village competition is a quarterly short story prize run in the UK; there is a spring, summer, autumn and winter round. Judging is quick - winners are announced within a month. Currently, the competition has a 3,000 word limit. Writers’ Village offer a first prize of £500, a second prize of £250 and third prize of £100. Entries can be of any genre. Winners are published on the website.

Below are more comments about my experiences with the competition which I hope you’ll find useful:

  • In my humble opinion, the biggest benefit of this writing competition is its transparency. Every entrant receives a copy of the scoring that their story achieved, plus some additional comments to help improve their work. This is a lovely touch. It offers you extra insight into how you might win a prize in the competition in the future, as well as giving you advice on how to improve your existing work. I have no idea how John manages to read the 100’s of entries he receives in such a short space of time, let alone provide feedback on them all. But the fact that he does tells me he is passionate about writing and wants to offer help and advice to new writers.

  • Entry might seem a tad pricey at £12 when compared to a lot of other regular competitions, but a substantial prize pot is offered in every round, and EVERYONE receives feedback. When you take this into account, the entry fee seems far more reasonable!

  • Writers’ Village offer LOADS of writing advice on their blog. John writes a lot of the posts himself, but also publishes posts from guest authors - often successful writers - who offer advice based on their own experiences.

  • You can sign up and receive a free mini course on the website, packed with excellent writing advice, which is emailed to you in bite sized chunks at regular intervals. At the end of the free course, you are offered the opportunity to sign up for a more comprehensive paid version. The free version is well worth reading and gives you an excellent taster of what to expect from the paid version.

  • I like the frequency of the competition. I know, I’ve said it before about other regular competitions, but it means you don’t have to wait an age to submit again. Every three months you can enter new work and there’s a nice big pot of money up for grabs. That’s brilliant.

  • On top of offering cash prizes, Writers’ Village publish the winning stories on their website, so you can see what style John prefers. Research your market - it really does mean you have a much better chance of success.

Do you have a writing competition success story you’d like to share? Get in touch!

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Your comments:

Emma H
Nice one Toph! Like it x

John A
Cool well done dude. What's next? Nynphomanic bra models vs pirates? Gay bikers on acid go to a petting zoo? Monkey knife fight?

Catherine E
love it, brilliant xx

Chris Fielden
Thank you all :-) The first suggestion Johny, for SURE. I shall write it in your honour.

Janet G
I enjoyed this story, from the atmospheric introduction to the description of the house. 3a.m. visit seemed logical to me as a zombie ninja knitting circle would hardly meet at 2p.m! Dark humour and twists!

I am enjoying your guide to competitions.

Essie L
Amazing.

Chris Fielden
Thanks very much Essie :-)

Betty H
What a fantastic story. So unusual. I didn't want it to end. Thank you... I'm taking up knitting!

Chris Fielden
Thanks, Betty. I hope the knitting works out for you :-)

Mike T
Dr. John Yeoman of Writers' Village died in 2016. I miss his critiques and his articles. Great resource. I hope his heirs find a way to keep it going.

Chris Fielden
Hi Mike. Yes, I was very sad when John passed away. He was always very supportive and generous with his time. Let's hope the site remains available for people to enjoy :-)