Writers’ Police Academy Golden Donut Short Story Winners and Runners-Up

Each year the Writers’ Police Academy hosts the Golden Donut Short Story Contest. It’s a fun contest with two major but simple rules—the focus of the story must be based on the photo we provide, and the story must contain EXACTLY 200 words. No more, no less.

*Writers were permitted to submit multiple entries.

To ensure fairness entries were judged blindly, meaning judges saw only the stories and titles without mention of the authors’ names.

We were extremely fortunate to have stellar, top-level judges for the 2022 and 2023 Golden Donut Contests. The panel of judges consisted of associate, and commissioning editors of the fabulous UK publishing company, Bookouture. Yes, those of you who submitted stories had their work read by top editors in the industry!

About Bookouture:

We are a dynamic digital publisher of bestselling commercial fiction and a division of Hachette UK.

We also publish commercial non-fiction under our Thread imprint.

Our unique publishing model and transformative campaigns have created unrivalled international author brands.

We connect stories, authors and readers globally, publishing books that reflect the diversity of the societies we live in.

Our submissions are always open as we believe that everyone should have the opportunity to share their story.

Over 60 million copies sold worldwide.

*Bookouture is a sponsor of the 2023 Writers’ Police Academy.

Now, without further ado, the Golden Donut contest winners and runners-up (the judges provided the comments on the winning stories).

For 2022:

The photo prompt.

The winning story is:



Trish Zaabel 


Sea sprayed over the deck. Nibble fingers swept her heavy skirts away. Mary smoothed over an invisible frown. She had bloomed into a woman in the fifteen years since she saw Jack. Would he look the same?

Bracing for the jolt when docking, Mary crashed into another passenger. His hands grabbed her waist. “Easy Sister, “he muttered.

Fighting the urge to swear, she nodded her gratitude then exited. Negotiating the lonely hallways, Mary shivered. She requested of the man guarding a thick wall, “Jack Pearson, please.”

Eyeing her suspiciously, he opened a door. “Room three.”

This dark passage was filled with catcalls. “Hey Sista, come to save my soul?”

Spotting her desired room, she rushed through the door. He stood near a window. Jack asked, “Who are you?”

She laughed. “You have aged.”

“Like a fine whiskey.” Jack smirked then gestured. “A nun, really?’

Smiling, she lifted her black skirt, revealing the dagger. “Did you think I’d forgotten?”

Jack yelled. “Guard, come quick.”

The guard barreled in, tackling her.

She stammered. “Jack, I don’t understand.”

Jack stepped over the prone woman. “My dear, I’m to be released today. It’s your turn to be a prisoner.”

Judges’ comments about the winning story – We loved the unusual take on this one, which centred on an intense domestic set-up and finished with an interesting and satisfying twist. It left us with questions about what had happened in the past while also feeling like a fully rounded story, which is hard with only 200 words to play with! The visual detail included was great, and the pacing worked well for the final reveal. A clear winner.

2022 Runners-up:

2: “The Big One”


Michael Rigg


For eighty days in a row, Eduardo had sailed his skiff to the same spot just inside the Golden Gate, cast a baited hook, and waited. His weather-beaten face, half-frozen by an icy March-wind, belied the fire within.

“That fool in the boat,” they called him. “The fish migrated south,” they said. “And so should you.” But his prey remained. He felt it. He would prove them wrong.

Even guards on the “Warden Blackwell”—a ferryboat transferring small groups of inmates from the soon-to-be-shuttered Alcatraz—ignored him. He had observed each trip over the past weeks unchallenged—seemingly invisible. Men-in-chains shuffled onto the wharf, labored up two dozen concrete steps, and clambered aboard busses for transport elsewhere.

Today’s cargo represented the last set of prisoners—twenty-seven in all. He nodded in recognition when a white-haired man stepped onto the pier. Eduardo removed a rifle from under a pile of blankets, raised it into firing position, and placed Inmate One-Five-Seven-Nine in the crosshairs.

After twenty years, justice for Eduardo’s murdered wife and daughter was at hand. He grinned. Not all the fish had gone south.

3: “Roll Call”


Michael Rigg


No more alarm bells jolting him awake at six-fifteen for Roll Call. No more maggot-infested gruel for breakfast. No more Screws dictating his every move from Wake-Up to Lights-Out. Charles Weatherman rowed toward shore, imagining life away from The Rock. A Ribeye at Alfred’s. Cigars and brandy at Top of the Mark. Lili St. Cyr at the Music Box. Everything was within reach. Just a few more pulls on the oars.

Escaping had been easier than he thought. Using broken saw blades to loosen the grating over an air vent. Fashioning a fake head so the guards would believe he was sleeping. Paying a few dozen cigarettes for a small boat to be hidden in a grotto out of sight of the guard towers. Finally, implementing everything by slipping through the vent and inching his way along an unguarded utility corridor, across the roof, and over the fence.

Crimson-and-gold rays from sunrise topping the Santa Cruz Mountains greeted him as he stepped onto land, undetected, near Fisherman’s Wharf. Freedom—his dream—attained.

Brrrring! Brrrring! “Roll Call in five minutes,” blared over the loudspeaker. Charles opened his eyes and cursed. His nightmare, renewed.

And for 2023:

The photo prompt.


The winning story is:



Sally Milliken


“Kent’s already on set,” Associate Producer Lia called as her head appeared in the makeup room doorway.

“Is Martin nearly ready for his closeup? We’re losing our light.”

“Hang on, he just needs a touch up of powder. His cheeks are shiny, that’s all,” I answered.

“Great.” She nodded. “I’ll send an intern to walk him to set.”

As soon as Martin was out of the chair, I followed, stopping next to Kathy. As a hair stylist, she was ready with brush in hand.

“I’m sorry the hat is covering the style work you did on Martin.”

“Thanks. Comes with the territory, though.” She shrugged. “You know how it is.”

“Mmmhmm. I’m using tricks I never even imagined.”

“Me too. After his hair flew off during the chase scene yesterday, I thought that would be the end.”

“Not that I’m complaining about steady work,” I began, “but how long are we gonna milk this thing?”

“As long as we bring in the money, the brass wants us to keep going.”

“Martin’s been dead for eight years.”

“Damn, nobody move, his tooth fell out again.”

“That’s a wrap for today, everyone.”

Judges’ comments about the winning story – We really enjoyed reading this submission and it stood out because it was so different to any of the other stories. There was almost a sense of dark comedy about it and we thought the twist at the end was super. The visual detail gave a great sense of setting and we thought the plot built well towards the final line. It also worked well with the photo. Well done!

2023 Runners-up:

2: Law and Molder


Marcia Adair


“Yeah, right,” the dispatcher said. “A psychic reports a body at Stoneview cemetery…” Click.

If she’d believed me, the cold case squad would be there, closing the decades-old murder of Officer Max Wilgus. I was just a kid when he was ambushed in that very boneyard, but I never forgot. How could I? Tabloids published countless photos of a man wearing a ghoulish mask and goggles speeding away after the shooting.

When I saw the identical mask and goggles at an antique store recently, I grabbed them. “Where’d you get these?” I asked innocently. “Maybe they have something else I could use for a project.” Amazingly, the clerk gave me the man’s name and address.

Next day, I slipped a flyer under the killer’s door: “Feeling guilty? Visit Sarah the Psychic.”

I knew he’d come. He did. When “the spirits” slid a doctored photo in front of him — half cop, half skeleton mask — he blanched and bolted.

I followed him to the cemetery.

Rushing to the ambushed officer’s grave, he tripped hard on its stone coping and smashed headlong into the tombstone.

I smiled. “Case closed, punk.

“Grampa Max, you finally got him.”

3: Cemetery Justice


Pat Remick


My favorite walk is through the town cemetery. It’s peaceful until my final stop, the grave of K-9 Officer Brett Thomas. Sometimes I think I see my ex-partner near the Thomas family plot, in his uniform and signature dark shades, grinning, and taunting me and the world to take him on. Brett was a tough SOB, but no match for a hail of bullets. They hit me, too, but I limped into forced retirement. I still can’t fathom how a routine check of a vandalism report in Pineview Cemetery exploded into an unsolved murder. Lately, I’ve noticed a man loitering near Brett’s grave. Even from a distance, I see him shudder when he glances at the headstone, as if startled by something. Maybe Brett’s ghost. Usually, the man crosses himself and disappears before we reach him. Today was different. He smiled and nodded at my companion, who has moved in with Brett’s widow and me. I understand now. Growling and barking won’t change things. However, I’m trained to kill so I attack repeatedly, mortally wounding both. But not before the loiterer gets off a shot, reuniting me with Brett forever.

“Congratulations to all the writers, and to the winners!” ~ Bookouture judges and Writers’ Police Academy

*The contest winners will receive the Golden Donut Award via shipping. Runners-up to receive certificates by U.S. mail.


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