First: Lord Stanton’s Horse by Heikki Hietala
Second: The Ghost of Christmas Past by Jayne Thickett
Third: Fur by Janet Pate
Click on the titles to read the three winning stories
Highly Commended: That’s Life by Sheila Alcock
Judge’s Report for the third quarter’s competition 2010 from Sue Moorcroft
As a writer, creative writing tutor and competition judge, I see a lot of stories. It's almost a relief to judge a flash fiction competition where, perforce, there's no room for anything but good solid writing.
You'll notice that each of my picks contains a story. Those from the shortlist that I most easily discarded were the ones that were really only a character sketch or a piece of poetic description, enjoyable in themselves - but short on plot.
1st: Lord Stanton's Horse
And I was impressed by the emotion that the conversation conveyed. We didn't get to study the protagonists but I was able to empathise and sympathise with them and was affected by that final line. I'm used to calling this slightly shocking end to a story 'a killer last line' - and this one really is.
The writing is tight yet flowing and I didn't feel as if the writer had cut down a longer work, to the story's detriment, or reached the 500th word and stopped. It's a fully rounded story.
2nd: The Ghost of Christmas Past
The theme of the story is in the title but this isn't Dickens's Ghost of Christmas Past. It's the past come back to haunt the narrator in the form of a Christmas elf.
I like the opening to this story because it brings on stage a conflict - not being able to remember where the teenage girl in elf costume has been encountered before - that proves to be only an introduction to a greater conflict: the girl is the narrator's daughter who had been 'given away'. Intriguingly, the girl knows that she's the narrator's daughter but, through the nature of flash fiction, the reader is left, like the narrator, on the brink of discovering what will happen next.
I do have a hankering to know ...
One thing that flash fiction is particularly good at is the dark-edged story. Fur was the most successful of these on the shortlist, providing reader satisfaction when the unlovely Mrs. Harrison gets a taste of her own medicine and ends up as a couple of jackets for a poodle.
The story relies on the reader suspending their disbelief but I feel that the writer carries us through that barrier nicely with a characterisation of Mrs. Harrison that makes us all too ready to enjoy her comeuppance.
Highly Commended: That's Life
I was glad to receive a nice twist-in-the-tale story where the writer could lead me up the garden path successfully, skilfully, in so few words. Maybe it's because competitions seem to attract so many stories about errant husbands/lovers preparing to move on to a new woman that I wasn't on my guard and didn't see the ending coming. I always like to be 'had' like this and love to be surprised.
The signal that all was not as I assumed was in the scarf that had to be pointing exactly in the middle of the back. It was the 'signpost' that alerted me to be prepared for the twist. Then the twist came. Perfectly. It's a simple tale but twist-enders often are. That's part of their beauty.
The following stories, listed in alphabetical order, reached the shortlist stage of the third quarter's competition.
A Bag for Life
A Knacker's Guide to Ireland
Beef Hash and Corn Bread
Dark Thoughts and Heavy Metal
Find the Lady
Ghost of Christmas Past
Lord Stanton's Horse
Not on the Agenda
Point and Shoot
Sparrows under the Middle Cloud
The House on Memory Lane
The Pink Bobble Hat
The Unknown Gladiators
The XY Factor
Things to Throw from a Bridge