Text Box: Text Box: Winning Entries First Quarter 2013

First: When No One Is Looking by Karen Jones

Second: More Of A Man by Alison Wassell

Third: A Smoke-Long Story by Graham Chester

Click on the titles to read the three winning stories

 

Highly Commended: Chaos and Seduction by Penny Aldred

 

Judge’s Report for the first quarter’s competition 2013 from Annemarie Neary

 

Flash fiction is hard, really hard. You can’t have too much plot in there, or too much description. If you start pulling rabbits out of hats, the story will seem too trite and the reader will feel cheated. If your language is careless, you’ll squander your 500 words (and your reader’s attention) very quickly. Rather like a poem, a successful flash should leave something behind - an image, an emotion, a stain. The temptation is to try and achieve this through a dramatic, occasionally grand guignol, ending. However, endings need to be earned and it’s difficult to pull off a twist in a very short tale. The winning stories all do something very special.  They give us a concentrated dose of human experience from an original perspective using language that is always working hard to earn the pay-off. Flash fiction works best when it tackles things that are strange, mysterious, dissonant (whether seen from a comic point of view or a tragic one). And so it is with these winning stories. Each one is intriguing, fresh and well-crafted. Congratulations to the very talented writers.

 

1st: When No One is Looking

The winner is only 340 words long, but it is close to perfect. Written from the point of view of a child who is much more perceptive than her parents, this is the story of the toll taken when well-meaning neighbours avert their eyes from loneliness and pain. It is expert writing – tight and rhythmical.  Right from the start it knows where it is going, and by the final line the child narrator has given us her ‘take’ on the opening. It is a much simpler story than most of the others, but so effective. For me, its principal strengths are the intensely visual image of the disappearing woman (the dandelion clock is unforgettable), the clarity and truth of the child’s voice (‘teeny tiny toaty’) and the deft evocation of the childish sense of impotence, of no one listening, of the world going on over her head. There is also the chilling sense that the child has somehow divined that, already set apart from those around her, she is perhaps watching her own future.  Excellent work.

 

2nd: More of a Man

This is a very different kind of flash in the sense that it is more overtly narrative than the previous piece. However, it is a really accomplished story that manages to address important, complicated themes - gender stereotyping, bereavement, inherited personality traits - in an impressively compact way.  I felt that this story had legs, should the writer be inclined to revisit it on a larger scale, but it also works extremely well as a potent piece of flash fiction. As in the previous story, the first person voice lends immediacy to a story that demands our emotional involvement. The metaphor of cake (describing home, nurture and the narrator’s perceived feminisation) acts in startling juxtaposition with the daughter’s taunts, her shaven head, her adoption of the ‘male’ role by going to war. There is a tragic irony in the fact that it takes the girl’s death to provoke in the narrator the kind of visceral anger she might have respected. A profoundly sad story, and a very contemporary one.

 

3rd: A Smoke-Long Story

The third prize piece is strange and wonderful and takes us somewhere completely different – to a café in China after the demise of Chairman Mao.  Although it doesn’t describe the location of the story at all, I have a picture of the café and of the two characters. The focus is on the printed pages of the Roaring Sparrow (great name) and the smoke curling into the air. There is the sense that this is a monochrome, drab kind of place so the plate of red-braised pork gives a dash of striking colour. This is a very interesting piece, a fable really, that I took to be about the necessity for individuals to take the reins of their own lives, to write their own stories.  The character of Zhang Wei is no longer sure how to conduct himself now that central control has been relinquished, and we see him start to think for himself. This is a highly original story, and a reflexive one, which is told in a clipped, rather distant voice. Very clever indeed.

 

Highly Commended: Chaos and Seduction

There were a lot of stories centred on relationships, but this is a very original, extremely well-written one with an unusual perspective. The narrative tone is reminiscent of a scientist observing the narrator much as the narrator herself is observing the ants in her kitchen. The narrator is not named, which makes her a kind of everywoman, and the encounter with ‘her fifteen hours and ten minutes man’ something of a biological phenomenon. I loved the use of the parallel world of the ants being poisoned in the kitchen while bodies are entangling upstairs and the way their arrival is used to jog the woman’s memory about the failures of her marriage. There is a very appropriate closing line in a story whose hallmarks are observation and detachment. We are told that, serving the post-coital breakfast, the woman will ‘sit with her back to the sun, so he can see the highlights in her hair.’ Deftly done.

 

We now regularly receive several hundred entries each quarter, so those making the long and short lists should feel very proud.

 

Short Listed Entries — in alphabetical order

 

21 Reasons Daddy's Not Coming Back (and one why he might) by Chloe Banks

A Moment by Jasmine Louise Fisher 

A Smoke-Long Story by Graham Chester

Browning’s Grave by Frances Hay

Chaos and Seduction by Penny Aldred

Cold Hands by Rhoda Thompson

Dark Side of the Moon by Christine Steenfeldt

Fifty Shades of Hay by Bud Craig

Flawed Ending by Christine Steenfeldt

Flying Yellow by Penny Aldred

Glass Birds by Laura E. James

In All But Name by Christine Steenfeldt

Message Received by Susan Howe

More Of A Man by Alison Wassell

On the King's Road by Amanda O'Callaghan

Pocklips by Bryan Marshall

Pretty Maids All In A Row by Vanessa Savage

The Lay-by by Catherine Cox

The Lion Hunt by Dave Fraundorfer

The Road Not Taken by Alexander Walters

The Visitor by Damon King

Thresholds by Gillian Elwood

Twist of Guilt by Sue Uden

Two Sisters and a Train by Elizabeth Willcox

Vladivostok by Kevin Tosca

When No One Is Looking by Karen Jones

 

Long Listed Entries — in alphabetical order

 

21 Reasons Daddy's Not Coming Back (and one why he might) by Chloe Banks

A Moment by Jasmine Louise Fisher 

A Momentary Lapse by Ceri Lowe-Petraske

A Smoke-Long Story by Graham Chester

Arthur’s Downfall by Colin Watts

As f Tends to Zero by David Ewen

Browning’s Grave by Frances Hay

Chaos and Seduction by Penny Aldred

Cold Hands by Rhoda Thompson

Dark Side of the Moon by Christine Steenfeldt

Fifty Shades of Hay by Bud Craig

Flawed Ending by Christine Steenfeldt

Flying Yellow by Penny Aldred

Friday Night Taxi by Rhoda Thompson

Glass Birds by Laura E. James

Gold by Pamela Weeden

In All But Name by Christine Steenfeldt

Maggie's New Home by Marie Campbell

Message Received by Susan Howe

Model Village by Vanessa Horn

More of a Man by Alison Wassell

Not Far From the Tree by Alison Wassell

On the King's Road by Amanda O'Callaghan

One Way Street by Veronica Bright

Our Tree by Alex Bruty

Perfect Word  by Mandy Huggins

Pocklips by Bryan Marshall

Pretty Maids All In a Row by Vanessa Savage

Short on Bliss by Michael Twist

Stones Belong to the Earth by Joanne Fox

The Lay-by by Catherine Cox

The Lion Hunt by Dave Fraundorfer

The Number Twenty by Sally Knight

The Old House by P John Anderson

The Opposite Direction by Anna Myfanwy Kitley

The Road Not Taken by Alexander Walters

The Sea Angel by Tracy Fells

The Silent Smile by Tony Beet

The Sleeping Hole by Cat Totty

The Spotlight by Andrew Walker

The Stone by Hilary Taylor

The Visitor by Damon King

Things Change, Things Stay the Same by Janet Webster

Thresholds by Gillian Elwood

Traces by Sharon Boyle

Transition by James Coates

Twist of Guilt by Sue Uden

Two Sisters and a Train by Elizabeth Willcox

Vladivostok by Kevin Tosca

When No One Is Looking by Karen Jones