The following stories, listed in alphabetical order, reached the shortlist stage of the first quarter's competition. The authors were notified by email.
The smell of poverty
First: Countdown by Julia Anderson
Second: After the Wake by Gayle Marien
Third: The Prisoner by Susan Howe
Click on the titles to read the three winning stories
Highly Commended: First Time by Gerry Wright
Judge’s Report for the first quarter’s competition 2010 from Simon Whaley
Producing flash fiction is difficult. Despite the restricted word count, the key elements of a short story must still be maintained. The main character should still face some sort of conflict, followed by challenges to resolve the problem. The temptation with flash fiction is to think that, because it's short, you only need to write an anecdote, rather than a story. Yet, this isn't the case. An anecdote is merely an incident, or part of a story, not the whole story. With flash fiction though, it is possible to tell part of the story, whilst inferring how the story will continue. However, the whole story still needs to be there. There were a couple of entries that made me smile, which is always nice from a judge’s point of view, because rarely are competition entries humorous. (Well, the ones I get to judge don't seemed to be plagued with humour!) But these entries came across as 'extended jokes', rather than a proper story with a problem that needed solving.
When I judge a competition, I sit down over a few days and read everything. Then I put the entries aside for a few days. When I come to look at the entries again, I look for the ones I can remember, for these are the entries that have had the greatest impact upon me as a reader. Then I reread them again, sometimes, two or three more times as I finally come to my decision.
I chose 'Countdown' for first place for several reasons. Firstly, it was a complete story. There was a problem that had to be overcome. Jimmy had to grow up. He would never sell his motorbike, but in the end, he realises it is the right thing to do. It's his decision, and as the reader, I know it is the right decision. What I also liked about this story, was its structure. Starting each new paragraph, with a number, counting down from ten, reinforced the impact that by the end of the story a decision had to be made. Time was running out. I'm sure this helped to keep the writer focused on producing a story, rather than an anecdote.
In second place, I chose 'After the Wake'. It was a powerful story of a woman coming to terms with the loss of a partner and how it changes her life. Her new bank card, in her own name only, represents what she has lost, whilst also showing what she has now gained - independence. When a partnership of two, becomes a life of one, there is loss, but there is also freedom and clarity of life's new purpose. The last word of this story infers how the character has changed and will embrace her new future. Although not written, I know how this character's story will end.
Third place, 'The Prisoner', offered a slight twist, which had me thinking along one train of thought, before the final lines clarified the real setting. When I read this for the second time, knowing where the character was really sitting, I enjoyed the story that much more, being able to identify with the feelings and thoughts of the main character whilst they waited for their life-changing moment.
Writing flash fiction may be difficult, but so is judging it! My congratulations go to the winners and the shortlisted entrants too.