This quarter’s report is by Gaynor Jones
I’m writing this judge’s report with a list of all the titles I have read pasted above in the document as I work, and my eyes keep flitting up and I find myself thinking ‘oh, that one was good’ ‘that one had the great ending’ ‘that one was so unusual’. But, I have to choose and stick to my top 3 (plus a couple of special mentions) so here goes.
The stories I was given were all well written, frequently with beautiful language choices or strong narrative voices, or both.
I read about angels and gods, life and death, families struggling, relationships fading (or imploding) and reflections on contemporary society.
There were twist endings, open endings, moving endings and shocking endings.
There was also a great variety in form, so that comparing and choosing at times felt impossible.
I read and re-read each story several times, in different orders, at different times of day, and eventually came to my decision.
First Prize: This Could be a Story about Swimming
I’ve often heard that short fiction should leave you with more questions than answers and this strange piece certainly fits the bill.
It begins simply enough with a grounding and well-described scene of a typical family day out. Then, when the protagonist goes into the water, I thought I knew what was coming. But those final moments completely discombobulated me – which for me as reader, is a very good thing. The hint is in the title – this could be a story about swimming, but it could be a story about numerous other things (I had several theories, but I don’t want to spoil it before people have read it!)
What I personally want when I read a flash fiction is to feel something – and here I’m left feeling uneasy, and that feeling held up strongly every time I re-read this piece.
It’s quite a structural rule-breaker which also appealed to me, although I would argue that there is a definite ‘shift’ to be found in this eerie and compelling narrative. I felt immediately drawn to this piece and I feel like it was destined to find me as its judge. I can’t wait to find out who wrote it.
Second Prize: Blossom
I chose this story for the simple reason that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I felt strangely peaceful while reading this (despite the hovering threat) and could almost place myself in the woodland setting, as if I was along with the characters with a basket in my hand, gathering things up and learning about the forest.
For such a short story, there’s a good sense of arc here, with a relationship, tension and action, and I loved the strong folklore element which is sustained throughout. I also liked all the natural-world references and the beautiful descriptions, such as “the bells bobbed mournfully and the tree’s canopy stretched in a cloak”.
Third Prize: A Few Things You Should Know About My Father
There were several stories on the shortlist that spliced facts or information into their narratives, and they were all excellent in their own ways, but this was the one that personally spoke to me the most. I loved the opening line, “My mother jerks open the dark green filing cabinet, which teeth-rattles; from its wide-open mouth she pulls out two white envelopes, our names written carefully in pencil.” I enjoyed learning about the father of the story and I felt the character was really well drawn. The ending is quite open, and I liked that too – I had enough from the story to go off and fill in the gaps for myself, so it felt like I was in dialogue with the writer of the piece.
Meat was a story that I kept coming back to. It’s an extremely powerful and visceral piece that pulls no punches. The Amber Room was another flash that I kept coming back to. It’s emotional without being overly sentimental and has a fantastic final line.