This quarter’s report is by Ingrid Jendrzejewski
It is always a pleasure to and honour to read new writing, and this round of Flash500 was no exception. When I first received the shortlisted pieces, I read them all immediately then spent the next couple weeks letting them rattle around in my head. I revisited each piece multiple times, and read the top contenders over and over and over again.
Without exception, the pieces that stayed with me – the ones that dug in and wouldn’t let go – were ambitious. They tried something new, took risks. They gave me something new with each re-reading.
It was incredibly difficult to come up with my final list. There is only a hair’s breadth between some of my picks; to come up with a final ranking, I had to go looking for soft spots and weaker points…a title that felt too on the nose, a hard-to-parse sentence that tripped me up on every reading, a well-worn phrase here and there…tiny, tiny details. Here are my top choices, as well as some shout-outs to other pieces on the shortlist….
First Place: 15-C-47662
This segmented flash covers more than fifteen years, compressing this timespan into short, sharp, enigmatic scenes and leaving it up to the reader to fill in the many and large gaps. It is a strange and beautiful and curious piece. With each reading, a few pieces of the jigsaw slide into place, and one or two fall to the floor. The story takes risks not just with the spaces it leaves for the reader to fill in, but also what it chooses to include; there is delightfully precise ambiguity in these lines, and an ending that manages to open and close doors at the same time. I love it when a story invites me in this deeply; reading it feels like a collaborative act with the author.
Second Place: The Train to Anywhere But Here
This is a fantastic example of the single breathless paragraph, told from a child’s point of view. The voice is note-perfect, and doesn’t dwell or over-interpret; their simple observations feed us enough information for us to work out the more grown-up story happening between the lines. The sparse punctuation doesn’t confuse or distract; it drives the story onward in the present tense with pace and urgency. The matter-of-fact tone throughout makes that final line all that much more of a gut punch.
Third Place: Two Stories, Or, How Much It Matters for Everything to Happen in Order
Without giving too much away, I love how this gorgeous story reveals itself. Written in two parts, the author uses repetition and plays with order, time and the reader’s expectations to tell, then reframe a story. It has the best kind of twist: I didn’t see it coming, but even after I knew what was going on, the story continued to deliver on each rereading.
I would also like to take the opportunity to mention a few other stories that I enjoyed from the shortlist. Waiting for Nightfall touches on several big issues – impending sight loss, the aftermath of growing up in foster care, ageing and fertility, coming to terms with a new baby – through the point-of-view of a soon-to-be father. It’s a lot (a lot!) to tackle in a very short space, but it does so with dignity and simplicity. I particularly admire the ending, which manages to be hopeful but not overly simplistic or twee – a rare feat in flash. The Signal I love the journey this piece took me on; on the first read, I thought I knew its rules from the outset, but there is a subtle, intriguing shift halfway through that moves this piece into new territory. I also love how the ending manages to be both conclusive and open-ended at the same time. The Rumba of Second Chance tells a poignant story through small, well-chosen details. I include this in the category of ‘ambitious’ as it can be incredibly difficult to tell quieter stories; each choice of what to include and what to leave out can make or break the piece. I liked the experiments in structure in The fear of falling and Journey Without a Map, the clever construction of Descending Borobudur (I enjoyed reading it both forwards and backwards!), the fresh approaches to familiar stories in The Sort of Woman who Calls, and 21,915, the tiny details and voice in A wonderful-looking man, and the world-building in Faltering into the Future (I could easily see that universe expanding into a short story or longer).
Congratulations to the authors above, and thank you to everyone who submitted work. I enjoyed reading the shortlist and I know the readers found much to admire in the longlist and beyond as well.