Judge’s Report by Ingrid Jendrzejewski
It’s always an enormous pleasure and privilege to read new writing, and this season was no exception; I enjoyed reading all twenty-five of the pieces on this quarter’s shortlist and ended up with a list of nearly a dozen pieces vying for the three prize-winning places.
With so many contenders, I went back to basics and thought about the elements that I look for in a successful flash. I’m interested in stories I haven’t heard before, or stories that tell a familiar tale in a fresh, new way. I’m also interested in writing in which all the different elements work together. For example, I love it when a title adds something to a story, taking me in a new direction or giving me some information beyond the body of the piece. I also look for endings which pack a punch, not just on the first reading, but on the second reading, and the third and the fourth…. I also believe that flash, like poetry, is at its best when some of the story is left to the gaps between the words, and a story perfectly balances moments of showing, telling and implying. With these elements in mind and many, many readings over multiple days, here is my final list….
I love the way ‘The Day After Mama Left…’ plays with time. The titles takes us into the future, and the story details conflicting memories of the past, leaving the reader the delicious task of piecing together what’s going on between the lines. The story ends on a powerful image that takes us deeper into the story and leads us right back to the title, which then takes on a new resonance. All the parts work together to tell not one but several possible stories tied together by a teddy bear prize and a shooting gallery
‘Essay of a Childhood Summer’ is beautifully constructed and lands with a gut punch that holds up reading after reading and a title that works on several levels. The focus on the child’s perspective puts their experience in sharp focus, leaving the final essay to tell a story not just the experience of these particular kids during one particular summer, but also how adults often understand – or misunderstand – children.
‘Beneath the Pink and White’ is one of those pieces that sneaks up on one; we think we’ve heard the story before, and then it sneaks us into a different place. I also really admire stories that can land an uplifting ending – a very difficult feat in flash.
Three other pieces really stood out, and could easily have been prize-winners as they stand or with tiny edits:
‘One in Six’ is a skilfully told tale about trauma. I love how the writer plays with time in this piece, in a way that structurally as well as narratively shows how the repercussions of an event in the past bleed into the present.
‘A Rover P4 Drophead Coupé in Connaught Green’ beautifully captures a very specific time and place and family situation through pitch-perfect specific details about what the narrator is noticing around them. I love the way cars and driving frame everything that the child sees, and the way sense is made of the grown-up events that are unfolding.
‘Small Boy’ is a touching exploration of fatherhood told in the form of a call-and-response series. Instead of a conventional story, we get a series of short, italicised questions, followed by (usually) longer, more detailed answers in which the reader is presented various clues about the individual who is doing the answering, as well as his life and family. It’s gorgeously constructed, and I love the fresh approach to storytelling.
Beyond these six pieces, I’d like to acknowledge a few more. I loved the specific details in ‘Hand Me Downs’, the skilfully rendered characterisation in ‘The Thing About Mr. Murry’, the kindness infused in ‘Its walls were dripping with butter…’ and the experiments with form in ‘Spinning Gold from Straw – Green Edition’ and ‘Soundtrack’.
Huge congratulations to this season’s winners; it was a difficult decision that came down to knife-edge choices. Also, huge thanks to everyone who sent in work, and to the twenty-five shortlisted authors whose work I had the chance to read. If you didn’t make the list this time, I am rooting for you and look forward to seeing your flash published in future!