Judge’s Report for the fourth quarter’s competition 2019 from Ingrid Jendrzejewski
First of all, I’d like to applaud every writer who took the time to write, edit, polish and submit a flash for this competition. I truly believe that finishing work and sending it out into the world is something to celebrate, regardless of the outcome. It was a treat to spend the past week with the shortlisted stories, and given the volume of submissions, I’m sure there were many more stories that only narrowly missed out.
One of the things that excites me most about flash fiction is the potential to experiment and play with ideas, techniques, styles and structures. In a tight, compressed space, one can often work a kind of magic that might wear thin if stretched into the dimensions of a longer story, and every word has to pull more than its own weight. I also love the way very, very short stories can suggest worlds more than what is on the page. Perhaps, then, it will be no surprise that the pieces that resonated with me the most are ones that are bold, inventive and thoughtfully crafted, and that open up into much larger stories with each rereading.
There were many things to admire in the pieces I read. In particular, I admired the voice in ‘Objects of Desire’, and the way this piece presents a truly complicated, multi-layered narrator – a feat that can be tricky to pull off in a limited number of words. I also thought ‘[No Audible Dialogue]’ was an ambitious, thought-provoking piece that uses one simple airport goodbye to tell a much larger story about family, society, conflict, and the various roles we all play individually and collectively. I also loved the beautifully-rendered sense of place in ‘Behind the Mountains, More Mountains’, the imagery and extended metaphor in ‘Punctuation’, the weaving of past and present in ‘Raining Mad’, the pacing in the wry ‘The Art of Buying and Selling Stolen Property’, and the refrain and mathematical through line in ‘Setting All Terms to Zero’.
Congratulations to the winners, shortlisted and longlisted authors, and to everyone who sent in work.
Happy writing and submitting in 2020,
Without further ado, here are my choices for this round of Flash 500:
1st: What Went Through my Mind when I First Read About the Butterfly Effect in Chaos Theory – the Phenomenon Whereby a Minute Localized Change in a Complex System can have Large Effects Elsewhere
This is a piece that takes risks, and those risks pay off. The title cleverly anchors us in a moment when the narrator first faces an onslaught of memories about a certain event in her past, and the rest of the piece spills out as a series of ‘What if’ questions that trace the way that event played out. We see everything from the child’s perspective, but there are plenty of hints as to the adult drama that is unfolding around her. The flash’s structure gives it a raw, relentless pace, and the title combined with the ending hint at another huge story that takes place off the page – the story of what happened next.
2nd: An Excerpt from the Dictionary of Antiquity
I love hermit-crab flash – i.e. flash that borrows the structure of another form of writing to tell its story – and this is a fine example. This piece is presented as a series of dictionary entries from sometime in the future, weaving in references to contemporary pop culture within its definitions. Not only do these entries hint at what this new future is like, but they give us an interesting, defamiliarised perspective on contemporary domestic relations and gender stereotypes…quite a lot to pack into 400-some words!
3rd: Giant of a Man
In one relentless paragraph, we see the world through the eyes of a new, sleep-deprived father ploughing through the minutia of the caregiving tasks with which he is faced. The rush of text perfectly encapsulates the exhaustion and intensity of early parenthood, but then, the end opens out into a beautifully crafted, understated moment in which we are invited to pause with this new father and baby as they regard each other. The writer gives us everything we need to understand the father’s shifting sense of identity, and not a word more.
Highly Commended: Tell Us Three Things about Yourself, One of Which is a Lie
This delicious piece presents and develops three statements which we are invited by the story’s very title to distrust. Although we know we can’t fully believe our unreliable narrator’s account of themselves, their family history, or anything else for that matter, the reader can’t help but be drawn in by the vivid details, folk history, larger-than-life (or are they?) stories, and exuberant tone. This piece is a masterclass of the technique of leaving gaps for the reader to fill in; not only does the piece hint at larger stories beyond the page, but the reader has to make decisions about which of the on-the-page ‘facts’ to trust.
We regularly receive several hundred entries each quarter, so those making the long and short lists should feel very proud.