Poetry Winners Judge: Liz Lochhead | Report
1st Clear Recent History – Natalya Anderson, Cottenham, Cambridgeshire
2nd Sister – Tori Sharpe, Dallas, Texas, USA
3rd Begin – Jo Bell, Stone, Staffordshire
Highly Commended (alphabetical order)
On Reclaiming My Life From Social Media – Daisy Behagg, Bristol
Being a Beautiful Woman – Alan Buckley, Oxford
Punting from Camden Lock – Florence Cox, Felixstowe, Suffolk
The Maker – Jane Dunn, Sedbergh, Cumbria
Touch – Rosalind Goddard, Cradley Heath, W. Mids
Apprehension – June Lausch, London
Bedtime Ritual – Val Ormrod, Alvington, Gloucestershire
Repeat After Me – Katherine Swinson, Charlottesville, VA, USA
To travel hopefully – Lorna Tait Westwell, Edinburgh
Difficulties – Wes Ward, Newville, PA, USA
Short Story Winners Judge: Andrew Miller | Report
1st Scenes of a Long Term Nature – Tracy Slaughter, Thames, New Zealand
2nd Reimbursement – Sean Lusk, Haywards Heath, W Sussex
3rd Hearing Aid – David Malone, Liverpool
Highly Commended (alphabetical order)
Think of a Number – David Dawson, Beaminster, Dorset
The Anatolian Girl – Anne Elliott, New York City, USA
Robyn's Voice – Jackie Garner, Dumfries, Scotland
Work Detail – Emma-Jane Hughes, West Sussex
Me and Tim Kelsey – Ag Jones, South Wingfield, Derbyshire
Photos of Celia – Melanie Kay, Bristol
Still Life in a Fens Landscape – Alan Mumford, Letchworth, Hertfordshire
Fat Tuesday – Simon Rickman, Glasgow
Anglophiles – William Pei Shih, New York City, USA
The Weight of Ribbons – Nadine West, Manchester
Flash Fiction Winners - Judge: Tania Hershman| Report
1st Romans Chapter 1 Verse 29 – Kit de Waal, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
2nd George Mallory – Nicholas Ruddock, Ontario, Canada
3rd Anatidaephobia – Michael Conley, Manchester
Highly Commended (alphabetical order)
The Truth Untold – Sheila Llewellyn, Enniskillen, Northern Ireland
In lieu of small talk – Ursula Mallows, Oxford
Where to Find Lise Meitner – David Swann, Brighton
The Peggy Chapman-Andrews First Novel Award 2014
Caroline Chisholm – Swimming Pool Hill
Ian Nettleton – The Last Migration
Nell McGrath – The Story Library of The Saints
Sarah Hegarty – Beyond the Forest
Sheila Hillier – Whorehouse of the Republic
The Dorset Prize
David Dawson (Short Story)
Biographies (alphabetical order)
Natalya Anderson is a writer and former ballet dancer from Toronto, Canada, currently based in Cambridge. She completed an MA in Creative Writing at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge and a Bachelor of Journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto. She has worked as a medical writer for specialist physicians and has written features for Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail. For six years, she wrote a column for Dogs Today Magazine in which she interviewed celebrities about their pets. She is married to a very tall Irish man, and they have a two-year-old son.
Daisy Behagg grew up on the south coast, and attained a BA and MA in creative writing from Bath Spa University, both with distinction. She was shortlisted for the Melita Hume debut collection prize in 2014, as well as being the first winner of the Templar portfolio prize with her short pamphlet Cockpit Syndrome. In 2013 she won the Bridport prize for poetry. Her work has appeared in numerous journals including The Rialto, Poetry Wales, The North, Ambit, The Warwick Review, Poetry Salzburg Review and Stand. She currently lives in Brighton, teaches creative writing and edits for online arts journal New Linear Perspectives.
Jo Bell Formerly director of National Poetry Day, Jo Bell is now the UK's Canal Laureate, appointed by the Poetry Society and the Canal and River Trust. She runs the highly successful online writing community 52. Jo lives on a narrowboat in the English Midlands. Earlier this year she won the Charles Causley Prize. Her next collection Kith comes out in spring 2015 with Nine Arches Press.
Alan Buckley originally from Merseyside, moved to Oxford in the 1980s to study English Literature and has lived there ever since. His debut pamphlet Shiver (tall-lighthouse) was a Poetry Book Society choice. He has recently been published in the anthologies Days of Roses 2, Double Bill and The Charnel House. He won the Wigtown Poetry Competition in 2010, was shortlisted for the inaugural Picador Poetry Prize, and has twice before been Highly Commended in the Bridport Prize. He works as a psychotherapist, and as a school writer-in-residence for the charity First Story.
Caroline Chisholm was born in Essex in 1972 and grew up in Buckinghamshire, the Shetland Islands and County Durham. She studied English Literature at the Queen’s University of Belfast and worked for several years in communications for high profile NGOs, most recently for Greenpeace International in Amsterdam. Caroline has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester, where she developed the early drafts of Swimming Pool Hill. She’s currently studying for a PhD at the University’s Centre for New Writing. Caroline has previously been longlisted for the Mslexia first novel award.
In her spare time, Caroline volunteers for the UK’s oldest lifeboat station in Southport where she lives. She was diagnosed with a primary brain tumour in 2013, but following treatment is now in remission.
Michael Conley is a 30 year old teacher from Manchester. He completed an MA in Creative Writing at MMU in 2012, and his poetry and flash fiction has been published in a variety of magazines. His first pamphlet of poetry, 'Aquarium', came out in April 2014 and is published by Flarestack.
Florence Cox Florence Cox was born in Ipswich in 1952, studied French and Italian at Leeds University and lived in France for a number of years. In 1981 she settled in Felixstowe and zigzagged between secretarial work and teaching while raising her three children. She currently works as a supply teacher in both primary and high schools. Poetry, folk singing, music and social events fill her spare time. Florence’s poetical development owes much to the keen criticism of the East Suffolk Poetry Writers’ Workshop, the nurturing support of the Poetry Party and the opportunities provided by Suffolk Poetry Society. Her work has been commended many times in the Crabbe Memorial Poetry Competition and appeared in the anthologies of winning poems published by the Suffolk Poetry Society: She regularly takes part in poetry readings all over Suffolk.
David Dawson started writing short stories three years ago, after moving from London to Dorset, where he now lives with the artist Bron Jones. The stories that appeal to him are grounded in the realist tradition but retain a quality that resists final interpretation. He would write more - and better - if it weren't so tempting to spend his time reading Flaubert and Chekhov instead.
Kit de Waal writes short stories and flash fiction and has just finished her first novel. She is published in various anthologies (Fish Prize 2011 & 2012; ‘The Sea in Birmingham’ 2013; ‘Final Chapters’ 2013’) and works as an editor of non-fiction. She came second in the Costa Short Story Prize 2014 with ‘The Old Man & The Suit’, second in the Bath Short Story Prize 2014 with ‘The Beautiful Thing’ and was longlisted for the Bristol Prize 2014.
Jane Dunn was born and brought up in a Derbyshire village. She read English at Cambridge, and later trained and worked as a clinical psychologist in London and Oxford. Now retired, she lives with her husband, dogs and cats in Dentdale, Cumbria, within the Yorkshire Dales National Park. She started writing poetry six years ago, stimulated by an enthusiastic local Adult Education poetry workshop. She has had poems published in South and The Countryman.
Anne Elliott’s novella, The Beginning of the End of the Beginning, is forthcoming from Ploughshares Solos in Fall 2014. She was the winner of the 2012 Normal Prize for short fiction, and the 2013 Table 4 Writer’s Foundation grant. Her stories have been or will be featured in Crab Orchard Review, Witness, Hobart, FRiGG, JMWW, Bellevue Literary Review, Fugue, Opium, Pindeldyboz, The Normal School, and others. She has been a fiction fellow at the Vermont Studio Center and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and a listed notable in Best American Nonrequired Reading. Elliott is a veteran of the New York spoken word circuit, with stage credits including The Whitney Museum, Lincoln Center, PS122, and St. Mark's Poetry Project. She earned an MFA in visual art from University of California, San Diego, and lives in Brooklyn, USA with 3 cats, 2 dogs, and 1 husband.
Jackie Garner is currently completing a research Masters on environmental poetry and creative writing at University of Glasgow, Dumfries Campus. She was a runner-up in the BBC Nature Writing Competition in 2013 and winner of the Seven Senses competition, Poetry onthebus sponsored by the Scottish Arts Council.
Roz Goddard co-ordinates the West Midlands Readers’ Network, an organisation that works extensively with libraries and readers’ groups, produces reading events and commissions new work from regional writers. She is also a poet and short-fiction writer and a former poet laureate for Birmingham. She has published four collections of poems, the most recent, The Sopranos Sonnets and Other Poems (Nine Arches Press) featured on R3’s The Verb and her work is on permanent display in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. She took first prize in the New Welsh Review inaugural micro-fiction competition in 2013. She is currently working on a new collection of poems for which she was awarded an Arts Council England grant. Examples of her poetry and fiction can be found here: www.rozgoddard.com.
Emma-Jane Hughes was brought up between the sublime of a barge on the River Thames, and the ridiculous of an all-girls boarding school. She now lives in Wittering with her husband and two children. Her poetry has been published in the Bridport anthology 2012, online by Mslexia and other journals, and in two anthologies. Emma is currently researching for a PhD in contemporary poetry and teaching at the University of Chichester. She remains indebted to the lecturers in the English and Creative Writing department there.
Ag Jones Born 1950 IOM. Studied English at Cambridge and worked for 35 years as social worker (two mistakes), but also helped edit and sell Stand Magazine in the 70s. Retired, doesn't play golf. Family Guy. Lives in Derbyshire. Writes, but without hope.
June Lausch is a teacher and lives in Stoke Newington, London. She has been published in magazines, including Magma and South Bank Poetry. She was a runner-up (twice) in the Troubadour Annual Poetry Competition. In 2010 she was commissioned by The Whitechapel Art Gallery, to write poems inspired by the work of Alice Neel. She is published on-line by The Writers’ Hub, Birkbeck, University of London. She is a member of The Group at The Poetry Society in Covent Garden.
Sheila Llewellyn lives in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. She did the MA in Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, at Queen’s University, Belfast, in 2011–12. She is now completing a Ph.D. there, in Creative Writing, and finishing off her first novel. In 2011, she won the RTÉ Radio One P. J. O’Connor Award for Radio Drama. She was shortlisted for the Costa Short Story Award in 2012 and 2013, and has also been shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize, the Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Prize and the Fish Short Memoir Prize. Her story 'Heroes' was selected for the Anthology: Surge – New Writing from Ireland, to be published by O'Brien Press, in November 2014.
Sean Lusk’s stories have twice been winners in Ireland’s Fish Prize. They are usually, he says, ‘dark, with a twist’. For several years Sean ran workshops and events at the West Cork Literary Festival and he occasionally pops up at other festivals. He lives in Sussex and works in London as a civil servant. He also writes non-fiction. Sean dreams of publishing a collection of short stories, a novel or two and of running writing retreats in a large rambling house by the deep blue sea. Then he wakes up on the 07.03 to Victoria.
Ursula Mallows is an editor based in Oxford. She has been writing for a number of years and is an active member of local writing groups. She has previously been shortlisted for the Bridport Flash Fiction prize (2010) and the Fish Publishing prize (2010, longlisted 2013,2014)
Melanie Kay is an adopted Bristolian. She spends most of her time writing, editing, researching, reading, or doing other things that will probably make it into her work in some form or other. She's currently working on her first novel.
David Malone is a writer from Liverpool. His previous short stories have appeared in Carve Magazine, Momaya Annual Review, Crannog Literary Review, Underground Voices and Grey Sparrow Journal. His short story ‘The Love Below’ was listed for the Fish International Short Story Award. This is his first competition win. David currently works for the British Council in Thailand.
Ian Nettleton lives in Norwich. He has worked as a carer, a book seller, a teacher of English in Prague, in a post room and, after completing a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing at the UEA, he now teaches creative writing at the Open University, the UEA, Wensum Lodge and Cinema City, Norwich. He has worked freelance for BBC TV as a writer/presenter (summarising classic novels in sixty seconds) and appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Open Book. The Last Migration was runner-up in the Bath Novel Award 2014. He is currently half way through a first draft of a novel about a boy whose father is an exorcist. Photo: Martin Figura
Val Ormrod is a member of NaCOT – On the Border Poetry Group, attending workshops with award-winning poet William Ayot. She is also a member of the Forest of Dean Writers group and has contributed short stories and poems for three publications based on local history and legends: If You Go Down to the Woods – A Dean Witch Project, Sex and the Forest, and Forest - Fact and Fantasy (On the Edge Publishing). She has written a memoir Caring for Dad, for which she hopes to find a publisher, and is currently working on a series of poems on the theme of dementia after witnessing both her father and sister fade away through Alzheimer’s Disease. In 2012 she won the Chepstow Festival Short Story prize for her story ‘The Fog’and has had stories short-listed in several other competitions. She also leads a Creative Writing Group for the Chepstow branch of U3A, has written children’s stories for magazines, and writes a blog about her whippet and other four-legged friends.
Nicholas Ruddock is a poet, short-story writer, novelist and physician. He has published numerous stories in literary magazines in Canada, and has a special interest in the ultra-short one-sentence short story. He won first prize in Flash Fiction, Bridport 2013.
Tori Sharpe received her master’s degree in Creative Writing from The University of Texas at Austin in 2009 and her Ph.D. in Creative Writing from The University of North Texas in 2013. Her writing has appeared in journals such as Poetry Daily, The Hopkins Review, Blackbird, The Southwest Review, Pleiades, Tar River Poetry, The Southeast Review, Southern Humanities Review, Stand Magazine, The Louisville Review, The Texas Review, The Sow's Ear Poetry Review. She currently lives in Dallas, Texas, with her dog, Rico.
William Pei Shih is from New York City and is currently pursuing an MFA in Fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop under a fellowship. His fiction has been recognized in several competitions including The Alice Munro Short Story Competition (2014), The Raymond Carver Short Story Contest (2013), The Hemingway Short Story Competition (2009 & 2013), Glimmer Train Press’s Short Story Award (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014), Narrative Magazine’s 30 Below Story Contest (2012), The AAWW/Hyphen Asian American Short Story Contest (2011), and Writer's Digest Short Story Competition (2011). His stories have been published by Carve Magazine and Hyphen. He is a graduate of New York University (BA and MA). William is currently at work on a collection of stories and a novel.
Tracy Slaughter is a poet and short story writer from Thames on the Coromandel Peninsula of New Zealand. Her first book of short fiction and poetry her body rises was published by Random House in 2005. Her short stories have received numerous awards in New Zealand, including the Katherine Mansfield Award in 2004, and have been included in anthologies such as Some Other Country: Best New Zealand Short Stories (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2008) and The Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Short Stories (Auckland: Penguin, 2009). She teaches creative writing at the University of Waikato, and is currently compiling her second collection of short stories.
David Swann has worked as a newspaper reporter, warehouseman, toilet cleaner, and writer-in-residence in a prison. He is now a lecturer in English & Creative Writing at the University of Chichester. This is his sixth success at the Bridport Prize. His collection 'The Privilege of Rain' (Waterloo Press, 2010) was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. He is hard at work on a trilogy of novels, and has a chapbook of flash fiction forthcoming from 'Flash: The International Short-Short Fiction Magazine'. In 2013, he was the judge for Bridport's Flash Fiction Competition. He divides his time between Brighton and Hove.
Katherine Swinson is a native of Charlottesville, VA, who spent the past year pursuing her MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. She writes poetry and works as an academic tutor while enjoying life in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Lorna Tait Westwell was born in 1962 in Motherwell, and brought up in East Kilbride. For the last twenty years she has lived with her partner and four children, mostly in Edinburgh, sometimes in Orkney. Lorna began writing seriously at the University of Edinburgh’s Find Your Voice class, led by the playwright Raymond Raszkowski Ross, and has had poems published in Northwords Now. She often thinks of putting together a collection.
Wes Ward earned his MA in Writing at Johns Hopkins University. His poetry has appeared in The North American Review, Sewanee Theological Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Edge Magazine, and other publications. He teaches high school English and lives with his wife and children in Pennsylvania.
Nadine West is a writer, performer and energetic English teacher. She has lived in London, Melbourne, and Auckland, but has settled (for now) in Manchester. She is a singer, songwriter and poet, and in her spare time has performed at venues across the North West. Nadine is currently studying for her MA in creative writing, and her first novel, Volta, a historical fiction about love, faith and death in nineteenth-century Australia, is approaching completion.
You’d have been able to spot me all over the place in parks and gardens in the sunshine or in the afternoon cafés of Festival Edinburgh over the last month reading with my lips moving, then shuffling loose leaves of A4 paper into a new order. See, I find it almost impossible to read poems without hearing them out loud, certainly impossible to judge a new one as among either the quick or the dead without tasting and testing for its voice.
There are these twenty seven poems in my rucksack most of August, in this slim folder that goes everywhere with me now, a selection to be dipped into and relished, taken slow and mulled over and enjoyed. Because there is something to be said, I’ve decided, for each of them. Not that I’ve found it easy to get to this stage.
At the end of July I had received the parcel of poems pre-selected by the excellent Candy Neubert (I owe her my grateful thanks for a job I certainly don’t envy, and without her I know I’d have found this task literally impossible). Even when this lavish and very varied pre-selection arrived I was still, frankly, overwhelmed and rather daunted. I suspect other judges have hoped, as I did, that the winning poem would hit me like a revelation on the first reading, announce itself as the one and only? This didn’t happen. Not for me. Not this time.
I decided that for now, in this first sift, I’d simply weed out the definitely-nots, the ones I could get nowhere with at all, the ones that baffled, the ones that didn’t seem to me to be poems as I knew them, and, if they were inventing new tricks with language or form, failed to clue me in on what these could possibly be. Everything else, even if I suspected that there were actually too many startling images too close together killing each other off, even if they irritatingly omitted punctuation and were written in compulsory lowercase in an attempt to be poetic that (to me) merely confused, or were inconsistent in pronouns and/or tenses of verbs in a way that I couldn’t but think unintended – nevertheless, if I was able to convince myself it just might have some possible merit or life about it, any at all – then it would go through to the next round. For now.
At the end of this process I had culled roughly a quarter of what I’d read. They worried me, this pile. What if there was a hard but brilliant diamond among them? I thought of a couple of my now favourite poets I just didn’t get on first reading. What if I was throwing away what should really be the eventual winner? I took a day off, reading nothing more challenging than the newspaper. Then spent a slow afternoon giving those I’d rejected, and them alone, one last chance. In the event I didn’t change my mind about any of them.
And the funny thing was then those that were left I now re-read with a pleasure and delight which had been absent first time round. Can it be that those I was deaf to somehow spread around them, beyond their own borders, an infection of dullness and imprecision, or a miasma of artiness and archness that made the whole game, this poetry business, seem just not worth the candle?
Very, very few poems were in anything other than free verse. There were hardly any poets, perhaps two or three at most, using so much as (say) a vestigial rhyme in a closing couplet. In fact there was very little formal form at all, though many organised their work into stanzas that seemed mere arbitrary arrangements for the page and to be at odds with the rhythm or sense of what was being said. Most poems were about image rather than sound. And I was looking for a voice.
Two or three rounds later, more siftings and culls, and eventually I had these twenty-seven poems, all of which I really positively liked. (I hadn’t thought initially there would be so many.) Now it got really difficult. I’d put them in order of preference, change my mind on another read, then do so again, and I have to admit today that some that were in my first versions of my prize-winner list aren’t now even in the final ten highly commended poems published here. Similarly, some of the top three poems were originally far further down the list. I found that I just had to live with them all and see which had the power to keep surprising me when I re-read them, and to keep themselves alive and memorable in my imagination when I was away from them. I am well aware that a different judge – or this judge on a different day having to finally plump for her final choice – would almost certainly have come up with a different one.
‘Clear Recent History’, the poem to which I’ve eventually awarded the First Prize, I like for what it doesn’t say as well as for what it does. I like it because of its structure and the aplomb it demonstrates within it; the chorus-like repetition of what the protagonist was able to do, what not, at each stage of recovery; because of the documenting of how, increasingly confidently, she recorded or shared her progress towards it; because of the cataloguing of very precise details – and for its dynamic moving-on narrative.
Next prize winner: there’s the precision of the telling detail, there’s the obsessive and driven perfectionism and there are these strong hints of family drama – all skilfully held back till the doubly shocking end (what’s really happening here? and what harsh, even unacceptable, feelings are here being bravely owned up to). It’s all this that makes ‘Sister’ my second choice.
And as for the Third Prize, the imperative in the title ‘Begin’ and the ‘you’ of the second person singular make one complicit in the irresistible intimacy of its all-too vivid evocation of the intuition, the aura, of the start of a love affair – the ‘giddy spin/ like fish in millions flicking into silver at a sound only they can hear’. It is written with real verve and a nerve which its author brings off brilliantly. It made me want to sneeze. Or laugh.
There are ten more poems, all highly commended (as well as that further thirteen – my famous twenty-seven, remember? – that I’d really like to be naming and quoting here). Of the ten I’ve finally chosen as highly commended, though, ‘Being a Beautiful Woman’ is very playful, sharp and funny, as is ‘On Reclaiming My Life From Social Media’ – though it’s sad too, but not a patch as poignant or painful as ‘Touch’ or ‘Difficulties’ or ‘Bedtime Ritual’ with its devastating last lines...
I might mention the acute sensuousness of ‘Apprehension’ with its old fur coat with the ‘whiff of mothballs, damp dog and Soir de Paris’. Or of ‘Punting from Camden Lock’ in which the shimmer and delight of the beginning, via sardonic observation of the fellow-passengers, takes quite a dark and surprising turn by the end. ‘The Maker’ took me enjoyably step-by-step through the process of churning butter (who knew that those big wooden butter-pats are called ‘Scotch hands’? Not me). Ah, butter- making: a process that might be metaphorically analogous to the miraculous, mysterious and all-of-a-sudden coming-into-being of the poem itself? ‘Repeat After Me’ is a delicious variation on the list poem. Those abrupt juxtapositions of detail and shifts of scale are both bold and tantalising. And I confess the poem ‘to travel hopefully’ with its slow train ‘shoogling across the breich braes/ dreich and dotted with scraggy lone horses’ (despite the to-me annoying and unhelpful lower-case) is speaking my language and naming the names of the landscape of my childhood so vividly that I might be unduly biased towards it – but then any judge, any year, is always going to be partial to anything which so powerfully and personally chimes with him or her. I gave up feeling guilty or tentative about my own purely subjective choices way back at the first cull stage.
All I can hope is that you can enjoy, as I can now I’ve finally made it, my selection.
Short Story Report
I feared it would be very difficult to choose a winner from among the box of stories I was sent, that I would hover over a dozen like an indecisive shopper, but in the end it was simple enough. All three of the winning stories stood out, each of them, at first reading, a cut above. Not that the general standard was low – it wasnʼt. There were funny stories, macabre ones, stories with a twist in the tail. Many of them seemed the work of people who already had built up some expertise in this form. Well- organized, nicely balanced stories with a beginning, a middle and an end.
The best of these are collected in the Highly Commended category, and the authors of those stories will, I hope, feel strongly encouraged. To those who are not on that list, well, you may only have missed it by a whisker, and not being on prize lists is something all writers in for the long haul must get used to. I have not appeared on countless lists (long lists and shortlists) and expect not to appear on many more before my race is run. The only sensible response is a growl of something fantastically rude followed by twenty minutes of shuffling moodily around the kitchen, then back up to the writing room with a look on your face like Beowulf on his way to the lair of the Grendel.
So what of the three that I chose? They recommended themselves in different ways but each displayed in its opening lines a sensitivity to language and a confident sense of storytelling that put me on the alert. I paid attention because they had paid attention, had leaned in to their subjects, had done the hard work involved in the close imagining of other lives. There was risk-taking, there was ambition. They were – these writers cloaked in anonymity – serious about this, their art, their craft.
This yearʼs winning entry, scenes of a long-term nature was, I think, only the ninth or tenth story I read off the pile but I set it aside at once as a story likely to be among the medals. Itʼs a tender examination of a marriage and a fine display of the difficult art of selecting the telling moment, the detail that speaks. The language is heightened but always (or almost always) at the service of the story, always working to bring the reader closer, to give us the most intimate view. Admirable attention to the physical, to the fleeting moment. In the hands of someone less able, less alert, this could have been wincingly sentimental, or simply dull (the one fault that can never be excused). It moved me with its determination to find what is luminous in what is plain, and impressed me with its clear desire to make language work. Language is our medium. Why would we not want to do something exciting with it?
Reimbursement, taking second place, was fairly obviously the work of someone who has reached the stage in his or her writing when competence shades into something stronger and a piece of work can start to have genuine heft. I loved the exciting, ominous opening of the story – the night, the road, the stranger. Itʼs a story with good momentum and makes particularly effective use of dialogue. It felt less parochial than many of its fellow submissions, and not simply because of its dual-nation setting. Could it have been shorter and the better for it? Perhaps. But this is clearly a writer capable of exciting work.
Third prize went to Hearing Aid. The first few pages, their rhythm, the clever dialogue, the really convincing sense of a childʼs point of view (so easy to get wrong), made this story stand out on a first pass. I wasnʼt sure these qualities survived to the end but it was a piece with impressive energy and a kind of liveliness that marks this writer out, along with his or her fellow laureates, as someone who can make things happen on the page.
So – huge congratulations to the winners and to those Highly Commended. To the rest, a hearty handshake in thought for having the gumption and courage to put work out in to the world. Such initiative, I believe, is never wasted. If nothing else it shows intent, and without that weʼre just whistling.
Flash Fiction Report
What I ask for first with any piece of writing of any length is that it doesn’t let me stop reading – from the first few words it is absolutely imperative that I continue. I look for signs that the writer is confident in her or his story, confident enough not to write tentatively, not to apologise for the story in any way, or circle around it, or plunge me in then lead me away, or confuse me – unless that confusion is the effect the writer is going for. And then what I want is to read it with my breath almost held, the reading being a full-body sensation, culminating in the feeling of being punched in the gut combined with hints of pure joy. So, you might say I’m hard to please! The stories that made it through to my final six from this wonderful shortlist all did that on first read. The ones I have chosen as the prize-winners were still doing it to me on third and fourth reads.
To backtrack a little, and talk more specifically about flash fiction, the essence here is that this is a form that balances on the flimsy boundary between short story and poem. For me, a flash story must feel like it is on the side of story, even if only just. A poem might describe a moment, an object, a sensation; it has no obligation towards narrative. Story does. It has different needs. Which doesn’t mean it can’t be poetic, of course. My favourite stories use rhythm, beats; they have a musicality to them. Another thing that is vital when we are talking about anything brief is that every word must count. Every word. And since I was charged with finding winners, I was looking for reasons to discard stories, and just the hint of a few words out of the 250 (or less) that didn’t have a claim on that space gave me my reasons where, in another context, I would have enjoyed the story immensely. I have no doubt another judge would have picked a different selection – it is such an honour to be asked to choose just those that gave me the punch-in-the-gut-joyousness I mentioned above.
Making it to the shortlist is the enormous achievement, rising above over 2500 other stories, huge congratulations to all of you! The six stories that rose up for me are: ‘Romans Chapter 1 Verse 29: The Sins of The Heart’, a story I felt and heard each time I read it, the story sings but also illuminates something about human nature; ‘George Mallory’, which delighted me with its all-one-sentence structure, but this was no gimmick, it was used to excellent effect and I found it very moving; ‘Anatidaephobia’, a story that lures you in with humour but does so much more; ‘The Truth Untold’ which takes a fresh look at an old story humanity keeps replaying; ‘In Lieu of Small Talk’, which paints an entire relationship so beautifully in less than 250 words; and ‘Where to Find Lise Meitner’, which takes inspiration movingly from science to create a very human story.
I am delighted with the winning stories, which are not longer stories compressed into this small space but which were created for this, taking full advantage of the word count to do something that can only be done here, in flash fiction. The writers of the winning stories knew which words to keep in but, more importantly, knew exactly how much to leave out so that we have just enough. Flash fiction is the art of the just-enough. These stories are perfect illustrations of that art.