It’s always a privilege to judge a literary competition, as judge you’re seeing what’s white hot, what writers are writing about now and the way they’re writing about those things. If the long list is representative, popular occupations in 2018 include predatory stepfathers, lost love, childhood traumas, and more benign childhood memories featuring, particularly, the smells of youth. War and dead babies feature too, as they usually do in story competitions. A lot of stories were written in the second person, a POV I have a strong attachment to. Second person alone, though, is not enough to carry a piece if there aren’t several other things going on, in terms of language and story.
The standard was high; the majority of the flash I read had powerful writing and/or interesting themes. The stories that didn’t work for me were those that dealt with mundane issues, or that read like non-fiction/memory pieces, or that had no real point. A flash has to have a moment in it where the reader is truly arrested, like the turn in a poem; just one word or detail can do this work of stopping the reader dead or making her gasp/fill with wonder. The stories that made the short list all had interesting language, or unusual occurrences, and there was a feeling that the writer was working hard and pulling from deep resources in order to write the piece.
In my pre-interview, on the Bath Flash Fiction website, about being judge for this round of the competition, I outlined what I’d like to see: ‘attention to language (pared back or zingy but carefully done); a lack of predictability (non-clichéd characters or plots); pathos; humour; absence; elusiveness; atmosphere.’ Humour was not much in evidence – it still rarely is in comp entries – but I found everything else I was looking for, particularly in the top five flashes. In addition to the short listed and highly commended I want to single out Zig Zag Girl for its energy and killer last line. And ‘Turned Tapsalteerie for great language and the best title in the longlist.
Congratulations to the winners, the highly commended, and the long and short listed authors. Congrats to anyone who entered, I know from long experience what an adrenaline bumping, fearful thing it is to enter a literary comp. If you didn’t make it this time, keep the faith and press on – it’s a large part of the writing life.
First Prize – Siren
I loved this flash from the first few words and found myself smiling with happiness as I read on: I adore the colloquial, vigorous prose; the sensuality; the exotic, unusual details and the setting. An excellent flash that encompasses the whole of a historic love story with energy, economy and gorgeous language.
Second Prize – The Coast
A harrowing and moving flash that immerses the reader entirely in the body of the main character, a wonderful feat. The menace and atmosphere of this piece carry it along brilliantly. This writer loves language and consistently reaches high for the perfect word and/or phrase.
Third Prize – The Local Pool
I loved the elliptical nature of this flash, the reader is told just enough and the opening paragraph is a perfect blend of language and sense-memory. The story perfectly captures the confusion of adolescents dealing with large issues and does it at a remove that adds to the power of the piece.
How Can A Woman Sleep When The Master Is In Pain
Again a historical flash with wonderful details and, this time, with an unusual point of view. A sensual, menacing story that illustrates class, and the gut-twist of envy, wonderfully.
Particularly Complicated When the Snakes Show Up
This flash uses the colloquial in a pitch perfect way, the reader understands very quickly that we’re in the Antipodes and that there is violence and danger all around. Brilliant verbs too. Beautifully done.