Judge’s Report, 14th Award, February 2020


Our 14th Award Judge, Santino Prinzi selected the short list of twenty from the fifty titles on the longlist we sent him. We very much appreciate him for his hard immersive work over several days reading and re-reading the stories, to achieve a very fast result. Read his general remarks and specific comments on each of the five top stories below. You can read all of them on our winners' pages now and they will be published in our 5th Bath Flash Award anthology in December, this year.

Santino Prinzi's Report
It’s always an honour to be asked to judge a competition. It’s thrilling and fun, even though it can be daunting. When an author sends you their work, they are entrusting you with something special, so I want start by thanking and congratulating every single author who submitted to this competition, who trusted us with their words. Thank you for sharing your stories with us.

In my interview about judging this competition I said I had no idea what I was looking for, however, I wanted you all to share with me something you truly love. Reading the fifty longlisted flashes I received, I knew these stories were – are – loved by their authors. But they were also so much more than that. Each story had its own distinct quality, its own voice, its own style and structure. Each had sentences I underlined and words I circled. Not knowing what I was looking for, I found everything. This made my decisions unfathomably difficult, and I’m indecisive at the best of times…

In the end, finalising the everchanging shortlist and deciding the winning and highly commended stories it came down to which stories I gravitated towards more, which ones woke me up in the middle of the night, which characters and their worlds I found my mind drifting off when I was supposed to be doing other things. I chose the stories that simply pulled me in and wouldn’t let go.

It’s tricky to quantify what qualities a story needs to have this unrelentingly pull on a reader – and there are certainly different qualities that will appeal to different readers – but I’m going to try my best. Failing that, there are the stories and the words themselves that these writers have generously shared.

First Place: Eight Spare Bullets
I love flashes that are structured as a series of fragments because the fragments allow you to piece together the wider story, to read between the segments. I’m a sucker for stories told in this way. The fragments used to tell this story have been meticulously arranged to form a stirring depiction of a relationship between two individuals living in the world’s most northernmost town. Each fragment drew me in so deeply I felt like an intruder. The images – so clear, so vivid – that the author has used fills me with both admiration for their precise rendering and foreboding at the reality they contain. This is a haunting flash that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.

Second Place: The Dissolution of Peter McCaffrey
It will be difficult to forget this flash, too. A man is faced with the remains of his family’s legacy after the ravaging Australian fires, and is burdened with the weight of his promises. There is so much in this story that lingers after reading, so many sentences that are so honestly wrought and alive from beginning to end. I’d even go as far to say that they pulse with urgency. Again, the images in this story were so clear and vivid, and I felt the heaviness of the protagonist’s responsibility, the heat of the unforgiving fires, in every word. The ending is especially powerful.

Third Place: Dressage
Likewise, this is another flash I kept coming back to. I love the movement and musicality that brings this one to life. I was immersed each time I read it, and I found myself savouring each reading and discovering something new every time. The structure and repetition are incredibly effective and well-executed, enhancing and enabling this story a real impact by coming “full circle” in its own way. Each word feels handpicked, which makes this is a delicate and wonderfully crafted flash fiction.

Highly Commended: Valentine
This flash has a filmic quality that really appeals to me. Both its action and how this action is structured allows this story to unfold in a truly evocative manner. Nothing is lost through the different shots being shown. I could see and feel the protagonist’s realisation at what he has lost, I could see the climactic moment blooming in slow motion and hear the song’s chorus blaring. Deceptively straightforward, this is an enjoyable, effective piece with so much woven between the lines.

Highly Commended: [No Audible Dialogue]

What I love about this flash is the distance the author adopts for the onlooker narrating this event, and how this distance doesn’t sacrifice the emotional impact of the story’s ending. I’m confident we have all played the game while people watching where imagine the conversations between people that we cannot hear, and this flash uses this as a device to tell the story of a family. A powerful moment with wider implications.

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