I have a soft spot in my heart for the Bath Flash Fiction Award, in part, because I published my very first piece of flash fiction in an anthology produced through this series. It was an honour to serve as an independent judge for the seventeenth award and, really, a joy to read for this. I’d like to say a special thank you to all the writers who entered this competition and trusted us with their stories.
Before discussing the selections, I would like to thank Jude Higgins and the wonderful team at BFFA for inviting me to participate—and for working so hard to whittle down the original roster of entries to a long list of fifty. It’s not an easy enterprise when there is so much good material, so many creative voices at work.
One of the things I like about the Bath Flash Fiction Award series is the opportunity which BFFA provides for many entrants from throughout the year to be published in the annual anthology. You don’t have to have one of the prize-winning entries to be published. After reading through the long list, I was reminded why the anthology is a gift to anyone who loves to read flash fiction.
The Short List
The topics covered by the shortlisted entries fell mostly into classic categories: personal struggle, trauma, loss, longing, and love in various forms. What made some of these stories stand out was either a fresh approach to a familiar concept or the particularly affecting use of craft to move the characters through a significant shift in emotion or experience.
Some narrators relied on a certain kind of rhythm to control the structure of the story, others drew me into the world of the story right away with a compelling first line or memorable detail. Still others sneaked up on me, starting out quietly then surprising me with a turn that left me thinking, thinking, thinking.
Narrowing the Field
The flash pieces selected for the first, second and third prizes, as well as the commended stories, each used at least one of the approaches mentioned above: rhythm, detail, narrative structure, or a finely choreographed build-up to the story’s conclusion. The stories take on a variety of situations: a humanitarian food line, a forbidden attraction, a roadside threat, a farming family in the aftermath of loss, and the complex, sometimes-elusive language of affection between parents and their children.
Comments on the Prize Winners:
First Prize: Let Them Eat First
This story employs both rhythm and economy of language to take reader from a war-zone food line to the searing kernel at the heart of the narrator’s personal struggle. There are societal rules, there is a damning memory, there is something the protagonist must do. These three elements are played against one another like chords in a piece of music and the resolution is born of the clash between the way things should be and the way things really are. This story also offers an excellent example of how the point of the title is threaded tightly into the weave of the narrative and through the broader social questions which it explores. Beautiful.
Second Prize: Car Trouble, Spartanburg, August 2002
The palpable details drew me into this story of forbidden attraction and carried me through. A single scene unfolds in what feels like no more than a couple of minutes in an otherwise mundane setting. What makes it stand out convincingly as a story is the carefully controlled language that slows down the reader’s experience of those moments so that the full weight of what the characters are experiencing, from the humid weather to the yearning to the watchful eyes all around, emerges. Again, it’s all in the author’s use of the details. A little bit of magic, there.
Third Prize: Now You See Him
This story of a father who tends to skirt around the chaos of his household manages to accomplish a number of things very quickly and in less than 250 words. It opens with an intriguing line, paints a picture of family dynamics, elicits a chuckle right in the middle of the narrative, gives us a sense of the passage of time, and then comes in for the kill with an emotional wallop at the end. Charming, poignant, lovely.
This story has a number of strengths. An opening that draws attention, details which you can see and hear and feel, and a structural approach to the narrative which conveys the protagonist’s torment in a way that stays long after the final line. The narrative feels like a dream in which what happens is not one-hundred-percent clear, but where the emotion that remains is unshakeable.
This story uses one long sentence, richly wrought with sensory detail, to follow a family experiencing feelings of loss, tenderness and rage in the aftermath of a tragic event. This poetic narrative is affecting in both in the imagery it uses and the emotions it conjures. Another example of what flash fiction does best.