Author Archives: Jude

Out Now! ‘Birds With Horse Hearts’, ‘Homing’ and ‘The Roster’ – three winning novellas-in-flash

We launched three of the winning novellas-in-flash at the Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol 28th-30th June. Birds with Horse Hearts by Eleanor Walsh Homing By Johanna Robinson and The Roster by Debra A Daniel. You can now buy all these marvellous novellas in paperback from the Ad Hoc Fiction Bookshop. Just click on the book titles linked above to go straight to the correct bookshop page.

We were delighted that the first prize winner Eleanor Walsh and Runner-Up Johanna Robinson were able to attend the festival to read extracts from, and talk about their novellas. The 2019 judge, Michael Loveday chaired the panel which included Charmaine Wilkerson, who won the 2017 Award with her novella in flash How To Make A Window Snake and and Meg Pokrass, who judged the 2017 Award and whose novella Here Where We Live, is included in the Rose Metal Press Field Guide to writing a novella-in-flash. It was very interesting to hear from all these writers about the form.

Debra Daniel lives in the US, and wasn't able to attend the Festival, but all books were available in our festival bookshop and created much interest. It is so exciting to see three new examples of this fast developing genre. They are all brilliant reads and have had much advanced praise.

Birds With Horse Hearts takes us to the lowlands of contemporary Nepal and "explores the entangled lives of three women as they navigate grief, freedom and their own journeys to find people to call family and places to call home." Judge Michael Loveday said Homing, "an historical fiction encompassing the Second World War and telling the story of a Norwegian family from 1933 to 1970 has more epic sweep than many novels", and commented that The Roster, an "ensemble cast" novella, a superbly individualised, vivid, inventive and memorable sequence of stories about a teacher's pupils at a school is a story of immense charm with real emotional substance."

The 2020 Novella in Flash Award, judged again this time by Michael Loveday is now open for entries and closes January 12th 2020.

share by email

Nancy Stohlman Flash Fiction Award Judge July 2019 – October 2019

Nancy Stohlman is the author of Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities (finalist for a Colorado Book Award), The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories, the flash novels The Monster Opera and Searching for Suzi, and three anthologies of flash fiction including Fast Forward: The Mix Tape She is the creator and curator of The Fbomb Flash Fiction Reading Series, the creator of FlashNano in November, and her work has been published in the W.W. Norton anthology New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction and will be included in the 2019 Best Small Fictions. She lives in Denver and teaches at the University of Colorado Boulder as well as co-facilitates flash fiction retreats around the world. Find out more at www.nancystohlman.com

We sent Nancy these questions while she was at the end of her writing sabbaticaL. And since then we've seen her at the Flash Fiction Festival, 28-30 June, in Bristol, teaching and performing her flash. She ran some great workshops on performing work and we got to hear her read and saw her in a special video created by our last judge Christopher Allen and his husband. So much fun!

  • You have recently been on a writing sabbatical for three weeks. Can you let us know how it went? What was the most worthwhile thing about deciding to take some time out in this way? And has the time resulted in another collection ready to go?.

It was amazing (actually I’m in my final days right now). First of all I can’t remember being alone for 3 weeks—maybe ever. Really alone. So I went through a lot of creative levels—excitement, possibility, self-doubt, fear, breakdown, breakthrough, acceptance, and lots and lots of gratitude. I think my biggest discovery is how essential boredom is to creativity. I just wrote a whole essay about Holy Boredom here

But staying in the same place for a long time is different than the usual travel, where we are rushing past things and quickly taking pictures, barely skimming the surface. I recognize the townspeople now, they recognize me. We wave like friends passing on the street. I can spot the new crop of tourists, fleshy and pink and overeager. I’ve been here so long I know who the town crazies are, know that they are harmless. The waiter asks: how is your book, you find inspiration yet? Just today he brought me my coffee exactly how I like it before I even ordered. When I needed a new snorkel the shopkeeper takes it out of the wrapping—you pay me tomorrow he says.
Are you sure?
Did you come here to steal? You pay me tomorrow.
It feels like acceptance.

New manuscript? Let’s hope so…I’m leaving with a nearly completed draft of…something. Time will tell.

  • Can you tell us more about your collection Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities (which was recently a finalist in the literary section of the prestigious Colorado Book Award) and how it came about?

Yes, another crazy impulse that turned into something. As usual I didn’t set out to write a book, I just started writing the pieces as individuals and then collaging them and then realized that indeed I was writing a bigger story. Many of the pieces in Madam Velvet are my shortest ever—tiny stories, micros. And they started to play together and create a cabaret of their own, a variety show with an impulse running from beginning to end. A traveling freak show on the page.

I often use theatrics as a framework for my writing. I wrote another flash novel (published back in 2013) called The Monster Opera, where the story was an opera within an opera. Super weird. I’ve actually performed both Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities and The Monster Opera as full shows with full casts and original music composed by Nick Busheff. You can see clips from both these on the links.

And the Colorado Book Award—yes! I was especially excited because of course there was no flash fiction category so I submitted the book as a short story collection, which isn’t exactly right but close enough. Then I was told that all the short story entries were going to be combined with literary fiction and I thought: Well shit. Now I have no chance! So to have this book, this very strange, out of the box book, be a finalist in literary fiction, was a double and triple win for me and I feel for flash fiction in general.

  • I recently attended a writing retreat you led with Kathy Fish in Italy and saw you perform some of the pieces from this collection wonderfully. Reading a story outloud is always good for revision purposes, and do you think performing it as if to an audience might help a writer learn more about it?

We loved having you! And thank you — you not only got to see me perform but you got to see me accompanied by Nick, so that was an extra treat. And yes, because I have a performance background — I’ve been on various stages, singing, acting, etc—since I was 10 — it naturally bleeds into my work as a writer. I think it lends a certain ear for musicality, dialogue and timing.

Can we learn how to edit our work through reading to an audience? Definitely. Many times I’ve been reading something to an audience and instinctively know during the reading that a sentence is going on too long, or I need to change a word. And I’ll do that on the fly. Then, as soon as the reading is over I’ll make those same changes on the page. Pay attention to the audience’s cues: Where they laugh. If they didn’t clap at the end because they didn’t know it was over. Etc.

In 2013 I started the Fbomb Flash Fiction Reading Seriess in Denver (and helped facilitate the NYC spinoff in 2016 with Paul Beckman). One of my goals with that series, besides creating a dedicated showcase for flash fiction, was to help writers get better at reading their work. It’s not something that comes easily to a lot of people. But it’s so important.

  • You have been teaching flash for many years. Can you tell us more about your current online workshops and how writers may join them?

I’ve been teaching flash fiction since 2009 and teaching online flash workshops since 2012, and in that time there have been so many evolutions! In some of my earliest (online) classes we actually had telephone conference calls (!), which of course no longer worked once the students became international.

My online offerings for the summer are just about full. I’m about to launch a new Flash Novel class in July—it’s full with a waiting list we we’ll see how it goes. The best chance to work with me this summer is during my weekend workshop “Through the Back Door: Absurdism as a Way to Truth” hosted by Bending Genres August 23-25.

Monthly Online Workshops

I also have a Writing Flash Fiction self-paced generative workshop that has rolling registration—it includes 5 self-paced lessons with accompanying prompts, readings, and videos.It’s a great starter to flash and/or a jump start if you are feeling in a rut and want to shake up your creativity. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to find it. It’s a good introduction to me as well. And then there are always the in-person workshops—I’ll be teaching with Kathy (Fish) and Randall Brown in Colorado this August. Unfortunately I’m beholden to the university schedule so I load up my classes during the summer and winter, mostly. But look for me to run FlashNano again in November (8th year!) and I’ll be offering a new crop of classes in the winter break Dec/Jan.

  • What do you like about teaching flash fiction?

Well, and I’m not alone in this, as a teacher it’s extremely helpful to guide students through entire drafts from beginning to end, something that’s tough with long works. And of course the best is the a-ha! Whether it’s the a-ha! of a new idea brought to fruition or the a-ha! of finally unlocking the key to a story that hasn’t worked yet (I’m crazy about revision). The great thing about teaching for so long is I have worked with writers who were new to flash fiction once, and then over the years I have watched them publish, then win awards, then publish books, then have those books win awards! It’s super rewarding.

But mostly I love being on the front lines of the flash fiction movement, seeing how this tiny little genre is changing all of literature, changing how we tell stories.

  • What sort of micros would you love to see among the entries?

That’s hard to say because I’ll just know it when I see it. I’ll tell you want I don’t want to see: stories that are trying too hard. Trying too hard to be: cute, clever, weird, poignant, traumatic, intense, etc. I can always see through that.

Actually, you know what I really want to see? The story that arrived for you seemingly out of the blue, the one you drafted in just 15 minutes because it just poured out of you, almost effortlessly, almost as if you weren’t the one writing it. That magical gift-from-the-muse story. Those are my favorite because they feel like they spring from a deep well of creativity that isn’t always easy to tap.

  • A tip for a writer finessing a micro of three hundred words or under?

I hesitate to give absolutes, like “don’t try to do too much in a micro”, because as soon as I say that then someone writes a story that does “too much” and it’s brilliant and it works perfectly. So in the end, write what wants to be written (see gift-from-the-muse story above). The story that chooses you as a midwife, not the other way around.

But my very favourite tip for editing in general is to cut the story in half. Then cut it in half again. I was first inspired to do this exercise by Bruce Taylor, and since then I have had many students do it and have done it myself many times. That doesn’t mean that either of the “cut” version are THE final version; the final version might be somewhere in the middle. But forcing yourself to make the hard decisions of what stays and what goes when you cut in half is extremely revealing. It’s an excellent way to get honest with ourselves.

share by email

Judge’s Report


Choosing 20 stories for the shortlist has been a challenge. My criteria for inclusion, apart from solid and compressed writing, were poignancy and heart. Does this narrative capture the depth of a moment in a way that feels honest and new? Is this narrative emotionally affecting? Does this story have something to say, something the world needs to hear? I think each story on the shortlist fulfils these criteria, each in its way. 

There’s humor and pathos in these stories, conventional plots alongside innovative structures. A few stories toe the boundary between prose and poetry. There are personal stories and those concerning larger cultural themes. While I didn’t consciously compile such a balanced list, I’m pleased it turned out that way. I loved the humorous voice in ‘The Layer Chromatography Day’ but also the disturbing situations in ‘Black Sky’ and  ‘Armstrong’s Mixture’. The urgent rhythms in ‘Asomnia’ and ‘Shoes and Trews and Shell Dust’ are impressive. ‘Kit Carson’ and ‘Rolling Six Feet Apart’ use repetition deftly. I found something to love in all the shortlisted stories. 

Flash fiction is a merciless form. Its brevity invites multiple readings. A piece of flash fiction might be read 10 or 20 times by the judge of a competition. Stories either get better and better with each reading, or their imperfections start showing. My top five stories all accomplished something extraordinary: they all got better and better. 

First Place -- ‘Cleft’

‘Cleft’ relates the history of the narrator, from his childhood to his current relationship with his adopted son, but it also implies the history of patriarchy and toxic masculinity. The writer employs fragmented and compressed syntax to effect economy and urgency in a micro that suggests eight distinct scenes. And there is a lot of heart. I’ve chosen this story because I feel it has done the most with the word count. ‘Cleft’ is a story that needs to be told, and the writer has done it amazingly well.

Second Place -- ‘a god and his famous digging stick dug this’

The language in this story is daring and dense. ‘a god and his famous digging stick dug this’ is a intricate example of stream-of-consciousness writing that unfolds--at least for this reader--only after several readings. It wends through the depths of the moment rather than following a conventionally linear plot, while claiming the freedom to associate unexpected sensations and impressions with this moment of sexual discovery.

Third Place --  ‘Cosmina Counts’

This is another story that relates the history of its main character innovatively and endearingly. Why does Cosmina need to measure the room? I keep asking myself this question. Does she need to know how much of the world is hers? Does she need to know if she’s paying too much for the room? This story poses more questions than it answers. She measures the room in pas mic (small steps) just as she measures her life. ‘Cosmina Counts’ is a memorable, tragic story. 

Commended -- ‘The Falling Silent’

I have to admit that I spent a ridiculous amount of time researching the context of this story. Even without knowing the cultural background, I had a sense of the communal and senseless call to duty that informs this story and removes the music for these characters’ lives. 

Commended -- ‘Arts and Crafts’

Jocelyn may indeed be a danger to herself and others, but she is also endearing, smart and memorable. And Carl may just be doing his job. This story deftly portrays the unfairness of mental illness while creating a complex, layered character in just a few words.

share by email

Gaynor Jones
June 2019 First Prize

Cleft

by Gaynor Jones

 

noun

a fissure or split

indentation in the middle of a person’s chin

a deep division

Cleft. As belonging to me, my father, his father before him, their fathers before them. Runs way back in our men, as my father used to tell me while he shaved.

Boy, you could find this cleft of ours nuzzled next to the stock of a Henry rifle, or buried deep between the long legs of a good time girl in an old time saloon. You’ll see.

My father was proud. That dent in his skull meant something to him, though he had no hand in its making. Soon as I was old enough to shave myself - and all that came with it - he would come for me. Head tilted up. Chin jutting out.

Him: Eyes like tar and a hand rubbing the indent at the bottom of his drawn face.

Me: In for some shit.

He would grab me, in that convenient little nook that perfectly fit his thumb and forefinger. Force me towards whatever he needed me to see.

Exhibit A: magazines he’d found under my mattress

Exhibit B: a journal entry I hadn’t torn up enough before burying in the trash.

Exhibits C through Z: scripture.

Then: Firm hands gripping my chin, strong arms turning me.

Now: Loose flesh, weak arms, still trying to turn me.

‘What you two do in your bedroom is one thing, boy, but to bring a child into that. A child.’

My son’s face is perfect. Moon-round. I bounce him on my knee, or pat him after his milk and he looks up at me and I look down at him and it is love. While we play, his small hands reach up to my chin, and vanish in the hairs of my beard.

About the Author

Gaynor Jones is an award winning short fiction writer based in Manchester. She won the 2018 Mairtín Crawford Award and was named Northern Writer of the Year at the 2018 Northern Soul Awards. She runs the Story For Daniel competition to raise awareness of blood stem cell donation and childhood cancer support. www.jonzeywriter.com

share by email

Anita Arlov June 2019 Second Prize

A God And His Famous Digging Stick Dug This

by Anita Arlov

Is this the pool? Prie ȁ dieu I cup water. Minnows explode: a mute firework. My fingers glow pond-green, trailing elodia densa. Boy fingers explored my body that day; two squid-shaped clouds bombing a Frisbee sky.

Maori fish for eels here. The stream’s a natural race, narrowing to half-body width and dead shallow. We were eels, pewter-brown from summer, lean Little River nippers. Sneaking away unnoticed (your folks filleting the day’s catch, mine unclicking the Tupperware), we stripped behind the macrocarpas and slid into the laminar flow of the stream.

Eels body-wave to move: an exquisite dance of balance and off-balance. We were eels. Our throats engorged. Our jaws arrowed. Our toes were undulating tails; our fingers fluttering fins. My gob, his nostrils, his eyeballs - I swear they swelled twice their size. We were eels, glibly stroked by an ancient current.

We came to, panting hard, half in water, half in air, armed with fresh knowledge. Our pool was pfft! A puddle. Our folks, murderable. School, torture. But the sky! It was hyper-radiant and huger, like it was a god looking down noticing we weren’t kids anymore. Beaming approval.

He heard my skin with his tongue. He tasted my breath with his fingertips. He smelled my body with his skin. That’s how he described it to me. I told him I saw constellations of palm-tree fireworks behind my eyes. He tasted like

outer space and

burst-lip blood and

the Best Ice Cream in the history of ice cream and

tear-salt when it trickles down your cheek into the cup of your mouth like a hundred and twenty-five in Marbles Bagatelle and

the crunchiest liftable knee scab and

the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey when the apes get brave enough to lick it.

About the Author

Anita was born in Christchurch, the youngest of four children of Croatian parents displaced by the war. She now lives in Auckland. She began writing overnight in response to the Canterbury earthquakes 2011. Since 2012 she’s staged Inside Out Open Mic for Writers, a monthly spoken word gig for fresh writing, with musician guests. She won the Divine Muses New Voices Poetry Competition 2017. Anita convened a team that ran the NZ Poetry Conference & Festival 2017, a three day celebration of all things poetry including vispo (visual poetry), spoken word and cine-poetics. In 2018 she won the NZ Flash Fiction Day Competition with He, She, It, They, which was nominated for the Pushcart Prize this year. She‘s Auckland Chair for NZ National Flash Fiction Day 2019. Anita’s writing is published widely including Flash Frontier: an Adventure in Short Fiction; Bonsai: Best Small Stories from Aotearoa/New Zealand; Best Small Fictions 2019 and Best Microfiction 2019. She enjoys music, theatre, cryptic crosswords and spending time with family and friends; is fascinated by the natural world and craves beach-combing.

share by email

Stephanie Hutton June 2019 Third Prize

Cosmina Counts

by Stephanie Hutton

Cosmina must measure the room. In this moment, it is all that matters. From her narrow bed, she can just about stretch out her legs before reaching a wall. There’s no ruler to measure the room precisely. Cosmina recalls laughing at her grandmother back in Romania who measured things the old way – how she laughed at all those old ways. Now she would give anything to be scolded by her grandparents: Cine nu are bătrâni să-şi cumpere – ‘whoever doesn't have elders, should buy some’.

But now is not the time for remembering. She must measure. Pas mic – a small step. How many make up this room? She walks the length toe-to-heel, barefoot. The skin of her heels has hardened enough to stick pins in and not feel a thing, from all those months of squeezing her feet into high heels. Cenuşăreasa – Cinderella. No prince after midnight.

Cosmina’s mouth moulds around a map of her route as travelled in numbers.

Jedan, dva, tri, četiri, pet.

Një, dy, tre, katër, pesë.

Uno, due, tre, quattro, cinque.

Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinque.

One, two, three, four, five.

How many pas mic to the low ceiling, the buzzing striplight?

Strip light.

Strip.

How many times has she heard that instruction? In how many languages?

No, she must count only the steps in the room.

Cosmina tries to move the numbers behind her eyelids, to decipher the volume of space she exists in. Instead of school-girl calculations, her thoughts show her the places in-between. Vans, boats, apartments. The stench of roll-ups and bleach. The smiles that flicker before violence. The lies that took a girl and crushed her into the kind of woman who stands in a strange place and counts steps along the floor instead of kicks coming from her baby.

About the Author

Stephanie Hutton is a writer and consultant clinical psychologist in Staffordshire, UK. Her fiction has been shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Award, Aesthetica Creative Writing Award and the Bridport Prize. She writes psychological thrillers is and is represented by Sheila Crowley at Curtis Brown.

share by email

Hilary Dean June 2019 Commended

Arts & Crafts

by Hilary Dean

Before I was allowed back into Group, I had to apologize to Carl and sign a form that listed all of my personality defects. The form said the whole thing had been my fault. That I had acted out with no provocation and that I was a danger to myself and/or others.

Now I’m here again in Arts & Crafts with everyone and it’s only slightly less boring than where I was yesterday, On Watch in the white room staring at the wall for what turned out to be three days. I couldn’t guess time inside it. One very long second or the shortest forever.

Carl is walking around supervising us. Why don’t you try origami, Jocelyn? Anyone can do that.

Keizo is rolling clay snakes. Flora is needle-pointing. We’re all talking about what we’re going to eat when it’s time to eat food. Michael just asked me what he had for breakfast. The ECT makes him forgetful but I said, Guess, and he guessed right. It made him smile to remember but maybe he just still had the taste in his mouth.

I don’t get why Flora is allowed to have needles but I can’t use a pen. The rules here don’t make sense. It’s so stupid, I could still stab myself with this pencil, plus get lead poisoning too.

Carl just came over and scolded me. I thought we agreed that too much writing isn’t healthy for you, Jocelyn. It’s Arts and Crafts time, not writing time. I just ignored him. I’m talking to you, Jocelyn.

I looked up at him for a second over my notebook. I pointed to the table between us, covered in a sea of white origami swans. Scattered across the surface like they’d been shot down from the sky.

About the Author

Hilary Dean was the winner of CBC’s Canada Writes award in 2012, and has won EVENT Magazine’s Non-Fiction contest twice. Her work has been named as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2015, received the 2016 Lascaux Prize in Fiction, appeared in This Magazine, Matrix, The HG Wells Anthology, and shortlisted for the Journey and Commonwealth Prizes. Dean’s recent film, So You’re Going Crazy… currently airs on CBC’s Documentary Channel and is utilized in healthcare curricula across North America.
www.hilarydean.ca

share by email

Tim Craig June 2019 Commended

The Falling Silent

by Tim Craig

My mother gave me the small pots and pans, while she took the large ones, and together we went outside to kill the birds.

When we got down to the street, most of our neighbours were already there, gathered under the trees and the lampposts. I saw Mei Zhen — the girl from down the hall — carrying a colander and a ladle. I waved to her, but she turned away.

At the given signal from the loudspeakers, everyone began banging their pans together. Across the city, the sky filled with the noise.

My arms began to tire, but each time I slowed, my mother nudged me to redouble my efforts. I looked up at her and saw the determined expression on her face and the patches of damp on her blue headscarf.

Soon the exhausted starlings began to fall from the sky. Some were dead before they reached the ground, some died at our feet, in the gutters, in the grass in front of the apartment block.

Finally, when I thought my arms could take no more, the loudspeakers gave the signal for the noisemaking to stop.

It came like a great sigh, or the tide sucking back across the pebbles. The silence that followed was even greater than the simple absence of sound, for all the music had been removed from it.

We all went back inside to fetch brooms, with which we set about sweeping the birds into piles by the roadway. The municipal hygiene teams would collect them later in their familiar yellow trucks.

Afterwards, I asked my mother if I could go and play with Mei Zhen, but she told me I needed to help her prepare the dinner. Life isn’t all about having fun, she said, banging the pots down on the stove.

About the Author

Originally from Manchester, Tim Craig now lives in Hackney in London. In 2018 he placed third in the Bath Flash Fiction Award and also won the Bridport Prize for Flash Fiction. His story ‘Northern Lights’ was included in Best Microfiction 2019.

share by email