Award Fifteen

Interview with Fiona Perry, 15th Award first prize winner

Fiona Perry is our 15th first prize winner in our three times a year Award, which has been running since 2016. Here she tells us how her winning story emerged from a 'Covid' dream about her father and a memory of going fishing with him. The painting reproduced here by Nod Ghosh, writer and artist, who is also the judge for our 16th Bath Flash Award, which ends in mid October, is called 'The Sock' and we agree with Fiona that it is very evocative of the sock of mussels alluded to in 'Sea Change Fiona gives the tip to read lots of flash in order to get into the swing of writing it. We agree. There's so much amazing stuff out there in anthologies, online and collections. Flash is evolving all the time. And we are very happy that 'Sea Change' will be published in our fifth year-end anthology in November this year, with many other great pieces from our 2020 Awards.

Interview

  • Can you tell us how your wonderful story 'Sea Change' came into being?
    Fragments of the story originated a Covid dream. My Dad died almost two years ago, I woke up with images of him visiting me at home. In the dream, he was in his prime and happy, we cooked mussels together. He had a friend with a boat and in the summer we would be given crab claws which we would boil and bash open with a hammer on the doorstep to eat with buttered new potatoes grown in our garden. We also loved the holiday oysters we would eat in Carlingford. Fishermen sold on them shucked on the roadside. You could park up in layby and wolf them down with Tobasco sauce! I think those things must have been swimming around in my head before I went to sleep.

    Before I structured the story, I researched mussels farming briefly, it was a bit of a gift because the language itself is so evocative and the process of mussel farming sounded symbolic of fatherhood (and transformation) to me so I wrote the story with that in mind. I'm also fascinated by how things and locations appear and disappear in dreams- a bit like a weirdly edited film- but somehow we accept that weirdness in dreams, we are rarely surprised. That's how it came to be. It was interesting that Mary-Jane alluded to Gabriel García Márquez in her report. I re-read 100 Years of Solitude in lockdown so I guess that influence seeped into the story somehow too.

Read in Full

share by email

15th Award Round-Up

We didn't know if writers would be inclined to enter the Award during the last months. But current circumstances, due to Covid-19, didn't prevent entries pouring in from around the world all through the time the contest was open and particularly during the last weeks of the Award. Plenty of writers received their Last Minute Club badges on the final day, green this time, and overall we received more entries than ever. 1411 in total. The following 35 countries were represented:

Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic,
Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel,
Italy, Lesotho, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria,
Norway, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Singapore, South Africa, Spain,
Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, United
Kingdom, United States

We thank our busy team of readers for our 15th Award and big thanks also to our judge, Mary-Jane Holmes for working to the tight schedule between the end of the Award in mid June and the announcements now at the end of June. Do read her excellent judge's report with general comments and detailed remarks on the winning pieces all linked here, This June, first prize and £1000 goes to to Fiona Perry from New Zealand, second prize and £300 to Hannah Storm from the UK, Third prize and £100 to Sam Payne from the UK, and £30 each to the two commended writers, Emily Harrison and Stephanie Carty, also from the UK. All marvellous flash fictions and yet again, great examples of the variety within the short=short form.

We agree with Mary Jane's assessment that the longlist is of a very high standard and we're so happy that most writers on the list have agreed to be published in our fifth anthology which will be published by Ad Hoc Fiction in November or December this year. As ever, we appreciated the huge variety of great entries. We enjoyed the creativity of writers, the many angles on important subjects and themes, the wit, the poignancy and the variety of styles. Thank you to everyone who entered our 15th Award and we hope that you will do so again and give us more wonderful fictional experiences. Our 16th Award, judged by Nod Ghosh from New Zealand, is open July 1st for entries. and will close on Sunday 11th October.

Jude Higgins
BFFA Founder
June 2020.

share by email

Mary-Jane Holmes’ report for our 15th Award

As chief editor at Fish Publishing Ireland plus running over five courses on writing flash in its various forms, I can say that I read a lot of Flash, and when I read the BFF longlist, I thought there had to be some mistake, I must be reading the shortlist instead so high was the quality of work I was looking at. This made the judging process incredibly enjoyable on one hand – to see so much variety, so much stimulating and original work, a wonderful willingness to experiment, and on the other hand, so difficult to choose, so difficult to say this piece is stronger than that piece. So how to choose a shortlist and then winners and commendations? When the work is this strong, it is hard, in fact almost impossible. You might think that subjectivity plays a part, that a judge will be drawn to certain themes and certain styles, but those are two things I never really consider, perhaps because of my editorial background. For me it comes down to two things – primarily that the craft not just the idea drives the work – the title is working for the story, the first line raises expectations and won’t let the reader go, the beginning asserts pressure on the ending, every word is pulling its weight. Secondly something that that writer Sam Ruddick sums up more concisely than I could, the joy of finding a new way of seeing, or a new way of saying something you’ve seen and been unable to articulate. I lived with these stories, read them over and over again at different times of the day. If I could, I would have kept them all.

Comments on the five winners:

First prize, 'Sea Change'

I think it was Nancy Kress that said that a piece of short writing should contain four things -conflict, character, specificity and credibility. 'Sea Change' contains all these and more.
The scale and physical presence of the flash creates a robust tension of containment and expansion that brings to the fore the flux of life represented by growing these small mollusks against grief’s vastness (like the sea) and the death of the narrator’s loved one. This play of scale and the prose’s control of movement and soundscape shows significant confidence and poise.
Details anchor your story in concrete reality. Here, this story’s strength lies in its fresh, sensory observation of this unusual craft married with the surreal quality of the actions – the person returned from the dead, the kitchen objects that appear. Gabriel Garcia Marquez stated that one striking and true detail may be enough to lend credibility to the entire story, but it only takes a single piece of information that doesn’t ring true to invalidate a whole narrative. Bruce Holland, in his excellent article “Get Unreal” explains why:
Start with an emotional truth that you can express with a metaphor. Make the metaphor objectively true. Let the characters act out this reality as if there were nothing unique in the situation, as if this were the very thing that happens. That is, don’t let your characters think it is no stranger to float on the ceiling than it is to fall in love.[have a dead loved one return and grow sea creatures] How the metaphor develops, how the story ends, is simply a question of how such emotions work themselves out in the characters.
The writer of 'Sea Change’s' ability to suspend disbelief has been extremely successful in this regard. Original, concise, and poignant.

Second Prize, 'The species of pangolin compromise their own order: Pholidota.'

The title was an immediate draw. Titles are your first conversation with a reader/publisher and
if you read as much as I do on a professional level, something a little different works well to catch the eye. The second plus point is the form. I consider this to be a Hermit Crab flash, a term coined by Brenda Miller. As she explains: ‘This form appropriates existing forms as an outer covering, to protect its soft, vulnerable underbelly. It deals best with material that seems born without its own carapace—material that is soft, exposed, and tender, and must look elsewhere to find the form that will best contain it.” This story of the endangered pangolin (even more so now I imagine with its link to Covid-19) and a mother and daughter’s exit from an abusive relationship has exactly filled this remit. The information about the pangolin marries wonderfully with the emotional, factual and physical actions presented by the narrator, while the ending drawstrings the fate of both parties to bring a dramatically satisfying ending, one that feels inevitable and yet totally surprising.

Third Prize, 'The Man you didn’t Marry'
Time-compressed flashes and second-person-perspective flashes are both challenging forms and yet 'The Man you didn’t Marry', compresses with brio, a great deal into a short space while the perspective brings great immediacy. The pacing is perfectly pitched and the writing in terms of flow is doing what it is essentially showing - spiralling like a body swirling down into the depths of the sea. David Capella’s thoughts on what makes crafted poetry I think are relevant to what makes crafted flash. He says ‘it is above all a physical experience. It is the stuff of sound and rhythm and speech…of breath and pulse. It affects us physically when we speak it and listen to it.’ This is what I felt we have here, and so gracefully ended with that beautifully choreographed last line.

Commended, Not Now Universe
This piece’s ability to guide the reader’s perception of mood is well-crafted in this Flash. There is a real sense of voice and connection between the speaker and the confidante. The writing is making sure that the reader is an active participant in this story; it is almost as if we are eavesdropping on the conversation and this gives the work real immediacy as well as giving rise to a strong sense of empathy that underscores the emotional arc of the piece. There is a real feeling of what Jennifer Peroni calls ‘smart surprise’ here driving the animating tension: the way the girl’s underwear is removed and then posted back, the near crash, the lobsters, the karaoke club – images when placed side-by-side produce something out of the ordinary. The open-ended last sentence ensures that the story lingers. Nice Touch.

Commended ,The Price of Gingerbread
Myth, fable and fairy-tale when repurposed, subverted or retold are all effective shorthand methods of telling a story and therefore particularly suited to the confines of Flash. This story effectively frees the original from its confinement to bring a deliciously unsettling transformation. The strong opening paragraph, in three short bursts, gives us both the dark surface conflict and a hint of a troubled backstory. The elemental strength of this piece is how the writing negotiates the horrors of what is happening to these children by not tackling them directly but letting them bubble up from under the surface of the actions and images presented. This Hitchcockian approach, along with the tight pacing and poignant last line, left a great impression.

share by email

Fiona Perry June 2020 First Prize

Sea Change

by Fiona Perry

He arrives breathless with excitement, clutching a thick plastic bag bulging with shells. At the kitchen table, he points to the bag and tells me they fattened up over winter. At first, they settled as larvae on ropes, before growing to half the length of a thumb, ready to be stuffed like sausage meat into casings known as socks. The runt grouped with the runt, the alpha with the alpha to prevent unfair competition. I imagine it – the swaying of the long mesh tubes, the seething growth of it. I tell him all of this is wonderful, resisting the urge to remind him he is in fact dead. He smiles and asks me to pour vodka for us into his old reko tumblers which have appeared on my counter top. He says that once the molluscs reach full maturation, they are able to travel outside of the sock – by attaching a byssal thread from their beard to an anchor and then shortening it to move. He finds this both funny and moving. Soon afterwards, he says, the sock collapses into the centre of the column. Collapses into the centre of the column, he repeats. He wipes his mouth with his hand. I am standing beside the stove now, frying diced onion and garlic in the big pasta pot I misplaced years ago, into which I squirt tomato paste, let it sizzle, splash in vodka, warm water and cream. He tips the mussels from the bag into the pot, I sprinkle in sea salt and clamp on the lid. He explains that this is where he has been all along, looking after these creatures. His face soft like a monk’s, he announces he must leave after dinner because new larvae always require his attention out in the ocean.

About the Author

Fiona was born and brought up in Northern Ireland but has lived in England, Australia, and New Zealand. Her first collection of poetry, Alchemy, will be published by Turas Press (Dublin) in autumn 2020. Her short fiction was shortlisted in the Australian Morrison Mentoring Prize in 2014 and 2015. She contributed poetry to the Label Lit project for National Poetry Day (Ireland) 2019. A graduate of Queen’s University, Belfast, and Lancaster University, she worked previously as an environmentalist in a unitary authority. She is currently a teacher, editor, and proofreader and lives with her family near Oxford.

share by email

Hannah Storm June 2020 Second Prize

The species of pangolin compromise their own order: Pholidota.

by Hannah Storm

Pholi - A folly is something stupid.

Dota - She’s learning phonics at school. This is how she would spell daughter.

He said I was fucking stupid. Ordered me to get rid of it. I cradled my belly’s soft shell as it grew.

‘Pangolin’ comes from the Malay ‘pengguling’, loosely meaning something that rolls up.

Later I stuffed into a rucksack all we needed to survive, hiding our future beneath my bed. I curled up by her cot.

Special glands near the pangolin’s anus secrete a pungent fluid as a defence mechanism.

Now the court toilet smells of the fear of losing my child.

That last night, he came home drunk. I’d not showered for two days between the feeding, burping, changing, rocking, cooking. He hissed at me when I begged him to be quiet.

You smell ripe. He tore at my clothes. Why can’t you make a fucking effort? Pinned me to the bed. Cried when he came. Then she cried too. By the time I had settled her, he was snoring. The room reeked of shame.

Pangolins are nocturnal animals. Their shells made of keratin the same substance as human hair and nails.

In the shower I scrubbed myself raw, let the water sear my scalp. Impossible to feel clean.

The mother curls up around the baby pangolin if she senses danger.

He left for work. Then we left. I clasped her to me, promising he would not hurt us again.

Now I hear my name, calling me to Court.

The endangered pangolin is the world’s most trafficked animal; its body parts are sold as a delicacy or used for their mythical healing properties.

When my daughter is older, I will teach her how to protect herself. One day I will explain what being endangered really means.

About the Author

Hannah has been a journalist for two decades, travelling the world and witnessing her fair share of love and loss. She writes flash fiction to pay tribute to the people she’s met and places she’s been, and creative non-fiction to process her own experiences. She's working on a memoir, a flash collection and is editing a novel. Now she is based in the UK with her husband and two children and is the director of a media charity as well as a journalism consultant.

share by email

Sam Payne June 2020 Third Prize

The Man You Didn’t Marry

by Sam Payne

The police meet you after your night shift at Sunshine Care to tell you they're concerned for your safety. They found the man you didn’t marry outside your house at four am. In his car, black bags, rope and a crowbar. They tell you they're sorry but they can't hold him.

The locksmith talks about Brexit as he rips out the deadbolt and replaces it with a shiny new one. When he leaves, you barge your shoulder into the door just to make sure it doesn’t give. But in the night you wake to the smell of Joop and the man you didn't marry is pushing his knuckles into your clavicle and telling you he loves you. His saliva gathers in the corners of his mouth and the white froth reminds you of tide bubbles and you focus on this as he throttles you. You lose consciousness and your body becomes a stingray slipping into saltwater.

You survive because you're lucky or at least that's what people say. You move cities, rent a different house every six months and clean everything continuously. You're happy that you have things in order. Until the therapist tells you perfectionism is a sign of unhealed trauma. When you get home, you throw Bolognese sauce at the walls, empty the cutlery drawer onto the lino and chuck your clothes out of the window until you're satisfied this chaos is proof that you're fine. But every time you sleep you're sinking into a cold, dark ocean. Submerging deeper and deeper, the saltwater strips your flesh until there's nothing left and when your skeleton rests on rippled sand, the man you didn't marry scoops you up. He polishes your bones until you shine like teeth and he keeps telling you he'll never ever let you go.

About the Author

Sam Payne lives in Devon, United Kingdom. She has recently completed an MA in Creative Writing and her work has appeared in various places including Spelk, Reflex Fiction and Popshot Quarterly. She tweets @skpaynewriting

share by email

Emily Harrison June 2020 Commended

Not Now, Universe

by Emily Harrison

I tell her about a guy who took me round the back of a fancy Soho restaurant once, to show me the lobsters in the tank holding claws. We are baffled by what men bother to plan for. I tell her I saw him again, weeks later, hanging around my favourite painting in The National Gallery. We laugh at the possibility that he’d been there all day. Maybe other days. I tell her what I was wearing. She nods slowly as she recalls the dress, brings her fingers to her mouth for a chef’s kiss. I tell her his flat was higher up than I expected, which was annoying because it meant running down dozens of flights of stairs. She does not interrupt me at this point because she knows where the story is headed. She winces when I tell her how he ripped my underwear off me by pulling them forcefully upwards. Amongst other things. It feels good to give her the details. I tell her how I walked home in the pissing rain, went past two separate karaoke bars where I could hear people murdering Hopelessly Devoted to You. How just before I got home, a man almost hit me with his car and then blew me a kiss. I tell her about this guy posting my underwear back to me a week later, and I’m crying in her arms before we can begin to discuss what a gesture as bold as that could possibly even mean.

About the Author

Emily Harrison is a poet and fiction writer based in London. Her poetry collection I Can’t Sleep ’cause My Bed’s On Fire is published with Burning Eye Books. She lives and teaches in Hackney.

share by email

Stephanie Carty June 2020 Commended

The Price of Gingerbread

by Stephanie Carty

My brother Hansel went missing. Father frowned into whisky. His wife rubbed kohl down her cheeks before posting selfies on Facebook.

Hansel said he’d spied a shack with walls made from bottles of cherry vodka in the marshlands. He liked to get high on hope. He’d have made a great spaniel, yapping about on the daily walk as if it might be different one time, as if paths weren’t already mapped out to always end in the same place.

But a twin is only a twin with a twin.

Through the squelch of mud, I tracked his route. The shack was set back in some trees. Columns of cigarette packets created beams to hold the structure upright. I could have sprinkled those white sticks along the path I’d walked but what was the point when nobody would search for us? Glass bottles arched across the roof. Leeching out of the place was a scent far heavier than father’s shirts, woody and dark. I sniffed until the sky spun.

Lights blinked around the door in green and red. I dug my fingers into a crevice to ease out a mobile phone but didn’t know the passcode.

After that, it’s hazy. Hansel and I were back together yet hardly there at all. There were fiery drinks poured straight from the rafters, sherbet to rub on our gums, pastilles that turned day to night. We giggled like the toddlers we’d been before father’s eyes were glazed by grief.

We’re not alone here but let’s not spoil the tale. Let’s not sour the sweet with flashbacks. None of it matters: the strangers, the pressing, the pain. We have the house and the house has us.

My brother reaches out to squeeze my hand. Then we turn to the walls and gorge ourselves.

About the Author

Stephanie Carty is a writer, trainer and NHS consultant clinical psychologist in Staffordshire, UK. Her debut novella Three Sisters of Stone was published May 2018 with Ellipsis Zine and won Best Novella in the Saboteur Awards 2019. Her fiction has been shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Award, Aesthetica Creative Writing Award and the Bridport Prize. She was a winner in Bath Flash Fiction Award, June, 2019. She writes psychological thrillers and is represented by Sheila Crowley at Curtis Brown.

share by email