Award Fourteen

14th Award Round Up

Thank you very much to all the world-wide Flash Fiction writers who entered stories in our 14th Award. I's wonderful that so many people from around the world are writing flash fiction. Our entries increased again, this time to 1367. There were so many inventive stories, so many good ones to choose from to find our long list of fifty. Entries came in from the following thirty-one countries:

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States

The last weeks of the Award were very busy and the Last Minute Club writers who, on the last day, 16th February, received their badge pictured here, this time a sunny yellow, were jostling at the door up until the very last seconds before midnight. We've produced badges for the last six awards and I am sure several writers have collected all of them.

Several different countries were represented in the long and short lists and this year, our five winners come from four different countries/continents. Many congratulations to our first prize winner Sharon Telfer, from the UK who has now won first prize twice, the last time in Summer 2016. She also had a story commended in February 2019. What a fantastic achievement! And many congratulations also to our second prize winner, Simon Cowdroy from Australia, who has had a story commended by us before, and third prize to Christina Dalcher from the USA, who was also a first prize winner in February 2019. Many congratulations also to Remi Skytterstad from Norway, who was highly commended and Claire Powell from the UK, also highly commended. All five stories are brilliant examples of flash fiction and you can read them on the winners' pages on this site and later in our print anthology.

It's always exciting to compile the first part of the year-end anthology and many long and short listed authors have already accepted our publication offer for the fifth BFFA anthology, which will be published in December this year, after all three yearly awards have been completed. We hope those who have booked for the flash fiction festival, 19-21st June and who are winners or listed writers, might like to read their pieces in our Open Mic Sessions. It is always great to hear them read out loud.

This time the Award turn around was even quicker than usual. We wanted to complete it by the end of February and we are very grateful to the reading team for dedicating many hours of reading during the life of the Award and in particular in the last few weeks and the final weekend and afterwards and for our judge, writer, editor and tutor and one of the Directors of National Flash Fiction Day UK, Santino Prinzi, for immersing himself in the longlist over several days to select the short list, find the winners and achieve a very fast result. He told us the whole process was a blast which he greatly enjoyed. Read his report and comments here.

The next Award judged by writer and writing tutor, Mary-Jane Holmes opens on March 1st and ends on Sunday June 7th. Results will be out by the end of June. We look forward to reading more flash fictions and be astonished, moved, humbled and amazed all over again.

Jude Higgins
February, 2020

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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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Sharon Telfer February 2020 First Prize

Eight spare bullets

by Sharon Telfer

1
The front windows refuse to shut. The house droops, as after a stroke.
They drink in the kitchen. Under the slanting floor, they catch the trickle of thaw.

2
Everything here is the northernmost. Town, church, store, pub. The last.
She replays her field recording, bowhead whales, all booming fuzz and feedback.
“Harmonics!” Erik applauds. “That’s freeform jazz.”
The last blues festival.

3
He softens in her mouth. It’s okay, she whispers, though it’s not. She’ll be gone six weeks.
From the boat, she had watched an iceberg tumble, head over heels, like a clumsy toddler. Not playing, but dying.
Erik kisses her, has to go. Husky safari, tomorrow’s fresh batch of tourists.
He kisses his dogs too. Erik loves his dogs.

4
Everything slides. The wooden stilts sink beneath the houses. A landslip buries the play park. The ground heaves the dead from their graves, sends coffins tobogganing down the road.
She wakes. Remembers. Not a dream. Last summer.

5
Her breath freezes in her nostrils.
Reindeer antlers heap by the roadside. They gleam in her torchlight, like bleached coral.

6
Time loses its way in the permanent dark. The once-white mountain looms black. Deep below, one million seeds – a world’s worth – lie buried. They called it the doomsday vault, fast as a dragon’s hoard. Nine years after opening, meltwater has already flooded in.

7
Beware of polar bears.
A mother and cubs wandered down this street, past the last post office, the last chocolaterie.
If you leave town, you must take a gun and eight spare bullets.

8
The plane spins her back into sunrise.
She thumbs up a clip. Erik dancing with his dogs, a circling, shuffling waltz.
At the northernmost, there are more polar bears than people. If you meet a bear, pull back quietly.

About the Author

Sharon Telfer won the Bath Flash Fiction Award in June 2016 with her story, ‘Terra Incognita’, and was commended in the February 2019 round. She has also won the Reflex Flash Fiction Prize (June 2018). Her stories were selected for the 2019 ‘BIFFY50’ and Best Microfiction 2019. She lives near York and was the New Writing North/Word Factory Northern Short Story Apprentice in 2018. She is an editor at FlashBack Fiction. She tweets @sharontelfer.

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Simon Cowdroy February 2020 Second Prize

The Dissolution Of Peter McCaffrey

by Simon Cowdroy

Heat-ravaged rivets explode off the corrugated iron roof of our milking shed like corks from shaken champagne bottles.

A long drought wind scalds in from the north and the thermometer leaves 50 behind as pitiless gusts scour every nook of the farm. No easy pickings to be found; all that could be taken is long gone.

Dad wasn’t a man you made a promise to lightly, his plea for me to stay burdened with the heft of eight generations. I crane my neck, spot his cross, remember the soil being so unyielding we used up all our dynamite. Not enough time or faith left over for funerals, so his pension cheque still ghosts in.

I lost Annie to the highway a week back. No goodbyes, only the midnight creak of our front door, the bloom of liberated fuel as her car engine fired.

Well rid of her two-faced grace, the lies that fell from those blue eyes as acid rain, but I can’t seem to shake that afternoon before she left. The brutal whisper of, ‘Pete, we’re in this together’, as my tired, fractured head folded into her shoulder.

Joe at the Co-Op rings. The water tankers aren’t coming. He chews my ear about it being the start of Australia’s climate change but sure feels to me like we’re already at the end of everything.

Three hundred cattle are all that remain and I’ve enough feed to get half through next week. The cull is almost a familiar dance now. I never remember grabbing my gun; never forget to keep a bullet in the chamber after it’s done.

I’m not a brave man, and if soft bovine eyes ever boiled over in accusation it would unbind me. Turns out, their gratitude is what keeps me awake.

About the Author

Simon lives as part of a dog dominated family in the Yarra Valley near Melbourne, Australia. He returned to fiction in 2017 after a long absence and in 2018 two of his initial pieces of Flash Fiction were published in Bath Anthology Three (one of which was commended).In 2019 he joined @VirtualZine as editor/reader and can also be found tweeting away at @virtwriting (#VWG).
His first crime novel,Cut of a Knife, was a Pitch Perfect finalist at Bloody Scotland in 2018. Described by a reviewer as ‘Dark, disturbing but startlingly humane’ this novel is currently out in the world looking for a home. His hobbies include writing, reading, the art of Caravaggio, lifting heavy objects and awful puns.

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Christina Dalcher February 2020 Third Prize

Dressage

by Christina Dalcher

And she rides.

She prances the beast sideways, backwards, up, down, feet in the air, falling, balancing, tumbling, perfect circles carved on the red dirt of Spain. Ten years, twelve years, fourteen. Fly a thousand miles from home. Fly south, jump left, skip right. One, two, three. Uno, dos, tres. Één, twee, drie.

And they watch.

Pay your thirty euros; see the Andalusian horses dance. Piaffe, pirouette, travers. Impossible, unnatural gymnastics. Watch the braids in their manes and the flowers in their tails. Watch the girl, ten years, twelve years, fourteen. Watch her fly one last time.

And he bucks.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him dance. Because a beast is a beast, mare or stallion, Arabian or Andalusian. To its ears, Ravel and Offenbach and Sousa make noise, not music. Once a day, twice on Thursday, thunderclap roars of olé-bravo-jolly good show. So tired. Weary of spurs and bits and reins and weight.

And she breaks.

She breaks in the middle and at the ends, bones flattening, nerves singing. She breaks sideways and backwards, young flesh sinking into old earth. She dreams a dream of gold, silver, bronze. She wakes.

And they gasp.

Pobrecita-poor dear-die arme-shame-tragedia-so young. Dangerous beast-willful-cattivo-too green. Mobiles ping as news travels. This is Thursday. Next show at three o’clock.

And she mends.

At the sea, she sits, legs bound in plaster, braids in her hair. She sees the wild ponies lope and trot and gallop. Sees their manes free of flowers, sees their legs naked of wraps. Riderless, they fly to the rhythm of wind and waves, When they come to nuzzle her wounds, she wonders, Who is the trainer, and who is the trainee?

About the Author


Christina Dalcher is a linguist, novelist, and flash fiction addict from Somewhere in the American South. She is also the sole matriculant in the Read Every Word by Stephen King MFA program (which she invented). Find her sometimes-prize-winning work in The Molotov Cocktail, Whiskey Paper, and New South Journal, among others. If you’re looking for Christina, she might be here: @CVDalcher, www.christinadalcher.com, or hiding in a closet re-reading a tattered copy of The Shining. Also, she made a book called VOX and another one called Q (Master Class in the US).

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Remi Skytterstad February 2020 Commended

[No Audible Dialogue]

by Remi Skytterstad

The commotion and clamour of the airport is deafening. We are turned to lip-readers by the pack of people and their cacophonic humming composed and orchestrated by a medley of goodbyes / stay safes / I love yous.

Like a ray of sunshine through a patchy carpet of clouds, is our attention drawn to a child / boy / son. The crowd of the airport manoeuvring around him—a crop circle of bodies—in unobtrusive / comfortable / safe distances.

The child is fighting tears. His bottom-lip quivers, and it’s apparent he’s trying to be brave / strong / a big boy.

He is embraced by a man / soldier / father. Together they ripple like a wave when he breathes in his son’s hair, to treasure / remember / survive. And for a moment time slows inside their circle. The crowds bend past them like light around a black hole—a time lapse of bodies, around their sculpturesque scene. The quivering lips—now still—are stretched from cheek to cheek, in a frozen, soundless cry, revealing gritted milky teeth.

Like this we watch them, as the crowds pour and murmur around them, like a river around an islet.

A woman breaks their event horizon, and the boy and the man come alive again.

The son is nodding to the movement of the father’s lips. He straightens his back and wipes away the tears that forced themselves through—his skin darkened in their wake. He moves his mouth in whys / do you have tos / please don’ts.

When the man / soldier stands, he leaves—like the shed skin of a snake—the father around the neck of the son. A translucent outline of a man, only hinting at who used to hold the boy.

The boy is embraced by a woman / mother / widow.

About the Author

Remi Skytterstad is from Norway where he studies educational science. He writes in English as a second language. He is currently in recent issues of Barren Magazine, Flashback Fiction, and Lunate. Find him on Twitter @Skytterstad.

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Claire Powell February 2020 Commended

Valentine

by Claire Powell

The man steps out of his car. Tomasz remains where he is, both hands on the wheel, as though still moving.

It’s black outside, but they’ve stopped on the high street, beneath a yellow lamp. There’s a McDonald’s on the corner, brightly lit, open.

Moments earlier, while pulling out, something had caught Tomasz’s eye: a gift shop filled with teddy bears and glossy heart-shaped balloons. It seemed surreal at first, but now he realises, of course: Valentine’s Day.

The man bends down, picks up his wing mirror.

Tomasz remembers the card Lena once made him. A photo of them in bed, their faces close, pretending to sleep. Stupid really – he’d taken it himself. Had held his arm up high, touched his thumb to the button, closed his eyes before it flashed. To the man of my dreams, she’d written inside. Had he given one to her?

The man opens his boot, removes some kind of tool. Get out, he’s shouting. At least, that’s what Tomasz assumes he’s shouting. He can’t actually hear since – somehow – the radio volume has increased. ‘Lady in Red’ plays out loud.

Tomasz’s hands remain on the steering wheel. How strange. To be thinking of Lena in a moment like this. How surreal. He pictures her inthe crimson bridesmaid dress she wore for her sister’s wedding. She hated that dress, said it made her look like a heavy period.

The man pulls at the handle of Tomasz’s door.

A heavy period! Tomasz was disgusted at the time. He didn’t disagree or tell her she looked good.

The man bangs Tomasz’s window. First with his fist, then with the tool.

He didn’t tell her she looked good, though now he sees she was beautiful.

Glass shatters into Tomasz’s lap. How strange it looks. Surreal. Almost like confetti.

About the Author

Claire Powell is a freelance writer from London. She has an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia where she was awarded the Malcolm Bradbury Memorial Bursary and the Malcolm Bradbury Continuation prize. Her short stories have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and published in The Manchester Review and The Standard Hotel Short Story Compendium. In 2017 she won the Harper’s Bazaar short story contest. She’s currently working on a collection.
www.clairemeganpowell.com

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