It's always exciting when we reach the end of the latest Award – and this one was no exception. Nine hundred and three entries from twenty-nine different countries.
First of all, I'd like to say a big thank you to Jude and her team for asking me to be the judge of this round of the Bath Flash Fiction Award. I judge a lot of flash fiction competitions, and I used to write a lot of flash fiction too (not so much now as I'm concentrating on novels, graphic novels and longer stories). It was a pleasure to read all of the 50 stories that made the long list and as ever it was a fascinating dip into the psyche of creative writers at this point in time. Some of the titles were tempting enough on their own; Fat Girls Have Fine Nails. Elephants In Flip Flops. Valentines Day At The Walrus Colony. Tupperware Genie. What on earth could these stories be about? I was drawn in immediately. On a sentence by sentence basis, there were lots of examples of great writing here by great writers. Yet, often these were the one that didn’t make it. The ones that did make the top twenty, and ultimately the top five, were the ones that allowed the story and the ideas to shine through above everything else.
Read in Full
by KM Elkes
The way Bobby told it, one minute he was working the chainsaw and the next he was on the forest floor, wondering why there was nothing on the end of his arm.
The rest of the crew reckoned his hand got spun into a ravine. Nobody wanted to waste time searching while Bobby bled out. Logging accidents happen all the time - there’s extremities all over those woods.
When he got out of hospital, they gave him a party. I found Bobby outside, smoking a cigarette with his wrong hand. I’d brought him towels, stolen from the hotel in town where I have a summer job.
“Can I see?” I asked.
Bobby slid off the mitten they had given him to keep the stump clean. The end was puckered with stitches like sewn up lips. The skin flap they had stretched over had little hairs growing out.
“How’s it feel?” I said.
“My ghost fingers hurt at night,” he said.
“They say you get used to it.” I had no idea if that was true.
Bobby shook his head. “Funniest thing, right after it happened, it started raining. That sound, man. I thought it was people clapping. For me.”
I left the party early. I had to be at the hotel before my boss arrived - she’s a failed ballerina and bitter about it. I stay on her good side so she doesn’t find out about the towels or the cutlery or all the other things I’ve stolen. That job is my ticket out of these trees.
When I went, I saw Bobby alone again, holding out his stump up like he expected something to grow from it. I didn’t feel bad for him. I just felt sorry for the other hand, out in those woods, fingers curled, grasping at nothing.
The Undertakers’ Jolly
by Conor Houghton
On the first weekend of every May, just as the whitethorn makes the hedgerows so beautiful that it is an agony to know you could never count every petal, all the undertakers in Limerick go on their annual trip. They don’t go far, usually Lahinch, once as far as Dingle. They get dressed up and have a big meal, with pints of Smithwicks and Guinness for the undertakers, wine spritzers and shandies for their wives.
The conversation starts with sports but quickly turns to their trade: the best makeup for dead skin, plastic undergarments to keep the burial clothes clean. With the peach melba, they share the stories, told as if they were funny, that are the real purpose of the trip. Some really are funny, take Paddy Sherry’s tale of the priest, the underground cinema and the red haired corpse: while few people actually like Paddy, all are happy to laugh. After that come the stories that no telling could make funny, the funerals of children, of whole families, of forgotten men. Finally they turn to death. “It comes to us all” Paddy would intone, his face wet and red.
This particular year, sick of her husband and his talk, Mary Sherry stepped out for some air. As the hotel door closed and she walked towards the water, she heard fiddle music from a pub, she heard the hiss and rattle of the ocean turning the one million times turned stones along the shore, she heard the silence. Far out in the moonlit water she saw a group of dolphins surface and dive, swimming north. She fancied she could hear, somewhere under the silence, the sound of their breath and she wished that when she died her body could be let sink, untended to, into that dark brine.
by Tim Craig
After an hour or so, I decided to ask him about the tooth.
It was dangling from the sun visor on a piece of cotton, and it had a gold filling that occasionally glinted as we passed under the lights.
The lorry driver reached up and flicked it with his fingernail, setting it dancing back and forth.
“It was my father’s,” he said.
Then he grinned.
“The only gold I ever got from him”.
Pavel turned to look at the road ahead, his expression serious once more. All three lanes were busy with traffic heading north for the weekend.
He was quiet for a moment or two, then he shrugged.
“He hit my mother, I hit him. He left. I never saw him again.”
“I was seventeen.”
He flashed the headlights to allow a Sainsbury’s lorry to pull back into the inside lane. The lorry moved across, then toggled its indicators in thanks.
“I found the tooth two days later. It had landed in a flowerpot and I thought I’d better take it with me in case another evil old bastard grew out of it.”
He smiled, and as he did so I noticed a sparkle of gold in his own mouth.
Neither of us said much more after that, and he dropped me off at the next services.
After he’d gone, I stood for a while on the motorway bridge, watching the trail of diamonds and rubies on the wet tarmac.
by Ingrid Jendrzejewski
1 cup nothing / 1 tsp dust motes that fizz in unexpected light / dash of cobweb / memory, to taste. Weigh out the ingredients if you don’t have the right measures, spoon them from old canisters bought long ago at yard sales. Nobody will mind if you leave the crusts off or if the darkness fails to rise: dark is fine in small, dense portions. Nobody, in fact, is paying attention. When the oven fails to ignite, when the click-click-woosh of the hob is more of a tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick, when the gas man won’t answer the phone and you’re all alone with the lights off too, that’s when you can really get cooking. Leave it for one of those evenings when you know better than to work alone, and then do it anyway. Leave it, leaven it, then pick it up and turn it over in your hands. It will feel like dough and smell like yeast, but yet, it will remind you of the time that you brought home nothing but dust from the supermarket, even though what you picked up from the shelves came in bright, bright packaging. They’ve turned off the gas, they may turn off the electricity too, but it’s okay to sing to it, and let it sing back to you. If you have flour, flour your workspace. If you have water, save it. If you have an egg, crack it and let it run through your fingers, cold in the warm air. Yield: none. This is your red wine, your five-a-day. This is what will keep you going until the morning comes, until you pay the bills, until the silverfish scatter. This is what will sustain you until you wash your spoons.
Strong, But Not Rough
by Amanda Huggins
If I was pretty like Laverne, then I’d go out with Rory Campbell. I’d hold his hand under the table, and it would feel warm and strong, but not rough. If I were tall and lithe like Laverne, I would see over the heads of the boys who think they’re clever and cool, and I’d notice the way Rory’s hair curls into his collar, the way his smile reaches all the way up to his eyes, and the way he stays quiet when the others fight.
When we leave the pub and pile into Robert’s car, Julie and Laverne slide across the boys’ knees, feet wedged into the seat backs, heads pressed against the vinyl roof. Laverne sits on Rory Campbell’s lap, and I squeeze in next to them. Laverne doesn’t talk to Rory, she leans forward between the seats and strokes Carl Broadbent’s neck, blowing her soft girl’s breath in his ear. Carl laughs in that stupid way of his, and Rory catches my eye, smiles as though we’re sharing an intimate joke.
If I was Laverne I’d be jealous that the world’s most beautiful boy was smiling at another girl. Especially when that girl is the dumpy one with mousy hair and a snub nose. And if I was Laverne, I’d notice when he reached along the back of the seat to rest his fingertips on the girl’s shoulder. Then I’d probably feel sick inside.
But I’m not Laverne, I’m Cathy Carnes, and I can feel Rory’s touch like so much fire as we race through the country lanes. My heart is beating louder than the music. When we hit the bank and the car flies through the air, I don’t even notice, because Rory Campbell is gripping my shoulder with fingers that are strong, but not rough.
David Gaffney lives in Manchester, UK. He is the author of the novel Never Never (2008) plus the flash fiction and short story collection Sawn-Off Tales (2006), Aromabingo (2007), The Half Life of Songs (2010) and More Sawn-Off Tales (2013). The Guardian said 'One hundred and fifty words by Gaffney are more worthwhile than novels by a good many others.' He has written articles for The Guardian, Sunday Times, Financial Times and Prospect Magazine and was judge for the 2015 Bridport Prize. His story 'The Staring Man' is featured in the 2016 collection Best British Short Stories, his new novel, All The Places I've Ever Lived came out in February 2017 on Urbane and his graphic novel with Dan Berry, The Three Rooms in Valerie's head is out now with Top Shelf.
- In your excellent article for the Guardian in 2012 about flash fiction, you listed the following tips for writing micro fiction – start in the middle, don’t use too many characters, make sure the ending isn’t at the end, sweat your title, make your last line ring like a bell, write long then go short. Is there anything else you would add six years down the line?