Thank you to everyone who entered the June 2017 round of Bath Flash Fiction Award. Many writers who’ve entered before submitted again, but there were plenty of new entrants too. This time we received eight hundred and sixty-nine entries from twenty-eight different countries:
I could not believe how many powerful stories I read in the long list of fifty stories. It was very difficult to select the short list of twenty and then to choose the winners. I noticed that many stories involved a longing for lost innocence, equilibrium, and trust—a feeling that seems to be with us so much these days as the world becomes an increasingly chaotic place. What sensitive, strong voices you all have.
Tying the Boats In 164 words, the shortest on the long list, 'Tying the Boats' is an elegant, masterful piece in which every word is essential. The author makes brilliant use of metaphor, yet her touch is gentle. The power in this story involves what is not said, which leaves the reader on-edge. We can't help but identify with the main character, who we see is in emotional danger.
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Tying the Boats
by Amanda O'Callaghan
A week after she married him, she cut her hair. The scissors made a hungry sound working their way through the curls.
“You cut your hair,” he said, when he came home. Nothing more.
She thought he might have said, “You cut off your beautiful hair,” but his mouth could not make the shape of beautiful, even then.
She kept the hair in a drawer. A great hank of it, bound together in two places with ribbon almost the same dark red. Sometimes, when she was searching in the big oak chest that she brought from home, she’d see it stretched against the back of the drawer, flattened into the joinery like a sleek, cowering animal.
Once, she lifted it out, held it up to the light to catch the last of its fading lustre. She weighed it in her hands. The hair was thick, substantial, heavy as the ropes they’d used when she was a girl, tying the boats when storms were coming.
The Cool Box
by Nod Ghosh
Ross opened the cool box and removed remnants of his wife's wedding gown, a pair of pliers, the telephone from his grandmother's hallway, a light moment, two books of paramount importance, his daughter's milk teeth, effervescent conversation and a piece of sky, the tenderness of his mother's bosom, the sweat of children running from parents shot by insurgents, a medley of vegetables, the disappearance of two American teenagers, refusal to use dental floss, a holiday in Tyneside, the temperamental nature of a wolf's disposition, his brother's charm, latex gloves, his drama teacher with the blood disorder who walked on crutches after bleeding into his knees, a deformed cactus, the visages of two cats, disparaging and cruel, an engineer's rule, Bach's cello suites No. 1-6, a Mexican wave, ten pins, all the reports he'd produced in the last hundred and fourteen months, a dinosaur tooth, non-iodised salt, a mission to eradicate multi-drug-resistant organisms, a punnet of strawberries, the plagiarism of fools, dormant mushroom spores, a glass table he had coveted but never bought, dielectric grease at three hundred and nineteen dollars for ten millilitres, a tablespoon, a symphony of simultaneous orgasms, cream, manufactured dreams available on-line, developmental delays, a red squirrel from France, two plastic wine-glasses, seven long-playing records he'd never owned, a tomato, mustard, meringue nests, soft cheese, a low-carb sandwich for Rita, and he still couldn't find the paper plates.
'Are you sure you packed them?' he asked.
Rita's hair blew across her eyes.
'Here they are.' She pulled out a pack wrapped in plastic. 'Honestly, I don't know what you were thinking. You seemed lost.'
An invisible comet may or may not have streaked across the sky.
'They were right in front of you'.
The Place We Live Before We Don’t
by David Rhymes
He sat by the window recalling everything; the new-born infant, toddler, son; the brother, friend and boyfriend; Janie’s date, her husband; Jack and Hannah’s dad; watching the bin men slot the wheelies on the cart. A bleating baby when his mam’s milk wouldn’t come. An empty belly raging, dozing in a pushchair, watching sparrows on the ledge, waiting for the microwave to heat the formula. The way the binmen always wore those bright flourescent uniforms during the day. The bin men they. At junior school, a rainy day inside; the warm fug of the form room; outside in the wintry half-light, crows; Mrs. Moncrieff, who wouldn’t give permission to turn on the lights; no quibbling boys, you know we must save electricity, we want to see the birds now, don’t we? Yes. And then the day that Angela was hit on Plessey bridge. Your sister in a coma at the QMC. Though things got better, slowly: by any reckoning it was just six weeks later she stood eating grapes at Daddy’s bedside, reeling out a stream of Knock-Knock jokes. But that shook us, till Grandad Albert shook us more, then Dad got sicker still and went. And Janie pregnant with our second then, with Jack, and little Hannah only three and toddling still, and I thought Mam would say that’s bad but I’ve got worse, I’ve got this thing, this what-do-you-call-it? The unthinkable, growing in me, a black crow roosting somewhere in my blood. And one day look it’ll flap out too big, and what comes finally to everyone at last will come to me, that big black crow that’s roosting somewhere in my blood. Well, yes, he thinks, it will. The signal beeper on the cart. The noisy bin men backing out. The place we live before we don’t.
by Melissa Goode
We arrive home from the hospital and you lean hard against me as we walk up the front stairs. Sweetheart, you say, straight into my ear. You smell of chemicals and antiseptic. The children in the school playground opposite our house scream and play, mad animals, running around their cage. They squeal and laugh.
“I’ll go to bed,” you say.
You sway down the hallway. You sail. The drugs make their way through your body—I don’t know their names, their compatibility. The ones the doctors put into you and those you put there yourself. Don’t fucking freak out, you said. I kept waiting for your heart to stop. I did.
The curtain rings rattle and you make the room dark, your skin white-green, your hair black-green. I put your suitcase at the end of our bed. You slide between the sheets, still clothed. It slithers into my stomach, acidic, and it stays. I don’t know what it is, maybe anger. Or rage.
“I thought you were going to die,” I say.
You open your eyes and close them again. “Nope, still here.”
“I don’t think you heard me,” I whisper.
You open your arm wide and beckon to me. I lay down beside you, on you. Your heart pounds beneath me, your chest rises and falls, your skin is warm, dense. I hear the children play. They shout. The bell rings for them to return to class. In another hour and ten minutes, the bell will release them from school.
As the sun sets, I will get out of bed and you will be asleep, peaceful, your chest barely moving, as if I have risen from your burial place. Outside it is quiet and then it is not. The birds sing all at once.
Congratulations to all who made it through to our short list.
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Congratulations to all who made it through to our long list, and huge thanks to everyone who entered from all around the globe.
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In association with the Arts Council England, Bath Flash Fiction Award is sponsoring the first ever UK literary festival entirely devoted to flash fiction. Taking place on the weekend of National Flash Fiction Day UK, Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th June, the inaugural Flash Fiction Festival will be held in Bath.
Check out our action-packed programme; we've organised a great line up of workshop leaders, speakers, writers and teachers of the short and short-short form – Vanessa Gebbie, Paul McVeigh, Tania Hershman, David Gaffney, David Swann, Ashley Chantler, Peter Blair, K M Elkes, Kit de Waal, Michael Loveday, Christopher Feilden, Calum Kerr, Jude Higgins and Meg Pokrass.
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There’s much to learn about writing flash fiction in this interview with Nicholas Cook who won second prize in the February 2017 round of Bath Flash with his wonderfully titled and moving story, The Peculiar Trajectory of Space Objects. Nicholas tells us more about the structure of this piece, white space and about the title and the use of titles in general in short short fiction. We learn about his journey to flash fiction via screen writing and the parallels between writing and coding. He also mentions Jane, his most beautiful greyhound/part Saluki dog, who I think, from the photograph, would be most writers’ favourite muse. I love his writing tip that you can even write about a ‘toaster pastry’ as long as the emotion is there and the language interesting.
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