Judges

Interview with Karen Jones, 20th Award Judge

Karen Jones is a flash and short story writer from Glasgow, Scotland. Her flashes have been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Micro Fiction and The Pushcart Prize, and her story 'Small Mercies' was included in Best Small Fictions 2019 and BIFFY50 2019. In 2021 she won first prize in the Cambridge Flash Fiction Prize, Flash 500, Reflex Fiction and Retreat West Monthly Micro and was short listed for To Hull and Back, Bath Flash Fiction Award, Bath Short Story Award and longlisted for Fractured Lit Flash Fiction Prize. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies and magazines. Her novella-in-flash, When It’s Not Called Making Love is published by Ad Hoc Fiction. She is Special Features Editor at New Flash Fiction Review.

We’re delighted that Karen Jones has agreed to be our 20th Award Judge. In this intervoew we learn what makes a stand-out flash fiction for her, more about her own writing journey, and at the end she’s given a great prompt to get you writing a new story. Read in Full

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Judge’s report, October 2021

When Jude asked me to judge the 19th round of the Bath Flash Fiction Award, it got me thinking about why I like writing for competitions. How it helps my creative process, that is, setting aside any distant prospect of prizes and glory (welcome as those are, should they ever come). For me, it’s the disciplines of wordcount and deadline coupled with the challenge that safe won’t cut it. If your story is going to stand out from so very many other excellent, unseen pieces, you need to step out onto the high wire.

On the longlist I found stories that all took that risk. There were dreamscapes and dystopias, unheard perspectives and hidden inner dialogues, reworked fairy-tales and school play rebellions, the unexpected significance of custard, an earthquake on the page.

I read and reread these stories. I scribbled notes and added exclamation marks. I shuffled the order and read them in different rooms and in my local park. All the stories on the longlist would find applauded homes in magazines. There were some that it was so hard not to move across to the shortlist pile; there were ones on the shortlist that it felt so harsh not to give some kind of rosette. I considered making some Honourable Mentions here but, in all honesty, there would be too many. Read in Full

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Interview with Sharon Telfer, 19th Award Judge

We’re delighted that writer and editor, Sharon Telfer is going to judge our 19th Bath Flash Fiction Award, which is open July 1st and closes October 9th. Sharon, has some brilliant and encouraging flash fiction writing advice here, as well as news about her forthcoming collection from Reflex Fiction, The Map Waits. Do read the interview and be inspired.

Sharon Telfer lives in East Yorkshire, in the north of England. She won the Bath Flash Fiction Award in June 2016 with ‘Terra Incognita’ and again in February 2020 with ‘Eight Spare Bullets’. She has also won the Reflex Flash Fiction Prize. Her flash has been selected for Best Small Fictions 2021, the 2020 and 2019 ‘BIFFY50’ lists, and Best Microfiction 2019. She was awarded the Word Factory/New Writing North Short Story Apprenticeship in 2018, and placed second in the Bath Short Story Award 2020. She also has a short story in Test Signal, an anthology of contemporary northern writing (Bloomsbury/Dead Ink, 2021). Her debut flash fiction collection, The Map Waits, is published by Reflex Press in 2021. She’s a founding editor of FlashBack Fiction, the online litmag showcasing historical flash. She tweets @sharontelfer and posts terrible photos on Instagram, @sharontelferwriter. Read in Full

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Judge’s report, 18th Award, by K.M. Elkes

General Comments
Judging a story competition with a high standard of writing is a whole, twist-filled narrative in itself. There are beautiful moments of discovery, difficult decisions, inner wranglings, a love story or two, sadness over loss, and the inevitable questions, mysteries, and ambiguities.

Working your way from longlist to shortlist, you encounter risky, raw stories that promise to leave you changed; love-at-first-sight stories full of confident verve; ones that have an allure through their use of language; quietly persuasive stories, confident in their low-key power; there are stories to admire for their elegance and beauty, and ones that raise a smile with their quirky charm.

After a lot of deliberation, the narrative gathers pace and the climax nears when there are just 10 stories left. You sit with them. Take them on a walk. Gaze at them in silence. Read their words out loud, over and over. You study their deployment of craft – tone and voice, use of narrative tools, the way thematic ideas are conveyed, the pace and flow of the narrative, how well the ending has been earned. You find yourself, in cheesy parlance, asking: ‘is this story the best story it can be?’

Choosing the final group of winning and commended stories is when the tension of the judging narrative reaches its final, feverish pitch. The plot now becomes more complex, stories slide in and out of contention, some disappear then reappear stronger than before, some fade, some remain strong. The pervading tone of this denoument is tough love, and no little admiration, as final decisions are made.

And so, many congratulations to everyone who made it to right to the end of this particular story. Your work deserves it, after the difficult journey it has been on. Congratulations too, to those who missed out on final places – it’s often a case of fine margins. And if you were shortlisted or longlisted, take much strength from that and go again.

Finally, thank you to the whole Bath Flash Fiction Award team for their hard work and dedication and to Jude Higgins for trusting me to be the judge for this incarnation of the Award. Read in Full

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Novella-in-Flash 2021 Judge’s report, Michelle Elvy

What a very fine set of flash novellas! And what a daunting task – perhaps the most difficult reading I’ve done. A huge congratulations to every writer who completed a novella-in-flash and submitted, and then a further round of applause to the writers whose work is in the Long List. Wow.
Many thanks also to Ad Hoc Fiction/ BFFA for entrusting me with this challenging and rewarding task. I learn so much every time I read new sets of flash fictions – and this collection of novellas certainly raises the bar.
It’s no easy task writing a collection of stories with a narrative arc, with overtones and undercurrents, with full yet flawed characters, with suspense and mystery in such a small space. Every one of the novellas in the long list has something special about it – many of them intense family portrayals, many of them drawn from history of a place and the nuances from a time long gone, several of them capturing innocence and loss. The form is evolving; writers are taking more chances in the way they write novellas-in-flash, as this long list demonstrates. Some experiment with time; some explore voice and point-of-view in inventive ways; a few play with dialogue and the vernacular; one begins with a recipe.
This long list takes us from Augusta to Reykjavik. And the names: imaginative and evocative, from ‘Fishing Lines’ to ‘Throw A Seven’, from ‘Wild Boys’ to ‘His Raucous Girls’ – I wanted to meet the people in these pages.
The stories captivated me from the opening lines, too. Here are few memorable ones:
I’m starting to believe my own stories. – Remembering What the Doormouse Said

“Two girls in thrift-store broomstick skirts leap from the dinner table, two girls in the
desert smell rain.” – His Raucous Girls

“Sixty-one paces between the Pool of the Monster and the Elm Field. Cara says fifty-five. I don’t argue. Never argue. She’s a year older. Knows things I don’t know.” – Long Bend Shallows

“Greedy and selfish. That’s babies for you,’ said the old woman.” – The End of History

Arriving at the Short List took ages. I moved back and for the between stories, I examined beginnings, middles and endings. I examined dialogue and pacing. I walked away and let them settle into my brain and heart. I read them again. Finally, the ten on the short list emerged as they each took all of the things we love about the short form one step further. They took risks, and I admired them for that. Here’s a hint of what the short list holds:

A Family of Great Falls. Two sisters growing up with a sense of the potential promise that life may hold, as well as the dark realities that are unavoidable with a father who, as an undertaker, is the ‘keeper of the dead’ and a brother buried in the town cemetery. Oh, and a name that must be buried and farewelled, too. Tender but not sentimental, this is a balanced set of stories that reveal the bonds of sisterhood and the way two young girls face the hardest challenges.

Hairy on the Inside. A group of flatmates try to hold onto their compassion and civilising tendencies in the face of pestilence and plague – mostly. Their new lockdown lives include all the typical things, from counselling sessions to book clubs. But this is no ordinary tale: you will howl when the moon is full and grimace when there’s a hunger for blood. A funny and irreverent monster mash-up, with love in the mix, too, and a serious message about how to be the real you. Carefully written with excellent pacing but also: it’s clear how much fun the writer had writing this!

Kipris. New life, and repeated death on the island of Cyprus. A story that intertwines people and politics, historical drama and myth, in an intricate and lyrical way, moving from the oceanside to the mountains to lemon and orange groves, and then to Liverpool and back again. Spanning across generations from the 1940s to the 1980s, this is a study in self-determination and love, on many levels. And goats – filling us with warm frothy milk, filling the stories with sustenance.

The Death and Life of Mrs Parker. Set in the structure the title suggests, this novella brings the reader into the moment of Mrs Parker’s demise and then, with swift moves and snappy dialogue, takes us through her life (moments both special and mundane), all while the ambulance lights flare and the compressions are counted. A life lived, a life revived, a life lost: there are many wonderful moments in this clever set of stories.

The Listening Project. A boy lost to his family; a young girl growing up without her brother. This is a beautiful story of grief and the way it changes us. It’s also about tuning in, and learning to hear, as the title suggests: to both outside and inside worlds. Moving across generations and sometimes navigating delicate moments and thin ice, this novella takes us through a family’s sad story, but also rebirth – in more ways than one. Musical and rich in tone.

And now, here are the top placements…
HIGHLY COMMENDED
Small Things. A beautiful story of loss, told in a way that surprises you, because love is expansive between the people in this story – between Jude and his Da, between Jude and the memory of his Ma, between Jude and Una, between Jude and Kit. And even as the love is grand, the moments are captured with subtle storytelling, and the heart shines with all the small things between them. These stories hold sharp dialogue and sometimes uncomfortable encounters; these feel like real people building real relationships. Friendship and love resonate in these pages, and the ending is both surprising and perfect. The story is layered over the years, from Jude’s first encounter with the new boy Kit (age 7) to his early adulthood when the world is baffling and unbalanced, where weaknesses and strengths come to light. And Kit, Kit Kit, at the centre of it all. Exceptional storytelling!

HIGHLY COMMENDED
Things I can’t tell Amma. A coming-of-age story of a young woman studying abroad, reaching across oceans and time to her family back in Calcutta. Deepa misses the spices and comfort of home, but she embraces the newness and choice that this new world has to offer. Deepa’s encounters captivate the reader. The details take us there; this in 1981 America: giggly girls tune into General Hospital and Good Morning, America, President Reagan is shot, Prince Charles marries Lady Diana Spencer. Deepa is far from the traditions and expectations of her known world, and she opens her mind and her heart. It’s a world of jalapeño and new spices and even danger. And humour, too: there’s a clickety typewriter with a missing letter and ‘Whats-his-name’, the pet bird she can’t name. And there is love, first hinted at when Deepa does not pull back as Theo reaches for her hand, and then told delicately in second person and closing the set with a wonderful, gentle ending.

RUNNER UP
One for the River. An economy of words that tells a richly layered story. This is one of the shortest collections in the batch, and yet here we have so much as the writer shows the death of a boy from many views and paints a picture of the people who inhabit this small town. A great deal of control is exercised here; both the writing and the story are restrained but full. The themes intrigue: impermanence versus permanence; a fleeting moment versus decisive finality; an encounter observed as chance but with clear results. A photograph not taken encompasses the idea of ‘would have/ could have…’, while a stone carved with hammer and chisel reminds us of what can be said without words. This story leaves me with images of these people, and the moments between them – some wicked, some funny, some full of sorrow and also grace. And there’s a play with language, too: the chip van, the chipping of the stone; the rock of one’s life, the rock that Aiden drags, Sisyphean, to the bridge where the drowning boy was first observed. The idea of change, too: what happens to Fat Barry; what happens to Aiden. And then there’s the drowning itself – the five stages that are essential and eloquent, placed between the scenes. Spare in style, this small set of pages resonates with the complexities of an entire novel.

RUNNER UP
The Tony Bone Stories. A strong and sure narrative, this lively set of stories explores truth and fiction, the line between reality and make-believe, and the way one story will influence the outcome of another. It is worth noting that this is one of the few novellas in the Short List that does not deal with death and grief; this is a completely different take on The Meaning Of Life. I applaud the writer for taking a route that is fresh and fun. Rich in layers and confident in voice, the writing is witty, humorous and charged – and leaves the reader with a delicious set of questions to ponder, without being overly ponderous. It’s a romp through Tony Bone’s world – the good moments (he has a girlfriend!), the sleepless nights, the trip to Vegas – all the while working alongside his, and the narrator’s, existential crisis. Tony Bone has to exist, yes, but there must be a reason; as we learn here: you can’t just take someone from a news story and create a character to bring to your writing group, right? The narrator must build Tony – and plausibility – before our eyes. What a fun and rewarding exploration of the relationship between character, narrator and reader, and a reflection on possibilities, down to the very last marvellous line.

FIRST
Season of Bright Sorrow. A girl lives by the sea, and the rhythm of life both lived and observed emerges in these pages. Here we have a gathering of things unexpected: an external exploration of young Lana’s world, and the internal workings of her imagination, both built artfully by the writer. This collection stands out for the rhythmic storytelling and the variety the reader encounters in these small fictions – told in fragments, in lists, in long breathless sentences, in repetitions, in sharp and believable dialogue. There is great care here, and yet the stories spill from the page seamlessly. We peek into a bag and see what’s being collected; we have glimpses of a map, shards of shining things. There is both breadth and depth in these stories, and each page reveals something more: faraway objects and items close up need examining, need understanding. The strong characters are woven together beautifully: Lana with her missing father, her not-too-sober mother, an old man collecting objects along the beach and an unlikeable boy. The encounters are poignant and surprising. And we get the sense that, despite a yearning for order and control, there is a wildness, too: from lions to spiders to whelks to whales to the sea itself. By the end, Lana – and the reader – come to terms with realities and limitations that this life delivers, but there is an innocence and a hope that lingers, too. A superbly designed set of stories, from beginning to end. And although the style and confidence of the prose itself is enough to garner the top prize in this competition, it is worth mentioning here that the sketches that accompany the writing add another intriguing layer.

An extraordinary set of novellas-in-flash! I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!

-Michelle Elvy
April 2021

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Interview with K M Elkes, Judge, 18th Award

    K.M. Elkes is based in the West Country, UK. His flash fiction collection All That Is Between Us (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2019) was shortlisted for a 2020 Saboteur Award. He is a previous winner of the Bath Flash Fiction Award, and the Fish Publishing Flash Prize, as well as being published in more than 40 anthologies and online literary magazines. His short stories have won, or been placed, in international writing competitions, such as the Manchester Fiction Prize, Royal Society of Literature Prize and the Bridport Prize. He was longlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award in 2019. His writing has featured on schools and college curricula in the USA, India and Hong Kong and used by bibliotherapy charity The Reader. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University.From 2016-18 he was Guest Editor of the A3 Review literary magazine. As a writer from a rural, working class background, his work often reflects marginalised voices and places.
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Charmaine Wilkerson – Judge’s report February 2021

I have a soft spot in my heart for the Bath Flash Fiction Award, in part, because I published my very first piece of flash fiction in an anthology produced through this series. It was an honour to serve as an independent judge for the seventeenth award and, really, a joy to read for this. I’d like to say a special thank you to all the writers who entered this competition and trusted us with their stories.

Before discussing the selections, I would like to thank Jude Higgins and the wonderful team at BFFA for inviting me to participate—and for working so hard to whittle down the original roster of entries to a long list of fifty. It’s not an easy enterprise when there is so much good material, so many creative voices at work.

One of the things I like about the Bath Flash Fiction Award series is the opportunity which BFFA provides for many entrants from throughout the year to be published in the annual anthology. You don’t have to have one of the prize-winning entries to be published. After reading through the long list, I was reminded why the anthology is a gift to anyone who loves to read flash fiction.
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Q & A with Charmaine Wilkerson, Award judge February, 2021.

Charmaine Wilkerson is an American writer who has lived in the Caribbean and is based in Italy. Her award-winning flash fiction can be found in the Best Microfiction anthologies from 2020 and 2019 and other anthologies and magazines, including 100-Word Story, Bending Genres, Fiction Southeast, FlashBack Fiction, Litro, Reflex Fiction, Spelk and elsewhere. Her story How to Make a Window Snake won the Bath Novella-in-Flash Award in 2017 and the Saboteur Award for Best Novella in 2018. Her debut novel Black Cake is due to be published in 2022. She is represented by Madeleine Milburn of the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency. Read in Full

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Nod Ghosh’s Judge’s report October 2020

I would like to thank Jude Higgins and the team at BFFA for inviting me to judge this sixteenth award. I’d also like to acknowledge the hard work early readers do, presenting independent judges with fifty long listed stories within a tight timeframe.

It has been a pleasure reading these pieces. The quality indicates how well contributors craft their stories, producing shining gems of literature that show this genre is not only alive and well, but is thriving. The range of topics and styles on offer shows practitioners of this form can still find something fresh, or interpret ideas in a novel way. Read in Full

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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.

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