Judges

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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Interview with Michelle Elvy, Judge Novella-in-Flash Award 2021

    We thrilled Michelle has agreed to judge the 2021 Novella-in-Flash Award, which will be open for entries shortly and will close in mid January, 2021. Results out April, 2021 Read Jude’s interview with her below if you want to write a novella in the next six months for our Award. Michelle has many interesting things to say about the form and the process of writing a novella-in-flash.

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Judge’s report, Novella-in-Flash 2020

Michael Loveday, who is judging the Novella-in-Flash Award for the second year running, has been busy reading and re-reading the long list of twenty-seven novellas blind for the past seven weeks. We thank him very much for his very thorough work and can recommend anyone on the longlist or shortlist approaches him for his editing services if they want to do further tweaks to their novellas as he will have a good sense of them all. We agree with him that the standard was very high and we so appreciate all those who tackled this form of fiction and sent entries in to us in this our fourth year of the award. It is so exciting to see who the winners are this year. Many congratulations to our first prize winner, Mary Jane Holmes from the UK with Don’t Tell The Bees and our two runners-up, Tracy Slaughter from New Zealand with If There is No Shelter and Erica Plouffe Lazure from the USA with Sugar Mountain. Michael has given special commendations to five authors this year. From the UK, Eleanor Walsh, our 2019 winner from the UK, with Tears In the Paku Paku, Alison Woodhouse with The House On the Corner, Karen Jones with When It’s Not Called Making Love Louise Watts with Something Lost and from the USA, Nicholas Cook with Elvis In The Back Yard. We will post bios on all these authors on the website soon. Read Michael’s initial comments in the first paragraph and his full report and comments on all the novellas-in-flash below that.
Michael’s comments on the longlist

Every manuscript had genuine merits and I feel for those authors who haven’t made this shortlist; there were some very marginal calls.

My initial “long shortlist” of manuscripts I thought might make the final shortlist (based on a first read) had two-thirds of the novellas on it! There are some astonishingly good novellas in the list of fourteen. The overall consistency across the longlist made for some tricky/tough/brutal [delete as appropriate] decisions. My expectation is that many of these novellas, including some on the longlist, will eventually find publishers and that other readers will experience the same visceral thrill as I did when encountering these stories.

Michael’s full report, April 11th 2020

The overall consistency of quality in the longlist this year made for a near-impossible judging process. Even beyond the shortlist of fourteen novellas, there are manuscripts on the longlist that I believe will interest publishers and with barely a little tinkering will read beautifully. It was noticeable this year, when compared to 2019, that many authors were now grappling with the novella-in-flash form almost as a novelist would – conjuring sustained story arcs across individual pieces, creating convincing ensemble casts of characters, and immersing the reader in fully developed world-building. This of course isn’t the only way a novella-in-flash can be written, but it did suggest an increasing commitment to treating the novella-in-flash form as something more than a collection of flash fictions – a unified story-world. Each novella on the longlist felt unique, utterly its own, and had qualities that drew the reader in. When judging, I’ve been trying to balance criteria such as readability, quality of characterization, linguistic surefootedness, flair, formal innovation, world-building, shaping of story arc, depth after repeat encounters, and insight into human experience. Looking at any single measure alone would surely create a different winner each time. It isn’t feasible to reach final decisions by any measurable ‘scientific’ process and ultimately judging comes down to such fractional margins that it’s almost absurd to proceed. I’m mindful that the process inevitably disappoints more authors than it pleases. It takes courage to write a novella and submit it to a competition, so my commiserations go to those who have missed out, including those who didn’t make the longlist that I read. It’s been a privilege to act as judge and I’m grateful for all the writers who were inspired to share their imaginative worlds during the past two years. I’m very glad that they made my role so difficult. Readers will have so much to enjoy and admire when this year’s manuscripts eventually make their way into the world.

Winner – Don’t Tell the Bees
The winning novella is a story of a young girl (called No-more) and a village community in France, around the time of the Second World War. It’s full of nostalgia for old rural ways, and, in passing, a nuanced description of the impact of industrial progress. There’s a charming fairy-tale quality, a satisfying come-uppance for a villainous character, and every page positively oozes with fondness for its characters. The novella adopts a classic novella-in-flash form, with each chapter a self-contained world of its own, a distinct moment in time, but its absolute originality is expressed in the characters’ eccentric qualities, the richly textured language, the blending of history with fable, and the way that its fragments collectively evoke the whole story of a village and way of life. Amongst a raft of brilliant manuscripts, this was the story I found myself most eagerly returning to, cherishing each time the writer’s deft skills.

Runner-Up – If There Is No Shelter
A remarkable story of a woman’s life in an unnamed city in the aftermath of a series of earthquakes. It’s written with claustrophic, relentless and urgent conviction. What’s most compelling is how the story is gleaned mostly through flashbacks, as though, like the city’s buildings, it’s been broken into fragments and we are picking our way through rubble. Gradually, like rescue workers, we uncover the situation of a hospitalized husband, a lover lost to a building’s collapse, and the tender domestic bonds the woman shares with her father and his colleague. Other haunting scenes leap out from the overall portrait of a ruined city – almost like twisted updates on Wordsworthian “spots of time” – a neighbour with a dead bird in a birdcage, a couple glimpsed making love in an office building at night, a street artist daubing impressions of the surrounding wreckage onto canvas. This is a dark, oppressive story but, through it, the writer explores how humanity responds to crisis – and has produced a metaphor for our own times.

Runner-Up – Sugar Mountain
A stunning sequence of stories about childhood shot through with irresistible yearning, beauty and humour. It’s written in a freewheeling prose that unfurls with detail after gorgeous detail piling up in the sentences. Quirky behaviour, teenage mischief, letdowns, unfulfilled dreams, romance – this novella really gets to the heart of what childhood feels like. The writer has a real gift for endings – chapter after chapter ends on a lovely resonating note that succeeds in creating the “speaking silence” of the unsaid – something so important to the experience of powerful flash fiction. Vivid chapter titles include: ‘Saved by DJ Big Man with Beard’ ‘This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’, ‘Why My Mother is No Longer a Hairdresser’ and ‘Why We Stole the Disco Ball from Satellite Skate’. A sentence from the latter offers a glimpse into this novella’s skillful evocation of childhood experience: “And then as the end of ‘Thriller’ began, I thought maybe this sparkle ball was a time machine, and all we had to do was skate backwards long enough to undo the awful of the awful week.”

Special Commendations –

I feel like each of these novellas deserves to be published. Although they didn’t quite make the top three, the quality of the writing was extremely high and they deserve a wide audience.

Special Commendation – Elvis in the Backyard
Simultaneously a narrative about family life and an affectionate boy-meets-boy love story. Quirky characters and written with a sense of humour and charm. Gotta love a story that mentions an Elvis wig.

Special Commendation – Something Lost
A clever and entertaining first-person tale of family strife and growing into adulthood, where the reader enjoys reading between the lines of the teenage boy’s narration. Funny, disarming and deep.

Special Commendation – Stormbred
An ambitious, startling psychological portrait of a teenage girl obsessed with the photo of a refugee from the Bosnian war. Haunting insight into the main character, written with elegant skill.

Special Commendation – The House on the Corner
Personal tremors large and small unsettle the foundations of a middle-class, nuclear family. Exquisite sentence-making, with each individual chapter beautifully sculpted and shaped.

Special Commendation – When It’s Not Called Making Love
Vivid, raw and immediate – a poignant story of a bullied and harassed girl’s struggle towards adulthood. Left me bruised and heartbroken. But also written with great wit –made me giggle many times.

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Interview with Mary-Jane Holmes, Judge, March-June 2020.

Mary-Jane Holmes is a writer, teacher and editor based in the Durham Dales, UK. She has been published in such places as the Best Small Fictions Anthology 2016 and 2018, and the Best Microfictions Anthology 2020 Her work can also be found in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Spelk, Cabinet of Heed, Flashback Fiction, Mslexia, Fictive Dream, The Lonely Crowd, and Prole amongst others. She is winner of the Mslexia Prize (2018), the Reflex Fiction prize (Autumn 2019) and the Dromineer Fiction Prize (2014).In 2017, she won the Bridport Poetry Prize and her poetry collection Heliotrope with Matches and Magnifying Glass was published by Pindrop Press in 2018. She is currently studying for a creative writing PhD at Newcastle University and she has an unpublished flash collection knocking about that was recently short-listed for the International Beverly Prize for Literature.
@emjayinthedale

  • You have been very successful in major competitions with your flash fiction over the last couple of years, winning both the Mslexia flash fiction competition and the Reflex Flash Fiction competition as well being listed and commended in other Awards most recently in the International Beverly Prize for Literature for a flash fiction collection. What do you enjoy about writing flash? And have you a favourite piece among your winners?
    I think flash fiction is one of the most flexible genres around given that it can occupy that liminal space between prose and poetry. It is also a place that can absorb risk and experimentation because of its brevity and of course it is a great discipline. I would urge anyone who wants to write in longer forms, to first cut their teeth on a genre that will teach them how concision and compression drive prose to be the best it can be. ‘No decorative humbugs’ as George Orwell said. Out of the pieces, that I have been lucky enough to have done well with, I think ‘Down the Long Long Line’ that will be in this year’s Best Microfiction Anthology is a favourite as it is very much tied with my PhD that deals with looking at history and the female voice.
  • You are a poet as well as a flash fiction writer. Do you find you can move easily between the two forms? Some people make a strong distinction between prose poetry and flash. Others don’t see much difference. Do you have a view on this? 
    I always set out knowing whether I am going to write either a poem or a flash fiction. There has never been anything I have written where I have thought – oh this isn’t a poem, it’s a piece of flash, so I must, on some level see a difference between the two forms although it is hard to pin that down. I suppose that something that has more narrative drive, suits flash fiction and perhaps that is where the distinction lies for me.
    • Which flash fiction writers do you currently enjoy reading? 
      Oh gosh – well pretty much all of the writers that Ad Hoc fiction published last year. Michael Loveday, Charmaine Wilkerson, Ken Elkes, Meg Pokrass. Amy Hempel is probably the writer that got me into considering the short form and Lydia Davies of course. There are many many others….
    • Teaching flash fiction is something you have done for many years, both single workshops, like at The Flash Fiction Festival in 2019 and longer courses. What do you like about teaching this form? In your longer courses, do you find that  there is a point where writers suddenly grasp what flash fiction is?
      I think that teaching flash fiction is ultimately so satisfying because it provides a writer with everything they need to know about narrative structure, style and the character’s dynamics of desire that are key to animating any story. Whether that writer wants to move to the longer form or not, the thing about flash is that the image rather than the idea (Nabakov said ‘all ideas are hogwash’)  drives the tension. Readers really only connect with the emotions a writer is trying to convey when the image is at the forefront, and students of flash fiction quickly understand this and use it to great advantage. If just starting out, this saves a lot of time realizing that summary and explanation aren’t as resonant as drama and action and that as writers our responsibility is to give just enough detail for the reader to build the picture and the story on their own. We want readers who actively participate in a story, not passive listeners being told everything, Flash Fiction is by far the best genre to learn this and to learn it quickly!
    • Have you got any up and coming workshops or courses, people can book on?
      I am really sorry to be missing this year’s Bristol Flash Fiction Festival but unfortunately it clashes with running the Casa Ana writing retreat in Granada, Spain which I facilitate two to three times a year. I have a new online Memoir Flash course that I will be running with Retreat West later in the year and I also run an online course with Fish Publishing Ireland which you can sign up to any time.
    • What makes a winning micro fiction for you?
      A great opening that will draw me in, after all in micro, we are finishing the story almost as we start it. After reading the story, I want to feel that the story’s ending was inevitable and yet surprising at the same time. That doesn’t mean that the ending needs to be nice and neat but I do want to say ‘Wow, of course!’ and not ‘where did that come from?’
    • Tips to help writers  create their best story of 300 words or under?  
      Zoom in on a single event;
      Begin in the middle of the action as close to the arc or climax of the story;
      Decide where your focus is – event, point-of-view, character?;
      Write using active voice and eliminate extraneous description;
      Remember that every word counts;
      Use a directive last sentence that gives narrative insight or opinion;
      Make rereads necessary or at least inviting;
      Close with a phrase that sends the reader back into the story;
      Know when you’ve made your point.
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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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