First, to say: choosing the winners was difficult! Going from longlist to shortlist was a matter of what grabbed me on first read, whether it was the story, the freshness of the language, the structure, or something unique and surprising that I'd never seen before. But the next stage is when I got tough, because I was actively looking for reasons not to pick stories. I had to get to my top 5 from 20. This is when a judge gets ruthless. A story has to give something back on a second read - and a third read! Any even slight laziness in language - an overused phrase bordering on cliche, a typo - and that made it far more likely that I would discard that story. Also, if the premise was great, an intriguing idea, but the follow-through and the ending just didn't do it for me, that landed the story in my No pile.
Read in Full
- You've judged many other flash fiction and short story contests in the UK and elsewhere and have also selected flash fictions for journals. There's a wide variety of styles in the flash fiction genre, but can you tell us what stood out for you in the winning entries and submissions?
Things that stand out for me – and I am only one reader, with my own tastes and preferences – are a love for language, a delight in what words can do, especially in such a short space. Also, a sense that the story was made for the length it is, that it is not a longer story compressed, that it is wonderful not despite but because of its brevity. As for styles, I am open to anything at all, I love being made to laugh and cry, but the main thing is: move me, surprise me, delight me. This can be done without fireworks, without car chases, without much action at all. Or: with all these things! I am looking for stories that sing, that I can hear in my head as I read and for hours, days afterwards. But sing in your own way, not in a way to please anyone else. Send us your best.
Tania Hershman is the author of two short story collections: My Mother Was An Upright Piano: Fictions (Tangent Books, 2012), and The White Road and Other Stories (Salt, 2008) and co-author of Writing Short Stories: A Writers' & Artists' Companion (Bloomsbury, Dec 2014). Her début poetry chapbook is forthcoming in February 2016. Tania's short stories and poetry have been widely published and broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4. She is curator of ShortStops (www.shortstops.info), celebrating short story activity across the UK & Ireland, a Royal Literary Fund fellow at Bristol University, and is studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University.
Judging the inaugural Bath Flash Fiction Award has been both an honour and a delight. The organisers did the hard work of sifting through one thousand entries and sent me, as if by magic, the twenty intriguing stories on this shortlist.
The first thing that struck me was the proliferation of certain themes — death, apocalypse or social breakdown featured in at least half the shortlist — which is not to say that the stories themselves are uniform. Far from it. Without exception, the writers have used their 300 words to create something fresh and distinctive.
2014 was a successful year for our judge, Annemarie Neary. She won the Michael McLaverty short story competition, achieved joint second place in the KWS Hilary Mantel international short story competition, and was joint runner-up in the Sean O'Faolain international short story competition.
Emma Mitchell, senior editor at Hutchinson (Penguin Random House UK), bought world English rights to her novel, Siren, as well as one other book. About Siren she said:
"This brilliant novel grabbed me right from the dramatic opening scene. Annemarie is an outstanding storyteller and builds the tension, page after page, to an exhilarating denouement. I’m delighted to have her for the Hutchinson list.”
Annemarie is an Irish-born novelist and short story writer, now living in London. Her awards for short fiction include both the Bryan MacMahon and Michael McLaverty short story competitions (Ireland) and the Columbia Journal fiction prize (US). She has also been a prizewinner in the Bridport, Fish, UPP Short FICTION, and KWS Hilary Mantel short story prizes, amongst others. Her novel Siren is forthcoming from Hutchinson (Penguin Random House UK) in Spring 2016.