Novella-in-Flash 2021, Winners

Many congratulations to the winners in our 5th yearly Novella-in-Flash Award. Do read our judge Michelle Elvy’s excellent report and comments on these fantastic novellas in flash. All of them will be published by Ad Hoc Fiction and we’re privileged to add them to the Ad Hoc novella-in-flash series.

First Prize Season of Bright Sorrow by David Swann.
David Swann’s flash fiction collection Stronger Faster Shorter was published in 2015. In 2016 he won the Bridport Flash Fiction Competition, his eighth success in a Prize that he judged in 2013. His other publications include The Privilege of Rain (based on his experiences as a Writer in Residence in jail, and shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award) and The Last Days of Johnny North, a collection of his prize winning short fiction. He is currently Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Chichester, where he teaches modules on fiction, poetry, and screenwriting.

Runner-up One for the River by Tom O’Brien.
Tom O’Brien is an Irishman living in London. His Novella-in-Flash Straw Gods is published by Reflex Press and he has another novella-in-flash, Homemade Weather forthcoming from Retreat West, which won first prize in their Novelette in Flash prize, 2021. He’s been Pushcart and Best Microfictions nominated. His flash fiction and short stories are in print in various anthologies such as Blink-Ink and Bath Flash Fiction (forthcoming) as well as many sites around the web including Ellipsis Zine, Reflex, Spelk and 50-Word Stories.

Runner-up The Tony Bone Stories by Al Kratz.
Al Kratz lives in Indianola, Iowa with his wife Kristy and their cat Tom Petty. He is the Managing Editor for New Flash Fiction Review and a co-founder of the Flash Monsters!!! blog. More about his work can be found at

Highly Commended Small Things by Hannah Sutherland.
Hannah Sutherland is a writer and teacher from Scotland. She placed 2nd in the Writing East Midland’s Aurora Prize in 2020 and recently won Cranked Anvil’s first Flash Fiction competition. She’s been listed for Retreat West’s Short Story and Flash Fiction competitions, the Flash 500 Short Story Award, The Phare Magazine and Strands International Flash Fiction. Her stories have been featured in The Common Breath, The Phare Magazine, mac(ro)mic and others.
Hannah lives with her husband and son in Aberdeenshire and tweets at @HannahWrites88.

Highly Commended, Things I Can’t Tell Amma by Sudha Balagopal.
Sudha Balagopal’s fiction straddles continents and cultures, blending thoughts and ideas from the east and the west. She is the author of a novel, A Dawn, and two short story collections, There are Seven Notes and Missing and Other Stories.Her short fiction has been published in journals around the world, has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions, will appear in Best Microfiction 2021 and is listed in the Wigleaf Top 50. When she’s not writing, she teaches yoga. More at

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Q & A with Geeta Sanker, first prize winner, Feb. 2021

Geeta Sanker

We’re delighted to post this Q & A with Geeta, who won the 17th Bath Flash Fiction Award, judged by Charmaine Wilkerson. Charmaine’s comments about ‘Let Them Eat First‘ are posted in her judge’s report. We’re always interested in what inspires a story, whether it is memory, meetings with others, the written or spoken word, images or other things. Here, Geeta tells us her story was prompted by a striking visual prompt. She is coming to read ‘Let Them Eat First’ and talk about it at ‘Flash Point: Flash Fiction and Social Commentary’, a half an hour conversation with Charmaine and others at our first Great Festival Flash Off Day, 27th March. This will be a fascinating discussion and we hope you can join the festival day to hear them and participate. Do also have a look at ‘Butternut Tosh‘, Geeta’s short film produced during the lockdown with the London Eclective group she is involved with. Another quite different, yet very pertinent type of social commentary. Read in Full

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Geeta Sanker Feb 2021 First Prize

Let Them Eat First

by Geeta Sanker

I’m in the short queue. The slow queue. The women’s queue. Along with the few remaining girls, and Noor to whom I cling as if she were my mother. Noor was a mother; she might still be one. For now, she has my trembling arms around her waist as a reminder. Four days ago creaking wheels heralded the arrival of stale crackers, vegetable oil, and date-filled bars like the ones Father used to buy us on Fridays. Not a morsel has passed our lips since. Not even a drop of water from the old well at the edge of the camp. But I am in no hurry to eat. I can wait until dusk for our queue to progress if it keeps me away from Kareem.

Kareem is in the long queue. The fast queue. The men’s queue. He is many metres ahead, and is instantly recognisable in Father’s coffee-coloured leather jacket from Dubai. It fits him; he has lost weight. After the third bombing, Kareem sifted through the rubble of our house and selected his loot. The most valuable remnants of our once great family. Heba, Nasrin, and Father’s jacket. I played dead beside the corpses of Mother, Father and Sameen. Perhaps Heba and Nasrin are lying still somewhere now, as flies suckle their blood.

I pray for the men’s queue to move faster and it does. They are served swiftly, for they must be strong and they must fight for us all.

“Because they are men.” Mother had often reminded me.

Let them eat first. As long as it keeps me away from Kareem.

About the Author

Geeta Sanker lives in London and works in marketing/comms. Geeta has been writing flash fiction for four years as part of the London Writers’ Eclective. During the first lockdown in 2020, Geeta wrote a short comedy satirising the life of a social media influencer during the Covid crisis. The short film, Butternut Tosh, can be viewed here. Twitter @tweetsgeets

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K.S. Lokensgard Feb 2021 Second Prize

Car Trouble, Spartanburg, August 2002

by K.S. Lokensgard

There on the asphalt, in the sweat-sticky shade of the car hood, cicadas grinding, I ask her to try it again. The engine trips over itself, struggling up and up before guttering out, and that was the last idea I had.

“Thea,” I say. Her name on my tongue: like a piece of candy. Thay-uh. Touching my teeth, soft, and then the air.

“It’s okay,” she says, coming to stand with me by the hood. The day hangs its last breath on the point where our shadows meet. There’s only the wit-wit-wit of a bird nearby and Thea’s braid, hanging over her shoulder like a rope. Her keys jangling in her hand, fingernails blush-pink. Her family’s squat, weedy house behind us, and mine five doors down.

“Let me try one more thing,” I say, no idea in my head except stay here with me a little longer.

I fiddle with the terminals. Again the engine fails.

Across the street, a screen door slaps and Mrs. Henry shuffles out to smoke. I shift behind the hood. There’s grease on my hands, on my nails painted Merlot Kiss, on the dangling end of my own braid. There are many things I shouldn’t touch.

“We tried,” Thea says, close again. Shoulder to bare shoulder. A breeze picks up, and then she’s pulling out a rag and taking my hands and wiping the grease off my palms, slow and easy. The kitten-tongue rasp of the towel squeezes and drags over each of my fingers, each of my heartbeats.

Behind us, another screen door slaps, and it’s the one that counts. But Thea has three fingers left and she finishes each one, squeezing and dragging. Slow, easy. My pulse a sweet and guilty stutter.

“There,” she says, the rag streaked dark in her hands.

About the Author

K.S. Lokensgard is a writer and lawyer from Washington, D.C. Her most recent flash fiction can be found in Cleaver and CHEAP POP.

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Tim Craig Feb 2021 Third Prize

Now You See Him

by Tim Craig

My father could slip through keyholes, and similar small openings.

Sure, other kids’ Dads could do some impressive things, like fix car engines, build sheds or start campfires with a piece of broken glass.

But none of them could disappear without trace from a room where an argument was brewing, like my Dad could.

It was a superpower which served him well through the long years he spent in our too-small house, with his two quarrelling kids and too-angry wife.

Awkward conversations were no match for this legendary escapologist; at the first sign of trouble, he would slide unnoticed between the pages of his hardback.

And as for difficult questions:

“Why does no-one speak to your brother anymore?”

(this was a favourite)

“What does ‘gay’ mean?”

(this was 1976)

“What would you say if Tina brought home a black boyfriend?”

(this was England in 1976)

“A gay black boyfriend?”

(this actually happened)

… he would suddenly remember something that needed to be done in the garage and teleport himself through the wall.

But even Houdini’s luck ran out one day.

As my father lay in the metal hospital bed, strapped down like Gulliver, we closed the windows and sealed the exits; for three weeks we bombarded him with small talk, just to keep him from slipping away.

Until the moment we told him we loved him when — in a single bound — he vanished up the coiled, sucking hose of the ventilator, leaving us waiting for the reply, still.

About the Author

Originally from Manchester, Tim Craig lives in London. A winner of the Bridport Prize for Flash Fiction, his stories have (now) placed three times in the Bath Flash Fiction Award and have appeared in both the Best Microfiction Anthology and the BIFFY50 list. He is a Submissions Editor for Smokelong Quarterly. (Twitter: @timkcraig)

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Sara Hills Feb 2021 Commended

Always Down a Dirt Road, I’m Walking

by Sara Hills

my two daughters with me. There are trees to the right of us and a field on our left. The field is cropped, oven-crisped at midday. It’s hot. Bright.

Then it isn’t.

A car whizzes past in a pall of dust, and I pull my youngest daughter out of the road. She’s twelve—lanky, absent-minded, unafraid. The other one is quiet, pebble small.

Our dusty sandals slap the loose surface as we continue down the road. Other cars whiz past, but one doesn’t. It doesn’t.

It rolls to a stop. The window winds down—the sound and intention clear.

“What do we have here?”

In this version, I have daughters. In other versions, sons. In every version, a dirt road, a farm road. There are trees to the right and a field to the left. The trees are straggled juniper. The cropped field, brown and stubble sharp. Further in the distance is our destination—the main road. Blacktop.

The black car window winds down. The dusted door opens to silver-tipped boots, jeans, the smell of sun-baked leather. I pull my daughters close, but they drift apart. Sun flashes on metal. Trees sway. A wax of midday dust settles on my daughters, on me. The grit on my tongue, stubble sharp.

In one version my sons stand tall as trees, juniper jawed, while cars whiz past. My sons spit into the road, chew stalks until they’re shorn and soft. In another, my daughters grow straggly and sharp; they remain unafraid. In one version, I cannot hear my heartbeat. In one version, no one is screaming. In one version, we walk through the field. The blacktop before us, trees to our right, and the dark car whizzes past.

It doesn’t stop.

About the Author

Sara Hills is a pushcart-nominated writer from the Sonoran Desert. Her stories have been featured or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, Cheap Pop, X-R-A-Y Literary, Cease Cows, New Flash Fiction Review and others. She’s also been included in the BIFFY50, shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and is delighted to have a debut flash collection forthcoming in 2021 with Ad Hoc Fiction. Sara lives with her family and an enormous fluff-dog in Warwickshire, England and tweets from @sarahillswrites.

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Regan Puckett Feb 2021 Commended


by Regan Puckett

When their silk skins shrivel and wither, the corn stalks are ready to be stripped, so you’re sent into the field with the metal bucket they bathed your brother in before your father stowed it in the barn and buried your brother in a hole in the yard, a barren spot of grass that you like to linger near but never walk over because you worry he might feel, but your sister tramples the grave, stomps on the presents your mother leaves atop it: slices of milkcake (which your brother never tried), knitted cloths (to keep him warm), dandelion heads (wasted wishes), and you’d make your sister stop if you could, but you worry she’ll leave too, and then you’ll be stuck here alone, like you are right now, in the cornfield that feels like a crime scene, where all the pretty green stalks have dried to a dead brown, and the soft chlorophyll silk has rotted and roughed, where you dissect death and pluck out the beautiful remains, yellow spotted ears that listen as well as your father does when your mother cries at night, but you can’t stop listening, watching, as everyone around you falls apart, so now you lift the knife you took from beneath your father’s pillow and you stab the corn to shreds, flail your arms like you’re fighting an army and this is the only way you’ll survive, and all the beautiful corn falls to pieces on the dirt like you will fall to your knees in prayer when your father sees what you’ve done to the harvest, but you let it fall, crumble, sink into the earth, and pray it floats to heaven.

About the Author

Regan Puckett is a writer, barista, and student from Missouri, where she drinks big cups of coffee and writes tiny stories. Her work has been nominated for various awards, including the Pushcart Prize and BASS, and was selected for inclusion in the 2021 Best Microfiction anthology. Find her new stories in trampset, MoonPark Review, and forthcoming in Emerge Literary Journal, and find her tweeting from @raygunnoelle

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Johanna Robinson Oct 2020 First Prize

Blessings, 1849

by Johanna Robinson

You remember how you counted your steps as you planted: one step, one potato. The years God gave you babies, the steps were smaller with the weight in your belly, on your back. The years He took them away before you could count a single breath, the steps were smaller still, the potatoes fighting for space and soil. Those years, you ate such small potatoes.

In the barn, in the dark, you’d count the rungs, so you knew how far up you were, how far down. Sometimes you felt you could climb forever, out through the roof-hatch, inching up the sky until your hands brushed theirs, tiny, grasping.

You’d count stitches and rows: hats, jackets, bootees. Seed stitches, garter stitches, cable, plaited, travelling vine. Casting on, and on, and on.

You’d count the steps around the kitchen table, through colic, through cries, until the minutes unravelled, flat like ribbons, and your heels blistered.

Every morning you’d count:

the eggs and then the chickens, and

in the evening, brushstrokes, dividing your hair, weaving it into one heavy rope, and

at night, stretchmarks like rungs across your belly.

And now there are no potatoes for anyone, you take uncertain steps, quay to jetty. You walk gently, the baby’s head on your shoulder. You walk steady, like you used to carry eggs.

You lean on the ship’s rail, wet with spray, your faces already salty. On the quay, people wave, and you wave back as though you know them. The children count down and other passengers join in. The rope sags, like a stitch dropped. You clap, clasp hands, cast off. You leave behind bone, blood and eggshell, but your history is more than that; it is ploughed through you all. You count the days, knots, miles until land. You will reap again.

About the Author

Johanna is an editor/proofreader from Liverpool, and has been writing short fiction since 2016. Her novella Homing, about a Norwegian family in the Resistance during the Second World War, was runner-up in the Bath Novella-in-Flash Award in 2019, and is published by Ad Hoc fiction. Earlier this year she won the TSS Cambridge Prize for Flash Fiction and her stories have been included in a number of magazines and anthologies, including SmokeLong, Ellipsis Zine, Reflex Press, Retreat West, Strix and Mslexia.She is currently working on a historical novel-in-flash, and ‘Blessings, 1949’ is a chapter from that. More of her work can be found at

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Tara Isabel Zambrano Oct 2020 Second Prize

Mother, Before

by Tara Isabel Zambrano

Before, my mother settled my twin sister and me every morning in a neighbor’s front yard and boarded a bus to a local bottling plant, in her powder blue uniform, her hair pulled back so hard her veins showed. We read comics with missing pages, stripped our dolls to the sun.

At the filling station, my mother watched the slosh of juices into empty bottles, her nails rubbed raw working labels, the glue peeling the skin of her finger pads. No windows, stark lights. Sealed cans holding the fruit piss. Before my mother understood the difference between acids, caustics, living and suffering, she was moved to the water treatment center where she cleaned the vents, scrubbed the floors, the chlorine, settled on her skin, in her eyes, and in her hair, made her sterile. Before the factory swallowed her each day and spit out at night, a dry seed, my mother was glass, my mother was an orange wreathed in luscious peels, my mother was sun’s magma. Before, my mother’s name was Anna, and the payment slips called her Lee, the last name of my father who fled to Florida with his girlfriend, his memory a blooming wound at the back of her throat. She pushed her fingers inside to pluck it, puked blood.

Before, my mother untangled the kinks in our bone black hair, kept locks of it in her purse. Before, she smelled us and scrutinized our faces, knowing how each of us looked from the day of our birth, rooted to her dowager womb by our breath placenta. Before she hibernated, before she milked tears that couldn’t fix her chlorinated lungs. Before she became our child, her lips pressed against the wall, her mouth plastered. Before she crumbled into ash without a trail of soot.

About the Author

Tara Isabel Zambrano is the author of Death, Desire And Other Destinations, a full-length flash collection by OKAY Donkey Press. Her work has won the first prize in The Southampton Review Short Short Fiction Contest 2019, been a Finalist in Bat City Review 2018 Short Prose Contest and Mid-American Review Fineline 2018 Contest, been published in The Best Small Fictions 2019, The Best Micro Fiction 2019, 2020 Anthology. She lives in Texas and is the Fiction Editor for Waxwing Literary Journal.

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Jan Kaneen Oct 2020 Third Prize

The White Dwarf

by Jan Kaneen

It’s months into lockdown, and Clayton’s showing Thelma how to train their new state-of-the-art telescope onto the crow-black Tennessee sky. He twists the eyepiece to trap the distant white glow from a small dying star, but it’s tricky capturing the faint luminosity emitted by degenerate-electron matter, and he doesn’t want to seem unfocussed in front of his wife, so he bends to the lens and tries real hard to sharpen the image – sees the old wooden swing on his granddaddy’s porch, a curl of Thelma’s once corn-coloured hair, remnants of his long-passed mamma’s last apple pie, a Thanksgiving turkey, Uncle Sam’s stern white face, flickering footage of Neil Armstrong taking one giant leap, a bucket of hot chicken, Johnny Cash singing Ring of Fire, a bottle of Jack, his old CB radio, the penultimate episode of Dukes of Hazzard, Resisting Arrest as a black-and-white headline, a nest of wasps, the Twin Towers tumbling, his Smith and Wesson, that Ku Klux Klan robe and hood he saw years ago in Uncle Frank’s drycleaners hanging up under a see-through plastic covering, the faces of three little kids in an SUV watching their daddy get shot six times in the back, a manacled captive under an officer’s knee pleading for his mamma and his life gasping I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.

Clayton looks away, straightens himself up, stares out into the unfathomable sheet of night-time sky – the vast blackness of it – then asks Thelma if she’d care to take her turn.

‘You okay, Honey?’ she says, taking-in his blanched white cheeks and tight, thin lips.

‘I’m fine,’ he drawls, ‘Ain’t nothing. Then he gazes into her blue-sky eyes and creases his face into half a smile. ‘Leastwise nothing for us to worry about.’

About the Author

Jan Kaneen started writing when she was 50 as a sort of mindfulness therapy. She now has an MA in Creative Writing from the OU and her flashes and short stories have been published widely on-line and in print. Her writing has won prizes in places like Flash 500, the Fountain, Molotov Cocktail and Retreat West, and she’s been nominated for Pushcarts and Best on the Net. She has stories out now in print in The Fish Anthology 2020, Molotov Cocktail Winners’ Anthology Volume V and Bacopa Literary Review, and her memoir-in-flash The Naming of Bones will be published April 22nd 2021 by Retreat West Books.
She blogs at and tweets as @Jankaneen1

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