Interview with Victoria Melekian, runner-up, Novella-in-Flash Award, 2018

    Victoria Melekian's novella-in-flash A Slow Boat to Finland was a runner-up in the 2018 Bath Novella-in-Flash Award judged by Meg Pokrass. Meg said of the novella, "We are not sure how a bereaved mother will recover after losing her toddler daughter in a car accident. Especially when the little girl's heart saves another child. The strong and convincing writing will pull you right into this story and make you want to know what happens next." Here Victoria tells us more about how she went about writing the novella, and gives tips to anyone who wants to embark on such a project. You can buy In the Debris Field the collection of three winning novellas-in-flash, which contains Victoria's novella, in several different currencies at the Ad Hoc Fiction Bookshop

    • What sparked off your marvellous novella in flash? Was it built around one or two flashes? Or had you imagined the whole story to begin with?

    Thank you for the "marvellous". Pretty much everything I write comes from ideas that have percolated a few years. Sometime ago I’d wondered about the notion of a grieving widow, an older woman, developing an inappropriate romantic attraction to the young man who received her deceased husband’s heart. I played around with it in my notebook and there the idea sat until I began thinking more about organ transplants and relationships between donor and recipient. I came up with the possibility of a mother becoming attached to a recipient child and the story expanded. So yes, I had the story imagined before beginning. At first I thought it could be a novel, but I’m a poet and just can’t go long.

    • Can you tell us how you compiled the novella? Writers seem to have different methods of choosing the order of flash fictions?

    When I began writing the story, I had one narrator, and I was trying to decide between first or third person. Neither sounded right. I went back to the snippets in my notebooks and saw that I’d originally written from all different points of view and used different tenses, and that’s when I realized that could be the way for me to create a novella-in-flash—just let the characters tell their parts of the story. I was afraid it would be a jangled mess, but I also had nothing but time to lose so I went for it. Once I let everyone speak, the arc presented itself organically. I rearranged the sequence several times and amended parts here and there to strengthen the story.

    • Following on from the last question, what was the most tricky part in writing it for you?

    Oh, my goodness, the hardest part was making sure each piece stood on its own. There’s a repetition factor, I think, that can’t be avoided, but that’s also what creates the beautiful musicality I hear in my head when I read novellas-in-flash. I tried to just let it flow where it wanted to go, kind of like throwing water on the floor and watching it spread.

    • Meg Pokrass said that A Slow Boat to Finland was one of the best titles that she read and it certainly suggests so much about lonely endurance after a tragedy. What are your own thoughts about the title you chose?

    I smiled when I read that comment about the title because honestly, endings and titles are the bane of my existence. Of course, my creation needed a title and, as usual, I had no idea what, so I read through the novella looking for something, anything that remotely could serve and that’s where I found “A Slow Boat to Finland.” It seemed to ring true. I smacked it on top of the manuscript, mentally shrugged, and hoped for the best. Maybe our subconscious knows best.

    • Were you influenced by any other writers who had written novellas or novels in this form?

    Influenced, I don’t think so. More so, I was encouraged that this was even possible. I read the wonderful My Very End of the Universe and, of course, the three beautiful novellas in How to Make a Window Snake. Seeing that there was no one way to write a novella-in-flash reassured me that I could approach mine however it wanted to be written.

    • What other writing projects have you got on the go at the moment? Would you write another novella-in-flash?

    I don’t have a project right now and I do miss knowing exactly what I’m going to work on each day. When I’m in between, I write poetry and flash fiction. I have a file on my computer desktop called “52 Somethings.” My goal is to make sure I write something I kind of like once a week.

    If I had the right idea, yes, I would write another novella-in-flash. It’s an exciting challenge and I wouldn’t mind doing it again.

    • What advice would you give to anyone embarking on a novella-in-flash for the next competition?

    Know that it’s a daunting endeavour, but quite possible. Trust your instincts and you’ll write something amazing.

    • When and where do you do your writing?

    There’s no certain when and where I write. Once I have an idea, things start popping into my head. If I have no paper, I make notes on my phone. Eventually it goes into my notebook and from there, into the computer. I write on my bed. On my couch. In my car. At work. Waiting for appointments. Oh, yes, and sometimes at my desk. When I made the decision to write the novella, I put all the notes, vignettes and snippets into my computer and began corralling them into separate flashes. Any day I had a substantial chunk of time to spend, I sat outside and worked at my patio table. If the neighbors and dogs were too loud, I plugged in my earbuds and listened to rain, rivers, ocean waves—whatever water I found on my free app. For some reason, it was easier to concentrate outside. It felt like a dedicated space.

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New Collection by Meg Pokrass

We're thrilled that Ad Hoc Fiction has published Meg Pokrass's new collection, Alligators at Night, the first book of hers published in the UK. Acclaimed US author Stuart Dybek says of her new collection:

The nuanced tonal complexity, which can go from the whimisical to a darker irony in the turn of a phrase, has been a signature feature of the work of Meg Pokrass. That complexity is in her new collection, Alligators at Night, heightened further by the fertile invention and unpredictable interplay of these beautifully crafted pieces

The title story was recently chosen for Wigleaf's best fifty stories of 2018 and another story in the collection, Barista was selected by Amy Hempel for Best Small Fictions, 2018.

Alligators at Night will be launched at the Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol, 20-22nd July where you will be able to hear Meg reading some of these brilliant stories and it is available to buy now worldwide in many different currencies from the Ad Hoc Fiction bookshop

Meg Pokrass is the author of four other collections of flash fiction, and one award-winning collection of prose poetry, Cellulose Pajamas which received the Bluelight Book Award in 2016. Her stories and poems have been widely published and anthologized in two Norton Anthologies: Flash Fiction International and the forthcoming New Microfiction and her novella-in-flash, Here Where We Live, is published in My Very End of the Universe the Rose Metal Press Guide to the form. Meg was the judge for the Bath Flash Fiction Award, Novella-in-Flash competition in 2017 and 2018. She is curator of Flash Fiction Festivals and editor of The New Flash Fiction Review She currently teaches on-line flash fiction workshops.

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Interview with Nuala O’Connor
Flash Fiction Award Judge
July 2018 – October 2018

Nuala O’Connor lives in Galway, Ireland. Her fifth short story collection Joyride to Jupiter was published by New Island in 2017; her story ‘Consolata’ from that collection was shortlisted for Short Story of the Year at the 2017 Irish Book Awards. Nuala’s fourth novel, Becoming Belle, is published in 2018.

Nuala has won many flash and short fiction awards including the Dublin Review of Books Flash Fiction Prize, The Gladstone Flash Prize, RTÉ radio’s Francis MacManus Award, the Cúirt New Writing Prize, the inaugural Jonathan Swift Award and the Cecil Day Lewis Award. She was shortlisted for the European Prize for Literature.
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Award Round Up
June 2018

It's always exciting when we reach the end of the latest Award – and this one was no exception. Nine hundred and three entries from twenty-nine different countries.

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Cook Islands, Cyprus, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States

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June 2018 Judge’s Report
David Gaffney

First of all, I'd like to say a big thank you to Jude and her team for asking me to be the judge of this round of the Bath Flash Fiction Award. I judge a lot of flash fiction competitions, and I used to write a lot of flash fiction too (not so much now as I'm concentrating on novels, graphic novels and longer stories). It was a pleasure to read all of the 50 stories that made the long list and as ever it was a fascinating dip into the psyche of creative writers at this point in time. Some of the titles were tempting enough on their own; Fat Girls Have Fine Nails. Elephants In Flip Flops. Valentines Day At The Walrus Colony. Tupperware Genie. What on earth could these stories be about? I was drawn in immediately. On a sentence by sentence basis, there were lots of examples of great writing here by great writers. Yet, often these were the one that didn’t make it. The ones that did make the top twenty, and ultimately the top five, were the ones that allowed the story and the ideas to shine through above everything else.
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KM Elkes
June 2018 First Prize

Extremities

by KM Elkes

The way Bobby told it, one minute he was working the chainsaw and the next he was on the forest floor, wondering why there was nothing on the end of his arm.

The rest of the crew reckoned his hand got spun into a ravine. Nobody wanted to waste time searching while Bobby bled out. Logging accidents happen all the time - there’s extremities all over those woods.

When he got out of hospital, they gave him a party. I found Bobby outside, smoking a cigarette with his wrong hand. I’d brought him towels, stolen from the hotel in town where I have a summer job.

“Can I see?” I asked.

Bobby slid off the mitten they had given him to keep the stump clean. The end was puckered with stitches like sewn up lips. The skin flap they had stretched over had little hairs growing out.

“How’s it feel?” I said.

“My ghost fingers hurt at night,” he said.

“They say you get used to it.” I had no idea if that was true.

Bobby shook his head. “Funniest thing, right after it happened, it started raining. That sound, man. I thought it was people clapping. For me.”

I left the party early. I had to be at the hotel before my boss arrived - she’s a failed ballerina and bitter about it. I stay on her good side so she doesn’t find out about the towels or the cutlery or all the other things I’ve stolen. That job is my ticket out of these trees.

When I went, I saw Bobby alone again, holding out his stump up like he expected something to grow from it. I didn’t feel bad for him. I just felt sorry for the other hand, out in those woods, fingers curled, grasping at nothing.

About the Author

KM Elkes is an award-winning short fiction writer and editor from the West Country, UK. His flash fiction successes include winning the Fish Publishing Flash prize and the Triskele Books prize as well as winning or being placed in a number of international competitions, including the Bridport prize. His work has been broadcast on BBC Radio and appeared in more than 20 anthologies as well as many literary journals and e-zines. His short fiction has also featured on the school curriculum in the USA and Hong Kong. He is a Best Small Fictions Nominee 2018 and is a co-editor of the A3 Review magazine. He has also been guest editor of Flash Frontier in New Zealand.

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Conor Houghton
June 2018 Second Prize

The Undertakers’ Jolly

by Conor Houghton

On the first weekend of every May, just as the whitethorn makes the hedgerows so beautiful that it is an agony to know you could never count every petal, all the undertakers in Limerick go on their annual trip. They don’t go far, usually Lahinch, once as far as Dingle. They get dressed up and have a big meal, with pints of Smithwicks and Guinness for the undertakers, wine spritzers and shandies for their wives.

The conversation starts with sports but quickly turns to their trade: the best makeup for dead skin, plastic undergarments to keep the burial clothes clean. With the peach melba, they share the stories, told as if they were funny, that are the real purpose of the trip. Some really are funny, take Paddy Sherry’s tale of the priest, the underground cinema and the red haired corpse: while few people actually like Paddy, all are happy to laugh. After that come the stories that no telling could make funny, the funerals of children, of whole families, of forgotten men. Finally they turn to death. “It comes to us all” Paddy would intone, his face wet and red.

This particular year, sick of her husband and his talk, Mary Sherry stepped out for some air. As the hotel door closed and she walked towards the water, she heard fiddle music from a pub, she heard the hiss and rattle of the ocean turning the one million times turned stones along the shore, she heard the silence. Far out in the moonlit water she saw a group of dolphins surface and dive, swimming north. She fancied she could hear, somewhere under the silence, the sound of their breath and she wished that when she died her body could be let sink, untended to, into that dark brine.

About the Author

Conor Houghton is a computational neuroscientist living in Bath, but originally from Galway. His fiction has appeared in the first Bath Flash Fiction Anthology, the 2017 National Flash Fiction Day Anthology, Bare Fiction Magazine and the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology.

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Tim Craig
June 2018 Third Prize

Northern Lights

by Tim Craig

After an hour or so, I decided to ask him about the tooth.

It was dangling from the sun visor on a piece of cotton, and it had a gold filling that occasionally glinted as we passed under the lights.

The lorry driver reached up and flicked it with his fingernail, setting it dancing back and forth.

“It was my father’s,” he said.

Then he grinned.

“The only gold I ever got from him”.

Pavel turned to look at the road ahead, his expression serious once more. All three lanes were busy with traffic heading north for the weekend.

He was quiet for a moment or two, then he shrugged.

“He hit my mother, I hit him. He left. I never saw him again.”

“I was seventeen.”

He flashed the headlights to allow a Sainsbury’s lorry to pull back into the inside lane. The lorry moved across, then toggled its indicators in thanks.

“I found the tooth two days later. It had landed in a flowerpot and I thought I’d better take it with me in case another evil old bastard grew out of it.”

He smiled, and as he did so I noticed a sparkle of gold in his own mouth.

Neither of us said much more after that, and he dropped me off at the next services.

After he’d gone, I stood for a while on the motorway bridge, watching the trail of diamonds and rubies on the wet tarmac.

About the Author

A Mancunian washed up in London, Tim Craig writes fiction for a living. But in his day job he calls it ‘advertising’ (and it usually has a phone number at the end of it).

The only thing greater than his delight at being placed third in the Bath Flash Fiction Award was his shock. He loves reading and writing flash fiction because he has a very short attention sp...

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Ingrid Jendrzejewski
June 2018 Commended

Shadow Broth

by Ingrid Jendrzejewski

1 cup nothing / 1 tsp dust motes that fizz in unexpected light / dash of cobweb / memory, to taste. Weigh out the ingredients if you don’t have the right measures, spoon them from old canisters bought long ago at yard sales. Nobody will mind if you leave the crusts off or if the darkness fails to rise: dark is fine in small, dense portions. Nobody, in fact, is paying attention. When the oven fails to ignite, when the click-click-woosh of the hob is more of a tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick, when the gas man won’t answer the phone and you’re all alone with the lights off too, that’s when you can really get cooking. Leave it for one of those evenings when you know better than to work alone, and then do it anyway. Leave it, leaven it, then pick it up and turn it over in your hands. It will feel like dough and smell like yeast, but yet, it will remind you of the time that you brought home nothing but dust from the supermarket, even though what you picked up from the shelves came in bright, bright packaging. They’ve turned off the gas, they may turn off the electricity too, but it’s okay to sing to it, and let it sing back to you. If you have flour, flour your workspace. If you have water, save it. If you have an egg, crack it and let it run through your fingers, cold in the warm air. Yield: none. This is your red wine, your five-a-day. This is what will keep you going until the morning comes, until you pay the bills, until the silverfish scatter. This is what will sustain you until you wash your spoons.

About the Author

Ingrid Jendrzejewski primarily writes flash fiction and shortform work, and has published over 100 pieces since she started submitting in 2014. She has won sixteen writing competitions (including the Bath Flash Fiction Award and AROHO’s Orlando Prize for Flash Fiction), judged five, and has placed or been shortlisted in around fifty more. She is currently editor-in-chief at FlashBack Fiction and a flash fiction editor at JMWW. You can find her online at ingridj.com and on Twitter @LunchOnTuesday.

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Amanda Huggins
June 2018 Commended

Strong, But Not Rough

by Amanda Huggins

If I was pretty like Laverne, then I’d go out with Rory Campbell. I’d hold his hand under the table, and it would feel warm and strong, but not rough. If I were tall and lithe like Laverne, I would see over the heads of the boys who think they’re clever and cool, and I’d notice the way Rory’s hair curls into his collar, the way his smile reaches all the way up to his eyes, and the way he stays quiet when the others fight.

When we leave the pub and pile into Robert’s car, Julie and Laverne slide across the boys’ knees, feet wedged into the seat backs, heads pressed against the vinyl roof. Laverne sits on Rory Campbell’s lap, and I squeeze in next to them. Laverne doesn’t talk to Rory, she leans forward between the seats and strokes Carl Broadbent’s neck, blowing her soft girl’s breath in his ear. Carl laughs in that stupid way of his, and Rory catches my eye, smiles as though we’re sharing an intimate joke.

If I was Laverne I’d be jealous that the world’s most beautiful boy was smiling at another girl. Especially when that girl is the dumpy one with mousy hair and a snub nose. And if I was Laverne, I’d notice when he reached along the back of the seat to rest his fingertips on the girl’s shoulder. Then I’d probably feel sick inside.

But I’m not Laverne, I’m Cathy Carnes, and I can feel Rory’s touch like so much fire as we race through the country lanes. My heart is beating louder than the music. When we hit the bank and the car flies through the air, I don’t even notice, because Rory Campbell is gripping my shoulder with fingers that are strong, but not rough.

About the Author

Amanda Huggins is the author of the flash fiction collection, Brightly Coloured Horses, published by Chapeltown, and the short story collection, Separated From the Sea, published by Retreat West Books.

Her work has also been widely published in anthologies and literary journals, as well as in national newspapers and magazines such as the Guardian, Telegraph, Wanderlust and Mslexia.

Her travel writing has won several prizes, including the BGTW New Travel Writer of the Year Award, and her short stories are regularly placed and listed in competitions, including Bare Fiction, Fish, InkTears, and Cinnamon Press.

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