Thank you to everyone who entered our 18th International Flash Fiction Award, the earlybirds, those in the middle period and the last minute writers. We received 1268 entries from 44 different countries:
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
The Button Wife
by Dara Elerath
The button wife bends her body across the bed, but the cloth husband is not interested in touching her. Instead, he phones the burlap wife. He likes the way her coarse skin brushes against his body. At night, the button wife cries, recalling how her husband used to clutch the dark thread of her hair. She knows the burlap wife’s curls scratch him in the fashion he prefers. The cloth husband has a passion for roughness, but the button wife, woven from cotton, has only been soft and yielding. One evening, she decides to scour the buttons of her eyes with a steel wool; she hopes her husband will love her again. Soon, they are scuffed and cracked. When her husband comes back he looks at her with anger. You have ruined your eyes, he says, how can I look at you now? Later, gazing in a hand mirror, she notes she is no longer beautiful. She lifts a pair of scissors and snips the strings that knot the buttons to her face. Then she can no longer weep; then she can no longer see her husband leave the house each evening. She irons the hem of her dress in darkness. She waits to hear the sound of his car speeding down plastic blacktop. She dreams of the burlap wife’s hair cutting her skin the way it cuts her husband’s. Sometimes, she pricks her arm with a darning needle to feel. The red thread that unspools from her body is long as a dog leash. She wonders then if she is a dog. She hopes the cloth husband will walk her when he returns. She resolves then to wag her tail in greeting. She resolves then to sleep at his feet.
Strong Like Carp
by Emma Phillips
Aoi-chan was strong like a carp. Even when the bombs fell, she hardly flinched, although her best friend Megumi said she laid upon her futon each night and cried the Edo river. Megumi did not have fighting spirit. Aoi was like the Koi she used to feed before the war, when she walked through Sensô-ji Temple with her father.
“See,” Otosan declared, “they dance their beauty but find their strength together. Stay proud, my daughter. Remember your Japanese heart.” Otosan was in the Imperial Army. Aoi ran their stall with her mother now, selling eggs from her grandmother’s chickens and tending each scrap of their yard to grow vegetables. The Koi had disappeared but Aoi kept them safe inside and when the fire bombing started, she drew a pond for them in the ashes. Her father sent her paper cranes inscribed with the symbol for courage.
Aoi joined the search and rescue teams. Her thin fingers and keen eyesight helped pluck survivors from the rubble. The Koi led her to them. Each day they swam through the broken streets and gave her hope. The radio said the Emperor would never surrender but Aoi heard Japan was losing the war. She fed her worries to the fish.
By the time the atom bombs landed, her shoal had multiplied. Their rainbow scales dazzled Aoi and she held onto their tails. In the morning, they were gone, leaving dust on the edge of her eyelids. Where the Koi had led her home, she found American soldiers handing out candy. Aoi refused to chew gum, cursed when Megumi spat pink bubbles from her lips the shape of peaches. Her father returned. Otosan taught Aoi to chase the Koi upstream again. “Old life has gone,” her father said, “now a new one starts.”
Reasons You Married a Woman Called Rose
by Leonie Rowland
Please match the following numbers with the correct letter*
a. The love story
b. The proverb
c. The theories
d. The joke
e. The myth
f. The whole
1. Because when you were born, there were tides in the kitchen: boiling water gushing over abandoned pots, falling onto your mother where she lay on the floor, still trying to reach up and stir the pasta, worried it would come to pieces if she didn’t, that your life would start by falling apart. You moved from warm fluid to starchy water and then to hands careful with soap, scenting your skin, a velvet perfume. Your mother says the bubbles were pink, that you were laughing. You still adore the smell of roses.
2. Because you were burned as a baby / because you are lying / because the stars are eating themselves / because you are high on transgression / because you have a hysterical brain / because you hate your father / because you hate your mother / because no man wants you / because your body is craving / because you are split where it matters.
3. Because your breasts were always inadequate, and you deserved a second chance.
4. Because on your first date she made you pasta, and when the water splashed your skin, she kissed it away, took off your dress and folded it, made you realise you were whole before her, with her—all of this for hours, and nothing fell apart.
5. Because you found her at the mouth of a volcano, and the volcano sparked, and the mouth said: there are promises we must keep.
6. Because in this barren wilderness, there are still flowers.
*Answers are subject to change.
Across The Street The Old Man Clears Out His House
by Debra A Daniel
Late every afternoon, Mr. Anderson unloads a rusty wheelbarrow full of giveaways onto the driveway’s edge, displaying each item as if designing a department store window. Duck decoys. National Geographic magazines. Embroidered Christmas stockings. One day kitchen utensils. Cast iron skillet. Shrimp peeler. Nesting bowls. The next day it’s fishing rods, tackle box, a couple of golf clubs.
We watch from our front porch. Me, sipping tea, humming along while my husband plays guitar. He chooses songs he thinks Mr. Anderson would like. Old standards. “Paper Moon” or “I’ll See You in My Dreams” maybe. I tell him I don’t think Mr. Anderson can hear anymore, but my husband plays anyway. Never much of a talker, Mr. Anderson keeps to himself, but once in a while, before he totters back, empty and done for the day, he waves.
Every afternoon, minutes after Mr. Anderson disappears, the young woman who rents the apartment on the corner rolls a wagon along the sidewalk, stopping at Mr. Anderson’s driveway. She picks up each piece, turning it over in her hands. Muffin tin. Sock monkey. Dog collar. Examining. Not to find fault. Not to eliminate.
No, she takes everything, filling her wagon with an old man’s castoffs. Then she pulls her cart away. She lives alone. No roommate or rescued mutt to keep her company. She’s not a talker either, but sometimes she waves, too.
Each day as the clearing progresses, the treasures become larger, the wagonload more precariously balanced. Toaster. Nightstand. Stained glass lamp. Bit by bit she salvages his belongings. Dog bed. Hatrack. Desk chair.
When the weeks pass and the old man is gone, we watch the young woman remove the sold sign and unlock the door. Then wagonload after wagonload she wheels the bits of Mr. Anderson back home.
Where are the Instructions for the Panasonic Full HD 3D Home Theatre Projector?
by Catherine Deery
When you said we didn’t have a future together because we couldn’t watch the same tv shows I thought is was the saddest and truest thing you’d ever told me — maybe the only true thing — even though it wasn’t true at all and I could have enumerated many happy middle-class-couple nights in summer spent side by side on the grey Ikea couch watching wall to wall projections of that cheesy western-meets-space-travel series you adored — all five seasons — in your early eighties bungalow-style red-brick rental house, which was my house too, but in a probationary kind of way never explicitly voiced at the time. Still, the probationary aspect of my existence inside your house was made abundantly clear by how the electronic gadgetry was laid out as a test for me to fail that entire September when you were overseas in Austin, Texas eating dry steak in empty restaurants and driving down state highways, feeling alone and masturbating to the memory of those five weeks three years ago when you hooked up with a rock-n-roll girl with long wild hair — long wild hair does it for me every time, you said — and since we’re being honest with each other that’s the sole reason in November, staring winter down, I shaved my head back to the bony outline of my scalp; I didn’t want a bit part in anyone’s fantasy, not even yours.
We’re delighted to share an interview below with hugely-talented writer Sara Hills, whose debut flash fiction collection The Evolution of Birds is now available to buy on pre-order at a 25% discount from Ad Hoc Fiction until publication day on 9th July. Jude Higgins is hosting a Zoom launch for Sara’s new book on Saturday July 17th from 7.30 pm – 9.00 pm. Sara will be reading stories from the book and talking more about it. And three of the writers who have given her quotes for the back cover, Christopher Allen, Amy Barnes and Diane Simmons will also be reading a short piece of their own work. Do come to give this wonderful new collection a good send off into the world. Email jude (at) adhocfiction (dot) com for a Zoom link to the event.