Tag Archives: Mary Jane Holmes

15th Award Round-Up

We didn't know if writers would be inclined to enter the Award during the last months. But current circumstances, due to Covid-19, didn't prevent entries pouring in from around the world all through the time the contest was open and particularly during the last weeks of the Award. Plenty of writers received their Last Minute Club badges on the final day, green this time, and overall we received more entries than ever. 1411 in total. The following 35 countries were represented:

Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic,
Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel,
Italy, Lesotho, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria,
Norway, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Singapore, South Africa, Spain,
Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, United
Kingdom, United States

We thank our busy team of readers for our 15th Award and big thanks also to our judge, Mary-Jane Holmes for working to the tight schedule between the end of the Award in mid June and the announcements now at the end of June. Do read her excellent judge's report with general comments and detailed remarks on the winning pieces all linked here, This June, first prize and £1000 goes to to Fiona Perry from New Zealand, second prize and £300 to Hannah Storm from the UK, Third prize and £100 to Sam Payne from the UK, and £30 each to the two commended writers, Emily Harrison and Stephanie Carty, also from the UK. All marvellous flash fictions and yet again, great examples of the variety within the short=short form.

We agree with Mary Jane's assessment that the longlist is of a very high standard and we're so happy that most writers on the list have agreed to be published in our fifth anthology which will be published by Ad Hoc Fiction in November or December this year. As ever, we appreciated the huge variety of great entries. We enjoyed the creativity of writers, the many angles on important subjects and themes, the wit, the poignancy and the variety of styles. Thank you to everyone who entered our 15th Award and we hope that you will do so again and give us more wonderful fictional experiences. Our 16th Award, judged by Nod Ghosh from New Zealand, is open July 1st for entries. and will close on Sunday 11th October.

Jude Higgins
BFFA Founder
June 2020.

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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 Sharon Telfer, first prize winner, February 2020

    It's good to catch up with Sharon Telfer to find out more about 'Eight spare bullets', her second first prize win for Bath Flash Fiction Award, and about her writing in general. The first time Sharon won with another marvellous story, 'Terra Incognita' back in June, 2016, we learned she had been walking in the Welsh mountains and only found out about her success when she got home. This second time, she wasn't checking emails and social media because she was completing a big work project and discovered all the excitement at the end of the day!

    The 15th Bath Flash Fiction Award judged by Mary Jane Holmes ends in three and a half weeks on June 7th. Mary Jane gave some great writing tips in her interview with us and there's more tips from Sharon at the end of this interview and in the quote below, near the beginning. It is a wonderful piece of advice for the current situation we are in, and has a particular reference to Sharon's winning story.

    "...If you’re not writing for whatever reason, don’t force it and don’t despair. Those seeds are lying dormant, just like in the Svalbard vault. Give yourself time and what light and warmth and good soil you can. Germination always happens first unseen and underground.


    Good luck to everyone entering our 15th Award. Results will be out at the end of the June."

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Interview with Mary Jane Holmes, First Prize Winner, 2020 Novella in Flash Award

Mary Jane Holmes won our 2020 Novella in Flash Award, judged by Michael Loveday last month with her stunning novella in flash Don't Tell the Bees. Read Michael's comments about it in his judge's report. And you can also read more about Mary Jane, who currently also happens to be the judge of our 15th single flash fiction Award, on our winners' page. Mary Jane, who is a poet, prose writer and for many years a teacher of flash fiction and other forms, has had an extraordinary few years where both her flash fiction and poetry has achieved much recognition. Ad Hoc Fiction is delighted to be able to publish Don't Tell The Bees, which is her first novella. It's really interesting to read about what inspired the story, to see inside Tom, Mary Jane's writing caravan and to have her insight into the pitfalls and pleasures of writing in this form. We expect the novella to be out later this year.

  • Can you give us a brief synopsis of Don't Tell the Bees, your winning novella-in-flash?

    A stonemason climbs the steeple of the village church to mend the weathervane his father had made many years before and falls to his death, leaving a family to survive in a 20th century but feudal run rural backwater of western France. The story’s main focus is the youngest child, a girl with a love of maths, who has to negotiate poverty, sexism and the arrival of a new road into the village where she lives.

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2020 Novella-in-Flash winners

Many congratulations and more details below about our 2020 winner, Mary-Jane Holmes from the UK (who is also the judge for our June 2020 single-flash Award!) and the two runners-up, Tracey Slaughter from New Zealand and Erica Plouffe-Lazure from the USA.
Read judge Michael Loveday's report on their brilliantly written novellas-in-flash to find out a brief synopsis of each of them, and his comments.They are all very different and it is wonderful to have such variety among the winners and the special commended novellas. We hope that all three of these winning novellas will be published later this year and we are so looking forward to seeing them in print.

First Prize Don't Tell The Bees by Mary-Jane Holmes
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. Her flash fiction 'Flock' was recently selected for Best Small Fictions, 2020.
@emjayinthedale

Runner Up: If There is No Shelter by Tracey Slaughter
Tracey Slaughter is a poet and fiction writer from Aotearoa New Zealand. Her latest works are the volume of short stories deleted scenes for lovers (Victoria University Press, 2016) and the poetry collection Conventional Weapons (Victoria University Press, 2019). Her work has received numerous awards including the 2020 Fish Short Story Prize, second place in The Moth Short Story Prize 2018, the Bridport Prize 2014, and two Katherine Mansfield Awards. She lives in Hamilton, and teaches Creative Writing at Waikato University, where she edits the literary journals Mayhem and Poetry New Zealand.

Runner-Up: Sugar Mountain by Erica Plouffe Lazure
Erica Plouffe Lazure is the author of a flash fiction chapbook, Heard Around Town, and a fiction chapbook, Dry Dock. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Carve, Greensboro Review, Meridian, American Short Fiction, The Journal of Micro Literature, The Common's "Dispatches" series, The Southeast Review, Fiction Southeast, Flash: the International Short-Short Story Magazine (UK), Vestal Review, Wigleaf, Monkeybicycle, National Flash Fiction Day Anthology (UK), Litro (UK), and elsewhere. She lives and teaches in Exeter, New Hampshire, USA.

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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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  • 14th Award Round Up

    Thank you very much to all the world-wide Flash Fiction writers who entered stories in our 14th Award. I's wonderful that so many people from around the world are writing flash fiction. Our entries increased again, this time to 1367. There were so many inventive stories, so many good ones to choose from to find our long list of fifty. Entries came in from the following thirty-one countries:

    Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States

    The last weeks of the Award were very busy and the Last Minute Club writers who, on the last day, 16th February, received their badge pictured here, this time a sunny yellow, were jostling at the door up until the very last seconds before midnight. We've produced badges for the last six awards and I am sure several writers have collected all of them.

    Several different countries were represented in the long and short lists and this year, our five winners come from four different countries/continents. Many congratulations to our first prize winner Sharon Telfer, from the UK who has now won first prize twice, the last time in Summer 2016. She also had a story commended in February 2019. What a fantastic achievement! And many congratulations also to our second prize winner, Simon Cowdroy from Australia, who has had a story commended by us before, and third prize to Christina Dalcher from the USA, who was also a first prize winner in February 2019. Many congratulations also to Remi Skytterstad from Norway, who was highly commended and Claire Powell from the UK, also highly commended. All five stories are brilliant examples of flash fiction and you can read them on the winners' pages on this site and later in our print anthology.

    It's always exciting to compile the first part of the year-end anthology and many long and short listed authors have already accepted our publication offer for the fifth BFFA anthology, which will be published in December this year, after all three yearly awards have been completed. We hope those who have booked for the flash fiction festival, 19-21st June and who are winners or listed writers, might like to read their pieces in our Open Mic Sessions. It is always great to hear them read out loud.

    This time the Award turn around was even quicker than usual. We wanted to complete it by the end of February and we are very grateful to the reading team for dedicating many hours of reading during the life of the Award and in particular in the last few weeks and the final weekend and afterwards and for our judge, writer, editor and tutor and one of the Directors of National Flash Fiction Day UK, Santino Prinzi, for immersing himself in the longlist over several days to select the short list, find the winners and achieve a very fast result. He told us the whole process was a blast which he greatly enjoyed. Read his report and comments here.

    The next Award judged by writer and writing tutor, Mary-Jane Holmes opens on March 1st and ends on Sunday June 7th. Results will be out by the end of June. We look forward to reading more flash fictions and be astonished, moved, humbled and amazed all over again.

    Jude Higgins
    February, 2020

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