Choosing 20 stories for the shortlist has been a challenge. My criteria for inclusion, apart from solid and compressed writing, were poignancy and heart. Does this narrative capture the depth of a moment in a way that feels honest and new? Is this narrative emotionally affecting? Does this story have something to say, something the world needs to hear? I think each story on the shortlist fulfils these criteria, each in its way.
There’s humor and pathos in these stories, conventional plots alongside innovative structures. A few stories toe the boundary between prose and poetry. There are personal stories and those concerning larger cultural themes. While I didn’t consciously compile such a balanced list, I’m pleased it turned out that way. I loved the humorous voice in ‘The Layer Chromatography Day’ but also the disturbing situations in ‘Black Sky’ and ‘Armstrong’s Mixture’. The urgent rhythms in ‘Asomnia’ and ‘Shoes and Trews and Shell Dust’ are impressive. ‘Kit Carson’ and ‘Rolling Six Feet Apart’ use repetition deftly. I found something to love in all the shortlisted stories.
Flash fiction is a merciless form. Its brevity invites multiple readings. A piece of flash fiction might be read 10 or 20 times by the judge of a competition. Stories either get better and better with each reading, or their imperfections start showing. My top five stories all accomplished something extraordinary: they all got better and better.
First Place — ‘Cleft’
‘Cleft’ relates the history of the narrator, from his childhood to his current relationship with his adopted son, but it also implies the history of patriarchy and toxic masculinity. The writer employs fragmented and compressed syntax to effect economy and urgency in a micro that suggests eight distinct scenes. And there is a lot of heart. I’ve chosen this story because I feel it has done the most with the word count. ‘Cleft’ is a story that needs to be told, and the writer has done it amazingly well.
Second Place — ‘a god and his famous digging stick dug this’
The language in this story is daring and dense. ‘a god and his famous digging stick dug this’ is a intricate example of stream-of-consciousness writing that unfolds–at least for this reader–only after several readings. It wends through the depths of the moment rather than following a conventionally linear plot, while claiming the freedom to associate unexpected sensations and impressions with this moment of sexual discovery.
Third Place — ‘Cosmina Counts’
This is another story that relates the history of its main character innovatively and endearingly. Why does Cosmina need to measure the room? I keep asking myself this question. Does she need to know how much of the world is hers? Does she need to know if she’s paying too much for the room? This story poses more questions than it answers. She measures the room in pas mic (small steps) just as she measures her life. ‘Cosmina Counts’ is a memorable, tragic story.
Commended — ‘The Falling Silent’
I have to admit that I spent a ridiculous amount of time researching the context of this story. Even without knowing the cultural background, I had a sense of the communal and senseless call to duty that informs this story and removes the music for these characters’ lives.
Commended — ‘Arts and Crafts’
Jocelyn may indeed be a danger to herself and others, but she is also endearing, smart and memorable. And Carl may just be doing his job. This story deftly portrays the unfairness of mental illness while creating a complex, layered character in just a few words.