Susmita Bhattacharya’s judge’s report, Feburary 2024

Our big thanks to Susmita Bhattacharya for being our 26th Award judge, and for her close reading and excellent comments on the amazing stories she selected.

Judging for the Bath Flash Fiction has been an absolute treat, but it’s also been quite stressful! I’ve enjoyed reading all the stories, and I didn’t mind reading them multiple times. I actually enjoyed all my train travels these past couple of weeks because I carried these flash fiction pieces with me and they kept me company wherever I went. But it was stressful to choose the three winners and the two highly commended. I had no problem choosing some of them, but with a couple of them, I really, really had to ponder about which one would make it.

I’m in awe of the flash fiction pieces I read, the idea, the crafting of the story, the structure and how these stories got such a variety of reactions from me. A sharp intake of breath, a few tears, a nodding of the head, a smile. When I read the winning story for the nth time on the train, and wiped my tears, the person sitting opposite looked at me uncomfortably. I so wanted them to read the story and cry with me.

All the entries are such excellent pieces, so congratulations to everyone who made it to the longlist, then the shortlist and then the winners, of course. And congratulations to everyone who wrote a story and submitted it. And congratulations to everyone who wrote something.

1st: A Palimpsest of Cheerleaders
Such an unexpected story, told from the point of view of dead cheerleaders. The horror of school shootings, the devastating realisation of what lead to this tragedy and yet, the cheerleaders don’t give up. They dance like they’ve never danced before. A very powerful piece, indeed.

2nd: All the things that we are not
What I loved about this piece was what was left unsaid, in the brackets. In the face of a terrible situation like war there are words to describe the unfolding situation, and there are words that are often not mentioned. In this piece, they come together with such great force, they force the reader to read between the lines, to see what is hidden, to understand the reality on the ground.

3rd: How to Make a Realistic Paper Rose
This Hermit Crab Flash uses the structure of an instruction manual of sorts for making paper roses. But there is more to it than that. This story combines the dos and don’ts of making paper roses and the making of a perfect woman very cleverly by ‘omitting’ what not be spoken out loud.

Highly Commended: Four Conditions of the Heart
This story uses the structure of conditionals in English grammar to tell a moving tale of losing a loved one. Once again, the reader is left to imagine the grief and sense of helplessness the narrator is left with, through her way of expressing her experience in the only way she can, as an English teacher.

Highly Commended: An experiment on a bird in the air pump (after Joseph Wright of Derby)
I loved how the painting by Joseph Wright is interpreted in this ekphrastic flash fiction. The pay of light and dark is quite literal and also has a hidden layer to it. It’s a very sensory piece and so much emotive description, with a dark ending.

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