Award Thirteen

Interview with Marissa Hoffman, First Prize Winner October, 2019

  • Can you tell us what inspired your powerful and moving winning story, ‘Angie’?
    Early in my career I worked on a project for the United Nations Refugee Council (UNHCR) where I spent time with people who were variously labelled but who shared the same predicament, they could no longer stay where they had always called home, they had no choice but to leave. They made huge sacrifices, travelled in danger and arrived unwelcome. The images of Angie Valeria and her father made real people of the word ‘migrant’ and I wanted to do the same using flash fiction.
  • You mentioned on Twitter, that his piece began in a ‘Fast Flash’ online course with Kathy Fish and you worked on it for a long time afterwards. Can you tell us how it progressed from your first draft?

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October 2019, Judge’s Report, Nancy Stohlman

Thank you to Nancy Stohlman for judging our 13th Award and for all her comments on the longlist, shortlist and winners.
Long List:
From lush description to plot surprises to current events and complicated relationships of all kinds, every story on the long list had some memorable and intriguing quality. Some looked backwards, some looked forwards. There were themes that were visited and re-visited from various angles and through various doors. There was also a wide variety in everything from subject to style to form — a wonderful cross section of flash fiction. The one commonality was seriousness, a predilection to drama over comedy. But choosing from such high quality work was not an easy endeavor — really great work, flash community!
Short List:
I wasn’t looking for a particular kind of story, but I noticed in the shortlist of twenty that I chose many stories that were straightforward and active—happening now as opposed to constructed through memory. I was also enjoying language that didn’t call attention to itself, language that felt like more than ornamentation and seemed to perfectly serve the story without breaking tension. Endings were often the deal breaker — if it came down to two stories, it was the one with a powerful ending that would often make the difference. And finally I paid attention to that intangible quality of resonance and memorability: is this a story I’ve heard many times or something new and fresh, an exciting and original window into the old? Every story on this list stayed with me long after I was finished reading it. And each one continues to stay with me.

Comments on the winners:

First Place:


Wow. This one took my breath away on the first read and haunted me throughout the entire judging process. As with many of my final choices, this one had an extremely powerful ending. The story was deceptively simple at first, distracting us from the impending tension just as the father is distracting his young daughter. The reader, too, is lulled into a calm curiosity, only momentary chinks in the facade giving us insight into not only what is going on but the devastating impact of what is to come. Politics in stories can become too heavy handed, but this author perfectly balanced the political with the personal, giving us a story that is urgent, empathetic, and timely. A necessary story for a haunted world.

Second Place:

‘The Wild West’

The narrative voice explodes in this story—full of energy and confidence and the vibrancy of childhood with the nostalgia of an old television show. The reader eagerly joins the playtime fantasy, sinks into the nostalgia, delights at the imagination of children and the boundless freedom of play, which is why the ending is as devastating for the reader as it is for the characters. An abrupt loss of freedom, a crack that will never be mended, the story juxtaposes the amazement of the imaginary world against the hollow ending of the real one. Like the characters we are so lost in the pretend we don’t see the real world intruding until it’s too late.

Third Place:

‘The Games People Play’

“War-games…those two words don’t belong near each other.” I loved the freshness and originality of this story, culminating in an ending both hopeless and hopeful. I was drawn right into the clean straightforward prose, the subtle ending dangling, evoking a question on so many people’s minds: what can we do? This story is strong in its simplicity and resonates well beyond the page, reminding us of the urgency of those moments when you cross paths with an opportunity—and you take it.

Highly Commended:

‘Old Glory’

Another story that stopped me cold at the end. The final images recall both a shameful history and a continuing, if perhaps more discreet, present. The last line seems to reach out from the past and ask to be recognized today, now, in this familiar moment. A warning.

Highly Commended:

‘Mo Bhuachaillin Beag’

The strength of this story came from the narrative voice—both the flippant and the fearful, the youth dragged into the reluctant adult. The prose, like the story, landed in the crossroads of put together and punk rock, a musicality and sense of lyricism that couldn’t be contrived. A reminder that grief stretches across oceans and so, too, does the human spirit of survival.

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Marissa Hoffmann October 2019 First Prize


by Marissa Hoffmann

Her papa folds a crease into a flattened-out paper grocery bag, turns it over, folds it again, turns it, folds it, again, again. Her papa tells her, Paper dolls hold hands to keep them safe on a journey.

The girl watches her papa. He folds two more bags, same and same. He draws a small doll, tells her, Paper dolls make paper beds, when the night-time comes when they’re walking.

The girl checks with him, she says, Do they snuggle between their paper mamas and paper papas?

Under the stars, her papa tells her. He’s nodding. He draws a smile, draws a flower on the paper doll’s hair, he points at the drawing, he says, Like you.

On the second bundle of folded paper, the girl’s papa draws a tall, thin doll. He shades a black t-shirt, draws arms stretched up above its head, tells her, This one’s waving, this one’s strong. He presses the pencil into the paper doll’s arm, turns the point slowly, presses harder.

The girl touches her papa’s bullet-sized scar, points at the doll, she says, Like you.

The third doll has long, black hair. The girl leans in closer. Her papa draws more, he tells her, Paper dolls think of everything. The girl tilts her head. Her papa says, Paper dolls can even cross the Rio Grande, and around the doll’s waist, her papa draws a giant floaty doughnut. The girl colours sugar sprinkles, dot-dot yellow, green, pink.

They cut, they unfold, they tape together—the mamas, the papas, the children.

Her Papa crouches and she crawls up onto his back. The girl holds tight around his neck. Her papa hangs the paper doll chain. The girl asks, Can the little ones swim Papa?

Her Papa says, The little ones don’t let go. Like you.

About the Author

Marissa’s flash was shortlisted at Bath Flash Fiction in 2018 and has been highly commended or shortlisted at Flash500, Flashback Fiction and Flash Frontier. In the past year her stories have been nominated for inclusion in Best Micro Fiction and BIFFY50. Recent work appears in New Flash Fiction Review, Milk Candy Review, Reflex Fiction, The Citron Review, StorgyKids and Bending Genres. She is a fiction reader for Atticus Review and tweets @Hoffmannwriter

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Francis McCrickard October 2019 Second Prize

The Wild West

by Francis McCrickard

We knew how to do lots of things back then.

A friend takes a bullet? Easy. Start a fire; clean your penknife blade in the flames; get your friend to take a couple of slugs of pretend whiskey; find a piece of wood for him to bite on; pour liquor on the wound; extract bullet using penknife; put the blade in the flames again; cauterize the wound.

We knew to keep our canteens full but if you’re without water in the desert, find a cactus. Cactuses have lots of water. Mrs. Brady has one in her window.

No chow? Find a snake; pin the back of its head with a forked stick; cut its head off; skin it and roast it over your fire.

A snakebite? Suck blood and with it the poison from where the fangs punctured the skin.

We knew to treat our pretend horses well. A four-legged friend, a four-legged friend, he’ll never let you down. He’s honest and faithful right up to the end, that wonderful one-, two-, three-, four-legged friend.

We knew to keep our guns close, especially in Apache country, Duke Street.

We knew how to send smoke signals using grass, green sticks and Mam’s wet tea towel.

We knew to destroy all evidence of our campfires, to shoot first, never to ride into narrow ravines and never to turn our backs on an Indian unless he’s a friend like Tonto.

We knew how to read tracks that people had left: imprints on the paths, bent grass stalks and broken branches.

We knew how to do lots of things back then.

But we didn’t know what to do when we crossed the frozen pond at the old Hope Mine workings and Mikey Cullen fell through the ice and drowned.

About the Author

Francis is from Cleator Moor in wild West Cumbria. He has worked with young people in Britain, Zambia and Malawi and along the way has compiled educational programmes; written scripts for radio and television; novels for young adults — The Dead are Listening “was a stunner… one of the most intelligent teenage stories to be published for some time.” — (Financial Times) and contributed short stories to several anthologies. In 2013 he was given the Observer Unsung Local Hero award for his environmental work. Most importantly, he has, with help, raised a beautiful family. He has recently discovered flash fiction.

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Xavier Combe October 2019 Third Prize

The Games People Play

by Xavier Combe

When I got on the métro at Bastille, there was standing room only.

I squeezed in and found a space next to a young guy who was on his cellphone, playing a war game.

I thought to myself those two words don’t belong near each other.

I could see explosions and mass killings. His display flashed a body count at the top. By the time the metro pulled in at Opera, he had killed 260 people and destroyed three villages. The level he had reached entitled him to use even more powerful weapons and ammunition. And give orders to other shooters. Allies, presumably.

I tapped him on the shoulder. He ignored me and went on firing. I tapped him on the shoulder again. He hit pause and looked over at me, reluctantly. I gave him an appreciative little smile. He didn’t get the sarcasm. He resumed his shooting.

As we were about to reach Boucicaut, I tapped him on the shoulder once more but before he could hit pause I asked him what time it was. The distraction caused his weapon to misfire. He looked at me. He was irritated. I moved away and got off the métro.

As I walked on the platform towards the exit I said to myself I had probably saved about twenty lives and spared two or three huts in a village, somewhere.

About the Author

Xavier Combe is a freelance conference interpreter and translator. He teaches at the University of Paris X. He has authored two non-fiction books in French (L’anglais de l’Hexagone and 11+1 propositions pour défendre le français) as well as op-eds in the French press. He writes and produces audio fiction with 2-time Peabody award winner Jim Hall on their website Muffy Drake.
He has two adult sons and lives in the Paris suburbs with his wife, their two teenage daughters and their dog Zelda.

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Catherine Higgins-Moore October 2019 Commended

Mo bhuachaillín beag

by Catherine Higgins-Moore

I knew it when I went to the Royal. But I did what I was bid.
“You’ll be alright, Love. Wait ‘til your next appointment.”

I should’ve stayed. I should’ve tried harder. But when you’re twenty, and you’ve gone nowhere and you’ve done nothing, people think you are nothing. Divis Flats?

I wore sanitary towels every day for a week. Took Panadol like Smarties.

Monday morning I rushed in through the heavy glass doors, my feet soaked. Kept waiting an hour.
Different nurse. Never met my eye.

No heartbeat.

“Better this way than getting one that’s not right.” She said, handing me a scrap of paper towel to wipe the jelly off.

Twenty weeks I had him. No time at all. Mo bhuachaillín beag.
A hundred and forty days.

We said we’d try for another but then he moved into the Maze. Plotting against the peelers. Two years sitting alone before ‘Fuck it. I’m off.’

New York, New York.

Can never go back. Didn’t come properly. No visa nor nothing. What’s to go back for?

I see wee ones, poor like mine woulda been. Always buttoned-up wrong. Not one to give a damn about them coming outta school, or send them home in the right knick. Mothers with enough on their plates.

The wealthy ones are always buttoned up right.

I nanny for a coupla girls in the West Village. Gorgeous wee things. New outfits every day. Drawers full of clothes.

My wee mite would’ve been coming in bedraggled. I’da been cursing at him for tearing the arse outta his trousers. Shouting at him to wait ‘til payday for a new pair.

I’m a bit like them. Same hair and pale skin. Their granny was Irish.

People take me for their mother sometimes. I don’t like to correct them.

About the Author

Catherine Higgins-Moore is a Northern Irish writer based in New York. A former BBC journalist, she contributes to The Times Literary Supplement and is founding editor of The Irish Literary Review. In 2019 Catherine was longlisted for the Harper Collins’ Comedy Women in Print Prize and highly commended in Poetry London’s Clore Prize. Her play, The Maternity Monologues enjoyed its world premiere in New York, and was commended in BBC’s International Playwriting Award. Her poetry collection, Strange Roof, is published by Finishing Line Press. Catherine has been awarded bursaries by Kenneth Branagh, and the University of Oxford. 

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Michael Mcloughlin October 2019 Commended

Old Glory

by Michael Mcloughlin

Pa’s busy, so he lets me help him pick potatoes. “Just follow me girl and chuck them in the box.”

Later, we pick up ma from the school hall, in pa’s new truck. She’s also busy, working with her friends. But she doesn’t allow me to help her. She says it’s no place for kids. She tells me she sews. I even see bits of white cotton on her clothes. Every time I ask her what she’s sewing, she just says, “Y’all gonna see come July four. It’ll be like something Nebraska ain’t never seen before.”

On the drive home, ma tells pa they’ve reached their total of one thousand. Pa sounds happy, “That’s great, dear!” He’s almost as happy as he was when he bought his truck; he was one of the first round these parts to get one.

The valley’s quiet tonight, but tomorrow it will be filled with excitement. We’re expecting a big crowd to watch the parade. I’m sure looking forward to that. According to the newspaper, over five-thousand people will gather at the park. Pa says that’ll be ten times the population of our town.  

Today, Old Glory is proudly floated from the flagstaff of pa’s truck. The people watching extend right through town, waving the stars and stripes, and cheering on the procession. Impossible to tell who’s who going past with them hoods and robes they’re all wearing. I notice a group of hatless negroes standing on the sidewalk, but they don’t look happy to me. Maybe the heat’s affecting them; but then it can’t be, cos pa says the sun don’t affect them.

About the Author

Michael Mcloughlin grew up in Liverpool, UK; but by the mid-80’s, he’d had enough of Thatcher’s regime and escaped to the brighter shores of Australia. He works in mental health and likes to write in his spare time. He’s quite new to flash fiction competitions and is looking forward to entering more of them. He has also recently completed a novel and hopes to find an agent. He lives in Hobart, Tasmania.

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