Award Twenty Four

Q & A with William Davidson, June 2023 First Prize Winner

To give you some last minute inspiration if you are thinking of entering our 25th Award, judged by Sara Hills, which closes on Sunday 8th October (three weeks), here is a Q & A with our June first prize winner, William Davidson. William also won first prize in our inaugural Bath Flash Fiction Award, back in 2015 with Radio Alarm. He is the second writer who has won first prize on two occasions. Sharon Telfer is the other writer who has won twice, with a gap of a few years in between wins. I asked William about rhythm and irony in his stories, among other things. He has also sent us a picture of York Station, where the story was set and a Cold War Bunker in York which inspired another of his stories, which was shortlisted in 2022.
Jude, September, 2023.

Q & A with William

    • It came from a prompt in my brilliant writing group – I think it was about using something from nature as a plot point. I’d read a news story about York groundsel coming back from extinction and that was the first thing I thought of. It’s a plant that’s often found by railways and York station is such an evocative setting for me.
    • Tim Craig, our judge, commented on the rhythm of the story and how that adds another, layer to the piece. You also won first prize in our inaugural contest in 2015 with an excellent comic story Radio Alarm, (which I have linked to above) that has a strong rhythmical quality. Is that something that you usually pay attention to a lot when you are writing?
      Yes, definitely. I read aloud as I write – obviously sometimes under my breath depending on where I am! It’s a good way to check the rhythm. I think fiction writers can learn a lot from poets, especially in terms of taking care at word level, and considering repetition and rhythm. There’s a fine line with repetition between being effective and being too much.

    • You have several other stories which have been shortlisted or longlisted in Bath Flash Fiction Award over the years. They are memorable for their disturbing and ironic take on aspects of modern life. ‘House Rules for the Bunker’ was shortlisted by Karen Jones in our Feb 2022 award and is published in ‘Dandelion Years’, our 2022 anthology.’House Rules for the Bunker’, is a list story, playing upon Airbnb instructions. After various chilling rules suggesting the reduced quality of life inside and out of the bunker, it ends with, ‘Don’t forget to leave a review and like us.’ Would you agree irony is a hallmark of your writing?
      I often use settings that exist in York – like the Cold War Bunker. York is like Bath – it feels layered and rich in stories. I’m interested in awkward relationships – between people and between people and places, and irony works there.
    • Congratulations too, on your shortlisting in this year’s Bath Short Story Award with ‘Best in the Living World,’ a story which will be published in the BSSA 2023 anthology later this year. Do you find you think in a different way when you write short stories, as opposed to flash stories of 300 words or under?
      Thank you! That’s such a good question. I remember Sarah Hall talking about there being a shape to a short story. I feel like I’m working out the shape as I write a short story. There’s space to work with different modes, between dialogue, description, action and reflection, and the story takes shape. There’s some give in terms of structure. With flash, I concentrate on every detail working and it has to work and there’s no give in the structure because it’s all there in front of you and it has to stand up for itself!
    • Are you working on any writing projects at the moment?

    Yes, I’m finishing a novel which is set (you’ll be gobsmacked to hear) in York.

    • In our last Q & A with you after your 2015 first prize win, we asked you for a writing tip for flash writers.

      You said
      “Work at it and be fearless and trust your instincts”.
      It’s a very good tip, which I think is worth reproducing again here. I think you have demonstrated it admirably in ‘Remembered Yellow’. Would you add anything more to this tip now, eight years on?

      I’d say keep the faith – keep writing. And talk to other writers. I get such a lot out of being in a writing group – we met at workshops run by the amazing writer and teacher, Susan Elderkin. The Flash Fiction Festival is fantastic! In some ways, writing is a solitary thing to do, but it can be social and collaborative too. In 2015, I was hesitating about starting university to study creative writing, but then winning the Bath Flash Fiction Award gave me the boost to go to York St John and I loved it, so thank you!
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    William Davidson June 2023 First Prize

    Remembered Yellow

    by William Davidson

    I’m early. I walk to the end of platform three. I like to see the name of the train I’m getting on. I know it’s daft. I like to see the name of the train and then get on at the front and walk through the carriages. I like to sit at the back of the rearmost carriage, facing forward. It’s weird and daft. I know.

    I stand at the very end of platform three, at the top of the slope that leads down to the rocky ground by the tracks, the ballast I think it’s called, like in a ship, like the ballast that stops a ship from tilting and sinking. I gaze down the slope at the ballast and there it is, growing alongside a patch of rosebay willowherb. There it is – York groundsel. It went extinct decades ago but there it is.

    I’m early so I’ve got time. It’s good I’m early. I walk down the slope and keep my eye on the York groundsel but it’s not going anywhere. I keep my eye on things that aren’t going anywhere in case they go somewhere. It’s daft. I know. It’s hard to walk on the ballast. It’s sharp-edged. I take off my jacket and roll it up so I’ve got something to kneel on. The York groundsel is yellow, like a remembered yellow, like a yellow that only exists in a photograph, but here it is, existing, in the ballast.

    People are by me now. They must have seen the York groundsel too. They sound like they can’t believe it’s here.

    ‘It’s really here,’ I say. ‘York groundsel is really here.’

    The people are tilting around me. A train’s coming. Its horn is blasting again and again, like an ocean liner launching, like something beginning.

    About the Author

    William Davidson won the inaugural Bath Flash Fiction Award in 2015. His short stories and flash fiction have been published in various anthologies, including Solstice Shorts (Arachne Press) and Rattle Tales (The Brighton Prize). He has an MA and MFA in Creative Writing from York St John University, and teaches at Converge, an education project at the university that provides courses for people who use mental health services. He also leads an ecotherapy book club at St Nicks, a thriving nature reserve in York.
    Twitter: @WmDavidsonUK

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    Sara Hills June 2023 Second Prize

    Failure to Thrive

    by Sara Hills

    Weeks after we lose her, Lou and I take turns eating our feelings and secretly dosing each other with LSD. On Monday, he tucks a tab into the mayo on my sandwich. On Tuesday, I bury one in a swirl of cream atop his cake. Wednesday, it’s spiked marinara and milkshakes.

    By Thursday we’re high as diamonds.

    I call in sick and my boss’s teeth chatter through the phone like shiny stacks of white plates, rattling the hollow bowl of my body. He shouts, “You’re fucking unreliable,” a purple whelp of a sound that punches my useless empty breasts. Not for the first time, I realize how fragile we are, chipped monstrosities of ceramic-fired clay.

    Lou steadies me with his fork-fingered hand and sings that my tits are happy soup cans. He draws faces on them in ballpoint pen, giving them toothy mouths and eyes wizened with promise. It’s the most enlivened I’ve felt in weeks—me, skin glowing iridescent against the dark ink; him, drawing with his tongue out, like a child would, all willowy limbs and hopeful yellow hair, tracing rainbows.

    Later, we run into the box-small yard and let our crown chakras unfurl under the humming sky. We are sun-soaked artichokes beside our blue-walled house. And when the light fades, Lou, convinced that our hearts are bruised apples that need protecting, washes the pleated skin of my stomach with his tears.

    By the time the moon rises like a refrigerator light across the empty shelf of the sky, Lou and I are already sinking. We lay back on the leaf litter, watching for comets and constellations, falling stars and signs. Above, 747s soar like milk bottles, blinking mandalas of coded prayers that vibrate the earth while we hold our breath and wait to feel forgiven.

    About the Author

    Sara Hills is the author of The Evolution of Birds (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2021), winner of the 2022 Saboteur Award for Best Short Story Collection. She has won the Quiet Man Dave flash nonfiction prize, the Retreat West quarterly prize, and the National Flash Fiction Day micro competition. Sara’s work has been twice commended in the Bath Flash Fiction Award, placed second in the Welkin Prize, and was selected for the Wigleaf Top 50 in 2021 and 2022. Her stories have been widely published in anthologies and magazines, including The Best Small Fictions 2022 and 2023, SmokeLong Quarterly, Cheap Pop, Fractured Lit, Cease Cows, Flash Frog, X-RAY Lit, Splonk, New Flash Fiction Review and elsewhere. Originally from the Sonoran Desert, Sara lives in Warwickshire, UK and tweets from @sarahillswrites.

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    Noemi Scheiring-Olah June 2023 Third Prize

    To All the Copies of Us

    by Noemi Scheiring Olah

    To the soccer-patterned rubber ball, easy to kick, making us laugh every time it hits our shins with a burp sound, like Daddy, every time he gets home from work, all paint spots and sour smiles.

    To the video player branded “videó player”, which instantly eats the rented Lion King tape, making the words slur like Daddy’s, slurping The tapessshit, and Merry Chrisssmasss, and Daddy lovesssya.

    To the white sneakers with four black lines and a thin sole, which makes every pebble feel like we’re walking on broken glass, and when the kids at school finger-point and jeer Fakedidas, we borrow (if you’re Daddy), or steal (if you’re the head teacher) White-Outs, and smear white slime all over the fourth black line until it disappears.

    To the fading library books Daddy brought home every weekend so us kids See the world, and Know how to find and lose beauty, like he found and lost Mommy, and like we now spill Bud Light over an unreturned Moby Dick, and watch the pages darken, and fold, and float away, like Daddy darkened, and folded, and floated away two weeks ago, frowning with twin brows that refused to let go.

    To the hoarse TV in the kitchen coughing up successful flat people droning on and on about filling big shoes of successful flat fathers, who flash and mirror in the empty bottles that clink-clank across the room as we collect and throw them in trash cans, smashing, and crashing, and shattering; tearing to break free from all the copies of us.

    About the Author

    Noémi Scheiring-Oláh grew up in a small flat at the edge of a Hungarian town. She’s now a nomad in a small world. Her writing has appeared/forthcoming in Passages North, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Molotov Cocktail, New Flash Fiction Review, Bath Flash Fiction Anthology, Maudlin House, Ellipsis Zine, Janus Literary, and elsewhere, and has been nominated for Best Small Fictions and The Pushcart Prize. Noémi is a fan of cats and underdogs. She’s also a Writers’ HQ member. Tweets: @itssonoemi Virtual home:

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    James Montgomery June 2023 Highly Commended

    Diamonds in the Earth

    by James Montgomery

    The bat splinters, the crowd roars, and the boy’s held fast by the arc of the baseball, blitzing a course straight at him, a mere speck in the outfield, twin eye black smears masking each cheek, a boy pinned to parched, rain-hungry grass, when one lone voice, his father’s bark—look sharp, Bobby!—barrels out from the bleachers, jolts the boy into action, who stumble-runs as the ball skims the crest of the August sun, and the boy’s running back, back to last Tuesday, and the promise of an empty house—his mother running errands, his father out of town—and in the cheval mirror, in a slant of light, with only the floating dust motes to bear witness, there he was: lips alive with painted red, nape and inner wrists perfumed anew, socked feet slipped into his mother’s Mary Janes—the heel but an inch high yet it felt like touching God, like discovering some heavenly body until now unfound—and behind him, his father, unexpected and unannounced, the bedroom door silently ajar, the quickening panic of dad, dad, dad, and, as the ball begins its descent, the boy knows if he can only grasp it tight and hold it close all will be absolved, so he runs and runs, extends both arms, and stretches back through hand-stitched, chain-linked muscle memory, towards freshly-cut weekends, diamonds drawn in backyard earth, the easy throw of nice one, bud through air, the soft ache of an unbidden shoulder squeeze, and the close grain of freckles on sun-blessed faces, as the boy reaches, for his father, for the ball… which, with a short, sharp pop, funnels like a fastball, powers into the glove’s pocket, while something small and hard—as if leather cased—catches in the boy’s throat.

    About the Author

    James Montgomery’s stories appear in Reflex Fiction, Maudlin House, Gone Lawn, and elsewhere. He won the Best Micro Fiction Prize at the 2021 Retreat West Awards and is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. Find him at and on Twitter at @JDMontgomery_

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    Pilar Garcia Claramonte, June 2023 Highly Commended

    My Daughter the Wolf Therian

    by Pilar Garcia Claramonte

    My daughter was on all fours in the garden last night, howling at the moon.

    “It’s just a phase,” her father said. “Something she’s seen on TikTok, probably. Nothing to worry about.”

    Today, at breakfast, she announces that she’s descended from wolves. I swallow hard, recalling a photo of her birth parents. Her brother sniggers and asks if there’s a dead moose in her lunch-box.

    She shows us her new profile on her mobile. “Hi. I’m Leaf. I’m a wolf therian.” In the photo, her face tilts forward so close to the camera that the nose appears unnaturally elongated, protruding towards the world with a menacing sneer. Unnervingly her, but different. She’s only twelve. I wonder if she senses the many ways in which that name, those words, could mark a distance between us.

    She nuzzles up. Will I help her to make a tail? Something she can attach to herself and swing side to side. She might wear it to school, she says. Pinned to her uniform. My stomach lurches.

    “What will the girls say in class?” We’d done our sums and moved her to a new school that term. Small classes, lush grounds might smooth the jagged edges left from her early childhood, before she was legally ours. Whatever it takes.

    “Call me names?” She shrugs. “I’m adopted. I’m used to that.”

    As she leaves for school, she looks tiny in her new, too large uniform.

    I know exactly where I’ll find some faux fur for her tail.

    About the Author

    Pilar García Claramonte wishes that she had discovered the joy of creative writing much earlier in life. Now retired, she spends her time between the Kent coast, Oxford and the Basque Country, where she was born, trying to make up for lost time, aided and abetted by some great teachers and writing buddies.

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    June 2023 Long List

    Twenty-fourth Bath Flash Fiction Award Long List
    A Display of Grief Sudha Balagopal
    A Lecture on Electricity and the Phantasmagoria Jupiter Jones
    A Spoonful of Sugar Jessica Andrews
    A wave Deb Waters
    Alan Sinclair, 15 Daniel Addercouth
    Always Thunder, Never Rain Dale Marie
    An Abridged History of Our National Dress Anika Carpenter
    Assembly Line Adam Robinson
    Autobiography Penny Davis
    Becoming Hen Wen Yu Yang
    Before Woolton Pie Christine Collinson
    Bloody Mildred Marie Day
    Brothers Kevin Owen
    But I Can Pull Out Your Hair Larissa Thomson
    Chocolate-Covered Pretzels Ashley McCurry
    Dead Goose, Whilte Pony Linda Irish
    Diamonds in the Earth James Montgomery
    Do It Yourself Lorna Easterbrook
    Double Whammy Shawn Schey
    Failure to Thrive Sara Hills
    First Fruit Evie Lambert
    For Their Own Good We Spy On Our Neighbors Debra Daniel
    Foundling Rebecca Lambert
    Friday Afternoon at the Mammography Unit Dawn Miller
    In Case the Sky Falls In Alison Powell
    Malacca Alfie Lee
    Mammy’s Funeral Julie Evans
    Mandy Opens Up a Late Appointment Janna Miler
    Manga Monday Julius Olofsson
    Many Happy Returns Andrew Stancek
    My boyfriend’s house is full of knives Zoe Meager
    My Daughter, the Wolf Therian Pilar Garcia Claramonte
    My Slapstick Life Julia Smith
    No points for a heartfelt attachment (4) James Ellis
    Octopus Hearts Sam Payne
    Of Service Sarah Freligh
    One for Sorrow Charlotte Talbutt
    Pane Michelle Wright
    Remembered Yellow William Davidson
    Swimming Sue Kingham
    The Eclipse Samantha White
    The Everyday Spells of Women and Girls Sharon Telfer
    The Lumberjack Letty Butler
    The Middle of Everything Jack Bedrosian
    There was the time the clocks made us luminous Agnes Halvorssen
    To All the Copies of Us Noémi Scheiring-Oláh
    (To Be Loved By You) Emily Devane
    Veni’s Lipstick Shrutidhora P Mohor
    Ways to Spell Escape Kate Axeford
    We Three Shelley Roche-Jacques

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