Award Twenty Three

Q & A with February 2023 Award 1st prize winner, Louie Fooks

It’s always interesting to see what inspired our first prize winning writers. Here our winner from February 2023, Louie Fooks, from Oxford, describes how a menacingly hot day followed by a storm inspired her winning story about a street seller in Milan. A great example of how a number of things co-incide to create a story with many levels. Read judge Sudha Balagopal’s comments on Louie’s story
(photo of the Duomo by alexandr hovhanni on Unsplash)

Q & A

  • Can you tell us what inspired your powerful and resonant story, Market Forces? 
    Absolutely! As part of my MA in Writing, I spent a term in Milan in summer 2016, working with author Tim Parks. The UEFA Champions League final was being played in the city, which was full of tourists and football fans, and it was a really hot, humid day. It felt like something was about to happen… a terror attack or some kind of incident.
    But what happened was a terrific thunderstorm, just as the match finished and everyone came out onto the streets at the same time. The street-sellers were doing a great trade in cheap umbrellas, and it sparked the idea for the story. I wanted to explore the experience and vulnerability of the migrants coming up from Sicily at that time, but also to show their enterprise and agency. And I also wanted to illustrate that who holds power in any situation isn’t static and changes as circumstances change and events unfold.

    (photo by ken-anzai-w3wXkDgXhG8-unsplash)

  • Did it go through many different versions?
    Not really. I had imagined a longer story but found it worked really well as a flash. It only took me about an hour but there was a lot of knowledge and life experience that I drew on in writing it. I’d like to develop it into a longer story or perhaps a memoir piece someday. I worked in Milan as an au pair when I was 18 so it also sparked a lot of reflections on how the world, and my life, has changed in that time.

(photo by simone-daino-Ji8W2boOb98-unsplash)

  • Were there particular writers that sparked off your interest in flash fiction?

My friends Hilary and Julie! I hadn’t really considered flash as a form because it seemed too limited. But seeing how beautifully they were able to craft really powerful stories in only three hundred words inspired me to give it a try. And I love the form. You can really hone your ideas and make sure every word counts. You just edit and polish until it works.

  • I believe you are currently writing a novel.  Can you tell us more about it? Are the themes in this novel similar to the themes in your winning story?
    My novel is an adult ‘growing up story’ set in the late 90s and early 20th century and the protagonist is a young English photographer finding his way in life as he navigates work, fatherhood, love, and family relationships. But it’s set against a background of world events and the conflict and migration of the period – so there is a lot about how society and individuals should respond to such issues. It’s a very ‘placey’ novel, and moves between London, South Sudan, Brazil, The Isle of Purbeck and many other locations along the way.
  • Do you have a favourite place for writing? 
    To be honest, most of the time I write in bed. Sometimes in pyjamas! I need absolute silence and no distractions so I’m not good at the café thing. I always write on a laptop, never longhand. And I edit constantly as I write. Things are never finished, I just run out of steam with them eventually.
  • Are you currently writing any more short fiction?
    Not at the moment. My ‘day job’ is as a freelance policy writer, so I have limited time for the creative stuff, and I’m concentrating on editing the novel. But I’d love to do more flash fiction and I’m hoping to return to it later this year. Bath is a great competition in that it gives writers something to aim for and a regular opportunity to get published.

Louie can be found on Facebook or contacted at louiefooks (at) hotmail (dot) com

Our 24th Award ends on Sunday June 4th.Judge Tim Craig

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Louie Fooks February 2023 First Prize

Market Forces

by Louie Fooks

Milan, May 2016

The air is hot and heavy as milk.

Football fans have come in for the big match, but they are at the stadium or watching in bars; the streets are quiet, and business is slow. No-one ‘needs’ the cheap tat Juma sells – phone cases and selfie sticks. And the rest. He’s tired and bored and hungry to his bones. Breakfast in the hostel was meagre, and a long time ago.

Looking up at the cathedral, he remembers the helicopters that dropped fire from the sky in his homeland. The bitter trek to the coast. Crossing the Med in a dingy not fit-for-purpose. Jumping trains to make it this far. He’d like to reach Germany one day. For now, he knows how to get by in this city.

He checks his mobile. Pigeons grub for scraps. A tourist admires the gargoyles. Juma moves the phone cases to the front of his display and adds plastic sunglasses from his tote bag. The mobile pings – a message from a brother in another country.

A collective howl of triumph and desolation and people spill out of the bars, intent on celebration or obliteration… just as the clouds crack and the rain falls – fast as bullets and heavy as lead.

Juma grabs everything and runs to the covered canopy of the Galleria, switching stock and setting up again. Umbrellas! Flimsy as hell; one use only. But right now that’s what’s needed, and people will pay. He’ll have half an hour before the police reach him.

Today, he thinks, is a good day as he serves the crowd clamouring – for once – for what he’s selling. Today, he’ll have a good meal and drink some beer with Isaac and Saul. And he’ll sleep with a full belly and credit on his phone.

About the Author

Louie Fooks is a freelance writer and policy consultant, specialising in health, development and environmental issues. She has an MA in Writing from the University of Warwick and spent a term in Milan as an Erasmus scholar. Her creative work is characterised by ‘life-writing’ and the careful observation of people and place. She has a drawer full of short stories and memoir pieces (in various states of repair) and is currently working on a novel.

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Nikki Crutchley February 2023 Second Prize

Walking to Wollongong

by Nikki Crutchley

Nana and Grandad are visiting, and I know to put Australia on the table tonight. It never fits right, a square tablecloth for a rectangle table, too small, and so triangles of oak remain uncovered. There’s a giant mustard-coloured pineapple and bounding kangaroos. There’s beaches and cities and sunburnt wide-open spaces. In profile, there’s an Aboriginal man, eyes squinting, looking west.

Places are taken around the table. Grandad by Townsville. Nana, Darwin. I sit on the west coast, and Mum takes her position, purposely depositing her plate on top of Wollongong. Wollongong isn’t part of our stories, even though the cards I get twice a year come from there. I try to decipher more from the few words inside them: what he’s like, if I’m like him, how his stories differ, if he thinks about me often, even though an ocean separates us.

The place names and words that make up Nana and Grandad’s road trip stories sound musical and make-believe: didgeridoo, billabong, Walla Walla and Kakadu. Grandad points with his knife, a gelatinous blob of gravy falling onto a koala’s head. Opal mining in Coober Pedy; the knife travels across the linen to Alice Springs and Uluru. Talk of survival in a landscape that is as brutal as it is beautiful. Some of his other stories lurk at the edges of my dreams, threatening to turn into nightmares. The woman whose baby was taken by a dingo. Backpackers never seen again. A stolen generation.

After dinner I shake crumbs onto the deck then lay it out on the wooden slats. With forefinger and middle finger, I come from the east, past the red wine stain painting part of the Pacific Ocean pale pink. I forge my journey with my fingertips, walking towards Wollongong, in search of my story.

About the Author

Nikki lives in Cambridge, New Zealand with her husband, two teenage daughters, and mini schnauzer Scout. Her flash fiction has been published in Mayhem Literary Journal, Fresh Ink, Bonsai: Best Small Stories from Aotearoa NZ, and Return to Factory Settings. Nikki also writes psychological thrillers and crime novels, all set in small-town New Zealand. Her most recent book, In Her Blood (HarperCollins), was published in December 2022. You can connect with her on Twitter @NikkiCAuthor..

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Kevin Burns February 2023 Third Prize

Lakota Widow

by Kevin Burns

It rained for the first time in a month today. The dirt road was mucked and slippery up to Mary’s. Her one-room shanty perched on a bluff above the river. Near the Lakota village. We met during my shift at the Rez hospital, and I soon fell into visiting and bringing her frybread and honey.

Mary was ninety, blind in both eyes, one from a willow stick as a child and the other from glaucoma. She taught me how people can be rotted out like the hollow cottonwood trees in the gulch that still have their green leaves. They look alive, but you’ll never know they’re dead inside until a strong wind comes and they twist and fall over.

Yesterday, we sat by her open door and I described the broad sweep of sweetgrass that led down to the river, the cattails along the bank, the curved sandbars in the swirling water, and the thickets of purple fireweed that ran up the draw on the other side.

Mary asked if the buffalo were across the river, and they were. I counted them, and she said buffalo behind a fence are not natural. Buffalo and Lakota should never be fenced, she muttered. We shared some frybread, while the evening breeze played with her hair like when she was a child running in the coulee with her sister.

The hills soon turned purple, and the first stars appeared. I stood to leave and Mary lifted her milky eyes as if she could see into mine and traced Wakan Tanka on my palm. Watch out for falling trees, she laughed from her wheelchair. I squeezed her hand and said I would and walked out into the Great Mystery under a warm blanket of summer stars, leaving the dark stumps of the fallen cottonwoods behind.

About the Author

Kevin Burns lives in the Sonoran desert in southern Arizona near the border with Mexico. He grew up in Washington, DC. After graduating from Georgetown University, he lived with the Lakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Kevin devotes his days and nights to listening, writing, editing, and listening more. He can be found watching the stars or people from various hilltops and cafes worldwide. Kevin welcomes new friends and can be reached at kwburns509(at)gmail(dot)com

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Richard Hooton February 2023 Highly Commended


by Richard Hooton

ICE princess pose, open-palmed hands shielding my eyes from the thousands in the arena, mind blanking out the millions watching on television, just me and the ice, me and the ice, only the routine in my head, perfected, perfected, perfected, my signature triple axel the clincher separating me from the rest, though its ink has bled just like the broken veins blackening into bruises beneath nude tights, clear your mind the psychiatrist instructed, muscle memory, your body knows what to do, trust the training, trust the process, my shimmering blue dress too tight to take deep breaths, brass bellows the opening bars of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.1, arms outstretched, up, pushing away in elegant swirls, ignoring the blood blisters, Ryan’s words creep in like snakes through grass, take hold, he doesn’t understand the dedication, diets, deadlines, why you can’t just have fun, Mother always said he was a distraction, her anxious eyes, all that time, energy and savings she’s invested, driving me to training every day for those six hours of torture, missing out on the best years as others partied, but it will be worth it, this dream or destiny, I’ll finally feel happy with that medal around my neck, finally be someone, finally find peace, increasing speed to the piano’s descending notes, pirouettes, a Lutz double then triple, clean landing, applause, they can’t smell my garlicky sweat, make-up melting as if I’m the Wicked Witch of the West, violin strings soar, I curve backwards, arcing, building to the triple axel, a cliff dive, heart racing, this is my moment, leaping high, first twirl perfect, second, then third, Ryan’s door slamming, the forward edge of the blade hits the ice a millimetre off its axis, my ankle bends, the balance of everything goes, gasps, and something cracks.

About the Author

Born and brought up in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, Richard Hooton studied English Literature at the University of Wolverhampton before becoming a journalist and communications officer. He has had numerous short stories published and has won several prizes and been placed or listed in various competitions, including winning the Hammond House International Literary Prize. His flash fiction has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and the Cambridge Flash Fiction Prize. Richard lives in Mossley, near Manchester, and is a member of Mossley Writers.

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Rachel O’Cleary February 2023 Highly Commended

The Astronauts Meet for a Picnic on the First Thursday of Every Month

by Rachel O’Cleary

They smush soft cheese into crusty bread, crush ripe, juicy strawberries between their teeth, and slather hot dogs with as much mustard and relish as they can fit on the fluffy brioche buns. They scatter crumbs extravagantly, brush them from their laps to the scurrying ants below.

They lick salt from their lips and tilt their faces to the sky, watching sunlight bounce from one leaf to the next in a cascading glow of green. They lean back on their elbows, no need for straps or magnets to tether them, and they let the easy heat smooth tense wrinkles from their heavy bodies. They inhale the electric blue-raspberry of the sky beneath the atmosphere.

‘This is it,’ they say. ‘This is what we talked about all those times, sitting around a table with a view of eternity and sucking macaroni and cheese from foil packets.’

But sometimes, when they lick sticky dribbles of ice cream from their chins, or when the peanuts they are tossing into one another’s mouths drop, inevitably, to earth, they have to avoid each other’s eyes. They cannot look at one another until the moment has passed, until they can no longer see it plainly in the crumpled brows of the other astronauts: the too-near memory of how the tiny morsels of sweet, or salty, or luscious umami used to float like reverse rain-drops – like edible rainbows – and they would catch them on outstretched tongues like pink-cheeked children re-learning gravity, spoons falling upward this time, and not a harried parent in sight. Only one another, and the endless stretch of space, and their own weightlessness.

About the Author

Rachel O’Cleary lives with her family in Ireland, squeezing her obsession for flash fiction into the spaces between school runs with the help of Writer’s HQ. Recent publications include Smokelong Quarterly, Fractured Lit, The Forge, and Milk Candy Review. A complete list is located at She occasionally tweets @RachelOCleary1.

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23rd Award Round Up

Thank you very much to everyone from around the world who entered our 23rd Award, this time judged by Sudha Balagopal from the US. We received 1129 entries from the following 31 countries.

AAustralia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States

Huge congratulations to our winners! Louie Fooks from the UK, with her story ‘Market Forces’, Nikki Crutchley from New Zealand with her story, ‘Walking to Woolongong’, Kevin Burns from the US with ‘Lakota Widow’, Rachel O’Cleary from Ireland for ‘The Astronauts Meet for a Picnic on the First Thursday of Every Month’ and Richard Hooton from the UK for ‘Fissure.’ The stories are posted on this site and are linked to the titles and your can read Sudha’s report here. A further big thanks to her for her very careful consideration of the 50 longlisted stories, and her generous and insightful comments.

With over a thousand entries, it is always a demanding job for our readers to reach a final selection of 50 favourites for the longlist and having entered many contests myself and not made lists, I know how disappointing it can be not to be selected. We always look for a balance within the entries of different styles and themes and if a certain theme has been focussed on many times,it makes it doubly hard to choose from among so many excellent pieces. It’s good to know that stories not selected by us frequently go on to be successfully published elsewhere. We appreciate those who have persisted in entering the Award many times. From social media we saw that a few people had made the final cut for the first time after several attempts over the years. It’s wonderful to have such support from writers. We also appreciate everyone for their support. Writers who enter once or many times, those who enter with plenty of time to spare and those who enter at the last minute and receive our fun virtual badge.

The Last Minute Club badge for those who entered on the final day of the Award is pictured here. We hold a contest on the previous day on Twitter for people to guess the colour. This time, nobody guessed the green and blue combo. So we sent a book from Ad Hoc Fiction to the first person who went for green, and the first person who guessed blue.

The 24th Bath Flash Fiction Award opens on March 1st and closes in early June. Our judge for this time is prize winning author, Tim Craig. We look forward to reading your entries.
Thanks again
Jude Higgins
February 28th, 2023

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Judge’s Report, 23rd Award

Our big thanks to the 23rd Award judge, Sudha Balagopal for selecting the twenty stories for the short list within our narrow time frame and for writing such interesting and insightful notes. Her general comments on the process and her specific comments on the winners are below.

Judge’s notes

Thank you, Jude Higgins, for giving me the opportunity to judge the Bath Flash Fiction Award, the gold standard of very short fiction. Truly, this has been such an honor.

I knew choosing the winners would be difficult right after my first perusal of the stories on the longlist―a compendium of so many gorgeous tiny tales, varied in styles, in subject matter, in approach, in geography, in history. I read about grandfathers and newborns, children and youth, sports and food, animals and colors. And, I read them again. I went over the wondrous assortment several times before I whittled them down into a shortlist.

Once I created the shortlist, I knew an even more daunting task lay ahead: choosing the five winners, which includes the top three and the two highly commended stories. I did a lot of sorting, I did a lot of thinking, I read the stories out loud and, at times, even wished the list of winners could be longer.

The language, the unsaid between the lines, the tightness of the prose and the resonance are all paramount in such small stories and the winning pieces exemplified all those elements. These tales, I believe, will leave an indelible impression on the readers’ minds. I still think about the stories, days after I first read them.

Thank you, writers, for the gift of your precious words. It’s been my pleasure to inhabit the alluring worlds you’ve created.

Congratulations to the winners! I cannot wait to find out who penned these stunning gems.


Market Forces : 1st place

Walking to Wollongong : 2nd place

Lakota Widow : 3rd place
The Astronauts Meet for a Picnic on the First Thursday of Every Month : Highly Commended

Fissure : Highly Commended

Notes on Individual Stories

Market Forces 1

This story captivated me upon first read, and the second read and the third read. A sense of displacement, of not belonging, pervades this touching, well crafted story. The juxtaposition of the celebrating football fans, and Juma―who escaped his homeland and made it to Milan under harrowing conditions―makes for a painful contrast. The reader aches for Juma, for his loneliness, for his struggle to survive. At the end, we welcome the rain so he can sell his umbrellas, and for once, make enough to fill his belly. The tale might focus on one person who’s leading an in-between, temporary life, but underneath, the story hums with issues that are larger, stretching across countries and continents.

Walking to Wollongong 2

The details in this story are mesmerizing. An entire continent comes alive in a very small space. While the richness of Australia is illustrated via a tablecloth that doesn’t quite fit on the rectangular table, below simmers the story of a protagonist who craves information, for any snippet of knowledge that may help unearth their own history. This craving tugs at the reader and we find ourselves rooting for this young person. We too, walk that map of Australia as we ponder about the unspoken story hidden at Wollongong.

Lakota Widow 3

This poignant story about an old woman evokes such a majestic sense of place, of nature, of connection and all of that in five economical paragraphs. Yes, it’s about two people forging an unexpected relationship―a ninety year old woman and a hospital worker who becomes a friend. However, it’s also about the history of a people, about that which is sacred, about that which is so much bigger than us. In this lyrical, mystical piece the reader can breathe the air of those hills, see the buffalo cross the river, observe the broad sweep of sweetgrass and revel in all of that magic.

The Astronauts Meet for a Picnic on the First Thursday of Every Month (Highly Commended)

The unusual and deft use of the third person plural drew me into this story about a group of astronauts. The story is set at a picnic, not exactly a place where you’d expect astronauts. Beautiful details―the strawberries, the hot dogs, the ants—serve to ground the astronauts. They talk about what they wanted and what they have now. The real story, though, resides in the shared experiences they don’t discuss, in the things that hover in their minds, in the things that are present at the picnic and yet absent at the same time.

Fissure (Highly Commended)

The urgency and the pace in this one-sentence story kept me rapt until the very last word. We are with our ice-skater as she performs her routine, with the thoughts in her head, with the strain of everything weighing on her mind. We can comprehend her stress, see how she’s pushed and pulled, understand how enormous the burden of performance must feel and we want her to succeed, despite Ryan, and then, there’s that finish, the unforgettable, climactic finish to the story.

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