In this interview, first prize winning writer, Louise Mangos from our twentieth Award, judged by Karen Jones, tells us how her winning piece came into being. We learn more about how she began writing flash, there’s a link to one of her first prize wins (illustrated by her) from the weekly 150 word story contest run by Ad HocFiction. Before the contest had to stop in 2019 when Ad HocFiction began publishing books in a big way, Louise won it six or seven times. She also tells us about her crime/suspense novels and other projects on the go. Her latest suspense novel,, The Beaten Track is launched in London in a couple of weeks (hope Londoners can get there!) We’ve also wonderful pictures of the Swiss Alps where Louise lives and great tips at the end for flash fiction writers. If you are coming to the flash fiction festival in July, you will meet Louise there and hear her read this story. Read in Full
Thank you to all those from around the world who entered our February 2022 award, the 20th one we have organised since 2015. There were 1222 entries this time, stories entered by writers in 40 different countries listed below. We very much appreciate your support for our thrice-yearly awards and as always, there were very many exceptional and inventive pieces to read. We love flash fiction and it is a joy to read what writers come up with.
We continued the fun of the virtual Last Minute Club badge, and many writers obliged by entering throughout the last day of the competition and right up to midnight to receive one. We know if some of these late entries don’t make our final lists, they go on to be successful in other places. So we like to provide the impetus for people to write. We may have some real-life badges for sale at the in person flash fiction festival taking place the weekend of July 8th-10th in Bristol!
There was a guessing game for the colour of this badge with one of our anthologies the prize the day before the final day of the award. The badge is supposed to be beige, and we decided that peach and terracotta were the nearest guesses. So two people received an anthology this time.
Our huge congratulations to the winners.: Louise Mangos from Switzerland has won first prize; Iona Rule from the UK, second prize; Debra A Daniel from the US third prize; Kathryn Aldridge Morris from the UK and Sam Payne from the UK were both highly commended. You can read their wonderful stories on the winners page and they will be published, along with everyone on the longlist who has accepted publication, in our year end anthology which will contain flash fictions from all the 2022 awards and will be posted free to contributors.
Thanks very much to Karen Jones, our 20th Award judge for her work in reading the longlist, selecting the twenty on the short list and then the winners, and writing a great report and comments on the process and on the winning pieces. We have a tight turnaround for the Award and very much appreciate her for doing all this a short time period. You can read her excellent report here.
We also thank our initial readers for their dedicated work in reading the stories as they came in and for the intensive final burst of work.
The next award, this time judged by writer, editor and teacher from the US, Tommy Dean, opens tomorrow, March 1st and ends in early June.
We hope that you will enter again, and we look forward to more fantastic flash fictions to read.
A Roadmap of Womanhood
by Louise Mangos
The vein travels east from her cleavage across her right breast. Its trail is blue-green, like the motorways in her faded, water-damaged AA Atlas from the nineties, before everyone started using smartphone apps. It resembles the M1 where it meets the M25 at Bricket Wood, passing two freckles and a cherry angioma. After the junction, it takes a sharp turn south and ring-roads her areola, the place on her body where three babes have suckled, partners have fluttered their curious fingers and slid their passionate tongues. Frogmore. London Colney. South Mimms. The vein then travels eastwards horizontally before fading under her armpit into the ancient woodlands of Epping Forest. It transports her iron, her anger, her waste. It has pumped away the pain of mastitis in a steaming hot shower, felt the soft silk of an underwired C-cup, been prodded by doctors searching for cancerous nodules. The vessel should be blood red, but through the curious filter of human skin untouched by sunlight, it becomes the emerald green of a heaving swamp. Once fascinating, it is now shunned by partners, repulsive to lovers, frowned upon by friends. Today this roadmap is for her eyes only. After the fired flush of menopause has chilled her skin to marble, it remains a testament to the men who have overstepped her boundaries, crossed the central reservation, pulled in to a coffee stop for a quick pick-me-up. She looks at herself in the mirror, parked naked on a double yellow line. She studies the tattoo of her womanhood and wonders if she can do a U-turn, take the M4 all the way to the southwest, where there is nothing between her liver-spotted skin and the pot-holed coastal road except the salty tears of the Atlantic Ocean.
by Iona Rule
I didn’t want to be the type of person who went to Carrie, but ultimately I did. I found her in The Anchor, sitting at a ring-marked table, cradling a rum and coke. The stool bucked beneath me as I sat opposite her, stumbling over my stale words. It didn’t matter. She knew why I’d come. I shuffled the beer mats like tarot cards, then gave in. I whispered against her hair, which looped in a question mark by her ear,
“Can I see it?”
She nodded, resigned, as though she’d expected it, but had hoped I’d surprise her.
I took her home. Her gaze lingered on the dead cactus on the counter. Before I could ask, she removed her jumper and turned her back to me. There it was. Running from the nape of her neck, down her vertebrae, was a black hole. The emptiness stretched away, beckoning to something inside me that howled. I stood on the brink. People said if you entered one, you could access an alternate universe, or travel in time. I could return to a place where Sara hadn’t left and I could still keep a cactus alive. If this didn’t happen, if I only floated in the dark, my atoms pulled asunder, it would be enough.
But I couldn’t do it. I steadied myself on her shoulder and pulled back. We had sex instead. That basic human instinct anchored me as I stared from the edge.
After it was over, I felt empty, like that hole had taken something after all.
As she dressed I asked her how many people had jumped into her. She shrugged.
“I’ve lost count.”
I knew there was another world inside her, one where she dressed alone, watered my cactus, then closed the door behind her.
Grand Canyon Official Form 477D
by Debra A Daniel
Standing at the canyon’s edge, I see my ex struggling below. But maybe not. Maybe it’s a bear. Or a clown. Or a clown wearing a bear suit. Or vice-versa.
Although it could be my ex being eaten by a bear. That seems like something that would happen to him. Then he’d lie about it later. He’d make up some story, some half-truth difficult to trace.
“No,” he’d say. “That bear didn’t eat me. We were just joking around.”
“No,” he’d say. “I went to school with that bear. Great guy, Gary. Gary Bear. He lived two doors down. His mom always baked cookies for us.”
I look again. Hmm. It looks more like a clown now. Yes, a clown, for sure. My ex was afraid of clowns, ever since that Stephen King book came out.
Not that he read it. He never read anything. Not even my stories. He just thought it was cool to be scared of clowns.
Now, looking again, I’m pretty sure it’s a clown eating a bear.
Still it could be my ex. He’s so far down in the distance. I can’t tell.
“Is anyone missing a clown?” I ask the ranger. “Do bears suffer from coulrophobia? Have you ever been married to a pathological liar?”
The ranger shrugs. “I can’t answer unless you file an incident report,” she says. “Go to the welcome center. Ask for Official Form 447D Ex/Clown/Bear Attack.”
I take one more look into the canyon. There’s definitely a struggle still going on down below. I hope my ex isn’t being eaten by a bear.
But my tour bus is loading up, and he really isn’t my problem anymore.
by Kathryn Aldridge-Morris
When the nurse returns, he’s in a wetsuit, an oxygen tank strapped to his back, clipboard in his hands, says he’s a mental health nurse and you think ‘Sure!’ as the carapace of a sea turtle grows from his ribs and he shakes seaweed from your files and that thing you’re doing with your arms? you think it’s swimming but it’s the start of drowning and knowing the bottom of the seabed smells of hospital linoleum you try to catch hold of something to help you float, like a child’s armband left behind in the sand, or a mantra, an inflatable mantra: she sells seashells on the seashore—nice—and the nurse seems pleased with you, Keep going, he says, and you don’t let yourself look at the orange windsock behind his head, you focus on the slow tide of words which lap across the lines on his notebook, a memory sunk within you scratching its way out through his pen: Sean’s jacket puffed up in the water; Scratch Scratch, says his pen, then he tells you, It only takes a half pint of seawater to enter the lungs to start drowning, and you look at the plastic cup he’s handing you – that water is not from the cooler, is it? it’s from the fish tank on the side, the fish tank full of dogfish, stingrays, and the red rubber sandal of a six-year-old boy, but you drink it because if you don’t, it’ll go down in a tick box marked paranoia and that’s not a tick box you can swim in, and swimming’s what you need to do right now, swim, out to the buoy where you see your son waving, swim for god’s sake, move your limbs—he needs you.
When a Youtube clip of Diego Goes Viral
by Sam Payne
Everyone sees Diego pacing his enclosure, those big bear eyes of his all sad and lonely. But Diego hasn’t been the same since his brother died. There are plans to pair him with Tallulah, a rescued dancing bear who’s a bit of a handful, and even though Diego’s never had a successful relationship the zoo will try anything to make him happy. They explain all of this in a lengthy PR campaign, but people still gather outside the entrance waving placards and chanting no more cages and nobody visits because nobody wants to walk through a full-blown protest. Except Harry. Harry, who works the night shift at Ginsters and owes nineteen grand in payday loans. Harry, who’s been coming here with his daughter every other Saturday for months. What do they think will happen if the zoo closes? This is Diego’s home and it’s no fun having to leave your own home, I can tell you. Harry’s daughter, who once stepped on a spider and cried every night for a week, trails behind as he points out flamingos, llamas, zebras and rhinos, but when they see Diego she stops and her bottom lip wobbles and Harry knows what’s coming and he gets down on his knees and says, shit, none of this is perfect kiddo, you know how it is. Some bears end up in Alaskan rivers slapping salmon up in the air and some bears end up here. That’s just life. And even as he says this, he knows it’s not right, he knows he’s making excuses and his daughter pulls away and Harry looks at Diego, looks into those big bear eyes, all sad and lonely, and all around them baboons shriek, hyenas laugh, and somewhere not far from here, a wolf howls to an absent moon.