Judges

Interview with John Brantingham, Judge for the 2023 Novella-in-Flash Award

John Brantingham was Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks’ first poet laureate. His work has been featured in hundreds of magazines, Writers Almanac and The Best Small Fictions 2016 and 2022. He has nineteen books of poetry and fiction including Life: Orange to Pear (Bamboo Dart Press). He is the founder and editor of The Journal of Radical Wonder. He lives in Jamestown, New York.

    We’re delighted that prose and poetry writer, teacher and editor from the US, John Brantingham, is judging our 2023 Novella in Flash Award. He has so much of interest to say in this interview, to inspire you to write a novella-in-flash. We hope you will give it a go and if you want to read a survey of the form and exercises to help you structure, and finish your novella as well as get ideas, the new craft guide book Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash, from blank page to finished manuscript by Michael Loveday,recently published by our small press, Ad Hoc Fction will help you with the writing process.

    Interview
  • Thank you for judging our 2023 Novella in Flash Award!
    As well as many poetry books, you have written three Novellas-in-Flash yourself. Inland Empire Afternoon, which was a runner up in the 2019 Bath Flash Fiction Award and published by Ad Hoc Fiction the same year, Finding Mr Pembroke, The Wapshot Press and Life: Orange to Pear, published by Bamboo Dart Press. Can you give us a few sentences about each of them and their themes?
      Inland Empire Afternoon follows a new character in about forty flashes, all linking to the others to tell the story of a region of the Los Angeles area. The Inland Empire is a much-maligned section of California. It is stereotyped and insulted because it is not nearly as wealthy as Los Angeles, and I don’t like that human tendency toward provincialism and hatred. I wanted to capture the humanity, grace, and craziness of the area, which might be anywhere.

      I wrote Finding Mr. Pembroke after a particularly difficult semester of teaching. It had been overwhelming physically and emotionally, and one day, I shut down. I just couldn’t move, so I wanted to capture that experience. Along with that, I’m well into middle age (as long as I live beyond 100), and it surprises me when I realize that I’m not in my twenties any longer. I wanted to deal with self-concept as well. It’s a book done in one long sentence, and I was hoping that it captured part of the reality of rumination, and the way I was feeling at the time. I couldn’t go to sleep, and I was never really awake.

    Life: Orange to Pear was written slowly, and I understood halfway through that I was asking and answering a question. It is about an alter ego of myself. I started out my adulthood on a journey to become an academic and dropped out of a Ph.D. program in favor of an MFA and the life of a writer. Sure I taught at a college, but the writing I was doing stopped being academic at that point. I was a dismal academic writer. My articles tended to explore the obvious. I also missed the experience of fatherhood, so this answers the question to me of how my life would have been different with those two changes. The answer I came to was that I would have been a boozy, erratically employed father of someone I loved deeply. I’ve written a shadow companion to it called Finnegans Awake to ask and answer other questions about myself. Actually, that entire collection was inspired by an exercise at the Bath Flash Fiction Festival last autumn.

  • What interests you in the novella in flash as a form?
    I like the way that it breaks away from previous modes of expression that were damaged by financial concerns. So much of writing before the new technologies of today was limited by the realities of print media. It was too expensive and too difficult to distribute forms like flash or the novella. A friend of mine wrote and published a flash novella in the 1970s, Gerald Locklin’s The Case of the Missing Blue Volkswagen. It is an absolutely brilliant book that changed the way I understood fiction, but it never got the kind of distribution it needed. It asks us to reconceptualize not only what fiction is but what life is because it can be a series of interlocking moments with or without narrative arc, as our lives often are.
    The problem with this is that when we limit forms of expression, we limit what we can say, and voices that should be heard are silenced. It is part of the process of gatekeeping, and I want to hear as many points-of-view as possible. It’s not just about the kinds of stories that we can tell, but the ways that we see. It’s not just story; it’s point-of-view. Not all concepts can be expressed in 100,000 words, and so these new forms, like the novella-in-flash, allow us to explore other selves and ideas (We need to be able to see from other people’s perspective. David Foster Wallace tells us why.).
  • For many years you were a professor of English at Mt. San Antonio College, California,where you coordinated the creative writing programme and ran the yearly creative writing conference. But you have recently left teaching there and moved to New York State.
    Have you plans to teach elsewhere?
    I might. Technically, I’m just on leave so I might return to Mt. SAC, but currently I’m feeling that I’d rather not. The work I did there was good and important, maybe the most important work I will ever do, but I’d like to focus more on creative writing than I did there. I had a kind of hybrid assignment where I taught creative writing and essay writing, and I worked with and evaluated part-time professors.
    What I’d like to do now is teach creative writing exclusively. I don’t know what the realities of the United Kingdom are, but in the United States there is too much gatekeeping, starting with professors who do not help their students find their own voice and platform. Many educators ask their students to mimic their voices. I want to help people create something that is true to them and their experiences. I love to help marginalized students find their audience for the same reason I love new forms of fiction. I want to hear new things. This might be at a formal college or university or in places like flash fiction festivals. It could be in the United States or outside of it. I don’t know. I’m so new to not being a tenured professor that I’m still spinning a little; after all, for twenty-five years my first name was Professor. Now, I’m back to being John.
  • Have you any new writing projects on the go?
    I always work on many projects at once. I just finished a collection of 100 ekphrastic sonnets about four artists who lived through times of war, Miro, Klee, Goya, and David. Some of their art gives a path forward through international trauma. David often celebrates tyranny, propping up dictators like Napoleon. Of course, this is the nationalistic quest, and I see many in my country acting in the same way. I’d like to understand those people, but I doubt I ever will.

      At the same time, I’m working on a flash novella or novel following the life cycle of one person born during WWII. We follow his life and the effect that war has on him. It resists the idea that there are individual wars rather than just one war that shifts all over the world. If we say, WWII ended, then there’s no way that it can. There’s more to it than that. There are other throughlines like how returning to nature heals, but that was the impetus for the work.
      My third collection in progress is a series of free verse poems looking at empty spaces and why they have been abandoned, and how that abandonment feels in a world that is often hostile and feels meaningless to people who live in it. I live in a rural part of New York State and people are leaving for places like the Inland Empire, California. There are abandoned factories and houses everywhere.
    The fourth project, which I’m more or less done with, is about the Santa Ana River Watershed. It’s an 80 page haibun about what makes a watershed. In the Los Angeles area, where the Santa Ana River is, water is so scarce that it must be used and reused. If a drop of water lands on a mountain, it’s likely to pass through 3 or 4 people before it reaches the ocean. That means the human population is part of the calculation that the water resources people make when they try to understand how much water there is. This fact makes it clear that we are a part of nature, not disconnected. We are in fact a part of the watershed; we are a mobile reservoir. I try to explore those connections to nature. “Connection” is even the wrong word because it implies disconnection is possible. It is not. We are of the rivers that run past and through us.
  • You have also recently started The Journal of Radical Wonder on Medium. Can you tell us more about it and how people can submit and what you are looking for?
    It’s a journal that came out of years of conversations with my writing partners. I agree very much with Hannah Arendt about the dangerous nature of the banality of evil, and we’re trying to extend that idea a bit. Being able to see this world, any part of it, as banal is where evil begins. The lens of banality is a way of seeing beauty, oneness, and connection as being disposable (Have you heard Cosmo Sheldrake’s song against boredom? Here it is.). Not everything needs to be positive, but it’s trying to understand how everyday moments are not simple or humdrum. It fights cynicism, which is a sophomoric approach to life meant to make someone seem smart without taking the time to understand.
    What I’d like people to submit is anything that lays bare what is true in this world. I don’t want to read anything merely clever. I hate smugness and punching down. I assume that I’m wrong about a lot in this world. I want to be shown the truth.
    Okay, so on a practical level, what would l like to see? Flash of all sorts. Poetry, although formatting on medium is very limited, so I think it’s best to send poems that rely on shape to other publications. Essays. Book reviews. We’d love more book reviews. Interviews. Art and images, these don’t go to me but to Jane Edberg, the visual arts editor.
    Here’s the link to our submissions page. Please send me work. At heart, I am more of a teacher than an editor. I’d love to have a conversation about your work: Link to our submission guidelines.
  • If you are able to answer this, it would be very interesting to know what kind of novella would particularly grab your attention?

    I want to understand other people in a profound and meaningful way. I want to have a moment of humanity. I’m driven by character and setting. Kathy Fish, Kendall Johnson, Romaine Washington, Aimee Bender, Grant Hier, Tony Barnstone, Pamela Painter, Karen Jones, Lynne Thompson, Michael Loveday, and Stuart Dybek move me. Kareem Tayyar always floors me. I think he’s one of the best living writers. All of these writers and poets show us what it means to be human. Of course, I love others too, but this kind of writing tends to reach me.

  • A tip for the difficult moments in writing a longer narrative in flash fictions?
    When I am having trouble moving through writing, it usually has to do with me running from trauma. When that happens, I try to understand what it means, and what pain I’m afraid to work through.
    A psychologist friend of mine once said that nightmares are not the problem, they are the solution your body is giving you, and you need to listen to them. When we’re entering fiction, we’re entering dreamtime. If you’re struggling, it could very well be this. It also might be that it’s dangerous in these moments to proceed alone. Support systems matter. The image of the alienated writer is a warning, not an aspiration.
    On top of that, if you’ve had the kind of shame-based vaguely religious childhood training grounded on groupthink and cognitive dissonance that I had, everything in your stupid brain will tell you that if you enjoy an experience then it must be without value, that if you create something, it has no meaning, and that everyone around you always has greater insights than you do.
    Let me tell you this:

Your work is important.

Your voice matters.

The world needs to hear what you have to say.

Also, if you are a beginning writer, please watch this: Ira Glass’s flash essay.

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Novella-in-Flash Award, 2022 – Report by Judge, Michelle Elvy

Many thanks to Michelle Elvy for her dedication and enthusiasm for the novella in flash form and for judging our Novella in Flash Award for two consecutive years. This year, Michelle has chosen a first prize winner, two runners-up, two highly commended and two commended novellas in flash. Do read down through her general comments on the longlist and all her insightful remarks about each of the ten writers on the shortlist. We begin with comments on three shortlisted novellas, followed by the commended, highly commended and runners-up. Comments on the winning novella in flash, Lessons at the Water’s Edge are at the end of this post. And you can read the bios of all seven of the winning and commended writers here. Bios of the rest of the shortlisted writers coming soon.

Report

The novella-in-flash form is growing in both popularity and writerly skill, and judging a competition of this standard is no easy task. I read the long-listed stories and noted the range of approach, and all of them captivated me in one way or another

Some take as their starting point a line from someone familiar to us – Margaret Atwood, for example. One novella begins with a Japanese proverb, and one with a Vietnamese legend. I admired the historical detail in some, taking us back to the 1960s, 70s and 80s, even further. In one we encounter Shelley and Byron; in another we see the family story around the history of the perambulator. We see biases and boundaries poked, and we see how fiction can push at the edges and open new spaces. Cultural histories are examined and questioned, too, from India to Hawai‘i. There’s coming of age and coming to terms.

Like all good novels, the novella-in-flash can tackle big themes and pay attention to the finest detail. And this year’s set of long-listed stories did this so well – which presented the first challenge: selecting the short list.

Here I chose a set that represents the variety that the form can take. In all of these, the writing was finely honed and the stories explored their themes in unique ways. There is grief and loss, and growth and joy – perhaps typical human themes but in this short list they are presented in ways that stayed with me.

Read in Full

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Judge’s Report, 20th Award

    Many thanks to Jude Higgins for inviting me to judge this round of the award and to the Bath Flash readers who presented me with a long list filled with amazing stories. I loved every single one, so whittling down to twenty for a shortlist felt like an impossible task. I read and reread the stories, paced the house with them, read them aloud and finally thought I’d done it, but a quick tally showed I’d only reached the number 28. After a bit of screaming and exceedingly tough decisions, the top twenty emerged. That shortlist came on dog walks with me, took over my concentration when I was trying to watch TV, kept me company during my insomnia nights, and what excellent company.
    As writers, we are manipulators – of thought, of mood, of emotion – but we have to hide our tricks from the reader. Flash fiction writers have to work even harder, to perform like close-up magicians, because there is nowhere to hide what we’re up to as we work to make readers feel the things we want them to. The twenty stories on the list made me cry, made me laugh, made me think, made me question, made me wish I had written them. I hated having to pare my list down even further, but it had to be done.
    The stories that made me cry, that pulled my heart out of my chest, wrung it out and stuffed it back in there, were the ones I initially thought would fill most of the prize spots. But an odd thing happened – the more I read those stories (and I’ve read every story about twenty times now) the less power they held over me. That’s not a criticism – they are excellent stories – it’s just the effect of repeated reading, which is a pitfall of judging. I still love every one of those heart-breaking stories and look forward to reading them again in the anthology, with a bit of distance and armed with boxes of tissues. (Note: If everyone reads ‘A Journey Through an Old Dog’s Veins’ at the same time, we should issue a flood warning.)

      I have been longlisted and shortlisted in the Bath Flash Award many times in the past, so please believe me when I say I know how disappointing it is not to make it to the prizes. I’d like to give honourable mentions to a few stories that only just missed being in the top five: My Husband Thinks He Knows Everything (hilarious), In Slow Motion (stunning use of pacing), Optimum Focal Length for (Family) Portraits (excellent structure), and Jack and the Fallen Giant – Albion Care Home, Sunday Visiting 2-5pm (a genuinely original dementia story).
      The stories that stayed fresh on repeated readings were, for the most part, the ones that made me think, made me laugh or were simply unlike anything I’d read before, and here they are.

    1st Place
    A Roadmap of Womanhood
    This story was the first I read, and I had a feeling, from that first read, it would end up being my winner. I loved the concept of a woman’s whole life mapped out in a vein on her chest, loved the journey through time mirrored by the journey in the map. I found myself reading it again and again, finding new lines to love: ‘the place on her body where three babes have suckled, partners have fluttered their curious fingers and slid their passionate tongues.’ The beauty of that line is in stark contrast to the prosaic list of places like Frogmore and Epping Forest. There are harsh realities here, especially regarding aging and what is still deemed attractive and appropriate. And the ending, wishing for a U-turn, was poignant and beautiful. This flash is an absolute stunner.

    2nd Place

    Edging

    I couldn’t get the image of Carrie out of my head. I could see her so clearly, imagined the black hole on her back as a tattoo, imagined staring into it. Although she is not the narrator, not the main character, it was her reactions to the man’s request, to his neglected house, to his final question that gripped me. But I did think of the man – what was he looking for? Is this a story of escape, or of giving up? Is it a story of lost love or seeking new possibilities? Will he, eventually, find what he thinks he needs? In the end, it felt like it could be all those things for the main character, but not for Carrie. Her weariness when she says that last line, ‘I’ve lost count.’ lands like a gut-punch. I doubt I’ll ever get her out of my head.

    3rd Place
    Grand Canyon Official Form 477D

    I get annoyed that humour rarely wins prizes. We can all make people cry, but raising a smile is hard, raising a chuckle is harder and proper laugh out loud funny is a rare and special thing. I’ve read lots of break-up/reflecting on past relationship stories, but nothing quite like this. The surreal situation is wonderful – a woman on a trip, imagining she sees her ex being eaten by a bear or a clown, lovely touches like him being ‘so far down,’ perfect little hints dropped in about what kind of man he was – it’s excellent and I giggle every time I read the guide’s response about the correct form. An absolute joy to read and I’m so happy to be able to award a funny story a prize.
    Highly Commended
    Riptide
    I felt so wrong-footed by this flash. It starts off feeling like a surreal dream until you realise you’re in the mind of someone suffering a post-traumatic stress episode. The constant allusions to drowning, the clues that are dropped – child’s arm band, orange windsock, the jacket puffed up in the water, the red rubber sandal of a six-year-old boy – ambush you and floor you. And that plaintive ending, to keep swimming, is quietly devastating.
    Highly Commended

    When a YouTube clip of Diego Goes Viral
    The parallels between the two tales – this weekend father’s and Diego’s – is perfect, and his explanation for why things are the way they are to his sensitive, animal loving daughter is harsher than he means it to be, but he can think of nothing else to say, no other way to explain he and Diego’s plight except, ‘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..’ Great ending with all the caged animals hearing a free wolf howl in the distance.

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Interview with Karen Jones, 20th Award Judge

Karen Jones is a flash and short story writer from Glasgow, Scotland. Her flashes have been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Micro Fiction and The Pushcart Prize, and her story 'Small Mercies' was included in Best Small Fictions 2019 and BIFFY50 2019. In 2021 she won first prize in the Cambridge Flash Fiction Prize, Flash 500, Reflex Fiction and Retreat West Monthly Micro and was short listed for To Hull and Back, Bath Flash Fiction Award, Bath Short Story Award and longlisted for Fractured Lit Flash Fiction Prize. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies and magazines. Her novella-in-flash, When It’s Not Called Making Love is published by Ad Hoc Fiction. She is Special Features Editor at New Flash Fiction Review.

We’re delighted that Karen Jones has agreed to be our 20th Award Judge. In this intervoew we learn what makes a stand-out flash fiction for her, more about her own writing journey, and at the end she’s given a great prompt to get you writing a new story. Read in Full

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Judge’s report, October 2021

When Jude asked me to judge the 19th round of the Bath Flash Fiction Award, it got me thinking about why I like writing for competitions. How it helps my creative process, that is, setting aside any distant prospect of prizes and glory (welcome as those are, should they ever come). For me, it’s the disciplines of wordcount and deadline coupled with the challenge that safe won’t cut it. If your story is going to stand out from so very many other excellent, unseen pieces, you need to step out onto the high wire.

On the longlist I found stories that all took that risk. There were dreamscapes and dystopias, unheard perspectives and hidden inner dialogues, reworked fairy-tales and school play rebellions, the unexpected significance of custard, an earthquake on the page.

I read and reread these stories. I scribbled notes and added exclamation marks. I shuffled the order and read them in different rooms and in my local park. All the stories on the longlist would find applauded homes in magazines. There were some that it was so hard not to move across to the shortlist pile; there were ones on the shortlist that it felt so harsh not to give some kind of rosette. I considered making some Honourable Mentions here but, in all honesty, there would be too many. Read in Full

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Interview with Sharon Telfer, 19th Award Judge

We’re delighted that writer and editor, Sharon Telfer is going to judge our 19th Bath Flash Fiction Award, which is open July 1st and closes October 9th. Sharon, has some brilliant and encouraging flash fiction writing advice here, as well as news about her forthcoming collection from Reflex Fiction, The Map Waits. Do read the interview and be inspired.

Sharon Telfer lives in East Yorkshire, in the north of England. She won the Bath Flash Fiction Award in June 2016 with ‘Terra Incognita’ and again in February 2020 with ‘Eight Spare Bullets’. She has also won the Reflex Flash Fiction Prize. Her flash has been selected for Best Small Fictions 2021, the 2020 and 2019 ‘BIFFY50’ lists, and Best Microfiction 2019. She was awarded the Word Factory/New Writing North Short Story Apprenticeship in 2018, and placed second in the Bath Short Story Award 2020. She also has a short story in Test Signal, an anthology of contemporary northern writing (Bloomsbury/Dead Ink, 2021). Her debut flash fiction collection, The Map Waits, is published by Reflex Press in 2021. She’s a founding editor of FlashBack Fiction, the online litmag showcasing historical flash. She tweets @sharontelfer and posts terrible photos on Instagram, @sharontelferwriter. Read in Full

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Judge’s report, 18th Award, by K.M. Elkes

General Comments
Judging a story competition with a high standard of writing is a whole, twist-filled narrative in itself. There are beautiful moments of discovery, difficult decisions, inner wranglings, a love story or two, sadness over loss, and the inevitable questions, mysteries, and ambiguities.

Working your way from longlist to shortlist, you encounter risky, raw stories that promise to leave you changed; love-at-first-sight stories full of confident verve; ones that have an allure through their use of language; quietly persuasive stories, confident in their low-key power; there are stories to admire for their elegance and beauty, and ones that raise a smile with their quirky charm.

After a lot of deliberation, the narrative gathers pace and the climax nears when there are just 10 stories left. You sit with them. Take them on a walk. Gaze at them in silence. Read their words out loud, over and over. You study their deployment of craft – tone and voice, use of narrative tools, the way thematic ideas are conveyed, the pace and flow of the narrative, how well the ending has been earned. You find yourself, in cheesy parlance, asking: ‘is this story the best story it can be?’

Choosing the final group of winning and commended stories is when the tension of the judging narrative reaches its final, feverish pitch. The plot now becomes more complex, stories slide in and out of contention, some disappear then reappear stronger than before, some fade, some remain strong. The pervading tone of this denoument is tough love, and no little admiration, as final decisions are made.

And so, many congratulations to everyone who made it to right to the end of this particular story. Your work deserves it, after the difficult journey it has been on. Congratulations too, to those who missed out on final places – it’s often a case of fine margins. And if you were shortlisted or longlisted, take much strength from that and go again.

Finally, thank you to the whole Bath Flash Fiction Award team for their hard work and dedication and to Jude Higgins for trusting me to be the judge for this incarnation of the Award. Read in Full

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Novella-in-Flash 2021 Judge’s report, Michelle Elvy

What a very fine set of flash novellas! And what a daunting task – perhaps the most difficult reading I’ve done. A huge congratulations to every writer who completed a novella-in-flash and submitted, and then a further round of applause to the writers whose work is in the Long List. Wow.
Many thanks also to Ad Hoc Fiction/ BFFA for entrusting me with this challenging and rewarding task. I learn so much every time I read new sets of flash fictions – and this collection of novellas certainly raises the bar.
It’s no easy task writing a collection of stories with a narrative arc, with overtones and undercurrents, with full yet flawed characters, with suspense and mystery in such a small space. Every one of the novellas in the long list has something special about it – many of them intense family portrayals, many of them drawn from history of a place and the nuances from a time long gone, several of them capturing innocence and loss. The form is evolving; writers are taking more chances in the way they write novellas-in-flash, as this long list demonstrates. Some experiment with time; some explore voice and point-of-view in inventive ways; a few play with dialogue and the vernacular; one begins with a recipe.
This long list takes us from Augusta to Reykjavik. And the names: imaginative and evocative, from ‘Fishing Lines’ to ‘Throw A Seven’, from ‘Wild Boys’ to ‘His Raucous Girls’ – I wanted to meet the people in these pages.
The stories captivated me from the opening lines, too. Here are few memorable ones:
I’m starting to believe my own stories. – Remembering What the Doormouse Said

“Two girls in thrift-store broomstick skirts leap from the dinner table, two girls in the
desert smell rain.” – His Raucous Girls

“Sixty-one paces between the Pool of the Monster and the Elm Field. Cara says fifty-five. I don’t argue. Never argue. She’s a year older. Knows things I don’t know.” – Long Bend Shallows

“Greedy and selfish. That’s babies for you,’ said the old woman.” – The End of History

Arriving at the Short List took ages. I moved back and for the between stories, I examined beginnings, middles and endings. I examined dialogue and pacing. I walked away and let them settle into my brain and heart. I read them again. Finally, the ten on the short list emerged as they each took all of the things we love about the short form one step further. They took risks, and I admired them for that. Here’s a hint of what the short list holds:

A Family of Great Falls. Two sisters growing up with a sense of the potential promise that life may hold, as well as the dark realities that are unavoidable with a father who, as an undertaker, is the ‘keeper of the dead’ and a brother buried in the town cemetery. Oh, and a name that must be buried and farewelled, too. Tender but not sentimental, this is a balanced set of stories that reveal the bonds of sisterhood and the way two young girls face the hardest challenges.

Hairy on the Inside. A group of flatmates try to hold onto their compassion and civilising tendencies in the face of pestilence and plague – mostly. Their new lockdown lives include all the typical things, from counselling sessions to book clubs. But this is no ordinary tale: you will howl when the moon is full and grimace when there’s a hunger for blood. A funny and irreverent monster mash-up, with love in the mix, too, and a serious message about how to be the real you. Carefully written with excellent pacing but also: it’s clear how much fun the writer had writing this!

Kipris. New life, and repeated death on the island of Cyprus. A story that intertwines people and politics, historical drama and myth, in an intricate and lyrical way, moving from the oceanside to the mountains to lemon and orange groves, and then to Liverpool and back again. Spanning across generations from the 1940s to the 1980s, this is a study in self-determination and love, on many levels. And goats – filling us with warm frothy milk, filling the stories with sustenance.

The Death and Life of Mrs Parker. Set in the structure the title suggests, this novella brings the reader into the moment of Mrs Parker’s demise and then, with swift moves and snappy dialogue, takes us through her life (moments both special and mundane), all while the ambulance lights flare and the compressions are counted. A life lived, a life revived, a life lost: there are many wonderful moments in this clever set of stories.

The Listening Project. A boy lost to his family; a young girl growing up without her brother. This is a beautiful story of grief and the way it changes us. It’s also about tuning in, and learning to hear, as the title suggests: to both outside and inside worlds. Moving across generations and sometimes navigating delicate moments and thin ice, this novella takes us through a family’s sad story, but also rebirth – in more ways than one. Musical and rich in tone.

And now, here are the top placements…
HIGHLY COMMENDED
Small Things. A beautiful story of loss, told in a way that surprises you, because love is expansive between the people in this story – between Jude and his Da, between Jude and the memory of his Ma, between Jude and Una, between Jude and Kit. And even as the love is grand, the moments are captured with subtle storytelling, and the heart shines with all the small things between them. These stories hold sharp dialogue and sometimes uncomfortable encounters; these feel like real people building real relationships. Friendship and love resonate in these pages, and the ending is both surprising and perfect. The story is layered over the years, from Jude’s first encounter with the new boy Kit (age 7) to his early adulthood when the world is baffling and unbalanced, where weaknesses and strengths come to light. And Kit, Kit Kit, at the centre of it all. Exceptional storytelling!

HIGHLY COMMENDED
Things I can’t tell Amma. A coming-of-age story of a young woman studying abroad, reaching across oceans and time to her family back in Calcutta. Deepa misses the spices and comfort of home, but she embraces the newness and choice that this new world has to offer. Deepa’s encounters captivate the reader. The details take us there; this in 1981 America: giggly girls tune into General Hospital and Good Morning, America, President Reagan is shot, Prince Charles marries Lady Diana Spencer. Deepa is far from the traditions and expectations of her known world, and she opens her mind and her heart. It’s a world of jalapeño and new spices and even danger. And humour, too: there’s a clickety typewriter with a missing letter and ‘Whats-his-name’, the pet bird she can’t name. And there is love, first hinted at when Deepa does not pull back as Theo reaches for her hand, and then told delicately in second person and closing the set with a wonderful, gentle ending.

RUNNER UP
One for the River. An economy of words that tells a richly layered story. This is one of the shortest collections in the batch, and yet here we have so much as the writer shows the death of a boy from many views and paints a picture of the people who inhabit this small town. A great deal of control is exercised here; both the writing and the story are restrained but full. The themes intrigue: impermanence versus permanence; a fleeting moment versus decisive finality; an encounter observed as chance but with clear results. A photograph not taken encompasses the idea of ‘would have/ could have…’, while a stone carved with hammer and chisel reminds us of what can be said without words. This story leaves me with images of these people, and the moments between them – some wicked, some funny, some full of sorrow and also grace. And there’s a play with language, too: the chip van, the chipping of the stone; the rock of one’s life, the rock that Aiden drags, Sisyphean, to the bridge where the drowning boy was first observed. The idea of change, too: what happens to Fat Barry; what happens to Aiden. And then there’s the drowning itself – the five stages that are essential and eloquent, placed between the scenes. Spare in style, this small set of pages resonates with the complexities of an entire novel.

RUNNER UP
The Tony Bone Stories. A strong and sure narrative, this lively set of stories explores truth and fiction, the line between reality and make-believe, and the way one story will influence the outcome of another. It is worth noting that this is one of the few novellas in the Short List that does not deal with death and grief; this is a completely different take on The Meaning Of Life. I applaud the writer for taking a route that is fresh and fun. Rich in layers and confident in voice, the writing is witty, humorous and charged – and leaves the reader with a delicious set of questions to ponder, without being overly ponderous. It’s a romp through Tony Bone’s world – the good moments (he has a girlfriend!), the sleepless nights, the trip to Vegas – all the while working alongside his, and the narrator’s, existential crisis. Tony Bone has to exist, yes, but there must be a reason; as we learn here: you can’t just take someone from a news story and create a character to bring to your writing group, right? The narrator must build Tony – and plausibility – before our eyes. What a fun and rewarding exploration of the relationship between character, narrator and reader, and a reflection on possibilities, down to the very last marvellous line.

FIRST
Season of Bright Sorrow. A girl lives by the sea, and the rhythm of life both lived and observed emerges in these pages. Here we have a gathering of things unexpected: an external exploration of young Lana’s world, and the internal workings of her imagination, both built artfully by the writer. This collection stands out for the rhythmic storytelling and the variety the reader encounters in these small fictions – told in fragments, in lists, in long breathless sentences, in repetitions, in sharp and believable dialogue. There is great care here, and yet the stories spill from the page seamlessly. We peek into a bag and see what’s being collected; we have glimpses of a map, shards of shining things. There is both breadth and depth in these stories, and each page reveals something more: faraway objects and items close up need examining, need understanding. The strong characters are woven together beautifully: Lana with her missing father, her not-too-sober mother, an old man collecting objects along the beach and an unlikeable boy. The encounters are poignant and surprising. And we get the sense that, despite a yearning for order and control, there is a wildness, too: from lions to spiders to whelks to whales to the sea itself. By the end, Lana – and the reader – come to terms with realities and limitations that this life delivers, but there is an innocence and a hope that lingers, too. A superbly designed set of stories, from beginning to end. And although the style and confidence of the prose itself is enough to garner the top prize in this competition, it is worth mentioning here that the sketches that accompany the writing add another intriguing layer.

An extraordinary set of novellas-in-flash! I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!

-Michelle Elvy
April 2021

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Interview with K M Elkes, Judge, 18th Award

    K.M. Elkes is based in the West Country, UK. His flash fiction collection All That Is Between Us (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2019) was shortlisted for a 2020 Saboteur Award. He is a previous winner of the Bath Flash Fiction Award, and the Fish Publishing Flash Prize, as well as being published in more than 40 anthologies and online literary magazines. His short stories have won, or been placed, in international writing competitions, such as the Manchester Fiction Prize, Royal Society of Literature Prize and the Bridport Prize. He was longlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award in 2019. His writing has featured on schools and college curricula in the USA, India and Hong Kong and used by bibliotherapy charity The Reader. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University.From 2016-18 he was Guest Editor of the A3 Review literary magazine. As a writer from a rural, working class background, his work often reflects marginalised voices and places.
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Charmaine Wilkerson – Judge’s report February 2021

I have a soft spot in my heart for the Bath Flash Fiction Award, in part, because I published my very first piece of flash fiction in an anthology produced through this series. It was an honour to serve as an independent judge for the seventeenth award and, really, a joy to read for this. I’d like to say a special thank you to all the writers who entered this competition and trusted us with their stories.

Before discussing the selections, I would like to thank Jude Higgins and the wonderful team at BFFA for inviting me to participate—and for working so hard to whittle down the original roster of entries to a long list of fifty. It’s not an easy enterprise when there is so much good material, so many creative voices at work.

One of the things I like about the Bath Flash Fiction Award series is the opportunity which BFFA provides for many entrants from throughout the year to be published in the annual anthology. You don’t have to have one of the prize-winning entries to be published. After reading through the long list, I was reminded why the anthology is a gift to anyone who loves to read flash fiction.
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