Judges

John Brantingham’s report on Novella in Flash 2024

Thanks very much to John Brantingham for judging our 2024 Award, and for his encouraging general comments as well as the specific remarks about the winners listed below. John is a big fan of the novella in flash, having also written several himself and we absolutely agree that all these novellas should be out in the world.

You can also read John’s previous comments on the longlist and short list and read more about the winners and commended below. As stated in our Award details, Ad Hoc Fiction is publishing the top three this year Hereafter,the first prize winner and the runners up, Nose Ornaments and Marilyn’s Ghost.

John writes:

I am thrilled with all of the novellas-in-flash in this year’s contest. Each of these had diverse subject matter, styles, and approaches to fiction writing, but I loved that each of them used the novella-in-flash form to help distill what they were saying about the world. In addition to this one unifying element, they also all dealt with those most powerful moments of the human experience. They dealt with issues like breaking with the past as one moves on into the future, how to negotiate life in a small town, grief and loss, thoughts of suicide, and the way society constructs and deconstructs fame.
As with last year, I would encourage any of the writers whose work I read to find a publisher for their work. These were all interesting and innovative, and the decision for the final choice is to some degree subjective. I can say that I loved reading all of them. I would have bought them had they been on a shelf in a bookstore.

Highly Commended
The Man with the Glass Blown Head and Brick Wall Face
The Man with the Glass Blown Head and Brick Wall Face is a fascinating novella about a man who discusses the endless abuse and self-harm of toxic masculinity and staying closeted that leads to self-harm. This work contains an interesting intrusive narrator who not only presents the story but also provides commentary on what was happening and the greater meaning of it all in terms of how the main character views the world and is handled by the world. He still keeps us at a bit of a psychic distance, which is the perfect place to keep up because otherwise it would turn pedantic. It is not just a strong novella-in-flash, but the stand-alone stories have self-contained emotional catharses that are moving in their own right.

Highly Commended
Nine Inches of Rain
Nine Inches of Rain is a historical novella-in-flash set in August of 1952 when a storm ravages a small town. Aside from any other considerations, the story of how a group of people deal with and live through natural chaos is compelling. The characters and their reactions are human and telling. However, Nine Inches of Rain uses the novella-in-flash form to explore what life in 1952 in the United Kingdom outside of London was like. It looks at the values and interpersonal relationships of the people in this world.

Runner Up
Nose Ornaments
Nose Ornaments follows the lives of three generations of Indian women as they migrate from India to Arizona. It looks at the Indian diaspora during a time of quickly shifting norms for women, and each generation finds that it needs to break free from the traditions of the previous generation. By using multiple generations, the author is able to bring humanity not only to the women as they free themselves from social norms, but also to show how disconcerting it is for a person of the previous generation to watch as her daughter acts in a way that doesn’t make sense to the mother.

Runner Up
Marilyn’s Ghost
Marilyn’s Ghost is a fictionalized account of the death and days following Marilyn Monroe’s death. It is a discussion not only of the characters in the story but also the social mores that surrounded the icon and our understanding of her. The shifting point-of-view helps us to understand who she was and how people projected their fantasies upon her. Just as important is a shifting style and approach to narrative. The author uses as many different ways of storytelling as possible in this short novella-in-flash. Each of them helps us to understand a different aspect of what the writer is suggesting about Monroe and our understanding of her.

Winner
Hereafter
Hereafter is a powerful novella-in-flash about the nature of grief. A woman loses her child when he’s young. There is no one there for her and those people who should be part of her support system, mother and partner and others, are either missing from her life or so critical of it and her that she might as well be alone. So she has to find a way to live and survive without the help of others. Hereafter is also a discussion of what it is for a woman to grow and feel invisible in a culture obsessed with sexualizing youth. What stands out as one of its achievements of Hereafter is the way that the main character doesn’t experience grief in a linear fashion or predictably. Years later, she’ll be reminded of what she lost and will be drawn into the pain in unexpected ways depicting the way that grief functions in a realistic way.

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Susmita Bhattacharya, judge for 26th Award, Feb 2024

Susmita Bhattacharya is an Indian-born British writer. Her novel, The Normal State of Mind, was published in 2015 by Parthian (UK) and Bee Books (India) in 2016 and was long listed for the Words to Screen Prize, Mumbai Association of Moving Images (MAMI) Film Festival in 2018. Her collection of short stories, Table Manners, was published by Dahlia Publishing in 2018 and won The Saboteur Prize for the Best Short Story Collection in 2019. She teaches contemporary fiction at Winchester University. She was Writer-in-Residence at Word Factory in 2021. She is a regular workshop presenter at the Flash Fiction Festivals UK. She lives in Winchester.

  • Thank you for agreeing to judge our 26th award that closes in February 2024.
    You write novels, short stories, poetry and flash fiction. Do you find in your writing that you switch easily from one form of writing to another?
    I’m so excited to be the judge for the Bath Flash Fiction competition. I enjoy writing across forms and I love working in a new medium as I always love a challenge. I don’t necessarily write everything all at once, but I may have a phase of writing lots of poetry. Or a phase of writing flash fiction. Attending festivals, writing group events, workshops is helpful as a lot of work or ideas of new work get produced there. The novel is ever present in the background, and I dedicate chunks of time to focus on that when I can (which is why that is the slowest) and with short stories, I work on one idea at a time until I feel I have perfected it. Getting commissions is great, because then I have a deadline, something to work towards and most of my nonfiction writing is done through commissions. So is writing for radio. My flash fiction writing spree is particularly active closer to National Flash Fiction Day and before and after the Flash Fiction Festival! I don’t juggle all the balls at the same time, but I try and focus on one form for a while, or for a project or competition and then move on to the next. Poetry, I think, is a constant. I don’t share it as much, but I definitely write a lot more poetry than anything else.
  • What do you like about writing flash?
    I love flash for the immediacy, the sense of urgency in a story. It’s punchy and experimental, and although it could be even 100 words long, it’s no easy feat to create a narrative in those many words which has a plot, character development, emotions, conflict and a punchy that often leaves the reader breathless. It’s a great challenge and to achieve a successful flash fiction requires great skill. I love the flash community as well. Most flash fiction writers are very supportive and enjoy being part of the community without being to competitive. There’s a lot of encouragement to keep writing flash, and lots of events that help this community to grow.
  • Recently, some of your short stories were broad cast on BBC radio. Was that under a special theme and is there still a link to listen to them?
    I’ve had a few stories on BBC Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra.Table Manners was serialized for Radio 4 Extra and I was commissioned to write 2 short stories and a non-fiction piece for Radio 4. The latest is on the theme of Golden Eggs, where five British Asian writers take folktales or traditional stories and rework them in contemporary settings. My story is called ‘The Gift’, and you can listen to it here.

  • You are an associate lecturer in Creative Writing in Winchester and have taught workshops and courses in numerous places, both for adults and young people. What upcoming events are you involved in?
    I teach on the BA and MA programmes at Winchester University and I really enjoy it. I worked with ArtfulScribe’s Mayflower Young Writers for several years, and found that the young writers find the flash form really exciting as well. At the moment, I run the ArtfulScribe SO:Write Women’s Writing group, which is online on the 1st Thursday of the month and in person in Southampton on the 3rd Saturday of the month. It’s a fantastic way to meet women writers, talk about writing, write together and share work. We’re loving writing flash fiction at the moment!
    I also developed and run a short story course for Professional Writing Academy.
    What I’m currently excited about are the projects I’ve co-founded with Aiysha Jahan, Bridges not Borders and Write Beyond Borders, which are a combination of mentoring writers from South Asia and UK, doing folkart in schools around the Solent region, producing an anthology of short stories and having an exhibition in Portsmouth Guildhall in July next year.
  • You have been a professional writer since 2005. Can you tell us some of the highlights of your career so far?
    I think it depends on what one might call ‘a highlight’. Of course, having a book published is always a highlight. So having my debut novel, A Normal State of Mind, published by Parthian was definitely a highlight. Publishing by short story collection, Table Manners, with Dahlia Books was a highlight, and then winning the Saboteur Prize for Best Short Story collection was a highlight. Being a regular BBC Radio 4 listener and then having my stories aired on Radio 4 is a highlight.

    But the true highlights that I will hold dear to me are the little things: readers appreciating my work, readers reaching out to me to let me know my words have moved them. For example, finding someone reading my novel in a hospital waiting room was a highlight! A terminally ill friend of my husband’s parking his car to ring him, to let him know he’d just listened to my radio essay about cancer and how much that had resonated with him that meant so much to me. A Year 2 child in my children’s school where I used to work as a dinner lady would stop me on the way to lunch hall to give me ideas for my next book. (They’d been shocked when I had visited their class to talk about writing and shown them my book! They had said, you’re our Dinner Lady. And I had said, Dinner Ladies can do loads of other things outside of the lunch hour!) My daughter forgetting her reading book in secondary school, and her teacher fishing out a book from her bag to give her to read. ‘It’s your mother’s book,’ the teacher said. ‘Have you read it?’ ‘No,’ said my daughter, probably embarrassed at all the attention she would now get. Then all her classmates googled me, and she came home, saying, ‘mum, you’re a celebrity! Google recognizes you as a writer!’ That made me chuckle! Being invited to Cardiff University to talk to MA students about my writing journey has always been special. It’s always a ‘this is where it started, this is how it’s going’ experience! These are some highlights I will remember fondly and forever!

  • Finally, as our judge, can you say what sort of story would stand out as a winner for you?
    For me, a flash fiction should immerse me in the story. It should feel immediate and also layered with meaning. It should leave something for the reader to work out, or have a moment of epiphany at the end. It could be a story about a theme without mentioning the theme. Think about Hermit Crab style or other ways of approaching a story. The story should make me wake up in the middle of night, still worrying about the characters, or trying to work out how they could work out the stuff they’ve been put through. A standout story would involve me as a reader, and make me care intensely for the character/s. In cricketing lingo, a story should not target the reader head on, give me a good googly ball – a sudden spin that will get you if, as a reader, you’re not ready for it!
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Q & A with Sara Hills, Judge, October Award

We’re delighted to welcome Sara Hills as the judge for our 25th Award open today and closing in October. Sara 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 just won second prize in our 24th Award, judged by Tim Craig. Previously, she’s been twice commended in our Award. She’s also 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. Read in Full

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Tim Craig’s judge’s report 2023

Tim’s General Comments

Damn, but this was hard. And inspiring. And fun. But hard.
I don’t think there were many stories in my long list of 50 which didn’t at some point occupy a seat, however briefly, in my short list of 20. Such was the standard.
You will doubtless disagree with some of my choices. I disagreed with some of my choices. But, in the end, the stories which made my final list of five were those which battled for my attention, won it, and held it for a long time after I’d finished reading them.
There were many stories on the long- and short lists which were beautifully structured and beautifully written; some which evoked powerful and/or tragic historical events; several which found new and clever ways to harbour time-worn human truths; which experimented with form and language in ingenious, original ways. To the writers of these wonderful tours de force of flash, I can only apologise there weren’t more places in the winners’ enclosure.
Ultimately, I was drawn to those stories which felt perhaps less formulaic, less heavily structured; stories where character and mood were granted at least the same weight as plot and theme, and which didn’t necessarily give up all their secrets on first, or even fifth, reading.
Thanks to everyone who entered this amazing competition for giving me such difficult decisions to make, to the readers who did such a great job of whittling the original entries down to the long list, and, of course, to Jude and the team at Ad Hoc Fiction for the honour of being its judge. Read in Full

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John Brantingham’s report on the 2023 Bath Novella in Flash Award


Our big thanks to writer, editor and teacher, John Brantingham for his judging our 2023 and final Novella-in-Flash Award. John made a close read of twenty six novellas on the longlist and his enthusiasm comes across. His comments on the whole process of reading the longlist of 26 novellas in flash are very encouraging. We appreciate his offer for writers to reach out to him which he made in his previous comments when the short list was announced. We entirely agree that there were so many excellent examples of this exciting novella form among these and the other novellas submitted to the contest. We look forward to Ad Hoc Fiction publishing the top three novellas this year and hope that many of the others will find publishers soon. Read in Full

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Q & A with Tim Craig, judge for 24th Award


Originally from Manchester, Tim Craig lives in London. A previous winner of the Bridport Prize for Flash Fiction, his short-short fiction has placed or been commended four times in the Bath Flash Fiction Award and has also appeared in the Best Microfiction 2019 and 2022 anthologies. His debut collection Now You See Him was published in 2022 by AdHoc Fiction.

A big thank you to Tim for being our judge. Our small press, Ad Hoc Fiction was honoured to publish Tim’s fantastic debut collection, Now You See Him last June. You can read more about the book here in an interview we did with Tim prior to publication. Christopher Allen, of SmokeLong Quarterly wrote on the back cover:

‘Tim Craig is a master of microfiction. With enviable confidence, Craig spins the most varied, playful and poignant tales. The stories in this collection, most a single tight page of killer prose, all deserve revisiting again and again and again.’

Read in Full

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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.

Winners:

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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Interview with 23rd Award Judge, Sudha Balagopal

    Bio: Sudha Balagopal is honored to have her writing in many fine journals including CRAFT, Split Lip, and SmokeLong Quarterly. Her novella-in-flash, Things I Can’t Tell Amma, was published by Ad Hoc fiction in 2021. She has work included in both Best Microfiction and Best Small Fictions, 2022. Her work is listed in the Wigleaf Top 50: 2019, 2021, longlisted 2022. Find her on Twitter @authorsudha
    We’re delighted to welcome Sudha Balagopol as judge for our 23rd Award which opens November 1st and closes on Sunday, February 5th, 2023 (Results out at the end of February). Read Jude’s interview with her below, where Sudha tells us about her long writing journey and how she became interested in writing flash. There are links to some of her own wonderful stories, and stories by others, showing her interest in different styles and forms of flash fiction plus tips on what she is looking for in competition entries.

Read in Full

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Judge’s Report, October 2022


Our big thanks to Emily Devane for all her work! We so appreciate her comments here and for working to our quick turnaround time.

Emily’s Comments

First, I’d like to thank Jude for asking me to judge this round of the Bath Flash Fiction Award. It’s a competition that’s close to my heart – I’ll never forget the joy of having my story selected by Kathy Fish back in 2017. This award sets the gold standard for writing competitions in terms of organisation, engagement and quality. I love the buzz that surrounds deadline day, with entrants proudly sharing their Last Minute Club badges and cheering each other on. The reading team works incredibly hard to turn the stories around so fast. And goodness, what an amazing longlist of stories they picked.

The next stage – whittling down the fifty-strong longlist to just twenty stories – was quite a challenge. If you got to this point, seriously well done. It was such a pleasure reading your words. There was something to admire in every story on that longlist, and the selection was brilliantly varied – some made me laugh, some made me think in a different way, some took a piece of my heart, while others made me swoon at their boldness and originality. In a bid to ensure those stories were treated as if they were my own, I read them through then printed them out, shuffled them and read them again in a different order. It’s interesting how some stories grab you from the off, while others rise up the pile and demand more attention with each re-read. There were several stories I struggled to part with – stories which a different judge, or even me on a different day, might have put through. I’m excited to find out who wrote them all.

When it came to deciding the winners, I had a few sleepless nights, I can tell you. Every story on that shortlist was a potential winner. So, how to choose? Having read and re-read each one, I put them through a series of tests. Was there a sense of meaningful movement or shift? Was language used with precision? Was this story telling me something new or particular? Did this story resonate on an emotional level? There’s always that unknowable element, that magical alchemy that occurs between writer and reader. Ultimately, I had to be guided by instinct when making those tough final decisions. The stories I selected for my final five were those to which I kept returning. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

First Place: The Metamorphosis of Evaline Jackson
This bold and striking story got better with each re-read. There’s not a word out of place. The use of language is confident and playful, with brilliant flourishes and repetitions that mimic the ‘evolution’ of the titular character, Evaline Jackson. We have those ‘cling-cling shorts’, the ‘pop-pop’ of the boys and those dangerous rolling eyes. This is a writer absolutely in control of his/her craft. The theme is a resonant one, too. It tells us so much about teenage girls – how they long to be desired but they fear it, too. Here, the girls follow along behind Evaline Jackson, cutting and glinting and stealing and painting their way to Skittle Town Bowl, only to be appalled at what they’ve unleashed. I loved this so much.

Second Place: McDonald’s
This was one of the shortest stories on the longlist, but there is remarkable power behind it. McDonald’s is a gorgeous, unassuming story that sneaks up on you and leaves your heart in a puddle. The fast-food restaurant setting grounds us from the start. What I loved here was the elegant way in which the writer took us, in very few words, and with wonderfully specific details, into this mother’s experience, showing us how grief can ambush us in unexpected ways. We’re drawn in from the first line, which begins as if we’re already there: The boys again… I can’t read it without getting a lump in my throat. That last line is exquisite: it lands so gently, so beautifully.

Third Place: Fourth Grade Science Lesson, Chickasaw City, Alabama
I knew from my first read of this story that it would be among my top five. It’s a gorgeously written tale of hope. The clear, uncluttered prose brought to mind one of my favourite novellas, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. The central image of the papery, brown bulbs that seemed doomed to fail, becomes symbolic of our hope for Rylee’s future – that, contrary to Olivia Hewett’s assertion that ‘flowers are born looking beautiful’, they can be nurtured from very little, ‘those funny-shaped husks hiding something wonderful.’ I love what this story tells us about the transformative power of education.

Highly Commended:In The Darkest Dark She Takes My Sleep

What bowled me over with this piece was the grandmother’s voice, which feels so vivid and alive. It’s a story about loss, but this is also about the ongoing effects of trauma, how the stories we hold are passed on to those around us. And this grandmother is fiercely protective, with her warnings about lightning that ‘seeks out animals’ and ‘bursts through faucets and drowns you in electricity’. There’s a recognition here, too, about the importance of listening. This child’s simple act of sitting in the dark, while her grandmother sits in her rocking chair recalling the story of her sisters, is as moving as it is haunting.

Highly Commended: A Beachcomber’s Guide to Desert Grief
This is a dreamy piece of writing. I chose it because of how it made me feel. The joy of this piece is in the imaginative use of details and vivid sense of place: we have a character wishing to immerse themselves in grief – the exact nature of which we never find out – by pretending that the desert is a seascape. But the attempts at healing are thwarted by the presence of a boy whose breath ‘is root beer soda and barbecue sauce’. A boy who is ‘not dead’. The lines between what is real and what is imagined are blurred at the edges. This writer drew me into the dreamlike world of this character’s sadness with such quiddity, I kept returning to it, turning up more layers of meaning.

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