Q & A with Mairead Robinson, 1st Prize winner, February 2024

Read Jude’s spring equinox interview with first-prize winner Mairead Robinson to find out, among other very interesting things about her writing, how she wrote her stunning winning flash selected by our 26th Award Judge Susmita Bhattacharya. You’ll also find links to more of her brilliant stories, and you can try out writing flash to all permutations of the colour ‘yellow’, Mairead’s prompt for a spring-based flash fiction now the celandines, daffodils and primroses are out. Earlybird discounted entries for our 27th Award finish on April 14th. Final deadline 2nd June. Judge Michelle Elvy

Q & A with Mairead

  • Congratulations on winning the February 2024 BFFA, judged by Susmita Bhattacharya, with your extraordinary and brilliant story, A Palimpsest of Cheerleaders. Many writers on social media, said that they were completely blown away by your writing. As were we at Bath Flash. Can you say what inspired the piece, and how you arrived at the title?
    The original draft of the story came from a Writers’ HQ prompt, Cheerleader v Prom Queen, which immediately had me thinking about American High Schools, and led me down a rabbit hole of watching cheerleader training videos on You Tube. I didn’t start writing with a fully formed plan of what I wanted to achieve; rather, the story evolved from the basic idea of three teenage girls forever stuck in cheerleader mode, having been shot dead by a high school shooter. The original flash was longer, and there was more focus on the young man who had killed them, but in stripping back the word count I felt the emotional impact of the story came more from the lost hopes and dreams of the girls, and by extension, the lost hopes and dreams of the mothers mourning their daughters in the dug outs. I teach teenagers, and am often struck at how they all have so much potential, but tend to be hung up on short-term goals (as reflected by my cheerleaders’ quite shallow aspirations of being prom queen, getting a boyfriend, a vague aspiration to go to college). Obviously, they grow out of it as they get older, and nothing dampens that potential, but in the story, those bright futures are cut short. I wanted the girls to remain vivacious and full of life, as I daresay that’s how they would remain in the memories of those left behind. The idea of them being a palimpsest (such a great word!) came from that; the concept that though they are gone, they continue to exist in some form, like the erased markings on a manuscript. The title came after the story was written – I’m a sucker for collective nouns, and the title seemed to echo the sentiment of the flash.
  • You told me recently you only started writing flash in May 2023. Can you say more about what got you started?
    I’ve always written on and off – I completed a novel a few years ago, which I self-published after getting disheartened at the whole commercial publishing process. I started writing a second, but felt I needed the support of a writing community to keep me going with it. I joined Writers’ HQ with that intention, but found myself writing flash pieces for their flash forum, and got hooked both on reading and writing flash. I love the challenge of telling stories in such compact spaces, the way so much can be distilled into so few words, and the sheer variety of approaches writers take to the art of storytelling.
  • You also won second prize in the October Award with Butterfly Effect. Another marvellous story, interestingly, also from the point of view of a dead girl (this time from suicide) with very memorable details. It’s a breathless paragraph story. Do you like trying out different structures in flash?
    Yes, absolutely. Anytime I read a flash with an interesting or slightly different structure, I try it out. On a few occasions I’ve written stories with more conventional narrative structure, and they haven’t worked, or have felt a bit lacklustre; rewriting in a new form often reveals aspects of a story that have lurked in the background previously, or take the story in a new direction, which can feel really exciting. I’d recommend that anyone try out a different form or structure for a flash they’re struggling with, or to write one from scratch just to see what happens.

You have been successful in other places too. Can you link us to any of those stories?
  • Although you are a self -described addict of flash fiction, you are also writing a novel. Has writing flash influenced the way you are drafting this? And would you like to tell us more about it?
    I’ve learned a tremendous amount from writing flash, and am currently rewriting the novel I self-published a few years ago, using what I’ve learned from flash to tighten the edges and hopefully make it a better, more streamlined story. Once that’s done, I’m hoping to apply flash more fully to the second novel I’m writing, using flash as a ‘vehicle’ to reveal my main character’s backstory alongside the more conventional, linear narrative of the main plot. All I need is time, and a lot of coffee. 

  • Do you have a designated writing place where you live? Music on or off? Pets as inspiration?
    I write at a desk in my dining-room-which-isn’t-a-dining-room, and prefer quiet, but do take inspiration from music and radio when I’m not writing. I also spend a lot of time thinking (which counts as writing, right?). That happens anywhere and everywhere, but particularly when I’m out walking my dog, Flea, who at all other times, is more of a hindrance than a help; I love her to bits though, so there’s nothing to be done about that.

And as it’s the spring equinox , can you give us a spring inspired writing prompt for anyone thinking of writing a story for our next award?
    I live on Dartmoor, and the gorse is about the only splash of colour through the fog and gloom of the moors at the moment. I’ve got celandines and daffodils popping up in the garden too, so my spring inspired prompt is ‘yellow’.
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Using Tarot to Inspire Flash: Anna M Wang

    Anna M Wang is a Bristol based author and librarian. Her novella in flash, Prodigal (runner up Bath Flash Fiction Novella in Flash Award 2023), is currently available through Ad Hoc fiction and Amazon. Her writing examines the introspective, the interpersonal, mental health, surrealism and femininity.

    She’s recently begun organising a community project on the subject of Tarot Cards, and is eager to showcase a variety of voices and styles. Read in Full

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Q & A with October 1st prize winner, Dawn Tasaka Steffler

We are delighted to post a Q & A with the October first prize winner, Dawn Taska Steffler from the USA. Dawn sent us some great pictures to go with her answers. A view from her sister’s backyard in Hawaii, her pets Rascal the dog, Momo the cat and Coco the chicken. and an extraodinary photo of her at The Broad in Los Angeles, which looks like she is a giant’s house! Be sure to read all the interview for inspiration and to get to the end and Dawn’s great prompt for writers who might want to enter our next Award. Dawn uses, as inspiration, a very powerful excerpt from a Martin Luther King text.

The Early bird discounts for the February Award, end on Sunday December 17th and the competition deadline is Sunday February 4th, 2024. Our Judge is novelist, short story and flash fiction writer Susmita Bhattacharya from the UK. Interview with Susmita coming very soon.

Q and A with Dawn Tasaka Steffler

    • Congratulations again for your first prize BFFA win in our October Award, judged by Sara Hills.It was wonderful to hear you read your brilliant story Détente at the November online Flash Fiction Festival Day. This story has many layers and says a lot about relationships in the aftermath of a loss by suicide. Did it go through a lot of versions before you decided it was finished?
  • Read in Full

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

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

    Q & A with William

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

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

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

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

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

      I’d say keep the faith – keep writing. And talk to other writers. I get such a lot out of being in a writing group – we met at workshops run by the amazing writer and teacher, Susan Elderkin. The Flash Fiction Festival is fantastic! In some ways, writing is a solitary thing to do, but it can be social and collaborative too. In 2015, I was hesitating about starting university to study creative writing, but then winning the Bath Flash Fiction Award gave me the boost to go to York St John and I loved it, so thank you!
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    “Zen and the Art of Hybrid Flash” – Review of Haibun, A Writer’s Guide: ed. Roberta Beary, Lew Watts & Rich Youmans

    Ahead of the Flash Fiction Festival taking place 14th-16th July, in Bristol, where this book is being launched and where two of the editors are running a workshop on the form, we are delighted to publish Zen and the Art of Hybrid Flash – a review by poet and flash fiction writer, John Wheway, of Haibun; A Writer’s Guide ed by Roberta Beary, Lew Watts and Rich Youmans. Ad Hoc Fiction, 2023. (Available currently at Amazon worldwide and soon on the Ad Hoc Fiction bookshop). Read in Full

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    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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    Fuel: An Interview about the new flash fiction anthology, compiled and edited by Tania Hershman

    It’s Valentine’s day next week and what better way is there to celebrate your love for flash fiction than buying the new Fuel Anthology a selection of first prize winning flash fiction, compiled, edited and published by Tania Hershman. Read Tania’s really interesting answers to Jude’s questions about the anthology below. If you buy the book now, you may have it in your hands ready to attend the launch on Wednesday, February 15th, hosted by Writers HQ. Buy your ticket to hear readings from the book and more!

    Since Tania sent Jude the answers to these questions she has already raised over £1000 for Fuel Poverty charities from sales of the book. At the flash fiction festival weekend in Bristol, UK we’re sponsoring July 14th to July 16th there will be a further live launch of the book with contributors reading from it and Tania is also running a workshop based on the book. The festival always has a raffle and we’ve been inspired to donate the proceeds this year to Fuel Poverty charities. It’s all very exciting. It’s a brilliant iniative of Tania’s all round. It gives winning flash fiction writers a further boost for their stories and adds a great resource for all writers, as well as raising money for charity.

    Follow and Instagram for updates. Read in Full

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    Q & A with Kathy Hoyle, first prize winner, 22nd Award

      We’re delighted to publish a Q & A with Kathy Hoyle who won our 22nd Award, judged by Emily Devane The picture here shows the coastal town where Kathy was born and brought up, with rainbow. And her stories always offer such a range of colour, tone and depth. She’s had a great year writing-wise and summarises her successes below. We’re looking forward to seeing her first prize winning story in print in the seventh Bath Flash Fiction Award paperback Anthology, which is a little delayed, but out soon from adhocfiction and Amazon and to seeing her at the flash fiction festival weekend, 14th – 16th July 2023 where she will be offering another of her high-energy, inspiring workshops. Another photograph in this interview, shows her in full flow at the 2022 festival weekend.

    Read in Full

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    Review of The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain, by Judy Darley

    Judy Darley’s third collection, The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain’ was published by Reflex Press earlier this year and launched at Waterstones Bristol around the time of the spring equinox. Jude’s delighted to review this splendid selection of stories just before the winter solstice. Put it on your reading list for Christmas! It is available directly from Reflex Press.

    Read more about Judy’s work on her website SkyLightRain, which includes links to her other collections, writing prompts, news of her teaching activities and her own excellent reviews of books and theatre productions. She has reviewed many of the books published by our small press, Ad Hoc Fiction and we are very grateful to her for careful and thoughtful reviews.

    Review of The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain

    There’s an elemental feel to The Stairs are A Snowcapped Mountain. Both because the stories are often located outside in the ‘elements’ and also because many include elemental themes. Judy Darley is skilful in her use of metaphor. She recasts fairy stories and conjures new mythological worlds including creatures and humans, showing how closely connected we are to other living things both physically and psychologically. Oceans,seas,lakes and rivers are frequently present. People traverse them, are soaked in a deluge or are on holiday in frozen landscapes. We learn about lonely and captive sea creatures. ’Honey in Solitude’ is from the point of view of a Bottle Nosed dolphin in captivity in Japan. ‘Why Rivers Run to the Sea’ a story from the point of view of a river, ends tellingly, with the line,”There’s a storm brewing, we’re all invited.”

    One story with a title that suggests much about the very young protagonist’s life is called ‘The Sea Lives in Her Mum’s Head’. The girl’s Nanna has explained why her mother cries and wails. “Storms rile up the waves inside her, and tears happen when the spray breaks free”… “Her moaning, Nanna says, is the sound of the wind whipping salty air over the sea.” It’s only occasionally that the mother is calm.

    Both the pieces mentioned above are very short and the collection comprises a mixture of short ‘flash fiction’ pieces and longer short stories. There are several stories concerning disrupted relationships — between sisters, parents and children and lovers. The use of the elements often echo themes in these stories. A favourite story of mine, ‘Fermented Cherries’, tells of a grandchild visiting their estranged grandfather in a Fado club to tell the old man the mother, his daughter, is dead. Again this begins with a metaphor of the sea: “The Fado rolls out, washing over me. It’s a salt-weighted tide that ebbs and rises above the listeners’ heads.” As in all of the stories in the collection, much care has been taken with the composition of sentences,the sensory details and the overall structure.The language is beautiful, metaphor deepening the story and adding universal resonance.

    Another favourite story, ‘Old Friends’, does not involve the sea, but instead other aspects of nature. This is a touching story about a relationship between a father and a daughter, where the daughter joins her father’s dawn chorus walk with his old male friends. Everyone on the walk must tell a story. Her joining this long-standing group is an important occasion for the father. It evokes another much earlier shared father/daughter experience which she refers to in her story, reconnecting them all over again.

    As well as stories successfully employing elemental metaphors, there are others with plainer language and excellent dialogue. Judy writes convincingly in the voice of children or young people. ‘In Kitten Shoes’ is a story showing the longing of a tall girl who wants new white patent leather kitten-heeled shoes but who only gets to keep the coveted pair for one day before her mother says they must go back. Judy also brilliantly captures an outsider adolescent’s breakthrough into being part of something, in a story about clubbing, called ‘The Go-Get-Gone’.

    There’s humour, too, in these stories.‘Stealing from Windowsills’ is a darkly wry story based on the fairy tale Rapunzel, where ‘Zel’ hoodwinks the prince into letting her wear his jodhpurs and doublet and leaves him captive while she escapes on his horse.

    I have read this collection a few times now and different aspects of these brilliant and varied stories strike me anew each time. The collection is a full and satisfying read.

    Jude Higgins, December 2022

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    Q & A with Rachel Blake, 1st prize winner in our June 2022 Award

    It’s just over two weeks until our 22nd Award closes on Sunday October 9th. And here’s a Q & A with Rachel Blake our first prize winner, from the 21st Award. Rachel won with her story ‘Sequelae’. She talks about how she wrote this powerfully impactful piece, which was selected by judge, Tommy Dean, and we have reproduced his comments below, just before her answers to the questions. It’s worth a read of both if you want to look over your own pieces again and submit to the next Award which is judged by Emily Devane. There’s lots of interesting things to think about in Tommy’s comments and the interview with Rachel. At the end she’s offered a visual prompt to inspire you to write a story in the time that is left before the deadline. Read in Full

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