Winners

Pilar Garcia Claramonte, June 2023 Highly Commended

My Daughter the Wolf Therian

by Pilar Garcia Claramonte

My daughter was on all fours in the garden last night, howling at the moon.

“It’s just a phase,” her father said. “Something she’s seen on TikTok, probably. Nothing to worry about.”

Today, at breakfast, she announces that she’s descended from wolves. I swallow hard, recalling a photo of her birth parents. Her brother sniggers and asks if there’s a dead moose in her lunch-box.

She shows us her new profile on her mobile. “Hi. I’m Leaf. I’m a wolf therian.” In the photo, her face tilts forward so close to the camera that the nose appears unnaturally elongated, protruding towards the world with a menacing sneer. Unnervingly her, but different. She’s only twelve. I wonder if she senses the many ways in which that name, those words, could mark a distance between us.

She nuzzles up. Will I help her to make a tail? Something she can attach to herself and swing side to side. She might wear it to school, she says. Pinned to her uniform. My stomach lurches.

“What will the girls say in class?” We’d done our sums and moved her to a new school that term. Small classes, lush grounds might smooth the jagged edges left from her early childhood, before she was legally ours. Whatever it takes.

“Call me names?” She shrugs. “I’m adopted. I’m used to that.”

As she leaves for school, she looks tiny in her new, too large uniform.

I know exactly where I’ll find some faux fur for her tail.

About the Author

Pilar García Claramonte wishes that she had discovered the joy of creative writing much earlier in life. Now retired, she spends her time between the Kent coast, Oxford and the Basque Country, where she was born, trying to make up for lost time, aided and abetted by some great teachers and writing buddies.

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Winners: Bath Flash Fiction Novella-in-Flash Award, 2023

We’re thrilled to announce the three winners and two highly commended writers for the 2023 Bath Novella in Flash Award, selected by our Judge, writer, editor and teacher, John Brantingham. Many congratulations to all five writers. John’s comments on the individual novellas-in-flash and all his comments on the process are in his judge’s report. As part of their prizes, the first prize winner and the two runners-up will be published by Ad Hoc Fiction later this year.

First Prize Winner: A Learning Curve by Jan Kaneen (UK)

John Brantingham commented:

A Learning Curve was personal and profoundly moving. The author draws us into a world of deep pain and helps us to understand the motivations of people whose actions might be dismissed by those on the outside. We are given an inside look at mourning and postpartum depression. The individual flash pieces vary in style and structure. Sometimes they are lists or hermit crab stories. Sometimes they play with punctuation. Always, the style is a new way into the emotional realities of the characters. This is a master class in the form, but I certainly wasn’t thinking about the control that the author had over structure. I was simply drawn into the stories and was moved by them. These are absolutely brilliantly written.

Jan Kaneen has loads of names – granny, mum, stepmum, wife, sister, auntie, daughter, carer and now, writer. She has an MA in Creative Writing (with distinction) from the Open University and writes as a form of exorcism – to leave overpowering emotions on the page and not in her. Her short and tiny fictions have won prizes in places like Flash 500, National Flash Fiction Day, Bath Flash, Molotov Cocktail, Segora, Ellipsis and Retreat West, and she’s been nominated for a Pushcart/Best on the Net every year since 2016. Her debut memoir-in-flash The Naming of Bones was published in 2021 by Retreat West Books.



Runner-up: Prodigal by Anna Wang (UK)

John Brantingham commented:

Prodigal uses the form to its full advantage. The author of this novella-in-flash understands the iceberg theory (that what we see in a brief scene can suggest a much fuller and complex reality) in a way that few writers do. The writing suggests the years of struggles it takes to become a woman, both the good and the bad. We are given insights into the small details of eating disorders and painful relationships. We understand what it means to grow and the difference between adulthood and adolescence through the small moments, what a haiku writer might call the moments between moments.

Anna Wang is a Bristol-based librarian and writer. Born in Malaysia, her family moved to the UK in 2005 when she was eleven years old. She has an MA in Creative and Life Writing from Goldsmiths, University of London, specialising in flash fiction. Having bounced around a few UK cities she settled comforatably in Bristol, where you can often find her at brew pubs with friends, or at home with her cat (Pendle).

Runner Up: The Top Road by Fiona McKay (Ireland)

John Brantingham commented:

The writer of The Top Road draws us into the consciousness of a small boy, which is often dangerous. People can underestimate the intelligence and sensitivity of children, and these stories can become overly sentimental. Not so here. The writer understands what it is to be a child in a way that Dylan Thomas and Charles Bukowski did. The writer also draws us into the consciousness of a fox. Writing from the point-of-view of an animal is also dangerous. Doing so can also be sentimental. Not so here either. In the tradition of Virginia Woolf’s Flush, the writer uses the perspective to complicate our understanding of the story. Rather than being sentimental, it is moving. We grow to care for the fox and the people with whom it interacts.

Fiona McKay is a SmokeLong Quarterly Emerging Writer Fellow for 2023. Writes with Writers’HQ. Words now or forthcoming in Bath Flash, Lumiere Review, Janus Literary, Pithead Chapel and others. Her writing has been nominated for Best Microfictions and Best Small Fictions. She is supported by the Arts Council Ireland Agility Award and lives beside the sea in Dublin, Ireland, with her husband and daughter.
Tweets about writing @fionaemckayryan

Highly Commended: Dancing in the Burning Fields by Karen Jones (UK)

John Brantingham commented:
As I read Dancing in the Burning Fields, I was reminded of Waiting for the Barbarians somehow, but I’m not exactly sure why. It has something to do with the tone of it or what the author chooses to focus on or think about. In any case, it’s an exceptional novella-in-flash. The chapters here are shorter than most other novellas-in-flash that I have read and the compactness of the writing draws us into what matters in the pieces. And I have to say, the imagery and language throughout is exceptional. The first moment of the manuscript drew me in, and there was never a page that did not move me.

Karen Jones is a flash and short fiction writer from Glasgow, Scotland. Her flashes have been nominated for Best of the Net and The Pushcart Prize, and her story ‘Small Mercies’ was included in Best Small Fictions 2019. She has won first prize in the Cambridge Flash Prize, Flash 500 and Reflex Fiction and second prize in Fractured Lit’s Micro Fiction Competition. Her work has been shortlisted for To Hull and Back, Bath Flash Fiction and Bath Short Story Award and longlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. 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 and an editor for National Flash Fiction Day anthology.


Highly Commended: The Rupture Gene by Jeanette Lowe (UK)

John Brantingham commented:

I found myself harboring a deep affection for Jack, the main character of The Rupture Gene. He is quiet and thoughtful. That he cares deeply for the people around him is apparent. I found myself thinking about a passage from The Catcher in the Rye about the books Holden Caufield likes: “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” I felt that way about Jack who is sensitive and thoughtful, and it made me think that the author is as well. Maybe the author is, who knows? The point is that the characterization here is beautiful, and this is a book I hope many people will read.

Jeanette Lowe, born in Dorset and now resident in Sheffield, is a former journalist and special needs teacher who is now devoting her time to writing fiction. Jeanette has a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing (distinction) from the University of Sheffield, and writes short stories and flash fictions, which have been published by Writers Magazine, Brittle Star, Flash500 and Dorset Voices. Her flashes have also appeared in three Bath Flash Fiction Anthologies. Her first novella-in-flash, Let the demons tiptoe, won second prize in the inaugural National Flash Fiction Day novella-in-flash competition (2021). Her novella-in-flash Pixie Lore is published by Ad Hoc Fiction (2022).

Further congratulations to all the other shortlisted writers and best wishes for their wonderful novellas in flash. We hope they will be out in the world soon: Me, I Call Myself Girl by Francine Witte (USA; Not Visiting the SS Great Britain by Emma Phillips (UK); His Raucous Girls by Kim Henderson (USA); A Year in Philadelphia Melissa Rosato, USA Melba Toasts Copy of the St Albans Register and Seed Co. Almanac by Electra Rhodes (UK)
And more congratulations and best wishes for publication to all the longlisted writers (names now included on the longlist announcement list).

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Louie Fooks February 2023 First Prize

Market Forces

by Louie Fooks

Milan, May 2016

The air is hot and heavy as milk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

Louie Fooks is a freelance writer and policy consultant, specialising in health, development and environmental issues. She has an MA in Writing from the University of Warwick and spent a term in Milan as an Erasmus scholar. Her creative work is characterised by ‘life-writing’ and the careful observation of people and place. She has a drawer full of short stories and memoir pieces (in various states of repair) and is currently working on a novel.
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Nikki Crutchley February 2023 Second Prize

Walking to Wollongong

by Nikki Crutchley

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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Kevin Burns February 2023 Third Prize

Lakota Widow

by Kevin Burns

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

Kevin Burns lives in the Sonoran desert in southern Arizona near the border with Mexico. He grew up in Washington, DC. After graduating from Georgetown University, he lived with the Lakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Kevin devotes his days and nights to listening, writing, editing, and listening more. He can be found watching the stars or people from various hilltops and cafes worldwide. Kevin welcomes new friends and can be reached at kwburns509(at)gmail(dot)com
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Richard Hooton February 2023 Highly Commended

Fissure

by Richard Hooton

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

About the Author

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

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Rachel O’Cleary February 2023 Highly Commended

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

by Rachel O’Cleary

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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Kathy Hoyle October 2022 First Prize

The Metamorphosis of Evaline Jackson

by Kathy Hoyle

When Evaline Jackson saunters into class after summer break, with brand new braids and cling-cling shorts – breast-buds pouting – we swallow down envy like clotted cream.

She flips her long, sun-kissed legs onto the desk and chips at her lilac glitter nails with fine white teeth.

The boys pop-pop in bubble gum bursts.

When Evaline Jackson sighs and rolls her eyes at them, we roll our eyes too.

When Evaline Jackson snips her tube top even shorter, with scissors stolen from art class, and glints her arms with beaded bangles, and steals mocha eyeliner from her mother’s make-up bag and paints curving cat-slants across her lids, we cut and glint and steal and paint too.

When Evaline Jackson eats fries down at Skittle Town Bowl on Fridays, we beg for chore money and cut and glint and steal our way down there. We order fries and roll our eyes too, and watch the boys pop-pop.

When Evaline Jackson says, gotta go, and slinks out to the parking lot, and the boys catch her scent and follow, fox tails flaring, we pull down our too-short tube tops and look anywhere but at the middle-aged fat-gut guys who smash the skittles and high-five each other and side-eye our long legs in cling-cling shorts.

When Evaline Jackson’s seat is empty Monday morning, we stretch our sweaters way down over our knees. We spit glitter polish from our teeth, stuff beaded bangles into rucksack pockets and crush the heels of our palms hard against our wiped-clean eyes to keep them from rolling.

About the Author

Kathy Hoyle’s work can be found in publications such as Spelk, Virtualzine, Lunate, Ellipsiszine, Reflex Fiction, The Forge, Emerge Literary Journal and The South Florida Poetry Journal. She previously won the Retreat West Flash Competition, came second in The Edinburgh Flash Fiction Award, and the HISSAC Prize. third in the Cambridge Flash Fiction Prize. Other stories have been listed in competitions includingThe Exeter Short Story Prize, the Fish Publishing Flash Fiction Prize, Flash 500, and Strands International.She holds a BA (hons) and an MA in Creative Writing and lives in a sleepy Warwickshire village in the UK with her crazy labradoodle.

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Sarah Freligh October 2022 Second Prize

McDonald’s

by Sarah Freligh

The boys again, their sneakered feet and chin zits and peach fuzz. Her boy at that age had been slow to grow, slow to do anything. At fourteen, he still had a voice like a flute and sang soprano in the choir until he dropped out because the high notes hurt his head. Everything hurt his head then – the light from the TV screen, the spin cycle on the washing machine – but she didn’t take him to the doctor until he imagined he could hear voices singing opera on the phone wires. The doctor tapped his right knee and ordered an MRI that lit up his brain pink and purple, like a sunset after a storm’s passed through only the real storm was coming and there was nothing to do but shut the windows and keep him quiet for as long as he had left, which turned out to be five months, three days. Ma’am, the boys call her when they come to the counter to ask for something, salt or straws or cups of ketchup. Ma’am, they say and when they say it softly enough, it sounds just like Mom.

About the Author

Sarah Freligh is the author of four books, including Sad Math, winner of the 2014 Moon City Press Poetry Prize and the 2015 Whirling Prize from the University of Indianapolis, and We, published by Harbor Editions in early 2021. Recent work has appeared in the Cincinnati Review miCRo series, SmokeLong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Fractured Lit, and in the anthologies New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction (Norton 2018), Best Microfiction (2019-22) and Best Small Fiction 2022. Among her awards are poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Saltonstall Foundation.

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Kathleen Latham October 2022 Third Prize

Fourth Grade Science Lesson, Chickasaw City, Alabama

by Kathleen Latham

When Rylee’s class plants papery, brown bulbs in mason jars, she’s sure nothing will come of it. Olivia Hewett told her flowers are born looking beautiful, and she should know because she lives in a house with a bedroom all to herself. Rylee lives with her mama and little brother in the Housing Authority where nothing grows but washed-out patches of grass for dogs to pee on.

“Why can’t we have flowers?” Rylee asks her mama.

Mama rolls her eyes at the question. “You wanna spend five dollars on somethin’ be dead in a week, or you wanna get two roller dogs and a Polar Pop at Circle K?”

At school, Mrs. McCarty says they need to be patient. Olivia Hewett says they need bees. Rylee takes notes in her science journal and waits for the experiment to fail.

Brown lump, she writes. Still nothing.

But then roots appear. Tiny white tendrils snaking against glass.

Worms? Rylee writes.

Next, green shoots, straight as a pencil.

Grass?
The shoots make her fidgety. She tries not to think about them, but at recess she finds a weed with white flowers growing by the fence. She pinches some of its dirt and sprinkles it onto her bulb for good luck. Doesn’t tell Olivia.

A week later, the class arrives to find thirty-one tulips lined up on the windowsill like ladies waiting to dance. Rylee touches hers to make sure it’s real.

Petals like wax, she writes. Purple as nail polish.

The flowers fill her with a hopefulness she can’t define—each of those funny-shaped husks hiding something wonderful.

She saves the petals when they fall off. Keeps them hidden in a plastic bag behind her pencil box. Takes them out from time to time and cradles them in her hand like a promise.

About the Author

Kathleen Latham is a native Californian who’s been living outside of Boston, Massachusetts long enough to have her loyalties questioned. She loves ice hockey, her family, and her cat—not necessarily in that order. A recent winner of the Web Microfiction Prize for Women Writers, her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Masters Review Anthology XI, 100 Word Story, and Flash Fiction Magazine. Her poetry has appeared in journals such as Tipton Poetry Journal and Constellations. You can find her on social media at @lathamwithapen or online at KathleenLatham.com.

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