Barbara Diggs October 2023 Highly Commended

The Burial of Mrs. Charles D. Jackson

by Barbara Diggs

You sit alone on the sofa in the smart black suit and flared skirt you picked out months ago, when you saw the writing on the wall. Children and grandchildren surge and recede, leaving objects before you like sacred offerings: A sweating glass of iced tea. Crayon drawings of you and Granddaddy Charles. A plate of ham hock-seasoned collard greens, your presumed favorite. You like collards fine, but they were Charles’s favorite, never yours. Still, you’d made them every Sunday with three dashes of habanero sauce and a spoonful of brown sugar, right up until the day he clamped his lips and turned away.

Black-clad women gather like a plague of grackles near the kitchen doorway. A daughter, a daughter-in-law, two nieces. One glances over her shoulder at you as they whisper. They are waiting for you to fall apart. A biblical show of grief; a little hair-tearing, some breast-beating would befit sixty-one years of marriage. Yesterday, you overheard your son saying he wouldn’t be surprised if you went soon after, and you wondered if there was no end to the world’s expectations of a woman.

At the graveyard, you’d dabbed your eyes. A commitment fulfilled is as worthy as devotion. But now, you’re thinking of the ripe cantaloupe someone had placed on the kitchen counter. Charles couldn’t bear the smell; you hadn’t bought one in decades. You rise from the sofa with crepitating knees. A storm of concern erupts, but you decline offers of assistance. You prefer the gossamer swing of your skirt, the honeyed scent of melon to usher you forward.

About the Author

Barbara Diggs’s flash fiction has been published or is forthcoming in numerous publications including, FlashBack Fiction, (mac)ro(mic),100-Word Story, Ellipsis Zine, Five on Fifth, and multiple anthologies including the Bath Flash Fiction Anthology and The Bridport Prize Anthology, where she received a Highly Commended award. She is Pushcart Prize nominee and Best of the Net finalist. She lives in Paris, France with her husband, sons, and the cutest turtle ever. Twitter @bdiggswrites. Bluesky:

share by email

William Davidson June 2023 First Prize

Remembered Yellow

by William Davidson

I’m early. I walk to the end of platform three. I like to see the name of the train I’m getting on. I know it’s daft. I like to see the name of the train and then get on at the front and walk through the carriages. I like to sit at the back of the rearmost carriage, facing forward. It’s weird and daft. I know.

I stand at the very end of platform three, at the top of the slope that leads down to the rocky ground by the tracks, the ballast I think it’s called, like in a ship, like the ballast that stops a ship from tilting and sinking. I gaze down the slope at the ballast and there it is, growing alongside a patch of rosebay willowherb. There it is – York groundsel. It went extinct decades ago but there it is.

I’m early so I’ve got time. It’s good I’m early. I walk down the slope and keep my eye on the York groundsel but it’s not going anywhere. I keep my eye on things that aren’t going anywhere in case they go somewhere. It’s daft. I know. It’s hard to walk on the ballast. It’s sharp-edged. I take off my jacket and roll it up so I’ve got something to kneel on. The York groundsel is yellow, like a remembered yellow, like a yellow that only exists in a photograph, but here it is, existing, in the ballast.

People are by me now. They must have seen the York groundsel too. They sound like they can’t believe it’s here.

‘It’s really here,’ I say. ‘York groundsel is really here.’

The people are tilting around me. A train’s coming. Its horn is blasting again and again, like an ocean liner launching, like something beginning.

About the Author

William Davidson won the inaugural Bath Flash Fiction Award in 2015. His short stories and flash fiction have been published in various anthologies, including Solstice Shorts (Arachne Press) and Rattle Tales (The Brighton Prize). He has an MA and MFA in Creative Writing from York St John University, and teaches at Converge, an education project at the university that provides courses for people who use mental health services. He also leads an ecotherapy book club at St Nicks, a thriving nature reserve in York.
Twitter: @WmDavidsonUK

share by email

Sara Hills June 2023 Second Prize

Failure to Thrive

by Sara Hills

Weeks after we lose her, Lou and I take turns eating our feelings and secretly dosing each other with LSD. On Monday, he tucks a tab into the mayo on my sandwich. On Tuesday, I bury one in a swirl of cream atop his cake. Wednesday, it’s spiked marinara and milkshakes.

By Thursday we’re high as diamonds.

I call in sick and my boss’s teeth chatter through the phone like shiny stacks of white plates, rattling the hollow bowl of my body. He shouts, “You’re fucking unreliable,” a purple whelp of a sound that punches my useless empty breasts. Not for the first time, I realize how fragile we are, chipped monstrosities of ceramic-fired clay.

Lou steadies me with his fork-fingered hand and sings that my tits are happy soup cans. He draws faces on them in ballpoint pen, giving them toothy mouths and eyes wizened with promise. It’s the most enlivened I’ve felt in weeks—me, skin glowing iridescent against the dark ink; him, drawing with his tongue out, like a child would, all willowy limbs and hopeful yellow hair, tracing rainbows.

Later, we run into the box-small yard and let our crown chakras unfurl under the humming sky. We are sun-soaked artichokes beside our blue-walled house. And when the light fades, Lou, convinced that our hearts are bruised apples that need protecting, washes the pleated skin of my stomach with his tears.

By the time the moon rises like a refrigerator light across the empty shelf of the sky, Lou and I are already sinking. We lay back on the leaf litter, watching for comets and constellations, falling stars and signs. Above, 747s soar like milk bottles, blinking mandalas of coded prayers that vibrate the earth while we hold our breath and wait to feel forgiven.

About the Author

Sara Hills 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 been twice commended in the Bath Flash Fiction Award, 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.

share by email

Noemi Scheiring-Olah June 2023 Third Prize

To All the Copies of Us

by Noemi Scheiring Olah

To the soccer-patterned rubber ball, easy to kick, making us laugh every time it hits our shins with a burp sound, like Daddy, every time he gets home from work, all paint spots and sour smiles.

To the video player branded “videó player”, which instantly eats the rented Lion King tape, making the words slur like Daddy’s, slurping The tapessshit, and Merry Chrisssmasss, and Daddy lovesssya.

To the white sneakers with four black lines and a thin sole, which makes every pebble feel like we’re walking on broken glass, and when the kids at school finger-point and jeer Fakedidas, we borrow (if you’re Daddy), or steal (if you’re the head teacher) White-Outs, and smear white slime all over the fourth black line until it disappears.

To the fading library books Daddy brought home every weekend so us kids See the world, and Know how to find and lose beauty, like he found and lost Mommy, and like we now spill Bud Light over an unreturned Moby Dick, and watch the pages darken, and fold, and float away, like Daddy darkened, and folded, and floated away two weeks ago, frowning with twin brows that refused to let go.

To the hoarse TV in the kitchen coughing up successful flat people droning on and on about filling big shoes of successful flat fathers, who flash and mirror in the empty bottles that clink-clank across the room as we collect and throw them in trash cans, smashing, and crashing, and shattering; tearing to break free from all the copies of us.

About the Author

Noémi Scheiring-Oláh grew up in a small flat at the edge of a Hungarian town. She’s now a nomad in a small world. Her writing has appeared/forthcoming in Passages North, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Molotov Cocktail, New Flash Fiction Review, Bath Flash Fiction Anthology, Maudlin House, Ellipsis Zine, Janus Literary, and elsewhere, and has been nominated for Best Small Fictions and The Pushcart Prize. Noémi is a fan of cats and underdogs. She’s also a Writers’ HQ member. Tweets: @itssonoemi Virtual home:

share by email

James Montgomery June 2023 Highly Commended

Diamonds in the Earth

by James Montgomery

The bat splinters, the crowd roars, and the boy’s held fast by the arc of the baseball, blitzing a course straight at him, a mere speck in the outfield, twin eye black smears masking each cheek, a boy pinned to parched, rain-hungry grass, when one lone voice, his father’s bark—look sharp, Bobby!—barrels out from the bleachers, jolts the boy into action, who stumble-runs as the ball skims the crest of the August sun, and the boy’s running back, back to last Tuesday, and the promise of an empty house—his mother running errands, his father out of town—and in the cheval mirror, in a slant of light, with only the floating dust motes to bear witness, there he was: lips alive with painted red, nape and inner wrists perfumed anew, socked feet slipped into his mother’s Mary Janes—the heel but an inch high yet it felt like touching God, like discovering some heavenly body until now unfound—and behind him, his father, unexpected and unannounced, the bedroom door silently ajar, the quickening panic of dad, dad, dad, and, as the ball begins its descent, the boy knows if he can only grasp it tight and hold it close all will be absolved, so he runs and runs, extends both arms, and stretches back through hand-stitched, chain-linked muscle memory, towards freshly-cut weekends, diamonds drawn in backyard earth, the easy throw of nice one, bud through air, the soft ache of an unbidden shoulder squeeze, and the close grain of freckles on sun-blessed faces, as the boy reaches, for his father, for the ball… which, with a short, sharp pop, funnels like a fastball, powers into the glove’s pocket, while something small and hard—as if leather cased—catches in the boy’s throat.

About the Author

James Montgomery’s stories appear in Reflex Fiction, Maudlin House, Gone Lawn, and elsewhere. He won the Best Micro Fiction Prize at the 2021 Retreat West Awards and is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. Find him at and on Twitter at @JDMontgomery_

share by email

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.

share by email

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).

share by email

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.

share by email

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..

share by email

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

share by email