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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    Interview with Jan Kaneen, about her 1st prize-winning Novella-in-Flash, A Learning Curve

      Read this really interesting interview by Jan Kaneen, about her novella-in-flash, A Learning Curve first prize-winner from our 2023 Award, selected by judge, John Brantingham. Jan calls the book a ‘found form’ novella-in-flash. And for anyone thinking of writing a novella=in-flash, it’s exciting to see how one can come together from several different sources or life events. A Learning Curve is available in paperback from adhocfiction.com and Amazon and Jan is selling signed copies (see end of the post for details and link)

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    Since 2017, 45 Novellas-in-Flash Published by Ad Hoc Fiction!

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    On the former Twitter, recently, we said our short-short fiction press, Ad Hoc Fiction, had published thirty Novellas-in-Flash since the first NIF award opened in 2017. In fact, Ad Hoc has published an astonishing 45 NIF’s. A huge variety, showcasing this exciting genre. The covers are all displayed in the gallery above.For the first two yearly awards, the three winners were published in three-novella anthologies. We then began to publish the novellas indiviudally and for two consecutive years published the entire short list of ten novellas. In addition, separate from the yearly Awards, Ad Hoc Fiction has published three other novellas in flash. We are a very small team (two of us) so we think this is an achievement to be proud of. Read in Full

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    David Swann’s NIF, ‘Season of Bright Sorrow’ is Rubery Award Book of the Year 2023

    David Swann won first prize in our 2021 Novella in Flash Award, judged by Michella Elvy with Season of Bright Sorrow. We are thrilled that this wonderful novella in flash, published by adhocfiction.com and also available on Amazon worldwide, has won Book of the Year 2023 in the Rubery Award. Huge congratulations. It is a wonderful achievment.
    It’s a brilliant book and we’ve quoted what the judges said about it below. David won £2000 which he has shared with Sam Hubbard the marvellous illustrator of the novella.

    Dave received a plaque from the Rubery Award when he returned from holiday and here he is on his allotment with it and a sunflower.

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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 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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    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

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    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.

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    24th Award Round-Up

    Thank you everyone for entering out 24th Award. Those who entered early, those who submitted in the middle months and those who entered on the final day and received our sophisticated purple and orange Last Minute Club badge, pictured here. A couple of people won prizes for guessing one colour each, the day before the badge went live. It was another exciting round with 1089 entries steadily arriving (almost the same number as in June, last year) from the following countries:

    Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jersey, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Vietnam.

    Thanks as alwayys to our reading team, big flash fiction lovers, who, from a vast array of marvellous flash fictions of 300 words or under, selected a wide variety of stories for the longlist of fifty. And we are very grateful to our judge Tim Craig for his exacting work of selecting the short list of twenty and the winners. Read his very interesting and generous comments on the whole process and on the winning pieces. Thank you Tim!

    This June, the first prize goes to William Davidson from the UK with his brilliant flash fiction ‘Remembered Yellow’. William won our inaugural award in 2016 with ‘Radio Alarm’ another great story and we’re so excited has won another first prize, seven years later. He is the second writer to win our Awards twice (the other writer is Sharon Telfer in 2020 and 2016.).

    Second prize, for her exceptional story, ‘Failure to Thrive’ goes to Sara Hills, an American writer living in the UK, who has been placed twice before and long or shortlisted on many occasions. We’re also delighted that, by co-incidence, Sara is judging our 25h Award which opens July 1st and ends in October.

    Third prize goes to Noemi Sheiring-Olah, from Hungary, for ‘To All the Copies of Us’ another maarvellous and moving flash fiction. Noemi has been successful in other major contests recently and we’re thrilled she has won a place in our Award.

    James Montgomery won Highly Commended for his one sentence marvel, ‘Diamonds in the Earth’. He said on Twitter, he had been working on this story for about three years and had never been listed before. So it’s a lovely thing that his persistence has paid off.

    Pilar Garcia Claramonte also won highly commended for’My Daughter the Wolf Therian’ a fabulous story with many layers and with such an intriguing title.

    Huge congratulations to everyone You can read Tim’s comments on all these stories in his report. I have linked the titles of each story to the winners’ page on this website too and they will be published in our year-end anthology.

    Our next contest, judged by Sara Hills, opens tomorrow 1st July and ends in October. We look forward to reading your stories.

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