Audio book of Going Short, by Nancy Stohlman released 15th March!

We’re excited that Nancy Stohlman has released an audio book of her acclaimed craft guide book, Going Short, an invitation to Flash Fiction. Our small press, Ad Hoc Fiction published it in Autumn 2020 and it has won several awards. You can buy the print from bookshop or from Amazon, where you can add in the audio version for a small extra price.
Nancy has narrated the guide book herself, and we are really looking forward to listening to her. She is a wonderful presenter. We thougt it would be interesting to see what sort of impact the audio version made on writers from around the world, listening in different situations and in very different locations. We all know what a difference reading your own work out loud makes. For example, you discover the rhythm, you discover where you need to pause and breathe, you listen to the sound of words, whether the last sentence is the right one, whether the beginning has immediacy.

I (Jude) have asked several writers to see how listening to Nancy read the book might have a different impact on their work. They will report back in a couple of weeks to tell us. But any of you can join in. Just contact me on Jude (at) adhocfiction (dot) com if you are interested. You may be an experienced or beginner flash fiction writer. Currently if you are not subscribed to Audible, it’s possible acquire the book for a free thirty day trial.

Writers taking part in the experiment so far are:

Finnian Burnett from Canada, who say they are going to listen while walking on a treadmill.

Cheryl Markosky from Nevis,the Carribean, who is going to find out, she says, if being in the tropics makes the experience of listening more vibrant and colourful as she lives in a permanent soundscape.

April Bradley from the US, who may be going on a long car journey while listening to the book;

Slawka G Scarso
, from Milan, Italy. I am not sure where she will be while listening. It could be out in the city, perhaps.

Me (Jude Higgins) who, while listening, is likely to be wandering down muddy country lanes near Bath UK, stopping to inspect primroses, celandines and other early spring flowers.

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Interview with David Rhymes about his new NIF, The Last Days of the Union

    David Rhymes wrote his brilliant novella-in-flash The Last Days of the Union over several years, as he describes below and it is a very interesting read about a real life incident just before the break up of the Soviet Union. The timing of the book going on pre-order, which co-incided with the Russian invasion into the Ukraine was, as David says in the interview, totally unplanned. David talks about his process in writing the novella and the angle he chose to take. Those who came to the February 26th Flash Fiction Festival Day will have heard him read a moving story from the novella and he is attending the next online day on March 26th to read a further story from it.The Last Days of the Union is published the day before, 25th March, 2022. And you can pre-order it now at a 25% discount from Ad Hoc Fiction. On publication, it will also be available in paperback from Amazon worldwide. We also heartily congratulate David for his first prize win in the Retreat West Novelette-in-Flash Award, judged by Mary-Jane Holmes, with Monsieur, another beautifully written book,which I (jude) have been fortunate enough to read already. This is based on another real-life historical character. We’re looking forward to seeing that in print too. Both highly recommended reads.


  • Can you talk a little bit about the background to the Last Days of the Union? 
    When I started the project in 2019, people asked me, “Why is a Brit living in Spain writing about the Soviet Union at end of the Cold War? What got you interested in that?” I told them I was fascinated by the story of Mathias Rust, the young West German aviator who, in 1987, rented a Cessna sports plane, and flew it all the way to Moscow, landing, by a series of small miracles, alive in Red Square. He was hoping to speak to Gorbachev about peace.
    As a youth I saw this on TV and thought he must be crazy. This was the time of “Protect and Survive”, when everyone was terrified of nuclear meltdown, just one year after the Chernobyl disaster. We were only just beginning to get an idea of what was really going on in the Soviet Union.

    Later, I learned from an article in the Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine that a bizarre string of mix-ups and miscommunications were what lay behind Rust’s unlikely success, his having flown unharmed through the much-vaunted “Russian ring of steel.”
    I thought, “What about a historical novella-in-flash in which the main protagonist hardly features at all? A story told obliquely via related narratives, like beads on a thread, in a kind of post-modern mosaic? Stories about sleepy air traffic controllers, distracted missile silo watchers, helicopter pilots, even Gorbachev and Reagan – all connected in some way to (or by) the main thread of the journey? 

    I knew Gorbachev had turned Rust’s flight to his advantage, used it as a pretext to fire key defence leaders, to purge many of the hardline Soviet military opponents to reform. How this had enabled him to move forward on the issue of nuclear de-escalation, and eventually make faster progress towards ending the Cold War.  In later drafts, I centred in on this period of uncertainty, Gorbachev pondering how to use Rust’s flight to his advantage, to precipitate change.

  • With unplanned synchronicity, pre-orders for your novella opened on the very same day Russia invaded Ukraine. How did you feel about that?
    Dismayed. Like everyone, I’m praying the situation resolves quickly and that the current wave of solidarity with Ukraine continues and does not pale and that her people and European democracy come through this tragedy with the least possible suffering.
  • Does your book deal in any way with the contemporary political situation?
    No, not really. “The Last Days” isn’t really a political book at all, or even a book about Russia now. I was exploring a very specific moment in history, a period of tension in the eighties, in which a number of Cold War myths and assumptions were starting to crumble. The world was pole-axed by Rust’s story; leaders immediately began distancing themselves. A torrent of speculation followed in contemporary press sources – Was he a terrorist? An agent of the CIA? An anarchist? A Dada artist? I became interested in this process, how speculative narratives were “spun” warped, exaggerated by people on all sides. A good part of the novella dramatises the many in-the-moment speculations on the meaning of events.

    But of course, I was very aware throughout the writing of the fragility of the post Cold War settlement, of Chechnya, Georgia, Crimea, and now, in Ukraine, of Putin’s pychosis. Also, the contemporary problem of Russian “dezinformatsiya” and fake news saturating the airwaves.

  • What attracts you especially to the novella in flash form?
    I love the freedom to switch angles, to use jump cuts, white space, the power of juxtaposition. I think a lot about the Kuleshov effect, the way two disparate pieces or settings or shots or whatever can be laid alongside one another to create a third effect, to generate meaning from the interaction between the parts. So the quick changes between short pieces suit the way my mind works, as if the material were hyperlinked in some way. The form suits my restlessness.
  • How did you go about developing the manuscript?

    The first draft shortlisted in the Bath novella in flash competition, and in the wake of that I worked with Michael Loveday to develop the story further. There was an understanding that when Michael signed it off, Ad Hoc Fiction would publish it. My writing buddy Jupiter Jones helped me with the structure. Finally, I went back to Michael again for copy-editing. Michael kept me going when I was ready to give up, even mailing me a reminder to get on with it in lockdown, after I’d been months without writing a word. So to any other writers at work on longer pieces I’d say this – just keep going, no matter what.
  • You recently won first prize in the Retreat West novelette competition. Your story Monsieur will appear in the anthology some time in the summer. Are there any elements in common between the two stories?
    Both stories are about outsiders. Interlopers. One is an aviator, the other a mariner. Both are about journeys, one by sea and one by air. In “Monsieur” Jeanne Baret travels to the South Seas disguised as a man. Both pieces are also based on real life historical figures. Both move in fragments, making a lot of use of white space. 
  • What are you working on now?
    I’m hoping to write another thriller-type story about a real world spy, a master of disguise, another interloper, whose amazing life at the beginning of the twentieth century took him all around the world. Currently, I’m at the research stage, though I’ve written the first page and think I have the voice.
    Biographical details.
    David Rhymes lives in Navarra, Spain. He grew up in Nottingham and has a degree in English Literature from the University of Warwick and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. He earns his living as a freelance translator, trainer, and instructional designer.

    His fiction has appeared in the Bath Flash Fiction, Reflex Fiction and Fish Publishing anthologies, and has won prizes in the Bath Flash Fiction and Barren Magazine competitions. Other short listings include the Bridport, LISP, Desperate Literature and Smokelong Quarterly flash fiction competitions.

For more details, you might like to follow David on Twitter

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2022 Saboteur Awards Voting Open!

In the 2021 Saboteur Awards, our authors and Ad Hoc Fiction our small indie press were shortlisted in five categories: best novella; best short story single author collection; best anthology; most innovative publisher and best literary festival. It gives us a lovely boost to get public votes for our endeavours. So if you have come on any events we’ve sponsored since March 2021 or read and liked any of the books published in this time period, we’d love you to vote in these categories again. Anyone from around the world can use the form linked here and vote for one author, event or publisher. We’re eligible in all the same categories as last year. You have to vote for three categories minimum.

    For the novella category, Ad Hoc Fiction, our short fiction press, has published eleven novellas-in-flash. Some marvellous books to choose from. Ten shortlisted from the Bath Flash Fiction 2021 Novella in Flash Awards and one from 92 year old author, Ruth Skrine.

      Season of Bright Sorrow by David Swann
      One for the River by Tom 0’Brien
      The Tony Bone Stories by Al Kratz
      Small Things by Hannah Sutherland
      Things I Can’t Tell Amma, Sudha Balagopal
      Hairy on the Inside, Tracy Fells
      A Family of Great Falls, Debra A Daniel
      The Death and Life of Mrs Parker, Jupiter Jones
      The Listening Project, Ali McGrane
      Kipris, Michelle Christophorou

Echoes in a Hollow Space, Ruth Skrine

    For the most innovative publisher do cast your vote for our small press Ad Hoc Fiction who published a total of 18 books in 2021. Plus Jude has hosted many different launches for the books. Thank you!
    For the short story collection category. The Evolution of Birds by award-winning writer, Sara Hills is a stunning collection of flash fiction stories, published by Ad Hoc Fiction, last July. If you have read and liked it, I am sure she would appreciated your support.
    For the Best Literary Festival, it would be such a wonderful thing to get your votes for our series of festival days. Ten of them lhosted by Jude Higgins, director of Flash Fiction Festivals,since March 2021, The two series were called The Great Festival Flash Off and the Great Festival Throwdown Days with a whole day each time packed with workshops,contests, talks and readings from worldwide writers. If you’ve come to any and enjoyed the day it would be fantastic to get your vote. To distinguish it from other online flash fiction festivals, you could call it The Great Festival Flash Off Series on the voting form.

For the Best Anthology, If you liked Snow Crow, the anthology from the three Bath Flash Fiction Awards in 2021, which was published by Ad Hoc Fiction in December, 2021, we’d love your vote for this book of 135 fabulous flash fiction stories.

Finally, If you would like to vote for Best Reviewer, we’re giving our vote to Judy Darley, who throughout last year reviewed very many of the Ad HOc Fiction published books so thoughtfully.

Thank you everyone! We appreciate your support!

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Q and A with Tommy Dean, Judge, 21st Award

Thank you very much to US based writer, editor and teacher, Tommy Dean, for agreeing to judge our 21st flash fiction award, which opens today, Tuesday March 1st and closes Sunday, June 5th 2022. In the interview below, after Tommy’s bio, he tells us more about his latest books and projects and what sort of flash fictions he loves. Tommy is also running some free teaching sessions when his new collection, Hollows is released in April. So check out the links for that at the end of this email.

Tommy Dean is the author of two flash fiction chapbooks Special Like the People on TV (Redbird Chapbooks, 2014) and Covenants (ELJ Editions, 2021). Hollows, A collection of flash fiction is forthcoming from Alternating Current Press. He lives in Indiana where he currently is the Editor at Fractured Lit and Uncharted Magazine. A graduate of the Queens University of Charlotte MFA program, he is currently working on a novel. A recipient of the 2019 Lascaux Prize in Short Fiction, his writing can be found in Best Microfiction 2019 and 2020, Best Small Fiction 2019, Monkeybicycle, and the Atticus Review. He taught writing workshops for the Gotham Writers Workshop, the Barrelhouse Conersations and Connections conference, and The Writers Workshop. Find him at on Twitter @TommyDeanWriter. Read in Full

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20th Award Round Up

Thank you to all those from around the world who entered our February 2022 award, the 20th one we have organised since 2015. There were 1222 entries this time, stories entered by writers in 40 different countries listed below. We very much appreciate your support for our thrice-yearly awards and as always, there were very many exceptional and inventive pieces to read. We love flash fiction and it is a joy to read what writers come up with.

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, China, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Philippines, Romania, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States

We continued the fun of the virtual Last Minute Club badge, and many writers obliged by entering throughout the last day of the competition and right up to midnight to receive one. We know if some of these late entries don’t make our final lists, they go on to be successful in other places. So we like to provide the impetus for people to write. We may have some real-life badges for sale at the in person flash fiction festival taking place the weekend of July 8th-10th in Bristol!
There was a guessing game for the colour of this badge with one of our anthologies the prize the day before the final day of the award. The badge is supposed to be beige, and we decided that peach and terracotta were the nearest guesses. So two people received an anthology this time.

Our huge congratulations to the winners.: Louise Mangos from Switzerland has won first prize; Iona Rule from the UK, second prize; Debra A Daniel from the US third prize; Kathryn Aldridge Morris from the UK and Sam Payne from the UK were both highly commended. You can read their wonderful stories on the winners page and they will be published, along with everyone on the longlist who has accepted publication, in our year end anthology which will contain flash fictions from all the 2022 awards and will be posted free to contributors.

Thanks very much to Karen Jones, our 20th Award judge for her work in reading the longlist, selecting the twenty on the short list and then the winners, and writing a great report and comments on the process and on the winning pieces. We have a tight turnaround for the Award and very much appreciate her for doing all this a short time period. You can read her excellent report here.

We also thank our initial readers for their dedicated work in reading the stories as they came in and for the intensive final burst of work.

The next award, this time judged by writer, editor and teacher from the US, Tommy Dean, opens tomorrow, March 1st and ends in early June.
We hope that you will enter again, and we look forward to more fantastic flash fictions to read.

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Judge’s Report, 20th Award

    Many thanks to Jude Higgins for inviting me to judge this round of the award and to the Bath Flash readers who presented me with a long list filled with amazing stories. I loved every single one, so whittling down to twenty for a shortlist felt like an impossible task. I read and reread the stories, paced the house with them, read them aloud and finally thought I’d done it, but a quick tally showed I’d only reached the number 28. After a bit of screaming and exceedingly tough decisions, the top twenty emerged. That shortlist came on dog walks with me, took over my concentration when I was trying to watch TV, kept me company during my insomnia nights, and what excellent company.
    As writers, we are manipulators – of thought, of mood, of emotion – but we have to hide our tricks from the reader. Flash fiction writers have to work even harder, to perform like close-up magicians, because there is nowhere to hide what we’re up to as we work to make readers feel the things we want them to. The twenty stories on the list made me cry, made me laugh, made me think, made me question, made me wish I had written them. I hated having to pare my list down even further, but it had to be done.
    The stories that made me cry, that pulled my heart out of my chest, wrung it out and stuffed it back in there, were the ones I initially thought would fill most of the prize spots. But an odd thing happened – the more I read those stories (and I’ve read every story about twenty times now) the less power they held over me. That’s not a criticism – they are excellent stories – it’s just the effect of repeated reading, which is a pitfall of judging. I still love every one of those heart-breaking stories and look forward to reading them again in the anthology, with a bit of distance and armed with boxes of tissues. (Note: If everyone reads ‘A Journey Through an Old Dog’s Veins’ at the same time, we should issue a flood warning.)

      I have been longlisted and shortlisted in the Bath Flash Award many times in the past, so please believe me when I say I know how disappointing it is not to make it to the prizes. I’d like to give honourable mentions to a few stories that only just missed being in the top five: My Husband Thinks He Knows Everything (hilarious), In Slow Motion (stunning use of pacing), Optimum Focal Length for (Family) Portraits (excellent structure), and Jack and the Fallen Giant – Albion Care Home, Sunday Visiting 2-5pm (a genuinely original dementia story).
      The stories that stayed fresh on repeated readings were, for the most part, the ones that made me think, made me laugh or were simply unlike anything I’d read before, and here they are.

    1st Place
    A Roadmap of Womanhood
    This story was the first I read, and I had a feeling, from that first read, it would end up being my winner. I loved the concept of a woman’s whole life mapped out in a vein on her chest, loved the journey through time mirrored by the journey in the map. I found myself reading it again and again, finding new lines to love: ‘the place on her body where three babes have suckled, partners have fluttered their curious fingers and slid their passionate tongues.’ The beauty of that line is in stark contrast to the prosaic list of places like Frogmore and Epping Forest. There are harsh realities here, especially regarding aging and what is still deemed attractive and appropriate. And the ending, wishing for a U-turn, was poignant and beautiful. This flash is an absolute stunner.

    2nd Place


    I couldn’t get the image of Carrie out of my head. I could see her so clearly, imagined the black hole on her back as a tattoo, imagined staring into it. Although she is not the narrator, not the main character, it was her reactions to the man’s request, to his neglected house, to his final question that gripped me. But I did think of the man – what was he looking for? Is this a story of escape, or of giving up? Is it a story of lost love or seeking new possibilities? Will he, eventually, find what he thinks he needs? In the end, it felt like it could be all those things for the main character, but not for Carrie. Her weariness when she says that last line, ‘I’ve lost count.’ lands like a gut-punch. I doubt I’ll ever get her out of my head.

    3rd Place
    Grand Canyon Official Form 477D

    I get annoyed that humour rarely wins prizes. We can all make people cry, but raising a smile is hard, raising a chuckle is harder and proper laugh out loud funny is a rare and special thing. I’ve read lots of break-up/reflecting on past relationship stories, but nothing quite like this. The surreal situation is wonderful – a woman on a trip, imagining she sees her ex being eaten by a bear or a clown, lovely touches like him being ‘so far down,’ perfect little hints dropped in about what kind of man he was – it’s excellent and I giggle every time I read the guide’s response about the correct form. An absolute joy to read and I’m so happy to be able to award a funny story a prize.
    Highly Commended
    I felt so wrong-footed by this flash. It starts off feeling like a surreal dream until you realise you’re in the mind of someone suffering a post-traumatic stress episode. The constant allusions to drowning, the clues that are dropped – child’s arm band, orange windsock, the jacket puffed up in the water, the red rubber sandal of a six-year-old boy – ambush you and floor you. And that plaintive ending, to keep swimming, is quietly devastating.
    Highly Commended

    When a YouTube clip of Diego Goes Viral
    The parallels between the two tales – this weekend father’s and Diego’s – is perfect, and his explanation for why things are the way they are to his sensitive, animal loving daughter is harsher than he means it to be, but he can think of nothing else to say, no other way to explain he and Diego’s plight except, ‘shit, none of this is perfect kiddo, you know how it is. Some bears end up in Alaskan rivers slapping salmon up in the air and some bears end up here. That’s just life..’ Great ending with all the caged animals hearing a free wolf howl in the distance.

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Louise Mangos February 2022 First Prize

A Roadmap of Womanhood

by Louise Mangos

The vein travels east from her cleavage across her right breast. Its trail is blue-green, like the motorways in her faded, water-damaged AA Atlas from the nineties, before everyone started using smartphone apps. It resembles the M1 where it meets the M25 at Bricket Wood, passing two freckles and a cherry angioma. After the junction, it takes a sharp turn south and ring-roads her areola, the place on her body where three babes have suckled, partners have fluttered their curious fingers and slid their passionate tongues. Frogmore. London Colney. South Mimms. The vein then travels eastwards horizontally before fading under her armpit into the ancient woodlands of Epping Forest. It transports her iron, her anger, her waste. It has pumped away the pain of mastitis in a steaming hot shower, felt the soft silk of an underwired C-cup, been prodded by doctors searching for cancerous nodules. The vessel should be blood red, but through the curious filter of human skin untouched by sunlight, it becomes the emerald green of a heaving swamp. Once fascinating, it is now shunned by partners, repulsive to lovers, frowned upon by friends. Today this roadmap is for her eyes only. After the fired flush of menopause has chilled her skin to marble, it remains a testament to the men who have overstepped her boundaries, crossed the central reservation, pulled in to a coffee stop for a quick pick-me-up. She looks at herself in the mirror, parked naked on a double yellow line. She studies the tattoo of her womanhood and wonders if she can do a U-turn, take the M4 all the way to the southwest, where there is nothing between her liver-spotted skin and the pot-holed coastal road except the salty tears of the Atlantic Ocean.

About the Author

Louise writes novels, short stories and flash fiction, which have won prizes, placed on shortlists, and have been read out on BBC radio. Her short fiction has appeared in more than twenty print anthologies and magazines. Her latest novel will be published in spring 2022. She lives at the foot of a Swiss Alp with her Kiwi husband and two sons. You can read more of her short fiction on her website and connect with her on Twitter @LouiseMangos.

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Iona Rule February 2022 Second Prize


by Iona Rule

I didn’t want to be the type of person who went to Carrie, but ultimately I did. I found her in The Anchor, sitting at a ring-marked table, cradling a rum and coke. The stool bucked beneath me as I sat opposite her, stumbling over my stale words. It didn’t matter. She knew why I’d come. I shuffled the beer mats like tarot cards, then gave in. I whispered against her hair, which looped in a question mark by her ear,

“Can I see it?”

She nodded, resigned, as though she’d expected it, but had hoped I’d surprise her.

I took her home. Her gaze lingered on the dead cactus on the counter. Before I could ask, she removed her jumper and turned her back to me. There it was. Running from the nape of her neck, down her vertebrae, was a black hole. The emptiness stretched away, beckoning to something inside me that howled. I stood on the brink. People said if you entered one, you could access an alternate universe, or travel in time. I could return to a place where Sara hadn’t left and I could still keep a cactus alive. If this didn’t happen, if I only floated in the dark, my atoms pulled asunder, it would be enough.

But I couldn’t do it. I steadied myself on her shoulder and pulled back. We had sex instead. That basic human instinct anchored me as I stared from the edge.

After it was over, I felt empty, like that hole had taken something after all.

As she dressed I asked her how many people had jumped into her. She shrugged.

“I’ve lost count.”

I knew there was another world inside her, one where she dressed alone, watered my cactus, then closed the door behind her.

About the Author

Iona Rule has a birthmark but she’s 97% sure it isn’t a portal to an alternate universe. She has been BIFFY50 nominated and shortlisted in TSS Publishing, Cambridge Flash Prize, Fractured Lit and Retreat West. Her writing can be found in Epoch Press, The Phare and Ellipses Zine.

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Debra A Daniel February 2022 Third Prize

Grand Canyon Official Form 477D

by Debra A Daniel

Standing at the canyon’s edge, I see my ex struggling below. But maybe not. Maybe it’s a bear. Or a clown. Or a clown wearing a bear suit. Or vice-versa.

Although it could be my ex being eaten by a bear. That seems like something that would happen to him. Then he’d lie about it later. He’d make up some story, some half-truth difficult to trace.

“No,” he’d say. “That bear didn’t eat me. We were just joking around.”

“No,” he’d say. “I went to school with that bear. Great guy, Gary. Gary Bear. He lived two doors down. His mom always baked cookies for us.”

I look again. Hmm. It looks more like a clown now. Yes, a clown, for sure. My ex was afraid of clowns, ever since that Stephen King book came out.

Not that he read it. He never read anything. Not even my stories. He just thought it was cool to be scared of clowns.

Now, looking again, I’m pretty sure it’s a clown eating a bear.

Still it could be my ex. He’s so far down in the distance. I can’t tell.

“Is anyone missing a clown?” I ask the ranger. “Do bears suffer from coulrophobia? Have you ever been married to a pathological liar?”

The ranger shrugs. “I can’t answer unless you file an incident report,” she says. “Go to the welcome center. Ask for Official Form 447D Ex/Clown/Bear Attack.”

I take one more look into the canyon. There’s definitely a struggle still going on down below. I hope my ex isn’t being eaten by a bear.

But my tour bus is loading up, and he really isn’t my problem anymore.

About the Author

Debra Daniel, from South Carolina, sings in a band with her husband. Publications include: The Roster, (Ad Hoc Fiction, highly commended for the Bath Flash Fiction Novella-in-Flash, 2019), Woman Commits Suicide in Dishwasher (novel, Muddy Ford Press), The Downward Turn of August (poetry, Finishing Line) As Is (poetry, Main Street Rag), With One Eye on the Cows, Things Left and Found by the Side of the Road, Los Angeles Review, Smokelong, Kakalak, Emrys, Pequin, Inkwell, Southern Poetry Review, Tar River, and Gargoyle. Awards include The Los Angeles Review, Bacopa, the Guy Owen Poetry Prize, and SC Poetry Fellowships. Her second novella-in-flash A Family of Great Falls was shortlisted in the 2021 Bath Flash Fiction Novella-in-Flash Awards and was published by Ad Hoc Fiction in July 2021.

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Kathryn Aldridge-Morris February 2022 Commended


by Kathryn Aldridge-Morris

When the nurse returns, he’s in a wetsuit, an oxygen tank strapped to his back, clipboard in his hands, says he’s a mental health nurse and you think ‘Sure!’ as the carapace of a sea turtle grows from his ribs and he shakes seaweed from your files and that thing you’re doing with your arms? you think it’s swimming but it’s the start of drowning and knowing the bottom of the seabed smells of hospital linoleum you try to catch hold of something to help you float, like a child’s armband left behind in the sand, or a mantra, an inflatable mantra: she sells seashells on the seashore—nice—and the nurse seems pleased with you, Keep going, he says, and you don’t let yourself look at the orange windsock behind his head, you focus on the slow tide of words which lap across the lines on his notebook, a memory sunk within you scratching its way out through his pen: Sean’s jacket puffed up in the water; Scratch Scratch, says his pen, then he tells you, It only takes a half pint of seawater to enter the lungs to start drowning, and you look at the plastic cup he’s handing you – that water is not from the cooler, is it? it’s from the fish tank on the side, the fish tank full of dogfish, stingrays, and the red rubber sandal of a six-year-old boy, but you drink it because if you don’t, it’ll go down in a tick box marked paranoia and that’s not a tick box you can swim in, and swimming’s what you need to do right now, swim, out to the buoy where you see your son waving, swim for god’s sake, move your limbs—he needs you.

About the Author

Kathryn Aldridge-Morris is a flash fiction writer with work forthcoming or in Flash Frog, Bending Genres, Emerge, Janus Literary, Ellipsis Zine, The Phare and others. She has stories in seven anthologies, including And if that Mockingbird Don’t Sing. She lives in Bristol, UK, and tweets @kazbarwrites

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