Judge’s Report, 23rd Award

Our big thanks to the 23rd Award judge, Sudha Balagopal for selecting the twenty stories for the short list within our narrow time frame and for writing such interesting and insightful notes. Her general comments on the process and her specific comments on the winners are below.

Judge’s notes

Thank you, Jude Higgins, for giving me the opportunity to judge the Bath Flash Fiction Award, the gold standard of very short fiction. Truly, this has been such an honor.

I knew choosing the winners would be difficult right after my first perusal of the stories on the longlist―a compendium of so many gorgeous tiny tales, varied in styles, in subject matter, in approach, in geography, in history. I read about grandfathers and newborns, children and youth, sports and food, animals and colors. And, I read them again. I went over the wondrous assortment several times before I whittled them down into a shortlist.

Once I created the shortlist, I knew an even more daunting task lay ahead: choosing the five winners, which includes the top three and the two highly commended stories. I did a lot of sorting, I did a lot of thinking, I read the stories out loud and, at times, even wished the list of winners could be longer.

The language, the unsaid between the lines, the tightness of the prose and the resonance are all paramount in such small stories and the winning pieces exemplified all those elements. These tales, I believe, will leave an indelible impression on the readers’ minds. I still think about the stories, days after I first read them.

Thank you, writers, for the gift of your precious words. It’s been my pleasure to inhabit the alluring worlds you’ve created.

Congratulations to the winners! I cannot wait to find out who penned these stunning gems.


Market Forces : 1st place

Walking to Wollongong : 2nd place

Lakota Widow : 3rd place
The Astronauts Meet for a Picnic on the First Thursday of Every Month : Highly Commended

Fissure : Highly Commended

Notes on Individual Stories

Market Forces 1

This story captivated me upon first read, and the second read and the third read. A sense of displacement, of not belonging, pervades this touching, well crafted story. The juxtaposition of the celebrating football fans, and Juma―who escaped his homeland and made it to Milan under harrowing conditions―makes for a painful contrast. The reader aches for Juma, for his loneliness, for his struggle to survive. At the end, we welcome the rain so he can sell his umbrellas, and for once, make enough to fill his belly. The tale might focus on one person who’s leading an in-between, temporary life, but underneath, the story hums with issues that are larger, stretching across countries and continents.

Walking to Wollongong 2

The details in this story are mesmerizing. An entire continent comes alive in a very small space. While the richness of Australia is illustrated via a tablecloth that doesn’t quite fit on the rectangular table, below simmers the story of a protagonist who craves information, for any snippet of knowledge that may help unearth their own history. This craving tugs at the reader and we find ourselves rooting for this young person. We too, walk that map of Australia as we ponder about the unspoken story hidden at Wollongong.

Lakota Widow 3

This poignant story about an old woman evokes such a majestic sense of place, of nature, of connection and all of that in five economical paragraphs. Yes, it’s about two people forging an unexpected relationship―a ninety year old woman and a hospital worker who becomes a friend. However, it’s also about the history of a people, about that which is sacred, about that which is so much bigger than us. In this lyrical, mystical piece the reader can breathe the air of those hills, see the buffalo cross the river, observe the broad sweep of sweetgrass and revel in all of that magic.

The Astronauts Meet for a Picnic on the First Thursday of Every Month (Highly Commended)

The unusual and deft use of the third person plural drew me into this story about a group of astronauts. The story is set at a picnic, not exactly a place where you’d expect astronauts. Beautiful details―the strawberries, the hot dogs, the ants—serve to ground the astronauts. They talk about what they wanted and what they have now. The real story, though, resides in the shared experiences they don’t discuss, in the things that hover in their minds, in the things that are present at the picnic and yet absent at the same time.

Fissure (Highly Commended)

The urgency and the pace in this one-sentence story kept me rapt until the very last word. We are with our ice-skater as she performs her routine, with the thoughts in her head, with the strain of everything weighing on her mind. We can comprehend her stress, see how she’s pushed and pulled, understand how enormous the burden of performance must feel and we want her to succeed, despite Ryan, and then, there’s that finish, the unforgettable, climactic finish to the story.

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

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

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

Follow twitter.com/fuelFlash and Instagram instagram.com/fuelflashfictionanthology/ for updates. Read in Full

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Guess the 23rd Award Last Minute Club Badge colour!

Thanks so much flash fiction writers, for your fantastic support for our Bath Flash Fiction Awards. Our readers are very busy reading your entries for the 23rd Award, this time judged by award winning writer from the US, Sudha Balagopal. Have a final read of my interview with her to get you fired up to write or edit some last minute flash

To remind everyone, The Last Minute Club, for intrepid flash fictioneers is open only on the final day of this Award, Sunday 5th February. Anyone entering on Sunday will receive a (virtual) Last Minute Club badge. Everyone loves badgges don’t they? My first badge which I am sad to have recently lost was for entering a competition at Butlins holiday camp, when I was about nine. Our Bath Flash Badges are equally collectible. We’ve a mini competition beginning now over on Twitter where the first person to guess the colour of the new badge will receive a Bath Flash Fiction anthology.You won’t know the colour until first thing on Sunday morning.

We know posts on Twitter are disappearing into the shadows these days, but if you enter on Sunday and receive your badge, do share it there. We love that. It makes it such a fun day!

The first badge was introduced in June 2018. And the one you can collect on Sunday will be the fifteenth badge.Here they all are in the gallery. Many different colour combinations.

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Best wishes for all your entries. It’s always wonderful to receive stories from around the world.

Results out by the end of February.

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Hide, Show, Expand: Story Revision

Our 23rd Award ends this coming Sunday, 5th February. Results out by the end of February, when the snow drops will certainly be out, if they are not already. And we’re heading again for the Last Minute Club. Those submitting on the final day, get a (virtual) badge. There’s still six days to finish a flash but many of us flash fiction fans frequently ignore the best ways of getting a story ready for submissions. I certainly do. It’s not as if I say a stubborn ‘no’ to a great idea. It’s just that good advice seems hard to remember. Read in Full

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Happy 2023 News!

First up in our lovely 2023 news is that along with Ad Hoc Fiction, we are sponsoring the fifth in-person Flash Fiction Festival weekend, again taking place in Bristol UK, at Trinity College, 14th to 16th July For seasoned and beginner Flash Fiction enthusiasts from around the world. We have 28 flash fiction workshops/talks to choose from, led by well-known flash fiction writers and teachers from the UK, the US, Ireland and Germany, plus flash fiction readings, book launches, bookshop, a Friday daytime flashy fringe fete where there will be fun activites plus authentic paella to order in advance, and a Friday afternoon pre-festival three-hour workshop led by acclaimed writer and teacher Kathy Fish. We also have a bar where Smokelong Quarterly editors Helen Rye and Christopher Allen will be hosting evening karaoke (not to be missed!). The Pokrass Prize for stories of up to 300 words is judged by Meg Pokrass and is open to all those booked.
Booking opened six days ago and places with accommodation included are going fast. We do also have camping options on site. Hope you can come to meet flash fiction friends and make new ones It is very friendly and fun. All details and booking on the website flashfictionfesival.com Read in Full

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BFFA 7th Year-End Anthology cover reveal!

Thank you to everyone from around the world who entered our Awards this year. We greatly appreciate your support for the competitions and for our other projects. Our seventh year-end anthology has been a little delayed. The printing process has been slower than usual and we also didn’t want to dispatch copies to get caught up in, or lost, in the backlog of post due to postal strikes in the UK. For now, to mark the end of a year of fabulous flash fiction, here is a picture of the cover of the anthology. Dandelion Years is also the title of a story by Jonaki Ray, a writer based in New Dehli, India. The story is very moving and for the anthology, we also like the notion of dandelion seeds spreading far and wide, like the reach of flash fictions. Stories in the anthology are written by writers from all over the world.

Jude took the photograph of dandelion clocks in the lane near her house and we like the way John at Ad Hoc Fiction has somehow made the seedheads stand out and used the font colour to great effect. The anthology contains around 135 fictions from winning,shortlisted and longlisted authors in the three rounds of the Bath Flash Fiction Awards in 2022. It will be ready soon and posted out to contributors.
We’re hoping it will arrive with authors at some point in January.

It’s been another busy year for Bath Flash Fiction. Ad Hoc Fiction, our small indie press, which focuses on flash fiction, published fourteen books this year: nine novellas in flash, (seven from the Bath Flash Fiction Novella in Flash Award, 2022 and two others) – three more published shortly; two flash fiction collections; The Flash Fiction Festival anthology, Vol 4, (Vol 5 forthcoming); Bath Short Story Award Anthology and a guide book on writing the novella-in-flash. Thanks as always to John our Ad Hoc Fiction one-man production team, who produces such amazing looking books. This year, he also managed to squeeze in production of The National Flash Fiction Day Anthology as a freebie for them. We were also delighted, for the seocnd year running, that Ad Hoc Fiction was shortlisted in the South West regional category of the Bookseller’s Small Publisher Award.

Our other project, the Flash Fiction Festivals UK has had an exciting year. Jude’s hosted five online flash fiction festival days in 2022 and with Diane Simmons, organised the first face to face flash fiction festival since the pandemic in Bristol, UK. Another face to face festival is coming, July 14th-16th, 2023, in the same venue, Trinity College, Bristol UK. Booking open in January.

Our 23rd Award, the first one in 2023, judged by Sudha Balagopal, ends on Sunday February 5th.

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

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

Read in Full

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

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

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

Review of The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jude Higgins, December 2022

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