2020 Novelette-in-Flash Prize Winners

We’re delighted to reveal the three winning writers in our inaugural Novelette-in-Flash Prize. Many thanks to judge, Damhnait Monaghan for making the difficult decision between the shortlisted novelettes she was sent. The standard was phenomenal and when reading all of the entries, we were so impressed by what these writers had achieved with their stories.

So congratulations to everyone who was shortlisted and a huge well done to our winners, whose stunning novelettes-in-flash will be published in an anthology in the summer.


  • Homemade Weather by Tom O’Brien
  • Lessons In Translation by Rosie Garland
  • Microcosmos – Life, Love, Death etc in 20 Tiny Pieces by David Lewis
  • Stubborn Strong Bones by Jeanette Lowe
  • The Animals Around Me by Sian Dodderidge
  • The Impossibility of Wings by Donna Greenwood
  • Top Table by Diane Simmons
  • What The Fox Brings In Its Jaw by Ian O’Brien

Judge’s Report

My sincere thanks to Amanda Saint for inviting me to judge the inaugural Retreat West novelette-in-flash competition. It was an honour and a privilege. The standard of short-listed entries was high, which made my decision a difficult one. I read about childhood escapades in Scotland and escaping Thatcher’s England to teach in the Sudan.

I read stories about grief or dysfunctional families driving people to addiction, violence or mental illness; some of these characters survived, while others succumbed. In one of the short-listed stories a daughter whispers “I hate you” to her apparently sleeping mother. “It’s a thin line,” her mother replies. It seemed to me that all of the short-listed stories demonstrate the thin line we tread in life: between love and hate, friendship and enmity, escape and return, addiction/ illness and recovery, life and death. I was genuinely moved by each story, but these are my top three.

First Place: Homemade Weather by Tom O’Brien

A beautifully written, deeply satisfying novelette-in-flash that revealed more depth with each read. Celia grows up in a dysfunctional family, believing she possesses a gift for healing, but one which, if used, diminishes her own health. The narrative arc takes us from Celia’s childhood – we first meet her trying to ‘save’ her dog – to loss, love with Finn, who saves her, motherhood, then further grief. A master class in both resonance and the use of white space, with some of the individual flash comprising a few sentences and one having only a title and white space, to brilliant effect. Gorgeous lasting imagery and the promise of hope in the ambiguous ending. I could not get this story out of my head. A deserved winner.

About the author: Tom O’Brien is an Irishman living in London. He has words in numerous places including EllipsisZine, Reflex and Spelk and in print in Blood & Bourbon, Blink-Ink and DEFY! Anthologies. His novella-in-flash Straw Gods is published by Reflex Press.

He’s on twitter @tomwrote and his website is www.tomobrien.co.uk.  

Second Place: What the Fox Brings in Its Jaw by Ian O’Brien

A constantly shifting narrative told from multiple perspectives, paired with the effective use of flashback helped elevate this excellent novelette-in-flash. An unnamed protagonist is caught up in a robbery that goes wrong, with tragic consequences. We see the impact of his poor choices – death, estrangement, homelessness – on strangers, his own family and himself. It’s a credit to the writer that the reader feels nothing but sympathy towards the man, not least because old family patterns are repeated. In the final flash, we see the man as a child with his own father, confirming that childhood memories can be distorted; the circle closes, the story neatly concludes. Very well done.

About the author: Ian O’Brien writes and teaches in Manchester, UK. His work can be found online and in print via magazines and anthologies such as Neon, Prole, Fictive Dream and Storgy. He was shortlisted for the Cambridge Prize for Flash Fiction 2020. You can find links to his work via Twitter @OB1Ian

Third Place: The Impossibility of Wings by Donna L Greenwood

In this fine novelette-in-flash, we witness a family in crisis, through the eldest daughter’s eyes. Violent and erratic parental behaviour is leavened with humour, (Jesus falls down from his cross) and love – that fine line I referenced earlier. One of my favourite individual pieces in the competition is contained in this novelette. In ‘The Mary’s’ two sisters pretend to be
housewives called Mary, smoking pen lids and gossiping about ‘that Doreen.’ I adored this flash. In the final poignant piece, the reader sees the mother’s pride and what it cost her (literally and figuratively) to support her eldest’s escape to university. Bravo.

About the author: Donna L Greenwood writes flash fiction, short stories and poetry. Her work has been nominated for Best Small Fictions and Best Microfiction. She has won several writing competitions, the most recent being Molotov Cocktail’s ‘Flashpocalypse’. Her most recent work in print can be found in ‘The Corona Book of Ghost Stories’, ‘A Girl’s Guide to Fly Fishing’ (Reflex Press) and ‘You, Me and Emmylou’ (Ellipsis Zine).

As a writer I understand that it may be disappointing to reach the shortlist of a competition and not progress further. But every judge brings her own preferences and passions to the decision-making process. With another judge, on another day, I’m certain that any of the shortlisted novelettes-in-flash could have won this competition. I look forward to seeing every one of them published somewhere in the future.

Damhnait Monaghan

Huge congratulations to Tom, Ian and Donna – we’re really excited to bring their wonderful stories to you later this year.

We’ll be announcing the deadline and judge for this year’s prize soon…