At our Online Flash Fest last weekend we announced the winners of our 2021 Novelette-in-Flash Prize and heard readings from all three writers, which were brilliant! We are really excited to bring you this anthology of stories later this year.
Our judge was Mary-Jane Holmes and here’s what she had to say about the process and the winning novelettes.
Whereas the short story limits material and the novel extends it, the novella does both in such a way that a special kind of narrative structure results, one which produces […] the double effect of intensity and expansion.”—JUDITH LEIBOWITZ
The shortlist that I had the great honour to read through all contained this sense of intensity and expansion that Leibowitz mentions in her essay on the novella. In the novelette, I think that these concepts become even more present and as a writer, working in this highly constrained form offers an excellent grounding in the elements needed to create a dramatically satisfying work, notably brevity, compression. One gets a real chance to master the tools of the trade including how repeating motifs can bring texture to the prose, how unifying devices create a sense of connectnedness and causality, how omission and the manipulation of empty space can do just as much as the words on the page.
It was painful to have to choose just three pieces as all the shortlisted displayed a strong engagement with the elements cited above. But here goes:
First Place: Monsieur by David Rhymes
As well as this being a beautiful story based on a true story, the authenticating detail is so seductive, rich without being cluttered. When establishing a foreign setting, it can be difficult to get the balance right when employing non-English vocabulary but David gets it just right.
The soundscape is gorgeous and the pacing really disciplined – you just want to read it out aloud from start to finish.
What really struck home with this piece is the play of psychic distance: “the distance the reader feels between himself and the events in the story.” (Gardner). David is able to produce a carefully maintained tonal distance without lessening the closeness of thought.
Second Place: Ceiling by Hannah Sutherland
What was so well crafted in Hannah’s piece was the really strong and dramatically satisfying unification between the setup of a piece and its payoff along with the consistently great first lines that hook you in each separate flash piece.
The unfurling of the plot is particularly well-choreographed. Narrative tension in linear and non-linear stories often arises from intriguing unanswered questions or worries, but readers also want to feel the question is addressed in some way rather than just brought up and then abandoned. This was very well controlled in this piece. Similarly, the unfolding of the deeper conflicts and predicament is subtle, nuanced and weaves seamlessly into the surface conflicts as they arrive. This brings great profluence – the ability to ensure the reader reads on.
Third Place: The Girl who Survived by Dawn Siofra North
The crafting and layering of the protagonist’s character is crafted. The image that comes to mind is a high-end patisserie – light, layered and full of texture. The character is much more complex than the words that form her and this intensity creates a strong dynamic and great intimacy to the character in the mind’s eye – you feel you are becoming this person in some way.
The way this is achieved is by building the predicament and the circumstances using lots of different angles: employing gesture, notably through concentrating on objects and the character using those objects, to stand in for emotions – in tech speak, this is a crafted use of synecdoche.
Similarly, the variety of narrative ‘shape’ and form works to add momentum and energy to the story. Dawn wasn’t afraid to experiment. The use of lists, not being afraid to use really compressed sections, using journal extracts and poems all work to give this narrative real grip.
Many congratulations to our winners! You’ll be able to read their brilliant novellas in the summer.
Well done to the shortlisted writers too: Diane Simmons, Annie Dawid and Sean Gallagher.