2020 First Chapter Competition Longlist


Many thanks to everyone that entered the 2020 First Chapter Competition. Louise Walters and I have read a lot of novel openings to make the longlist decision. We received 308 entries and have a longlist of 36, which we’ll now be choosing a shortlist of 10 from to go to our final judge, Carrie Plitt, literary agent with Felicity Bryan Associates.

Congratulations to all the writers who stories are listed below. We’re still reading anonymously at this stage so please don’t let anymore know what your story is called if you’ve made it through!


2020 First Chapter Competition Longlist

  1. A Charm To Mend Lost Causes
  2. A Whisper In The Woods
  3. Boy Nightingale
  4. Brantwood
  5. Down Came A Blackbird
  6. Flatfoot In Fleece
  7. Girls Like Us
  8. Hush
  9. In Our Father’s House
  10. Iris Vine Remembers
  11. Jack
  12. Level 44
  13. Life After The End Of The World
  14. Love
  15. Love The Dark Days
  16. Motor City Resolve
  17. No Woman Is An Island
  18. Passing Through Fire
  19. Static
  20. Summers With My Father
  21. Swimming Lesson
  22. The Book Of Gates
  23. The Candidate’s Husband
  24. The Circle
  25. The Cuckoo Clock
  26. The History And Remarkable Life Of Octavia Swallow
  27. The Inquisitor’s Papers
  28. The Katie Experiment
  29. The Orchid Child
  30. The Pearls, The Lake, And Yoshio
  31. The Slighting Of Livia Rathbone
  32. The Slow Knife
  33. The Sunday Painters
  34. We Make Dreams
  35. Words We Shoud’ve Said
  36. Your Sorrows Rise


We’ll be re-reading these chapters now and will have the shortlist in the first week of April.

We asked our members and followers about who they would like to see judging the 2021 competition and the unanimous decision was for it to be an indie publisher. So we’ve got a very exciting one lined up, which we’ll be announcing when the new competition details go live later this year.

We’re also very excited to have partnered with Casa Ana Retreats for the 2021 competition. Find out more about Casa Ana here. I’m lucky enough to be their guest mentor for a 2-week retreat later this year, so if you fancy some writing time in the mountains in southern Spain with 1-1 support to develop your novel, short/flash fiction or memoir, then come join me!


Earth Themed Flash Competition Winners

Earth Themed Flash Competition Winners

Many thanks to all of the writers who entered the final themed flash competition of 2019; and to all of the shortlisted writers for their patience while I read and re-read the stories to make my decision. It was a tough one as there was so much to recommend about all of the stories on the shortlist. I’m really glad that we have guest judges for this year’s competition so that I don’t have to make these hard decisions for a while!

Huge congratulations to our winning writer and 2 runners-up. Your stories really stuck with me long after reading.


Winner: The Five Stages of Hopelessness by Louise Mangos

Why I chose it: I loved how the last line of this story completely changed it into something else, without it seeming like a punchline or an unnatural ending. That line gave me the chills then it made me laugh out loud. The use of language is gorgeous and the whole tone of it made it seem that this tale of the five stages of a relationship was heading into a familiar theme seen in flash. So I was really surprised by the last line, in a very good way.

Read it here


Runner-up: Ten Things I Have Learned From Being a Troglodyte by Ruth Brandt

Why I chose it: There are so many questions left unanswered in this story yet it has a feeling of completeness. There’s a real sense of mystery about who the narrator really is and what they’re doing in the cave. But despite the fact that they start and end the story alone there’s a sense that they are at peace with this life they have chosen. It does what great flash does and hints at a much bigger story.

Read it here


Runner-up: Terra by JC McKinley

Why I chose it: Gorgeous imagery and I felt swept and swirled away into the desert girl’s world and passion for all the things that make up the earth. There’s an epic feeling to this, making it seem much larger than it is, and as our planet falters under the weight of all that we take from it, this story had the feeling of a being a love song to our beleaguered home. One that left me filled with a feeling of hope.

Read it here



Our next themed flash competition closes on 29th March 2020 and is being judged by Gaynor Jones, who chose the theme of ABANDONED. So get writing and send us your stories to be in with a chance of seeing your work published on the website and winning cash prizes up to £400.

If you regularly enter our competitions, then check out out membership options which include multiple entries as part of the subscription fee.


Terra by JC McKinley


JC McKinley

She fancied herself a desert girl. Born in America’s Sonora wilderness, surrounded by saguaro cactus. She fell in love with earth, not the planet with a capital E, but the rocks, minerals and, clays from which life springs forth. She did not feel the least bit surprised when she discovered her name, Terra, meant “Earth goddess” in an ancient language.
I met her later in life.
“What do you do?” I ask.
“I’m a Geologist,” she says.
“What does a Geologist do?”
Her golden eyes widen. Inside hollow pupils, a dust storm swirls. I see orange, yellow and lime-green vehicles, large as dinosaurs, clawing, tearing, and removing earth. With each acre stripped bare, the hollow inside her deepens. Leech fields miles long, leave chalky streaks down her soft, fleshy cheeks. Men with sly smiles demand Terra reveal the next vein, lode, and vug. I see she’s felt unhappy and used for a long time.
“They don’t love the earth,” she says through bitter tears.
“What if I told you, you could love the earth again?”
“I’d ask you to show me,” she replies.
I take her north. Past the temperamental Rockies. Beyond the gloom of the Pacific-Northwest to the last bastion of wilderness I know: Prince William Sound, Alaska. Not untouched by man, this place endures the elimination of its glaciers at the hand of climate change. Despite this, the land and sea have preserved their pristine nature. It is here I will show Terra how to love the earth again.
We travel in a small aluminum hull boat with an outboard motor into inlets, fjords and bays so calm, the movement of jellyfish underwater can be heard. We eat wild salmonberries, boil the rice from Chocolate Lilies, pull silver salmon from the water and feed their heads to bald eagles, tossing the severed parts high into the air. We watch Orcas hunt sea lions and spend half a day spying a baby humpback whale learning to jump with its mother. We examine granite beaches and shale outcroppings so intensely we almost miss giant brown bear prints in the soft mud.
On Knight Island, I show her remnants of a 30-year-old oil spill: crude oil resting black and thick and calm under gray granite rocks. A stain on the wild. We spend days upturning beach, revealing tar, taking samples, hands dirtied with foul-smelling soil until something inside her snaps. She stands, calm and firm.
“I’m ready to go home,” she says one cloudy, drizzling day.
I met her later in life.
“What do you do?” I ask.
“I’m a Conservationist,” she says.
“What does a Conservationist do?”
Her golden eyes widen. Inside flows the wisdom of a goddess. I see men with sly smiles, jailed, their strip-mining operations shut down, and government funding set aside for protection programs. Outside, her platinum cheeks pull ruby lips into a beaming quartz smile.
“They show you how to love all the earth.”




About the author: JC Mckinley lives in Colorado with his wife and 17-month-old daughter. He grew up in Alaska and loves how nature’s beauty enhances all our lives. His short stories have appeared on reflexfiction.com and are forthcoming in Flash Fiction Magazine.

Ten Things I Have Learned From Being a Troglodyte by Ruth Brandt

Ten Things I Have Learned From Being a Troglodyte

Ruth Brandt


  1. It’s dark when the sun goes down. Occasionally it’s dark when the sun is up, but when it’s down it’s impermeably black. The dark doesn’t stop me moving or humming.
  2. You can’t dry out a cave. The tail end of rain from a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand years ago swooshes subterranean slashes through the ground, and tra laa, a cave is formed. Water dribbles, stripes the defeated earth down the walls, constructs mineral pillars. Maybe you know all that, but this is my list of things I have learned – caves are wet.
  3. People are intrigued and frightened of the dark and damp where they can’t see the end, if indeed an end exists. They are intrigued and frightened of the tail-off of wet stone into a tiny stream. They are intrigued and frightened of bats, of invisible insects, of caves. 
  4. When I sit near the mouth of my cave and light a fire and sing, people join me, facing the landscape to watch swallows flit across treetops. They point out the new building to the left, the fishing lake on the right, the pub, the hospital. Only when they think I’m not looking do they steal a glance behind. 
  5. There is confusion about troglodytes. Are we creatures crawling from the modern-day primordial swamp? From heaven, here to show others the purposelessness of their worries? A holy halo? Shit on a boot? A marvel? This uncertainty engenders oodles of respect, it engenders repugnance. 
  6. The ground in a cave is hard. My back has bent to fit the crevasses in rocks. My collar bone curves round to my throat. My head hunches. I sleep well on the uneven floor. Give me a mattress and I would toss and turn.
  7. One man wanted me enough to come to me. He brought a sleeping bag and a bin liner to lay it on. He brought orange waterproof bags for his clothes. He brought a phone power bank and a wind-up torch, a warm chest and a gentle kiss. And the lust. Dear God, the lust! He brought it all.
  8. Now, here’s this thing – however much you love someone, however much you are prepared to live to their routines, rise to the clock instead of the light, eat regularly, drink boiled liquids, the cave dwelling thing is a show stopper. Full stop.
  9. When his back cricked out of shape he walked away, leaving his torch – not something he needed – a half-finished KitKat and a tin of tomato soup. He left his ‘I love you’ words drawn into the sediment.
  10. But he couldn’t remove the formative trickle at the back of the cave, or the way it shapes my body so I can embrace myself with my own shoulders. This last thing I have learned from being a troglodyte, no one can stop me humming in the dark.



About the author: Ruth Brandt’s short fiction has appeared in publications including Litro, the Bridport Prize Anthology 2018 and Neon. She won the Kingston University MFA Creative Writing Prize 2016 and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions. She lives in Surrey with her husband and has two sons.


The Five Stages of Hopelessness by Louise Mangos

The Five Stages of Hopelessness

Louise Mangos

Back in spring, my garden was fertile, rich with the hope of you. I pulled my fingers through your loamy soil, watching the first ecstatic caress shiver down your body. Your warmth worked its way into my skin. Longing to be a part of you. Lust.
From cupped palms we scattered seeds into the furrows, sewing a thousand promises to grow and multiply. We quenched the thirst of our earth with the waters of the summer rains. Falling into our eyes. Blind love.
Billowing cumulonimbus threatened the horizon. The hurricane gust of a violent hail storm bruised our flowers, tearing delicate petals from their stems. The chance for bearing fruit was lost. Barren.
My tears fell like lethal fat snowberries. Salt of the earth. The burnished leaves of autumn shadowed the golden bruises on my cheek. Broken.
I raked and tilled the earth, turning the putrid foliage back into the soil. I gouged into the soft flesh of overripe fruit hanging from invasive poisonous vines. Juices stung my open wounds. Anger.
Now the winter wind howls across the holes in my soul. The ground cracks with frosty neglect. The cold sleet of remorse scours my heart.
This iron earth. Now desolate and void.
I dig and dig and dig. Rupturing the roots. Burying my regrets.
Burying parts of you.
The biggest pieces that wouldn’t fit in the incinerator.
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. You can connect with Louise on Facebook www.facebook.com/LouiseMangosBooks/, Twitter @LouiseMangos, and Instagram as louisemangos, or visit her website www.louisemangos.com where there are links to some of her short fiction. Louise lives on a Swiss Alp with her Kiwi husband and two sons.

2019 Short Story and Flash Fiction Prize Winners

2019 Short Story and Flash Fiction Prize Winners

We’re very excited to announce the winners of the 2019 Short Story and Flash Fiction prizes. Many thanks to our judges for taking on the tough job of choosing the winners from the shortlisted stories. Angela Readman picked our winning short stories and Meg Pokrass our flash fictions.

Well done to all of the writers who made our long and shortlists and a HUGE congratulations to the winners of the top 3 spots.

2019 RW Short Story Prize Winners

I was delighted to judge this competition; of all the competitions I’ve worked on this was the closest. Any of the stories in the shortlist would have been worthy winners, the standard was exceptional. Each story varied in subject and style, but was impeccably structured. I read each story in the shortlist a few times, and my top five even more. I took my time, and ultimately chose the stories I couldn’t forget even after a few days had passed. I’d like to congratulate all the writers who made the shortlist and want them to know they all wrote stories I am certain will find a place in the world and be read for years. It was difficult to choose only three out of so many wonderful stories, but, in the end, I had to choose the ones I couldn’t stop thinking about.

First Prize: Sal by Emma Hutton

Reading Sal gave me goose bumps. The title is deceptively simple, yet the originality of the character took this coming of age story to a whole other level. The writing shone. The tension between men, women, and social expectations is palpable. I found that the more I read the story the more layers it revealed. This is a story that just keeps on giving. It deserves to be read more than once. Every word earned its place as the winner.

Second Prize: Whale Watching by Louise Farr

A delightful story of how we become who we are and the ways that we cope with loss. I was impressed with the use of childhood impressions that made the disappointments of daily life almost magical. The voice leapt off the page and continued to surprise me throughout. Funny, sad, strange and moving, it was impossible not to place this story. I know it will stick with me for a long time, the character is so compelling I felt I could hear her heartbeat.

Third Prize: Mess of Love by Jason Jackson

A fascinating exploration of the dynamics of a relationship and what strength really means. I was submerged in this story by the sensory opening and was impressed with how details are used to convey character. However flawed these people may be, the use of touch in this story made their relationship utterly convincing. The mess of their love seemed incredibly real.

2019 Flash Fiction Prize Winners

First Prize: Treating the Stains and Strains of Marriage by Sherry Morris

Treating the Stains and Strains of a Marriage is a story about the fading colours of a marriage. With brilliant sensory flourishes, startling use of metaphor and internal rhyme, this darkly funny story tackles the world of domestic drudgery and whips it into something deliciously unsettling and surreal.This story’s originality and jaunty confidence won me over! I have never read anything else like it.

Second Prize: Riverwater Cistern by Niamh MacCabe

Riverwater Cistern is an enchanting story about early love and friendship, and the magical world of childhood. Filled with gorgeous use of poetic language and finely tuned emotional detail—a visceral reading experience that made me remember (with longing) what it was like to be that young, and intensely alive.

Third Prize: Wormholes, Mushroom, Silverfish by Timothy Boudreau

Wormholes, Mushroom, Silverfish is a fresh and original coming-of-age story, shown through a sensory-rich lens. I admire the way this author trusts the reader, and the masterful way they express the gritty emotions of teenage isolation without being gloomy, or overtelling.
These stories and all of the shortlisted stories in both categories will be published in the winner’s anthology later this year so be sure to snap up a copy then!
Many thanks to all of the writers who submitted stories for the 2019 prizes, we enjoyed reading them all. We’ll be announcing the details of the 2020 judges and prizes next month…