January 2021 Micro Fiction Winners

Thanks to everyone that entered their stories this month, and to the hundreds of people that read the shortlist and voted for the People’s Prize winner.

First and second place winners have been selected by our judging panel and win the cash prizes. Many congratulations to these two writers.


First Prize: Bird in Flight by A. Joseph Black


Second Prize: Turbulence by Linda Grierson-Irish


And the winner of the People’s Prize vote, as chosen by you, is…two stories sharing the top spot! Many congratulations to our winners who will receive a selection of lovely Writing Maps.

After Our Oldest Leave for University by Sam Payne

and

Laura Geddes Married a Doctor by Donna Greenwood

The craft of writing novella-in-flash

This week, we’re focusing on the craft of novellas written in flash fiction chapters: how can you build your stand alone flash fiction stories into a larger narrative? How can you tell a story as succinctly and clearly as possible? What comes first: character or plot? We spoke to three novella-in-flash (NIF) authors we’re big fans of to learn about their approach: Gillian Walker, Adam Lock and Diane Simmons; head to the bottom of this post for their bios!

Our first question to the authors: do you have any tips to share on using the flash form to tell a bigger story? It can be challenging to fit everything readers need to know into a short-fiction format; how do they approach it?

‘The tip I would give to writers looking to use flash to write a bigger story is to trust the reader,’ Adam Lock said. ‘What I love about a novella-in-flash is that there is so much white space – on the page, and for the reader to fill in. I would say it’s best to embrace this space and trust the reader will follow larger stories even if the words on the page only gesture towards the bits of the world missing.’

We love this idea, which really leans into the benefits of shorter-form fiction, rather than its limitations. Diane Simmons agrees: ‘My novella-in-flash An Inheritance follows four generations of a family from 1932 to 2002, so it was necessary to leave out a great deal. And that’s the part I enjoy  most about writing a novella-in-flash – letting the reader fill in the gaps… I think it’s important to let the reader join the dots themselves. I love the idea of a reader having a light bulb moment, and going back to an earlier story when they work out that something that seemed like a throwaway comment was actually significant. Having said that, I think I was very much guilty in an early version of making the reader do too much work – they aren’t mind readers.’

This is a key balance to strike: through re-drafting, figuring out how much information to restrict and reveal for the most effective storytelling.

When it comes to one of the classic chicken-and-egg writing questions —which comes first, the character or the story? — our authors share their approaches on their recent projects.

Gillian Walker had a clearly defined approach: ‘I began writing The World at the end of the Garden with two objectives,’ she says. ‘Firstly, to write a NIF. Secondly, to write a believable story set in America. (I’d written USA based stories in the past, which didn’t work, and I want to set a part of a future novel in the USA. I needed practice).’

Her character came next: a textile artist, living in America for a year, struggling to have a child. Then the setting: ‘a year in Arizona – changed with the seasons, creating challenges for my character. There was a key event the other flashes built to, and recovered from. The first flash did a lot of heavy lifting to establish context, and the rest wove the many individual narrative elements to tell my story. Sometimes there was one narrative element per flash, other times many. Writing it became an act of balance.’ 

Meanwhile, Adam found that a more character-first approach worked for him when writing his NIF, Dinosaur: ‘I began tentatively with two stories that featured the same couple. ‘I knew I wanted to write about their relationship, but also knew I wanted it to be real and gritty. Then, what happened, and I didn’t expect this, is that I went further back in time and wrote about these two characters as children. I followed this idea which meant I could tell two stories: that of a man and a woman as they grew up from around five years of age, all the way to forty. It was a surprise to me, but I funnelled my own experiences and stories other people had told me about their experiences growing up, and used them for my characters. All of a sudden, I had years of stories I could select and use, leaving the years between blank, giving the novella-in-flash that wonderful feeling of space and air.’

Another key consideration that’s unique to flash-fiction writers (and, perhaps, also poets compiling a collection) is deciding on story order. After winning the Bath Novella-in-Flash award, Mary-Jane Holmes — an award-winning writer, editor and tutor, who teaches courses here at Retreat West — spoke about juxtaposition, and how the story arc changed for her character depending on the order she chose for her stories. Do our three authors find themselves playing with narrative and structure when putting together their recent NIFs? Do they tend to have a story shape in mind when they start, or does it tend to flex as they write?

For Diane, her recent projects have required varied approaches: ‘With An Inheritance, I don’t think I changed the order much. Stories had to go in a certain place in order to move the plot forward. With Finding a Way, it was different, although I was still constrained to a certain extent by things that had to happen at certain times (anniversaries, Christmas, etc).  I did change the order to avoid having too many similar stories close together, and sometimes this opened up ideas for new flashes. With my latest novella, I moved the stories round a great deal as plot ideas occurred to me, as I didn’t have a clear idea of where the narrative was going.’

This is one of the joys of shorter fiction: with every NIF, there may be various different approaches — or perhaps one clear approach — depending on the story you’re telling, and the focus you choose for your narrative.

For example, Gillian’s says that The World at the End of the Garden decided her structure for her: ‘It has a key event linked to the weather and plays out over the course of a year in Arizona. The timeline of the narrative had to fit those parameters. Once I’d conceived the story, there were only minor structural changes.’

Adam found that self-imposing a narrative model proved very useful for shaping his creative output: ‘I used a sort of dual-Bildungsroman,’ he says. (That’s a novel dealing with one person’s formative years or spiritual education.) ‘It helped the structure, because it was chronological. The stories alternated between my two characters as they grew up and then met. It was quite early in the process that I realised I needed and wanted this narrative model. Having this limitation really helped; it meant I could play and experiment within this constraint. If I gave anyone advice about writing a novella-in-flash, I would tell them to do the same. Give yourself a constraint and then work inside it.’ 

Finally, we asked the authors about their favourite NIF reads and sources of inspiration. Adam’s favourites include Michael Loveday’s, Three Men on the Edge: ‘The overall scope of this novella is extensive, but each piece is honed and specific. Homing by Johanna Robinson is also a fantastic novella-in-flash. I love Johanna’s writing – it is controlled, measured and emotive.’ He also recommends Ross Jeffrey’s, Tethered. ‘This is an honest and sometimes raw novella-in-flash that shows real artistic bravery.’

For Diane, Nod Gosh’s, The Crazed Wind and The Neverlands’ by Damhnait Monaghan are stand-outs. ‘Ad Hoc Fiction produces some wonderful novellas and Karen Jones’s When it’s Not Called Making Love and Alison Woodhouse’s The House on the Corner, both published by them in 2020 are also worth checking out,’ she says. ‘All these novellas are very different from each other, but are all beautifully written and are excellent examples of how to write a successful flash fiction novella.’

Gillian recommends My Very End of the Universe, a collection of five NIFs and associated craft essays. ‘There’s a lot of NIF information!’ The book includes Shampoo Horns by Aaron Teel and Gillian found that this read in particular helped her with her own creative process. ‘The way he references key events throughout the story adds depth and detail to individual flashes while creating narrative drive for the novella. Shampoo Horns solved problems for me, and it’s wonderful.’


Thank you to Gillian, Diane and Adam for sharing their insights and inspiration with us; 

Adam Lock
Adam Lock is a writer hailing from the Black Country in the UK. His short fiction has appeared in online publications, as well as traditional printed anthologies and collections. His flash fiction has won competitions and continues to be published in an array of well regarded publications such as New Flash Fiction Review, Okay Donkey, Lost Balloon, Ellipsis Zine, Gravel Magazine, Moon Park Review, Spelk Fiction, Fictive Dream, STORGY, and many more. Adam was placed 3rd in the TSS Cambridge Short Story Prize 2018 and has been shortlisted twice for the Bath Flash Fiction Award. He has also been nominated several times for the Best Small Fiction Anthology 2019.

Gillian Walker
Gillian Walker is a fiction writer based in the UK. Her flash novella The World at the End of the Garden is published by Flash: The International Short-Short Story Press. Her work can be found in Popshot Quarterly, Ambit, Into the Void and Jellyfish Review. Her writing was shortlisted for the Cambridge Short Story Prize 2020 and she was a finalist in the Black River Chapbook Competition Spring 2018. 

Diane Simmons
Diane Simmons is a co-director of National Flash Fiction Day (UK) and a director of the Flash Fiction Festival. She has judged several flash competitions including Flash 500, Micro Madness and NFFD micro. Her flashes have been widely published and placed in numerous competitions. Finding a Way, her flash collection on the theme of grief (Ad Hoc Fiction), and her flash fiction novella An Inheritance (V. Press) were both shortlisted in the Saboteur Awards.

January 2021 Micro Comp Shortlist

Many congratulations to the writers of the 10 stories below that have been shortlisted in this month’s competition, which had the theme of FLIGHT from a prompt provided by Janice Leagra.

Congratulation also to the longlisted writers as it’s never an easy decision once we get to this stage. We’re re-reading again now to decide the winners, of the cash prizes, and the People’s Prize winner will be decided by public votes, so please don’t announce the name of your story online as it all needs to remain anonymous.


After Our Oldest Leaves For University

Our youngest wants to know when her wings will grow. It’s bedtime and she’s having trouble sleeping in the big room all alone.

Soon, I say. Soon, like her sister, she’ll throw her arms wide, find feathers unfolding into wings.

I list the birds she could be: a hummingbird, shimmering golden green; a nightingale, pink throat open, singing to the moon; or an eagle soaring close to snow-capped mountains in a bare blue sky.

When she’s sleeping softly as a gosling, I tuck her in, kiss her forehead and double check the window on my way out of her room.


Bird in Flight

Grit on Sonny’s hands conspires with sweat to create tiny diamonds, glittering under the prison lighting.

There’s a faint <tik> on the reinforced glass screen. Looking up Sonny sees the inky blue jay tattooed on the back of his father’s hand take flight, back down to the desk between them.

They lock eyes and each sees the reflection of their own face superimposed on the other’s. Sonny sees a life gone wrong: an older, harder, defeated version of himself.

Sal sees himself as a young man, a blank page loaded with mistakes as yet unmade.Then the moment is over.


Flight Risk

Mary’s latest charge, Tom, is a flight risk – it says so in angry red letters on his file.

She sighs, imagining the barriers expected to be placed in his way – constant supervision, locked doors…

He’s wide-eyed, elfin, fear wearing him like a musk.

He’ll stay, Mary knows, if she makes him feels safe to.

She lowers herself to the carpet, pushes a box of Lego between them. Silently they build a house. Mary puts a figure inside and pushes open all the doors.

Tom stares.

Slowly, he moves the figure to bed and Mary covers them with a tiny blanket.


Just When She Thought Her Life Was Over

Caterpillar

Brown and non-descript, it inches along the branch outside the window.

I envy its freedom.

Chrysalis

The glassine cocoon appears overnight while your embrace smothered my dreams.

Fingerprints smudge into a kaleidoscope of bruises at my resistance.

Metamorphosis

A crack appears.

You see devastation, I see inspiration.

Wings

Tempted from its prison, I dress in swirling colours.

No longer succored on your nectar-like lies which dripped golden from your tongue.

Butterfly

A palette of realisation paints your face as I float away.

You, an unwilling witness to my transformation.

Fly

The monarch basks in its liberty.

As do I.


Laura Geddes Married a Doctor

It reminds her of the time she inter-railed around Europe with Laura Geddes. They’d lost their traveller’s checks and had to sleep on a bench at Utrecht station. The smell of dust and piss at Kings Cross conjures up this teenage memory. Of course, she’d been fearless then, when the darkness had no face.

She pulls the coat over Ethan’s legs as he sleeps on the bench. Charlie nestles under her parka, thumb in mouth. He’s retreated back to babyhood. Without bitterness, she remembers that Laura Geddes married a doctor who doesn’t threaten to kill her children in the night.


Reunion

I don’t eat carbs for seven weeks then take a twenty-six hour flight to watch the parquet school floor separate the pieces with its old heteronormative spell. You slap the back of someone I don’t recognise, and the medals on your uniform shiver. When you corner me by the name tags, I wonder again if it is my fault, not knowing the Queen’s Gambit from the Scholar’s Mate. You say the airforce made you get corrective eye surgery. Not your hearing? I ask. Remembering the back of your dad’s car, when I said don’t and you pretended to be deaf.


Snow Angel

There were angels circling above his bed. A mobile with snowy feathers his mum said came from a swan.

At school he frowned against the casting for the class nativity play. All the angels had white wings and golden halos and curls.

He fiddled miserably with his drab dressing-gown and the striped tea-towel covering his too-dark hair. Trying not to show how much it hurt.

Third shepherd. Again.

When the snow came he pressed his nose against the window. White flakes smothered everything, even his misery.

During break-time he frolicked, rolling around, laughing skywards.

Finally discovering he could already fly.


Smoke

You should leave everything but you grab things as you run, heart disco beating, feet pounding like gazelles stampeding as smoke chases you, wisping fingers around memories, your books, your paintings, her dolls, her clothes, you grasp things as you pass, knowing there are things in drawers, that the clawing fog will find them, her letters, her drawings, will vanish them like she was never there and you’re coughing now, smoke blurring your vision, you pull a photo from the wall, hoping it’s the one of you together and you howl out the door knowing you are losing her again


The Twenty-Five Year Silence

Kayla Murphy is by the pears in Sainsburys. My stomach hits my throat.

I’m shaking, remembering how my hands felt gripping her wrists.

The adrenaline, the soaring flight of the trapeze slicing the heat of the marquee.

Kayla’s glitter-face, spinning like a mirror ball.

Then cramping spasms in my calves, arms, hands.

She slipped from my grasp, the broken safety wire and screaming crowd.

Her brother guarding her hospital room, blocking my calls.

The crushing weight of guilt.

Kayla’s hands are still in mine, ghost limbs. I’ve been holding her for years.

My heart is hammering, I tap Kayla’s shoulder.


Turbulence

You’d always wanted to fly away.

Your obituary charts your ascent. Local boy made good, role model for a fledgling generation. Hope and stardust in an airborne metal gift box. The sky’s the limit, for those who’re willing.

Our town remembers you with a ceremony. The school kids hang wonky Boeings, fluttery with foil and expectation. The mayor cuts a ribbon for your portrait in the library.

But I remember your hand on my mouth. The sudden leering pitch of the chapel roof. The wingbeat scuffle of a bird who’d blundered in by mistake, scrabbling to find a flight path.


Vote for your favourite here and the writer of the story with the most votes will win the People’s Prize, which changes each month and is announced at the same time as the results. Voting is open until 23.59 (UK time) on Monday 25th January and the results will be announced on 26th January.

If you have any problems using the embedded voting form, you can also vote on this link: https://form.responster.com/csEEkt

January 2021 Micro Comp Longlist

Many thanks to everyone who entered the first competition of the new year, and to Janice Leagra for providing the great prompt – FLIGHT.

We received 130 entries so the cash prize for first place is £195 and for second place £130. The winner of the People’s Prize vote will get the secret prize, which will be announced along with the results!

Well done to all of the writers whose stories are on this longlist. We’ll be announcing the shortlist on Monday. As always, we’re reading blind so no letting anyone know which is your story title if it appears below.

  • A Birthday Present to Herself
  • After Our Oldest Leaves for University
  • Aircraft Effluent Brings Divine Comedy
  • An Ever-Shifting Perspective
  • Bird in Flight
  • Birdman
  • Dawn Walk
  • Departures
  • Eagle Hearts
  • Falling
  • Flight Path
  • Flight Risk
  • Just When She Thought Her Life Was Over
  • Murmuration
  • Night Flight
  • Night Flights
  • On Being Pushed Down a Flight of Stairs
  • Once, Twice, the Snow Fell
  • One Must Imagine Sisyphus Happy
  • Pointless
  • Raphael’s Cherubs
  • Reunion
  • Rigoroso
  • Searching for the Moment
  • Smoke
  • Snow Angel
  • Soaring
  • The Tooth Fairy is a Key Worker
  • The Twenty-Five Year Silence
  • There is a Place You Are Not Yet Welcome
  • Time to Fly
  • Too Late
  • Turbulence
  • Uncle Anastasios
  • Weekends While Mum Works
  • Wing-Dust

Good luck everyone!

2020 Short Story and Flash Fiction Prize Shortlists

Thanks once again to everyone who entered their stories into the 2020 annual prizes. We read almost 500 stories across the 2 categories and are excited to reveal the shortlist of 10 for each, which will all appear in the annual anthology. Many congratulations to these writers (the judges are reading anonymously still so no announcing the title of yours online!), to the longlisted writers, and everyone who entered as 2020 was a challenging year for creativity.

The short stories will now go to Peter Jordan to choose his top 3 from and the flash fictions to Susmita Bhattacharya. We’ll be back with the final results as soon as we can.

2020 Short Story Prize Shortlist

  1. A Straightforward Life
  2. Booboo
  3. Centuries, in Burnt Sienna
  4. Daniel Sprinkles Stars
  5. Flamingos
  6. It’s Not Normal to Befriend a Trapped Butterfly
  7. Phylum
  8. Spinach, Celery, Carrot, Beetroot, Ginger, Apple
  9. The Stone Cutter’s Masterpiece
  10. Words 

2020 Flash Fiction Prize Shortlist

  1. 2084
  2. Apple Fall
  3. Amuse-Bouche
  4. Baggage
  5. Fledgling
  6. Homemaker 
  7. How to Make Damson Jam
  8. The Circular Trajectory of Drones
  9. The Weight of Feathers
  10. Visiting Hours

We’re revamping the annual prizes for 2021 and will have new judges and details in the Spring…

Introducing: Sam Jordison, judge of the 2021 First Chapter competition

We’re excited to announce that Sam Jordison is the judge for the 2021 First Chapter competition. (The deadline is 31st January, so start thinking about your entry once you’ve checked out Sam’s interview!)

Sam is a publisher, author and journalist. He’s the co-director of Galley Beggar Press, and has worked on many successful and award-winning titles — including Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport, Preti Taneja’s We That Are Young, and Alex Pheby’s Lucia. He also writes about books for The Guardian and has written several non-fiction titles, including Enemies Of The People and the best-selling Crap Towns series.

We caught up with Sam to talk about what makes a submission stand out to him, what Galley Beggar Press looks for — and what he loves to read for fun, too. Competition entrants, take note!

  • When you receive a submission at Galley Beggar Press, what gets you excited enough to then ask for the full manuscript?

Mainly, it’s the sentences. If those grab us, we keep going. I’m afraid I can’t really give you an exact definition of those sentences or what it is that has to work… But it’s an inexact science. It’s a gut feeling and subjective aesthetic judgement as much as anything else…

  • Galley Beggar Press has a reputation for publishing innovative work and taking a gamble on novels that the trad publishers won’t. Is innovation something you exclusively look for when reading submissions or are you also interested in traditional storytelling approaches?

It’s not necessarily something we look for. But I do think it’s something we’re attracted too. I’ve just been reading a fantastic interview with the late great John O’Brien from Dalkey Archive talking about how much he valued subversion in books. Books that aren’t afraid to challenge – and say new things in new ways. I also really liked EL Doctorow’s idea that writing isn’t worth a damn if it isn’t transgressing… Anyway, I guess my general feeling is that writers shouldn’t be conformists. Part of what makes them important is their ability to make us think differently… But, you know, that can also be done through traditional storytelling. I guess. I might have trouble telling you exactly what traditional storytelling is… But it’s worth saying that you don’t have to use complex prose to say complicated things. Or to move emotions.

  • When reading the shortlisted first chapters, what’s going to make a story stand out for you? 

Mainly, I have to refer you to my first two answers, with more apologies about the vagueness of all that. I’m going to respond to beautiful sentences, smart ideas and a feeling that there’s heart in the story. Easier said than done, I know.

  • What types of writers and novels are you looking for at Galley Beggar Press?

Good ones! We just want to publish the best books we can find. Beyond that, we don’t really know. Part of the fun lies in being surprised…

  • When you’re reading for pleasure not work, who are your favourite authors?

There are too many to list. I’ve just discovered (rather late!) Edith Wharton and am in awe of how good she is. Otherwise, I like lots of the people you might expect: Hemingway, Dickens, the Brontes, Don Delillo, James Baldwin, Penelope Fitzgerald, Michael Ondaatje, PG Wodehouse… Some people are surprised at how much I like Terry Pratchett – but those are mainly people who haven’t read Night Watch. What can I recommend that your readers might not have read. I just finished Who Sleeps With Katz by Todd McEwen and haven’t got over it. The ending broke me! It’s beautiful and funny and made me long to go to New York. I’m re-reading Ragtime by EL Doctorow at the moment, which is a marvel.  

Thank you, Sam, for being our judge this year and for sharing your guidance and insights. To enter, and find out more about our competitions, please do head over here. Good luck!