April 2020 Micro Fiction Longlist

 

Many thanks to everyone who sent in stories for this month’s micro fiction comp, and to Cath Barton for the inspiring prompt that generated the most entries we’ve had so far. Which means the winner will receive a cash prize of £278 as well as free entry to the annual Flash Fiction Prize.

Of the 139 entries we received we’ve got a longlist of 40 stories. All readings are anonymous until the final judging is completed so only the story titles are show here. If your story is listed please don’t let anyone know what it is called! Congrats to the 40 writers who made it through.

April 2020 Micro Fiction Longlist

  • Ancient Indonesian Tattoos, East of Java
  • A Ghost is Here
  • A Nice Cup of Tea
  • Big Brother
  • Carefully Crafted
  • Changes of Fortune
  • Dinosaurs and the Weary
  • Dormant Power
  • Elsie – The Love of my Life
  • Everything Left Behind
  • Garden Party Guidelines
  • Homecoming
  • How to Climb a Mountain
  • Item One Hundred and Twenty-Five: To Climb a Mountain
  • In the House of the Devil
  • Life and Death
  • Lost in Translation
  • Maesta
  • Nadia’s Mission
  • On Preparing to Climb a Mountain for the First Time: I Will Not Let You Stop Me
  • Paralysis
  • Possibility
  • Sacrificial Lamb
  • Search Continues for Missing Botanist in Roen
  • Strider
  • Ten Seconds Before the End of the World
  • The Ache
  • The Distance
  • The Grey Monolith
  • The Mountain
  • The Other Mountain was on Fire
  • Time to Sow
  • Torn Sky
  • Tristão
  • Up, Up and Away
  • Utopia
  • Walking on Chocolate
  • Working from the Top
  • When a Man is not a Mountain
  • When Coffee is in your DNA

 

We’re busy reading again and the shortlist of 10 stories will be online for public voting on Monday 20th April. Good luck everyone!

Writing an Award Winning Novella-in-Flash

Somewhere between the linear narrative and the post-postmodern fracturing of narrative, there might be a third way, dependent on its brevity as its primary descriptor… Rusty Barnes

As we know, the short form is a great medium to experiment with as it has the art of brevity and flexibility on its side. What might become insistent or annoying in longer forms – multiple perspectives, unusual point-of-view, poetic language – in small doses can be refreshing and entertaining.  Techniques such as collage, association, counterpointing are all devices that really come into their own when putting together a novella-in-flash and I think the opening of Meg Pokrass’s essay in The Rose Metal Press publication (2014) My Very End of the Universe focusing on the study of the form is excellent in illustrating the process of writing in this genre:

‘If you ask an artist who creates crazy quilts how they come up with their designs, that artist will likely tell you that each finished project originates from an emotional place. Each quilt is different because it is made of many found scraps and pieces of cloth in different sizes with no regular colour or pattern—the sleeves of an old work shirt, perhaps, or the skirt of a wedding dress. Similarly, the writing of a novella-in-flash involves working with flash fiction fragments and stories by linking them together to form a layered, narrative arc. Working in both art forms demands an improvisational spirit. regarding the creation of both content and structure. A novella-in-flash writer and a crazy quilt artist both become familiar with navigating incompletion and juxtaposition. Both art forms involve delving into the most unlikely places and finding pieces which, when put together, create an untraditional whole’.

 

Meg talks about reviving and re-visioning narratives that were gathering dust in a ‘metaphorical scrap bag’ and this seems to be something that many novella-in-flash-writers start out doing – taking pieces that haven’t worked out on their own and finding that they were all along, part of a bigger picture. Moral of this – never throw any writing away! In my case, I started out with a clear plan of what I wanted to do but thought it would be a simple short story about a stonemason who fell off a church steeple and the consequences of this accident for his family. This was a true story about my neighbour and I quickly wrote myself into a corner with it, due perhaps to trying to cling to the biographical details which is always a risk.

When we try to stay ‘true’ to the facts we tend to not see what the story needs. Luckily Flash was there to help me. As an exercise, I stepped out of his narrative arc and imagined all the other people involved, collating little stories about them and experimenting with point of view. It soon came to light that the story wasn’t about the father, but the daughter and interestingly although she became the protagonist, the story arc changed depending on what flash was placed next to another flash.

This idea of juxtaposition is interesting and I soon learnt that in a work of art everything is laden with affect, and whenever you put two of anything together, a third thing emerges. Importantly, the things that logic would normally try to keep separate the writer brings together. It is very liberating to work in this way and was a sort of epiphany for me. It is my belief that there are two components necessary for our growth as writers. The first is our ability to access the unconscious, and the second is our willingness to take risks. Risk taking and experimentation allow us to bring something fresh to our practice, preventing us writing the same thing over and over again – pushing the boundaries of our craft and the richness of our stories.

So here is a little exercise you can do to try out your novella-in-flash muscles and to give you an idea of how fun it can be to make a patchwork flash. I can’t take credit for it – this is an exercise created by that great Flash Maker, Randall Brown.

 

Preparing for Counterpointed Flash

 

  1. Take the structure – A-B-A-B-A-B Choose how many short pieces you want. Here I suggest 6 each of 250 words.
  2. A (one thing) / B (another thing)
  3. Options are unlimited for As and Bs
  4. A is fiction; B is nonfiction (or vice-versa); both are fiction/cnf; parallel events; and so on.
  5. Dissimilarity adds tension (how will these two things ever come together is a question that will raise expectation for the reader)

Try this:

  1. Images/words from A begin to seep into B, more and more
  2. The final section might be AB
  3. Where this juxtaposition of A/B leads us becomes “shattering”
  4. We would not have arrived there with A alone or B alone
  5. A surprising, profound meaning has been figured out by the end.

 

Join Amanda and myself for a weekend of interactive, supportive flash writing on the Flash Weekender from April 17th -19th. Then we have a 2 weekend Memoir-in-Flash course from May 8th – 10th and May 15th – 17th. We then have a month of wonderful prompts for the whole of June in our first Micro Fiction Month!

Mary-Jane Holmes has work included in The Best Small Fictions Anthology in 2016, 2018 and 2020. Her microfiction has recently been included in Best Microfictions 2020. A twice nominated Forward Prize nominee and Hawthornden Fellow, Mary-Jane has won The Bath Novella-in-Flash Prize 2020, the Bridport, Martin Starkie, Dromineer, Reflex Fiction and Mslexia Flash Fiction prize, plus the  International Bedford Poetry competition.

She has been shortlisted and commended for many more including the Beverley International Prize for Literature 2020, The Troubadour and Oxford Brookes Poetry prize 2019. She was long-listed for the National Poetry Prize in 2020. Mary-Jane’s debut poetry collection Heliotrope with Matches and Magnifying Glass is published by Pindrop Press. She enjoys teaching creative writing both online and in person (when possible) around the world. She holds an Mst (distinction) in Creative Writing from Kellogg College Oxford and is currently working on a PhD at Newcastle University. @emjayinthedale  www.mary-janeholmes.com

 

2020 First Chapter Competition Shortlist

Thanks again to everyone that sent us in their novel opening for this year’s First Chapter Competition. We received 308 submissions, which we had a longlist of 36 from and now we have the final shortlist of 10 chapters that are going to judge, Carrie Plitt, to read and make the final decision on.

Congratulations to everyone who entered and was longlisted and especially to these 10 shortlisted authors.

2020 First Chapter Competition Shortlist

  • Brantwood by Victoria MacKenzie
  • Down Came a Blackbird by Julie Holden
  • Girls Like Us by Julie Bull
  • Love by Kate Tregaskis
  • Life After The End Of The World by Sydnye White
  • Passing Through Fire by Diane Miller
  • Swimming Lesson by Rebecca Garnett Haris
  • The Katie Experiment by Rosie Smith
  • We Make Dreams by Angela Wipperman
  • Words We Should’ve Said by Allison Secker

We’ll have the final results soon and then we will announce the details of the 2021 competition, which will be judged by an indie publisher this time as that’s what most people said they wanted when we did a survey with our followers! We have got a great judge lined up and we’re looking forward to reading more novel openings soon.

Why Black Swans Make for Great Stories

In 1696, Willem de Vlamingh, a skipper for the Dutch East India Co., was sent from his native Holland to Australia to look for survivors of a ship thought to have been wrecked on the continent’s west coast. Despite all his efforts, he never found the vessel or any of its crew but he did come across something else: the presence of black swans.  Many strange and exotic species were being discovered in these uncharted territories at the time but this sighting was of particular importance, for up to this point in history it was thought that only white swans existed. So adamant was this belief that a popular proverb had circulated in Europe since the Roman satirist Juvenal wrote in 82 AD : rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno ( a rare bird in the lands, and very like a black swan). This term was used ironically, in the same way that today we talk of pigs flying or pink elephants. The black swan was a metaphor for all that could not exist, until of course, due to an intrepid sailor, the impossible became possible. Once this happened the term’s meaning transformed: the black swan became a symbol of the improbable. In these times Corona Virus is seen as a black swan.

But what has this got to do with writing Flash Fiction? Well, quite a lot actually. The improbable, the random, the unexpected are what drive stories. If we followed a character that went about his or her daily business without a deflection of any kind we wouldn’t muster much narrative tension or impetus but when we lift that character out of certainty, introduce a glitch, a challenge to the status quo, then we assert enough pressure on them to reveal something insightful to the reader.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book The Black Swan, The Impact of the Highly Improbable, and his subsequent books, his latest being Skin in the Game explores this idea by looking at how society deals with seemingly random happenings and suggests ways to make our world black-swan-robust, in other words a society where we reduce the impact of events such as the market crash of 1987, or CV-19 and exploit the positive ones such as the internet.

Taleb defines the phenomena as something that:

  1. is a surprise to the observer,
  2. has an impact on their life,
  3. but with hindsight could have been expected.

These three criteria mirror closely the ingredients that a story moves through – conflict (surprise), deflection (impact) and resolution. The last condition is particularly interesting; this idea that the event was predictable. From the relative privilege of retrospection, we can work out the reason why wars start, why empires collapse, why economies crash. Often, the mark of a successful story is how, when looking back over the series of actions and choices the character has undergone, the outcome feels inevitable. With hindsight we say ‘of course!’ rather than ‘where did that come from’?

Whereas in the real world we strive to reduce the impact of negative black swan events, as writers we want to harness their power. Of course, this is Flash and whatever surprise we present the observer/character, it has to be kept to scale so here’s an exercise[1] in Black Swan generation:

Start with a character immersed in their daily routine and have them find a physical object which threatens their status quo either physically or emotionally. Keep the setting small – a room, the car, the garden shed, a cupboard. The object should create a strong reaction in the character, strong enough to change the course of their trajectory within the scene you have placed them in and act as a conduit to reveal something meaningful to both the protagonist and the reader. For example, a woman racked with remorse for an affair she had years ago, finds an earring in her husband’s sock drawer. And of course the outcome needs to fit within the whole; however slight or subtle, every twist and turn of the action must support the ending.

This idea of randomness and uncertainty can help in the creative process of writing itself. Much of the art of storytelling involves making connections between details that don’t seem to have any link. It is the tension created in this process that causes the reader to think “I must know how this is resolved.” If you are struggling for inspiration try developing a story combining a character from one of your story ideas with a predicament or setting from another. This may be enough to produce that single and interesting rare action that will push your character and story deeper. If you are at a loss for a seed idea, use a plot generator site (there are a variety of them on the web) for the same reason.

And remember that creativity thrives in the impossible. What you might think is difficult to achieve today will no-doubt become possible in the future and that includes producing a crafted and original work of flash fiction. So persist and you too will create your own positive Black Swan.

Join Amanda and myself for a weekend of interactive, supportive flash writing April 17th -19th. Then we have a 2 weekend memoir-in-flash course May 8th – 10th and May 15th – 17th. We then have a month of wonderful prompts for the whole month of June! More details here: https://www.retreatwest.co.uk/online-writing-courses/

Mary-Jane Holmes has work included in The Best Small Fictions Anthology in 2016, 2018 and 2020. Her microfiction has recently been included in Best Microfictions 2019. A twice nominated Forward Prize nominee and Hawthornden Fellow, Mary-Jane has won the Bridport, Martin Starkie, Dromineer, Reflex Fiction and Mslexia prizes, and International Bedford Poetry competition as well as being shortlisted and commended for many more including the Beverley International Prize for Literature 2020, The Troubadour and Oxford Brookes Poetry prize. She was long-listed for the National Poetry Prize this year. Mary-Jane’s debut poetry collection Heliotrope with Matches and Magnifying Glass is published by Pindrop Press. She enjoys teaching creative writing both online and in person (when possible) around the world. She holds an Mst (distinction) in Creative Writing from Kellogg College Oxford and is currently working on a PhD at Newcastle University. @emjayinthedale  www.mary-janeholmes.com

[1] Adapted from Michelle Brook’s Rattlesnake In The Drawer writing exercise

 

March 2020 Micro Fiction Comp Results

March 2020 Micro Fiction Comp Results

Once again, thank you to Gail Aldwin for providing this month’s prompt. Gail is a Dorset-based writer of fiction and poetry. Her short fiction collection Paisley Shirt was longlisted in the best short story category of the Saboteur Awards 2018 and her novel The String Games, about a child lost on a holiday in France, is available through her website, gailaldwin.com.

Thank you to everyone who entered and/or voted. We had 154 votes and it was very close between several stories. The prize fund this month is £234.

 

First place winner: Reclamation by Kathryn Aldridge-Morris

Read Reclamation

Second place: Carousel by Joanne Withers

Read Carousel

 

April’s competition launches on Monday, 6th but if you can’t wait that long join us on Twitter (or Facebook) for a live flash comp on Thursday, 2nd April. It’s free to enter and very much focused on letting go and inspiring new ideas. We had a fantastic reponse with the last one, so hope you’ll join us for more fun!!

March 2020 Micro Fiction Shortlist

March 2020 Micro Fiction Competition Shortlist

We received lots of great stories that made creative use of the prompt so well done to everyone who got longlisted last week and an extra well done if you made the final ten. Special mention to I’ve got you in my sights, Hayley Pringle which we really liked but didn’t quite have room for below.

Thank you again to Gail Aldwin for providing our bumpy prompt. Gail is a Dorset-based writer of fiction and poetry. Her short fiction collection Paisley Shirt was longlisted in the best short story category of the Saboteur Awards 2018 and her novel The String Games, about a child lost on a holiday in France, is available through her website, gailaldwin.com.

We received 117 entries and so the winner will receive £234, in addition to a free entry to the annual Retreat West Flash Fiction Prize. The runner-up will get a free entry too, plus both stories will be published in the Flash Fiction section of our website.

Voting is anonymous so please don’t tell anyone what your story is called.

Voting is now open until 23:59 on Monday 23rd March. Winners will be announced on Tuesday 24th.

Enjoy these great micro fiction stories and then vote for your favourite in the poll at the end of the post.
 

Carousel

8:35
“She’s been around eight times; I don’t know what to do. No-one’s coming to collect her…”

8:27
Tears fall backwards as I spin, the lights and sounds are sickening; electronic disco noise, kaleidoscopes of red and gold.

8:19
I catch glimpses of mothers waving, laughing as their children reappear, quickly snapping photographs. Where is she?

8:11
She tightens the harness, places teddy in my lap and smooths my hair. ‘Always know I love you,’ she mouths as the ride begins.

7:00
I beg her to take me, we haven’t been anywhere since Dad died. He always loved the fair.

 

Fairground Attraction

Katy likes coming here and so, despite the dereliction, we sometimes sneak in on our walks.

I kissed a boy once, in this very spot. I don’t remember his name, if I ever knew it. He was older than me and smelled of nicotine and hot sugar. He tasted of wondrous sin to me. I watched him watching me and felt my heart beat a tattoo to the dodgems’ blaring Relax as I accepted his invitation – the slightest nod away from the crowds.

I like coming here too.

“Katy darling, time to go. Mummy will have dinner ready for us.”
 

Feral

Found by hunters she was a snarling wolf child with a muddied face and matted hair.

Now, she’s a biologist tracking packs where others refuse to go.

The man she didn’t marry said she’d always be feral.

In the ghost city of Pripyat, where the half-life lingers and the wolves thrive in the lack of human contact, she explores the abandoned theme park.

She crouches, runs her hand over dusty prints before rising to sniff the air.

Throwing her head back, sunlight warms her silver throat as she howls into the absence and waits for them to return her call.

 

First & Last Date

‘I won’t hit you. Promise.’

We rushed towards the yellow cars, giddy from too much candyfloss.

It felt strange, pulling a seatbelt over your head. No signs of danger. Old speakers bashed out a song I’d never heard, although it was probably a hit. Others bopped along. Lights pulsed purple and blue.

Years later, we walked past the same spot. The fair was derelict now. Dead like lots of things. Dangling, broken steel. Damp ground-swollen like bruises. I kicked at twisting weeds. A breeze rattled through the dodgem shed; carrying his words from our first date.

 

Learning to Drive

Dad called it her bumper car.

The paintwork on the driver’s door was a firework of scrapes. She’d been shunted one day when she’d tried to slow down. Hurried along on several others.

“You go at your own pace, pickle,” he said.

She agreed.

But six months on, the front wing was crumpled; remoulded into foreign shapes, like fingerprints in dough.

She was swept along, racing, until there was cider. Cigarettes. Steam on the windscreen.

And first love. Fast: just a little too fast. Leaving tiny specks of blood – fireworks, fingerprints – fading to rust on the back seat.

 

Luck

There’s not much left of the carnival. Muddy bumper cars, faded signs, a few tall metal frames.

Her childhood quietly rusting away.

She can still see the flashing lights, taste buttered popcorn heavy on her tongue, feel the thrill of the night ahead.

All gone now.

A left-behind game coin lies in the mud, a token of better times.

She remembers the coin pushers. Remembers putting in coin after coin, pushing her luck night after night, always hoping for that golden rainfall that never came.

Even then, the game was rigged.

She pockets the coin anyway, and walks back home.

 

Reclamation

They took our passports and drove us to the edgelands where thirty square metres of wasteground were transformed into a yellow-boarded car wash. We sponged cars for thirteen hours a day, our flip-flopped feet – calloused from the coastline route – soaked in chemicals.

When the boss left, we’d go to the only other place around – a disused fairground, and smoke the butt ends dropped on the forecourt. Our dreams became bound to the abandoned dodgems. One day someone would see their vintage worth and retrieve them. We were sure of it. We had to be sure of it.

 

Selective Memory

Choose your lens wisely.

Rose-tinted bathes memories in a deceptive glow. You’ll recall breaths of candyfloss, sun-kissed skin, frissons of pleasure. The funfair…

Gold-tinted sparks fizzes of joy, thrills, screaming laughter, dares. This intensity may smother reality.

A smoky lens muddies edges, softens blows, obscures detail. Is that blur a tear? What happened?

A smudged lens… Spit. Polish with your cuff. See how little is discernible in the murky beyond.

A clear lens exposes paint-flakes along rusted cracks, stagnating pools, weeds still weaving their tendril traps around your ghosts. Childhood fame headlined in “Deadly Dodgem Dare Devastation.”

Go for gold.

 

Ten Years After the Pandemic’ Symposium – The findings of the first trip into the outside world

‘Slide 311 – Photo of an abandoned fairground.’

The audience leans forward.

The breath catches in my throat. We met on the bumper cars. You made a beeline for me, your eyes sparkling with the lights of the fair.

I twiddle my wedding ring on my finger.

‘As you can see,’ the speaker drones, ‘nature is reclaiming the land. In the face of destruction, it is a time for regrowth.’

Regrowth. The word echoes in my ears.

‘Slide 312 – Looking to the future.’

Chest tight, I slip off the ring, cradle it in my palm, place it in my pocket.

 

Under the Willows

Dad?

He stalls by the dodgems: pyjamas the same dark rust as the corroded paint; drizzle coating his bathrobe and slippers.

“Katie-cat?”

Above me, teenage willows whisper their secrets. I wonder if he hears them now; if that’s why he comes.

Just a few more steps

Then he shuffles round with hollow eyes and I know we’re both lost, just in different ways.

They’ll find him. They always do, now they know where to look.

But they’ve never found me.

I’m still here Dad

Nothing but earth and roots and bones, but I’m here.

Just a few more steps.

 

 

If you can’t see or use the voting panel below, you can cast your vote on this link: https://form.responster.com/wBbh8w