Sept 21 Micro Longlist

Many thanks to all who sent a story for this month’s MILK themed comp. We received 87 entries so the cash prize for first place is £130 and for second place £87. People’s Prize is of course a surprise!

Well done to the writers of the stories below. No telling which is yours though!

We’ll have the shortlist on Monday after the Online Flash Fest where you can come ask the Retreat West Reading Team all about how and why stories go through to the long and shortlists and the winner’s spots.

Longlist

  1. Carton
  2. Even The Milk Doesn’t Know
  3. Five Uses for Milk We Hadn’t Heard of Until Louise’s Wedding
  4. Grace
  5. Having Shed My Stripey Larval Pyjamas
  6. How to Grow and Care for Grapevines
  7. Instinct
  8. Milking It
  9. Missing
  10. Mixing Milk Thistle Tea
  11. My Southern Boyfriend’s Cure for Insomnia
  12. No Use Crying Over Spilled Milkshake
  13. Notes Left for My Sleeping Husband in the Final Six Months
  14. Pina Colada
  15. Residue
  16. Rosie-Nell
  17. The Winter of Relationship
  18. The Woman Consumed
  19. Till Death Do Us Part
  20. Too Late
  21. Traces of You
  22. You Can Tell a Lot About a Person’s Character From How They Take Their Tea

Good luck for the next round everyone! Our shortlist will be online for the public vote on Monday 20th Sept.

In the meantime, get writing to the ECHO theme for the quarterly themed flash that closes on 26th Sept! Win cash and online publication.

And polish up your micros, flashes and short stories for the 2021 RW Prize, which closes in October! Win cash and anthology publication.

Write, write, write!

UNCANNY themed flash winners!

Thanks so much to our judge, Ross Jeffery, for making the difficult decision this time around. The shortlisted stories are all fantastic and we were very glad to hand the decision over to someone else!

Many congrats to all who made the shortlist and the longlist for this comp, and everyone who sent a story.

Well done to our winners!

This is the second quarter where we have a professional audio recording of the stories as part of the prize and voice artist, Holly Joyce, and sound engineer, Jake Lewendon Nicholls, have done a brilliant job for us. Thank you!

Shortlist

  • Cravings by Sam Payne
  • Edging by Iona Rule
  • How I Learnt to Cook by Anne Howkins
  • How to Become a Wallflower by Shaun Laird
  • Lilith Comes to Me After I Pray for Wholeness by Kate Tooley
  • Nesting by Louisa King
  • Our Mary by Donna L Greenwood
  • Sister of the Jilted Bride by Jess Moody
  • The Outsiders by Jean Cooper Moran
  • The Search for Oretha Wells by Andrew Boulton
  • The Six by Katie Oliver

Ross Jeffery’s Comments

Firstly, I would like to thank Amanda Saint and Retreat West for allowing me the huge honour of judging this quarterly competition and for taking my theme suggestion of the uncanny on board.

I am a huge lover of the horror genre, I write it myself and I was lucky enough to have my debut novel ‘Tome’ nominated for the Bram Stoker Awards and the Splatterpunk Awards this year (so I like to think I know a little bit about what I’m judging) – it is a genre that I love and I personally feel it doesn’t get much love outside of the fans of that genre, even
publishing houses are scared of it most of the time, but luckily for me and you there is a huge horror community out there thirsty for new horrific offerings so keep them coming.

I’m thrilled that Amanda took my theme on board and I have been
dying to see what you have all come up with… and boy, I wasn’t disappointed. The stories that I received were all fabulous pieces of flash fiction, they delved into the strange, the uncanny, the horrific, the weird – and all were of such high quality, believe me when I say this, there was something to savour in each macabre offering, which made my judging a hard task, but one I was thrilled about doing.

Below are my choices of the winner and two runners-up plus a couple of honourable mentions.

Thank you!


Winner: Our Mary by Donna L Greenwood

When I set the brief of the uncanny for this competition I was hopeful that the stories would unsettle me, that there would be a great sense of foreboding, a huge slice of horror, a ladle here and there of unease and a whole lot of eeriness. ‘Our Mary’ delivers all of that and more. We get a delightfully eerie tale about a sleepwalking sister, but there are subtleties to
the story that grip the reader into a cold embrace that makes the marrow of your bones turn cold.

This is a deftly crafted piece of flash that gripped me from the first paragraph, the prose is delightfully constructed and the voice of the protagonist is spot on. To quote David Foster Wallace “Good fiction’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” And I feel well and truly disturbed after reading ‘Our Mary’ – a stunning piece of flash that
has made the author someone that I will continue to read for years to come.


Runner-Up: Lilith Comes To Me After I Pray for Wholeness by Kate Tooley

This piece is a masterclass in weird fiction – think of Sarah Hall, Emily Harrison and Angela Readman (the comparisons are deserved), I do love me some weird fiction, and when that strange fiction contains elements of body horror… well, I just swoon in appreciation of it!

This story takes the reader on a journey of transformation, of the ridding of self to become the other; the depictions of this are put across in beautifully horrific imagery that plays on the readers mind long after the story has finished. But what I enjoyed most about this story are the things unsaid, the reasons behind what happens and the possible allegories that it brings to the surface of the readers thoughts. This is a powerful piece of fiction.


Runner-Up: Cravings by Sam Payne

This particular story had the oddity factor and I bloody loved it. I love stories that are told from a young protagonist’s point of view, how their minds might not be seeing things as they are, how they in turn become somewhat of an unreliable narrator. But there is always that niggling question lurking in the background… are they really unreliable or is this actually happening? The author deals with this deception / truth brilliantly and it made for a great story. I loved the voice of the characters and the unease at the observations the children make about their mother and her recent cravings. Chilling and odd, another cracking story.


Notable Mentions

The Search for Oretha Wells by Andrew Boulton – I really did enjoy this story, it was up there for me as being one of the finer stories in the bunch I read. But I felt that this story, the characters the location was just too big for the word count. It left me with too many questions, but that’s a great thing because I feel that if this would be expanded upon it would make quite a
unique novella or novel (the Cormac McCarthy vibes were strong with this piece).

The Six by Katie Oliver – I enjoyed the story telling tool of this piece. I thought that the clipped narration really worked to further cement the ideas that the author was trying to get across and with the characters all represented as numbers it makes them a faceless mob – but we also in a
strange way can picture each of them and their defining features and characteristics.


Many congratulations to Donna who wins £200 and Kate and Sam who win £100 each! We’re sure we’ll see Andrew and Katie’s stories published somewhere soon and all of the other stories on our shortlist.

The next theme is ECHO chosen by judge, Vanessa Gebbie, and the deadline to send your stories is 26th September.

The Uncanny themed flash shortlist

We’re excited to reveal our shortlist in the latest themed flash competition. Lots of really great stories this time around so our usual shortlist of 10 has 1 extra on it! Well done to everyone who was longlisted and congratulations to the writers of our shortlisted stories. No telling which is yours yet though!

The stories are now with our judge, Ross Jeffrey, to make the final decision.

Shortlist

  • Cravings
  • Edging
  • How I Learnt to Cook
  • How to Become a Wallflower
  • Lillith Comes to Me After I Pray for Wholeness
  • Nesting
  • Our Mary
  • Sister of the Jilted Bride
  • The Outsiders
  • The Search for Oretha Wells
  • The Six

The Uncanny themed flash longlist

We have had such fun reading these Uncanny stories! Many weird, tense, and creepy hours have been spent getting our 120 entries down to this longlist of 27 stories.

Many thanks to everyone who entered and well done to the writers of the stories below. As always, no telling which is yours!

Longlist

  • Along for Another Night Flight
  • Balm of Hurt Minds
  • Cracks in the Pavement
  • Cravings
  • Drawn by the Muralist
  • Edging
  • How I Learnt to Cook
  • How to Become a Wallflower
  • Lilith Comes to Me After I Pray for Wholeness
  • Morag, in her garden
  • Mr Piège’s Doll Emporium
  • My lopsided stepson
  • Nesting
  • Our Mary
  • Push/Pull
  • Reflections
  • Sister of the Jilted Bride
  • The Brians
  • The Carnival of Charms and Heidi’s House of Mirrors
  • The Cloakroom
  • The Nail Technician
  • The Outsiders
  • The Search for Oretha Wells
  • The Six
  • Totally Fit
  • Unholy Liberties
  • Vanishing Twin

Good luck everyone! We’ll have the shortlist in August!

Winners: July 2021 Monthly Micro Competition

Congratulations again to all of our writers who made the shortlist. We’ve read them over and over again to get to our winners and found something new in all of them each time.

Shortlisted

  • Blue Mars by Kinneson Lalor
  • How to Transport Desert Flowers into Cooler Climates by Jo Withers
  • Kandinsky by Stephen Gallagher
  • Little Pilgrim by Gillian O’Shaugnessy
  • No. 6: War Veteran. Watching his neighbours from his window. Remembering. by Sarah Barnett
  • Otoch by Fannie Gray
  • Regifting by Emily Macdonald
  • Sound the Sirens: The Dangers of Harmful Algal Blooms by Kate Simblet
  • The Jellyfish Princess by Martha Lane
  • The Weight of Blue by Karen Mitani

First Place: Regifting by Emily Macdonald

Why we chose it: We love the highly original take on the theme and all of the things that were left unsaid. Plus the images of the re-given gifts and the disapproving boyfriend/husband are so vivid.


Second Place: Little Pilgrim by Gillian O’Shaughnessy

Why we chose it: For the brilliant imagery and also for managing to touch the reader without melodrama or self-pity.


Special Mention

We’d also like to give a special mention to The Jellyfish Princess by Martha Lane as it very nearly had a winning place. It was so close between these 3 stories this month in our voting.


People’s Prize Winner: The Jellyfish Princess by Martha Lane

Congratulations to our Special Mention story! We’re so happy that the Princess won the public vote.


Many congratulations to our winners!

Emily wins £180 and Gillian wins £120. Martha wins 1-year’s Community Collaborator membership to our friendly and lively online writing community.

The next Monthly Micro Fiction competition opens on Monday 2nd August so keep your eyes peeled for the new prompt!

July 21 Monthly Micro Shortlist

We’ve had such a lovely time reading all these BLOOM stories this month. So many takes on the theme and so many good stories on our longlist, evidenced by the number that got at least one vote for the shortlist from our reading panel.

So well done to all of the writers who were longlisted and congrats if you’ve made our shortlist! We’re reading again now to decide our winners and it’s over to you to choose the winner of the People’s Prize.

Voting closes on Monday 26th July. Good luck everyone!


Blue Mars

On Mars, she eats blue-green algae blooms. She gets thirty-nine minutes more of each day, double-long seasons, but only eats cyanobacteria. One-quarter carbohydrate, one-third protein. May cause ALS. The Lord giveth. The Lord taketh away. Even in the desert. Qatar crusts killed soldiers’ neurons, muscles darkening to Greek island blue. Mykonos. Her tie to Earth blooming red on the sheets behind the cornflower door. Thélisi tou Theoú, the cleaner said. God’s will. Now she eats blue bacteria. Eight percent fat. She waits for the snow to stop, converts sunlight to electricity in blue Petri. The first Martians, her children bloom.


How to Transplant Desert Flowers into Cooler Climes

Uproot seedlings swiftly – We reach the border under darkness, twist our parents’ hands and wait for ‘Uncle’s truck’. Finally, it arrives, slows without stopping. Men pull us up, throw us amongst the crowd.

Sow in fresh soil – We sit in silent rows at school, terrified we’ll be sent back. The bell sounds and we bolt beneath our desks, memories of air raid sirens screeching in our ears.

Establish roots – People are kind, we tell our stories, make friends. Mother makes Basbousa, invites the neighbourhood. We pray before eating, thanks for new life, hope for those still trapped in barren lands.


Kandinsky

Dylan began his work in his bedroom as a teenager, sitting and mixing colours on paper, running his fingers along it searching for the perfect texture, the exact consistency. His work had a certain liminal quality, a certain bloom, like a spring flower.

These days his reputation preceded him, this was not always a good thing, strangers asking him personal questions. Kandinsky he replied when the detectives asked him his name. It starts becoming art when it stops being about money, he thought, stacking batches of fifty Euro notes into a suitcase as if they were miniature Van Gogh’s.


Little Pilgrim

Your cousin sees it first. Look. There’s sauce on your dress. You twist round, see a crimson bloom flood the white cotton, the colour of roses in grandma’s garden, their heavy scent, the flowers you use to pin in your doll’s hair or gather for vases. At night when he creeps in for goodnight kisses, he presses his mouth down hard on yours like you’ve seen cowboys do on Saturday movies. Well, he says, before he turns off the light, you’re a woman now. You curl up small, think about John Wayne and how you hate the smell of roses.


No 6: War veteran. Watching his neighbours from his window. Remembering

No 21: Young men. Laughter. Drinking. Friendship.

Billy’s eyes. Staring beyond. Too late. Bullet-riddled. In my arms.

No 15: Lets her kids run riot. Eyes glued to her phone.

Just children. Playing. Shrapnel-shattered dreams.

No 13: Brute. Wiesel. Know his type. I hear them. She stays. She should run.

Punches. In the barracks. The bully. I showed him.

No 10: Alone. Kind smile. Stops to sniff a rose on the bush by the entrance…Love…

Marianne. Dimples. Breathless after a kiss. Rose-petal scented hair. She didn’t wait.

No 10. Should I knock? Bring roses? ‘Hello, I’m Harry from no 6.’


Otoch

I dream in mango. Lush. Cleft and the juices run; my face christened on a Caribe morning. Months, I yearned for the land where my tongue crawls upon arrival; by the second day, it dances upon syllables, rolling Rs, undulating them. My words hips in a Bollywood movie. Sun so piercing it sears your soul, claiming you.

Reality is a little more complicated. Sargassum, sulfuric and ubiquitous. Palm fronds, like broken spines of the prehistoric, Styrofoam cups, insoles. The tide is foul brown, laps at the refuse.

Nevertheless, like baybean, like spiderlillies, I root in the sand and bloom.


Regifting

For my twenty-fifth birthday, Nana gives me a Coco Channel lipstick. Re-packaged neatly in the black and gold case. I laugh. The tip is blunt, the pink waxy surface imprinted with lines from her bottom lip.

“Unhygienic,” my boyfriend grimaces. “The colour makes you look sick”.

My husband receives a tin of Valrhona Jivara chocolate. Disgusted, he sees one layer is missing, and the chocolates bloom with white powdery film. It’s the same tin, wrapped festively for Nana, the Christmas before.

In my forties I prune the withering husband, using the life savings Nana leaves me. Along with her secateurs.


Sound the Sirens: The Dangers of Harmful Algal Blooms

You led me down to this bruise of a sea. ‘Imagine,’ you said. ‘Billions of hands held underwater, creating a canopy so complex it shuts out the sun.’

Your fingers left shadows on my wrist. Was it the devil’s glint I saw in your shades when I sang I have hidden depths too?

You marvelled at the artistry. This lurid gash of iridescence, phosphates feeding phosphorescence. I drew you to me, whispered softly,

‘Look deep beneath the surface, marvel at this toxic harvest, relish all the organisms.’

Picnicking in my kelp forest, you ignored fish rottening, lungs gasping for air.


The Jellyfish Princess

I told Izzy Mum was the Jellyfish Queen, that they’d carried her off on their gummy-bear backs. Every night, under scrunched covers, I whispered stories of fish-scale freckles, seaweed plaits, her crown of seashells and pearls. I whispered the rules of the Jellyfish Kingdom, that once you were Queen you couldn’t return.

Izzy believed every word.

Dad said I mustn’t blame myself when Izzy was dragged from the water, her body a lionfish now. She’d spotted the bloom from our perch on the rocks. Said they would take her to Mum. Smiling, dived in.

I should’ve whispered that tentacles sting.


The Weight of Blue

She feels pretty in her sister’s dress, but her father’s look is ugly.

“Boys don’t wear dresses.”

His words like hands on her shoulders, pressing, heavy.

Bound in a suit at her aunt’s wedding, she carries the ring but wants to throw the flowers.

She tells her parents she’s a girl. Confusion, then denial. Her insistence leads to anger, then spanking.

She gives in. Wears blue. Says her prayers.

She prays to be with Jesus in Heaven.

The weight she feels, they finally feel, too.

Herself at last, she soars in her flowery dress, a petal on the wind.


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