Monthly Micro Fiction: longlist

We’re excited to announce — after much deliberation between our readers — the longlist for November’s Monthly Micro Fiction competition. Thank you to everybody who entered — and, if you see your story below, congratulations. (Please don’t let us know which is yours yet, as we’re still judging blind!)

We’ll be announcing our shortlist on 16th November. So watch this space, and good luck!

A Burden So Heavy
A Still Small Voice
An Author Is Still An Author Without Their Pen
Caught Napping
Cosmic Runs
Dad Went Out for Cigarettes
Four reasons I know they did it even though the psychiatrist says it was me
I’m Butch’s son
In Flanders Field
In the Shade of a Spitfire’s Wing
Letting Go
Little Celebrations
Mistaken Identity
Never Mind
Nostalgia is a Perfectly Ripe Banana
Ringing the Changes
Seize The Moment before it Vanishes
Silent Words Softly Fall
The Church of United Faith
The Fruity Aisle
The hottest kid in school
The Pen
The Youth of Today
Trick Or Treat
Wind-up Shoes

Launching: brand new short story course

We’re proud to announce our latest course launch: The Heart of The Short Story, by tutor and award-winning author, Amanda Huggins. We caught up with her to talk about the course, and how it helps students to make their short fiction shine.

Find out more about the course, and how to sign up, here.

  • The Heart of the Short Story launches this week – congratulations! What inspired you to put this course together, and how long has it been in the pipeline?

Thank you Rosie! I’ve been planning this course for a while, but up until April I had a full-time job in engineering as well as my writing and freelance work, so there were never enough free hours to put something together.

When I was furloughed at the beginning of the first lockdown, Amanda Saint approached me to ask if I was interested in writing and tutoring a course for Retreat West. I jumped at the opportunity to create The Heart of the Short Story, and right from the start, my aim was to create the kind of course I’d love to enrol on myself. As the title suggests, I wanted to get to the very heart of why we write stories, to cover specific areas of study which would hone students’ skills in such a way that they would discover the deeper meaning in their work. 

  • Could you tell us a little about the course – what it includes, how long it runs and options for flexibility?

The group course – which will run for the first time in January 2021 – lasts for six weeks, and the tutorials are designed to equip students with the tools and building blocks they need to ensure their short stories resonate with readers and have a life after the last line. Prompts, readings, ideas, exercises and examples will show them how to create memorable characters and settings which stand out, and how to write prose that makes their stories shine.

The group course also includes an online forum where students can chat with both myself and their course mates, sharing responses to exercises for feedback and encouragement. After the course has ended they will then be able to submit two short stories of up to 2500 words each and receive a detailed critique highlighting strengths and suggesting areas for further development.

If students prefer working alone at their own pace, they can enrol on the course as an individual at any time, and will then be given three months to access the tutorials. In either case, students can send in their completed submission stories up to a month after the course has ended.

  • What are the key areas of study that students will cover in the course?

The course focuses in detail on six specific elements of short story writing. Here’s a quick summary: 

What’s the point?: The questions you need to ask about your story before you begin. How to ensure readers will care about the story you have decided to write – the search for deeper meaning. 

Grab and anchor: Grabbing the reader with a great opening paragraph and anchoring the story with a brilliant last line. Effective ways to begin your story and different types of ending.

She’s a real character: Creating and developing relatable, memorable characters. Understanding psychic distance and psychology of character, techniques to create deep point of view.

Putting your story in its place: Exploring the power of stories to transport us to another world. How location can affect your character’s decisions, motivation, and how they act and feel. The ways in which a strong sense of place will immerse the reader and make your stories feel real and believable.

The way you tell it: The importance of the beauty, rhythm and sound of words. How to use language effectively and employ techniques to make your prose style both economical and lyrical. Understanding active voice and sentence pace, how to create rhythm and realistic dialogue.

Life beyond the last line: Reviewing your overall story arc, the events which have triggered a shift in your character’s view of the world, the consequences of their actions. Checking that every sentence develops character, explores your theme or enhances the plot. Techniques to ensure your language is precise and ruthlessly pruned, that the story has the reading rhythm it needs.

  • What do you feel sets your course apart; what can students be particularly excited to gain from working through The Heart of the Short Story?

I think one reason this course works really well is because the tutorials concentrate on developing specific aspects of short story writing rather than encompassing a wider, and therefore more general, area of study.

When deciding on the content, I approached it from a writer’s viewpoint as well as from a tutor’s, and I considered the questions I’m often asked about writing short fiction. Secondly, the course focuses on the three topics I am passionate about, which are also the things that have made my own stories successful.

For example, as an experienced travel writer I have always been interested in creating stories which transport the reader to different worlds, as well as being acutely aware of the powerful effects our surroundings have on psyche. Similarly, since training as a counsellor in the late 1980s I’ve been interested in psychology and motivation, and have explored the complexities of the human condition through relatable characters in my fiction. And as a poet as well as a prose writer, I have always aimed to create work which celebrates the beauty and rhythm of language.

But most of all I want my writing to be empathetic and authentic; I want it to evoke an emotional response. Writing in the short story form isn’t about complex plotting and creating over-detailed profiles for every single character; it’s all about feeling and finding the key emotion in your work. These are the things I am passionate about and hope to share – I can’t wait to get started!

Find out more about the course, and how to sign up, here.

More about Amanda:

Amanda Huggins is the award-winning author of four collections of short fiction and poetry. Her work has also been widely published in newspapers, magazines, journals and anthologies, and broadcast on BBC radio. 

In 2020 she won the Colm Toibin International Short Story Award, and her poetry chapbook, The Collective Nouns for Birds, won the Saboteur Award for Best Poetry Pamphlet. She was a runner-up in the Costa Short Story Award 2018 and her prize-winning story, ‘Red’, features in her latest collection, Scratched Enamel Heart

She has been placed and listed in numerous other competitions, including Fish, Bridport, Bath and the Alpine Fellowship Writing Award. Her debut novella, All Our Squandered Beauty, was shortlisted for the Best Opening Chapter Competition at York Festival of Writing in 2019, and will be published in January 2021 by Victorina Press. Amanda’s travel writing has also won several awards, notably the BGTW New Travel Writer of the Year in 2014, and she has twice been a finalist in the Bradt Guides New Travel Writer Award.

Amanda grew up on the North Yorkshire coast, moved to London in the 1990s, and now lives in West Yorkshire.  She works as a freelance editor and tutor, and is currently writing her third novel as well as working on a new collection of short stories and flash fiction.

Best Opening Page Winners

I have found this decision a very tough one to make as all of the 10 shortlisted opening pages had so much that was great about them. So a huge congratulations to all of the writers who made the shortlist, and to those who were longlisted and entered the competition too. It has not been an easy year to focus on creativity.

The biggest congratulations go to our winners.

First place winner: We Were Furies by Victoria Richards

This is a difficult subject that’s been dealt with in a compelling, original voice; along with some fantastic imagery and descriptive writing that is creating a strong atmosphere right from the start while foreshadowing the story to come. Really great writing and a strong ending that gripped me. 

Second place winner: Places I Find My Mother by Cari Oleskewicz

Loved the opening to this memoir, which instantly posed so many questions in my mind. Great introduction to the narrator’s world through the character in action and I felt completely immersed in it instantly and all my senses were engaged. 

Third place winner: Things I Want Back from You by Elizabeth Stix

Great narrative voice which reveals so much about the character so deftly with just a few lines. Love the set up of the lists to show us this character’s world as it unfolds. Clever stuff how each list item reveals more about the narrator that makes you want to see what she’s going to ask for next.


Between the Sea and Shore by Stephanie Percival

Lovely imagery and great use of the senses with a great hook in the final line of the opening. Great atmosphere developing, a strong narrative voice and I wanted to know what happens next.

My Father is a Rougarou by William Hawkins

Captivating, direct narrative voice. Instantly intriguing with questions posed as to what a rougarou is and why/how the father turns into one. Great final line that sets up a clear, compelling narrative drive to compel the story on.

The Voyagers by Meg Charlton

Great set up of the potentially unreliable narration from Alex because of the fallibility of memories and intrigue from the fact he and his sister had gone missing. I’d have like to have more set up of this though rather than ending with the mother.

Devil-Girl by Ian Spiegel-Blum

Well-written and hooky and with some really stand-out lines and images. Good narrative voice but wanted a clearer idea of what the narrator wanted to achieve in the story.

The Last Will and Testament of Peter Pan by Chris Huntington

Great premise and stong narrative voice introducing an interesting and original concept of a man meeting Peter Pan in a prison cell. I wanted to have a stronger sense of what was at stake for the narrator though. 

Unclean by Esther Mizraki

An intriguing opening to a memoir with great use of the senses. I’d have liked the opening to give more of an idea of what the author was going to write about the community and why she wanted to do it. 

Gone Viral by Carolyn Sanderson

Fantastic world-building here and I could really see where the action was taking place. Good narrative voice but I wanted more about the narrator’s place in the story.

Victoria wins a free week’s writing retreat at Casa Ana in Spain; Cari wins a half price retreat; and Elizabeth receives detailed feedback on her opening page. Congratulations!

Best Opening Page Competition shortlist

Many congratulations to the writers of the following opening pages as they have gone through to the shortlist to win the writing retreat at Casa Ana. I’ll be making the final decision and announcing the winners next week. Well done to all the writers who were longlisted too. It’s never an easy decision to make once you get to this stage of the judging.

Shortlisted Opening Pages

  • Between the Sea and the Shore
  • Devil Girl
  • From the Last Will and Testament of Peter Pan
  • Gone Viral
  • Places I Find My Mother
  • Rules for Living with a Rugarou
  • The Furies
  • The Voyagers
  • Things I Want Back From You
  • Unclean

Micro Fiction Course Competition Winners

Many thanks to everyone that entered this competition to write a 150 word story from this photo prompt; and to all our shortlisted writers for their patience waiting for the results. Mary-Jane and I have read them over and over again and there was so much to recommend in them all. But we had to choose three winners and they are…

First prize winner: Dark and Light by Lucy Hooft

Why we chose it: Beautiful imagery and the play of dark and light is done so deftly throughout. Love the last lines and the sense of ambiguity it leaves you with.

Second prize winner: Ghost Blocker by Andrew Boulton

Why we chose it: Great humour to this one yet it still manages to pose lots of questions and keep you wondering what’s really going on with the ghosts as the narrator realises he shouldn’t have let the promise of riches sway him.

Third prize winner: The Quickening by Abi Hennig

Why we chose it: Strong images and great use of language and we loved how the past and present weave together and how the last line is so open to interpretation.

Many congratulations to our winners. Lucy wins a place on the Micro Fiction Month Course in November 2020; Andrew wins a place on the work-alone, start anytime Micro Fiction Course; and Abi win a year’s Bronze Flash membership.

Monthly Micro Competition: September shortlist

We’re excited to share the shortlist for this month’s Monthly Micro Competition. Vote for your favourites at the bottom of this post — we’ll announce the winners on 29th September.

A Barbed Wire Tattoo

You came for me in the middle of the night and I stifled a scream. The soft glow of the moon was  our only guide as you showed me what I had been missing all these years, if only I had been  brave enough to leave the safety of my single bed.  

The barbed wire left imprints on my back from where we wrestled against the fence, a tattoo  reminder of misdeeds done and I cherished the bruises for weeks afterwards.  It wasn’t until I got home I realised a part of me had been left behind, snagged on the wire.

As We Forgive Them That Trespass against Us

  1. Saturday Bath-time.

She sees the watch on my wrist. Turns it over in her hands, fingers tracing creases in the old leather.

“Yesterday lunch-time, near the sandpit.” I say. 

She looks at me and I hear a steady ticking.

  1.  Monday Assembly

Mr Vance says that a watch, found in school, will be in his office for someone to claim. I press my hands together for The Lord’s Prayer. 

  1. Friday Tea-time

Dad watches her fasten it at the smallest notch. It feels heavy. Later, I wrap it in tissue and sneak it to the back of her drawer.  

Border Crossing

The border is 3,145km long. 

It’s taken almost eight years, but a 20-foot wall winds its way along the invisible line between lands. The photographer stands in the Texas sun, camera slung across her chest.

She tries to calculate how many tons of steel it took, but her brain goes blank, the number too vast. 

A team of builders stand by to secure the final ceremonial section. 

Sweat beads on her forehead. A cavalcade of cars appears, churning up dust. Shimmering light refracts from the desert beyond the wall and she pictures her family, the night they crossed the border.

Last Week I was Bitten By A Mosquito  

Now Tiff won’t stop talking about that bit in Jurassic Park where they extract the dinosaur DNA from the insect trapped in amber and I think if mama was here she’d tut and say that girl’s got a gob on her. 

She’ll blame Tiff, like always, but this time I’ll speak up. 

I’ll say trespassing was my idea. 

I’ll say hearing Tiff’s voice made me forget my no feeling legs and I’ll say how falling through the ground on the wasteland is strangely similar to how I feel now when Tiff squeezes my hand to check if I’m still with her.

On Hallowed Ground

This place is ours, but the sold sign says otherwise. 

Still, I hop over the back gate, brambles poking through the rails – fellow trespassers. 

Picking a blackberry, I thumb the fence with its juice, anointing it. And for a moment, I see your fruit-stained apron billowing, as you carry a basketful down the path. An echo flickering in the low September sun.

I fill up on familiar scents of lavender and overripe tomatoes, as a spider scuttles along an invisible thread. 

A car door slams.

And I sever the web with purpled fingers, leaving it adrift – golden in the light.

Scarce as Hen’s Teeth

I have zero in common with Jackson. He’s ex-T.A. and I’ve got a stove. 

Audrey’s on patrol tonight: Halloween green through the binoculars. People laughed when she started handing leaflets round school, ranting about food security. I told them to lay off because Audrey’s eyes made vegetable soup of my insides. 

She pauses, pixelated in chicken wire, scours the land behind. 

A fast might’ve worked; a taste of scarcity for those not on food banks. When you’re hungry, you’ll smash through concrete to get your hands in soil. You’ll do things you never imagined. 

On my signal, Jackson starts cutting.

Sometimes, The Best Things Feel Like Death

He’s left his toothbrush behind, its splayed bristles a roadkilled hedgehog. His middle-squeezed toothpaste tube puddled on her countertop. Time to end it? But how she savours their evenings: his midnight smell, the feel of him, thrilling as the days she went trespassing with the neighbourhood kids, compressing themselves under barbed wire fences into the Major’s grounds, creeping through long grasses to the bullrushed lake. The wonder of a rowboat tied to the jetty, the maze of lily pads, the air alive with amphibious croaks. Then, leaning in closer, the loom of a swollen-mushroom corpse: the shotgun-wielding Major’s once-prized koi. 

Sunday Dinner

‘I shagged your mother’s best friend,’ dad says, his spittle flecking the roast turkey’s  half-eaten carcass. Around his neck, a lopsided napkin bearing a cross-shaped gravy  stain taunts me. There’s nothing holy about this day, about the fact that of all his  memories, it’s this demon that trespasses its way across the worm-holed landscape of  his mind. Oblivious, he grapples with the Brussel sprouts dotting his plate. Tongue  drooling, he anchors the largest, admires it like a prized marble before swallowing it whole. My mother hooks her finger around a too small wishbone, dangles it above her  Royal Albert plate.

The Sign 

Some families pass around colds and the flu. Some families pass around insults, jokes, advice, or hugs. Like a talking stick, Brenda’s family of six passed around the No Trespassing sign: handmade stencils on a plank of bark-edged mesquite, the size of a baguette, two holes drilled into the top corners to hang by leather string on a bedroom, bathroom, sunroom door. The sign kept family apart so the holder could repent, rage, pray, or fantasize. 

The summer before entering college on an academic scholarship, Brenda inked the tattoo, No Trespassing, on her thigh. For protection, her father said.

When Mum Holds Hands with the Trespasser

Frozen – my favourite book. 

You hummed it so I threw it away; buried it deep in the rubbish bin so mum wouldn’t see.

At night you slither into my bed, size me up, shed your skin. Scales flaky and dry, virulent confetti to sully me.

Pizza – my favourite food. 

I smelt it on your breath; vomited, ruined my dress; buried it deep in the rubbish bin so mum wouldn’t see.

Mum’s in the kitchen cooking. You slither closer to me; whisper, ‘shall we play a game?’ 

Tonight, I pray for Eye Spy, in the hope that mum will see.