May 2020 Micro Fiction: Results

The results are in for May’s Micro Fiction Competition… Thank you to everyone who entered and voted; this month, we received a total of 414 votes!

Winner: 17 Albert Street by Kathryn Aldridge-Morris

Kathryn Aldridge-Morris is a freelance writer in the field of educational publishing. Her creative writing appears in the Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual 2020, the Bath Flash Fiction anthology (TBP 2020), Retreat West, Paris Lit Up, and the anthology ‘From Syria with Love’ (Indie Books).

Kathryn shared: ‘I’d like to dedicate my win to my lovely mum who died on Sunday, and will be donating the prize money to a cancer charity in her memory.’ What a wonderful idea; we’re thinking of you and your family, Kathryn.

Second place: Walls by Amy O’Neil

Amy O’Neil is an emerging writer living in Brighton with her partner and two children, currently working on her first novel. Her stories have been shortlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize, highly commended in Glimmer Train’s Family Matters competition, recommended in LISP flash fiction competition, won Curtis Brown’s #WriteCBC flash competition, and shortlisted for Retreat West’s ‘Fire’ themed competition and won Mslexia’s Little Ms microfiction competition.
Congratulations to our winners!
Head over to our Flash Fiction section to read their pieces. Plus: next month’s Micro Fiction Competition launches on 1st June, so head over to our Competitions page then to get involved.

May 2020 Micro Fiction: shortlist

We received so many great stories this month, so well done to everyone whose story was longlisted. And an extra congratulations to you if you made the final ten!

Thanks to Emma Finlayson-Palmer, Amy Barnes and Joanna Campbell for helping to read and choose the lists – as ever, it wasn’t easy to narrow the longlist

We received 125 entries, so this month’s cash prize is £250 plus 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 25th May.

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

His Guardian Angel

He doesn’t notice when I show him fresh lemons; altocumulus clouds like ploughed fields; dew on cobwebs. This is my last resort. 

We find the fortune-teller’s door: Knock Loudly And Wait, it demands.

Tea-leaf spider-legs dot her cup as he tells her of his misfortune.

‘Then you must make your own luck,’ we answer, in unison.

But he shakes his head – determined, I think, to ignore dandelions; resilient mint tufts between stones.

I can do no more. She rings her bell and I am lifted, soaring away – swooping into altocumulus, across ploughed fields – to take my own advice.

If Opportunity Knocks

Marjorie had intended to put it all behind her when she moved to the village; she knew she wasn’t getting any younger, but there was something in the way the window cleaner had looked at her that first week, and it did provide her with a bit extra, something for a few treats like a decent bottle of gin.

She’d put the note in the porch after the unfortunate misunderstanding with the vicar; it gave her time to check from the bedroom window. She did wonder afterwards though whether she hadn’t seen a small flicker of disappointment cross his face.

Couples Counselling

I’m standing at our back door reading the hastily penned note. The curtains to our living room twitch. They are dark and geometric, symbolic of our mood after that day shopping for them. Symbolic of our marriage pre-lockdown.

We are already socially distant; already separated.

As per his text message, I place my deckchair facing the window. This week it’s my turn. This week it’s all about my needs.

A frisson of excitement bubbles in my gut, old forgotten sensations simmer. He always was a good dancer.

I knock loudly and wait.

Oh God, I hope he wears the Stetson.

17 Albert Street

I used to imagine revenge tasting like a Zoom lolly. Or the icing peeled off a bun in one go. Like a big plaster. But it doesn’t. It tastes of gum chewed too long and gone hard.

Knock and wait. My arms want to stretch out. Straight. Where he can see them. But I’ve learnt habits can break just as easy as bones.

He opens the door. I see the belt, restrained in denim loops, his ring binder knuckles, the blood in my eyes, the grain of his desk.

‘Volunteer buddy,’ I smile. He hesitates, steps back.

Lets me in.

Sterile

Bobby Raven tattoos people in the basement of his house. Gemma knocks and waits. It’s dodgy as hell but he’s cheap and she’s heard good things, like how he doesn’t speak much.

There isn’t a part of him that isn’t inked and as he hands her the binder, she’s drawn to a tattoo on his wrist. Tiny cherub wings.

‘Those. Right here,’ she says, showing him her bare palm. This way she’ll get to hold what she cannot have.

He blinks slowly and takes her hand, as if he understands, as if her story is already written on her skin.

Knock Loudly And Wait

We marry in 1979, the week ‘Ring My Bell’ tops the radio and lifts the discotheque. It’s all shimmer and flashing lights at first. Even when I bake the bird dry, there is always something fresh between us – the pop of a cork.

The fizzle.

Two kids and three stone later, I check your collars for cliches; find a number in your pocket.

‘Repairman,’ you say. Dishwasher, toaster, table leg…

A broken litany lies between us.

About my bell? This old thing hasn’t been rung in ages. Doorbell’s still broken too. I reckon one’s an easier fix than the other.

Kursk

In the utter darkness, Captain-Lieutenant Kolesnikov had lost track of time since the explosion. He banged a spanner on the bulkhead of Compartment 9, no longer expecting an answer.

‘Just us, lads.’

Laboured breathing from the dark was the only reply.

Kolesnikov knocked on the hull at what he reckoned were hourly intervals. Three dots, three dashes, three dots – who would save their souls?

They called their names, their voices weak and hoarse. He wrote them by feel and pressed the note into a high point in the last air pocket.

Kolesnikov knocked again and waited. Then there was silence.

Stay Inside

His problem with dancing was that he was never in his whole body at once. His focus would concentrate into, say, his left arm. His right, left to its own devices, would get up to God knows what.

His cats suffered similarly. Watching the birds, all their energy concentrated into their licking tongues. Their distracting tails thumped unconsciously beneath the windowsill.

He developed a meditative exercise: pretending the thumps were various people deliberately knocking at the door. This helped. His mind knocked at his escaping right arm, and it let him in, and said he could stay inside, for now.

The Disciple

Waking sleep-fuddled each morning, she knew he’d made his daily pilgrimage.

First the drifting scent of disturbed chamomile when she opened her window.

Then a gentle after-trembling of the earth, birds alarm-calling in the shuddering willows, vague flattened grass shapes of to and fro feet.

Ridged doorstep clay boot droppings crumbling in early beaming sun, scarlet flakes, finger scratched from the door’s peeling paint, floating over the white roses.

Swirling whorls from a stranger’s cautious fingerprint on cracked glass, tapped reverberations setting her dreamcatchers a-sway.

Always the doorstep offerings.

Resistance worn away; she scrawled her note.

Lay morning silent…waiting.

Walls

I press an ear to the protruding wall in my bathroom and listen for a bird, a cough, anything.

Once I heard an old man singing. Another time, a mother read bedtime stories.

I heard New Year celebrations in spring, chatter from an Italian barber shop, the whirring machines of a commercial gym.

For weeks now the little wall has been silent.

I knock loudly and wait.

Then, I recognise her raspy chuckle.

‘BabiÄka?’

It’s been years since I heard the voice of my Czech grandmother, telling me not to worry. It would all be over soon.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading these stories as much as we did. Vote for your favourite by using the form below or by following this link: https://form.responster.com/AEz73l

‘Abandoned’ Themed Flash Shortlist

Thank you to everyone who entered the Abandoned themed flash competition; as ever, the quality of entries was very high. So, massive congratulations to everyone whose story appears on the shortlist below! Please don’t tell us which is yours if it’s there as readings are still anonymous. Winners will be announced soon…

Shortlist

  • An Alternative History of Curses and Serpents
  • Cessation
  • Dover Beach
  • Echo
  • It Was The Horse That Killed Her
  • Six Things I Abandoned by the Time I was 31
  • She Didn’t Look Back
  • Skogafoss
  • Space Raiders
  • The Artist

***

The next themed flash deadline is 28th June and the judge, FJ Morris, has chosen the theme: music. So get writing! FJ Morris’ debut flash fiction collection This is (not about) David Bowie was published by Retreat West Books in November 2018, and received a special mention in the Saboteur Awards for Best Short Story Collection in 2019. Get all the info on this year’s comps and judges here.

 

Micro Fiction Competition: May 2020 Longlist

Micro Fiction Competition: May 2020 Longlist

Thank you to everyone who entered. We received 125 entries this time, and it was a pleasure to read them all.

If your story title appears below, congratulations! Please don’t tell us if you’re longlisted though, as we’re still reading anonymously!

  1. Walls
  2. 17 Albert Street
  3. An Old Woman Lives in That House
  4. Baby, it’s Cold Outside
  5. Couples Counselling
  6. Easy Pickings
  7. Final Stop
  8. Finding a Way
  9. Green Fingers
  10. His Guardian Angel
  11. Homecoming
  12. If Opportunity Knocks
  13. Knock Loudly and Wait (1)
  14. Knock Loudly and Wait (2)
  15. Kursk
  16. Rules of Motion
  17. Next Door on the Crescent
  18. Nobody Home
  19. Our Fatal Failing
  20. Patient Zero
  21. Please Knock Loudly and Wait
  22. Purgatory
  23. Red Raw Knuckles
  24. Reunited
  25. Spiders on a Saturday Night
  26. Stay Inside
  27. Sterile
  28. The Disciple
  29. The Watcher
  30. Thirteen Hours in to a Nine Hour Shift
  31. Treasured Rubbish
  32. V&A
  33. Waiting on the Doorstep

***

We’ll announce the shortlist by 18th May… Watch this space, and good luck!

Abandoned Themed Flash Longlist

Abandoned Themed Flash Longlist

Thank you to everyone that entered. We received 172 entries this time, and enjoyed reading each one.

Congratulations to everyone whose story appears on our longlist. If your story appears below, please don’t tell us as we’re still reading anonymously!

  1. A Space in my Heart
  2. An Alternative History of Curses and Serpents
  3. Cessation
  4. Connections
  5. Distant Sounds
  6. Dover Beach
  7. Echo
  8. Flight
  9. For Alfred
  10. Full Moon
  11. It’s My Skin
  12. It Was the Horse That Killed Her
  13. Learning to Count
  14. No More Towns or Mountains
  15. No Room for Error
  16. On the Way
  17. Sea Shanty
  18. She Didn’t Look Back
  19. Six Things I Abandoned by the Time I Was 31
  20. Skógafoss
  21. Space Raiders
  22. The Artist
  23. The Bunker
  24. The Disappearing Act
  25. The Dog With No Name
  26. The Foundling
  27. The Mortal Air
  28. The Rotting
  29. The Thoughts That Matter
  30. The Value of Things
  31. The Weight of Silence
  32. Two Selves

***

We’ll announce the shortlist by the end of May. In the meantime, for more flash fun, check out our upcoming quarterly flash competition here. The deadline’s 28th June, so there’s plenty of time to get writing!

2020 Retreat West First Chapter Competition Winners

2020 Retreat West First Chapter Competition Winners

Many thanks to Carrie Plitt of Felicity Bryan Associates for being our judge this year; we were delighted to have had her on board.

Congratulations to everyone who made our shortlist, and huge congratulations to our two winners who’ll each have their submission packages reviewed. The writer in first place will receive their review from Carrie, and the writer in second place will receive theirs from Amanda Saint  founder of Retreat West and commissioning editor and publisher at Retreat West Books. Carrie has also kindly provided short feedback on each of the ten shortlisted chapters.

First place: THE KATIE EXPERIMENT by Rosie Smith
Carrie said: This is a very short first chapter, but it does a lot in a short space of time, doling out just the right amount of information with tight and intriguing prose. The descriptions are evocative, and sometimes surprising: I love the way the delicate sheets of the girl’s hair blowing in the wind provoke disgust in the narrator. By the end I was desperate to know more about the narrator and her relationship with the girl who sits next to her on the bench. This is the kind of chapter that makes me want to read on immediately. 

Second place: GIRLS LIKE US by Julie Bull
Carrie said: This was a very intriguing chapter, managing to establish a mystery with economy and style, and giving enough backstory while still keeping the reader guessing. There’s some lovely writing here too, like the paragraph that describes the names of the girls on the wall. I love how it ends with the image of Pam getting in the car. 

Well done to Rosie and Julie!

And to our shortlisted writers…

PASSING THROUGH FIRE by Diane Miller
Carrie said: I like the way this chapter immediately thrusts the reader into the action, and gives enough details to make us realise gradually that we’re in some kind of dystopian world, without explaining too much. The writing is very solid, too. Maybe it didn’t need quite so much foreshadowing about what this moment will mean for the narrator’s future.  

BRANTWOOD by Victoria MacKenzie
Carrie said: I enjoyed being in the Victorian world of John Ruskin in this chapter – it’s very well evoked from the first sentence and seems believable. I do wonder if you are trying to impart too much information about Ruskin and his life over the course of the dinner party. I think this could wear its research more lightly, and do more of showing rather than telling.  

DOWN CAME A BLACKBIRD by Julie Holden
Carrie said: I like the way this chapter sets up the relationship with the neighbour upstairs and the mystery of the letter. It also had a great ending. I know the narrator herself is confused, but I felt quite discombobulated by the imagery of the bird and her dead mother, and thought perhaps this didn’t quite strike the right balance between withholding information and making sense. A smaller grammatical note is that I think you could cut out a lot of your commas; many of them seemed unnecessary and they broke up the reading experience. 

LOVE by Kate Tregaskis
Carrie said: This is an intriguing premise and the last paragraph is great. I do wonder whether you need the lists, as they can break up the reading experience and I’m not sure how much they add to the narrative. The pace here also felt a little slow – could you cut out some of the backstory / telling and get more quickly to the phone call?

SWIMMING LESSON by Rebecca Garnett Haris
Carrie said: I like the plot you set up here, but I wasn’t totally convinced by the voice. It’s really tough to write a novel in dialect! Maybe think about whether this novel definitely needs it.

LIFE AFTER THE END OF THE WORLD by Sydnye White
Carrie said: This is a great set-up and I love the first sentence. The pace feels a little slow, though, and I think you could cut out some of the contemplation about the narrator’s situation. 

WE MAKE DREAMS by Angela Wipperman
Carrie said: I like the opening paragraph a lot. I think you’re doing a little too much telling in the opening chapter, though. Can some of the backstory come out in the conversation with the journalist in the next chapter instead? 

WORDS WE SHOULD’VE SAID by Allison Secker
Carrie said: There are some lovely bits of description here and the idea of a missing twin is intriguing. However, the pace feels a little slow and I think you could tighten and focus this chapter, showing only what is necessary to set the scene. 

Again, well done to all of the writers above — and to everyone who entered. Thank you for sharing your work with me; it was a pleasure to read so many great first chapters.

 

We’ve got another great judge lined up for the First Chapter Competition 2021: Sam Jordison (@samjordison), founder of and publisher at Galley Beggar Press. The 2021 competition is also being run in partnership with Casa Ana Writing Writing Retreat. We’re very excited to have him working with both Sam and Casa Ana, and look forward to opening the competition for entries in June.  See you then…