All good things come to an end and we are delighted to share with you the winners of the last ever Quarterly Flash Comp. Well done to all who made the shortlist and congratulations to the three writers whose stories our judge, Reshma Ruia, selected. Our thanks to Reshma for making this difficult decision!
Huge thanks to Amanda Saint and the Retreat West team for giving me the opportunity to judge and select my favourite pieces in the latest quarterly contest. It is always a pleasure to read new voices and see how they handle the language and the content in fresh, interesting ways.
Although there was no set theme, certain concerns appeared in more than one story. Grief, regret and the desire to be liberated formed the leitmotif of many of the short listed stories. Perhaps this is a reflection of the troubled times we live in, with war, natural disasters and socio-economic instability a constant presence in our lives. We may feel interconnected thanks to the web but we are lonelier than ever.
Failed relationships, crumbling marriages, death and childhood sorrow recurred in many of these shortlisted stories, as did marital infidelity and domestic abuse. The stories, despite the use of dream like imagery and language in some, felt very much of our times, unafraid to tackle emotional abuse and neglect. What impressed me was the imaginative, non-clichéd response to these themes. Each story held an arresting image, a turn of phrase or a narrative arc that made me pause, reflect and wonder.
Short stories as a genre are notoriously difficult to write. It is no mean feat to present an entire new universe of thought and feeling in five hundred or less words. Congratulations to everyone who entered this competition. I am confident every story will find a home and audience worthy of its scope and ambition.
Therefore, without further ado, here are my top three choices.
Winner: When the teacher talked about rape and you laughed by Sara Hills
This was such a powerful story that had me thinking long after I had finished reading it. There is so much at stake here, a family’s secret shame, rape, parental neglect, bullying at school and the yearning to be loved and yet this is all told with a lightness of touch in an authentic child’s voice that can’t quite comprehend the enormity of what’s happening. The writer shows an innate understanding of the idioms, speech rhythms and cultural references of this particular pubescent age group. The story moreover has a bold narrative structure with the story unfolding as a list that reads like a homework exercise or lines written as punishment for a misdemeanour in class.
25. when you thought of your mother then, the cold steel of her car speeding away
26. when, in trying not to cry, you laughed
27. when your eyes met Margery Carson’s and you swear you both giggled
The pace and narration is taut, the language and imagery vivid and visual. Phrases such as this ‘and you felt your face melt into a frown, the prick of your chin balling’ and ‘ her eyes the same grey steel as your mother’s car..’ reveal a writer who is skilled at moulding the language with an innate empathy and understanding of a child’s emotional train of thought and reasoning.
I was drawn to this story from the moment I read it and can’t wait to read more from this writer.
Runner-Up: In Captivity by Eleonora Balsano
What struck me about this story was the deceptively gentle tone of narration that gradually reveals the devastating sorrow lurking behind a simple act of preparing butterflies for a wedding. I had not come across this kind of wedding ritual before and I enjoyed learning about it.
She fills ‘the shipping box with the first hundred. They look like triangular paper ravioli.’ The narrator is seemingly engrossed in her task, but we learn through her musings about the baby she had to give up for adoption and her anxieties and fears for the baby’s future well-being. The analogy between the captive butterflies forced to perform at a client’s wedding like strewn confetti and the narrator’s baby also given away and learning to survive without her mother’s love is subtle and poignant. I loved the way the author creates a sense of eavesdropping on a conversation the narrator is having with herself.
‘I wish I could teach them how to be free.’ This heart-breaking last line captures the anguish of the young mother who will probably never see her baby again.
Runner-Up: Tell It To Me Again by Emily Harrison
This is such a sad story and it moved me immensely. Dementia is a difficult theme to write about, it is easy to over sentimentalize or over write it, and yet this story conveys the twilight zone between remembering and forgetting with skill and imaginative elegance.
It is the portrait of a marriage where one partner witnesses the gradual decline of their partner, losing them to the fog of forgetfulness and amnesia.
‘May is staring at her reflection. She asks who Malcolm is. You tell her that Malcolm is her brother. He died twenty years ago in a motorbike accident. ‘
This is a love story filled with tenderness for a much-loved partner who has become a shadow of their former self. They are together, recollecting the day of their marriage, but while the narrator remembers each moment vividly, their partner cannot even remember their name.
‘You say your wife. May Elizabeth Williams. Former librarian. Wild sense of humour. Could read ten books at a time and had the knack for winning soft toys on claw machines.’
Well done to our winners!
If you’re feeling sad about the end of the Quarterly Themed Flash comp then we have some news to cheer you up – we are open for submissions again at WestWord for the month of May. No theme for this edition. All info here.
Plus, we have the brand new WestWord Prize which has a theme of WILD. Send micros, flashes and short stories to win fab cash prizes and be published in the special Prize Edition of our new journal. Get info here.
And the March 2023 Monthly Micro will open for submissions with a new prompt on Monday! Enter here.
If you’re writing longer stories then do check out our Opening Lines Competition to win feedback reports on complete novel manuscripts. Info here.
If you’re yet to write your novel, then the Pitch to Win comp could nab you a place on our Novel Creator course starting in September! Find out more here.
And finally, we have just launched the Flash Mentoring Contest – send us your best flash story and you can win up to 4 months of mentoring to develop your flashy skills further. Info here.