Well done to all who were shortlisted in our themed flash contest and many congratulations to our winners, as chosen by Jeanette Sheppard.
Thank you to everyone who entered and to the Retreat West readers for creating the shortlist. I read everyone’s work more than once and in a different order each time — I’m always mindful that mood can influence a reading. Around a third of the entries interpreted the theme through setting, where the magical, mysterious, or other-worldly featured in some way. A few entries focused on the magically real. Other flashes were rooted in the everyday, with a forest, or something associated with it, acting as a metaphor for emotional states or relationships. Some writers used language or images related to the theme to drive the narrative. In the end, I chose stories that made me feel something. Each one immersed me in their world through specific details and provided a satisfying ending.
First Place: Fern-seed by Sarah Royston
I loved everything about this flash. This coming-of-age story was a clear winner from the start, growing on me more and more. I was moved by the narrator’s attempts to create a path through a literal and metaphorical forest. I also admired the way the fern-seed of the title is dropped into a conversation between friends, then grows in significance. People, place, and relationships are all evoked through wonderful detailing, a highlight being the friends ‘Shouting for echoes in the mouths of old mines.’ The change in the central friendship is captured perfectly when the young narrator tells us her friend, Becca, has ‘brought actual boys’ to the forest. A fitting and beautifully pitched final paragraph sealed its winning position – past, present, and future coalesce as the narrator approaches the mine in a fern-seed hallucinogenic state. Congratulations to the writer. I enjoyed reading this over and over.
Runner-up: Disenchantment in Three Dishes by Emily Macdonald
The only flash that created a forest from Broccoli! I enjoyed the whimsy/dark humour blend here. What a visual feast this is: ‘brown rice forest floor — blended with eggs, mint, garlic, dill, and cheese — turned to sludge, and the broccoli canopy slid sideways and discoloured as if the dish was hit by a mudslide and felling at the same time.’ The switch to darker humour is neatly done as the narrator becomes a secretly malevolent force, reaping revenge on her pretentious Instagram foodie friends by duping them with her style-over-substance dinner parties. A terrific ending as the narrator attempts to escape a food forest nightmare, only to leave a breadcrumb trail behind. An inventive take on the theme.
Third Place: The Point of Disappearance by Stephanie Percival
A dramatic shift in tone from the previous flash, this is a moving, dark, and compelling modern day fairy tale. A forest glade offers peace despite what ‘they’ say about a witches’ meet and a spirited away girl. The subversion of expectations is handled nicely in this story, particularly the traditional wicked witch in the forest trope. When the narrator runs away at night into the forest to escape her brutalised life, only to be snatched away, we fear the worst. However, the woman with ‘arms scarred and pocked like bark’ turns out to be someone who reflects the narrator’s own experiences and offers a sense of hope. The ending is there all along but is well hidden.
Congratulations everyone! Sarah wins £200 and Emily and Stephanie win £100 each.
The next themed flash deadline is fast approaching! Get all the info here.
This is the final year of this contest and in 2023 we are launching a new online journal, WestWord, instead. Submissions will be open for the month of January for publication in April 2023. We have decided to make this edition a themed one and the theme is VISION.
We want short stories, flashes and micros on the theme and all writers selected will receive a share of submission fees. Get all the submission info here.