Many thanks to Amanda Huggins for reading the shortlisted stories and choosing her winners. It was a tough decision as the entire shortlist is made up of stunning stories!
Amanda’s Judge’s Report
I’ve really enjoyed reading the amazing array of flash fiction on the ‘Glass’ shortlist, and I’d like to thank Amanda Saint for inviting me to judge this competition.
These eleven wonderful stories took me on a journey from Venice to Chicago, from a rose garden to the seashore, from a fire to a funeral, and followed the fate of a vicar and a fortune teller. The theme was interpreted in a myriad of ways, but more often than not the glass ended up in pieces! Smashed glass was to be found everywhere – shattered into diamonds and splintered into shards; metaphors for broken lives and damaged relationships. There were also many mirrors – illuminating the truth, creating illusions and delusions.
When I first read the shortlisted pieces, I knew I was going to be re-visiting them again and again before I came anywhere near making a final decision. It’s a daunting task when all the stories are this good and every writer on the list is so talented. Every judge prioritises different qualities and likes different things, which is why I can say with total confidence that on another day, in another competition, any one of these flashes could be a winner – so make sure you send them straight out again!
For me, each and every aspect of craft is important to the whole – a great idea needs to be backed up with strong characters, a vivid setting, a plausible story arc and a tight, satisfying ending. I look for well-chosen words – the best choice rather than the easiest choice – prose which has rhythm and pace, is lyrical yet spare, where nothing is wasted. I want to be amazed and delighted by new slants on old ideas, to be surprised, shocked, made to think – but most of all I want to be moved by what I’ve read; I want to discover stories which resonate long after the last line.
FIRST PLACE: GLASS by Louise Watts
This story packs a huge punch in only 350 words. It was love at first sight for me, and it gets better every time I re-read it!
The setting is immersive and evocative, as we are led by the hand through the alleyways and canals of Venice, watching a doomed relationship play out. Both characters are skilfully portrayed with a pitch-perfect touch and the language is lean yet poetic throughout the piece.
The glass in the protagonist’s dream “like smashed car windows” does more than describe their state of mind or the following morning’s hangover, it is also a metaphor for the broken dream of a romantic weekend away, for the sudden realisation that their relationship is over. The glass isn’t sharp, it takes the form of “small cubes”, and there will be no dramatic break-up – in fact only one of them is yet aware that they will part, making this story achingly poignant.
“We might come to a sudden standstill in the middle of walkways and kiss – and with eyes closed imagine our kissing selves through the eyes of others…” This is beautiful yet unsentimental, filled with unspoken yearning and regret, already foreshadowing the perfect ending; the confession that the “softness” of “old mirror light…made reflections more beautiful than the real.”
Settling on just two runners up was very difficult, and you could hardly slip a cigarette paper between the pair I finally chose and the highly commended story.
FUTURE IMPERFECT by Lucinda Hart
This story of sibling love is beautifully told and the characters feel fully formed right from the opening paragraphs. The voice is effective and every word is well-chosen. It has a wonderful natural rhythm to it and the pace accelerates as the paragraphs shorten and the story darkens. The ending – where we discover the pair started life as “two embryos is a glass petri dish” – is perfectly judged and adds a final note of poignancy.
GLASS IS JUST MELTED SAND by Anne Howkins
I really like the structure of this piece – the way it takes us through four different kinds of glass –blown, stained, cut and sea – and how these stand as metaphors for the disintegration and aftermath of a damaging relationship. There’s some great imagery here too – sea glass “Buffed to a milky sheen by the velvet bladderwrack” and “His screech sounds like seagulls keening for chips”.
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU PRAY FOR by Kathryn Ratzko
I love the wry humour in this story – the style and language perfectly suit the subject matter. And the characters are delightfully portrayed, particularly Derek, the Lothario vicar: “She…saw the tight, mean pucker of his mouth; it was not dissimilar to the one he assumed on the rare occasions they had sex.” This piece closes with another cracking ending: “she saw the perfectly shaped and still intact cupid’s bow of Christ’s mouth. She carefully picked it up, lifted it to her lips, and kissed it.”
Finally, I’d also like to give a special mention to ‘Crux (by Robert Marmeaux)’, a story chock full of rich imagery, and to ‘The Diaspora (by Keith Wilson)’, a beautifully crafted stream of consciousness.
Well done to everyone! The final themed flash competition for 2020 closes at the end of this month and we’re looking for your stories inspired by BRIDGES. New judges and themes for 2021 will go live in January.