Many thanks to our judge, Adam Trodd, for picking this quarter’s winners from the 11 excellent stories he was sent. Congratulations to our winners and to all who were shortlisted and longlisted in this round.
I am very grateful to the Retreat West team for asking me to judge this round of their themed flash competition and I would like to thank the authors who submitted for trusting me with their precious work. It is always a privilege to read the work of fellow writers and the breadth of imagination that the entrants poured into their stories was exceptional. In this round I read about a narcoleptic late-night shopper, a human hair merchant, a dentist with a secret colour fetish, a pair of lonely lovers and a feather collector, to name but a few.
All of the shortlisted authors interpreted the theme in ever more unique ways and my approach was to take a break after readings to allow whatever feelings the pieces evoked to percolate through my day before I read them again. Some gradually came to the fore and demanded deeper engagement while others immediately grabbed my attention.
I chose the theme of Margins because for me, as a writer, what we see in the margins of life, those little inhabited spaces of darkness or light, are some of the most important things to put to paper, whether the outcome be heart-achingly lonely, full of righteous anger, bitterly sad or soaring with joy. In doing so, we catch the people and the objects, that might otherwise have tumbled unseen through the cracks.
For this writer, who often finds himself peering through the other side of the submissions window hoping for that one magic email that will make his week, I understand that this process will bring disappointment for some and I thank you, especially, for placing your work in my hands. Making the shortlist is an achievement in itself and it was no easy task to pick three from such a stellar bunch. Keep on writing, your work will find a home.
First Place: Tiger’s Milk by Kate Axeford
This piece rattles along with its own impulsive rhythm and I was thrown straight into the story. I was engaged from the moment when “day breaks itself apart”, to the “kwwwffff” of opening cans, to the unfolding beauty of the concluding paragraph, where “old bread bloats, soaked by rain” and we hear the “soft-cooed lullaby”. It is a confronting piece that deals with the damage wrought by the failure of preceding generations to protect the innocent. Trauma and addiction are passed down the bloodline. Choices are made before the realisation that they are choices at all but by then it is too late and the millstone is in place. At the centre of it all is a howling testimony laced with terrible loss that is expertly told. Our perspective is that of a shut-in, living each day through a prism of regret, despair and bitter grief. Yet, despite that, there exists an intent to pursue the light, however tremulous and reclaim a place in the world. An outstanding piece. Hearty congratulations to the winner.
Runner Up: Briefly, We Saw Each Other by Mallika Narayanan
I was impressed by how the stark language in this story gave way to poetic bursts. I loved the sense of bodies as terrain, as story; topography to be traced by seeking fingers. The urban mundane in all its simmering treachery is infused with a painful beauty and vulnerability that shone through for me and really made the story. The grittiness of the physical world the characters inhabit almost completely, but not quite, mirrors their own wary souls as they seek the warmth of some kind of union “in the uneven mattress pockmarked like craters in the moon’s milky skin”. A great piece that grew on me with each reading.
Runner-Up: Life on the Edge by Anita Goodfellow
I love the refraction in this story. The narrative is split apart and bounces back at me in different guises with nuanced meanings like light spilling through a chandelier. The three strands spoke to me as self-contained stories and also together as a powerful, more revealing whole. A feat skilfully achieved by the author. At the heart of this engaging coming-of- age triptych is a child trying to navigate a complex and demanding adult world with all its pitfalls and false securities. There is just enough said to hint at the blossoming of a hidden untold story that bolsters the three strands. A well executed piece of writing.
Well done to the winners!
The next deadline for this quarterly competition is September. See all the info here.
2022 is the final year that we are running this competition. We are launching the WestWord journal and will open for submissions for the month of January 2023. The theme for this submission period is VISION. We want your best micros, flashes and short stories for our new publishing venture! Get all the submission info here.