2017 Short Story and Flash Fiction Prize Results

Thanks so much to our judges, Alison Moore for the short stories and Tania Hershman for flash fictions, for taking part in the 2017 Short Story Prize and Flash Fiction Prize. They have now made their decisions and I’m delighted to announce the winners of the top three spots for each. Congratulations everyone.

2017 Short Story Prize Winners

First Prize: Calvo Marsh by Karen Featherstone

Alison said: I admired this clever, jocular and painful story about a nighttime journey into coastal marshland and the narrator’s disintegrating sense of identity.

Second Prize: Home Improvements by Joanna Campbell

Alison said: A child’s-eye view of a troubled marriage, with a well-constructed and deftly controlled narrative and a poignant ending.

Third Prize: The Distance by Keren Heenan

Alison said: A sensitive and touching exploration of the complex and shifting relationship between a daughter and her ageing mother.

Highly Commended: An Entry in the Yellow Book by Dianne Bown-Wilson

Alison said: The intrigue builds to an unexpected ending that is both satisfying and haunting.


2017 Flash Fiction Prize Winners

First Prize: While My Wife is Out of Town by Jude Brewer

Tania said: This story grabbed me right away from the title, it promises so much, it’s bursting with tension, and it tells you so much! Then comes that fantastic first line, the old horror story trope about having to go into the basement, but with the humour about carrying the cat.

This narrator’s voice was so strong and I was hooked, I was right there with him, enjoying myself enormously. I had complete confidence that the author had complete confidence and wouldn’t let me down. The story immediately surprises by not going anywhere near the basement and becomes a kind of list, of all the things he’s doing while she’s not there, odd, funny, wonderful things, and I am smitten. This is a story that takes risks in its structure, going off on tangents, not following a linear narrative, and the risks pay off. It is dark and funny and moving and strange. There is not a word too many or too few, and every word is precisely chosen, the character’s voice never strays. The ending: perfect. I could read this again and again and again.

Second Prize: Impermanent Facts by Lucie McKnight Hardy

Tania said: This is such a beautiful piece, which takes place over a few minutes and a whole lifetime. It is written with authority, no equivocating, straight into the action. It is very physical, with the vacuuming and the cupboard – and the smell, how often do writers make use of this sense? We should all do it more. The writer doesn’t spend time introducing our character, telling us anything, because there is no need. Everything we need is here. Such care is
also taken with the shape of it on the page, the three lines that begin with “She”, and then the two final lines beginning with the letter “A”, and this structure works for the story too, as it does for a poem.

The most important thing is that this story is almost unbearably moving precisely because it doesn’t look straight at the Terrible Thing at its heart, until that one line at the end. The bulk of this gorgeous short short story is about ladybirds. But of course it isn’t. Stunning.

Third Prize: The City of Stories by Tamar Hodes

Tania said: Great title, and from the opening line the writer sets the scene and sets the tone. We think we know what kind of story this is, a traditional village tale. But then a few lines in, all our expectations our overturned, narratively-speaking, and we find that this is metafiction, it’s a story about stories and about the danger of cliches, and it makes its point wonderfully, amusingly and in just as many words as needed and no more.


Congratulations again to all the writers on the long and shortlists.

The anthology of all winning and shortlisted stories will be published later this year so you’ll be able to read them soon. In the meantime, you can read last year’s winners in the What Was Left anthology. Get a copy here.

The details of the 2018 Short Story Prize and Flash Fiction Prize are now online and open for submissions. The prizes have gone up and the entry fees have gone down and I’m thrilled to have signed up two great new judges. We look forward to reading your stories. Get the info on the links below:


2017 RW Short Story and Flash Fiction Prize Shortlists

Delighted to announce that after much re-reading of the longlisted stories, which you can see here, we have the final 10 shortlisted stories for both the 2017 RW Short Story Prize and RW Flash Fiction Prize. All of which have now been forwarded to the judges for the final round and will be published in the anthology later this year, through Retreat West Books.

There were some really fantastic stories on the longlist so well done to everyone whose stories appeared there and huge congratulations to all of the writers on these shortlists. I look forward to working with you to produce the anthology and hopefully celebrating with you at the launch party too.

2017 RW Short Story Prize Shortlist

  • An Entry in the Yellow Book by Diane Bown-Wilson
  • Boys Outside by Laurence Jones
  • Calvo Marsh by Karen Featherstone
  • Home Improvements by Joanna Campbell
  • Options for the Ridiculously Poor by Ian Tucker
  • Roast Potatoes by Rachael Dunlop
  • The Distance by Keren Heenan
  • The Land of Bondage by Bettina Daniel
  • The Martha Rhymes by Susan Breall
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill by Bettina Daniel

2017 RW Flash Fiction Prize Shortlist

  • Chronic by Sarah Baxter
  • Cinders After Midnight by Shirley Golden
  • Curl Up and Die by Alison Wassell
  • Impermanent Facts by Lucie McKnight Hardy
  • Inside Story by Sandra Arnold
  • Not My Fault by Melvyn Eldridge
  • The City of Stories by Tamar Hodes
  • Time, Difference, Japan by Jason Jackson
  • We Don’t Understand The Machines We Have Created by Olivia Fitzsimons
  • While My Wife is Out of Town by Jude Brewer

Best of luck for the final round! The results will be announced in February. Thanks again to everyone who has taken part.

2017 Short Story Prize and Flash Fiction Prize Longlists

Many thanks to everyone that entered the 2017 RW Short Story Prize and RW Flash Fiction Prize. There were double the amount of entries this year and we’ve been busy reading away.

Readings are done anonymously until the shortlists are chosen and only then do we discover who has written what, so only the story titles are listed here. Congratulations to all the writers who see their story titles here.

Longlist RW Short Story Prize

  • Alan and Barbara – A Life in Fives
  • An Entry in the Yellow Book
  • Boys Outside
  • Calvo Marsh
  • Dress Rehearsal
  • Home Improvements
  • Just a Storm
  • Magee’s Island
  • Making the Grades
  • Options for the Ridiculously Poor
  • Paleo
  • Requiem
  • Roast Potatoes
  • The Distance
  • The Good Brother
  • The Hazard
  • The Killing Moon
  • The Martha Rhymes
  • The Land of Bondage
  • The Riddle
  • The Wish
  • There Are Some Things You Can’t Say to the Person You Can Say Anything To
  • Thou Shalt Not Covet
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill
  • Welcoming Committee

Longlist RW Flash Fiction Prize

  • A Perfect Fit
  • Blind Insight
  • Butterfly Kisses
  • Chronic
  • Cinders After Midnight
  • Curl Up and Die
  • Digital Detox
  • Dirty Blonde
  • Impermanent Facts
  • Inside Story
  • Measles
  • Measured
  • Not My Fault
  • Note to Chinese Dad
  • On the Threshold
  • The City of Stories
  • The Heart of Winter
  • Time Difference, Japan
  • We Don’t Understand the Machines We Have Created
  • While My Wife is Out of Town

Well done and good luck for the next round to all the writers whose stories are listed here.

We will be re-reading and announcing the shortlists in January 2018. The 10 shortlisted stories in each category will then go to the judges to read and the winners  will be announced in February 2018. Alison Moore is judging the short story category and Tania Hershman the flashes.

Prizes and copies of the anthology, which is being published by Retreat West Books, will be presented to everyone on the shortlists at an event in September 2018. Details of this will be available in the new year.

Once the winners have been announced the details of the deadlines and judges for the 2018 Prizes will go live.

Tania Hershman: Writing flash fiction

Delighted to welcome Tania Hershman to the blog today talking all about flash fiction. Tania is judge of the 2017 RW Flash Fiction Prize and the author of two flash collections, The White Road (2008) and My Mother Was an Upright Piano (2012). Some Of Us Glow More Than Others, a short story collection, is out now from Unthank Books, and coming soon: Terms and Conditions, a poetry collection, from Nine Arches Press in July 2017. She has won numerous awards for her writing and is also the curator of ShortStops, which celebrates all things short fiction in the UK and Ireland.


Tania, flash fiction has continued to grow in popularity in the past few years why do you think that is?

Firstly, writing flash fiction can be extremely liberating – there’s something wonderful about writing something so short that you are “allowed” to leave so much out. Or, in fact, you have to leave so much out, because there just isn’t space. You have to touch on the essence of the story, without making it sparse, bare, or just a joke with a punchline, without having to forego characters, description, backstory. We know from poetry that brevity doesn’t equal “I’ll just dash it off over a coffee”. Fewer words often take more time and effort.

Flash fiction is also fantastic to read because the best flash stories, like the greatest short stories and poems, give you that electric shock that I ask for from everything I read, in only half a page or less. I am somewhat weary of the argument about flash fiction being ideally suited in “this era of short attention spans” because you have to give all your attention to a flash story, there is nothing to skim here. But only for a very short time, so in that way this may have added to its popularity. But if I story grips me at the start, I will keep reading no matter what length it is!


What is that you like best about writing flashes?
It has taken years of practice in writing them, but now when I write flash, I often write really fast and with some kind of distraction (playing online scrabble) which keeps my logical brain busy while the other parts of me get on with the story. This allows me to write with no inhibitions at all, which feels like a blessing and is suited to the sorts of weird and surreal stories I enjoy writing. Longer stories generally take more time to write, but not always. There are no rules. And running flash fiction workshops, you can feel such an energy in the air when people are writing, it’s infectious!

Of course, there’s no one way to write anything at all – I know writers of very short stories who write them long and then whittle them down. But for me, the writing process itself is like a shot of caffeine, it energises me. Another great thing for me about writing flash fiction is that I can “use up” a lot of the ideas that I have for stories, although I never really know what a story will be about in advance. Often, I write flash fiction to express something I can’t express in any other way, although they are never directly autobiographical.


Who is your favourite flash fiction writer?
Ah now, that’s an impossible question, there are so many! Grace Paley was an early influence, although combining her name with “flash fiction” might seem surprising. I discovered her very short stories through the Sudden Fiction anthology from the 1980s and 1990s, I adore all her writing. Other favourites are Richard Brautigan, Lydia Davis, Kathy Fish… I could go on and on.


What tips can you give the writers who’ll be entering their stories for the RW Flash Fiction Prize?
As I mentioned above, everyone writes in different ways. The first thing is to read a lot of flash fiction by many different writers, not to tell you how to do it but to show you some of the ways it has been done and how much a writer can get away with not saying. Then go off and do it your own way. There are flash stories in the form of lists, flash stories that have mini-chapters, flash stories in the first person, the second person, the third person, the first person plural! Flash stories that are all one sentence, flash stories that encompasses a whole life, or just ten minutes.

You might want to try setting yourself some restrictions, which I find liberating, like giving yourself exactly 20 minutes to write a first draft of the whole story. You have between 150 and 500 words, don’t feel you need to get “up” to 500 words. Your story should be as long as it needs to be. You don’t need a lot of bells and whistles, massive plot twists or anything like that. Just write the story only you could write.


When reading the shortlisted entries in the RW Flash Fiction Prize, what will make a story really stand out for you?
What always grips me with any piece of writing is voice – the voice of the character, or of the narrator, something I haven’t heard before, something that makes me feel from the opening sentence that I can see and hear the person. You don’t need to write the sorts of things you think I will like based on the kinds of things I write myself – I love to read widely! Surprise and delight me.


Many thanks, Tania, for your insights into reading and writing flash fiction.

The 2017 RW Flash Fiction Prize closes for entries on 29th October. You can see the results of the 2016 prizes here and the anthology of winning stories will be published in September.

There are also Quarterly Themed Flash competitions running with cash prizes and online publication for the winner and two runners-up. Get the info on that here.


2016 RW Short Story and Flash Fiction Prize Shortlists

Many thanks again to everyone that entered their stories for the first RW Short Story Prize and RW Flash Fiction Prize. After a lot of re-reading, we have decided on the shortlists and their stories are now going to the judges to read. The Short Story Prize is being judged by Vanessa Gebbie and the Flash Fiction Prize by David Gaffney.

Winners and all shortlisted writers will be presented with cash prizes and copies of the anthology at a launch event in the summer and details of the 2017 Prizes will be up on the website soon.

Congratulations to everyone that made the shortlist and longlist for these prizes. We thoroughly enjoyed reading all of your stories. The judges’ decisions and feedback will be announced in March.

RW Short Story Prize Shortlist

  • Black Dog by Julie Hayman
  • By the River Under the Banyan Tree by Alec Hutson
  • On Crosby Beach by Judith Wilson
  • Honeysuckle Happiness Hospice by Ian Tucker
  • Lobsterfest by Angelita Bradney
  • Robin (The Handle of a Child’s Bucket) by Diane Beeaff
  • Ten Things I Can Tell You About Abraham Lincoln by Veronica Bright
  • The Birth of Venus by Stephen Palmer
  • The Cottage on the Hill by Heather Walker
  • What Was Left by Joanna Campbell


RW Flash Fiction Prize Shortlist

  • Daisy 8112 by David John Griffin
  • Doolally Tap by Sarah Edghill
  • Eggshells by Oscar Lopez
  • Food of Love by Dan Brotzel
  • Front Cover Down by Shirley Golden
  • Giddy With It by Mandy Huggins
  • Gifted by Paul McDonald
  • In the Hospital by Jude Higgins
  • Keep Calm and Carry On by Emily Richards
  • Saturday Nights by Diane Simmons

David Gaffney and writing flash

David Gaffney judged the inaugural RW Flash Fiction Prize in 2016. I had the chance to question him about his writing process and what he loves about flash fiction, or short-shorts.

Nicholas Royle said you’re one of the few British writers that’s mastered the very short form – what is it that attracts you to writing flash fiction?

I came to short-short fiction at a time when I was writing a novel and like most novel writers I was frustrated by the lack of a sense of completion at the end of every writing day. The first few short-shorts I wrote gave me that. I like the way it relates to poetry, the way every word is weighed, tested, interviewed and screened before it is allowed anywhere near a short-short fiction. But I also like the way, unlike poetry, it is restricted – you need a clear POV, a clear, usually linear structure, and you need things that happen one after the other, and an ending. A good short-short should be an infected, contagious thing that will insinuate itself into your metabolism and stop you in your tracks forever.

I think there can be a misconception that because they’re so short flash fictions can just be dashed off and sent out really quickly. Typically how long will you spend writing, editing and polishing a flash fiction?

Good short-short fiction cannot be dashed off quickly. Many of my short-shorts began as longer pieces, carefully edited, even at the long version stage, and then reduced down to essential components. Many short-shorts are thrown away all together, into the digital slush pile to fester and maybe one day find a life of their own by crawling out and living in the sewers. I spend a long time on short-shorts and often I leave them for months and years and then return to them, to see if, like a sickly but interesting firework, they might still be fizzing and worth resurrecting.

Which flash fiction writers work do you admire and why?

I like Tania Hershman – look at her short-short Plaits and you’ll see how a whole novel of ideas can be articulated in a few hundred words. I like Etgar Keret, and Richard Brautingham, and I like the prose poet Charles Simic. Joe Daly, of Bad Language fame, has written some of the best short-shorts you’ll hear performed anywhere, and another current practitioner, Simon Sylvester, has a lot to offer, as has Sarah-Clare Conlon. The literature organisations Flashtag and Bad Language, both based in Manchester, are well worth keeping an eye on for new short-short fiction.

What advice can you give to writers working on flash fiction that will help them make sure they produce compelling, whole stories that have an emotional impact?

For me the biggest mistake new writers of short-shorts make is working on a premise rather than on a story. Because you are working in such a short format and possibly need to use a hundred or so words to introduce the set-up, sometimes that set-up becomes the story with a punchline attached. I would always throw away the premise part – the set-up – and then come up with a story.

It might be enigmatic, and sometimes difficult to understand, but in the end it makes for a resonant piece that the reader will poke at and worry about for a long time. Sometimes a good short-short is like a brilliant third act; you’re never going to the see the first two sections, but those two acts exist somewhere, lurking in the writer’s mind or even on his laptop. A good flash is like the cast of the inside of a story – as if Rachael Whiteread has poured concrete into the interior and then thrown the outside away.


Many thanks, David. Excellent advice around the third act.