We are so excited to bring you the results of the final RW Prize and the details of the stories and writers that will be published in our final print and ebook anthology later this year. We loved running this prize over the past seven years and thank everyone that sent us a story – we have read so many fantastic ones and had the privilege of publishing amazingly talented writers. Many thanks to our judges this year who made that final difficult decision for us!
Micro Fiction Prize Results – Judge: Laura Besley
- A Woman Showed up at a Mario Kart Convention in a Wedding Dress by Rae Theodore
- Another Man’s Treasure by Martha Lane
- Breadcrumbs by Susan Wigmore
- Buddleia Song by Katie Holloway
- Catch by Letty Butler
- Manchester Fishing by Helen Kennedy
- Postcard From Portugal by Emily Macdonald
- Something Floral by Jill Sexton
- Three Questions, One Answer by Claire Schön
- Watermark by Letty Butler
Firstly, I would like to congratulate all the writers who have stories on this list and thank them, as well as Amanda, for letting me read them – it has been an absolute pleasure.
Short fiction doesn’t come with a blurb. When you start reading, you have no idea what you’re getting. For me that’s one of the most exciting things – the possibilities are endless. But what does that mean for the writer? An awful lot has to be achieved in a very short space.
When I first read these stories, I read them as a reader – open to anything and everything. Most of all I wanted to feel something. Surprise, happiness, loss, regret. Anything. Everything. Just make me feel something. I was drawn in by great titles, excellent first lines, evocative language, playful forms. Each and every one of these stories made me feel something and was deserving of being on this list.
‘Every word counts’ is often cited when referring to short fiction, especially micro fiction. It seems old hat, but it’s true. The title, the opening line, every unusual pairing; sense of character and place; story development – all of this needs to be conveyed with very few words in which to convey it.
Judging any art form is hard. Despite its importance as a reader, it’s not enough as a judge to say ‘I felt something’. I read the stories again. And again. Over and over. In my head, out loud, letting the words work their magic. On a final reading, I analysed every detail of every story to determine which ones were, in my opinion, the best blend of words to create a magical micro fiction.
1st Prize Winner: Catch by Letty Butler
This story has an exhilarating opening line – containing characters, setting and dilemma – which completely sucked me in and like an octopus wrapping its tentacles around me, the story never ceased its grip. There is great use of vocabulary: strong verbs like ‘speared’ and ‘hunched’ and a peppering of alliteration with ‘turbulent and tangled’. The whole piece has a dream-like quality to it, as well as a physical dream, and ends with that pitch-perfect off kilter sentence.
2nd Prize Winner: Breadcrumbs by Susan Wigmore
As with all good titles, Breadcrumbs is an integral part of the story – informing readers we have to piece together the plot. The language in this story is particularly evocative and unusual. Among others, I love ‘the moon is loud’ and ‘pools of light […] like stepping stones’ and ‘the buttery smell of his hair’.
3rd Prize Winner: Manchester Fishing by Helen Kennedy
There is such a strong sense of place in this story. There are the physical places, the river Irwell and talk of the family house, but also those intangible ‘places’, such as the past, the future, and moving on. Water is a theme throughout; its vocabulary providing not only depth to the narrative, but a strong sense of cohesion.
Flash Fiction Prize Results – Judge: Tom O’Brien
- A Perfect Day for Banana Pudding by Finnian Burnett
- Beach Pick-Up by Linda Collins
- Find Shelter by JP Relph
- I Never Intended to Visit the Circus by Katie Holloway
- O Sole Mio by Lesley Bungay
- Swan Song by Letty Butler
- The Language of Dying Crows by Maria Thomas
- The Lightship by Emma Phillips
- The Matter with Shapes by Sharon Boyle
- The Sand Between her Toes by Helen Reay
It was a pleasure to read such a powerful set of flash pieces. The form is clearly in rude health. What was less of a pleasure was to choose some above others for the top three, since I was spoiled for choice. There are elements from all the stories that still ring with me: crows exploding from chimneys from one is not an image that’s easy to forget, nor is the feeling evoked by those ’30 steps from the lighthouse to the shore’ in another. There’s heartache in a line like ‘your head leaves a hollowed-out shape on the pillow’ or meeting a character who’s ‘perfected the art of applying pancake makeup over bruises’ in a cookery tale or ‘”My sunshine’ he called her, even as her light faded” in an allotment. Nor was it easy to leave behind the chill of a character who sees themselves as ‘hard and godless’, much less the sheer humanity of ‘the blistering hope of reuniting with the pigtailed child in a crumpled photograph.’
But in the end, with a reminder of how subjective any judgement is, I did have to choose, so my top three are…
1st Prize Winner: I Never Intended to Visit the Circus by Katie Holloway
I Never Intended to Visit the Circus makes a powerful first impression, then goes above and beyond that. It both moves at the narrative level and is moving, emotionally. The story displays the technical daring flash does so well. Its use of ‘It’s like…’ to start lines over and over, as the voice starts and restarts, echoes the grappling with big ideas. But the writer never lets technique overpower the heart in the story. The narrator becomes more self-aware with every line, while the reader grows more aware of a world that expands darkly with each new image until there’s so much forward motion that we’re caught off balance, just as they are, with a twist and revelation before that sour sweet ending. This is flash fiction at its best.
2nd Prize Winner: The Lightship by Emma Phillips
The Lightship is a world building tour de force with a keenly felt point of view that went straight to my heart. I wanted to protect this fresh voice from the reality they are trying so hard to deny. Sadly, they are cursed with the insight to know nothing is as it should be. They survive in a mined sea where those who should protect them ‘launch new lies into new rooms’ rather than take responsibility. The story ends with a prayer, one I found myself joining in, so that it might let in hope.
3rd Prize Winner: Swan Song by Letty Butler
Swan Song is wonderfully creepy and sinister but unpeels layers of loneliness that make it tender and aching at the same time. The deceptive flatness to the voice adds to the off-kilter horror movie atmosphere, as do flashes of dark humour, such as the drawing of an eye, that unnerves the ‘wrong’ person.
Short Story Prize Results – Judge: Sarah Schofield
- A Different Route to the Same Place by Debbi Voisey
- Even the Silence by Keren Heenan
- Far Cry From Edgar by Jennifer McMahon
- Hero of Electrification by Chris Cottom
- Jane and Autumn by Alison Sanders
- Rachel’s Mother by Melissa Mitcheson
- Salt Colonies by Shrutidhora P Mohor
- Superheroes and the World Turned Upside Down by Susan Wigmore
- Tat by Alison Wassell
- The Ocean Is a Desert by Susan Swan
It has been a privilege and a delight to read the shortlisted stories for this short story category. Many thanks to Amanda and the team at Retreat West for inviting me to judge – a wonderfully difficult task that I have thoroughly enjoyed.
For me, the best short stories are living, breathing things – elusive and defiant of neat or easy categorisation. What I mean by this is they don’t always go or move how you expect them to but, when you become immersed in one, they feel right, the surprises seem retrospectively inevitable and satisfying. This is why I love the form, perhaps why writers and readers continue to come back to them.
I was genuinely captivated and moved by every single one of the ten shortlisted stories for a host of different reasons. But most of all because it is clear that each writer has rejected the desire to tame but allowed their story to move naturally, in its own habitat. What caught my eye in the stories were the arresting images that many of the pieces swung round. Things that a reader may have previously overlooked or not thought to examine – icebergs, charity shop items, tiny cuttings and plants… were given space for examination. Often creative pursuits featured large – characters making, painting and crafting. And there was also carefully drawn intensity of relationships with others – exploring the lengths we go to for connectedness. Sometimes with humans, but often, movingly, with non-human species. And I loved it when a story took me to a place I’d not been to before, geographically, or emotionally.
What worked in many of these pieces though was where I felt trusted as the reader. A lightness of touch, an invisible nod from the writer that I would follow where they led – a certain confidence in the prose, and in me, to understand and be as intrigued by the heart of the story as the writer was. Ultimately, this is what it came down to in making the final choice for these three winning pieces.
Thank you to all of the shortlisted writers for creating such evocative living, breathing stories. And congratulations to the writers of the following stories.
First Prize Winner: Rachel’s Mother by Melissa Mitcheson
This story stayed with me long after reading it. I kept returning to it, testing its walls, like a tantalising puzzle that the writer had gifted to me. There is energy and vibrance to the prose. There is humour in this story; a potent mode to play with. In the midst of a mildly ridiculous scenario as a mother seeks to collect all the copies of a book her daughter has written, she feels, about her, there is gut punch after gut punch, unexpected and yet perfectly measured. The extended shifting metaphor of the walls of books mounting and towering around this mother, offer avenues for exploring a fractured mother-daughter relationship. The story is playful around the idea of containment and emotional restraint, even down to the way the mother ties her favourite blue scarf about her neck. There is so much held within this tale – generational layers peeling away and revealing uncomfortable truths trapped, as it were, between the pages of a book. And it boldly explores that forbidden territory where a parent’s thoughts and feelings towards their child are murky, complex and not all together supportive. I loved this story. It surprised, shocked and delighted right to the very last line.
Second Prize Winner: The Ocean is a Desert by Susan Swan
The powerful and emotive voice in this piece won me over alongside a carefully considered structure and pace that layers imagery effectively. The interspecies interactions here could have fallen flat but are handled skilfully so that when the moment of change comes for the narrator it feels entirely authentic. This is a conservation story, with a deft touch and a beautifully measured last line. A clashing together of science and spirituality. It gave me a delightful insight into the world of whale rescue and created images in my mind that resonated back to me long after finishing the story.
Third Prize Winner: Even the Silence by Keren Heenan
I loved how this story stealthily revealed its truth. And the potent metaphoric weight of the iceberg, glacially cutting through the fabric of the story’s everyday, felt exactly right. The image of this great frozen body shifts and changes in meaning subtly through the story, an image the reader returns to alongside the protagonist to prod at and test. A powerful, lyrical image. The compelling voice of the narrator, her skittish fragmentation emerging in her thought process, speech and action, drew me to her and I felt what she felt intimately, being in this in between place, trapped, and I waited with her. A memorable and poignant piece of writing.
Huge congratulations to all of these writers – we look forward to bringing you their wonderful stories in the anthology later this year.
For those of you mourning the end of this prize, never fear as we have launched a replacement over at our new journal, WestWord, where the winners and shortlisted stories will be published in an online anthology instead of a book.