Sorry to be so late with this… life has been busy! But here now are the winners. Well done to all. Really looking forward to flashing with these talented writers. Our two winners get a free place and our two runners-up get a half price place on the October Fantastic Flashing Course. There are still a few places left if you would like to join us too…
Winner: Leaves, Witches and Wool by Jennifer Riddalls
Why I chose it: I loved the way the witch references were weaved through the story so naturally and how the autumn leave colours had been used. Deft little touches to give you an instant image of the people in the story. A sad story with a poignant yet hopeful ending.
We seven sat in a circle, like a coven of witches round a cauldron, staring at the basket of wool in the middle. The coiled yarn looked stranded, heaped in shades of mustard yellow, burnt orange and maroon, like leaves ready for burning. We chatted, no one mentioning
Mary, or her empty chair, until her absence filled the room and she was all we could say.
Tears rolled down cheeks, fat droplets getting diverted by deep wrinkles and cutting through face powder. I wondered who would be next.
‘Remember Mary’s face when Katie suggested changing the name to Stitch ‘n’ Bitch?’ Sally said. Laughter briefly chased the sadness away.
While laughing the hall door opened and we turned, fully expecting Mary and her grey helmet-like hair, but instead her left-behind-husband came stooping in bearing half-finished knitting projects. He took Mary’s chair. I thought he’d come to give them away, but instead he said, ‘Can you teach me to finish these? They’re for the family, at Christmas.’
We ignored the crack in his voice and Sally handed him some needles. Finally, the spell was broken and we dipped into the wool.
Winner: Behind the Beauty by Jan Brown
Why I chose it: Because initially it just seemed like it was going to be a celebration of the wonder of nature and then the final lines gave it a real sting in the tale and emotional resonance.
Her drive to work was on autopilot. There were exceptions. May meant slowing down, the occasional swerve and the sheer delight at catching flashes of blue, swathes secreted in the woodland edging the route. Bluebells never failed to lift her spirits, as good as spotting the first
October was less hazardous because Nature brazenly flaunted its beauty. Every stretch was lined with falling leaves, naked tree trunks standing isolated in vast puddles of crisp gold, bronze and yellow leaves anyone would yearn to kick through. Invariably she’d recite the Ode, sometimes aloud, never getting further than ‘the vines that round the thatch-eaves run.’ The lines were lost but the lush, voluptuous Autumn of Wordsworth stayed with her.
Then came the canopy, a mile or more where the car seemed to plunge into a tunnel roofed with glorious colour, particularly if sunbeams penetrated the dense foliage. Surely there was no greater beauty than this gift of scarlet fire and copper? But her mind would go back: trapped in her car, her unborn child crushed by a fallen tree. Autumn signified dying and the inevitability of death, no
matter how spectacular its colour. With Autumn came her darkness.
Runner-Up: Second Childhood by Claire Jenkins
Why I chose it: Great image of children foraging like squirrels at the start to contrast with a story about aging and getting trapped in the way of life that adulthood brings, that then becomes something hopeful again at the end.
Leaves crunch under my feet, a beautiful carpet of gold and red and brown. All around me children are foraging like squirrels for prize-winning conkers. I smooth down my jacket, straighten my scarf. Avert my eyes.
A boy bumps into me as he rushes past. “Sorry, ma’am.”
I wince. Coffee has sloshed around the rim of my environmentally friendly, reusable travel mug. I wish I didn’t know how many calories were in hot chocolate. With marshmallows and whipped cream, of course.
A lifetime ago, we read a story at school where a man had transformed into a giant insect overnight. We’d laughed, my friends and I. Imagine waking up one day to find that you’re completely different! Ridiculous. My teacher had watched us with a strange look on her face. Here, amongst the excited children, I finally understand.
Ahead lies my sparse, clean office. Formal wear and leather suitcases. A life revolving around bills and taxes and mortgage repayments. A life where I’m a ‘ma’am’.
I turn back, take aim, strike. A shower of leaves fly through the air, their colours raining down on us. The conker hunters shriek in delight. I close my eyes and smile.
Runner-Up: Autumn Leaves by Malcolm Richardson
Why I chose it: I like how the title is used to signify the core of the story. How the story is set in the summer despite the autumn theme and how well it captures the excitement of a new affair that quickly fades.
Rachel’s boyfriends didn’t stay long; they came, they went, never seen again. Attractive, long-haired, she could maybe lose a pound or two, but who couldn’t?
She’d met him at the summer drinks party, a married man. A balmy July night, drinks flowed, they chatted freely. After a snog and a grope they exchanged numbers. He rang next day; arranged to meet for a drink. It ended at Rachel’s flat, a steamy session between the sheets. He left at two in the morning. Monday afternoon he rang, his wife didn’t understand him, needed to escape. On Wednesday he moved in, ‘just for a few days.’
August raced by, a stream of cosy meals out and all night encounters. By September things began to cool. The first flush of love and passion can be short-lived; extraordinary becomes familiar, routine. Differences develop into arguments.
His text read ‘might B L8.’ Midnight passed, darkness became dawn. She shuddered at the cooler chill of morning, mist hung from a dense, opaque sky. His side of the bed still cold, emptiness echoed through her mind. His heart had flown like a migrating bird to another woman’s bed.