Winners of the October’Signature’ Writing Challenge

Thank you to participants at the Great Festival Flash Off Day, 28th October, who entered the ‘Signature’ writing challenge set by Jude to write a story prompted by the picture below, entitled ‘The Bachelor’, (1955) by artist William Kurelek. Diane Simmons, writer and co-director of National Flash Fiction Day, UK, who judged the competition, selected ‘What If’ by Kate Axeford as first prize and ‘Cinders’ by Ali McGrane and ‘The Shrinking’ by Sudha Balagopal as runners up. Scroll down to read each story, the authors’ bios and Diane’s comments. The winners receive books, BFFA competition entries and publication in the FFF anthology due in 2024. Next mini contest at our Festival online day on 25th November.

Diane wrote this in her general comments:
“This is a picture rich in detail – the kitchen is crammed with a large number of objects, but many entrants to the competition picked on the same objects to use as prompts or details in their flash, with the ‘Catholic Herald’, the boot, the man reading the newspaper and the darned sock being by far the most popular and the ‘Catholic Herald’ popping up in the majority of entries. This led to many stories having a similar theme. I think a good tip when writing from a visual prompt that other people will also be using, is to not go with the obvious and to discard your first idea, perhaps even your first half dozen.Thank you to everyone who entered the competition – I very much enjoyed reading all the stories and I am sure with a little tweaking, many could go on to do well elsewhere.”

First prize winner, Kate Axford

What If

…the grime on Brian Willoughby’s window can’t stop the sun streaming into his kitchen, lighting up an advert in the Lonely Hearts’ columns, where naughty brunettes seek solvent gentlemen for no-strings fun, and respectable ladies with a GSOH seek romantic meals out and cosy nights in. But what if one line blows Brian’s mind?

Looking for my Starman Before the Next Star Dies.

And what if that message brings a hush to the babble, the torment that inhabits Brian Willoughby’s brain? A decades’ old haunting since that after school snog on the 14th of April, the day 4C’s teacher expounded how the galaxy brims with 100 billion stars, but just one star will die every year. The day Brian passed a note to cool Julie Barnes – Julie, with her eyeshadow and Bowie cassettes. The day Brian promised a Starman would wait after class.

And what if the next day an elated Starman hadn’t taken a pocket-knife out of his lunchbox and disobeyed his mother, by not peeling his apple? Instead, he carved his heart into the ink-stained pine of a classroom desk.


whilst Julie Barnes told the playground how kissing Brian Willoughby was like being licked by a toad, and despite every girl needing to kiss a few frogs before they find their handsome prince, she’d only kissed him for a bet.

And what if that shame hadn’t stalked Brian through the hell of his school years to the hell of middle-age? What if the voices that berate Brian daily, fraying at his mind like an un-darned sock – the voices of his parents, who died of indifference then left their money to the Cats Home – just stayed silent and let Brian believe in a Starman’s salvation?

And what if Brian’s niece, the one who never visits, doesn’t turn up with eyebrows stencilled into expressions of worry, knowing developers will sell a newly refurbished Flat 5, 3 Acacia Avenue for a six-figure sum because even in that part of town a neglected bachelor pad with a seven foot by five-foot kitchen is now termed a ‘bijoux’ apartment?

And what if a Starman, terrified at the prospect of being put in a ‘Home’, doesn’t pick up a bottle and swallow those pills? What if, instead, he picks up a pen and writes to that Lonely Heart, telling Julie Barnes everything – yes everything, Julie never knew about love.

Kate Axeford (she/ hers) is a social worker based in Brighton. She’s made appearances in Brilliant Flash Fiction, Bending Genres, Ellipsis Zine, Janus Lit, NFFD Anthology and Splonk and has been S/L for Bridport and L/L for Bath FFA and Reflex. Find her @KateAxeford /

Diane’s comments”

This flash has a strong beginning and a strong ending and is full of interesting detail and language. I loved the phrase: ‘Julie Barnes told the playground how kissing Brian Willoughby was like being licked by a toad’ – this took me right back to being a teenager and it’s so easy to imagine the effect this would have had on poor Brian – it’s a memory that still haunts him decades later. I also love the use of the word ‘snog’ and found it easy to picture Julie Barnes.

Runner up, Ali Mcgrane


Her face on the front page of his evening paper causes him to stop dead, to momentarily forget he’s already unscrewed the stopper from last night’s hot water bottle, and to dribble the cold contents into his waiting slipper. Like a fool.

He shakes the slipper into the sink and parks it on the floor in front of the stove to dry. Her face is still in his hand. With one foot cosied into the remaining slipper, and the other left bare, he lays the newspaper, gently, reverentially, next to his plate on the table. The plate boasts a single undercooked egg, singed toast, and a fried tomato edged in black. With his thumb, he absently strokes her monochrome image, over and over, until the touch is a scorch.

He allows himself to skim the headline, then the first sentence, and the next, until the letters tangle and untangle, reminding him of the way she’d squeeze onto a swing in the park, and twist, dancing round and round on her toes, the seat lifted higher and higher until she could go no further. The way she’d curl into herself as the chains uncoiled. The way laughter would explode from her mouth as the rebound jerked her back and forth.
In the beginning, it seemed both ordained and miraculous. The two of them finding each other like that. When she left he was so profoundly unravelled, he paid no attention to the outside world. Phone calls went unanswered, letters lay unopened. Even when confronted with the fact of his emptied bank account, he blamed himself. He’s surprised how angry he feels now. To not be the only fool.

His naked toes writhe and cramp. In agony, he stands and presses his foot to the cold floor, then rises on tiptoe, forcing the muscles to give. Soft groans escape him as pain flares and dulls.
Reseated, he pushes his food aside, and brings the small two-dimensional version of her face close to his own, until all he can smell is the print, all he can see is a blur, all he can hear is the firelighter crackle of the page in his trembling hand.

Ali McGrane is the author of novella-in-flash, The Listening Project (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2021). She has stories in Splonk, Fictive Dream, Ellipsis Zine, Janus Literary, Gone Lawn and elsewhere. Her work has been nominated for Best Small Fictions, Best of the Net and Best Microfictions, and shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award. Find her @Ali_McGrane_UK and
Diane’s comments:
There are some wonderful descriptions in the flash and I particularly liked the one of the woman on the swing, especially the sentence: ‘the way she’d curl into herself as the chains uncoiled.’ I felt such empathy with our protagonist – he was obviously very much in love with the woman who not only duped him, but others too.

Runner up, Sudha Balagopal

The Shrinking

Remember, thirty years ago, you carried me over the threshold of a spacious house outside of Ocala, Florida?

Remember, we arranged our wedding gifts—the seldom-used pressure cooker on the top shelf, the sandwich-maker within easy access, the ridiculous measuring scale on the back wall, the cross from your nun-aunt across from the dining table? Remember, we painted the entire kitchen blue, the cabinets, the shelves, even the floor? Remember, our clothes became a memento, saved in a box, because the paint transferred when we rolled on the floor? Remember, we anointed our love in every room in the house?

Remember, two years later, I told you our home was narrowing, that it had lost some square footage? Remember, by then you’d taken to grunting your responses? Remember, I asked if that sound meant acknowledgment or dismissal? Remember, that was after Bill Clinton became president, and you were reading the newspaper—it’s what you still do ad infinitum, read the paper, read the paper, read the paper?

Remember, ten years later I told you a bedroom had disappeared, not because of the sinkholes we have in Florida—a depression in the ground caused by a collapse of the top layer—but that the room simply vanished? Remember, you said you hadn’t noticed? Remember, you kept your head buried in the newspaper and I shouted that you once told me you could sleep in a shoe-box? Remember, by then everyone had computers but you still read the papers and left sections strewn on the floor, stepping on them like they were area rugs?

Remember, I told you it was the last straw when we lost the living room and dining room? Remember, we jostle-crashed into each other, pointy elbows digging, knobby knees knocking at every turn—an intimacy we might have found titillating three decades ago? Remember, I screamed that I could stretch out my arms in the center of the room and touch the walls? Remember, we thump-bumped into each other and one of your shoes came off? Remember, I demanded to know if you needed any more proof there was absolutely no room in the house? Remember, you snorted and said the foot could remain naked because you weren’t going anywhere?

Of course, you’ll claim you don’t remember.

I won’t be around to remind you.

Sudha Balagopal’s writing appears in literary journals worldwide. Her novella-in-flash, Things I Can’t Tell Amma, was published by Ad Hoc fiction in 2021. A full-length flash collection, Tiny Untruths, is forthcoming from Alternating Current Press in 2024. She has had stories included in Best Microfiction, Best Small Fictions and the Wigleaf Top 50. More at
Diane’s comments:
The use of repetition works well in this engaging flash. I could feel the writer’s despair about her husband’s constant newspaper reading: ‘it’s what you still do ad infinitum, read the paper, read the paper, read the paper’. I very much enjoyed the description of the wedding presents and the surprise of the line: ‘Remember, our clothes became a memento, saved in a box, because the paint transferred when we rolled on the floor’ – this is a couple who were once in love.

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Winners from the Triptych Challenge, Online Festival day, January 2023

For the New Year, the last of the trio of the online festival days in the series, our festival director, Jude, set two writing challenges. In each of the previous days, writers had been asked to write a story based on a painting. All the paintings are of women. As well as the first writing challenge for this month, based on the woman baking in the kitchen (read the winners here) for this challenge she asked writers to compose a ‘triptych’ story of three paragraphs connecting all three women, in the paintings in some way. For an added challenge and connection between each, she asked writers to keep to five sentence paragraphs and to include the same five words in each paragraph.

Thanks again to all who entered this very exacting challenge and to Diane Simmons for judging. As in the previous challenge, prizes are entries to Bath Flash Fiction Award, books from Ad Hoc Fiction and publication in print in the Flash Fiction Festival Anthology, Vol 6. Linda Grierson-Irish won the challenge and Sharon Telfer and Debra A Daniel were runners up. Congratulations to all!
Read in Full

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Winners Writing Challenge One: January online festival contest

We had two flash fiction writing contests in the January online flash fiction festival day, both challenges judged by writer and co-director of National Flash Fiction Day, UK, Diane Simmons from visual prompts set by our Festival Director Jude Higgins Thanks very much to everyone who entered. And a further thank you to Diane for judging.

The first prompt and winning stories are published on this page. And we have another page for the three winning stories from the second challenge to write a triptych.. Congratulations to all!

For the first challenge, writers were asked to write a story based on this painting ‘Mrs N C Wyeth’ in the kitchen: Winter Light’ Alternate title: ‘The Recipe Book’, painted by N C Wyeth in 1933. Jude suggested writers could add historical details from the time. Adele Evershed won first price and the two runners-up are Jane Salmons and Laurie Swinarton. All writers win three competition entries from Bath Flash Fiction Award, books from Ad Hoc Fiction and the offer of publication in the Flash Fiction Festival Anthology, Vol 6.
Read in Full

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The Pokrass Prize Results

Our Flash Fiction Festival Curator, Meg Pokrass wasn’t able to be involved in the Festival this year, but she set a prompt and judged the entries for the Pokrass Prize.Thanks to all the festival go-ers who participated. Writers were asked to respond to the picture here and to the random words – night, exposure, spots, star, golden, normal, heavy and write a micro, max 150 words. There were so many very inventive pieces. The winning pieces published here, will also be published in our fifth festival anthology, out by the end of this year.

Meg said this about the stories and the winners:

“It was fun diving in and mulling over these incredible entries. Judging a contest at this high level of writing is very hard and at the same time, exhilarating. It is a thrill to see how much good writing is going on with the Flash Fiction Festival writers. I am sad not to be with you this year, but through reading these wonderful stories, I once again feel deeply connected to the writers at FFF. There were many strong and original micros that it did feel impossible to choose only three. And yet, three had to be chosen… So here you go!

The winning story, “Miracle Grow”, is a dark and surreal story about a damaged marriage fast-growing like damaging weeds under the floorboards. This writer’s use of compression and stunning sensory details won me over and I couldn’t look away. “The Horses, Beneath” is a poetic piece filled with brilliant, startling imagery and the resulting effect is mythical. Past and present merge, and the reader is thrust into a strange, illuminating yet invisible universe that lives beneath or feet. “Our Own Personal Universe” is a story that brought the prompt to life for me in a deeply emotional and cinematic way. A happy love story that shines like a star in the darkest of nights.”

Winner Jane Salmons with ‘Miracle Grow’

Jane Salmons is from Stourbridge in the West Midlands. She was a teacher in the sixth form college sector for nearly three decades and now works part time as a consultant teacher trainer and private tutor. Her poetry pamphlet Enter GHOST was published with dancing girl press in 2022. Her debut poetry collection The Quiet Spy was also published in 2022 with Pindrop Press. New to writing flash and micro-fiction, Jane has had stories published with MacQueen’s Quarterly and The Ekphrastic Review. She is thrilled and astounded to have won The Pokrass Prize.

Miracle Grow

Splinter, crack, crash! Without waking his snoring, lump of a wife, Bob grabbed his dressing gown and hurried out into the night. The sickly scent of summer phlox hung in the air; beneath the moon, the lawn glowed white; the rhododendrons stared accusingly, as Bob scuttled down the path, towards his beloved greenhouse. Smash! Another pane shattered. Through the jagged roof, a mass of unruly stalks wound upwards into the starry sky. ‘What in the name of God is going on?’ gasped Bob, sliding back the door and finding hundreds of thick, green shoots pushing through the slabs. Slack-jawed, he saw leaves the size of spades, a shower of giant golden flowers, furiously unfurl. Tomatoes like melons swelled and ripened: green, orange, vermilion, black – a mouldy mess of splitting skins and monstrous oozing seeds. Through a chink in the bedroom curtain, Bob’s wife watched, smiling.

Runner Up, Sharon Telfer with ‘The Horses, Beneath’.

Sharon Telfer lives in East Yorkshire, in the north of England. She won the Bath Flash Fiction Award in June 2016 with ‘Terra Incognita’ and again in February 2020 with ‘Eight Spare Bullets’. She has also won the Reflex Flash Fiction Prize. Her flash has been selected for Best Small Fictions 2021, the 2020 and 2019 ‘BIFFY50’ lists, and Best Microfiction 2019. She was awarded the Word Factory/New Writing North Short Story Apprenticeship in 2018, and placed second in the Bath Short Story Award 2020. She also has a short story in Test Signal, an anthology of contemporary northern writing (Bloomsbury/Dead Ink, 2021). Her debut flash fiction collection, The Map Waits, was published by Reflex Press in 2021 and is currently longlisted for The 2022 Edge Hill Prize for short fiction. She tweets @sharontelfer and posts terrible photos on Instagram, @sharontelferwriter.

The Horses, Beneath

She hears them clearest when the house is still – kids at school, husband at work, laptop open waiting for the host to let her in.

She’d watched last year’s dig on TV, family jumbled on the plumped sofa, the paint tang lingering. The whole estate had. The white tent like a murder scene. The camera nosing in as gloves brushed earth from wheels and weapons and bones.
“That’s not under our house, is it, Mummy?”
“Course not, sweetie. Ours wasn’t built there.”
A whinny ripples her wineglass, the pristine laminate prances under her feet. The next street is Shield Avenue, leading to Warrior Close. Their home, an Executive, stands on Chariot Way.

When they come, as she knows they must – hooves trampling smooth tarmac – she’s in the off-plan kitchen – letterbox clashing – blinds raised to the moonlight and the hazy Pleiades – that ancient insistent pounding hammering at the shining front door.

Runner Up, Tracy Fells with ‘Our Own Personal Universe’
Tracy Fells was the 2017 Regional Winner (Europe and Canada) for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Her short fiction has been widely published in print journals and online, including: Granta, Brittle Star, Reflex Fiction, Popshot, Firewords and the Bath Flash Fiction Award anthologies (2019 & 2020). She has been shortlisted for the Bridport and Fish Flash Fiction prizes, placed in the Reflex Fiction competition and Highly Commended in the NFFD Micro competition (2016 & 2020). Her novella-in-flash, Hairy on the Inside was short listed in the 2021 Bath Novella in Flash Award and short listed for the 2022 Rubery Prize, in the fiction category. She also writes novels and was a finalist in the 2018 Richard & Judy ‘Search for a Bestseller’ competition. Tracy tweets as @theliterarypig.

Our Own Personal Universe

We met at Woodstock, then married late fall. As we grew up, the world regressed. It was Suzy’s idea to escape off-grid to our cabin in the woods. Technology free. What else did we need but each other?

Without electricity our life is simple, almost silent except for the persistent background song. We tear up rugs, listen to the creaking wooden walls, and finally dig under the porch. There we find a tin box, the source of the singing.

Suzy whispers, ‘Open it.’

Inside is the same tar-black night that surrounds us, where deep within we spy the beeswax candle of our cabin window, a beacon. On the count of three we plunge in our hands.

Above us in the star-encrusted sky appear two giant wrinkled hands. Wiggling our fingers like magicians conjures a cooling breeze. ‘We are gods,’ says my wife of over fifty years, my forever singing girl.

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January 8th Flash Fiction Festival ‘Throwdown’ Winners

For the New Year, there were two contests for the Great Flash Fiction Festival Throwdown challenges on January 8th. Thank you to Electra Rhodes and Karen Jones for setting the challenges and judging the entries. Electra’s writing challenge was based on the painting ‘Starry Night’ by Vincent Van Gogh and Karen’s was based on Claude Monet’s ‘The Poppy Field’. Mugs, shown in the stack here, featuring these paintings, form part of the winners prize and both our judges created great prompts. Our winners also receive £30 cash and publication and two runners-up a book from Ad Hoc Fiction plus publication in the Flash Fiction Festival Anthology due out soon.

Electra and Karen have now chosen their winners
Electra said:

photo by Serge Van Neck on Unsplash

“It was a pleasure to read this collation of stories and to pay them all some thorough attention. There was lots of rich and evocative language, some delicious description, and some clever characterisation. I really enjoyed reading them aloud to see how they sounded and landed. Thank you for making it so hard to choose.

In the end I plumped for one where I liked the way the piece accreted new layers throughout, and built and built and built. The language was clean and the characters effectively drawn in few words, and it was laced with a melancholy and regret which was subtly done but which stayed with me afterwards. So ‘The Lost Man in Van Gogh’s Starry Night’ is the winner”
(This story was written by Marzia Rahman from Bangladesh.
Marzia Rahman is a Bangladeshi fiction writer and translator of short stories and poetry. Her short fictions have appeared in many magazines and journals worldwide. Her novella in flash, Life on the Edges, was longlisted in the Bath Novella in Flash Award in 2018. She is also a painter.

“The runner-up is the one that made me laugh, I’m a bit of a sobersides and I went into the reading of all the entries ready to experience a range of emotions but without an expectation I’d find something I thought really funny. I admit it’s quite a dark humour and I’m not entirely sure whether or not it’s an unreliable narrator telling a tall tale, or what exactly did or didn’t happen, but, again, the story stayed with me afterwards. I admit too, to being a bit of a sucker for punny titles so, ‘Poetic Justice’ is my runner-up.”
(This story was written by Marie Gethins from Ireland)
Marie Gethins’ flash fiction is widely published in magazines and journals and she has won or been placed in many short fiction awards. Marie is a Pushcart and Best of the Short Fictions nominee and an editor for Splonk literary magazine in Ireland.

Karen said:

photo by Corina-ardeleanu-sWlxCweDzzs-unsplash-1

The stories for the prompt were amazing – I really struggled to choose a winner and runner up.

First place: ‘Restoration’ a great take on the prompt and I loved the way the sections slotted together, just like the bowl in the story. The use of colours was beautifully done.
(This story was written by Corrine Leith from the UK)
Corrine Leith lives in rural England with a cat, a dog and two ponies. She writes a mix of flash fiction, poetry and children’s stories which have been published in print and online. She is a previous winner of The Potteries Prize for Flash Fiction and was runner-up in the latest annual Mslexia Flash Fiction Competition.

Runner up: ‘I See Red’. Using different shades of this colour was a perfect way to tell this story. The anger and hurt builds through the sections and I felt I could really see and feel everything the mc went through.
(This story was written by Sudha Balagopal from the US)
Sudha Balagopal’s short fiction has been published in journals around the world, has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fiction and will be included in Best Micro Fictions in 2022. Her novella in flash, Things I Can’t Tell Amma was highly commended in the 2021 Bath Flash Fiction Award and published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2021. When she’s not writing, she’s teaching yoga.

Many congratulations to all four writers! We’re looking forward to seeing them all in print in Flash Fiction Festival Anthology Vol Four.

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Winner of The Great Flash Fiction Festival Throwdown, October contest

Participants at the first of the new series of flash fiction festival days in October had the opportunity to take part in a mini flash fiction contest. Our contests for this round of the five day series are inspired by the British TV show – The Great Pottery Throwdown. It is renowned for one of the judges, who is moved to tears by the wonderful creations the amateur potters make. Read more on our post about the contest.

We are giving away mugs and a £30 cash prize plus publication for a winning story each month plus a book giveaway from Ad Hoc Fiction for the runner up. We ask people to write stories that make an emotional impact.

Our first judge from the October festival day was Diane Simmons who based her prompt on a mug featuring Van Gogh’s sunflowers. She selected ‘Inside My Father’s Head’ by UK writer Ali McGrane. Ali McGrane won one of the Signature contests in our last series with her story ‘This is Not A Story About A Rainstick’ and was selected The Winner of Winners of the Signature Challenge for the same story by our judge team at the end of the series. Many congratulations to Ali who co-incidentally will also have her novella in flash The Listening Project up on preorder with Ad Hoc Fiction later this week. The Listening Project was shortlisted by Michelle Elvy in the Bath Novella in Flash Award in 2020.
Ali McGrane lives and writes between the sea and the moor. Her work has appeared in anthologies and online, including Ellipsis Zine, FlashBack Fiction, Janus Literary, Splonk, and on shortlists including the Bath Flash Fiction Award. Her Bath shortlisted flash novella, The Listening Project, is forthcoming from Ad Hoc Fiction Find her on Twitter: @Ali_McGrane_UK. Read in Full

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