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
…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 / @kateaxeford.bsky.social
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 alimcgrane.com
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
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 www.sudhabalagopal.com
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.
At the online Great Festival Flash Off online day, Jude gave a prompt based on this picture,’Reading in a Cafe’, painted in 1920, by American artist Jane Petersen, 1876-1965, an American Impressionist and Expressionist artist. Thanks to everyone who entered stories and many congratulations to the three winners. First prize, Sudha Balagopal and two runners-up Sara Hills and Cheryl Markosky. Thanks also to Diane Simmons our judge for the trio of festival days. Her comments and the stories and authors’ bios are posted below. The winner receives two books published by Ad Hoc Fiction, three free entries to Bath Flash Fiction Award, to be used at any time, and publication in paperback in a Flash Fiction Festival anthology. The runners up receive one book and both other prizes. There are two contests on our Saturday January 7th Great Festival New Year Flash Off. You can book here. Hope to see you there for more festival fun. Read in Full
For those of you in the know, in our last series of Festival Days, March to August this year, we cloned the TV show,The Great British Bake Off and, instead of baking tasks, different judge duos gave festival participants the tasks of writing flash fictions to signature, technical and showstopper challenges.
Monthly judges duos were:Diane Simmons and Robert Barrett; Karen Jones and Tim Craig; Damhnait Monaghan and Alison Woodhouse; Ken Elkes and Helen Rye;, Jeanette Sheppard and Matt Kendrick and Ingrid Jendrzejewski and Neil Clark. These judges chose winners for each challenge. And eight of them kindly agreed to vote for their winner and winners for each category.Each winner receives £50 in cash. Stories were neck and neck in the points scored, but we did end up with three clear winners.
So, many congratulations to Ali McGrane who was voted winner of winners in the Signature Challenge for her story ‘This is Not a Story About a Rainstick’; Rosaleen Lynch was voted winner of winners in the Technical Challenge for her story with ‘Recipe for Sustenance to avoid the end of the world as we know it, served with fresh roles’ and Sara Hills who won winner of winners in the Showstopper Challenge for her story ‘Blue’. Read in Full
We had forty entries in all, which we thought was a good result for the challenge of writing a hermit crab micro so short on a the very exacting subject! Half the money raised from the entry cost of £5.00 goes to the winner and half to the Huntington’s Disease Association Charity. The festival has covered paypal charges to round up the funds received to £200.
and we are delighted to give the winner £100 and £100 to the charity.
The runner up receives books from Ad Hoc Fiction, a flash fiction festival tote bag and a free entry to Bath Flash Fiction Award. And the other three writers writer and co-director of Flash Fiction Festivals UK, Diane Simmons, selected for her top five have been offered publication in the festival anthology and will receive a free copy.
Our thanks to Diane for judging this competition. She read all the micros blind and said she greatly enjoyed the variety of recipe stories served up and was impressed with how people managed to use this structure. Her comments on her top five stories are below and bios of the writers are coming soon. Read in Full
As well as anthology publication, the winners of the Signature, Technical and Showstopper challenges receive a copy of an anthology of flash fiction published by Ad Hoc Fction; a free entry to Bath Flash Fiction Award; a flash fiction festival tote bag and two free sessions on the weekly Tuesday flash fiction sessions run by Jude Higgins.. In addition the winners will be entered into our winner of winners prizes to be announced by the end of this month. Cash prize of £50 for each category.
Our judges this month also chose runners up and we are very happy to offer the writers publication in the anthology. Read in Full
For each category, the winner will receive a book from the anthologies published by Ad Hoc Fiction, a free entry to the Bath Flash Fiction Award, a Festival tote bag and two free sessions on the Tuesday flash fiction group led by Jude Higgins. In addition, the stories will be published in our Festival Anthology to be published by Ad Hoc Fiction and entered into our winners of winners contest for a chance of winning £50 for each of the challenges. We’re very much looking forward to seeing all these stories in print.
The Winner of the Signature challenge is Adele Rickerby for her story Missing Person. Adele Rickerby only recently discovered flash fiction, but has quickly become enamoured with the form. She currently lives in beautiful Heidelberg, Germany, a ridiculously long way from her Australian roots and family. She is about to start an MSt in Creative Writing at Cambridge University and is alternately thrilled and terrified.
Adele also won the May technical challenge judged by Helen Rye with her story ‘Dust to Dust’
Jeanette, who judged this challenge, made this comment about ‘Missing Person’.
The opening sentence and the idea of a disappearing-child-made-literal are intriguing. White space is used to great effect here, adding layers to the story as it unfolds.
The Winner of the Technical Challenge is Gina Headden for her story Air is Lighter Than Water. Gina’s fiction has been published on audio platforms, in anthologies and in fiction and non-fiction magazines including The Cabinet of Heed, Flashback Fiction, Ellipsis Zine, The Longleaf Review, NFFD’s Flash Flood and the Sunday Herald Magazine. Forthcoming in Bath Flash Fiction Anthology 2021.
Gina also received an honourable mention in the April Flash Off challenges for her story, ‘Blown Glass Birds’ and this story will also be published in the Festival Anthology.
Matt, who judged this challenge, made these comments about ‘Air is Lighter Than Water’
The Winner of the Showstopper challenge is Sara Hills for her story Blue
A wonderful microcosm of a story that explores a sister and brother’s changing relationship in the wake of their father’s death. I enjoyed how the story starts and ends with the same image of the narrator blowing dandelion clocks and how the writer has woven in splashes of humour and other tonal shifts.
Sara Hills’ short fiction has been published in Smokelong Quarterly, Cheap Pop, XRay, Fractured Lit, The New Flash Fiction Review and others. She has won the NFFD micro contest, The Retreat West quarterly competition and been commended in the Bath Flash Fiction Award. One of her stories was recently selected for the Wigleaf Top 50 stories. Her debut collection, The Evolution of Birds was published in July 2021, by Ad Hoc Fiction.
Sara is now a three times winner of the Festival Flash-Off challenges, having won the Showstopper challenge judged by Damhnait Monaghan and Alison Woodhouse in June for her story ‘Lessons in Attachment Parenting’ and the technical challenge in the April Flash-Off judged by Karen Jones for her story ‘Teenage Kicks’.
Jeanette and Matt who jointly judged this challenge made these comments about ‘Blue’.
This was a clear winner for both of us. It moved us, ultimately, and the revelations are lightly done. We thought it a strong example of a story revealed through a list and it fitted the ‘illusion’ challenge in both content and form.
The final Great Festival Flash Off Day of this series is on August 28th. Judges this time are writers and editors Ingrid Jenrzejewski and Neil Clark. Places still available for the whole day which costs £30 for all events. There are also some free places for those short of funds. Contact us if you would like one.
We’re delighted to announce the winners of the June Great Festival Flash Off contests judged by writers Damhnait Monaghan and Alison Woodhouse
hey really enjoyed the stories and you will be able to see them in print in our festival anthology donated by Ad Hoc Fiction and out later this year The winners also each receive an anthology of their choice from Ad Hoc Fiction, a free entry to Bath Flash Fiction Award, a festival tote bag and two free sessions on Jude Higgins’ Tuesday flash fiction group.
Read in Full
Congratulations to writers Slawka G Scarso, Adele Rickerby and Patience Mackarness who won the Signature, Technical and Showstopper challenges set by our May judge-duo, Helen Rye and K. M. Elkes. And a big thank you to everyone who entered. The judges said they were delighted with the standard of entries. We thank them very much for providing highly inventive prompts and a lot of fun.
Each writer wins one anthology of their choice, from those published by Ad HocFiction; a Flash Fiction Festival tote bag; a free entry to Bath Flash Fiction Award, and two free sessions on Jude Higgins’ Tuesday flash class that takes place weekly 1.30-3.30 pm BST. In addition, all the writers will be offered publication in the Flash Fiction Festival Anthology and their stories will be entered into the Winner of Winners £50 cash prize (for each challenge) to be judged and announced in late September. Read in Full
We making a rainbow of Festival Anthology books! The first three contain stories prompted by workshops at the face-to-face festivals in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Red, orange and yellow covers, pictured here. We had to cancel our festival in 2020 and our plans for another anthology but we’re publishing the fourth anthology, sponsored by Ad Hoc Fiction later this year. And it will be green, the next colour in the order of the rainbow. Read in Full