Winners of the November Festival Writing Challenge

Thank you again to Diane Simnons, writer and co-director of National Flash Fiction Day, UK for blind-judging our mini-contest from the November Great Flash Fiction Festival Day. Thank you also to everyone who entered.

The three brillant winning flash fictions, first prize by Marie Gethins from Ireland and the two runners-up, by Linda Grierson-Irish and Jane Salmons are posted on this page. All entrants had to create a piece inspired by the 1950s picture by British cartoonist and humourist, Thelwell, shown above. The stories will also be included in the next Flash Fiction Festival anthology out at the end of 2024 and other prizes include Bath Flash Fiction Award entries and books from the Ad Hoc Fiction shelves. You can read the authors’ bios at the end of their stories

Diane said this about the stories:
“I think that this was quite a tricky challenge, not just because of the constraints (mention of a garden implement, utilising the senses and a subject matter of unrequited love or simmering resentment), but because the picture Jude gave everyone as a prompt had several obvious attention demanding characters in it and it’s not an easy thing to avoid writing about the obvious. I was pleased though with the originality of many of the stories and it was a treat that many contained humour. I very much enjoyed reading all the stories – thank you to everyone who submitted.”
Diane’s comments on the stories:

First Place (Marie Gethins)
Homo sapien allotmentitus Observed

I loved the originality and the voice in this flash. I also very much enjoyed the humour and found myself chuckling out loud to the line that follows the men peeling away their heaviest layer of clothing, revealing white, long-sleeved shirts: ‘It’s unclear if this is a tribal mandate or perhaps driven by a recent M&S sale’.

Out of Kilter (Linda Grierson-Irish)
Engaging from the first line, this is a beautifully written flash with a depth that warranted several readings. I loved the descriptions, particularly: ‘His voice the sharp-sweet bite of an apple, running with juice’. And the ending to the flash was just perfect.

Sunday Morning at the Hyperreal Gardeners’ World (Jane Salmons)

This flash was a delightfully original take on the prompt. I enjoyed many of the descriptions in it, particularly, A.I. Alan’s green fingers: ‘As emerald and plump as baby courgettes’ and loved the image of the robots snapping beanpoles, hurling dung and smashing green houses.

First Prize
Homo sapien allotmentitus Observed

by Marie Gethins


Our story begins with a tantalizing glimpse of something very special: a local tribe of five working allotment males in their natural habitat.

A group of this size is unusual and without Albert’s local knowledge derived from extensive observation via his upstairs bedroom window, it would not have been possible to get this close. The Homo sapiens allotementitus is known for being fiercely territorial. Positioning ourselves behind two untamed specimens of buxus sempervirens, European boxwood, we have a good vantage point and can remain undetected.


The air is fragrant with manure and rotting compost. Sun begins to break through what has been an overcast morning casting the allotment in a penetrating glow. They are beginning to peel away their heaviest layer of clothing, revealing white, long-sleeved shirts. It’s unclear if this is a tribal mandate or perhaps driven by a recent M&S sale.

Some have invested in high quality tools. You can see by the frustration of this male on the left that he has an inferior hoe and will be expending significant energy over the next few months fighting invasive weeds in his vegetable rows.

Here we have the alpha allotmenter. Rather than using his patch for vegetables and fruit trees, he has created what is known as ‘the showcase lawn’. While the rest of the tribe toil over stony ground and leaf mould, he gives a display of dominance by relaxing on a sward created from grass rolls and heavy use of artificial fertilizer. We are able to discern through a window that the blue cottage behind him appears to be fully fitted with a kettle and pod coffee machine.
The alpha stands. What will be his next move? Observing such behaviour this close is unprecedented.
The alpha calling to the others. They approach. This is absolutely thrilling. A hold your breath moment.

Surrounding the alpha, the tribe moves to the cottage open door. Is this a challenge? They abandon their tools, leaning them against the side cottage wall and…they…enter…it appears to be an assembly of some type. We could be witnessing a rare event, a shift in the power structure.


Unfortunately, the tribe did not reemerge during our period of observation. While we gained great insight into the behaviours of this secretive troop, much magic and mystery remains and shows just how complicated these relationships between allotment males can be. Until our next venture into the urban kingdom.


Bio: Marie Geth­ins featured in Winter Papers, Bristol Short Story Award, Australian Book Review, NFFD Anthologies, Banshee, Fictive Dream, Pure Slush, Bath Flash Fiction Anthologies, and others. Selected for Best Microfictions, BIFFY50, Best Small Fictions, she edits for flash ezine Splonk, critiques for Oxford Flash Fiction Prize and lives in Cork, Ireland.

Out of Kilter

by Linda Grierson-Irish

On the way to the allotment, I see a crow tearing into something dead in the undergrowth. I don’t interfere. I make a mental note to tell Branagán later. He’ll have a theory. Or two. “Don’t forget to clear the beans,” he’d said, by way of a goodnight yesterday evening. Wet leaves slithered my slippered feet on our wooden stairs.

Overnight, Bob’s Dahlias have browned and slumped. A dazzling frost can do that. I squeeze a wizened handful of florets; feel them yield, exhale. Boys at morning football practice high-five. It sounds like finality. I think, dead head. I think, weed, hoe, dig out the bolted spinach. I’m hiding in a heated shed, my lungs brimming. A man with clean fingernails, who plucked me from the hedgerow. Who shrugged at rain and didn’t walk away. And then, did. Weed. Hoe. Dig.

Lev’s strawberries bear cautious blooms, coaxed by a late, simmering sun. Out of kilter with the season. “Didn’t expect such coyness,” he’d said, that first time, “strapping lad like you.” His voice the sharp-sweet bite of an apple, running with juice. I hang onto the hoe. Its bone-hard handle steadies me.

The regulars arrive. We exchange nods and grimace against the chill. They clink and stomp and glower at the vacant lawned plot; an idle, manicured taunt in the midst of messy abundance. I’m the only one who didn’t want him to leave. Twelve months ago, to the day. Twelve months of forcing decay to twine its roots through twenty years of playful nurture. Above my head, sucked-out skeletons of unpicked runner beans swing as I tug. The morning crow sounds a cleaving echo. Dig. Weed. Hoe.

Later, Branagán will tell me that crows hold grudges. And sometimes desecrate their dead, but to be sure, he’ll grin, that’s not your typical behaviour. Soil clogs the treads of my boot soles. Bran will rub my smarting fingers. Berate me too brightly for not wearing gloves. As if he suspects my intent. For a moment, we’re back in a field in Letterfrack, our lips raw. The sky rained diamonds. My confession will drown in my mouth.

On the way home, I crouch beside the dead crow. Its eye has clouded. One wing points up, like a prayer, from its derelict hull. I smother it with leaves, sprigs of sweet lavender, pinecones. Until it smells like something that could fly again

Bio: Linda Grierson-Irish’s writing has been selected for Best Small Fictions 2023, shortlisted twice for both the Bridport Prize and Bath Flash Award, selected for the BIFFY50 list, and received two honourable mentions for Best Microfictions. She lives in Shropshire, UK.

Sunday Morning at the Hyperreal Gardeners’ World

by Jane Salmons

Sprawled out in a candy-striped deckchair, Rick watches the A.I. gardeners at work. It’s like time travelling. To the past and future, simultaneously.

A.I. Alan has green fingers. As emerald and plump as baby courgettes, he plunges them into the rich, black soil; knuckles nestling on the top layer, like a stalk of Brussels sprouts. It’s 11.42 am. Time to plant his shallots.

“May I borrow your dibber, old chap?” he says.

“Certainly, squire,” A.I. Percy replies.

Doffing his flat cap, Percy hands over the wood turned tool. On his hands and knees, Alan begins boring a neat row of holes: three inches deep; three inches apart.

Calm and hopeful. Good gait and balance. Improved mental health.

Percy also has green fingers. He trudges up and down, up and down, tilling his ten-rod plot with a replica iron rake.

An hour in the garden is better than an hour in the queue.

For the past four hours, A.I. Diarmuid has been wheeling barrows full of manure. Through squinted eyes, Rick admires his rippling biceps and buff torso. It’s a backbreaking job, but this workhorse gets on with it. The robots are programmed not to complain. As Dairmuid heaps great forks of steaming dung onto each allotment, the gardeners chant, the right to dig the right to dig the right to dig.

In the large cold frame on plot four, A.I. Monty has nurtured a trove of prize-winning produce: peppery pink radishes, midget gem lettuces, rosettes of glistening spinach. No glimmer of pride marks his smooth, plastic face. Just the certainty of implanted memory.

Dig for Victory! Food is a weapon of war!

Rick yawns. It’s such a good feeling to be outdoors. Nothing to worry about. No stresses or struggles in this better-than-real world.

Trust between humans and machines

Trust between humans and machines

Calm and helpful

Food is a weapon of

A weapon of
The robots are malfunctioning.

Trust between
The right to the right to the right to

Black clouds scud across the cyan blue sky. The hologram oak trees flicker and fade. Rick shivers. It’s time to leave.

Food is a weapon of

A weapon of

Humans and machines

The robots are snapping beanpoles, hurling dung, smashing greenhouses with their hoes and spades.

Calm and helpful

Improved mental health

This is the past. This is the future.

The right to the right the right to

Bio: Jane Salmons is from Stourbridge in the UK. She has published two poetry collections, Enter GHOST (dancing girl press) and The Quiet Spy (Pindrop Press). Relatively new to flash fiction, her stories have been nominated for Best Microfictions 2023 and Best of the Net 2024. She has been shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award and she won the Pokrass Prize for her story ‘Miracle Grow’ in 2022.

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