Many congratulations to James Montgomery from the UK who won first prize and runners-up, Jen Rowe from the UK and Dawn Miller from Canada. Jude set the prompt and the challenge was to write a multi-layered story in 400 words or under including some dialogue and reported speech. There was an excellent range of stories and thank you to all who entered and to writer and NFFD director, Diane Simmons, for judging and commenting. The painting,Eislaufkunst, 1929 is by Dörte Clara Wolff (1907-1996), known as Dodo, who was a German-born artist, illustrator, and costume designer. She studied at the prestigious Berlin Academy of Art. For another writing opportunity, The Pokrass Prize is open for anyone booked on this year’s in person flash fiction festival. Booking here
Diane’s comments and the winners’ stories are posted below, together with the writers’ bios
The majority of entries submitted to the competition were historical flash fictions, set in Germany in 1929. As a fan of historical fiction, I very much enjoyed reading all the pieces and got the sense from the writing that most of the entrants had relished the challenge. However, some of the flash fictions demonstrated one of the most common errors when writing historical fiction and that was the referring to an event in an incorrect way for the period in which it was set. An example of this would be calling the 1914-18 war as ‘World War 1’ when the story is set in 1920, as it wasn’t until later in the twentieth century that the term was actually used. Inappropriate dialogue, particularly slang, can also be a problem.
I did feel rather sorry for the skater in the picture as the poor chap fell through the ice at the end of quite a few stories!
‘The Man in Citron Dances the Ice with the Lightest of Ease’
This is a beautifully-written flash full of wonderful descriptions (‘pickle-green coat’ being my favourite). It flows really well, as though we are gliding on the ice with our protagonist. It’s obviously been well researched and although I had to google a little, the context meant that I was really only looking for confirmation of what I had already deduced.
The Man in Citron Dances the Ice with the Lightest of Ease
by James Montgomery
He circles the frozen lake, einmal, zweimal, dreimal… the local townsfolk looking on. He’s only half there, on the ice, one foot breezing the other, his mind having drifted to where he was mere hours before: the specially prepared breakfast, a few cold cuts, scant stubs of cheese, and bread, smoothed with buttery warmth. Small riches, to some. It was a surprise from Wilhelm, for their first day waking up together—at last. They made coffee and, by the window, took in its ordinariness with slow, thankful sips.
As he skates, the man can’t help but look down at his yellow criss-cross socks, gliding. A gift, Wilhelm had said, eyes waltzing, before clapping, remarking they matched the brightness of his jumper. They matched the brightness of him.
Sweeping the lake’s east bank, he sees a woman in a pickle-green coat and cloche hat lean to her friend and gesture his way: Ja, ihn. The man is familiar with sub-zero sensibilities such as theirs; the puckered expressions, faces barely laced together with restraint. The type to sniff at the newsstand kiosks selling Die Freundschaft, its calls to abolish Paragraph 175. He tries a smile but is met with a poverty of response, the pair clearly viewing each slice of the ice a bolder claim to public space. No matter, he thinks. Change is coming.
He sees, too, a man, wearing mustard gloves and neck scarf, the only colour outside an otherwise all-black ensemble. He’s a willowy thing, who watches him close. Feeling emboldened, the man skates past Herr Mustard and revolves on one foot, completing a full revolution, before skating on. He catches the fellow’s pleasure, the intake of breath, before he can catch himself, and notices how he chastises this slip, his body blenched against the rail. The gentleman shifts to his companion, a flaxen figure—his fiancée, no doubt. The man in citron wants to tell him it’s okay. That the world is made up of abstractions, like Sundays and freedom and love, and it’s okay.
Instead, he waves to his audience. ‘Guten morgen,’ he says to the women. ‘Guten morgen,’ he says to the man, and more turn to watch. ‘Guten morgen,’ he says, repeating the day’s first words from Wilhelm, whispered in his ear. Then, he spins. He spins so fast, they’re spun to champagne and gold and wild evergreen, the hard ice set aglow.
James Montgomery (he/him) is a flash fiction writer based in Staffordshire, UK. He has won the Pokrass Prize and Retreat West’s best micro fiction prize, and been highly commended in the Bath Flash Fiction Award. James’ stories have been published in various anthologies and literary magazines, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions and Best of the Net. Find him at www.jamesmontgomerywrites.com
‘The Last Day of 1929’
A unsettling piece where five female friends gather round the ice to watch their friend Fritz who they’ve all known since school. I love the contrast of what will happen to Fritz and Edith’s smile and appreciation of Fritz’s beautiful skating ten years’ before he is betrayed.
The Last Day of 1929
by Dawn Miller
The air near the Lusatian Mountains is fresh. Sharp. Clean. On the frozen river Spree, far from the grayscale of downtown Berlin, the five young women watch Fritz, whom they’ve known since kindergarten, spiral and whirl across the hard surface, the blades of his black skates rasping on the ice.
In ten years, Fritz will be dead. Margot worries about him, although he says not to, that life is too beautiful to waste time fretting. She, more than the other girls who still have their parents, understands the harshness of life, the sharp cut of gossip. She notices his quiet ways and gentle heart, notices too how his cheeks flush pink around her brother, Wolfgang, who will die from a bullet in his back seven months after Fritz is beaten to death.
Fritz does a backward swizzle and then a squat spin, his blond hair whipping about his face, and Ingrid, Annalise, and Ruth clap. Edith doesn’t join in; she disapproves of Fritz but doesn’t let on to the others how she feels. But sometimes, when she sneaks a smoke outside with certain office colleagues—backs arched against the brick wall, smoke curling from their chapped lips, eyes like slits—she hisses “Apnormaal. Schwein,” under her breath as he strolls past.
In ten years, Edith will turn in Fritz. Margot. Ruth. Ingrid. There will be no limits. She will choose a side, landing with blood-stained boots planted firmly on the ground, her head—and hand—held high, resolute in the twisted beliefs that pickaxe her heart. But for now, on this slim, bright, moment in December, ten years before the start of the war, the sky a brilliant bowl hovering over the river, and the trill of her friends’ laughter making her smile, she turns to watch Fritz push off with one skate, fly up into the air, spin, then touch down like a fallen feather and, for a split-second, notices something quite beautiful in the way he lands.
Dawn Miller is a Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and Best Micro Fictions nominee. She is a recipient of The SmokeLong Quarterly Fellowship for Emerging Writers 2024. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, The Forge Literary Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, Fractured Lit, Vestal Review, Atticus Review and elsewhere. Her stories have been shortlisted for The Bath Flash Fiction Award and The Bridport Flash Fiction Prize. She lives and writes in Picton, Ontario, Canada.
‘The Girls That Got Away, Get Away’
This is another pleasingly unsettling piece that as soon as I had finished reading, I went straight back to the beginning to re-read it. I loved that someone in the story was described as ‘The heron-grey matriarch’ and thought the ending of the flash was perfect.
The Girls That Got Away, Get Away
By Jen Rowe
We watch him – the lone skater – through squinted eyes against our bright, white world, as he curves and leaps and spins across the lake.
As free as the fish below their thick-iced ceiling; as free as the meadow grass, packed tight and pallid beneath the heavy snow; as free as any of us here.
At first, we revelled in this secret valley, wondered at the looming mountains, delighted at the government villa with its tall, bright windows and sumptuous red interior. We were lucky to be nurtured and watched over, they told us. And, at first, we were young, fresh, pliable. At first, we believed them.
“You are the ‘Selected’.” The heron-grey matriarch informed us, spearing us with her eyes. “Through you, we will be victorious.”
We were top athletes, crowned puzzle-solvers, hand-picked from schools countrywide. As the economy crashed, we gorged on fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and eggs, and the tannoy blasted regime anthems while our hearts yearned for half-remembered mothers.
We didn’t know our purpose, then, though whispers swam through the dormitory. ‘Codebreakers, perhaps? Elite fighters? Spies?’ But by each day’s end, exhaustion outweighed our cares.
We lived in the shadow of the mountains; learnt strange languages, recited party slogans, read government pamphlets. We never glimpsed a wireless, or a telephone – almost forgot they existed – the valley was everything.
Then he arrived and we were stirred. Though the evening pills left us, to the last, sexless, there remained a yearning – something the chemicals couldn’t take from us, so we watched and dreamed and waited.
By the lake, bare winter trees splay branches like fingers toward the distant sky, and the misty landscape tempers our voices. The snow, sometimes too bright to look upon, smothers us.
We wear party-issue yellows, blues, greens, try to be the same, look the same, speak the same. As the house watches, we cling to the pack, we stay safe.
And he skates and weaves, spraying showers of ice at us with each pirouette, glowing with ambition and fight and too much individuality, and we lean into one another muttering: ‘He’ll be lucky if he sees another morning.’
Perhaps it’s true, perhaps. But we can feel the bounce of grass pushing against the melting snow, we can see the lake ice thinning at its borders, and the fish gather in the shallows ready to bite.
Jen Rowe has stories in Fly On The Wall, Retreat West, Reflex Fiction, Henshaw and
Flash Fiction Festival Anthology, Vol 6.An actor & improviser, she lives in Hassocks, and runs classes, using improv to inspire writing. She also writes performance pieces. Including her solo show, ‘Tiptree: No-one Else’s Damn Secret But My Own’ – about SF writer Alice Sheldon.