The results of our first short story competition, Misrepresentation, are:
Situs Inversus by Ilana Lindsey
What the judge said: Nice off-kilter feel to this from the start … It has a really surreal and quite dreamy atmosphere while at the same time being quite sinister. A great, dark tale and a fantastic take on the theme.
Making Hay by Dr Elizabeth Allen
What the judge said: Great intrigue set up right from the offset about who the narrator is and what she’s up to, why she’s deflecting attention from her own authenticity by questioning the writers she’s watching at the literary festival. Great poke at the literary pretensions, and commercial bias, of the publishing industry too and an empowering ending that left me wanting to know more.
Congratulations to Ilana and Elizabeth, who win Gold and Silver Author Memberships of Retreat West, respectively.
All the shortlisted authors will receive Amanda’s feedback by email:
Careless Whispers by Bob Shepherd
Cobwebs with Rabid Owl Strangler by Julia Wood
Jimmy the Gent Goes Viral by Stephen Gardner
Miss Representation by Sue Dawson
Out of Luck by Carole Segal
The Body in the Beach Hut by Pam Corsie
The Capture of the Bunkum Beast by Lorna Flanagan
This Won’t Last by Jill Fricker
Amanda Saint is the author of two novels, As If I Were A River (2016), and Remember Tomorrow (2019). Her short stories have been long and shortlisted for, or won, various prizes, and been widely published in literary journals and anthologies. She started Retreat West in 2012 and expanded to include Retreat West Books in 2017. Amanda also works closely with Jericho Writers and designed and delivers the Ultimate Novel Writing Course in conjunction with them. Amanda is a member of the Society of Authors, a mentor on the WoMentoring Project and can often be found teaching and judging competitions at literary festivals.
Unusually, we have decided not to award a first place and runner up in the Flash Fiction Five/Twenty-nine Competition. Instead, Michael Loveday has chosen joint winners
- Collecting the Dead by Bronwen Griffiths
- How to Keep Breathing by Rosie Garland
- Learning to Love My Rural Life by Jenny Firth Cozens
It was a thrill to see how inventively people were responding to this new 5×29 challenge. Hastings Writers Room should be applauded for creating a really interesting concept – an unusual kind of writing challenge – and I hope the competition will go from strength to strength in future years.
I was looking for several things from the submissions. (1) fresh language, free of cliche and containing apt, rewarding moments of surprise. (2) interesting use of structure/form across the five sections (3) a distinct narrative world suggested – such that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
I was definitely looking for submissions composed of 5 distinct units rather than a single story that had simply been divided into five paragraphs with only a line break in between. Some good writing fell into the latter category. Submissions that used five interesting mini-titles fared well, as did submissions that kept the reader on their toes. The vast majority of the submissions that worked best were a single “narrative world” broken into distinct units/”scenes”/fragments rather than five separate narrative worlds linked only thematically – the latter seems much harder to put together successfully.
A word of warning for writers – a lot of the submissions I read charted the course of a relationship (through to marriage or divorce) or described a decline into dementia (or subsequent death). It’s really hard to write a competition-winning “relationship story” or “story about dementia” when there are so many other stories doing the same thing. While reading through dozens of entries, the judge starts to identify the pattern and the “formula” can’t help but lose its freshness, unfortunately. Those stories have to fight so much harder to rise to the top. That said, there were a few stories of this kind that did still make the longlist or shortlist, because of the sheer verve and skill with which the formula was delivered.
Overall, there was some interesting use of form – there were pieces written with “backwards” chronology, “braided” narratives, and other kinds of patternings being used.
There were seven or eight stories that rose to the top from among the shortlist. Each one had something special about it, but I also felt that each had at least one small flaw. The two joint winners were hard to separate.
Dark Places contained a twist that felt organic and although it was set in the past, the story still felt very contemporary, such is the way that society still treats sexual orientation. What I particularly admired about Dark Places was how it manages to hold on to so many characters and interrelationships in a small space – and somehow still make it work. Those interrelationships kind of “unlock” after you pay attention, which is a rewarding thing for a reader – the “ensemble cast” format is operating at the limit of what’s manageable. The final passage uses the word “crazy” twice, and I couldn’t find good justification for this being the case. This was a little “flaw in the diamond”. But overall the story was doing something ambitious that I admired – both in terms of narrative content and the structural form itself.
Terminal struck me as very technically accomplished and assured. The matter of fact tone early on is effective. The middle section (a kind of character “backstory” located right at the centre of the overall story) is extremely vivid. The language is fresh throughout and the image of the washing-up gloves is remarkable – and of course takes us back to the moment in the kitchen when the oncologist calls. I felt the title in particular seemed to “close the story down” rather than open it up. But I found a welcome note of hope in the ending – the way the cars swerve around them contains an almost dream-like element – as if there were a magical forcefield now around them. The final image lingers like the ripples of a stone thrown in a pond.
I have picked out three “highly commended” pieces from the shortlist. These were doing very interesting things but, sadly, five into two doesn’t go and they just fell short in the end.
Congratulations to all the writers on the longlist and everyone who entered. There will be magazines aplenty waiting to snap these submissions up and publish them, such was the quality of the writing. I hope you’ll bounce back quickly from the disappointment of missing out.
These are the other shortlisted entries
- Basing Major Life Choices on a Throwaway Comment from a Cobbler by Nicola Ashbrook
- Beetlejar by Jac Cattaneo
- Climbing Suilven by Jim Kelly
- Day After Day After Day by Paul Beckman
- Field Trip by Dan Stanley
- Four Things Lost, One Rediscovered by Chloe Banks
- Ghost by Electra Rhodes
- Let’s Talk about United by Julia Paillier
- Ornithilogica Corvidae by Sarah McPherson
- Past Life by Jacqueline Sutherland
- Ripening by Linda Irish
- Souls by Anita Bowden
- Tempting the Evil Eye by Michelle Christophorou
- The Grocery List by Amy Barnes
- Zephyrus by B F Jones
Michael Loveday’s flash fiction novella, Three Men on the Edge, was published by V. Press (2018) and was shortlisted for the 2019 Saboteur Award for Best Novella. His writing has appeared in The Spectator; Flash: the International Short-Short Story Magazine; Funny Bone: Flashing for Comic Relief; and National Flash Fiction Day Anthologies in 2017 & 2019. He teaches an online workshop in writing a novella-in-flash sequence: https://novella-in-flash.com/ and is a Director of the National Association of Writers in Education.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @pagechatter