Flash fiction competition: THE WINNERS

Winner: Too Much Space to Dream by Isobel Copley

Runner-up: Nobody’s David by Katie Isham

Many congratulations to the winners and the other shortlisted writers, Emma Robertson and EE Rhodes. Isobel and Katie will each receive a book and all four writers will have their stories published here, starting tomorrow with Comfortable Discomfort by Emma Robertson and continuing daily until Sunday.

What made the winners stand out from the crowd were their original takes on the brief: they used the words I gave – ice, conservatory, roof and fish – in unobstrusive ways. Their stories were also those that have stayed most strongly in my mind.

I’ve offered to send short constructive feedback to any of the other entrants who request it. Most have, and I’ll be getting that feedback to them shortly. Here are a few general points. None of them are original and obviously these are just my opinions; a different judge in a different competition may see things differently.

  • In a competition that gives you a prompt, or words to include, it’s always good to put aside your first idea, as many other people are likely to come up with something similar. Even put aside your second idea and see what’s waiting in the wings – it may surprise you.
  • A short piece of 500 words or fewer does not give you space for many characters. I’d recommend using a maximum of 3. Of course if you’re Dickens… But you’re not. Stick to a few.
  • Use the fact that your title is additional to your 500 words to make it work for you and enhance your story.
  • Start late and finish early. In other words, plunge straight into your story, no preamble. And finish in such a way that your readers can see the scene continuing to spool in their minds. Life is continuing, in one way or another, at the end of every story.

Come back tomorrow and on the following days to read the stories I selected.

Icicles – photo copyright Cath Barton

Flash fiction competition: the shortlist

In no particular order:

Comfortable discomfort by Emma Robertson

Too much space to dream by Isobel Copley

Nobody’s David by Katie Isham

The Melting Point by E E Rhodes

Congratulations all. The winner(s) will be announced on 10th February, together with some judge’s comments.

Ice Shards. Photo copyright Cath Barton

New Year’s Wishes: a story for our times

It took me a bit of fumbling to get the locker door open; I never can see well without my specs. But I seemed to have got the wrong locker. No clothes, and something else in there. Something yellow. Something squeaking.

‘What the–?’

More squeaking. High-pitched. ‘I’m your fairy duckling.’

I stepped back, rubbed my eyes. ‘Okay, so I suppose I get three wishes.’

‘Correct. Three wishes for the New Year. How did you guess?’

‘Cut the wisecracks. Where are my bloody clothes?’

‘Your wish is granted. Look on the bench.’

I whirled round, holding onto my towel as a girl walked past me. ‘Nice duckling,’ she said. I scowled at her. On the bench was a pile of clothes, covered in dried blood.

The duckling had jumped down from the locker and waddled across the changing room.

‘Okay, Mr Cute,’ I said. ‘I don’t know how you’re doing this, or who’s behind it, but it’s not funny. I need decent, dry clothes.’

‘Your wish is my command,’ squeaked the creature. It waved a little wand with one of its wings.

Now there was another pile of clothes on the bench.

‘These are women’s clothes,’ I said, picking up a pink skirt.

‘Yes, and they’re mine,’ said the girl who’d walked past before. ‘Get your hands off them. Why are you talking to yourself, anyway?’

‘I, I–’ I stuttered. ‘I’m not talking to myself,’ I said, firmly now. ‘I’m talking to the duckling. Where’s it gone? You saw it.’

‘Why don’t you sit down,’ she said, patting my hand. ‘I could fetch you a glass of water.’

‘Now you get off. And I don’t want to sit down.’ I was beginning to feel hysterical. ‘I want to get out of here.’

Which was how I found myself out on the street on an icy December day with only a towel round me, explaining to a police constable that no, this was not a New Year’s Eve prank and no, I did not need to be escorted anywhere, thank you and yes, I would go quietly.

I could have done better with my wishes. Much better. We’re in lockdown now. Gyms and swimming pools are closed. Pubs too. Just as well, my wife says, after the incident with the so-say duckling last New Year’s Eve.

I’ve just looked out of the window. There’s a yellow duckling on the path. Waving a magic wand. I’m drawing the curtains before it sees me. Time to pour a drink.

Cheers! And a Happy New Year!

Cath Barton

Image by Chris Franklin from Pixabay

Guest Post: Laura Besley on Launching in Lockdown

Covid-19 has changed all our lives. Book launches have not been possible in the traditional way. This is the writer Laura Besley’s experience:

We thought we’d timed it to perfection; my debut flash fiction collection, The Almost Mothers, would launch on Saturday 21st March at the States of Independence festival in Leicester, conveniently one day before Mother’s Day in the UK. Best laid plans, however, were not to be. The festival was cancelled, along with all other scheduled events due to UK lockdown which was enforced from 23rd March. Now what?

When I first heard that the festival was cancelled I was disappointed, obviously, but it was overshadowed somewhat by the excitement of holding an actual copy of my book in my hands. In lots of ways, I’ve been lucky. Getting The Almost Mothers published has been quick in “book years”. About half of the pieces were written in 2018 during #FlashNaNo (write a piece of flash fiction every day for the month of November). I realised early on that the pieces were all relating to the theme of motherhood. In December I polished them and put them, along with some older pieces, into a collection, which I submitted to a competition and was overjoyed when it long listed.

In April 2019 I saw a call for submissions from Dahlia Books (run by editor/publisher Farhana Shaikh). I sent a DM and I got a full manuscript request. Over the moon, I sent it in. By July I was losing hope, so checked the website and read that Farhana doesn’t read new manuscripts over the summer, so decided to leave it another couple of months. In September she sent an email asking to meet and after chatting about it, she offered me a contract. We decided early on that we wanted to launch in March to tie in with the festival and Mother’s Day, which would be quite tight, but we both thought it was the right thing to do.

Fast forward to March 2020 and after a lot of hard work, my book was ready. I met Farhana to pick up my copies and sign the pre-ordered copies, my hand trembling a little as I triple-checked how to spell people’s names. (Aside: I had conveniently heard in the Honest Authors podcast that week not to sign books with the same signature as on your bank card. Good point.) I have to admit I was a little relieved at not having to do a public reading and answer questions on a panel. As with all silver linings, though, there was a big black cloud: how would we get my book to sell now?

I don’t think anyone knew in March just how hard lockdown would be (in fact, continues to be) and how hard book sales, especially those of independent booksellers and publishers, would be hit. Again, I feel very lucky. People have bought my books. To be honest, I sometimes wonder whether more people have bought my book because of lockdown. Generally people are reading more, but above that there seems to be a genuine shift to support small(er) businesses and therefore indie presses. Amongst authors, especially the ones I’m friends with on Twitter, there is a huge amount of support for which I’m extremely grateful. I’ve also made a lot of new connections recently and again that could be because of the current situation. It’s hard to say. What I can say is that when someone contacts you to tell you they’ve bought your book, or read it, or even loved it, that totally makes my day.

Laura Besley writes short fiction in the precious moments that her children are asleep. Her fiction has appeared online, as well as in print and in various anthologies. Her flash fiction collection, The Almost Mothers, was published in March 2020. She tweets @laurabesley

Laura Besley
Laura’s book is available from http://dahlia-books.kong365.com/en-gb/collections/our-books/products/the-almost-mothers

Friday Story: Competition winner no 2

Thanks to all who took part in my second little competition. I enjoyed reading all the entries – the winner, for her original take on the prompt and a well-crafted story, is Cathy Lennon.

Here’s Cathy’s winning story:

 

Morgellons

Cathy Lennon

He watched her scratching. The blood, rising like a seam on her nape. She’d had most of her hair cut off, a pixie cut that really didn’t suit her but she’d gone past caring. She just wanted the itch to stop. ‘Can you see it?’ she’d cry, thrusting a scabby forearm underneath his nose. At first he’d put on his glasses and examine the skin closely, searching for the tiny creatures, like kinetic fibres, she swore were there. All he could ever see were the weals drawn by her fingernails. He’d gone online and sent for cutting- edge, scientifically-proven new creams from transatlantic pharmacies, potions from China, even phials of supercharged water from sites of pilgrimage. Nothing worked. He’d soothed her and assured her he believed her even when the doctors had not. She’d caught the meaningful glance the consultant had shared with him at their last appointment and now she was pitiful in her desperation.

Last night, for the hundredth night in a row, she had sobbed and scratched herself to sleep beside him. In the morning, before she woke up, he went to the spare room and rummaged for an old box he’d remembered. He cut lengths of thread from the cotton reel in her long-discarded sewing basket and took tweezers from the bathroom cabinet. She looked at him bleary-eyed as he stood by the bed. He opened the lid. ‘I got some of them,’ he said. She blinked and smiled up at him. ‘Tonight, while you’re sleeping, I’ll get some more.’ She took one look at the threads and flung her scabby arms around his neck. He pressed her shaking body to him with unspeakable relief. ‘I knew you believed me,’ she said.

Cathy writes mostly flash fiction and short stories. She loves a visual prompt! Her work has regularly featured in print and online. Last year, after a three year hiatus, she began writing and submitting again and her stories were longlisted, shortlisted and/or published by Arachne Press, Bath Short Story, Flash 500, Funny Pearls, National Flash Fiction Day, Reflex Fiction, Retreat West, Show You Mine,TSS 400, Virtual Zine and Visual Verse. She’ll be the first writer up on Flashback Fiction in 2020 and will be keeping on keeping on this year.
@clenpen 

Comp photo 3
The competiton prompt. Photo copyright Cath Barton 2020

Look out for another competition from me in April. I will also be publishing some guest posts over the next few months, so do get in touch if you’re interested, especially if you have your own website and would like to swap posts.