Flash Fiction Competition – The Results!

Today is ‘National Flash Fiction Day’ – and also the day on which I promised you the results of my ‘Random Word Flash Fiction Competition’ – and here they are!

First of all thank you to everyone who entered. I was delighted to receive 54 entries, from 39 writers (you were allowed to send in more than one entry) and every single one had included the words ‘knit’, ‘tingle’, ‘perform’ and ‘blunder’, as required. I had lots of entries about accidents, lots of bones ‘knitting’ together, some ballerinas and at least 3 stories set in a circus.

Don’t be disappointed if you haven’t made the shortlist. Competitions are very subjective. A different couple of judges would probably have chosen a different shortlist and a different winner. There’s always an element of luck when you enter a competition, but the only thing I will say is this: Try to be different – take risks and avoid clichés. Your entry needs to stand out from the rest, if it’s going to be shortlisted.

Some of those who didn’t make the shortlist did a little too much ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’, which spoiled what would have otherwise been an excellent entry. Don’t be afraid to leave some ‘gaps’ in your writing – make the reader do some work! It usually makes for a more satisfying read. Some stories were more like anecdotes, or shortened versions of much longer stories. ‘Flash fiction’ is not easy to pull off. Like a poem, it needs to make a connection and to leave the reader thinking about it afterwards.

My friend Chris was due to judge the shortlist (she’ll do anything for a bit of tea and cake) BUT in the end, sad events and work conspired against her, so I asked ‘him indoors’ to judge the shortlist of 5, anonymously.

“What am I looking for?” he said
“Something well-written, that stays with you – oh, and good use of the 4 required words,” I said.

So, the Head Judge’s comments on how he chose the winner are as follows:

“‘Well-written’, for me, means that I enjoyed it. Because if it’s not well-written, then something will jar. And good use of the 4 words means that I didn’t even notice them – because they were just a part of the story and not forced in because they needed to be there.”

My shortlist of 5 were as follows:

Diving Ducks – Oliver Barton
Breaking The Rules – Tracy Fells
The Winter Circus – Sophie Green
The Red Jumper – Laura Huntley
A Surprise Visit – Cilla Mobley

I’d also like to give a ‘special mention’ to Cath Barton’s ‘Green Like The Sea’, ‘The Rainbow Blanket’ by Alice Parrant and ‘Teamwork’ by Jackie Sayle. These were all great ideas and didn’t quite make it onto the short list but I’m sure you could turn these into longer stories, if you felt so inclined.

So here are the shortlisted stories, in alphabetical order by author’s surname:

Diving Ducks – by Oliver Barton

I like the diving ducks the best. I hold my breath and try to anticipate where they’ll surface. This is my favourite bench, sheltered but commanding a fine view of the whole pond. I am knitting a cat. My wife won’t let me knit at home because I swear when I go wrong. Here in the park, I am better behaved.
The woman is almost upon me before I notice her. She weaves, blundering into bushes and trees, vaguely following the path. She sees me, and with a toothless grin, performs a little dance, lifting up her skirts. To my mortification, I experience a slight erotic tingle. Then she falls into the pond.
I hold my breath a long time until she surfaces, skirts spread out like a giant lily-pad. She drifts. I count my stitches and swear genteelly. How, I think, can stitches come and go so promiscuously, despite my taking the greatest care? I blame the wool. It starts to drizzle. Days are so easily spoilt, I say to the diving ducks as I shuffle home.

Breaking The Rules – by Tracy Fells

The new guy’s trunks droop like a hand-knitted woolly. So loosely fettered they dangle almost to his boney ankles, revealing a disgusting amount of pallid hip flesh. Canary yellow with tangerine polka dots – is he colour blind? With head submerged his arms flay like an out of control water wheel, as he sprints across the pool. Everyone knows the rule for the over 50’s session: pick a lane and stick to it.
I join my ladies group. After performing our ritual good morning nods we plop like ancient terrapins into the tepid water. Silently we slip into formation: Janice to my right, Pink Daisies to the left with her trademark hat of white rubber festooned with plastic daisies. I coast along behind, marking the daisies.
Droopy trunks blunders between us. Janice splutters. His wake splashes over me making my eyes tingle. Pink Daisies keeps going, crawling through the chlorine.
On the return length he’s at it again straying across our straight, and very correct, path. Even Pink Daisies spots the interloper and her synchronised strokes are spooked out of kilter.
Afterwards I shower quickly and dry my perm, before it frizzes, with the regulation dryer. Janice offers a whispery, “See you next week”. She nudges me as the new guy, now fully clothed with glistening white hair slicked back, taps past us. The white stick flicks back and forth as he feels his way to the exit.
“Still,” I mutter, “there’s no excuse for breaking the rules.”

The Winter Circus – by Sophie Green

The barrel organ plays and the blizzard carries the music away into the forest. They come, through the stark trees, along the path barely trampled before another drift covers it again. Drawn, in their two’s and three’s to the lanterns that flicker and swing, to the coloured tent , frayed and faded as it is and dark rimmed where the cloth has sucked the water out of the dirty snow. The audience pile into the last surviving act of the Winter Circus.
They’re swaddled in heavy coats, soggy mufflers and frosted fur hats, their eyes red and watery as their noses, jaws set or teeth chattering.
They’ve come to see the shivering Spider Monkeys perform. Out of the wind and snow they watch as stringy limbs twirl and the monkeys clamber into pyramids and wheels. When the monkeys grow too cold to dance and begin to blunder they are fed hot vodka which makes their eyes gleam in their dark goggles.
The Mandrel watches all of this, shyly sitting backstage, away from the noise and the faces. Earning his keep knitting hats, scarves and gloves. His eyes peer out from beneath a heavy brow, lips pursed, nostrils flaring with concentration. His hands work furiously with the cold needles and yarn until the music ends and the people drift away and then in homesick silence he lies in his cage, his heart fluttering wildly and his fingers a-tingle.

The Red Jumper – by Laura Huntley

Mrs. Morrison knits a jumper, surrounded by balls of soft, red wool. Mr. Morrison pretends to read the newspaper, but they both know that he won’t get as far as the crossword puzzle because he’s too busy listening to the click-clack of the knitting needles. It’s the same every Saturday night; it has been for twenty three years, and after all this time, she still hasn’t finished her husband’s jumper.
‘I might finish this jumper this week’, Mrs. Morrison states, bowing her head to conceal the rapidly growing smirk on her face.
Mr. Morrison glances up from his paper, watches his wife’s quick hands perform their magic; he likes the winding of the wool but mostly the sound as the needles clink together, it sends a sensual tingle right down his spine.
‘I don’t think you will’, he challenges her, which makes her giggle.
‘Oops, I made a little blunder’, she confesses in that little girl lost voice which drives him crazy.
‘What did you do?’ he growls.
‘I dropped a stitch’, she admits with wide eyes.
‘Say it again’, Mr. Morrison orders.
‘I dropped a stitch’, she says with slow, sultry repetition.
Mr. Morrison groans and trembles with desire, and leads his wife by the hand to the bedroom, leaving a trail of red wool up the stairs.

A Surprise Visit – by Cilla Mobley

Last Friday Edna caught herself staring at the arm thrust through her letterbox. It caught her by surprise, this disembodied body part paying her a visit after she had lived alone and undisturbed for so long. How bold it was to negotiate the mile of potholes to the farmhouse.
Its blind fingers blundered around, fumbling for a key, so Edna made a skein of wool and wound it around the offending digits, knitting them to the door handle. Good job she had bought worsted weight wool for Margaret’s jumper.
The hand cried out (with shock) and the noise annoyed Edna so she turned up Puccini’s Verdi and enjoyed the feeling of being in control.
It had been a long time coming, she smiled.
The hand fought and the letterbox flapped for two days and Edna moved to the peace of the East Wing.
On Monday Edna saw an eye at the keyhole. It was disturbingly blue so she stabbed it with a knitting needle. The eye screamed for mercy.
What a performance! As a distraction Edna put on Madame Butterfly and swayed to the music.
On Wednesday the WI met in the village hall to plan a fund raiser for young offenders. Edna offered a pig for a prize.
On Friday Edna cut the wool away from the door and found a young man at the end of the arm. The mess made her ears tingle. “I must clear up” she gasped.
So she fed him to the pigs.

THE WINNER:

In second place, is ‘A Surprise Visit’ by Cilla Mobley – well done, Cilla, we enjoyed the black humour of your entry and it was almost placed first but the overall winner – because it was understated, complete, with seamless use of the 4 words and, very importantly, it made us laugh out loud, was ‘The Red Jumper’ by Laura Huntley.

Well done Laura! I’ve emailed you separately and will get your prize book out to you pronto!

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19 Responses to Flash Fiction Competition – The Results!

  1. cathaber1 says:

    Congratulations to the winner and all short-listed – including my talented husband. I’m grateful for the special mention!

  2. Prue says:

    I loved ‘The Red Jumper’, not only because it made me laugh but because it was a slice of life written elegantly. One of those stories which is, for me, beautiful from beginning to end – simple yet carrying with it a whole web of complexity. Wonderful!

    A big congratulations to all the winner, and to all who made it to the shortlist.

    • Prue
      thank you for endorsing our choice of The Red Jumper! Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint why a piece of writing is ‘good’ – it’s an undefinable quality in some ways, but I think you’ve captured it very well!

  3. Maggie May says:

    I loved all the stories and The Red Jumper was a deserved winner, with its subtle humour. They were all a little bit ‘wacky’ and I can see why they were shortlisted. Originality and humour are obviously two major qualities. I’ll keep trying!

    • Maggie – well I obviously like humour and I suppose the ‘quirkiness’ of some of these stories helped them to stand out from the crowd, but other judges might like something more highbrow and serious! There were plenty of perfectly good and well-written entries but they just lacked that extra sparkle, that tipped these 5 into the shortlist.

  4. Jackie Sayle (Brown) says:

    Congratulations to the winners and to those shortlisted, and to my two fellow special mentionees (if there is such a word). I shall look forward to reading the winning stories later when all my chores are done.

    I am absolutely thrilled to receive special mention, since this is the first fiction I have subbed for 18 years. It’s funny that you should mention it would make a longer story because I thought exactly the same myself. Thank you so much for a huge boost to an ‘old’ writer’s confidence!

    • Jackie
      Now that you’re ‘back in the saddle’, don’t stop! You’ve clearly still got it! I liked the gentle ‘twist’ in your story and I think it’s definitely worth developing. Good luck with it!

  5. Tracy Fells says:

    Really chuffed to have reached the shortlist. And a deserved winner in The Red Jumper – I too laughed out loud, loved the ending. Quite Brilliant!
    Thanks again for running this Helen, a fun competition.
    Ah I’ve just thought of a downside – I really fancied Linda Lewis’ new book, so I will now have to buy my own copy.

    • Tracy – glad you were pleased to get onto the shortlist. I appeared on a shortlist myself today – one of the flash fiction comps that I entered – so I know that it’s a nice feeling, to at least have your work acknowledged!

  6. Congratulations to Laura, the shortlist and mentionees! I really enjoyed reading the five stories -some fab ideas there and all are very well written. I was delighted to get a special mention too – such a welcome boost! Like Jackie, I think I’ll do what you suggest and turn my idea into a longer story.
    Thank you for running this competiton, Helen and I’m really pleased you got such a good turn out of entries.

  7. Angela Greenwood says:

    Well done to all! After reading the shortlisted stories I can see mine was lacking. (note to self, must try harder.) Thanks for running the competition.

  8. Keith Havers says:

    It was a nice consolation for me to have picked my second and first choice to find that’s exactly how they had been placed. Well done to all and thanks for the challenge, Helen.

  9. Great stories, so unusual. I liked the diving ducks, and Tracys swimming one. We have a man like that in our early bird swimming pool. (without the white stick).

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