Winning stories, podium places and feedback: Part one : Flash! Friday

In an attempt to tidy up, I thought it would be good to go through some of the old competitions and post winning stories, podium places or feedback.

Partially to remind myself that once upon a time I produced winning work on a regular basis that others enjoyed. I loved the challenge of pitting myself against the picture prompts, battling the insanely small word counts and the ticking clock of the deadline. Not to mention the incredible competition from the highly talented folk that took part in these comps.

Partially, I wanted to record this in one place in case the websites hosting them go missing.

Flash! Friday

Flash! Friday ran for many years. Rebekah Postupak gave up a signifcant part of her life to run this free competition which helped to discover and nurture the best flash fiction talent. Each week, up to 100 stories were posted for judging.

Such a cool logo. Is it two dragons, fire and ice? Or an eclipse? It’s both!

It was  place of warmth and generosity. A place where new worlds mixed with new friends. Where we all waited like the results didn’t mean anything, yet they meant everything.

Looks like I won this three times. Which I’m proud of given how fiercely it was contested.

I participated from my first story in July 2014 through to when it closed Dec 2015. I didn’t take part every week. I became a judge. I ‘met’ some of the most incredible people and I owe more than I can say possible to this beloved and almost sacred place.

Not all stories won awards, many that I enjoyed crafting didn’t get recognition, below, are these those that did:


Win 1: The Dance of the Origami Girl and Porcelain Boy

Comments from the judges:

HG: “Her dreams were crayon-colours.” What a gorgeous mental image that is, for someone as fond of crayons as I’ve always been. The implication of those colours is significant and unique. The two characters who are so different from one another, and yet who dream together…amazing. There is such depth here in so few words, such tender feelings and heartbreak. The final line is perfect and leaves you with hope as well as an underlying feeling of despair.

FI: From its unforgettable title to the prose-masked poetry dancing through its lines, “Origami Girl and Porcelain Boy” stole my heart on first reading. Its approach to both character and theme are brilliantly original. Rather than follow the trials of a traditional convict, it shows us two trapped souls from vastly different worlds: a boy living “his life in the smothering love of his parents,” and a girl surviving “in the folds of oppression.” And while many of the stories chose to paint portraits of revenge, this one chased after a “dream of impossible justice.” In their secret selves they crave a world where their “origami-porcelain children would be strong and independent, and loved,” escaping from that metaphorical prison the boy and girl have known from birth. For soul-searing prose and ingenuity, a worthy winner.

Congratulations, Mark! We’re all so jubilant and overwhelmed and giddy, we can barely contain ourselves. What a gorgeous story from a powerful and beloved writer. Please find here your brand new winner’s page (which has been waiting in the wings for some time now, knowing your day would come) and your winning tale on the winners’ wall.


Win 2: The Boxer and the Butterfly

HG: “The butterfly is trapped in a body that doesn’t belong”/”The boxer is ready.” The two different but achingly similar tales of two different-yet-the-same characters is a gorgeous glimpse into the chosen theme, “social progress.” They have both taken a bold step to the future, and have both decided to be true to themselves – perhaps in some cases at the risk of their safety, especially for the butterfly. I wonder, is it a butterfly…or is it something more? Beautifully done.

FI: Wow. It would be easy to get lost in this one, wandering between words succulent and soul-catching, waiting for the next sliver of imagery to carry us away, missing the heart of why “The Boxer and the Butterfly” show cases champion writing. But time spent reading and re-reading, tearing the mind away from stunning phraseology, and looking instead to meaning, is well spent. Because why write if you don’t have something to say? Here, the author examines social progress through two dissimilar characters, their desires and what society desires for them. They are not content to be what others say they must and it is this timorous bravery that seals it. Sometimes the bravest things, are done by the smallest and most fearful of us. A worthy winner.


Win 3: The Framework Bird and the Ringing Singing Tree

FI: Dear Writer, you’ve chopped into my chest cavity and tapped my lifeblood. Women who feel unwanted or unworthy will always have a refuge in my heart, and you’ve given us such a devastating portrait of this all-too common reality. I adored how you weaved in the “ringing, singing tree” (though its name is flipped), and I thought it worked well either as a reference to the musical panopticon or as a nod to the German tale “Das Singende, Klingende Bäumchen.” Your story arch is tangible and encouraging; we watched her travel from self-loathing to self-acceptance beneath that odd, metal tree. Your words are poetry and the message so fitting in today’s airbrushed society. Here’s to hoping that all the beautiful framework birds come to love what they see as unbeautiful.

HG: Ah, if only this was a feeling with which so many of us did not have to be familiar…In poetic verse you have captured sadness and hope. “In the winds and rain, she is accepted.” Isn’t that the truth? I can’t find the words to express the feelings this has awoken in me. A strong, clear winner, and a beautiful story.

Congratulations, Mark! Sheesh, after you won once, it would seem there’s no stopping you! Congratulations!

That same week, I also bagged the silver medal. “The Mighty Whale That Skims the Apocalyptic Skies”.

FI: Moby Dick goes Steam Punk? Yes, please! Not only did you recreate the original theme in a fantastically unheard of setting, you turned your spyglass on that symbiotic dance every good antagonist and protagonist must perform. What is one without the other? Gorgeous language, strong world building, and perfectly paired bookends. I only wish this weren’t flash, but a fully developed novel in which to lose myself.

HG: I second the novel notion, consider me second in line when this is out for sale. I love the idea of the sky-whale (nightmarish memories of D&D notwithstanding) and the “vermillion-stained apocalyptic skies.” The title is huge for such a short story – and the story doesn’t disappoint with its scale. Awesome.


Other award placings on Flash! Friday.

Honorable Mention: Story :#FlashFridayFiction.

“After that amount of work, how could I not award it an HM?? While its James Joyce-esque meandering through hashtags is inventive and funny, it’s the shadow of its writer that compelled me most: someone who thought he’d be clever by playing with format, only to discover he got more than he’d bargained for. The bravado of the writer — which may or may not be autobiographical — overwhelmed by his story (shades of Pirandello?); his attempts to uplift the reader (in which he succeeds quite beautifully) are knitted tightly with self-deprecation and naked honesty. “Monday evenings,” he says, referring to when contest results post, “pretending it doesn’t matter when it does.” Yes, it matters! We know, and we understand. Also, I’m sending you a mug. #YouveEarnedIt #AlphaDog”

FIRST RUNNER UP (Silver)  “Genesis.” 

How could I not choose something like this considering our Dragoness’ recent announcement? This acrostic builds a true and heartfelt tribute to Rebekah for all her efforts on our behalf.  All of us have fought, as writers, to find our niche, we have all lived ‘in the wilderness’, seeking ‘the lands of promise’, the bookshop windows, we were all ‘alone’.  But she created a place for us, a ‘fortress’ where we could hone our skills and become strong enough to challenge the ‘elite’, where we could make friends and recognise that our own writing has worth.  Through this platform and the support and comments given so freely and generously week in, week out, we have developed to the extent that many are now pushing onwards and upwards, and some have even made it into the bookshop window.  Things are changing indeed, but it is not goodbye.  We no longer need a fortress: we have a world. This piece was a lovely way for us all to say Thank you, Rebekah.

FIRST RUNNER UP (Silver) “The Mountain and the Valley.” 

HG: This is lovely. The change of the identity of the mountain is gorgeous. The vision of the soldier with his sweethearts picture in his pocket… familiar, horrifying, sad. A story truly deserving of a prize.

FI: Your brilliant use of bookend phrases brought out in bold the protagonist’s change in perspective. You dragged me down into dusty alleys, made me taste the fear and the sweat, and worry for his sake. But more than that, your story holds deep meaning. It speaks for us, the significant others that are left behind, often forgotten, and shows the strength that it takes for us to carry on in a loved one’s absence. I’m not usually one to cry over stories, but you had my heart in tears, dear writer. Masterfully done.

HONORABLE MENTION “Tale of One City.”

V – The setting is the city, then and now. The use of italics is very effective. It works as a contrast and a mirror for the two characters — they are not so very different — dealing in death and services as old as time…

AJW – clever combination of two tales across different times. Both tales cleverly crafted and evocative. Making the setting Whitechapel immediately gave it an image to the reader, allowing the writer to concentrate on the little things of the visuals and taste to further the development of the atmosphere. I was briefly considering discounting it as cheating as it’s two stories of 125 words and not one story of 250

3rd RU  “Joint Accounts.”

SE: An aspect of twindom I’d never considered before.  The womb, usually regarded as a place of untainted innocence carries the ‘sour taste of embryonic liquid confinement’ – right from the start all is not right.  A life of permanent competition has just begun.  To everyone else, they are a ‘joyous wonder’, ‘beloved and blessed’ yet their reality is completely different.  They yearn for freedom from each other but even when they achieve it, they cannot sustain it, ‘for to be too different for too long is painful.  It is the rusty amputation of healthy limbs’.  Forever destined to be together even as they desire to be apart, a terrible paradox. 

JB: The theme of twinness has had strong mythological connotation throughout time and across culture. For some, it was a symbol of a fundamental dualism; others saw it as an expression of the fundamental ambivalence of the universe. Two is often a number of conflict and confrontation. Such themes are present here as well: there is the ambivalence of what each child wants and what is destined to be. There is the conflict of the wish versus the reality—what hope of what could and the reality of what could not be. It was a conflict destined to be from the moment of conception—an inborn conflict engendered in the desire to be free. We want to be individuals, yet we yearn for community

SECOND RUNNER UP  “The First Requisite for Immortality”

V – “If only her death had been final” –Is there is such a thing as death online? “They knew her better than we did.” The grieving parents find their daughter’s life on social media–“the touch of flesh replaced with the touch of screen.” It is a timeless tale of love and loss, made even more heartbreaking by contemporary technology. Beautiful writing, thought-provoking piece.

AJW – This seems to hit many a nail squarely on the head. As everyone grapples with technology which only seems to grip us further around our everything our lives are lived, replicated and saved to the cloud (and GCHQ). And yet we do see stories in RL of families living almost vicariously through FB and the like. Trying to hold on to something they never truly had. It can seem so sad. The story truly got the sadness, loss and the forlorn hope and belief across. Well done.

Infinite Worlds in Finite Space Award: NYi.”

Loved the parallels between the polar opposite Harrys. The placement of each Harry at either end of the spectrum implies a myriad variation in between. Killer closing sentence too.

THIRD RUNNER UP “Numbers.”

SE: A visceral response to “Numbers.” Reading it, I could feel my stomach contract and my muscles tighten. While I like stories with those ending twists, at times, like this, I knew what the story was about with that first line. And that was the hook. We’ve all heard the stories, the accounts, the histories. We know the horror. Sometimes, it’s almost too much too bear; sometimes it’s just another content of the intellect: yes, I know it happened—and it was horrible. And while nothing I will ever read will enable me to truly understand, if the purpose literature is to make us feel—Numbers, whether I like the feelings (which is beside the point) does just that.

JB: ‘They don’t have names, only numbers.’ You know immediately this is a story of the Holocaust even before it mentions chimneystacks and gas.  And you know who it is about as he searches for subjects amongst the elderly, the unfit, children, looking for twins in particular on which to experiment – Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death.  The man may have escaped the trials and justrice brought to others but he has found he can never escape his crimes.  His dreams are haunted by those he destroyed, they turn his own instruments of torture against him; Mengele has become a number, a fitting reversal.  Excellent reminder of man’s inhumanity to man.

Honorable Mention “Large Kidron Collider.”

NC: I loved the attribution of Rome at its disintegration as the site for this dystopia. The historian character is compelling and my sympathy grew for him with every paragraph, from his writing against the grain of “history” as it appears in the third paragraph by relaying the ugly side of the Empire, as well as in the way he holds the lessons of the past right next to his heart (his optimism over what the events in Kidron might ultimately mean for humanity). The subtle presentation of the “event” in Kidron Valley drew me in. Of course, I was aware of the “event” described. I am really curious as to how it might read for someone who isn’t clear on the references. I like to think the mystery created by the sublime language of the repeated phrase might make it accessible anyway.

IN: This story attempts to tell all that should be known about Kidron Valley within the word limits, and it manages to achieve that with great use of language. Past, present and future all come together in the valley, presented as sweeping array of details. All is held together by the kindling sacred ground, a tinderbox ready to ignite at the slightest spark.

Special Mention Best Use of Song: “Sweet Muzak.”

SE: For song-inspired writing, titles cleverly woven together to seamlessly form a story. Bonus points for including one of my favourite U2 songs. Lyrically lovely. JB: A delightful incorporation of numerous pop-culture references. I feel like I am on one a quiz show: can you name them all?

SECOND RUNNER UP  “The Troll ‘Neath the Towers.”

SE: In the daytime our troll is a normal person, smiling, charming, a pleasure to know but … in his home he becomes something else, hiding behind ‘proxy servers, fake identities and cloud accounts’.  Every day he casts his net to catch, latch, onto anyone who has suffered, anyone who has any ideas or beliefs, anyone at all that he feels he can abuse and insult in any way, inflict pain in more than fifty shades, delighting in the hashtag #AskELJames.  He is addicted and he knows it, pain ‘calls him like Meth’, soothes his dreams, keeps him content.  Even in his poverty, he is the kid in the sweet shop and you would never know him, he could be sat next to you now.  Definitely a tale for our times.

JB: Upon reading the title, I figured I would be reading about those good old trolls of folklore and myth, but reading—pleasantly (or perhaps unpleasantly) surprised, I read a story not about those trolls with which I am well familiar, but trolls much more sinister, those who hide in the cyber sphere. Here is an individual full of hate, seemingly choosing anyone and everyone, firing “insults at both sides” who, despite his apparent poverty spends “all his riches” on technology to spread his malice, malice born of pain, and for whom trolling the internet is an almost cathartic experience.

Special Mention, Best Use of Humour & Topicality “The Original Mr. Grey.”

Pratibha: I always love a humorous tale; this one is it this week, and if the story addresses a current news story, even better.

Sinéad: As well as this one being funny and relevant to this week’s big literary news story, I thought it was charming and funny, particularly the image of Death doing a dad-dance once a year, and the very idea of there being a Mr Grey (a god of the banal?) was intriguing.

Special Mention: “The Unreliable Narrator.”

Special Mention: Most Disturbing Juxtaposition: “The Hospital.”

“She comes with her distended belly and eyes of wonder.” “She comes with her skeletal body and eyes of knowledge.”

Special Mention Best story on a topical subject:  “Tainted Love.”

Pratibha: I loved how the writer incorporated the current hot topic in the story.

Sinéad: Well, as an Irishwoman, I had to give a nod to a story which touches on my country’s historical vote over the weekend. A bit uncomfortable to read, at least for me, but I was impressed with the take on the prompts.

Special Mention; “The Superhero Alchemist”

FIRST RUNNER UP  “Heart of Glass.”

Pratibha: I loved the creative use of the prompt. The story is touching, and the ending is optimistic and powerful. The somber and introspective tone of the narrator appealed to me. Loved the phrase “infinite land of purgatory.” The title is brilliant too.

Sinéad: From its great title (which set me humming straight away) to its wrenching ending, this was another tale I loved. It made excellent use of the prompts, and I loved how it reimagined the sand dunes as a cityscape, and the picture it painted of the protagonist and his/her struggles. I found it very touching, and I loved the sense of burgeoning self-forgiveness and possible hope for the future – and also the aspiration at the end, that this person will not let their circumstances define them. Such a fantastic way to conceptualise the struggle between the person and their environment as depicted in the prompt image.

Special Mention For Unique Acrostic Effect: “Z – A of an Apocalypse.”

This story deserves a Special Mention for its unique acrostic effect, reminiscent of a countdown to destruction. Striking images, like that of the oil tanker ‘rust[ing] on the sand dunes of London‘ gave it huge power and visual appeal. The images grow more and more disturbing as the tale continues, until the final devastating line – ‘Apocalypse is now‘. This was a stunning piece of work.

THIRD RUNNER UP “Three Mothers.”

Sinéad: We were both struck by the topicality of this story, and the poignancy of the child’s realisation that the scientific advances that will save his or her unborn sibling will come too late to save him/her. The details here – the crumpled tissues and the bottles hidden in the laundry basket, and the child’s pretense at a smile mirroring the mother’s – gave the story an urgent poignancy and power. I was also struck by the mention of mitochondrial disease, which can be caused by problems with mitochondrial DNA (inherited from the mother), and how this means that both the child’s life and death have come from their birth mother, as well as ‘mother’ Nature. This story took an interesting and fresh look at the idea of mother Nature and motherhood in general, contrasting the ‘flawed’ mothers with an idealised, and impossible, ‘third’ mother, from which only life – and not the inevitable death – would come.

Special Mention “***SPAM***Lunar Realty Inc — Special Offer.” 

Special Mention: Mirror | Mirror

Special Mention: Construction

Special Mention: Judge, Dread

Special Mention: Silver Song of the Lark

Special Mention: Castle of the Kurds

Honorable Mention: Crusading on a Sunday Afternoon

Special Mention: The Battle of Marathon

First Runner-up: After Pompeii

Better than the judges comments was the fact that a passage of this story appeared at the start of a book written by Tamara Shoemaker. A truly amazing gift, the best an author can have.

his story contained some beautiful language, used to great effect. One of my favourite lines was, “I watched the sins of greed, the exchanges of coin for touches of flesh, and choice of ignorance over the obvious.” This could just as easily be describing a modern day city, but in this case it is the doomed city of Pompeii. This single line captures the essence of an entire tragedy and how it came to pass.  

That tragedy itself was described just as powerfully, as “lava flowed, and choking dust cemented lungs,” our narrator watches from the skies, powerless to help. When the dust finally settles, the survivors look to place blame and “A god of fire and wing was an easy target.” Of course mankind would have been better off taking a closer look at their part in the proceedings rather than blaming the poor old Dragon! 

The banishment to St. Kilda initially looks like an improvement, a chance to start over, but unfortunately one set of problems has been traded for another. This time it’s “Distended bellies giving fleeting life for tetanus to take it back – infected knives ripping at umbilical cords.” Mark again does a wonderful job of conveying a terrible reality in so few words. The difference this time is that our narrator refuses to idly sit by; instead, he adopts a baby girl and brings her under his protection. It is left up to the reader to decide just what this entails, but I like to think that the dragon decided if he can’t save them all he’d at least save this one. It’s both an admission of defeat and a last glimmer of hope, a great way to wrap up this moving tale.

Honorable Mention: Acceptance

Another story that brings its world into focus very quickly with phrases like “bleached bone frameworks jut, jostle and gape at obscene angles within the ceilings.” My other favorite here is “I run my bony fingers over my legs, full of disease” – this conveys a deep sickness that I can really see and feel.

Special Mention: Plastic

“This cathedral of apprehension.” Oh, the feeling this phrase invoked. All of us have been there, filled with fear, but the image of that fear, that apprehension as a cathedral, both majestic and terrifying, really hooked me. 

Finalist: Dog Days of Summer competition

Special Mention, Flawless Imagery: The Weight

Second RU: Daily Duel. – My first entry, I believe. Certainly my first recognition in flash fiction. July 2014.

It is always tricky to take a very unique approach and get it across in so few words without confusing the reader. This story does a wonderful job of making it very clear what is going on with the reveal halfway through, but doesn’t spoil it at the beginning. This required really confronting that rival in the mirror and speaking of him with full disgust, before letting on that this was really contempt for the self. “His life is in my hands…” because his life is my life. This story takes the duality of the self and places the mirror in the middle as a weapon, creating a painful moment to watch and giving us all pause to consider how we treat ourselves. Wonderful. 


 

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