Here are the results of the FWS 2018 Vernal Equinox Competition along with reports on the winning entries from the judges.
Flash Fiction results – Karen Jones
2ndPrize: In a Land with No Scissors. Anna Nazarova-Evans
3rdPrize: All the Black Dots, All the Universes. Adam Lock#
Highly Commended: Veneers. Sharon Boyle
Lost and Found and Lost. Stephanie Hutton
Where did she leave her mum? Alison Woodhouse
Writing flash fiction is not easy. Trying to fit a whole story – sometimes a whole world – into a tiny wordcount takes practice and skill. Knowing what to leave out – those all-important white spaces where the reader gets to do the work – is probably the most difficult aspect of flash and it’s where many people fail. But when it works, when, in less than 500 words, a writer gives you a whole story, it’s a joy to read.
The writers who entered the FWS Flash Fiction competition certainly didn’t make life easy for me, and for that I can only thank them. I read every story sent. Actually, I read them all twice. I wanted to make sure that every story received an equal chance.
Each of the stories had merit but I had promised myself I’d whittle the entries down to a longlist of fifteen. I didn’t quite manage to do that – seventeen stories still vied for my attention, so the longlist grew a little. But that’s okay as it was a genuine pleasure to read those stories again.
Getting down to a shortlist of eight was incredibly difficult. In the end it was those stories that I wanted to go back and read again and again that made it – the stories I couldn’t get out of my head.
The winner, This is How They Tame Us (Rupert Dastur), captures not just a family, not just a place and time, but a whole way of life disappearing under the weight of debt and so-called progress. Using the taming of a horse as a metaphor for a family being broken by the banks, losing their ranch and the way of life passed down through generations, this story really stuck with me. With some fantastic lines and a title that did a lot of the work, as well as an ending that’s so perfect I went back and read it half a dozen times, this is great flash writing.
Flash lends itself well to fairy tale and surreal stories – with such a short wordcount, you can really take flights of fancy that wouldn’t necessarily work in a longer form. The second placed story, In a Land with No Scissors (Anna Nazarova-Evans ), is a great example of this kind of flash. I knew from the minute I read it that it would be in my top three. The image of a woman with hair that grows so long it almost takes over a whole city, is so strange and wonderful and beautifully described, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. And the story provided that rarest of things in flash – a hopeful, maybe even happy ending with her saviour arriving to carry her away. I love this story.
In my ‘what I’m looking for as a judge’ comments I mentioned a strong title and opening line. The third placed story, All the Black Dots, All the Universes (Adam Lock), is a wonderful example of just that. “Beneath the ice are countless universes, each with its black dot ready to explode.” How could you not read on after that title and that opening sentence? And the rest of the story didn’t disappoint. A young boy living under the cloud of his mother’s grief, becomes obsessed with the frogspawn in a pond, desperate to help something live and thrive. It’s a quietly devastating story but, again, has a hopeful ending and the main character stayed with me long after reading, which is always a sign that you’ve read a great story.
The Highly Commended story, Veneers (Sharon Boyle), has a solid beginning, middle and end, strong characters, great dialogue and lovely touches of dark humour. Seeing the main character, Jambo, come to his realisation and change of heart at the end left me smiling.
Two stories fell into the commended category. Where did she leave her mum_ (Alison Woodhouse) centres on how invisible homeless people become in our cities and the contrast between the destitute girl and the affluent surroundings is very well done. Lost and Found and Lost (Stephanie Hutton) is a brilliantly odd story about a librarian who becomes a different person when he dons a pair of strong prescription glasses from the lost and found box. The descriptions of his new world view are excellent.
On a different day, in a different mood, I might have changed the order of placing of these six stories – they were all worthy of a prize.
To those who didn’t quite make it to the final six, please get those stories out to other competitions as soon as possible. I’m sure that every story will find its home somewhere.
Poetry Results – Marjorie Lotfi Gill
2ndPrize: History. Morag McDowell-Smith
Joint third place:
The Atlas. Chris Boyland
Genuflection. Fran Baillie
February. Rhona Godfrey
The Lost Mariner. Michael Hannah
Summer Neighbours. Lydia Harris
Beardmore Glacier, February 1912 . Mandy Macdonald
Fisherwifie Frae Johnshaven. Alun Robert
Snapshot at the Seaside. Jean Taylor
I’m sure the judge must say this every year, but it was incrediblydifficult to choose winning poems out of this group of excellent entries. It was a great privilege to read all these accomplished pieces, and the idea of ranking them in any way took me a while to come to terms with!
In the submissions, there were poems responding to paintings, to history, to extremely personal experiences (such as the death of a spouse or child), poems that made me laugh, and poems that made me look up more information on people, places, or a particular time in history. I loved the poems in Scots, how the rhythms of those poems work to draw the reader in and give us a particular sense of place. I can see how almost every oneof these poems could be a winner in its own right, could move or touch readers, help them to understand and unpack their own experiences.
In the end (because the deadline was looming), and after many attempts at making piles, I chose as winning and commended poems those that moved me the most, either because of the way the subject matter was handled, or the narrative in the poem, or just because the form made me curious. I chose the ten poems that stuck with me, the ones I knew by the fifth reading and was happy to keep reading again and again.
But these are just my choices, and I know another judge would have chosen others, as so many of the submissions were stunning. Please send them all out into the world so others can have the pleasure of enjoying them, too. Thank you for honouring me with this difficult task!
Joint third place:
Genuflection (Fran Baillie)– This poem made me laugh on every reading (and I think that’s a hard thing for a poem to do, particularly when it includes religious references). I love the contrast between Latin and Scots, how beautifully they work together. And I particularly like what the poem quietly says about age, its distractions from the things we thought were important in youth.
The Atlas (Chris Boyland) – I really loved this little spare poem, and think it’s a great example of so much being contained in the spaces between words, what is left unsaid. The form of a tight, small square intrigues me, works beautifully in a poem about freedom to create, blank pages and spaces. The slashes were interesting too – marking out even smaller spaces between them. I particularly love the way the poem’s form encourages the reader to “draw [what you want] for yourself”. This poem helped me to see poems and their power in a new way.
History (Morag McDowell Smith)– The “Gran” in this poem stuck with me over several readings, the details of her life relayed so practically and without self indulgence that they almost become a list (a form perfectlysuited to the subject, practical woman that Gran seemed to be). The last line of the poem, with its many possible meanings, drew me in again and again, opening out that question of what we take away, and still carry, from our relationships with others.
62 Sunningdale Avenue (Peter Russell)– This poem stuck with me from the very first reading – not because of its complexity or imagery, but because of its deceptive simplicity. As a reader, there’s so little to stand between you and the story. The language is subtle (it’s not only the cherries that blush), and it never gets in the way; we’re immediately there, eating the cherries with the young couple. I love what it tells us about a particular time in history (and its passing), but mostly what it tells us about joy, without ever naming it. Bravo!
Short story results – Neil Leadbeater
2ndPrize: Absolution. Marie-Therese Taylor
3rdPrize: My Neighbour. Pete Armstrong
Anna on the Wing. Laura Muetzelfeldt
The Wheel. Charles Stirling
This year there were 41 entries from 37 contestants, a slight increase on last year. I would like to thank everyone who entered the contest and say what a privilege and a delight it has been to judge them. I would also like to extend my thanks to A. C. Clarke for her efficiency in acting as the Competition Secretary. Such organisation takes time and effort for which I am truly grateful.
I enjoyed reading all the entries and can say quite positively that those of you who entered have great potential. All the entries were anonymised and so I had no idea who the stories had been written by until after I had handed in the results to the Competition Secretary.
Writing should not be about competitions, even though they are fun to enter. We should not consciously set out to compete with other writers or, worse still, to imitate them, rather we should just be ourselves. In this way, our writing should come naturally and not be forced. We are all different and we all have something unique to contribute to the writing world.
There will inevitably be winners and losers but I do not like to view anyone as being a loser. That is the negative side of competitions. If you lost, it merely means that you did not win this time round. Next year may be different.
In any judging there is a degree of subjectivity however much one tries to compensate for personal bias. That said, there will also be some fairly standard criteria by which all entries should be judged. The criteria with which I chose to judge this competition revolved around awarding points for aspects such as the story line, characterisation, pace, atmosphere, use of English, engagement with the reader, the surprise element, depth and overall impact. Every story was assessed according to these measurements and given a score out of ten.
A total of 11 stories made it on to the shortlist. Out of this shortlist, it quickly became apparent that 5 stood out as definite contenders for the final shortlist.
A big thank you to all who entered. Without you, the competition would not have been possible. If you are one of those who did not make it this year, I hope you will consider entering again next time round.
Comments on individual entries
1stPrize: Slim Pickings
Sometimes a story can really surprise. What I liked about this one was its seeming ordinariness. What could be more normal than a raucous crowd of people enjoying a night out in a restaurant? Dig beneath the surface and it quickly becomes apparent that these people are not very nice at all. They have a callous disregard for their own bodies and those of the people they see around them. The dialogue flows effortlessly between them. The humorous banter belies the deadliness that lies beneath it all. I awarded it 8 points.
This story is considerably compact. I liked the way that it was spun out of a single incident and gathered momentum with its keen observation of intense emotion on the part of the characters involved. I awarded it 7 ½ points.
3rdPrize: My Neighbour
I liked the way the writer demonstrated great depth of understanding. There was a degree of empathy between, and for, the characters who made up the story. The contrast between youth and age was drawn with skill and the storyline, which came to an end naturally rather than being forced, still succeeded in giving the reader an element of surprise. I awarded it 7 points.
Highly Commended: The Wheel
This is very much a story of our time. It has a twist in the middle rather than at the end. There is a moment when the reader is held in real suspension about what will happen next. The characters are finely drawn. The drama is handled carefully and the story is expertly paced. I awarded it 6 ½ points.
Highly Commended: Anna on the Wing
I liked the way this story was handled so sensitively. I particularly admired the way it was told through anticipation and then reflection. In it, we look forward and then we look back. In other words everything is conveyed adequately without the need for it to be expressed in the present tense. I also liked the way that the realstory, like a card hidden in a pack, is dealt so deftly at the end. I awarded it 6 ½ points.