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6

Well, the waiting is over, and we can finally announce the winners for this year's National Flash-Fiction Day 100 word Micro-Fiction competition!

It was a hard task for the judges, who had to whittle down nearly 400 entries to a list of their favourite twenty five. These lists were then amalgamated to form the shortlist that we posted earlier in the week, and from this they had to chose their top tens. Again we put the lists together, and from that has emerged this final list of winners. 

I'm sure you will agree that these are ten really wonderful micro-stories, but we'd like to send out our congratulations to all of you who entered, for making the judges work so hard. So many wonderful stories - thank you!

Next week we will be opening entries for this year's anthology, which will also feature all of these stories, so stay tuned for that, but let me not hold you in suspense any longer. Here are the results:


FIRST PLACE WINNER:
‘Never Let Me Go’ by Cathy Lennon
SECOND PLACE WINNER:
‘Night-time Knitting’ by Roz Mascall
THIRD PLACE WINNER:
‘If Kissed by a Dragon Fish by Tania Hershman
HIGHLY COMMENDED:
‘Dare by Simon Sylvester
‘The Star Falling’ by Morgan Downie
‘Sintra’ by Parineeta Singh
‘The Sponge Diver by Danielle McLaughlin
‘Peppermint’ by Jennifer Harvey
‘The Invisible Girl’ by Karl A Russell
‘4am by Angi Holden
STORIES:
FIRST PLACE WINNER:
'Never Let Me Go' by Cathy Lennon
First it was cartons and tins on the worktops, then newspapers on the stairs. Each window-sill sparkled with tin foil. He made me a necklace of ring-pulls and bottle tops. Like swans we perched on our bundles of rags and flattened boxes, smoothing the creases from wrappers. The hallway was Manhattan, a canyon of towering piles. Across the no man’s land in our bedroom our fingertips would touch, until one day they couldn’t anymore. From the other side, perplexed, he watched the tears slide down my face. He threw me two empty film canisters to catch them in.
SECOND PLACE WINNER:
'Night-time Knitting' by Roz Mascall
A gorilla is living in my cupboard. Every night, he swaggers onto my bed and waits for me to wake-up. I pretend to be asleep but hear his knitting needles clicking together. He is making a very long scarf for me. Squinting at him from under my blanket, I see his huge hairy hands scratch his scalp in disappointment. He looks sad. A pang of guilt hits me. I sit up and he hands me a ball of pink wool. His watery eyes meet my gaze. He is lonely. We lean against each other and knit until sunrise.
THIRD PLACE WINNER:
'If Kissed by a Dragon Fish' by Tania Hershman
If kissed by a dragonfish, do not bite. If kissed by a dragonfish, make sure you are sitting. Do not worry during the kiss, before the kiss, or after. Do not worry about a scale or two between your teeth. The dragonfish's skin is armoured but its heart beats loud and soft. You will not forget the kiss. You will not forget the coolness of the dragonfish's breath inside your lungs. You will look down through the floor of glass and see nothing, swimming. You will part, like an ocean, and on your sea bed you will pearl.
'Dare' by Simon Sylvester
Every day that summer, we played Dare. On hot afternoons we escaped the sun by hiding in the fort. We ate apples and counted pips and swapped secrets. We sat close, damp with sweat, bare skin sticking. She traced her fingers up my leg. Her fingertips whispered inside my thigh, and my breath caught in my throat.
She always chickened out. I taunted her, urging her higher, but she always chickened out before me.
When that summer was finished, we went back to school. We don’t really talk any more.
I heard she started playing Dare with boys.
'The Star, Falling' by Morgan Downie
When his eyes grew so bad that he could no longer see the horizon he built an artificial one in his garden. Afterwards he persisted in a stubborn refusal to cross it in case he should fall off the edge of the world. Asked, on reflection, if he had realised his intention as a younger man, to live the brief and fiery life of a meteor, he looked out across the universe of his garden, to the wife he still loved indescribably and said,
‘I am a meteor, just moving very, very slowly.’
'Sintra' by Parineeta Singh
I have followed you to this small town. I have walked the same cobblestones that you once trod on. I have stood on those hilltops in the mist you spoke of. I have felt it as smoke in my throat. The air I now exhale was the air you once breathed in. But this is not love; it is nowhere close to it. Love was the time when I put my ear to the flagstones listening for your footfall.
'The Sponge Diver' by Danielle McLaughlin
They knew each other a month when he told her about his Greek grandfather who, as a young man, had been a sponge diver. She closed her eyes, saw a figure – lithe, tanned  –  dive naked from a boat in the blue Aegean. He surfaced, water glittering silver on his skin, as if a shoal of tiny fish had followed him.
Opening her eyes, she noticed how her lover was most unlike a sponge diver.
After it ended, she bought a sea sponge, yellow and pocked. She sat it on her desk at work, and thought about his grandfather.
'Peppermint' by Jennifer Harvey
Afterwards, he thought about the gum stuck underneath the desk. It would still be there.
Every morning he watched as she slipped a finger in her mouth and prised it out, acting coy, though he knew she was aware of him.
Once, she’d looked him in the eye, stretched the gum between her teeth and let it snap, like a flirtatious wink.
He slid his fingers under the rim. It was still there.
Picking it loose, he popped it in his mouth.
It was fragrant, peppermint fresh.  A taste of her he could keep and roll across his tongue.
'The Invisible Girl' by Karl A Russell
It should have been an accident, Mel always thought. Something sciencey and catastrophic. Experimental bombs, or maybe the bite of an irradiated marmoset. That's how it used to happen in the comics anyway; A good dose of cosmic waves transformed you.
And everyone loved you.
Even the villains.
But there were no sciencey accidents in the real world. All it took to make Mel invisible was a split lip, or a black eye, or a few raised voices on a Saturday night, just after chucking out time.
And then, for just a little while, no-one could see her.
'4am' by Angi Holden
I open the bedroom curtains.
Dawn seeps across the horizon. The long grass beneath the hive glistens with dew. Hand-trimming takes patience; this summer I’ve neglected the garden.
I straighten the sheet across your chest. The air cradles the sour milk and vinegar scent of the sickroom.
Downstairs, I fumble with the lock, step into the morning. My slippers absorb the damp. No matter, I have a task to perform. Before I call the doctor, your sister, our son.
I walk down the path, your black crepe bowtie dangling from my hand. There is news I must tell the bees.

Hello all,

Just a very quick post today. We are pleased to announce that our hard-pressed judges have been beavering away and we now have a shortlist of 26 stories for our competition from which the winning 10 will be chosen.

The final decisions are being made as we speak, and as long as all goes to plan, we hope to announce the list of winners on Friday of this week - 11th April 2014, so spread the word and come back on Friday.

In the meantime, congratulations to all who made it down to this shortlist of 26. We received nearly four hundred entries this year, so to get even this far is a huge achievement. The judges have had a hard time choosing these stories, and I'm seriously worried that narrowing it down to only 10 might just finally break them. Assuming it doesn't, come back on Friday to find out who has won!

See you then,
Calum.

SHORTLIST:

'4am' by Angi Holden
'A Story To Be Read Slowly And With Ample Pauses, In A Voice Like Leonard Cohen' by Bob Jacobs
'Dare' by Simon Sylvester
'Elk Back' by Peggy Riley
'Gathering' by Sam Russell
'Harry on A.V.' by Brindley Hallam Dennis
'If Kissed by a Dragon Fish' by Tania Hershman
'Illuminated Relationship' by Jane Roberts
'Literary Costume' by Isabel Rogers
'Little Red' by Neil Murton
'Moments' by Natalie Bowers
'Never Let Me Go' by Cathy Lennon
'Night-time Knitting' by Roz Mascall
'On the rocks' by Francis Hayes
'Peppermint' by Jennifer Harvey
'Secret Admirer' by Clare Kirwan
'Sintra' by Parineeta Singh
'Sleepwalkers' by Pauline Masurel
'String of Smiles' by Allie Rogers
'The Dolls' by L. D. Lapinski
'The Human Body is More than 50% Water' by Żelazko Połysk
'The Invisible Girl' by Karl A Russell
'The Sponge Diver' by Danielle McLaughlin
'The Star Falling' by Morgan Downie
'The Strongest Man' by Elaine Borthwick
'Towards the Light' by Rebecca Swirsky

4

I’ve been entering flash fiction contests for a while now, and have just launched Flashbang, my first attempt at running a contest for others to enter. It’s made me think afresh about the value of contests, and how to describe flash fiction to those coming at the concept for the first time. I’m someone who took to flash like a fish to batter, and landed an impressive tome of rejections along the way, but I hope I’ve got useful things to say to those just setting out on the contest road.

I say I’ve been rejected many times and it’s true. I used to keep a spreadsheet of my entries and their fates, but it got too depressing looking at all the boxes coloured like Elastoplast (the colour I used for rejections). Still, my first big win – in anything – came with flash fiction. I wrote a 300 word story about Lizzie Borden which won the Fish Criminally Short Histories Prize. Hard to imagine a better thrill than that, and for a long time afterwards I was hooked on entering flash contests. It’s fun to be on the other side of the fence now, watching the entries to Flashbang roll in and thinking of the buzz the writers will get when we announce the shortlist, and the winners.

But what if you’re not one of the winners? Well, I have more experience in that neck of the woods than in the winners’ enclosure, and I still think entering contests is a terrific way to get ahead as a writer. Why? Firstly and most importantly, it makes you write. We should be writing all the time, of course, but sometimes a competition is the kick in the pants that reminds us to get on with it.

Secondly, it makes you write something for someone else, which means we start thinking about the readers, or a specific reader – the judge. We check out what the judge likes, and we write towards that, rather than simply pleasing ourselves. Thirdly, contests get us writing to a deadline and a set word count. Again, important skills if we take our writing careers seriously.

Fourthly – okay, that sounds weird. My fourth point: it means we have to let go. Put our words out there, to be judged. This is a really tough part of writing, and I don’t think any author ever gets over how hard it is. As long as we’re in control, we can tell ourselves our stories are great. Fantastic even. But we won’t know for sure, until we send them out into the world of Other Readers. It’s scary, but it’s a vital part of writing. Letting go frees us up to start something new.

Five? You might win! Or make the shortlist. Or the long list. Each of these is a milestone which should be celebrated. Even – and here’s a bruiser – being rejected. Knock-backs come with the territory and the sooner we can start accepting them, the better. Suck in the honey, spit out the bees, as someone said to me recently. Or, as Peter O’Toole says in Lawrence of Arabia: ‘Of course it hurts. The trick is not minding that it hurts.’ In many ways, failure is your friend. I blogged a bit on that theme, here.

I’d encourage everyone to enter Flashbang. It’s free (which is increasingly rare these days) and the judges have provided brilliant hints as to what they’re after in the winning entries, which include some great definitions of flash fiction. Don’t be put off if you’re not a crime writer; perhaps the very best thing about flash is how many hats you can try on. I’ve written horror flashes, comic flashes, and literary flashes. You don’t need to be an expert in the genre to write 150 words – and you may discover a talent you didn’t know you had. So give it your best shot (pun intended) and I look forward to reading your entries.

More info

Visit http://flashbangcontest.wordpress.com/ for full details, and follow @FlashbangGang on Twitter for latest news.

National Flash-Fiction Day is rolling down the tracks, coming closer and closer. But before it gets here we have a host of deadlines for competitions and anthologies. So, I thought I would give you a list of the dates so you don't miss any of them.

Full details of all of these can be found on our website at http://nationalflashfictionday.co.uk/competitions.html.

Saturday 31st March
Flash-Fiction South West - Anthology (West Country writers only)

Sunday 1st April
Bad Language - flash-fiction competition (All of UK)

Tuesday 10th April
National Flash-Fiction Day Anthology (All of UK)

Friday 13th April
Abergavenny Focus / The Word Counts - Flash-Fiction Competition (All of UK)

Sunday 15th April (11pm)
Derby Telegraph Flash Fiction Competition (Derbyshire writers only)

Sunday 15th April
Flashbang - Crime-flash Competition (International)

Friday 20th April
Lancashire Writing Hub's Flash-Fiction Competition (All of UK)

Monday 30th April (5pm)
Flash-Fiction at the end of the world! - Flash-Fiction Competition (All of UK)

Monday 30th April
1000 words (International)

Tuesday 1st May
'Flash a Famous Phrase' Competition - from Flash Fiction World (All of UK)

Date to be Confirmed
Once Upon a Time Writing Contest (International)

And, we have an open project with no particular deadline:

Flashpoints
http://nffdflashpoints.blogspot.co.uk/

So, sharpen your pens, brush off your keyboards, and get your work in while you still can.
Good luck to you all!