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Welcome to the second in a series of interviews with this year's National Flash Fiction Day anthology editors and micro fiction competition judges! This week,  Santino Prinzi is in conversation with micro fiction competition judge and Costa Short Story Award winning author, Angela Readman. They talk about Angela's recently published debut novel, and Angela offers tips for writing brilliant flash fiction...

Santino: Welcome, Angela! Your debut novel, Something Like Breathing, has just been published by And Other Stories. Congratulations! Could you tell us a little bit more about your novel? 

Angela: Hello, and thank you! It’s about friends who live on an island, Sylvie and Lorrie, growing up in the 50’s. It starts with the words, ‘I’d tell you about Sylvie, but you wouldn’t believe me.’ I didn’t think I was going to write a novel when I wrote those lines, to be honest. I’d hoped it would be a short story. I’d had some lovely support for my story collection Don’t Try This at Home and really wanted to do another, but the characters wouldn’t let me. I found they all had so many stories within their lives, from a mother obsessed with Tupperware, to a grandfather who runs a distillery and refuses to wear matching clothes. I had to keep writing to find out who these people were. They kept on surprising me.

Santino: I can't wait to read it! Now, some people argue that writing short stories and flash fiction is a “good warm up” for writing a novel, which potentially ignores the different skills and qualities required to write these different forms. What are your thoughts on this? What freedoms or restrictions did you feel when writing Something Like Breathing that you don’t experience writing flash fiction?

Angela: I don’t like the idea that flash or short stories are practice exercises for writing something longer.  It sounds like the short form is somehow less valid. I don’t buy into that. Flash is its own art form and it’s amazing.  Novels are completely different. They both have their own challenges and aren’t trying to do the same thing. When I write flash, I’m after a glimpse of something, perhaps something I don’t understand instantly. It’s like catching something out of the window of a speeding car. 

Something Like Breathing by Angela Readman

With a novel, it’s more like being invited in to the house of a stranger. There’s space to look around and really get to know them. It was fascinating. I loved being able to see the characters grow over years in their lives. I found the challenge was there’s no Off switch when you spend that amount of time with characters. It feels like you carry them around with you wherever you go. I’d be in the supermarket and suddenly wonder if Sylvie likes tomatoes. I didn’t anticipate that. It was pretty intense. 

Santino: Many of your stories offer a sense of surrealism cemented in the normal every day, for example, your story ‘Attack of the Robot Grannies’ in last year’s anthology feels both otherworldly and of this world. Is blurring the lines of possibility something you enjoy doing in your writing? 

Angela: I love blurring the lines of possibility. I wouldn’t really describe my work as magical realist, it’s probably more realist magical, or everyday surrealism or something. The work’s grounded in the everyday, but anything could happen there. I hope it can anyway! I’ve written realist work, but I’m drawn to the strange. I’m not sure why. I think it’s something to do with a sense of limitation. I often write characters who seem limited by their location, status or circumstances, ordinary people with ordinary lives. I hate the idea that our opportunities should be limited though, whether it’s by where we live or social status, or whatever, so things that seem impossible always creep in.  The women in Attack of the Robot Grannies had such boring office lunches they just needed those grannies.

Santino: It sometimes feels like writers are under pressure to always be putting words on the page. Are there any other activities, cultural or otherwise, that you feel can be just as helpful to a writer? 

Angela: There’s a sense we should always be writing, but there’s only so long anyone can stare at a screen. It’s useful to do something completely different sometimes, like going to a museum or art gallery, standing still and really looking at something. I also started making things with felt last year. I wanted to try a craft I’d never tried and stick with it for a year. 

There’s something about accepting you don’t know anything and are just trying something out that can be freeing when you come back to writing. Rather than abandon work, or feel it should be perfect instantly, some of that feeling of just giving it a whirl is brought to the page. 

Santino: You won our very first National Flash Fiction Day Micro Fiction Competition and you have judged thousands of micros for us. What are your top tips for authors who wish for their micros to shine?

Angela: It has been a real pleasure to read so much flash. There’s no one way to write it. The joy is flash can be anything, traditional in structure or more experimental. It’s so surprising! The most common mistake I see is trying to fit too much in and generalising to fit it all in. Flash is powerful when it’s specific. It doesn’t need to explain itself. Trust your readers, with something so short it’s amazing how far they’ll come with you. Choose each word wisely and let that do the work. Write your flash, leave it, then go back and edit. Then edit again. Just to be sure, do that again until there isn’t a word you could change. 

 

 Angela Readman is the winner of the first National Flash Fiction Day competition. Her short stories have since been winners of The Costa Short Story Award, The Mslexia Story Prize and The Anton Chekhov Award for Short Fiction. Her story collection Don't Try This at Home was short listed in The Edge Hill and won The Rubery Book Award. In January 2019 her debut novel Something like Breathing was published by And Other Stories. She also writes poetry and is published by Nine Arches.

 

SUBMISSIONS ARE NOW OPEN for this year's National Flash Fiction Day Anthology and Micro Fiction Competition. Submissions close on 15th March 2019. For more information, please visit our Anthology and Competition pages.  

We are also trying to secure funding to offer free entries to disadvantaged and marginalised writers. If you would like to help us do this by donating entries, please contact us at nationalflashfictionday@gmail.com.

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Entries for the 2019 National Flash Fiction Day Micro Fiction Competition are now open! This year’s judges are Angela Readman, Diane Simmons, Kevlin Henney, and Judy Darley.

Send our judges your very best micro fictions of 100 words or fewer!

Entries are open from Friday 4th January 2019 until Friday 15th March 2019, 23:59pm GMT.

Please read our submission guidelines carefully before submitting.


Angela Readman is the winner of the first National Flash Fiction Day competition. Her short stories have since been winners of The Costa Short Story Award, The Mslexia Story Prize and The Anton Chekhov Award for Short Fiction. Her story collection Don't Try This at Home was short listed in The Edge Hill and won The Rubery Book Award. In January 2019 her debut novel Something like Breathing was published by And Other Stories. She also writes poetry and is published by Nine Arches.

Diane SimmonsDiane Simmons is a writer, editor, a co-director of National Flash Fiction Day, and part of the organising team for Flash Fiction Festivals UK. She has been an editor for FlashFlood, a flash fiction judge and for three years was a reader for the Bath Short Story Competition. Her fiction has featured in a variety of anthologies and publications including Mslexia; New Flash Fiction Review; To Carry Her Home, BFFA Vol One; The Lobsters Run Free, BFFA Vol 2; Flash Fiction Festival, Vols One and Two; Flash I Love You (Paper Swans); FlashBack Fiction; Micro Madness; and six National flash Fiction Day UK anthologies. In 2009 she won second place in ITV's This Morning National Short Story Competition and since then has been placed in many flash fiction and short story contests, including the HISSAC flash prize; the NFFD micro competition; Writers' Forum Short Story Competition; Worcester Literature Festival Flash Competition; 99 Fiction; NAWG; and The Frome International Short Story Competition. Her stories have also been shortlisted for numerous competitions, including the Bath Flash Fiction Award; Exeter Flash; and Flash 500. Her debut collection of flash, ‘Finding a Way’ is being published by Ad Hoc Fiction in February 2019. She tweets @scooterwriter. You can learn more about Diane at You can learn more about Diane at https://www.dianesimmons.co.uk/.

Kevlin Henney writes shorts and flashes and drabbles of fiction and books and articles on software development. His fiction has appeared online and on tree (Daily Science FictionLitroNew ScientistPhysics WorldSpelkReflex FictionLabLitFlight Journal and many more) and has been included in a number of anthologies (The Dark Half of the Year,North by SouthwestWe Can Improve YouHauntedSalt Anthology of New WritingRipeningSleep Is a Beautiful Colour and many more). As well as having his work rejected and make no impression whatsoever on writing competitions, Kevlin’s stories have been longlisted, shortlisted and placed, and he won the CrimeFest 2014 Flashbang contest. He reads at spoken word events, winning the National Flash-Fiction Day Oxford flash slam in 2012, and has performed his work on local radio (BBC Radio Bristol and Ujima). Kevlin has been involved in the organisation of the Bristol Festival of Literature and events for National Flash-Fiction Day. He lives in Bristol and online, where he can stalked as @KevlinHenney on Twitter, @kevlinhenney on Medium and @kevlin.henney on Instagram.

Judy Darley is a British fiction writer, poet and journalist who can't stop writing about the fallibilities and strengths of the human mind. Her flash fiction and stories have been published by magazines and anthologies in the UK, New Zealand, US and Canada, including Seren Books, MslexiaUnthology 8 and SmokeLong Quarterly, as well as in her debut collection Remember Me To The Bees. Sky Light Rain, her second collection, will be published by Valley Press in autumn 2019. She has shared her stories on BBC radio, as well as in cafés, caves, an artist’s studio and a disused church. Find Judy at http://www.SkyLightRain.com, and https://twitter.com/JudyDarley.

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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

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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!