Competition Four Judges Report by Abi Hennig
It was an absolute privilege to be able to read the range of brilliant flashes submitted to this competition. It did not make judging an easy task. Some themes came through: relationships, unsurprisingly, particularly the relationship between parents and adult children. Nature, too, had a leading role in many of the stories and I wonder how much our experiences of lockdown, separation from loved ones and time spent appreciating the natural world has filtered into the pieces we write.
Of the stories which (after many lists and crossings out) narrowly missed the shortlist, I would like to mention two: Firstly, ‘Close your eyes and count to twenty’, with its brilliant title expertly establishing a breathless and carefully crafted tension which remained throughout the piece. Secondly, ‘Event Horizon’ was a vast piece where the writer’s dexterity with language was marvellous to behold. I’ll never think of wolf spiders in quite the same way again…
So, on to the shortlist.
‘Swash; Backswash’ was a rhythmical piece which pulled me in from the beginning. I loved the way that the story mirrored the ebb and flow of the sea, and the subtle menacing nature of the ‘great city’ creeps up on you throughout.
‘Trespassing with Mum’ was a flash that truly captured my heart. The spareness of the language captured the strangeness of grief, the repetition forming a rhythm which nudges the reader onwards to the heartbreaking conclusion of a narrator struggling to confront the reality of loss.
Like I said, this was really not easy. After swapping titles around until I was cross eyed, the Highly Commended pieces ended up as follows:
‘The Singing Bones’ – the more I read this, the more layers emerged. The casual voice of the narrator as she casts her eye over her garden, the sinister wind chimes ‘thwunking’ in the background held such horror as the reader gradually realizes the truth of what has happened.
‘The Things We Count On’ managed to tell a huge story in relatively few words. The use of the cherry blossom throughout was wonderful – nature as a powerful metaphor. The last paragraph tied everything together beautifully – landing heavily on the word ‘thief’.
After much deliberation and arguing with myself in a corner, I came back to the story which had hit me right between the eyes the first time I read it. ‘Goldilocks and My Imaginary Family’ is a unique piece which has so much going on between the lines. It makes the reader work to build the truth behind the story, and so has huge emotional resonance. The heartbreaking detail of the ‘imaginary ice-cream’ will stay with me for a long time.