Competition Thirteen Judges Report by Alison Wassell

21st January 2023

It was a privilege to judge this competition and, for once, to experience things from ‘the other side’. It goes without saying that all fifteen stories had great merit, and also that judging is, inevitably, a subjective process. For what it’s worth, my winning story from competition 12 was submitted at the last minute, having trailed home with its tail between its legs after failing to make the long-list elsewhere, and the other story I submitted, for which I had higher hopes, did nothing but ended up on the Reflex long-list.

I read all the long-listed entries many times and, in the end, chose the five that, for one reason or another, stayed with me. Tales of toxic relationships are common, but the shortlisted Quizmaster stood out by utilizing the structure of a popular TV game show. There are some great vocabulary choices. I particularly liked ‘when life was greener’ and ‘kitten-snug’. I also liked the fact that the story ends on a note of hope, something we all need a bit more of.

The Statue of Infertility also tackles a familiar subject, the heartache of involuntary childlessness, in an original way. I loved the circular structure of the story, which begins and ends as midnight chimes, and the contrast between the mystical world of the unnamed goddess and the everyday one of snoring, insta posts, and a man named Darren. There is some lovely imagery. ‘His skin a red-golden hue, body shrinking with each passing day, like an apple left to shrivel.’

I love list stories, particularly ones with a strong story arc. In the highly commended Things I Won’t Forget Now I’ve Moved Back Home every item on the list earns its place and helps to conjure up a wonderful sense of time, place and character. There is humour and nostalgia as well as a sense of sadness.

The hatred of hearing someone eating is, I believe, known as misophonia. In Enough it is brilliantly depicted. I felt the protagonist’s pain as her partner slurps and gurgles, macerates, gulps and chomps. I cringed as I imagined him swallowing, ‘his neck undulating, snakelike, the food descending visibly’. The irony in the final sentence made me smile.

In the end I chose Grandpa Called Her Tiger as my winner because, for me, it has everything. A moving story of trauma, disfigurement, love, the need for acceptance, and to be comfortable in one’s own skin, it uses devices such as alliteration and repetition skilfully but never excessively. The lengthy final sentence is superb. A beautiful rhythmical story that demands to be read aloud.

Congratulations to everyone, and thank you again, Free Flash Fiction, for asking me to judge.


Alison Wassell