Competition Winners (June)

Claire Dyer Photo credit: Dale Strickland-Clark

Claire Dyer
Photo credit: Dale Strickland-Clark

Firstly, thank you to Paper Swans Press for asking me to judge the June Flash Fiction and Poetry competition. Due to the high quality of the submissions, picking a winner in each category was not an easy task but nevertheless it was an enjoyable and rewarding one!

I guess what struck me most was the wide range of responses the photograph prompted. The poems embraced huge issues such as mortality and loss, referenced the Bible, boxing, myth and Shakespeare, as well as Sudoku and body image. And the poets were skilful with the tools at their disposal, making the most of metaphor, similes, internal and end rhymes as well as, in some instances, subtly using black humour to get their message across. The Flash Fiction entries were just as intriguing with topics ranging from revenge, ghosts, life in a dystopian future and the Wombles!

It seems invidious to pick the winners but pick the winners I must and so here goes!

IMG_2175What I love is when a poem draws me in with an arresting and original idea or choice of words and then it takes me on some kind of journey, either emotional, intellectual or actual and then spits me out at the end knowing or thinking something different to what I knew or thought I knew when I went into it. I also like poems that end on a springboard thought, one that makes me step off into a new and intriguing place. For me, what is important are carefully crafted line breaks, a poet who has paid careful attention to spelling, punctuation and spacing and who has polished their poem so it shines.

The poem I’ve picked as my winner is Cliché by Elly Nobbs. Normally a fan of lyric poetry, I was drawn to this because of its refreshing brevity, what I consider to be its self-awareness, ie. its use of cliché to describe a cliché, its relevance to the photograph and its jaunty and inconsistent line endings. However, what I particularly liked was the ‘she’ character the poet portrayed. In only twenty words Elly manages to draw a character study of someone who I could see and hear and feel I knew and who I kind of liked too, in a perverse sort of way!

Cliché

Once she
made up her mind
about it — say, if
she liked you or not — it was cast
in stone.

Elly Nobbs

Special mention should also go, however, to Ben Clark for Mask for its mystery and the image of the ‘fat deer grazing’, Valerie Morton for The Watcher because for me it summed up the photograph so uniquely, especially the line, ‘Your wistful monkey eyes’ and Rona Fitzgerald for Soliloquy for the tragedy it gives voice to so delicately, cleverly and movingly.

I was intrigued to read an article by David Gaffrey published in the Guardian in May 2012 where he lists what he sees as the six successful components of Flash Fiction. These are: start in the middle; don’t use too many characters; make sure your ending isn’t at the end; sweat your title; make your last line ring like a bell and write long, then go short. I had these tenets in the back of my mind therefore when reading the wonderful Flash Fiction entries.

The piece I’ve picked as my winner is Further Ahead by Tim Roberts. To me, this matched the above components. It is told in the present tense so is immediate and punchy, the narrator’s voice comes through loud and clear and Tim doesn’t try to give the story a tidy ending, rather the reader is left there with the narrator on that stone step, trying to dream of all the faces they ever knew too. However, its main strength lies in what it doesn’t say, the story it tells between the lines: why he had to go and why he chose to go, his relationship with his wife, who are the others who went even further ahead, what happens to him next? For a piece of fiction to ask so many questions in so few words reminds me of Hemingway and his iceberg theory, which he described as follows: ‘If it is any use to know it, I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate, and it only strengthens your iceberg. It is the part that doesn’t show.’

Further Ahead

The odds said that I wouldn’t make it. But I had hope, otherwise I wouldn’t have volunteered; or, at the very least, I’d have kissed my wife a little longer and harder.

I flick a lever, kick the door open and step out into the city.

They can’t prepare you for arrival. You’re trained to say goodbye and told that returning is almost impossible: the algorithm isn’t correct. The compensation is 2 years of intense training; TV appearances; free parties and lots of money.

The city I stand in isn’t dead. Nature has become the town planner. The streets are green and the buildings are fossils crafted by the elements.

I think about my wife and if I might find her final resting place. I wonder if I will ever be discovered by those who were dispatched further ahead. On a stone step, I lie down, trying to dream of all the faces I ever knew.

Tim Roberts

As with the poems it was a close call and so I’d like to make special mention of The Vanishing by Lydia Popowich for its arresting descriptions, its hidden story and turnabout ending, and of ‘Remember You’re A …’ by Stephen Barnaby for its darkness and its humour and its knowingly factual tone which isn’t an easy thing to pull off in a piece of fiction!

Again, thank you for inviting me to read the entries; I had a lovely time doing so.

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