Tag Archive | Helen Laycock

Fire&Ice Sol 14/19: WINNERS

§ Foy says: Welcome to what feels a wintry results day! Yesterday, it was all reds and golds with a sleepy sun overhead; today, it’s bare, gray limbs, and a sun that stays nestled beneath the clouds. Gone are the eternal autumns of our youth, I suppose. How the world changes; how we change the world.

Speaking of world-changing, in our most recent Flash! Future on “Writing the Other” (read that post here), literary agent and advocate DongWon Song offers us writers wrestling with questions of how (or whether!) to write diverse fiction this call to action: 

What we need to do is resist the default, and the only way to do that is by representing the world that we live in, which often has people coming from all kinds of cultures, all kinds of marginalizations that are inter-sectional, and rich, and complex. 

Every time I see flash here that resists the default, I’m so encouraged, inspired, motivated. Thank you. ❤   

A quick reminder: Flash! Future submissions are rolling in and if you haven’t gotten the chance to send yours, now’s the time to do so! Find all the tidy details here, and remember: deadline is November 20!

♦♦♦♦♦

Quick note on judging: Six pairs of judges across multiple nationalities and genres are taking turns reading your submissions (meet the judges here). As soon as each contest round closes, your stories are first stripped of all personal info before being sent on for judging. This represents our effort to maximize every story’s chances, whether it’s the first or hundredth story you’ve written. ♥ 


SOL 14’S JUDGES SAY:

David Shakes:  It’s our third and final stint as judges on the resurrected Flash!Friday and I’d like to thank our Dragon hosts Rebekah and Deborah for achieving far more than they set out to do. There’s been light in the darkness thanks to you two, I’ve been plugged into a global community whose words and ideas have inspired me further.

My deep and heartfelt thanks to Nancy who, more often than not, liked what I liked but with an eye for detail and a perspective that I am in awe of. Thank you for being my co-judge in this. 

My thanks to you, dear writers, for coming back each round. The original competition is where I honed my craft, found a writing family (hey Flashdogs) and gained the courage to start putting my work further out there. I hope some of that is true for you. 

I loved the prompt picture when I saw it, and though it led many of you all down a few key paths (holes?) you amazed us within your short and precise word count. 

Nancy and I were pretty close in what we liked this week, so we both got to drop in a few of those stories that we both enjoyed. Helen Laycock‘s “Look Before You Seep” was a hilarious take on the fountain of youth, with some great (gross) imagery. Pippa Phillips‘ “The First Thread” was rich in figurative language, took a look deeper at the prompt,  and had a great last line. R.J. Kinnarney‘s “Divine Calculation” takes a clever title, adds in the prerequisite statistics and then ends on a beautiful image. 

As it’s our last go, we’ve taken the liberty of having three honorary mentions.


Nancy Chenier: Here we are, our final round of judging for the reboot of Flash!Friday. I’m deeply grateful to the Dragon Den (Rebekah and Deborah) for lighting up the skies with flashes of light over a world confronted with its collective darkness, and for rekindling my own writing, a tool that helps me navigate said darkness. Also to Shakes: I don’t know what serendipity matched us up, but it turned out a wonderful pairing. If I ever find myself in that hemisphere, get ready for a visit (yes, that’s a threat, tell your family). Finally, a million thank-yous to all you flash writers, veteran and recent, whether here or in #vss365,#flashdogs, etc., for your inspiring creativity and enthusiasm wherever you drop your words. Hope to see you all in the twitterverse beyond the end of 2020.

This week, with the tiny word count, inventiveness was imperative. How else could you cram a sense of beginning, middle, end, while hooking readers into the story and then keeping them there? Very little space remained for incorporating unique takes on the prompts, but you all took on that challenge and created some fine work, which means I ended up with a bunch of shout-outs. First goes to Betsy Streeter‘s Untitled, where the miracle of medicine suddenly feels like a curse, and the word “lost” takes one huge emotional impact. Also to Michael Seese‘s Pitfalls for an amusing story with its fun use of both dragon elements. Then there’s Becky Spence‘s “A Tuesday Morning” for the most original use of the photo-prompt with the “pit” being the pupil of an eye. Laurence D‘s Untitled gets a nod for baudy slapstick that had me baffled (like the oblivious crowd) until the slapstick-rug got pulled right out from under me.

♦♦♦♦♦

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Exit Strategy by WeymanWrites

DS: We both loved the playful aspect of this and I especially liked the dialogue between our Meerkat protagonists Barbara and Derek! In a week when so many stories had something going in, this statistically risky escape plan stood out.

NC: You had me at meerkats, and you kept me with the surprises at every line of increasingly anthropomorphic dialogue. You kept me chuckling through to the end. With everything we’ve put the earth through in general and the meerkats through specifically, we so deserve that parting shot.

The First Question by Phil Coltrane

DS: Something lovely about this, that dual aspect of having the courage and intellect to get to Mars but the all too human frailty of having one’s heartbroken, but I like his odds. Maybe I’m an optimist?

NC: Inventive use of statistics throughout, ultimately tying in with the picture prompt (one in seven on Mars), plus a solid sense of movement through a story. I also enjoyed the pivot on the act of “asking questions”: the class asking the MC all the questions, except for Anna, who might have invited MC’s long-unasked question way back at the beginning had she asked a homework question too.

Numbers Game by Karl A. Russell

DS: We all know the drive into the desert plot from various mob movies, but I couldn’t resist this one – so well written. The dialogue is on point, the tension well-mounted within the word limit and a classic last line to complete the sort of flash that floats my boat. 

NC: This one stood out to me for the Lady-or-the-Tiger vibes (big folklore-buff over here). You set up a complete, distinctive story in a Vegas pit-trap with tension building appropriately enough like a high-stakes card game. I was hooked with the snake, immediately followed up by conflict via a sneering antagonist, then the surprise of another victim in the first box. The consistent character voice held the tone so the final line hit with authenticity. Well played! 

RUNNER UP

Quick Time by Tinman

DS: A unique theme amongst this week’s entries,  filled with clever imagery like the ‘Rachel hair’ and the right mix of humour and poignancy. The opening image of an unimaginably far shore sums up a teenager’s view of middle-age wonderfully. The subtle introduction of Jill’s treatment and the closing note of optimism was sublime. The economy and balance of this story had it near the top of my list from the start.

NC: This one settled in and gave me a time-release sense of nostalgic melancholy. The contrasts are stunning between the teenage creation of a time-capsule, during a time when we still feel playfully immortal, to the middle age opening when mortality has started seeping seriously in. The kick is that Jill is the one to reset the capsule by throwing in her smart watch, a symbol of time, when she probably doesn’t have much of it left (another cleverly introduced contrast: her cancer vs 1990s Rachel hair). Every detail is rich and evocative of place and character and theme—such strong writerly craft, here.

And now: it is our pleasure to present to you our

FIRE&ICE WINNER

ARCANE EDISON!!!

for

Butterfly Wing

DS – What made this stand out from the other monster in the pit stories? Firstly, an economy of language – the staccato punch of the lines creates a pace that juxtaposes with the depth and quality of the writing. I loved the flare…falling, a crimson-hot star seeking reassurance, mirroring the improbable fall of the asteroid. The use of statistics to underscore the title of the story puts us squarely in the existential shoes of our narrator. Two zeros x together  = something unknowable, and yet I know the feeling well. A slice of sci-fi noir that Nancy and I both liked a lot. 

NC — This week’s picture prompt lent itself to monster-in-the-pit tropes, so to get to the winner’s circle pit-monster tales really had to stand-out. This one ticked all the boxes. The first sentence hooked me, not only with its clear description of the MC’s shadow, but also conveying a sense of urgency (hurrying)—which is then undercut by the next fragment (the MC is chain-smoking, not hurrying to the crash site as fast as their shadow is). The MC’s voice is crisp with its staccato sentences and the sly, self-deprecating application of statistics. Then there’s a theme that threaded through and beyond the tale: the line up of near-zero probabilities starting with the MC’s own existence points to a vast gap between near and absolute zero. The vanishingly small probability of the MC’s existence raises the question what other improbabilities are entirely… probable. Thanks for the engaging read. 

Congratulations, ARCANE! Here’s your winning story:

BUTTERFLY WING

My shadow stretches out, hurrying before me to the crash site.

Chain-smoking.

Mind racing with possibilities.

My existence = 1 in 10 2,685,000

That’s basically zero.

Yet, here I stand at the edge of another improbability.

The hole is deeper than seems possible.

The asteroid actually hitting Earth was 0.41%.

Another zero.

Another cigarette burns.

Two zeros x together = something unknowable.

Tension envelops as we gather. Tabitha ignites a flare.

Falling, a crimson hot star seeking reassurance.

Illuminating an eye bigger than seems possible.

Whose existence = 10 septillion.

The slowest blink.

A pupil that isn’t possibly real.

Begins to come closer.

Fire&Ice Sol 13/19: WINNERS

§ Rebekah says: Happy results day! Deb and I have been looking forward to this all Fire&Ice season: today we’re officially announcing open submissions for the final weeks of Flash! Future! So far we’ve featured global superstar writers like N.K. Jemisin, Ken Liu, Samit Basu, and (just yesterday!) Cherie Dimaline. Now it’s your turn!

See here for submission guidelines. The deadline’s November 20; in the guidelines you’ll find exactly what/where to submit. And then watch for your name in the last couple Flash! Future posts in December before Fire&Ice retires along with 2020. We can’t wait to introduce the community to you & your work!!!

♦♦♦♦♦

Quick note on judging: Six pairs of judges across multiple nationalities and genres are taking turns reading your submissions (meet the judges here). As soon as each contest round closes, your stories are first stripped of all personal info before being sent on for judging. This represents our effort to maximize every story’s chances, whether it’s the first or hundredth story you’ve written. ♥ 


SOL 13’S JUDGES SAY:

Sinéad O’Hart: It’s an honour to have been on the judging panel for the world’s second most important decision this weekend, and I think both the Sol 13 team and the people of America both did a stellar job in choosing their winner. (Congratulations to President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris!)

Luckily for Craig and me, there’s a bit more wiggle-room around choosing winners for Flash! Friday than there is about choosing the next occupant of the White House. As a Sol 13 judge, I get a chance to do shout-outs to some personal favourites which didn’t, for one reason or another, quite make the cut. It makes the choosing process a lot more fun – and it’s a wonderful opportunity to show my respect to the talent of the authors I’m asked to judge. I loved the themes this week – whales are a personal favourite of mine – and it made me smile to see stories which echoed themes close to my heart (Carin Marais‘ “Among the Stars Once More,” and Rab‘s “Safe Harbours“) and the poignant real-life story of a whale who sings a song inaudible to any others of his kind (Pippa Phillips‘ “A Language of One“). There were many stories of Hope (both whale and concept, I suspect) coming alive once more, and they each made a little light pop on in my soul.

My first personal mention, however, has to be the very first story, Bill Engleson‘s “Whaling, Wailing, Over the Bounding Main,” for its mention of my home county of Wexford – I can tell you exactly where the hell it is, because I was born and raised there! I’m sorry for the fate of the fictional whale, but at least it chose the finest corner of Ireland to die in. I also feel I must salute Rebecca Kinnarney‘s, “The Stranger and the Fork,” and Catherine Connolly‘s, “A Simple Truth,” for their use of the Irish language – it was a treat to see my own mother tongue in this week’s entries. Mo cheol sibh! I also really enjoyed TK‘s “The Quest.” It was sweet, and a good, fresh idea, but mostly I loved its clever use of language. The skittering pace matches that of the mouse across the floor, and something about its rhythm reminded me of an epic Old English/Germanic poem, which I thought was so clever when paired with the subject matter of the story. Brett Milam‘s “Pink Dreams” was so arresting that I read it over and over; it stopped me in my tracks with its unique beauty. And for me, Susan Stevenson‘s “Travel Log” was memorable. I really appreciated the aching realisation, or perhaps quiet declaration, in its last line, along with its characterisation and dialogue.


Craig Anderson: What an interesting weekend to be judging! While the world waited patiently for one announcement, Sinéad and I were busy devouring your delicious morsels of flash fiction to make the (most definitely just as) important decision as to who would be crowned flash champion.

The Natural History Museum was one of my favorite haunts back when I lived in London; I spent many a Saturday afternoon perusing the various exhibits. I remember how in awe I was the first time I saw the huge skeletons, they really have such an imposing presence. Hope was such a perfect theme, and I had a whale of a time reading all your takes on her antics.

My first shoutout has to go to Geoff LePard‘s “The Machine Starts.” I loved the vibe throughout this one, very Pratchett-esque, and the use of French phrases helped to mask the intent of the devious Pomeroy. Ooks all round! My second shoutout is quite the tonal shift from the first, the delightfully spooky “Bone Riders” by Phil Coltrane. I loved the atmosphere created in so few words, the clever use of Latin to sell the sheer age of the creatures and the occasional poetic flourish. Lines like ‘We do not bring death, we await it‘ do a wonderful job of creating empathy for these poor trapped souls.

I also thoroughly enjoyed Maggie Duncan‘s “Revenge of the Space Porpoises,” which was just the right amount of silly. This one reminded me of Douglas Adams (another one of my fav authors!) The interaction between Stine and Click-Click-Click-Screech was fun and playful, and the quick thinking at the end was hilarious.

♦♦♦♦♦

HONORABLE MENTIONS

“A Grand Idea With a Pungent Lesson” by A.J. Walker

SO: Sidney from Accrington captured my heart, and Craig’s. Such a character, created in a tiny space, and with such skill! I loved his attempt to set up his own museum, and the fragrant lesson he learns (and the final line and image made me grin a wide grin. Go, Sidney!).

CA: Sidney! I could almost feel the childhood enthusiasm in this one. My kids share that same sense of wonder every time they bring me a new bug or stick they found in the garden. I loved how lighthearted this one was, and there were several laughs along the way. Poor roadkill!

High Hopes by Helen Laycock

SO: In a week when many stories centred on the idea of the whale’s skeleton reanimating, this one stood out. Its powerful, beautiful, and controlled use of language, and its holographic twist, meant it was deserving of a special mention.

CA: This one did a great job of mixing the old with the new, the beautiful language (the ribs as silent harp strings, the door closing like a crashing wave) contrasts with the technology of the hologram and the great escape through the skylight. The last line is great too, revealing the cleverness of the title.

RUNNER UP

DRAGON NOTE: Due to a mixup, we happily have two runners up this week!

Untitled”  by Michael Seese

SO: This one made me laugh out loud! I was completely gripped by its characterisation, dialogue, and setting – and very much appreciating the nod to Jonah, which this story (along with Matt Krizan‘s “Untitled“) made clever use of – when the author completely turned everything on its tail in one simple image in the final line. Absolutely masterful control, and excellent characterisation, meant this one had to have a podium place.

Untitled” by Matt Krizan

CA: I love a story with a twist, but sticking the landing with so few words requires a real mastery. This story starts out so ominous, with a young boy terrified of the huge whale skeleton. The description of his fear is so good it is positively palpable, his heart racing, his hands sweating as the bones loom overhead. This pulled me in to the story and made me wonder just why this poor boy was so afraid. Then the final line twists the whole thing on its head, turning fear into laughter. That contrast makes it all the funnier, and made me want to read it all over again. Fantastic stuff! 

And now: it is our pleasure to present to you our

FIRE&ICE WINNER

NICOLA LIU!!!

for

Untitled

SO – This story made me stop, and blink, and re-read, and re-read once more. It was so well executed that it played like a short movie in my mind as I read; I could see the image of JieJie beneath the mouth of Hope, and I could see her grieving cousin looking at her photo from afar, and I could hear the characters’ voices in my head. Such an achievement, from a piece of flash fiction. This was my winner because not only is it an emotionally impactful story, it’s also a completely fresh concept, and its use of the prompts was unparalleled, particularly the language component. This story really made the language prompt a central prop to its action, characterisation, and conflict, and its use was so clever that it left me open-mouthed with admiration. A wonderful piece, and a more than worthy winner. 

CA — A great story should leave you wanting to know more, about the characters, the setting and the circumstances that led to the events depicted. This flash does all of that in spades. It demands multiple readings to fully appreciate the layers on display. With my first read I was as lost as the MC, pulled along by the story, but only faintly grasping what was happening. I was reliant on the MC for the translation of the Hanzi symbols, which left me as confused as our narrator, until the reveal of clever wordplay. We learn what has happened right at the same time, and are left with the same feeling of helplessness. I found myself thinking ‘I feel like I am missing something. If only I could understand these symbols…’ which then turned out to be the exact theme of the story. It is such an interesting inversion of the usual rule of ‘show don’t tell’, where the narrator tells us they are not as bright, or smart as their cousin, only to show us the consequences of this with the missed opportunity to save her. To do all of that in 159 words is pure 厨师吻.

Congratulations, NICOLA! Here’s your winning story:

UNTITLED

Two days ago, Jiejie’s last message: “大吃一鲸!” She’s under a suspended whale skeleton, mouth open, the perspective forced so she looks like she is, as she says, eating a whale.

She looks so happy.

Jiejie and I: cousins, opposites. She studied abroad; I stayed home. She was BSci, MSci, nearing PhD. I failed Gaokao. (Twice.) Our family called her 好孩子, a good kid; I was 还好, with a painful grin, if anyone dared ask.

But we were close.

Were.

Ma told me. “她跳楼.” — “She jumped out a window.”

I should grieve. Can’t. Too angry.

Why didn’t you talk to me, Jiejie? Weren’t we close? Why didn’t you say something?

Now I look again. “大吃一鲸!” A pun, the characters sounding like “I’ve had a shock”. She’s captioned the photo “自然” – Nature.

And I see.

It’s another pun. 孜然 – Call me.

I search for that dead whale. It’s called Hope.

Oh, Jiejie, Jiejie. You always thought far too much of me.

Fire&Ice Sol 11/19: WINNERS

§ Rebekah says: I said before and am delighted to say again what a joy Mondays are! This is particularly true when the previous week was a bit of a bear. (Thanks to those of you expressing concern for my surgery; I am home and resting well.) -We’re pushing on through 2020—can you believe we’ve got 11 sols behind us already!?—and I for one am delighted by the opportunity to write alongside you these few precious remaining weeks. Stay tuned & keep writing with us, because we plan to end our run of Fire&Ice with a bang

♦♦♦♦♦

Quick note on judging: Six pairs of judges across multiple nationalities and genres are taking turns reading your submissions (meet the judges here). As soon as each contest round closes, your stories are first stripped of all personal info before being sent on for judging. This represents our effort to maximize every story’s chances, whether it’s the first or hundredth story you’ve written. ♥ 


SOL 11’S JUDGES SAY:

Tamara Shoemaker:  This week’s stories cut a sharp dichotomy between despair and joy, happiness and sorrow, as per the prompt options. Each story resonated with such feeling that it was difficult to think of anything else, so background chatter from my darling offspring was abruptly cut off with a sharp Monty Python-esque: “Go away, or I shall taunt you a second time,” leaving my offspring hopelessly confused, but allowing myself to continue on with my reading enjoyment. 

Thank you, again, for contributing your considerable talent for this contest; it is, as always, such a privilege to delve into your work! Before we move on to prizes, there are a few shout-outs I want to stir into the pot: R.J. (Rebecca) Kinnarney‘s “What Colour Is This?: For the superb exploration of two levels of conversation; Becky Spence‘s “Untitled (4pm)“: For the vivid climax and plunge of a tragic emotional roller-coaster. Betsy Streeter‘s “The Flawed Lens“: For the multitude of shapes throughout this piece that cut to the heart.


Eric Martell:

I was clearly drawn to darkness in these stories. Even the ones that chose joy that spoke to me still involved loss and death. I see literally no joy in the world right now, so I guess that’s where my headspace was. Because of this, I have chosen to let Tamara choose the top story – I think her perspective was more open than mine, and her words describing it are powerful. That being said, there were truly beautiful explorations of the dark this week. I see as much beauty in a stark, barren landscape in the winter as anyone does on the most vibrant spring day, and some of these stories took me along that path. Thank you all for taking us with you on your journeys.

A few other stories worthy of comment: Betsy Streeter‘s “The Flawed Lens“: Who doesn’t have a “you”-shaped hole in their life? Who doesn’t ache for a parent or a lost love of, in this story’s case, a lost child? Bill Engleson‘s “Maeve“: This story didn’t quite use the prompt given, but I thought it was worthy of comment. How do we wear our figurative or literal masks to keep us safe, to keep us from breaking? Can we wear them after loss? Should we? Bart van Goethem‘s “The Clouds in October“: October is my favorite month, in part because of the grey weight of the sky and what it reveals about the encroaching dark. This story made me see those clouds and feel their importance.

♦♦♦♦♦

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Whispers in the Mouse’s Ear by Phil Coltrane

TS: This story strikingly encapsulates a child’s view of tragedy and the simplicity of innocence, and the contrasting gap between “Those flowers are all dead” and “The flowers were so pink” impacts on many levels. Well done!

EM: You could picture these two kids in that attic, talking and playing, using words that children use, knowing only pieces of the world around them, but more pieces than we as adults sometimes realize.

Hearing Voices by Helen Laycock

TS: From the analogous first sentence (creeping thyme/creeping time) to the last (I feel her joy, and I know she feels mine), this story sings, nearly literally, with longing for the loved one who is absent and the joy of finding him in memory. So good!

EM: That last line gets me – “Probably nods.” Grief and loss and voices that make make a child feel loved.

RUNNER UP

Return to the Wailing Wood  by Mark King

TS: This story reaches into a place identifiable to many people: where a spot held dear by a loved one is horribly empty. How often has this year brought such pain into stark reality? This story touches on a sore point for many of us, and yet how it makes us feel seen, recognized, and understood as we each long for the “one who’s missing.”

EM: When we lost what would have been our first child, I learned how many other people out there had gone through the same kind of tragedy. It’s a beautiful vision, a world in which all of those losses are taken away, if only for a day, and we can see those children laughing and playing and living. It’s the kind of joy that can’t help but break your heart, and therein lies its power.

And now: it is our pleasure to present to you our

FIRE&ICE WINNER

NANCY CHENIER!!!

for

What Remains

TSThis one took me four close perusals to really begin to grasp the intricacy and depth of this piece. I loved how the three persons of the prompt picture were, according to the third paragraph, different manifestations of Hana, each person a representation of the choices she could have made, but didn’t. The narrative as a whole was a vivid commentary on risk-taking, and begins with Hana plodding beneath the trappings of normalcy, before she steps off the beaten path and flees through the flowers, where salvation gives new air, new life, immunity from the encumbrances that have held her captive for so long. No one else follows: only Hana the Risk-Taker. She does the thing no one else has courage to do. She finds the break, she climbs to freedom. Beautiful writing throughout leaves me speechless, and the message fills me with inspiration. This was so. well. done!

EMI took a fresh look at this story after reading Tamara’s comments on it – trying to set aside my inner despondency. The language is beautiful and evocative, descriptive and lovely. I want to know what the difficulties were, and I want to trample the blossoms with Hana. A worthy choice for winner, and I’m glad that we get to judge in pairs

Congratulations, NANCY! Here’s your winning story:

WHAT REMAINS

As Hana approaches the phlox fields, her stomach gives a lurch. She hasn’t gone blossom-viewing since the difficulties. But it’s May, and that’s what’s done.

Breathing her discomfort down to a flutter, she steps onto the paved river that flows through the profusion of moss pink. Crowds once thronged these fields, annual group photos backdropped by shibazakura brilliance. Even during the difficulties, a few would venture here searching for normalcy.

Normalcy. No. She cannot be tugged by the hand into the childishness of the past, nor bent by the loneliness of the future. Even those who survived the difficulties succumbed to the anguish of comparisons.

There’s only now.

And now, her feet trample humble blossoms. Shame halts her. Straying from the path is not done. She’s ruining it for… everyone… else.

The flutter becomes an earthquake.

She drops her parasol and runs–away from comparisons, from normalcy—until she collapses at the crest of a knoll.

Petals kiss her cheek. She breathes in their earthy pungeance. The sky bends over her to nuzzle the rosy horizon. Evening shades to indigo. Stars wink at her through the darkness.

Although it’s not done, Hana remains all night.