We had a record number of entries this year - getting close to a thousand pieces of flash, so thank you to everyone who entered. While our winner and runner-up have not previously won a prize at InkTears (although they have both picked up plenty of prizes elsewhere), we did have two highly commended entries from previous winners. I should point out that the stories are blind-read, so it just shows that certain writers are consistently reaching a high standard, that also appeals to our judges - congratulations to Mandy Huggins and Ingrid Jendrzejewski on that score. We also had a couple of writers with less of a track record in contests, but who I am sure have plenty of potential for further success, and I'm delighted that the flash contest continues to find new talent, and help promote people, and add to their 'writer's bio'.
Let's talk about themes. This year's most popular subjects were Alzheimer's and dementia, dying and being reborn, killing your partner of many years who you have hated for a long time (do I spot a little wish fulfilment going on in some of these tales?!), we had a higher proportion of sci-fi (and keep it coming - I'm a fan, which is not always true of many other literary sites...), there was a particular focus on what happens as we start to blend human and machine.
As any judge will tell you, the gap between the shortlist and the winning entries (or the highly commended and the eventual winner and runner-up) is often very narrow, and clearly subjective. Often, we were swayed by how many similar entries we had read recently, or the way that a story subverted a common theme, or added something unique to the pattern. I will highlight the story Clockwork by Russell Reader as an example (you'll have to wait a few weeks to read it when we publish part 1 of our winners as the December newsletter). Clockwork follows the Alzheimer's/dementia theme of many entries, and was well written - as were many other stories in this genre, but we particularly loved the ending, which just gave the story an edge over the other pieces we read on this theme. I could highlight Futures by Annmarie Allen, The Hut by Adena Graham, Light Snacks by Natalia Theodoridou, Dragonflies by Sally Jubb, Moment of Truth by John Bunting (one of our shortest entries, but marvellous), all of these stories were a fraction away from the final winners. In fact, it might be safer to say that if you were on the shortlist, you came very close to a prize - I was just reviewing the list a few minutes ago, and I enjoyed every single story that made it that far. The minor difference in opinion between a small number of judges was the difference. Alison Wassell is a writer whose short story was published by InkTears last month, who also missed out on the final prize winners of the flash by a hair's width. The standard was high, and if you made the shortlist you deserve congratulations.
Entries were noticeably longer than last year, when we had a batch of very short pieces (100-200 words, and even one that was less than 10 words and nearly won a prize!). There were several poetic items with interesting use of language (but perhaps a few less than last year?), a regular handful of surreal, many slice of life - but normally with an ending, and a smattering of genre items, with horror doing particularly well this year.
If you are looking for some tips, I would say that what marked out the winners for me was that they were:
- Subtle. They let us do some of the thinking, and didn't force home their points.
- Written with a distinct voice (see the Runner Up, Church by Scott Whitaker)
- Unusual theme or concept that others were not covering
- OR an interesting twist or approach to a common theme
- Smart, funny or thought provoking. Often, all three at the same time
As per previous years, we've actually handed out more prizes than we officially listed. We intend to publish a winner, runner-up, and 4x highly commended. That's actually what you would have seen on our rules page. However, we liked the stories, and we know how good it feels to win, so we will publish 12 stories, split across two issues of our newsletter. The first in December, the second in February. I wish we could publish more. You all deserve to win :) Keep writing, keep trying. There are some wonderful writers out there, and even if you only find a small audience, you are making a difference. Thank you.