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Cynan Jones Gives his Adjudication of NWR Flash in the Pen Competition (29-05-2013)

I was very clear, opening the envelope: no expectations. Let the stories be themselves. Do not guess at what you are going to like; do not decide in advance what you do not want to see...

Above: Gwen Davies and Cynan Jones present writer Roz Goddard with her prize...

Last night at the Hay Festival, Cynan Jones gave his adjudication of the NWR Flash in the Pen microfiction competition to a packed audience. We were celebrating 100 issues of NWR at a party hosted by the Rendel Chair at the Department of English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University. Read on for Cynan Jones' take on the 140+ entries we received for the inaugural microfiction competition for stories written in under 100 words. And look out for the top three entires in NWR 101, publishing on 1 September.

I was very clear, opening the envelope: no expectations. Let the stories be themselves. Do not guess at what you are going to like; do not decide in advance what you do not want to see.

There were fifteen entries in the envelope, shortlisted by NWR editor Gwen Davies, and all entries were read by both of us as anonymous pieces. ‘Dressing’, by Roz Goddard – the winner – stood out immediately, and continued to stand out the many times I read it and the other stories.

On the surface, a simple off-hand story. A flippant self-confession. You think you know the character, like when you guess at someone you pass briefly on the street. But – almost when it’s too late to turn your head – something makes you take a second glance. As with its character, seemingly confident, ‘take-me-or-leave-me’, the story is robed with ambiguity. Never trust a woman with thick ankles….

After that, the pieces were more difficult to choose between. There was good, sometimes excellent stuff, but a number of the pieces should have been better clipped. Often, it was the last line that should have gone. With a harsher eye, too many sentences did no work, or not enough work, or work that simply didn’t need to be done.

Some fell to cliché – mainly due to the subject matter, (domestic abuse / death of a loved one / the end of the world being nigh). Some fell foul of poetry, at the cost of effective narrative.

‘Mr Fisher’ by Eloise Williams, ‘Hounded’ by Lewis Dale, and ‘Seaside Diseases’ by Amy McCauley came close but didn’t quite hit their mark.

In the end, the two pieces most complete as stories took second and third places – ‘Reminiscence’ by PJ Carnehan, and ‘Any Reasonable Time’ by Ed Broom.

They were provocative, something happened, and they left a sound behind. And that’s what you need from a story, however short it is.

NWR Flash in the Pen inaugural prizewinners

First place: Roz Goddard, ‘Dressing’
Second place: PJ Carnehan, ‘Reminiscence’
Third place: Ed Broom, ‘Any Reasonable Time’

Shortlist & commendations
‘Hounded’, Lewis Dale (Commended)
‘Carol’, James Ellis
‘Tomorrow Morning the Vimmin Vill Go Shopping!’, Fiona Frank
‘Seaside Diseases’, Amy McCauley (Commended)
‘Sentence’, Philip Michael Norris
‘Fig Biscuits’, Benjamin Palmer
‘Dandy’, Hannah Piekarz
‘Hoarder’, Bethany W Pope
‘The Next Generation’, Fiona Ritchie Walker
‘Trog’, Rob Walton
‘Mr Fisher’, Eloise Williams (Commended)
‘Belongings’, Georgia Carys Williams

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