Results of FWS Vernal Equinox Competition 2019
Overview by Flash Fiction Judge Gordon Lawrie
As the editor of a flash fiction website, I see many different submissions from around the world – many thousands over the last five or six years – and their quality varies quite a bit. By no means do we accept them all.
So it was great to see so very many high-standard entries for the FWS Vernal Equinox Flash Fiction and indeed I can honestly that every single entry – all of them – would have graced the pages of the website I edit. So well done to all of you, you can write flash fiction for sure, and your stories were a pleasure to read.
That brought its own problems, however. With so many excellent stories, especially when they vary in style as much as yours did, identifying the best ones becomes difficult. Your stories were funny, sad, poignant, uplifting, frightening, romantic, erotic, and in any number of genres. I tried to go back to the criteria that I set out beforehand, but my choices are inevitably subjective ones.
At least my choices are quite different. I liked them, and I hope you like them, too. I’ve included a short ‘Commended’ list as well, but in truth you were all winners.
Craig Aitchison Marigolds
Peter Armstrong Richard’s T-Shirt
Debbie Bayne Portrait of a Younger Man
Stephen Barnaby Compact
Carol McKay There’s Always Another Train
Paula Nicolson Niver Titch a Woman’s Bahooky Less She Asks Ye
Steve May What Good’s A Cowboy?
Why I liked it.
Although the Vernal Equinox Flash Fiction Competition has a maximum word limit of 500 words, much shorter stories have their merits, too. For me, this just touched a nerve: on this occasion the bully a hat, but it might just as well have been a bicycle, a schoolbag or a football.
This is the story of an end of a childhood innocence that each of us has experienced. The child discovers that people can be mindlessly horrible, and at the same time that his mother can’t protect him as much as he’d previously assumed.
Bert Thomson Daft and Dafter
Why I liked it.
What appealed here was that I could so picture this entire scene, and each of the characters. Every Scot encounters countless such ‘numpties’ from time to time – guys who simply seem parachuted in from the planet Mars. They mean well, they think they’re harming no one, when actually they just don’t think at all.
I love the way that the story unfolds as Ryan ‘Daft’ Wilson babbles on to DI Charlie Scrimgeour about what they were up to – that he and his mate Jason were off to Largs to collect some drugs when this ridiculous misunderstanding regarding ‘the wean’ took place. And I love the way that, even once it’s pointed out to him what he’s done, Ryan first response is ‘nae harm done. The wean had a great time.’ A cone from Nardini, after all, is the antidote to anything.
The detective would be shaking his head in despair. I shook mine, too – laughing.
Colin Kerr Charlotte
Why I liked it.
The quality of submissions was consistently high, which made judging both enjoyable and difficult at the same time. But the story of the narrator’s relationship with Charlotte, told through a piano and shared accommodation, somehow sparked my imagination. Charlotte seeks causes, love, people’s accents, soft furnishings, books, and of course the piano, in no special order: as one hope fades, she trades it for another.
I placed a value on some exceptional writing: ‘I moved here from a village you wouldn’t know’; the placard with ‘Gods in the sky’ – is it missing an apostrophe? (we never find out); Charlotte’s endless faith in hope and new solutions; the sense that Charlotte is damaged; and the final theme that all is temporary. I found myself wondering how Charlotte would react to the disappearance of the piano. Would it push her over the edge, or would she simply create a fresh placard about something else?
This story fulfilled all of my major requirements, particularly that it said so much yet left so much unsaid. The narrator seems unlikely to be part of Charlotte’s story, for sure.
Overview by Gaelic Judge Marcas mac an Tuairneir
Bha e na thlachd uiread de shàr-sgrìobhadh sa Ghàidhlig fhaighinn a-steach don cho-fharpais, le taic bho Chomhairle nan Leabhraichean is buidhnean eile. B’ e fianais a bha seo de rud air an robh mi an dùil o chionn fhada: gu bheil sgrìobhadairean Gàidhealach am measg seòid a’ Cho-nasgaidh, ach gun robhas feumach air beagan misneachd a chumail riutha is cothrom ceart a chur rompha. Nach sibh a tha math, uileadh!
Mar sgrìobhadair aithnichte sa chiad dol-a-mach airson mo chuid bàrdachd fhèin, bhiodhar an dùil, is dòcha gum measainn a’ bhàrdachd as fheàrr. Thachair sin, ach chan eil sin ri ràdh nach robh sgrìobhadh an grad-fhicsein aig àrd-ìre, cuideachd. Bha, gun teagamh, ach an fhìrinn innse, leis is gur e gnè-sgrìobhaidh gu math ùr, fhathast, air saoghal litreachas na Gàidhlig, chan robh mi cinnteach an do ghabh gin de na sgrìobhadairean ruisg ris a’ chruth-sgrìobhaidh gu buileach – fhathast! – ged cho mòr a chòrd rium an ìomhaigheachd annta. Ann an grad-fhicsean bidh mi an dùil ri sgeulachd slàn ann an gainnead fhaclan. Tachartas a bhuaileas mi le sainnseal tron dhuilleig, no deagh chleas a chuireas car air an aithris. Bho na leugh mi am measg nan iarrtasan seo, bha deagh thoiseach thòiseachaidh den ath mòr-nobhail Ghàidhlig, no sàr-sgeulachd ghoirid a ghabhadh leasachadh le cunntas fhaclan nas motha. Mar sin, na biodh seo na dì-mhisneachadh dhuibh. Chan eil mi ach airson tuilleadh a leughadh, nach d’ fhuair mi san dòigh seo.
A thaobh na bàrdachd, bha fhìor-fharsaingeachd ann, ged a chuir a h-uile duine verse libre thugainn. Ann am pìos na dhà, bha blasad de mheatarachd is seann-chruthan ri leughadh ann am feadhainn de na loidhnichean is chunnaic mi dìleab nan sàr-bhàrd Gàidhealach san sgrìobhadh ùr a chaidh a chur romham. A thaobh chuspairean is ìomhaigheachd, bha na tròpaichean Gàidhealach ann: maighdeannan-mhara is maighdeannan-ròin, gaol ga riochdhachadh tron aimsir is ràithean na bliadhna, coimhearsnachdan dùthchasach nan eilean le sùil gheur air beatha is na rudan beaga a bheir buaidh oirre.
I was chuffed to see we had attracted such super writing in Gaelic to the competition, with support from the Gaelic Books Council and friends elsewhere. This was the evidence we needed of something known for a long time: that we have Gaelic-speaking writers amongst the illustrious ranks of the Federation, but that a little confidence needed instilling whilst presenting them with the right opportunity. You’re all stars!
As a writer primarily known for my own poetry, you would likely expect that I would judge poetry to be most worthy. Yes, that what’s happened, but that is not to say that the flash-fiction wasn’t without merit, either. I really enjoyed it, but if I’m honest, with this being a relatively new genre for Gaelic literature, I wasn’t left feeling certain that any of our prose writers had got a proper handle on the genre – yet! – despite how much the imagery was a thrill to read. In flash-fiction, I expect to read a complete story in a paucity of words. An event that smacks me round the chops, through the page, or a clever twist that flips the narrative. From what I read amongst these entries, there was a promising start to the next great Gaelic novel, or a superb short story waiting to be developed with a larger word-count. To that end, this should in no way serve to break your confidence. I came away solely wanting to read more than I could in that put before me.
As for the poetry, there was a great deal of variety, though you all sent in vers libre. In a couple of pieces, there was a taste of that metre and traditional form that came through in the reading of certain lines and I could really see the legacy of the greatest of the Gaelic poets in this snapshot contemporary writing. In terms of theme and imagery, the stuff of Gaeldom was there: mermaids and selkies, love represented through the weather and the seasons, traditional island communities with a keen eye on life and the small things that shape it.
Eòghan Stiùbhart Siantan
Peter Clive Figheachan
Sgàire Uallas Marbhrann MhicCodruim Dheireannaich
San dàrna àite, ath-sgrìobhadh sean sgeulachd MhicCriomain a thug orm dàrna shealladh a thoirt air cultar nan Gàidheal. Seann ìomhaigheachd ga ath-dhealbhachadh san linn sa bheil sinn beò is a sheall dhuinn, mar a chanas sinn sa chànan eile, gu bheil sinn relevant fhathast. Bha deagh bhriathrachas air an deagh cleachdadh san dàn seo, cuideachd. Bhiodh Dwelly na ghlòraidh.
In second place, a rewriting of an old tale, MacCrimmon, that gave me a second perspective on Gaelic culture. Ancient imagery redrawn for our times, which demonstrates to us all, as the cool kids are saying, that we’re still relevant. There was some terrific vocabulary in this one, too. Dwelly would be cock-a-hoop.
Deborah Moffatt Beatha Ùr
Gu dearbh, bha an rud mu dheireadh sin anns an dàn a shoirbhich as motha is sin ‘Beatha Ùr’, far an do pheantadh ìomhaigh soilleir den bhàrd a’ coimhead a-mach às an uinneig is a’ dlùth-sgrùdadh nan nàbaidhean a’ tighinn is a’ falbh, a’ lorg cèill anns na mion-chleachdaidhean aca. ’S e an t-sùil gheur sin a thug a’ bhuaidh as motha orm is an dàn a dh’fhàg mi le ceistean nam inntinn fhìn fhathast. Sin cumachd sàr-bhàrdachd.
Without doubt, it was the latter that secured a victory for the winning poem, ‘Beatha Ùr’ where a crystalline image of the poet was painted as he or she stared out of the window, scrutinising the comings and goings of the neighbours and their idiosyncracies. It was this keen eye that affected me most, personally, and this the poem which left me with questions in my mind, after reading. That’s the power of excellent poetry.
Overview by Short Story Judge Olga Wojtas
It’s been a privilege to judge this year’s short story competition. The standard of entries was so high that my “short” list was 18 out of the 50 submissions. I did assess entries by particular criteria, including the impact of the opening, the appropriateness of the language to the story, and whether it was engaging throughout. But judging something creative is never an exact science, so to those who didn’t make the finalists this time round, please don’t be too despondent, and send your work out there – there are lots of opportunities.
One word of warning: I didn’t take this into account in the judging, but I came across quite a few mis-spellings and grammatical mistakes. You want to maximise your chances when you submit to magazines and competitions, so please check and check again beforehand!
Daniel Murphy Getting Upset Over Nothing
Using “you” as the point of view is an underused form which can be very effective. In this story, “you” is an adult son who suddenly finds himself responsible for his mother who has dementia. The story is predominantly light and humorous, focusing on the son trying to deal with the situation. It leads an unexpectedly moving ending, which is achieved so well that the change in mood doesn’t remotely jar.
Gaynor Jones What 20p Will Get You in the Year of Our Lord,1996
This story, set in a convent school tuck shop, gets straight into the action with a good strong narrative voice. It’s very immediate, with great use of dialogue between the teenagers. And it’s perfectly paced: midway through, we think we’re very clever because we’ve worked something out, when it’s the author’s clever writing that leads us to the discovery. It’s open-ended but optimistic.
William Sutton Guilt Written
The protagonist is a writer, pen name Dougie O’Dowd, and he’s not an attractive character. His wife turns out to be cast in the Lady Macbeth mould. There’s no reason why the main character has to be likeable, and this keeps up the interest from beginning to end with a judicious use of quotes and Dougie’s own writing. A nice touch is several changes of font. Midway through, we can see where it’s going, but it continues to intrigue because of the quirky writing and because we don’t know how it’s going to end.
Steve May The Man In The Corner
This is a good example of less being more. There was a 2000 word limit and the vast majority of submission were around 1900 words. But this story packed a real punch at under 900 words and wouldn’t have worked so well if it had been expanded. It’s got an omniscient narrator, so the point of view shifts several times.This works well since the key character is only ever observed rather than us knowing anything about him.
Montague Chambers Going Home
This is a very touching story, most of it told from the point of view of a small boy who has serious health problems. It’s a great voice, very well handled, revealing a child who is bright and completely lacking in self-pity. The first-person voice is also very effective in getting information across: as adults, we understand more about the child’s condition than he does himself, and we also discover that he has drastically misconstrued information about himself. There is a sad ending, but we empathise so much with the protagonist that it’s not as sad as it appears.
Judge Stephen Watt
Donald Adamson Tenterhuiks
Without disclosing which sport – although I strongly believe it to be football – this was a wonderfully written poem in Scots slang, grasping the nervous energy one feels awaiting a score-line. The nostalgic delivery still manages to remain contemporary in its description, and ambiguous enough for the reader to draw their own conclusions.
Philip Burton Garlands, Nut, Figures and Grace
Formidable story-telling, bringing both context and a dark fairy-tale to the origins of the Britannia Coconut Dancers of Lancashire. Enchanting language, layout, rhythm and rhyme contribute towards a fascinating poem which welcomingly left field in its subject matter.
Ann MacLaren title withheld because entrant does not wish poem to be published online
Split into three sub-poems, this was a real favourite of mine – and similar to my selected first prize poem in its eavesdropping delivery. This type of poetry has a brilliantly Scottish, tongue-in-cheek quality, laughing inwardly at itself but also capturing some of the daft patter one hears when commuting. Right up my street.
Jilly O’Brien Now That I’m No Longer Dying
The brutal honesty of this poem is both effective and affective. The reinstated, habitual lifestyle one returns to following a spell of serious illness is something which I am positive many families have had to handle; the hegemony shifting and leaving both parties feeling isolated and alien to one another in the illness’s aftermath. The tempo of this piece hurtles towards the closing lines – “Four weeks of limbo in a floral gown, sore machines out of date magazines needles biopsies careful sympathy and staring at the ceiling”, before its use of normality as a crashing conclusion. A well-crafted and heartfelt poem deserving of its third place.
Elaine Webster Living The Language
There were several poems which embraced the Scots language, but none which quite intensified the way this poem does. It is a timeline which scrutinises the way language impacts upon lives through learning, challenges, dead-ends, music, experimenting and delivering. The gradual drip-feed of Scots words throughout the poem which lead to that thunderous final stanza works incredibly well; almost like one is trying to establish their purpose or talent, and how best to express this. Here, we have “new-borns in water” / “grannies” “cradle the rare phrase” / and “teens” “switching to Scots”, all “seeking sinewy sounds” until the tongue has grafted, loosened, and is finally free to be natural. A very clever piece.
Mary Wight Fish
I found this vibrant, eavesdropping poem incredibly endearing as it rotated like a slideshow with images of friendship, romance, humour, labour and dreams. These subjects are quite ordinary in any existence, but the use of language complimented the unity and affection between the three main characters: “handbags and haunches settled” / “laughter rose in gusts” / “this team”. The envious conclusion appears to embrace a two-fold jealousy, delighting in lines such as “ash and blackened weeds fell”, capturing not only the green-eyed yearning for love but also a simmering craving to be part of this group of friends’ pack. The pendulum delivery of this poem swings between the past and the contemporary, revelling in its secrets of who the women are and why the narrator remains at a distance. I returned to this poem time and time again, quite enchanted and in love with it.