Nothing demonstrates this more perfectly than the first three prizewinning stories, Brain Freeze by Freya Morris, Missing by Carol Warham and About Life by Amanda Huggins.
It took me a long time to judge this competition. You'd have thought it would have taken me less time, as the stories were less than 500 words each. However, I had to allow them to stew a while. Brain Freeze didn't grab me as much as some of the other entries on the first reading. Then I couldn't get the images out of my head and I wondered why. On re-reading, I noticed so much more was going on than I first realised. I then began to dwell more on the central character and what his life was like. At first glance it is a story about a man sitting on a bench eating an ice cream. Then we learn that he should be at work. He is a schoolmaster and should have been taking assembly that morning. So what has happened to make this usually responsible and upstanding man neglect his duties in this way? I'll let you read the story so that you can make up your own mind. Each time I read this story I gained more insight. A superb piece of writing. So simple, yet so effective.
Missing was another slow-burner. The first time I read this story, I wasn't sure what was going on. I almost completely missed the point. It was that last line: 'In the middle of the playground lies a small shiny, red buckle shoe, forgotten, lost.' that grabbed my attention. I couldn't get the image out of my head. On re-reading this story, I noticed more and more detail. In fact, it was the attention to detail that had me hooked. This is a highly atmospheric piece and there are several powerful images. The way the writer personifies the elements such as the breeze made this particular reader sit up and take note. Stylistically, this is a difficult one to pull off, but Carol did so, effortlessly. This story has great resonance and tugs strongly on the reader's emotions.
About Life drew me in the first time I read it. That first line: 'The fields are crouched low in the winter sunlight' is wonderful. I knew from the outset that this writer has a wonderful feel for language; something I always look for in a winning story. Her characters leap off the page and we immediately empathise with both of them. Again, this writer pays great attention to detail. Every gesture; every word; every action has significance. Amanda Huggins doesn't have to tell us how these characters feel about the tragedy in their lives or how they'll cope in the future, she shows us with unflinching honesty. The ending could have been clichéd, but Amanda shies away from the easy option and creates a more believable character as a result.
Tantric Twister by Tracy Fells deserves a special mention, because it has an excellent twist. Again, both the characters and the situation are real and true. The story also raises a smile and brings hope. Recklessness, fun and sex aren't just for the young, but also for the young at heart. I also love the title!
Judging this competition has taught me so much about Flash Fiction and has made me eager to write more Flash pieces myself. Thank you to all who took part.