Thank you everyone for your patience in waiting for the announcements this month. Busyness has become my new norm, but in a really good way. Whilst our entries were on the low side this month, the quality of entries was at an all-time high, which made the choice of picking 3 winners an even harder task this time around. Congratulations to all our shortlisted stories this month, there were just 5 of them but they were all very deserving. Our reasons for only picking 5 this round are HERE if you haven’t read the post yet.
As a quick reminder however, here are our 5 shortlisted stories for round 4 of our micro-fiction writing competition.
- Daddy’s Girl – Laura Tapper, Great Britain
- Eleven Things I Hate and Love About My Step Mother – Michelle Christophorou, UK
- Insurance Policy – Nicola Ashbrook, Great Britain
- Tabula Rasa – Bayveen O’Connell, Ireland
- The Playground – Nancy Leinweber, Australia
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And here they are, our 3 winners. Congratulations to you all, you should be very proud!
1ST PLACE ($50 prize, printed copy of anthology + a digital copy)
‘Tabula Rasa’ by Bayveen O’Connell of Ireland.
What we liked: We loved how relatable this was, and how the writer used the car wash as an objective correlative between the two characters. It really touches on the unique relationship between child and step-parent.
Bio: Bayveen O’Connell lives in Dublin, teaches English, and facilitates Creative Writing Workshops. She loves Bowie, Halloween, victorian gothic, historical fiction, taking photos, traveling (especially to Italy and Japan), and Cava. Her fiction has appeared (or is forthcoming) in the 2020 Flash Fiction Day Anthology, 2019 & 2020 Flash Flood, Ellipsis Zine, Virtual Zine Mag, Molotov Cocktail, The Cabinet of Heed, Underground Writers, Ravens in the Attic, Nightingale & Sparrow, and others. You can find her Creative Non-Fiction in Scum Lit Mag and Former Cactus.
Author’s Statement: When I saw the theme, I immediately wanted to undermine the fairy tale ‘jealous and vengeful’ step-mother stereotype. I equally wanted to tackle the cliche of the teenage daughter who’s both hostile towards the ‘impostor’ mother and towards her father for betraying her birth mother’s memory. Some of the lines of dialogue came to me first, in trying to create two real-world characters who were at a crucial moment in navigating through a relationship that had had a rocky start. In terms of setting, I chose the car wash because I remember, as a child, always feeling really cocooned inside the car there when the world outside disappeared behind suds. The act of cleansing the exterior of the car also mirrors what’s happening inside between the characters, Donna and Hailey. Through really listening to and sympathizing with each other, their relationship evolves and they come away with a pristine vehicle and a clean slate.
I’ve loved creating stories since I was a child. I was born in Ireland but I spent five of my formative years growing up on the Gold Coast, Australia, where there was access to fantastic public libraries, (a great one at my school in Biggera Waters too), and I was educated through a curriculum that really encouraged reading, writing and art. My writing is often motivated by examining historical events, traditional practices, mythology, and folklore from different angles and attempting to give a point of view from the perspective of the ‘other.’ I’m also inspired by travel, art exhibitions, personal experience, the Gothic, and dark ideas.
Donna stopped her tan coloured Datsun on the tracks of the automatic carwash. Waves of foamy suds started to course down the windscreen and she turned to me, her brow knotted:
“Hailey, did I ever tell you about my mother? When we were little my baby brother, Toby, cried and cried and wouldn’t sleep. Colic, I think. Anyway, Mum’d strap us all into the car and we’d go to Jackson’s Garage, or Belmont Station, the nearest drive-through car washes. I used to think these things were magic, the only places Toby would nod off. And when he was asleep, the twins napped too and I used to watch Mum’s eyes go wet with relief. Like someone took an eraser to the worry lines on her brow.”
Huge blue buffers closed in around the car and I looked at her and shrugged. “What’s that got to do with me?”
“Well,” I noticed how she managed to keep her tone even with me, not like Dad’s other girlfriends, “I thought you could get to know me by hearing my memory.”
The giant bottle brushes were still whirring with force along Donna’s car. With no view except Cookie Monster blue and white lacy waves, we could have been anywhere. It felt so calm, clean, safe: how I imagined the eye of a hurricane. My urge to spit fire and push away dulled.
“Hailey, honey, I know how special mums are, I’m not going to bleach yours out. Your dad has so much love, enough for all of us –”
“Donna,” I interrupted.
“No, just please listen. I’m just asking you if we can start fresh, you and me?” She brushed her hand past the corner of her eye as massive hoses sprayed the car down.
There’s a strange weight of expectation when an adult asks something of a kid, like when dad asked me if I could keep my tears in when we went to visit mum on the ward.
Sometimes the only way to hold it in was to stop breathing. I was used to being mum and dad’s guard dog for so long, but there was something about Donna; how she always offered me the butt of her chocolate bar and wanted to include me in cooking, and insisted on driving me places.
Suddenly a metal bar blowing hot air came traveling up the bonnet, up and over us.
“Tabula Rasa?” I said, the view out the windscreen slowly coming into focus like a Monet painting as the water droplets separated.
“Oh fancy! You doing Latin now?”
“No, but my history teacher, Moreton, says it all the time.”
All the parts of the carwash slotted back into place and everything came to a standstill. Donna turned the key in the ignition and pushed down the clutch. I took a stick of gum out of my hoodie pocket and held it out to her. Taking it, she smiled at me, her eyes wet and brow smoothed.
2ND PLACE ($20 prize + digital copy of anthology)
‘Eleven Things I Hate and Love About My Step-Mother’ by Michelle Christophorou of the UK.
What we liked: We really enjoyed the list style of this story, and how the writer was able to convey a narrative through it. The use of subtext follows what writers are advised to do – “Show, don’t tell.” It’s relatable and uplifting, leaving the reader feeling satisfied.
Bio: Michelle Christophorou recently won the Strands International Flash Fiction Competition. Last year, she won the Retreat West Fire-themed flash fiction competition, for which she received a ‘Best of the Net’ nomination. She has also won and come second in, respectively, Ad Hoc Fiction and Retreat West micro competitions, and was a runner up in Funny Pearls’ short story competition. Her short fiction has appeared in print and online, most recently in Splonk, Virtual Zine, Lunate, and 100 Words of Solitude. In an earlier life, Michelle practiced law in the City of London.
Author Statement: This story was inspired by the competition theme, coupled with a prompt to write a story in the form of a list. The prompt came from a flash workshop run by Matt Kendrick, who heads up online writers’ group Betas & Bludgers. I stole the idea (at first, subliminally) of changing the number in the title from the work of another participant in the workshop! It is not at all autobiographical aside from my being an Everton fan who, fortunately, did have a season ticket growing up in the 80s. I have been writing creatively since September 2017, when – having ceased practicing law and with my son now in school – I sought a new challenge and enrolled in a course at Surrey Adult Learning. Our tutor, Ruth Brandt, was wonderful and I haven’t really stopped since. I am inspired by fleeting ideas, memories, prompts, competition themes though my output tends to be sporadic and mood-related. I find the support of writer friends and the online writing community crucial in continuing to write and improve my work.
Ten Eleven Things I Hate And Love About My Step-Mother
- She isn’t Mum.
But she tries to be. Like when she confiscated my phone for ‘inappropriate’ messaging, or when she delivered that embarrassing talk on the relative benefits of tampons versus sanitary towels. Plus, she time-locks the Wi-Fi.
- She always laughs a little too loud and a little too long.
Especially when my mates are over, which makes my cheeks burn.
- She calls me Chrissie and only close friends and family are allowed to call me that.
- She bought me a sewing machine and some Liberty fabric for my 13th birthday when she knew I wanted an Everton season ticket.
“We already said you have to wait till you’re 15.” Never mind that our Stevie’s always banging on about going to Goodison.
- Dad always watches her when he thinks we’re not looking.
Which is disgusting. And embarrassing.
- She’s not 700 miles away.
- She always laughs at my jokes, even when I know they’re not funny.
She even laughs at my puns. And no one finds wordplay amusing.
- She calls me Chrissie and only close friends and family are allowed to call me that.
- She remembered my 13th Birthday.
She also helped me make an awesome, shimmering dress for the Christmas Ball and Leo said I looked really pretty.
- She made Dad smile again.
- After Leo dumped me, she held me while I cried and told me I was perfect and that — one day — I’ll find a boy who treats me just like Dad treats all of us.
And I believed her.
3RD PLACE ($20 prize + digital copy of anthology)
‘The Playground‘ by Nancy Leinweber of Australia
What we liked: A sweet story with some inviting imagery, the dusty old playground which set the stage for new love. We get a real sense of the child’s involvement in bringing her new family together.
Bio: I was born and grew up in Canada and moved “temporarily” to Australia in 1997. A few years later, temporary became permanent and I became a very proud dual citizen of these two amazing countries. At the moment my writing is mainly focused on short fiction, children’s stories, the odd guest blog article, and completing a novella. I hold an Advanced Diploma of Arts in Professional Writing from the Adelaide College of the Arts. My family and I live in the picturesque Adelaide Hills with our two cats.
Author’s statement: If I had to sum up what motivates me to write I’d have to say, it’s the curiosity to explore our humanity.
The inspiration for The Playground did not come easily. I’d made a few starts by the Sunday evening before the competition deadline, but I had nothing to show for my efforts. My friend and writing partner, Rosemary messaged me to ask how I was going with my entry. After some moaning on my part, she gently suggested that an idea might pop up when I stopped thinking about it and moved onto another project…or not. Turns out that was the kick in the pants I needed. The next morning I began exploring the idea of how and why the relationship between the step-mother and her new family might have started, paring it back to the very beginning and trying not to be too soppy.
Dad decided to stay here—in a remote part of a barren state, in a far off country—after my mother moved onto the life she wanted. He had a secure job, a comfortable house, and good friends. He wasn’t forced to face relatives or old acquaintances that lived overseas and who might wonder what happened to drive away the mother of a baby, and who might ask how he was going to raise that baby on his own.
Other than work and shopping, Dad’s only outing was to take me to the local playground. Looking back, the early years weren’t much of a life for him. And the playground wasn’t much either; it was hot and dusty. There wasn’t a tree in sight—only scrubby bushes and dry grass. An enormous metal slippery-dip, that Dad forbade me to go near, dominated the landscape. Languishing in a corner was a sandpit that had lost its battle against the elements and was more pit than sand. Despite this, I loved that playground and would hound Dad into taking me there whenever he had a spare moment.
We fell into a routine of going out early to avoid the worst of the heat. Along the way, he’d buy a newspaper and take-away coffee. I’d stop to examine trails of ants and marvel at how they clambered over, around, and sometimes under the twigs and rocks, I put in their path. Dad said we travelled at the break-neck speed of 100 meters per hour.
Kate appeared during one of these playground visits. When we arrived she was sitting on Dad’s bench; the wind playing in her long blonde hair; her eyes fixed on the horizon. I should clarify … there was only one bench and she was on it. There was no one else around so while I ran off to play, Dad approached her hoping for some adult conversation. He didn’t notice the damp tissue clutched in her hand until it was too late. Dad says it was awkward, standing there with his newspaper and coffee. Kate says he was a magnificent silhouette against the brilliant blue sky.
‘Sorry to bother you,’ he said. ‘I’ll stand.’
‘Oh, you don’t have to do that,’ she said as she slid over. ‘We can share.’
And when I began begging him to let me go down the metal slide, Kate said to him, ‘If it’s alright, I’ll go with her. She can sit on my jacket so she won’t get burnt.’
‘Don’t you have a family?’ I asked her.
‘Maddy!’ said Dad.
It’s okay,’ said Kate. ‘I’m on my own.’
‘You’re like us!’ I yelped.
That sealed the deal.
Kate became a regular fixture at the playground and then in our lives. She said we filled a hole in her heart. I often wonder which of us needed the other more.
If you missed out on placing in this round, never fear, there is another round beginning in a few weeks. The theme this time will be ‘Great GrandMother’. I’m sure there are lots of fascinating stories just waiting to be told about this topic so I am anticipating lots of entries and no need for extending deadlines…here’s hoping!
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