Thank you to everyone who entered our 6th and final round of the Micro Fiction Writing Competition. As always, the entries this month were all outstanding. Picking just 3 winners was a an agonising task to say the least. I’d love to make everyone a winner but alas, it wouldn’t be a competition then, would it? Congratulations once again to all our shortlisted stories this month. If you missed the previous post containing the shortlist, you can find it HERE or just see the list below.
- Beans, ROSALEEN LYNCH, United Kingdom
- Herb Garden, MARTHA LANE, United Kingdom
- Mother Teresa, CLAIRE TAYLOR, United States
- My Patchwork Heart, LAURA TAPPER, Great Britain
- Never Forgotten, DANIELLE LINSEY, United Kingdom
- Some Superheroes Have Freckles, NICOLA DAVIDSON, United Kingdom
- Susan is There, RACHEL O’CLEARY, Ireland
- Swings and Roundabouts, ALYSON HILBOURNE, Great Britain
- The First Child, DENNY JACE, Great Britain
- When Nobody Came to Stay, DETTRA ROSE, 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)
‘Beans’ by Rosaleen Lynch, United Kingdom.
What we liked: Even though the length is a little shorter than our other stories, we love how unique it is, in the way it subverts form to its own nonstandard purpose, deliberately running the whole story on a single sentence in order to give a convincing voice to emotional confusion/dislocation/turmoil. A perfect example of a story that breaks the rules of writing for a definite purpose–and accomplishes that purpose. We felt it spoke volumes about the intricate relationship between a foster mother and foster child and the processes they must employ to draw kids out of their isolated inner world without causing further damage.
Bio: Rosaleen Lynch, an Irish youth and community worker and writer in the East End of London, loves stories conversational, literary and performed. Words in Jellyfish Review, EllipsisZine, Fish, The London Reader, Mslexia and other lovely places. Find her on Twitter @quotes_52 and 52Quotes.blogspot.com
Author’s Statement: I wrote ‘Beans’ to celebrate the work of foster carers and the importance of giving young people a voice. The inspiration was – security in turbulent times – emotional security and food security. My mother, to this day has to have a tin of beans in her cupboard, a hangover from when money and food was scarce – she will never eat her last tin of beans! As a mum, a youth and community worker and teacher, I’ve seen how patience, consistency, and re-framing the narrative can move us through relational difficulties and how many young people’s coping strategies involve pushing up against boundaries to make sure they are intact and keeping them safe and secure. The way the beans touch everything now, can be resolved, like the problems in Casablanca, so they won’t amount to a ‘hill of beans’ in the future. This hope is why I’m a youth and community worker, why I’m a teacher and why I write.
Photo by Deepansh Khurana on Unsplash
I don’t speak for three whole weeks, she doesn’t mind she says, she likes the quiet, so I put her video of Casablanca on and keep playing it all day and night, there’s not much on telly any more she says, it’s nice to have a soothing sound, put it on again if you like, so I turn her record player up until the sound breaks up and she says, we’re lucky the house is insulated and detached, make it louder if you like, so I open all her windows to let the cold in and the sound out and she says it was stuffy before and the neighbours could do with waking up, shaking up, we could have a street party if you like, so I knock over all the bins on her road and watch from her doorstep the scavengers, from cats to dogs to foxes, spread the rubbish wide, and she says to look just how much people could be recycling, and stops herself, saying she shouldn’t judge, though I could if I like, when I’ve been through what I have and that I must be hungry using all that energy, and then goes in to put on the tea, and a mug and fry up, from nowhere lands on the doorstep beside me with a knife and fork, bacon, sausage, eggs, fried tomato, mushroom, and beans spreading on the plate and touching everything and I feel her behind, looking down on me so I leave the plate and knife and fork and spoon in my mug of milky tea, stand up, turn around and on tiptoes, so l’m almost in her face, I scream, I hate beans and she says, right you are Love, nice to meet you at last, as long as you’re not vegetarian we’ll be alright.
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2ND PLACE ($20 prize + digital copy of anthology)
‘Susan is There’ by Rachel O’Cleary, Ireland
What we liked: We felt drawn into the story, as though given the privilege of an insider’s view, of the characters intricate relationships and felt the story communicated very well, the variety within the fostering world, e.g. that many children in care are still having some contact with their biological parents. The writer manages to juggle three distinct female characters without misleading the reader, even whilst quite delicately crafting the subtle confusion in the girl’s mind between her foster-mother and biological mother.
Bio: Rachel O’Cleary studied creative writing at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. She is a recent winner of the Strands International Flash Fiction Competition and has a piece of microfiction appearing in the forthcoming Battery Pack IV. After several years teaching English in Poland and France, she now lives in Ireland with her husband and three children, writing mostly very short fiction in between school runs. She occasionally tweets @RachelOCleary1.
Author Statement: A born bookworm, I have been writing stories since I could pick up a pencil. Like most writers, I am fascinated by people and our complex relationships. I have always been interested in how people choose to treat others in small everyday moments, as well as in times of great strain or suffering.
This theme spoke to me as I worked, in a former lifetime, as an advocate for children in care. The sincere love that these children feel for their birth parents and their foster parents was at the centre of my inspiration for this piece. The best foster parents are those who understand and respect that it can be a confusing situation for the children, and who support the child they care for by allowing them to love and be loved by as many people as possible. I wanted Susan to be such a foster mother, and to demonstrate how that steadiness and support is so important, even when it goes unacknowledged in the moment.
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Susan is There
Mum is late as usual, so Susan and I sit in the car listening to the radio. I tap my toe against the plastic floor mat and stare out the window.
“Do you want to talk?” she asks.
“Ugh. No,” I say, suddenly worried she’s going to try to have some kind of awkward-arse heart-to-heart with me, like this is a Hollywood movie.
In the Hollywood version of my life, Mum would probably never show up at all, and I would cry at first, but then Susan would hug me and I would magically forget all about Mum and live happily ever after in an immaculately clean house where dinner is on the table at six on the dot every night.
In this version, I bite my fingernail and glance sideways at Susan.
“She’s not a total loser you know,” I say. “It’s just that she can’t leave work until her replacement comes in, and sometimes her car doesn’t start the first time. It’s not…you know.” I wave my arm at the plush seats of Susan’s SUV.
“I don’t think she’s a loser,” she says. “I’m sure she’s trying her best.” Susan is especially calm on visitation days. Like she’s trying to make up for how Mum will be when it’s over, always crying and pulling me back for one last hug. It’s not that Susan doesn’t care, but she’s not really my Mum, is she? When she drops me off, she just smiles encouragingly and waves goodbye. Although, she always stays to watch until I’m gone.
I keep staring out the window. Breathing the soft lavender of Susan’s perfume. I need to see Mum before she sees me. The thing is, It’s been a while since our last visit, and I keep trying to picture her face, but it never looks quite right. Like her eyes will be blue instead of hazel, or her crooked smile will be replaced with straight white teeth like Susan’s. And every time, I know something’s wrong, but it’s like I can’t put all the right pieces of her face together at one time.
Then I see her. She’s walking towards us, wearing a pink coat. I scan up and down. She’s pulled her dark hair back in a tidy ponytail and her trousers look clean and pressed. I exhale, and I can feel my shoulders relaxing. I turn to Susan.
“Thanks for waiting. I’ll see you this afternoon.”
I go to open the door, but she reaches over and squeezes my hand in her soft pink palm. Waits for me to look up.
“I’ll have my phone on,” she says.
“I know,” I tell her. “Thanks.”
Then I’m walking toward Mum. She looks nervous, but she’s smiling, and when I hug her she smells familiar, like oranges and vanilla. I look over her shoulder and see Susan smiling and waving through the car window. As Mum and I walk away, I turn and glance back. Susan is still there.
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3RD PLACE ($20 prize + digital copy of anthology)
‘When Nobody Came to Stay‘ Dettra Rose, Australia
What we liked: Who doesn’t like a happy ending story? This one certainly felt satisfying in that department and was well executed and convincing, with its strong point-of-view and poignant imagery (“bag of bad dreams”).
Bio: Dettra Rose writes flash fiction, articles and tiny poems. Dettra’s flash pieces have won and been shortlisted/longlisted in a number of esteemed competitions, including: Bath Flash Fiction Award, Reflex Fiction, Retreat West, the Australian Writers’ Centre and TSS Publishing. At the moment she’s trying very hard to finish her novel but keeps getting distracted by her
addiction to flash. A born-and bred Londoner Dettra now lives in Australia; she calls both places home. Find her at Dettrarose.com
Facebook – Dettra Rose
Author’s statement: The ‘Foster Mum’ theme stoked my curiosity and inspired my piece. I read a little online about foster kids then started playing around with ideas. I liked what emerged with Emile’s ‘surgically attached’ soft toy and how he was able to express his needs by giving his tiger a
voice. As I wrote about Emile and Nobody, they blended more and more. I really felt for Emile and wanted him to give him a secure home and not another heartbreaking experience.
Since I started writing I’ve had heaps of rejection. It goes with the territory and its part of
putting myself out there. I’ve noticed success and failure often roll in waves. Sometimes I
can get placed three times in one month, and that’s very uplifting.
But then there are the darker times when everything I submit sinks. Though I’m used to it
now, a big run of rejection can still derail me and steal my confidence. I tell myself it will
turn around even if it feels like it never will. Strength and determination are a writer’s
muscle as much as crafting words.
Being part of a writing community on Twitter has really helped me see firsthand that all
authors go through fallow and disappointing times, even writers much more published than
I love writing – it gives so much back rejection and all.
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When Nobody Came to Stay
Emile was the pass-the parcel-gift nobody wanted to end up with. He arrived with shadows under his eyes and a bag of bad dreams. The sun was melting the bitumen outside, but Emile was zipped up in his anorak.
‘Would you like to take off your jacket, Emile?’
He shook his head. A grubby plush tiger peeped over the top of his coat.
‘What’s your tiger’s name?’ I asked.
‘Nobody.’ He hid its head with his palm.
‘Hello, Nobody. Would you like to see the rest of the house, Emile? Shall we look at your bedroom?’
Upstairs we unpacked his things. I asked if he liked the sea-blue of his room and the park view from the window. He pressed his lips, then said.
‘Nobody wants a glass of milk.’
‘Okay, let’s get him one.’
In the kitchen, Emile drank three glasses and told me Nobody was very thirsty.
‘Would you like something to eat, Emile?’ I opened the fridge. ‘Sausages?’
‘Nobody wants peanut butter and bread.’
I cut it in little squares, just like Nobody wanted me to.
For weeks, Emile showered then sheltered back inside his anorak. Nights were often a stream of tears and wet sheets. Feathery dreamcatchers soon hung like planets in his room. My head felt like woolly socks, eyes gritty with fatigue.
Almost daily, Emile draped my much-loved tiger print blanket over the dining table.
‘Come in the cat-cave,’ he said.
In I’d go, then he’d crawl around with Nobody.
‘You be the mummy tiger and we’ll be the babies.’
Only then would Emile cuddle up with me.
Over the months, I shopped for animal print clothing: long socks, hats with ears, gloves. We were a tiny zoo in the cat-cave. Emile giggled at our zebra torsos, leopard heads and lion’s paws.
Then it happened. Nobody lost his tail. We searched the house, street, school. Emile’s face was a swollen burning red ball.
‘We’ll make him a new one, Emile. I’ll get material tomorrow.’
‘NOW!’ he shouted. ‘He needs it now!’
I cut a piece from my tiger blanket, sewed it, stuffed it, and stitched it onto Nobody. While he watched, Emile’s chest heaved and he told me Nobody needed warm milk and chocolate biscuits.
We ate them in the cat-cave. Emile didn’t crawl around this time.
‘Nobody needs a forever-home.’ He said.
I nodded. In fifteen months, there had been no adoption offers. For the first time, with the exception of tail surgery, Emile handed me Nobody. His tiger was flat, letter-thin. Having lived between Emile’s heart and a zip all his life, it wasn’t surprising.
‘Here.’ Emile said. ‘Nobody needs a forever-home, here.’
I smiled and said. ‘I’ve grown very fond of Nobody. And what about you, Emile? Do you need a forever-home here?’
He blushed, scratched his chest, then put his fingers in his mouth.
He looked at his feet and nodded a tiny yes.
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