WWI Microfiction Competiton Judges’ Report

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WWI Microfiction Competiton
Judges’ Report

We will be back tomorrow with a new flash, but before we dive back into our regular programming, we’d like to say a few words about our recent microfiction competition.

First of all, huge congratulations to our prize-winning, highly commended and shortlisted pieces.

and to our three additional shortlisted pieces:

  • At Turtucaia, 1916, Voicu Thinks About His Eight-Year-Old Brother, Titi
  • Collect Your Dead
  • How to sacrifice your life in the line of duty and still go uncommemorated on war memorials

The quality of submissions was astronomically high, and the decision was excruciatingly difficult. Nearly every editor or contest judge has said something similar at some point, so we thought we’d take a few moments to back ourselves up with some numbers, stories and facts, starting with a rundown of what we’ve been doing since submissions closed last weekend.

We currently have a team of seven editors. One of us processed the entries, ensuring anonymity. The other six read every piece submitted, and compiled individual lists of all the pieces they felt were potential prize-winners. This was no small task; in order to stick to our publication schedule, we had to read quickly yet carefully, and we had to resist the urge to fact-check each and every detail or lose ourselves in researching the stories behind the stories (which we often do with pieces in our submission queue).

Reading so many strong, passionate, personal pieces was an incredibly intense and moving experience. Twenty-four hours after submissions closed, we had our individual lists and naïvely thought that we were through the hardest part. Surely, we thought, when we compared lists, they’d all be largely the same. Little did we know!

When we combined our individual lists of pieces we each felt were the strongest, the resulting ‘shortlist’ included a whopping 42% of the submissions. Forty-two percent. More than two out of every five pieces sent to us were picked out by at least one editor as a potential prize-winner.

To say we were truly staggered by the quality of work submitted is an understatement, and it soon became clear to us that coming to a final decision was going to be anything but simple. The eight pieces that made up our collective shortlist are pieces that appeared on several of our lists, but even so, coming up with a final ranking required heavy doses of discussion, re-reading, fisticuffs, spreadsheets, and finally another round of rankings and analysis.

We are in awe of the writing we had the honour of reading for this competition, and we sincerely hope that the titles that didn’t appear at FlashBack over the past five days have already been submitted elsewhere or are being earmarked for other competitions or submission windows.

To encourage resubmission, we have not announced the names associated with the unpublished work, though if authors wish to reveal themselves, we will be delighted to celebrate with you on social media. The judges still don’t know the names of any author we haven’t published; as with our general submission queue, names of authors aren’t shared until a piece is scheduled for publication.

We’d like to say a little bit about what we found so special about the pieces on our collective shortlist, but also acknowledge a few of the pieces that we felt passionate about that didn’t make an appearance in the final eight. To that end, each of us picked an individual favourite to commend here. Here are some thoughts on our winning and shortlisted pieces, as well as our seven editors’ choices….

Plum Jam (1st Place)
An original, resonant scene of fruit pickers near the Malvern Hills. Expertly placed historical details (‘hurden aprons’, ‘Ticklers jam factory’) add authenticity with a delicate touch. This piece masterfully highlights the war effort on the home front, and the last line is deeply affecting, the image of the ‘smashed, rotting’ fruit a reminder of the pervasive and traumatic impact of war beyond the front line.

Ogdens (2nd Place)
A woman constructs a cigarette: a small workplace action which mirrors the wider backdrop of war. The refrain of ‘tries not to think’ has a devastating effect: she, and we, cannot think of anything else. Much is achieved here in very few words: the compression of experience and emotion is perfectly done.

Potato Masher (3rd Place)
The details, the army slang title, the idea of carrying around something potentially lethal pull you on a journey through war in this story that finishes with an unforgettable image painted in sensory vividness. The last celebration, with its double impact of what else that explosive could do and has done elsewhere, is haunting.

Casus Belli (Highly Commended)
Written as one sentence, this takes us through a young man’s life from conventional peacetime job and sweetheart, through war (‘he hoped not to die; he prayed not to kill’), to the enduring impact of returning home wounded. Bravura use of the controversial semi-colon forces the pace; the impression of a continuous, inevitable life story only heightens how this man’s life has been fractured.

Life After Death (Highly Commended)
Layered with meaning, the poetic, dissociated language in this micro brilliantly and sensitively captures the experience of the ‘stranger in his stitched-up shell’, pulling us into the junction between his old and new lives to heart-breaking effect.

Collect Your Dead (Shortlisted)
A station that should be bustling with life is filled with the waiting dead. There’s a mythic underworld quality here as the women come to identify the bodies of their men: their descent into the dank, dark earth, the search for the familiar face (‘trying to find him, hoping they won’t’), the coins ready to pay for the dead men’s passage. Eerie and chilling.

At Turtucaia, 1916, Voicu Thinks About His Eight Year Old Brother Titi (Shortlisted)
A young boy is ‘ripped from horse and plough’ and sent to fight in the war. Even as a fragment of shrapnel or bone (he isn’t sure which) strikes him, his thoughts are with home and his mother. A wistful desire to warn his brother about wolves in the forest, underscores the far deadlier danger he faces.

How To Sacrifice Your Life In The Line Of Duty And Still Go Uncommemorated On War Memorials (Shortlisted)
Written as a list of instructions, this innovative micro makes a powerful point about the dangers faced by munitions workers, and the role played by women. The unexpected ending leaves the reader reeling, then wondering – about the nature of sacrifice and remembrance.

Actors Of The Great War (Editors’ Choice)
This skilfully-crafted story is a family saga made miniature, impressive in its geographical and historical sweep and scope. The unusual perspective – that of an acting troupe for whom World War I was the first act in the tragedy – made this piece stand out. The last line resonates well beyond the page.

Deutchsland Unter Alles (Editors’ Choice)
There are two lives compressed into this micro, their past, presents and futures. And somehow there’s also the mood of a country and a people, and a reminder that this was a World War and had a far-reaching. lasting impact. Heart-breaking.

Field Studies (Editors’ Choice)
A subtle, imaginative piece about the effect of the war (and other human actions) on the earth itself. Half microfiction, half prose poem, the language is delicate and precise, and the ending is a true masterclass in resonance.

The holy glimmers of goodbyes (Editors’ Choice)
Deceptively simple, this story intercuts orders for going over the top (‘Orderly queues at the ladders’) with one soldier’s thoughts of his family. Short, sparse lines give a full sense of the home this man yearns for, his hopes and fears for his children, and how their future will go on without him. Quietly heartbreaking.

The Little Train of the Somme (Editors’ Choice)
A memorable account of the trench railways brought to life by a vivid second-person present narrative. The personification of the train emphasises the significance of the railway network, not only to carry supplies, but also to ‘deliver love letters’ and ‘fetch wounded limbs and broken men’ home. A touching, unique story.

A List of Things Queen Marie of Romania Takes with Her to Iasi in 1916 As Bucharest Is Being Evacuated (Editors’ Choice)
In this first-person narrative, the Queen’s war time privations are in contrast to those of the ‘women in Bucharest slums…with their nine children.’ Very effective use of repetition to show her dawning realisation that privilege keeps safe her most precious possessions, her children.

Nine to ten million (Editors’ Choice)
A young soldier muses on what might be remembered about the war, and what might be written. These experiences seem somewhat distant to us until the final line where the young man addresses us directly- taking us aback and sharply fusing his past and our present.

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Congratulations again to our prize-winning and highly commended writers. And to everyone else who submitted work, thank you so much for the privilege of reading your work. We hope and expect to see many of these pieces out in the world soon.

– Anita, Chris, Damhnait, Emily, Ingrid, Judi & Sharon