Moon Microfiction Competition Judges’ Report

We had a tremendous response to our call for submissions for historical flash written in response to the theme of ‘the moon’. We received over 200 pieces from a wide variety of writers, historians, scientists, and people who had never written flash but loved the theme.

After the challenge of choosing a winner for our 2018 WWI Microfiction Competition, we decided to make things a bit easier for ourselves on the judging front. We thought if we pulled our socks up and limited ourselves to individual shortlists of just 10 pieces each, then once we combined the lists of all six judges, our winners would be obvious and we would not have to resort to fisticuffs.

There were so many wonderful stories, set in many different time periods and places, but during the first round of judging when no one was sharing thoughts, all six judges had clear favourites and we all assumed the decision would be an easy one this time around.

Then we compared our lists….

If all six of our judges had chosen the same pieces, we would have had a combined list of 10 stories. Instead, we had a list of over 50 pieces. The vast majority of these appeared on only one or two judges’ lists. We then reread (and reread and reread) and discussed every story that more than one judge had selected and came up with our final ranking.

We love our winning, highly commended, and short-listed stories. They are strong, nuanced pieces that stood up to multiple readings and represented the team’s collective favourites.  We published our three winners and two highly commended pieces during the week leading up to the 50th anniversary of the moon landings; if you missed them, they are linked below.

However, we also feel it’s important to acknowledge that over 25% of the stories submitted were on at least one judge’s top ten list. If we’d only had one judge, or a different mix of judges, or if indeed the moon had been in a different phase, the results of this contest could have been very different.

For that reason, we’d like to celebrate not just our shortlisted stories, but also a few of the stories that spoke to us as individuals. Each of the team has picked a personal favourite to include as an ‘Editor’s Choice’.

Without further ado, here are our winners, shortlistees, and our Editor’s Choice picks….

Bedlam (First Place)

A woman sits rigid as physicians attempt to cure her ‘hysteria’. The lightest of historical references (horse hair and oil lamp) permit the searingly strong voice to dominate in this micro. The final line is particularly chilling and resonates long afterwards. A deserved win.

Gene Cernan Boards the Apollo 17 Lunar Module (Second Place)

Clever use of parentheses enables a sweeping story of significance to be packed into just two sentences. An original, thoughtful and inspiring take on (extra)ordinary experiences.

Moon Burial (Third Place)

This poetic micro beautifully poses a series of questions to Eugene Shoemaker, the astrogeologist whose remains were sent to the Moon in 1998. In particular, the moving line ‘How deep was the crater of your disappointment when the doctor said No, Eugene?’ wowed us with its layered meaning and resonance.

Moon Rabbit Over Honshu (Highly Commended)

With beautiful (apparent) simplicity, this story conjures an event, a community and a child’s way of seeing the world. As the whole street clusters round Mr Koyabashi’s new TV, careful details paint a solid background while a small child imaginatively interprets the Moon Landing through the folklore stories his grandmother has told him. Charming and convincing.

Three Minutes Before St Mary’s Chimed The Quarter Hour (Highly Commended)

In this gorgeously lyrical piece, the blinking Moon becomes a warning sign to Belle and her father, foretelling their fate in the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879. The scene is hauntingly rendered, finishing with the unforgettable image of Belle’s ‘tulip-shaped tomb’.

Lunatics (Shortlisted)

This story takes us back to a time of flux: the aftermath of the English Civil War. Repetition is used to clever effect, with our narrator pondering the ways in which ‘the world’s on its head’ for while his master dreams of flying to the moon, the Parliamentarians have just ‘murdered’ their king.

Nightfall, Hiroshima, August 5, 1945 (Shortlisted)

This micro carries the innocence of the children depicted within its sentences before the impending impact of a nuclear bomb, an event readers cannot stop from happening even while the author depicts a mother reading a bed time story to her children. There is heartbreak, a yearning to stop the inevitable, and love present, leaving readers holding their breath for what happens after the story’s conclusion.

One Small Step (Shortlisted)
(First line: “July 21 1969 03:56, Glasgow”)

The clever structure of this reminds us that while Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were involved in a hugely symbolic event, they were also men whose individual decisions lead them there, and that we can also celebrate the decisions we make in our own lives.

Aryabhata in the Mare Tranquillitatis (Editor’s Choice)

In this masterclass of how many different threads can be woven into a single, short flash, we glimpse a brief moment in the life of mathematician/astronomer Aryabhata’s wife…a moment when her faith in and understanding of her husband’s calculations cause her to have a very different response to a solar eclipse than others around her.

The Curse Of The Marble Carver (Editor’s Choice)

This unusual story about a 17th Century marble carver, now only able to draw the suns (the Emperor) and moons (the State) he once carved on the Taj Mahal, reads like a folk tale. The political eclipse of Emperor Shah Jahan by his son is cleverly woven in through the use of symbolism: ‘Moon refuses to be a thin fingernail’.

Karva Chauth (Editor’s Choice)

There’s a lot packed into this micro but it doesn’t feel forced. We touch on Partition, Hindu festivals, family dynamics, grief and protectiveness in a hundred words. And the moon feels like a separate character, a important presence on these people’s lives. Poignant and steeped in emotion.

A Love Letter from the Moon Upon Construction of the Great Wall of China (Editor’s Choice)

In this playful, slightly surreal micro, the Moon yearns for connection with the heretofore impervious “blue-eyed and swirling” Earth. When the Moon observes the Great Wall of China, it attempts to parse its meaning, hoping for a smile.

Paper Moon Portrait (Editor’s Choice)

This vivid and sensual snapshot of a funfair suggests both a world and a life at a point of change. There are subtle hints as to when we are (the steam driven roundabout) and who is speaking (their shoulders aching from wrestling a pig!). The secret kiss under the paper moon highlights the fragility of the speaker’s newfound but illicit love.

When Your Ex-Lover Walks on the Moon (Editor’s Choice)

“I was in love and you were married and that was fine until it wasn’t fine anymore.”

The first line of this micro is a magnificent rush of emotion, lust, and the destruction of a relationship. Then, the story slips into self-reflection, the gaze shifting to the moon, of the man walking there, the ex-lover. The story delivers the sadness of love lost within its longer sentences, while its short sentences reflect the hopes of the narrator still waiting for the ex-lover’s return.

The Witch of Thessaly (Editor’s Choice)

This tale of women, knowledge and authority is a quiet triumph. It uses the language of magic to illustrate scientific mastery, and is rounded off with a wonderfully poetic last line.

Congratulations again to our winners and to everyone on this list.

Finally, all of us want to thank everyone who submitted work, supported the contest financially through multiple entries or donations, or who read and shared the call for submissions and winning stories. We are constantly awed and humbled by the quality of work we receive and the generosity and enthusiasm of our readers.