The first, second and third prizewinners in each of the three categories will be published in the Spring 2016 issue of Bare Fiction Magazine and, later, on the magazine’s website. The Highly Commended entries will be published online after the launch of the Spring 2016 issue. The prizes will be awarded at our Spring launch reading (venue & date to be confirmed).
Poetry Entries: 827
Flash Fiction Entries: 445
Short Story Entries: 482
Total Entries: 1754
All entries were judged anonymously.
Details updated on 15th February 2016.
Short Story Category
Judge: Paul McVeigh
1st Prize (£500): Krishan Coupland, The Sea in Me (UK)
2nd Prize (£200): Niamh MacCabe, This is Unravel (Republic of Ireland)
3rd Prize (£100): John Wilks, Homo Bile Pen (UK)
Highly Commended x 2 (£25):
Jan Barker, Summer, Nineteen Sixty Four (UK)
KM Elkes, The Day of Joy (UK)
Liam Brown, The Finest Cuts (UK)
Laurence Edmondson, Some and Any (Germany)
Elizabeth Lolo, The Conflict Within (UK)
Kate Lockwood Jefford, The World’s Best Creeper (UK)
Jacqueline Everett, How Do I Look? (UK)
Kate Weinberg, Oh, Mookie (US)
Holly Atkinson, The Joy of the Ride (UK)
Judge’s Report by Paul McVeigh
Reading the entries for this year’s Bare Fiction Prize for Short Story was a pleasure. After having judged a prize with 2 other writers it felt odd to be making the decision alone, especially when it came down to re-reading the final five, it was a close thing. The stories changed position even as I wrote the winning list to present to Bare Fiction. Why? There was merit in each of the stories but not always for the same reason. How do you weigh one talent or style against another when both have been successful in their genre and in the quality of their writing?
Each time I re-read The Sea in Me I liked it more. I liked the ease of the voice. It was a simple story that goes somewhere deeper. In the end there was a longing in the story that reached past my head and into other places. This is Unravel was a powerful, gripping and ambitious story that haunted this reader. On another day, this would have won, (this is the nature of competitions) and I hope this author takes this not as a sad ‘near miss’ but rather a hugely encouraging one. I liked the modernity of Homo Bile Pen, the easy, light but effective style. It made me laugh and feel uncomfortable, a good mix. In The Day of Joy I didn’t know what was going to happen so the story stood out because of its mystery and I liked the mix of a setting that seemed familiar while also being an imagined future. Summer Nineteen Sixty Four was another mystery and what I liked most was the imagery and sense of foreboding.
In the end, when I was writing the titles of the winning stories, it came down to what stayed with me and what they had in common was these stories haunted me in some way and the ones that still unsettled moved up the list. Perhaps there’s something in that for us to think about it.
The winner: The Sea in Me (by Krishan Coupland)
Krishan Coupland is on the Creative Writing PhD programme at the University of East Anglia. His writing has appeared in Ambit, Aesthetica, Litro and Fractured West. He won the Manchester Fiction Prize in 2011, and in his spare time he runs and edits a literary magazine. His website is www.krishancoupland.co.uk.
2nd place: This is Unravel (by Niamh MacCabe)
In 2015, Niamh was long listed for the Fish Short Story Prize and Memoir Prize, shortlisted for Allingham Festival Flash Fiction Award and Carried in Waves Short Story Competition, came second in The People’s College Award, Highly Commended in Books Ireland Magazine Short Story Award, Special Mention in Galley Beggar Press Award, and published in Aesthetica’s Anthology and The Incubator Magazine. She lives in northwest Ireland.
3rd place: Homo Bile Pen (by John Wilks)
John Wilks taught English in inner London for over thirty years before completing the MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths. He is currently working on a collection of stories about school, juxtaposing his experiences as a boarding-school pupil with those as a recent teacher in Tower Hamlets. His story The Boy Who Hated Cigarettes was highly commended in the Manchester Fiction Prize. He lives in Greenwich.
Highly Commended: Summer, Nineteen Sixty Four (by Jan Barker)
Jan Barker is currently studying on the M.A. in Creative Writing programme at Birmingham City University. Jan lives in Birmingham and started writing short fiction and drama following an early escape from a career in local government. She has previously studied with the Writers’ Bureau and Arvon Foundation.
Highly Commended: The Day of Joy (by KM Elkes)
KM Elkes is a short fiction author and journalist from Bristol. He began writing seriously four years ago – his work has since appeared in a number of anthologies and won prizes in Ireland, UK, Australia and North America. Stories also feature on school curriculums in the USA and Hong Kong. Twitter: www.twitter.com/mysmalltales
The Finest Cuts (by Liam Brown)
Liam Brown is a writer, filmmaker and former-life model based in Birmingham, England. His debut novel, Real Monsters, was published in 2015 to strong reviews and long listed for the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize. His second novel, Wild Life, is out in June 2016. Tweet him: @LiamBrownWriter
Some and Any (by Laurence Edmondson)
Laurence Edmondson grew up near Burnley and studied Literature at Lancaster University. For the past eight years he has lived in Berlin, where he teaches English and writes. His short story, Cycles and Batches was published in the Rubery Book Award anthology 2015.
The Conflict Within (by Elizabeth Lolo)
Ashlee “Elizabeth Lolo” Roberts is a young writer/journalist from Birmingham. Stemming from her love of arts and culture, she loves to experiment with voice in fiction and poetry and aims to write creative pieces that inspire thought or change.
The World’s Best Creeper (by Kate Lockwood Jefford)
Originally from Cardiff, Kate is currently doing an MA in creative writing at Birkbeck. Winner of the HG Wells Short Story Prize (2013), her short fiction is published in the HG Wells Short Story Prize anthologies (2013, 2014), the Bath Short Story Prize anthology (2014) and Folkestone Writers’ anthology (2014).
How Do I Look? (by Jacqueline Everett)
Jacqueline Everett is a writer living in Yorkshire. Her novel The Road to Waterloo, the first in a series, was published in 2015. Her cold war play, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, won Script Yorkshire’s 25th anniversary competition in 2014. She is currently working on her second novel, Waterloo Man.
Oh, Mookie (by Kate Weinberg)
Kate is a Baltimore-bred artist, performer, writer, and educator. Her poems and stories have appeared, or are forthcoming, in places like Corium, the Saturday Evening Post, Bohemia Journal and the Liar’s League. She is a graduate of DePaul University’s Theatre School in Chicago and the pseudonymous author of two creepy YA murder mysteries.
The Joy of the Ride (by Holly Atkinson)
Holly Atkinson has an MA in creative writing from Bath Spa University and has been published in Staple, Leaf Books Nano-fiction, and The Bath Short Story Award Anthology Good Reads 2013. She was recently shortlisted for Mslexia’s short story competition and in 2015 won selfpublishing.ie‘s Winter Warmer’s short story competition which took her to Listowel Literary festival. She lives in Bristol and enjoys travelling, rock climbing and hiking.
Judge: Jo Bell
1st Prize (£500): Astra Bloom, Hot down, cool up. Teaching my sister to dance (UK)
2nd Prize (£200): Anna Lawrence, ‘… he cannot stir a finger, fix his thinking…’ (UK)
3rd Prize (£100): Cheryl Pearson, Mam Tor (UK)
Highly Commended x 2 (£25):
Pete Maguire, Nu Poetry (UK)
Anna Lawrence, Arenophile (UK)
Katherine Stansfield, The Suitcases (UK)
Catherine Edmunds, How to Win at Kings Cross (UK)
Robin Boothroyd, A Smile, A Stain (UK)
Niall Bourke, If A Kitten Is Born In A Banana Box It is Not A Bloody Banana (UK)
Norman Hadley, Old Goat (UK)
Ben Norris, Nightswimming (UK)
Judge’s Report by Jo Bell
Shortly before our closing date, there was a spate of competitions whose judges spoke of too many ‘safe’ or unadventurous poems. So I posted a message on Facebook. ‘Don’t second-guess my own taste,’ I said; ‘I judge on quality. Don’t weed out the difficult, the funny, the “that sort of thing doesn’t win competitions so I won’t send it” poem (note: it surely won’t, if you don’t send it). Send me short, send me funny, polemical, political, concrete, vernacular or classical, spoken word or uber-formal. Send me your best, whatever shape or texture it has.’
Well, goodness gracious me. You were brave, Bare Fictionistas; you did send your best, in its dizzying multiplicity, and I gorged myself on a real variety of skills. My thanks to all who took that small leap of faith and sent me some work to look at. I’ve never felt more strongly what a privilege it is for people to place poems in my hand, and how I should honour each one with a fair reading. It costs a little something to expose yourself to scrutiny in this way, and there were so many kinds of good here. There were strong political poems (a hard thing to do) and subtle poems that changed with re-reading; there were funny, Gothic, obscure and brutal.
There were also several kinds of bad. Please, poets, run a simple spell checker across your poems before you send them for close reading to someone who reads for a living. Syntax counts too: consider for instance the difference between ‘I ran to him’ and ‘I ran into him.’ Other tips? There is a difference between a well-pitched swear word and Tourette’s syndrome. There is a difference between a structured stream-of-consciousness poem, and the unfiltered contents of your mind. Strong rhyme continues to be a blunt tool; exactly what you need for banging home a good nail or a good laugh, but not necessarily for brain surgery or metaphysics.
It took me ages to decide on the final few, and then to decide on the order in which they should be placed. The top five fell into place fairly easily, but their order was difficult until, tellingly, I read them aloud. At that point the subtle play of sound in each one, and the very different energies of the three winners, came out clearly and I was able to sleep again. Well done to all who made it this far. Above all, well done to all of you who entered. You made it as far as the postbox or the SEND button, and can do so again.
The winner: Hot down, cool up. Teaching my sister to dance (by Astra Bloom)
Straightforwardly joyful, this poet spills devil-may-care language onto the page in a moment of giddy conspiracy. Writing about youth without nostalgia or wistfulness is tricky; here it’s done by getting right inside the moment, cream shag pile and all. The detail, though, is light-handed. Levi jeans, a hairdo and an electric fire instantly sketch a room at a particular date. There are deft surprises; a bum like a pork pie, skin ‘smooth as the laurel hedge’. The writer hints at larger stories, but knows better than to cram the whole family history in. This moment is all that counts, this moment that ‘makes the room grow’. It’s a generous poem, full of praise for a sister who is ‘a total jigger’ and the pleasure of excluding adults even as the girls look for the Exit door from childhood. ‘Go Marjorie!’
Astra Bloom is an unpublished writer of poetry, short stories and a very long novel! She lives by the sea in Sussex and spends everyday drinking tea and writing in a muddy cold cabin in her garden. Astra has been writing strange things ever since she was given her first dictionary at the age of 6. “Writing brings me joy and sanity and a slightly crooked back.”
2nd place: “….he cannot stir a finger, fix his thinking…” (by Anna Lawrence)
Two poems by the same poet made it into the shortlist, and I suspect they belong to a sequence. But which belongs in the top three, and which in the Commended list? Where two poems are equally accomplished what remains is the judgement of the heart, and it was this one that caught me most. It tells a large story plainly, through a careful selection of objects and their placement. The narrative is almost missing – skilfully set down in the gaps between words, to tell itself. This is a not-quite confession, with a little shipwreck, an ominous silence and a cinematic mise en scene which trusts the reader to arrive at her own conclusions.
Anna Lawrence is particularly interested in exploring interactions of the magical and the industrial in both poetry and prose. Her first novel, Ruby’s Spoon, is set in a fictional Black Country town with intimations of witches and mermaids (Chatto & Windus, 2010). She lectures in creative writing at Birmingham City University.
3rd place: Mam Tor (by Cheryl Pearson)
This poem didn’t earn its place by a simple appeal to my Peaky DNA; I interrogated it all the harder because I know the setting. I wish the poet had trusted their own work and left out the explanation, which isn’t at all necessary. The sparseness and simple language are appropriate for an upland landscape. Bleak places seem to require old and sensory language; this poem almost runs through the five senses with its qualities of light and air. I love the accurate ease of ‘the same sky/ pouring into the same bowl’. Line breaks are used intelligently to serve the meaning. A bad landscape poem is so often just a verbal rendering of a photograph. A good one like this leaves me with a sense of a private story, partly withheld so that I can lay my own experience on this backdrop.
Cheryl Pearson lives and writes in the suburbs of Manchester. Her poems have appeared in publications including 14 Magazine, Skylark Review, and all three “Best of Manchester Poets” anthologies (Puppywolf Press). She was a finalist for the Princemere Poetry Prize 2015. She is currently working on her first full-length poetry collection.
Highly Commended: A man begins to understand his failure….. (by Tom Sastry)
The title is a poem in itself, setting the tone of lugubrious humour. The first lines are perfect for Generation 2.0 – ‘This exhibition will change your life/ but for how long?’ This is a poem that dares to tell, rather than show its large truths; ‘….people prefer signs to the thing signed for’, but the undercurrent of irony keeps it from being po-faced.
Tom Sastry is a bureaucrat and occasional human. He has been writing and performing poems since 2012. Until recently he ran a spoken word night Festival in Bristol.
Highly Commended: Nu Poetry (by Pete Maguire)
Surprised? Certainly, it’s imperfect. Some of those strong rhymes are a little lazy (you heard ‘a dog arc’?) but most are earned, and the swaggering repetition of the title sounds like an anthem rather than a boring refrain. This poem surely began as a performance. It has the strengths and weaknesses of spoken word, and for me the clincher that gives it durability is the last line – ‘thrown my lot into nu, ain’t nothing I can’t do.’ It’s a bold, in-your-face assertion and I like it a lot.
Pete Maguire is a short story writer, a poet and the author of the darkly surreal City of a Million Dots. He teaches writing classes in Brighton and is one of the founding members of worldspacegallery a new art gallery concept. His work has been published in Rattle Tales, Aesthetica and Rogue Worlds. He is currently working on his first book of poetry, The Last Gods with Lost Names.
arenophile (by Anna Lawrence)
The same poet who claimed our second prize; so plain in that poem, so playful in this, but with the same dark story underlying both. I happened to know that ‘arenophile’ means ‘lover of sand’ but it could be deduced from the poem. This one is full of rock salt and hints of mermaid, but resists fey imagery and mixes childish excitement with adult attraction.
The suitcases (by Katherine Stansfield)
Beware those poems which you don’t fully understand; sometimes they are larger than you, sometimes they are just unfinished. This one tells a story incompletely, but the poet is controlling the information, editing it. We get snatches of imagery – barbed wire, rotten posts, murk, a missing family – but the poem is not exactly about them, it’s about the enterprise of constructing a narrative in our own minds. Compelling and curious.
Katherine Stansfield’s debut collection, Playing House, was published by Seren in 2014. She is also a novelist; The Visitor, published by Parthian, won the 2014 Holyer an Gof Prize for Fiction.
How to Win at Kings Cross (by Catherine Edmunds)
Again, a poem which intentionally denies access to the full story. There is a tumbling logic here, an intricate parallel geography of London mixed up with high art. For me, its success is slightly tarnished by the fact that you have to know the Bourgeois sculpture to make sense of the ending. A poem isn’t an easy-read Ladybird book, but should contain its own key. Still, a dynamic and stratified poem.
Catherine Edmunds is a widely published poet and novelist. Her most recent work is the Holocaust-survivor’s biography: ‘My Hidden Mother’. Catherine has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and three times shortlisted for the Bridport. Her poetry has been published in The Frogmore Papers, Butcher’s Dog, and elsewhere.
A Smile, A Stain (by Robin Boothroyd)
This poet had two pieces in the running until the last moment. Both showed a deep interest in the processes of language and thought. This one sustains a lovely circular development of thought: the poem is both cause and effect of its own subject. A complex idea often benefits from simple language, and the poet uses almost prose-like language to bring us back to language itself.
Robin Boothroyd was born in Germany and grew up in England. He studied French with English Literature at King’s College London. His poems have been published online at The Bohemyth, DOG-EAR and M58, and in print with Magma. Robin lives in London and works in book production. Robin’s website is thecoldtapsings.com and you can follow him on Twitter @rfboothroyd
Night swimming (by Ben Norris)
Another salty one, and it has something in common with arenophile in its subtle telling of a large, tragic story. I think the poem has long outgrown the song from which it takes its title; and it handles pace beautifully, moving from the urgency of the first stanza to the wide, horizonless drift of the last.
Ben Norris is a writer, actor, and former UK All-Stars Poetry Slam Champion. He has performed poetry across the country, from Latitude Festival to the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, completed commissions for the Southbank Centre and IdeasTap, and had work broadcast several times on BBC Radio 3. His debut pamphlet was published in 2014, and his first Edinburgh Fringe show won the 2015 IdeasTap Underbelly Award.
If a Kitten is Born….. (by Niall Bourke)
This competition turned up many poems which I might never normally seek out, but which demanded and deserved attention. This one, frankly, is bonkers. It is bonkers in a determined, doggedly persevering way, taking its metaphor and flogging it boldly to death until at the end, a twist makes you reassess the whole poem and read it back with new insight. Bananas.
Niall is from Kilkenny in Ireland but lives in London. He write both poetry and prose and has been published in a number of journals and magazines including The Galway Review, Southbank Poetry, Three Drops From A Cauldron and Prole. In 2015 he was long listed for The Short Story Competition and shortlisted for The Over The Edge New Writer Of The Year Award and The Costa Short Story Award.
Old Goat (by Norman Hadley)
A poem with a twinkle in its eye, for sure – of all your albums, he would choose The Pan Within. It’s appropriately sure on its feet – a very strong beginning, a driven and needful centre, and a finish which suddenly goes somewhere far more interesting. Not a word wasted; and like many of the poems here, a writer who is not afraid to use wit in a serious poem.
Norman Hadley is an engineer and mathematician who writes poetry, short fiction, children’s fiction and cycling-related nonfiction to keep all the hemispheres occupied. He’s produced five poetry collections so far and frenetic participation in Jo Bell’s “52” project has generated sufficient material for five more.
Flash Fiction Category
Judge: Richard Skinner
1st Prize (£500): Eleanor Hooker, The Lesson (Republic of Ireland)
2nd Prize (£200): Maggie Veness, The Whittling of Animals (Australia)
3rd Prize (£100): Peter Justin Newall, The Mill on the River Drewenz (Australia)
Highly Commended x 2 (£25):
David Lea, Hettie (UK)
Mandy Huggins, The Last of Michiko (UK)
Samuel Dodson, Snow (UK)
Lisa Davison, Moving On (UK)
Barry McKinley, Home is Where (Republic of Ireland)
João Reis, dawn, city, end (Portugal)
Donald Hiscock, The Budgerigar (UK)
Joseph Stretch, The Following Year (UK)
Chris Connolly, What I’m Saying (Republic of Ireland)
Judge’s Report by Richard Skinner
As you can imagine from 440-odd entries, the variety for this flash fiction competition was mind-bogglingly wide. There was everything from sci-fi to kitchen sink drama. Weirdly, there were a lot of stories about creeps, and sociopaths, and a lot of the stories were really quite harrowing. Many pieces started well but then trailed off; many others ended far better than they started. Many of the pieces just trod water and didn’t really go anywhere. Too many stories started off by describing something, which prevented me from entering the story as quickly as I wished. Too static.
What I was looking for was to be hit right between the eyes from the off and all the way through. I was looking for flash fictions that really surprised me—took me hostage even—and that moved the story on apace. I wanted to read a spicy soupçon, something that felt complete, in its own world rather than what might be a cut-off from a short story, and I was also looking for a real sting in the tail rather than just a punchline. I wanted to see writers really playing with and stretching the flash fiction form, reaching for the unsayable, working hard to leave me wondering and wanting more.
After going through all the entries, there was a core of around 30 that I knew really had something. That group quickly became a shortlist of 12. After reading through this shortlist several times, the top three entries became obvious because I kept on returning to them. Reading through the shortlist was just a confirmation of my initial inklings. From the beginning, all three had struck me immediately—right between the eyes—and none of the other entries could match them.
Taking third prize is Peter Newall’s ‘The Mill on the River Drewenz’. This story, of two men talking and drinking together for two days, has the stench of a dirty barn in an eastern European country. Clinking vodka glasses to toast the cows that have calved and the elder that has flowered, the men could have walked straight out of a Chekhov short story.
In second place is Maggie Veness’ striking story ‘The Whittling of Animals’. Written in a harsh guttural (“Fat policeman kept gorkin at the bruises on ya cheek”) this story of domestic abuse, patricide and police corruption hooks you in straight away and never lets go. The voice is totally authentic and the brutal story doesn’t close conventionally. Bad things continue to happen.
First prize goes to Eleanor Hooker’s wondrous story ‘The Lesson’. Set in Ireland, the creepy school teacher, Brother John, is a superbly-drawn character, complete with cane and equally stinging quips. The characters of his students, O’Shea, Hennigan and Ryan, also shine through. The dialogue is pitch-perfect, displaying a strong sense of tension and teasing humour. This piece doesn’t put a foot wrong in its entirety and is filled with lines that most novelists would kill for—“They measure his mood by the range of his limp”. And all this in a mere 500 words. A triumph.
Eleanor Hooker (1st prize)
Eleanor Hooker’s second poetry collection, A Tug of Blue, is forthcoming from the Dedalus Press in 2016. Eleanor is Programme Curator for the Dromineer Literary Festival. She is helm and Press Officer for Lough Derg RNLI Lifeboat.
For more details: www.eleanorhooker.com
Maggie Veness (2nd prize)
Maggie Veness lives in a seaside town in NSW, Australia. Her quirky, contemporary fiction has been print-published across several countries in literary journals and anthologies such as SLICE, Litro, Gem Street, Crime Spree, Nazar, Bravado, BLE, and Skive. Maggie’s literary influences include Miranda July, Sam Lipsyte, Hilary Mantel, Tim Winton, George Saunders, and Kurt Vonnegut.
Peter Justin Newall (3rd prize)
Peter Justin Newall lives in Sydney, Australia, but spent many northern winters travelling by train through the border towns of Central and Eastern Europe, pursuing the ghosts of the Habsburg Empire and the Soviet Union. He speaks Russian and German. He recently spent a year in Odessa, Ukraine, leading a popular local blues band.
David Lea (Highly Commended)
David Lea has spent most of his career as a teacher of Drama and has written many plays for young people. Since retiring he has continued to write, but for a wider audience and is increasingly drawn to writing prose.
Mandy Huggins (Highly Commended)
Mandy’s work has appeared in anthologies, newspapers and magazines. She has achieved success in competitions including Cinnamon, Fish, Ink Tears, English Pen, The Telegraph, Bradt, and Words with Jam. In 2014 she won the British Guild of Travel Writers Award. A selection of her fiction will appear in a forthcoming Ink Tears anthology.
Samuel Dodson completed his MA in Writing at the University of Warwick in 2013 with a Distinction, and has since worked as a journalist, copywriter and editor. A winner of the Almond Press Fall short story competition, he is the co-founder of Nothing in the Rulebook – an online creative magazine.
Lisa Davison is a journalist and editor by background and has an MA in Creative Writing. She has had short stories published in Kingston University’s annual student anthology, Libertine magazine and The A3 Review. In 2012, she made the top 50 shortlist of the annual Mslexia Women’s Short Story Competition.
Barry McKinley’s stories were twice shortlisted for the Hennessy Literary Award. He has written plays for BBC Radio 4 and RTE (Ireland). His forthcoming memoir, It Ends With Blood, is set in London in the 1970’s, when he was a young punk working for British Nuclear Fuels Limited.
João Reis is a young Portuguese writer of fiction and literary translator of Scandinavian languages. He has published a novel titled A Noiva do Tradutor in 2015. In that same year, he was a writer-in-residence in Montreal, Canada.
Donald recently completed a novel which formed part of his PhD thesis; an attempt to combine text and images in an account of recovered memory that moves the reader through three European cities in search of a troubled past.
Joseph Stretch is the author of three novels – Friction, Wildlife and The Adult. The Adult was nominated for the Portico Prize and received the Somerset Maugham Award in 2012. His ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ audiobook, Don’t Let Go, was read by Anna Friel, published by Spotify and received a Cannes Lion Award in 2011. Joseph is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing (Fiction) at the Manchester Writing School.
Chris Connolly was born in Dublin in 1983. His fiction has appeared in the Irish Times, Irish Independent, Carve, and the Hennessy Book of Irish Fiction, 2005-2015, among others, and has been broadcast on RTÉ Radio. He recently won the 2015 Lascaux Review Fiction Prize, the Roberts Short Story Competition, and was highly commended in the Manchester Fiction Prize. For more information visit chrisconnollywriter.com.