This is the third year of running the Bare Fiction Prize and once again our first, second and third prizewinners in each of the three categories will be published in this year’s Spring 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 2017 issue. The prizes will be awarded at our Spring launch reading (venue & date to be confirmed).
Poetry Entries: 903
Flash Fiction Entries: 525
Short Story Entries: 608
Total Entries: 2036
All entries were judged anonymously. Full details of the winners in each category, the judge’s report and author biographies/photos can be seen below.
Judge: Helen Mort
1st Prize (£500): Gaia Holmes, Guests
2nd Prize (£200): Jane Lovell, Perspective in a Hare’s eye
3rd Prize (£100): Mary Jean Chan, At the Castro
Highly Commended x 2 (£25):
Tom Sastry, A love poem for autumn
Rowena Knight, Tokens
Tom Jenks, eyebrows
John Fennelly, Eucharist
David Van-Cauter, Mirror Lake
Tania Hershman, Advice for the Traveller
Marta Kowalewska, Dream Dictionary
Judge’s Report by Helen Mort
I admit it – I’m an escapist. When I approached the poems entered for this year’s Bare Fiction Prize, I was looking to be transported, enchanted and surprised. In short, I was looking to get out of my head on poetry. The process was hugely rewarding and the overall standard was extremely high. Many of the entries were very hard to dismiss. I formed a pile of favourites that seemed to encompass half the submissions. But in the end, I shortlisted poems that gave me a tantalising glimpse into worlds I knew I could never fully inhabit, presenting me with a distinctive vision. Poems that made me feel as if I was standing on a threshold, looking in: the haunting ‘kiss-chase copse’ of John Fennelly’s ‘Eucharist’, the mirror-world of Tom Jenks’ ‘eyebrows’ or the intimate rooms of Rowena Knight’s ‘Tokens’. I returned to the pieces of writing that made me catch my breath, whether through the mood they created or the images they invoked: I won’t forget Tom Sastry’s ‘A love poem to autumn’ with its incantatory ‘hair remembering fire’ on a pillow.
The two poems I chose to highly-commend were ‘Keeping Borzoi’ by Claire Collison and ‘The Scrap Man’ by Joanne Key. A lot of the poems I read for the prize dealt skilfully and eloquently with the theme of long-term or severe illness, but few did it with the nuance and wry humour of ‘Keeping Borzoi’. I found Claire’s poem self-aware and moving and admired the way it explored the everyday aspects of extreme suffering. ‘The Scrap Man’ is a very different poem and I was intrigued and fascinated by the character at the heart of it, his sinister habits and meticulous craft. It’s a real achievement to sustain such a seemingly-surreal premise, turning into a convincing narrative.
Third place went to ‘At The Castro’ by Mary Jean Chan, a poem ‘for Orlando’. I loved the way this poem’s breathless narrative is political without preaching, how it foregrounds the intimacy of touch, of knowing another person’s skin, how any act of love is also an ‘act of faith’. It’s a shape-shifting, unselfconscious poem that reminded me what it feels like to dance. In second place was Jane Lovell’s startling, quivering ‘Perspective in a Hare’s eye’. It was the ‘anti-matter moon’ in this poem that first caught me in its glare. The writing fizzes with acute visual detail, offering a dizzying sense of perspective. It is a poem attuned to minute observations, hanging on a ‘grassblade of decision’. The winning piece, ‘Guests’ by Gaia Holmes, just refused to let me rest from the first time I read it. The opening immediately disconcerted me — the precision of ‘liver-red light’, the almost-casual invocation of ‘the dead’. The poem develops into an intimate and compelling portrait of someone fending off darkness, ‘coaxing back / the good things / we have lost’. There’s not a dull moment in this poem, every word is working hard from the ‘stewing’ bed sheets in the second stanza to the ‘lavendered / guest rooms’ we’re ushered into at the end.
The winner: Gaia Holmes (Guests)
Gaia Holmes lives and works in Yorkshire. She has two poetry collections ‘Dr James Graham’s Celestial Bed’ and ‘Lifting The Piano With One Hand’. She is currently working on her 3rd which will feature poems about broad beans, orkney and sinkholes.
2nd prize: Jane Lovell (Perspective in a Hare’s eye)
Jane Lovell has had work published in a variety of anthologies and journals including Agenda, Earthlines, Poetry Wales, Envoi, the North, Dark Mountain, Zoomorphic, Mslexia and New Welsh Review. She won the Flambard Prize in 2015 and, in 2016, was shortlisted for the Basil Bunting Prize and named as runner up for the Winehouse Award and the Silver Wyvern (Poetry on the Lake).
3rd prize: Mary Jean Chan (At the Castro)
Mary Jean Chan is a poet from Hong Kong. She was shortlisted for the 2016 London Magazine Poetry Prize, and won the 2016 Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition in the ESL category. Her work has been published in The London Magazine, Ambit, The Rialto, Callaloo Journal, and elsewhere. As a co-editor of Oxford Poetry, Mary Jean is currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her article on Claudia Rankine’s Citizen is forthcoming from The Journal of American Studies (2017).
Highly Commended: Claire Collison (Keeping Borzoi)
Claire Collison’s poetry is published in Templar Anthology, Butcher’s Dog, South Bank, Yorkshire Mix, Island Review, and The Compass; was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and Flambard Prize, and long listed for the National Poetry Competition. She came second in the inaugural Resurgence Prize. Claire teaches in a wide range of settings, and is currently Artist in Residence at the Women’s ArtLibrary.
Highly Commended: Joanne Key (The Scrap Man)
Joanne Key lives in Cheshire. She is completely in love with poetry and writes every day. Her poems have appeared in various places online and in print and her work has been shortlisted in a number of competitions. She won 2nd prize in the 2014 National Poetry Competition.
Tom Sastry (A love poem for autumn)
Tom Sastry was selected by Carol Ann Duffy as one of the 2016 Laureate’s Choice poets and his debut pamphlet Complicity was published in 2016 by smith/doorstop. He was highly commended in the 2015 Bare Fiction Prize for his poem A man realises his failure as a husband…
Rowena Knight (Tokens)
Rowena Knight was born in New Zealand in 1988 and currently lives in North London. Her poems have appeared in the Morning Star, Bare Fiction, Magma, and The Rialto. Her first pamphlet, All the Footprints I Left Were Red, was published with Valley Press in July 2016. She tweets @purple_feminist.
Tom Jenks (eyebrows)
Tom Jenks’ most recent book is Sublunar, published by Oystercatcher Press. He co-organises The Other Room reading series in Manchester and administers the avant objects imprint zimZalla.
John Fennelly (Eucharist)
John Fennelly is a poet and teacher. He is currently working as House Poet at MMU and Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre. He has been published in a tribute to John Berger, The Thin White Thread of Words, Smokestack, 2016, Avis and other magazines. He is a Laureate’s Choice poet in 2017 for a selection of poems under the working title The Glass Meadow. He founded Verse Box and helps promote Black Cat Poets in Manchester.
David Van-Cauter (Mirror Lake)
David is a personal tutor and editor from Hitchin, Herts, long involved with Poetry ID in Letchworth and Ver Poets in St Albans. Recently he has been commended for the Café Writers Commission, twice commended for the Poetry Society Stanza competition and published in London Progressive Journal and Ink, Sweat and Tears.
Tania Hershman (Advice for the Traveller)
Tania Hershman is the author of a poetry chapbook and two short story collections. Her debut poetry collection, Terms & Conditions, will be published in July 2017 by Nine Arches Press, and her third short story collection, Some Of Us Glow More Than Others, is forthcoming from Unthank Books. www.taniahershman.com
Marta Kowalewska (Dream Dictionary)
Marta Kowalewska’s work appears in Lighthouse Journal, The Carolina Quarterly, and the Stockholm Review of Literature, amongst others. She lives and works in London.
Flash Fiction Category
Judge: David Gaffney
1st Prize (£500): Peter Jordan, Broody
2nd Prize (£200): Conor Houghton, Some Nights Like Tonight
3rd Prize (£100): Una Mannion, The Frozen Planet
Highly Commended x 2 (£25):
Jennifer Harvey, The Deer
Irene Westcott, Bursting in Air
Kathryn L Kettle, The Kick
Mary McGrath, Handmade boxes and empty milk crates
Lauren Bolger, The Bull
FJ Morris, Slush Puppies
Thomas Lloyd, Tommy Blackeyes
Donald Hiscock, Work Sheet
Ingrid Jendrzejewski, My Mother and the Seven Silences
Judge’s Report by David Gaffney
I was delighted to be chosen as a judge for the Bare Fiction flash fiction prize as it’s always a pleasure to be involved in these competitions which are so important for emerging writers. But when over 500 short stories landed on my desk I was a little daunted I have to say. The other competitions I have judged so far had a system where the entries were filtered for me by other judges down the line. I’ve never before had to read every single entry that came in . Yet although I felt daunted there was also a great sense of curiosity; what had those filtering judges been throwing out? Had they been chucking out anything with typos or spelling mistakes or grammatical errors? Some of those stories might have been gems. Or had they been discarding any weird stuff that didn’t make any sense? Again these were exactly the sort of things that might appeal to me. So I began to read through this giant pile with great interest.
It was a fascinating and rewarding exercise, and oddly the more I read, the more it told me about the sort of people who take up creative writing, their reasons for doing so, and at what stages of life they begin to write. There were several recurring themes, such as caring for older parents with dementia, and lots about people who felt trapped in long term relationships and wanted a change. Lots about infidelity. Lots from the point of view of women who were unhappy with their boring husbands. There were dozens about characters who had left their jobs and were looking for a completely new life. I could almost picture all 500 of them sitting around in creative writing classes, each with their own fascinating personal story to relate about how they came to creative writing, no doubt just as compelling as the story they were going to tell in fiction. The absences were also interesting. Not many stories about young people. Not many featuring drugs, or sex, or violence. Not many around lesbian, gay related themes. The strangest one was about a man who had managed to get a child’s doll stuck up inside his anus.
The winner, Broody by Peter Jordan, is a meticulously observed scene in a swimming pool told from the point of view of a man who has holed himself up in a hotel after a row with his wife. He stands in the pool and describes in detail what another man in the pool is doing. And it’s this detailed description that reveals much more about the teller of the story and where he is in his life than the things and people around him he is so carefully setting out for the reader. Broody demonstrates perfectly how very short fiction can deliver a powerful complex reading experience without the need for fancy footwork and punchline reveals.
The story in second place, Some nights like tonight by Conor Houghton is in a very different style and concerns a witness to a random attack on an escalator by an old man with a walking stick on a younger man. It’s such a strange incident that it propels the witness into a long thought process, her mind soaring into a future where the world has been destroyed and her own dead body is the only evidence of human life left to be examined. It’s an epic piece which shows how by the careful framing of a small incident an enormous narrative can be spun out to great effect.
I liked The Frozen Planet, which I placed third, because again, it focusses on a small scene, an encounter in a shop in the middle of nowhere in a frozen and snowbound place. There is some good use of dialogue and dialogue doesn’t always work that well in very short fiction. Like the other stories this story also takes a small moment and makes it universal. The way it ends with the mother and the son lying on the bed looking at pictures of planets on the ceiling is powerful in a way it’s hard to describe — which is always the best way in a short story.
Choosing a top 12 and then a top three was difficult as my pile of stories marked with a big YES was far far bigger than that, and there was also a big pile marked POSSIBLE which had within some great stories which probably just needed a few tweaks here and there to make them competition winners. And any advice? The one thing I would say to all future competition entrants is pay attention to your title. If you can’t think of a title that really adds something, then it’s better to use a bland placeholder title that simply identifies the story for the writer and the reader. Almost like numbering it. Try to avoid punning or catchphrase type titles, such as those that a sub-editor of a newspaper might use. Think about the most successful short stories like The Swimmer by Cheever. If it was called something that referred directly to the emotional journey of the lead character it would take something away from the text itself. Good luck to everyone with their writing.
The winner: Peter Jordan (Broody)
Peter Jordan’s work has appeared in Flash500, Flash: The International Short Story Magazine, The Pygmy Giant, Thresholds, The Incubator, The Honest Ulsterman, Brilliant Flash Fiction, The Avatar Review, Dogzplot, Craft and Sicklit. In addition, six of his stories are in anthologies. He has taken time out from a PhD in creative writing to finish his collection of short stories, Untouchable. The collection will be published this summer by Kingston University Press. You will find him on twitter @pm_jordan.
2nd prize: Conor Houghton (Some Nights Like Tonight)
Conor Houghton is a computer scientist and neuroscientist, studying mathematical ideas related to how the brain works. He grew up in the west of Ireland but now lives and works in the south west of England. Conor has been short-listed for the Bath Flash Fiction competition, The Short Story Flash 500 competition and has published in scientific journals.
3rd prize: Una Mannion (The Frozen Planet)
Uno Mannion teaches performing arts in County Sligo, Ireland. In 2016, she was nominated for a Hennessy New Irish Writing Award, won the Ambit short fiction prize, came second in the Dermot Healy Poetry Competition and second in Allingham. Her work has been published in The Irish Times, Ambit, & The Incubator.
Highly Commended: Jennifer Harvey (The Deer)
Jennifer Harvey is a Scottish writer now living in Amsterdam. Her writing has appeared in various anthologies and magazines and her radio dramas have been commended by the BBC World Service. Her first novel was long listed for the 2016 Bath Children’s Novel Award and she is currently editing her second novel, a psychological thriller.
Highly Commended: Irene Westcott (Bursting in Air)
Irene Westcott is a Chicago writer of fiction and creative non-fiction. She is the winner of fiction competitions held by The Baltimore Review and Roanoke Review. Her work has appeared in various magazines and websites, including The Broken City, The 2nd Hand, The Literary Bohemian and more.
Kathryn L Kettle (The Kick)
Kathryn is a writer and lapsed Brummie based in London. Apart from writing flash and short stories she is currently working on a YA novel with the Golden Egg Academy. Last year she won the Great Jones Street flash competition with her story The Last Days. By day she mostly wrangles nerds. @KLKettle
Mary McGrath (Handmade boxes and empty milk crates)
Mary McGrath has two daughters, five plants and a twenty-six year old record player. A few famous people come from Mary’s hometown of Carrick-on-Suir in Tipperary, Ireland. Mary isn’t one of them. Mary has a degree in English from Waterford Institute of Technology and likes cake.
Lauren Bolger (The Bull)
Lauren is a 28-year-old poet-musician born in Oldham and based in Manchester. Her work is confessional, surrealist and musical. Her new collection is called, ‘4.23 pm, relaxant‘, which deals with the different phases of the self and the grief of lost innocence, adulthood and domesticity, in a word; life. Lauren is a Doctoral candidate in Creative Writing and English at Keele university.
FJ Morris (Slush Puppies)
Freya Morris is an award-winning flash fiction writer from Bristol. She has been published in a number of magazines such as Bare Fiction, The Fiction Desk , Popshot, Nature’s Futures section and two National Flash Fiction Day Anthologies. She is due to release a collection of flash fiction with As Yet Untitled in 2017.
Donald Hiscock (Work Sheet)
Donald Hiscock has worked as a journalist for national newspapers and magazines in the UK and has also been a teacher of English Literature. He has an MA and a PhD in Creative Writing and is currently working on a collection of short stories.
Thomas Lloyd (Tommy Blackens)
Thomas Lloyd is a Welsh writer from Pembrokeshire. After studying Zoology at Cardiff University and Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes he is currently in Java, Indonesia researching slow lorises with the Little Fireface Project, a conservation NGO. While there he hopes to finish his first novel. He is 25-years old.
Ingrid Jendrzejewski (My Mother and the Seven Silences)
Ingrid Jendrzejewski has won AROHO’s Orlando Prize, the Bath Flash Fiction Award, and flash fiction competitions run by Gigantic Sequins, InkTears, and Tears in the Fence. She’s been published in places like The Los Angeles Review, Passages North, The Conium Review and Rattle. She’s online at www.ingridj.com and tweets @LunchOnTuesday.
Short Story Category
Judge: Courttia Newland
1st Prize (£500): C. G. Menon, Skin Deep
2nd Prize (£200): Xanthi Barker, And Yet
3rd Prize (£100): Lucy Corkhill, Aground
Highly Commended x 2 (£25):
Neil Campbell, On the Sneck
Louisa Adjoa Parker, Into the Fire
Becky Mayhew, The Look
Margi Hatjoullis, Lost Property
William Pei Shih, Rites, Passage
Jane Dugdale, We hope not to be forgotten
W.B. Gooderham, Other People’s Dreams
Rose Collins, Catching Horses with my Father
María Alejandra Barrios Vélez, Luna
Judge’s Report by Courttia Newland
I love to judge fiction prizes and this one was no different, save the fact I’d be performing the task solo. At first the thought was a little daunting, but as soon as I began reading I relaxed into the prospect of encountering some truly great stories, and I wasn’t disappointed. The standard all the submissions I saw were very high. I’ve been feeling particularly good about the form of late, which seems to be finding new and exciting ways to capture the smaller windows into our world, responding with an immediacy that it’s weightier cousin, the novel, often can’t manage. Not to say these stories were in any way confined to the zeitgeist, or prescriptive. I was pleased to find most explored the terrain that the short story deals with best, those intricate shifts of human emotion, our hidden inner moments and coming of age, no matter what stage of life we find ourselves.
I had an instant connection with Skin Deep, which has a delicious otherworldly quality from the outset, and brilliant sparky prose. I love the subtle shift that closes the story, like shutting a door firmly on a scenario while being granted the ability to see what the characters might do next. And Yet is a masterful display of withheld terror, a story that wrong-foots the reader in the latter half, leaving them breathless and stunned; a truly powerful work of fiction. Aground is a beautiful exploration of human relationships and small town life told in pitch perfect prose, with a final image to die for. On the Sneck is a quiet revelation achieved with casual expertise; the author makes such intricate emotional storytelling seem easy, but it’s really not. And Into the Fire details a young girl’s dreams of escaping her immediate world, and is crafted into a heart-wrenching tale of self-enforced isolation. It was such a tough decision judging these stories the only downside was choosing between them. In my mind, they are all winners.
I based my very difficult final decision on which stories had the ability to firmly ‘lock’, or come together in the final passages, whether via imagery, or an emotional shape, or by theme. When the overall quality of submissions is this good, the structure of a story, however subtle, becomes something that can be remarked on and considered. There’s no doubt everyone loves a pretty sentence, of that we can be sure. Having something to say and saying it clearly helps a story resonate, so it remains with us.
The winner: C. G. Menon (Skin Deep)
C. G. Menon has won the Asian Writer prize, The Short Story award and the Winchester Writers Festival short story prize. Her work has been broadcast on radio and published in a number of anthologies. She is currently studying for an MA in creative writing at City University.
2nd prize: Xanthi Barker (And Yet)
Xanthi Barker is 28 and lives in London, where she works as a tutor in maths and English, and is a volunteer youth wellbeing trainer. Her stories have appeared in Litro, Mslexia, the Open Pen Anthology (2016), the Things That Have Happened Flight anthology (Spread the Word, 2012) and been performed at Liar’s League.
3rd prize: Lucy Corkhill (Aground)
Lucy Corkhill works as a journalist and illustrator while writing fiction late at night. Inhabiting wild spaces makes her feel alive and inspires her creativity; she has lived on a 90 year old wooden boat, in a house in the woods, and in an off-grid coastguard cottage perched on the cliffs.
Highly Commended: Neil Campbell (On the Sneck)
Neil Campbell’s debut novel Sky Hooks is out now, published by Salt. He has appeared three times in Best British Short Stories (2012, 2015, 2016), and has three collections of short fiction published: Broken Doll, Pictures from Hopper and Ekphrasis. He has a collection of flash fiction, Fog Lane, out soon.
Highly Commended: Louisa Adjoa Parker (Into the Fire)
Louisa is a South West writer of Ghanaian/English heritage. Her poetry collection and recent pamphlet have been published by Cinnamon Press. Louisa’s work has appeared in publications including Bare Fiction, Envoi, Wasafiri, and Closure (Peepal Tree). She has been highly commended by the Forward Prize and shortlisted by the Bridport Prize.
Becky Mayhew (The Look)
Becky is a 32 year-old writer from London. She has previously had a chapbook of short stories published (Lost Souls, Treehouse Press) and has self-published a book (This Ridiculous Life) based on her humour blog, Becky Says Things. She is currently working on a range of greetings cards.
Margi Hatjoullis (Lost Property)
Margi Hatjoullis lives in Liverpool, where she’s had many different jobs, including several years working in a Citizens Advice Bureau and as a Civil Servant. More recently she has completed an OU course in Creative Writing and started an MA in Writing at Liverpool John Moores University.
William Pei Shih (Rites, Passage)
William Pei Shih is from New York City. His collection of stories was a finalist for the 2016 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. His stories have been published by The Masters Review, Carve Magazine, Hyphen Magazine, The Bridport Prize, The Des Moines Register, Reed Magazine, The Bath Short Story Award, and Winning Writers. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
W.B. Gooderham (Other People’s Dreams)
W.B. Gooderham is a freelance writer (Guardian/Wasafiri). His first book, Dedicated To… (Bantam Press) was published in 2013. His second book, Three Score & Ten, will be published by the British Library in 2018
Rose Collins (Catching Horses with my Father)
Rose Collins was born in New Zealand and has lived in New York and Dublin, where she completed a Masters in Law at Trinity College, Dublin. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University, Wellington and her short fiction and poetry have been published in journals including Sport, Turbine, 4th Floor Magazine and Sweet Mammalian.
María Alejandra Barrios Vélez (Luna)
Maria is a writer born in Barranquilla, Colombia. She has lived in Bogotá and Manchester, where she recently finished a Masters degree in Creative Writing from The University of Manchester. Maria writes about immigration, in-betweenness and coming-of-age. She writes fiction in English and Spanish.