This is the fourth 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, along with the Highly Commended entries, will be published online after the launch of the Spring 2018 issue in May.
Poetry Entries: 827
Flash Fiction Entries: 515
Short Story Entries: 548
Total Entries: 1890
All entries were judged anonymously. Full details of the winners, including the judges’ reports and author biographies/photos can be seen below.
The Short Story category longlist of the top 50 short story titles can be found at the foot of the page.
A huge thank you to everyone who entered the competition in support of the magazine.
Short Story Category
Judge: Adam O’Riordan
1st Prize (£500): Sarah Brooks, Sandgrown
2nd Prize (£200): Clare Weze, The Old Rehearsal Rooms
3rd Prize (£100): Julia Ballerini, Luisa the Unforgotten
Highly Commended x 2 (£25):
Philippa Barker, Portrait
Chris Edwards-Pritchard, Swarm
Justine Bothwick, Tenderness
Kathy Hughes, The Scarlet Window
Alex Valk, Alignment
Sherry Morris, Cosmos v Cosmo
Morgaine Davidson, Ashore
Elsa Court, The Pincushion
Judge’s Report by Adam O’Riordan
This is a shortlist distinguished by lucid, scrupulous writing, characteristics shared by the work of all of the writers gathered here. And yet across the stories we see a range of approaches to narrative; from the fragmented to the through-written, stories with everything on the surface others hinting at the hidden and what remains opaque. The characters in some of these stories are offered to us in pin-point, forensic detail; their lives and histories and significant moments mapped and charted for the reader. While other characters are rendered shadowy and ethereal, glanced at rather than fully seen. This is a shortlist shot-through in places with the dark and the macabre; the terrors of the world without and within. But elsewhere redemption and transformation are hinted at as states which might, with luck, be reached.
The top three all had clear, distinct voices which were sustained across the length of their stories. Each drew you in to their particular world and then lifted you out at what felt like the right moment. The Old Rehearsal Rooms and Luisa the Unforgotten were both enriched by exact and unexpected observation of people, places and things, while Sandgrown moved between the mundane and sacred aspects of life with memorable ease.
1st prize: Sarah Brooks (Sandgrown)
Sarah Brooks works in East Asian Studies at the University of Leeds. She has had stories published in magazines including Interzone, Lighthouse and Strix, and has been shortlisted for the Walter Swan Short Story Prize 2017-18. She is co-editor of Samovar, a bilingual online magazine of translated speculative fiction.
2nd prize: Clare Weze (The Old Rehearsal Rooms)
Clare Weze writes for both adults and children. She is a Northern Writers’ Award-winner, and her work has been placed in several UK prizes, including Wells Festival of Literature and the Commonword Children’s Diversity Prize. Her short fiction has been published by Bridge House Publishing, Curiosity Quills, the Bath Flash Fiction Award, Wonderbox and The Conglomerate. clareweze.com @ClareWeze
3rd prize: Julia Ballerini (Luisa the Unforgotten)
Highly Commended: Philippa Barker (Portrait)
Philippa Barker is a freelance writer, editor and publishing assistant, currently working with the Emma Press. She lives in Birmingham and recently completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham. She writes mainly short fiction and is currently working on a collection of prose-poetry. @philippa_writes
Highly Commended: Chris Edwards-Pritchard (Swarm)
Chris Edwards-Pritchard is a 27-year-old writer. His work has appeared in New York journal the Bellevue Literary Review, Crannog, Iota Magazine, and the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology, among others. He has won a Gregory Maguire Award for Short Fiction, presented by Michael Morpurgo, and a TSS International Writer’s Award. Chris works for a robotics start-up in Bristol, UK. @ChrisEPritchard
Justine Bothwick (Tenderness)
Justine Bothwick is a writer and teacher. She lives in the city of Rome, Italy – her home for the past twelve years. She has just completed a Masters in Creative Writing with Manchester Metropolitan University. Her novel, And Still, I Lie, was shortlisted for the Virginia Prize for Fiction 2018.
Kathy Hughes (The Scarlet Window)
Kathy Hughes is a writer of fiction, poetry and articles living in London, UK. Her articles can be found in Why Magazine and The Olive Fox, and her poetry has previously been published with Visual Verse: VOL 03 and Herecomeseveryone: Circles. Exploring issues of mental health, women’s rights and the human body particularly influences her writing. @KathyGoLightlyy
Alex Valk (Alignment)
Alex Valk is a fiction writer. He graduated from Kent University in 2008 with a BA in English Literature. He has been published in Geeked magazine and was longlisted for the 2017 Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology. He has written one novel and is exploring publication options
Sherry Morris (Cosmos v Cosmo)
Originally from Missouri, Sherry writes monologues, short stories and flash fiction which have won prizes, placed on shortlists and been performed in London and Scotland. Sherry lives in the Scottish Highlands with her partner where she watches clouds, goes for long walks and dreams up stories.
Morgaine Davidson (Ashore)
Morgaine Davidson is an aspiring novelist and short fiction writer. She has recently completed an MA in Creative Writing with The University of Chichester and is currently working on her debut collection, set in her home town of Brighton.
Elsa Court (The Pincushion)
Elsa Court is a French-born writer and teacher living in London. Her essays and reviews have appeared in the Financial Times, the Times Literary Supplement, the London Review of Books blog, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. She is currently working on an academic monograph on representations of the American highway in film and literature (Palgrave).
Judge: Wayne Holloway-Smith
Joint 1st Prize (£350): Paul Stephenson, Letters to Brazil
Joint 1st Prize (£350): Jenna Clake, Wooden doll, total being
3rd Prize (£100): William Gee, There’s chaos in my cornflakes
Highly Commended x 2 (£25):
Ruth Blaug, Cassandra
Mara Adamitz Scrupe, clear cut
Mara Adamitz Scrupe, Sunflower Encolpion
Anna De Vaul, Language lessons
Katie Hale, The Call
Francesca Haig, My neighbor explains why he is followed everywhere by crows
Theophilus Kwek, the week it happens
Ken Evans, orange
Paul Stephenson, Us That Was
Judge’s Report by Wayne Holloway-Smith
Let me say that I approached my role as a judge for this competition riddled with uncertainty, and also full of gratitude. Uncertainty, because I doubt there is anything like an objectively good poem. Uncertainty because, I mean, what would even be the criteria by which such a poem could be measured? We are at such a place in critical thought that we can probably own any ‘judgement’ we make as firmly embedded within our own relative socio-cultural positions, any criteria and judgement as subject to our own unwitting sets of preferences. Gratitude, though, that, for whatever reason, the competition’s facilitator deemed me a suitable person to read these poems, and to highlight my favourites. Uncertainty: any person reading the winning and commended poems here will perhaps interpret and enjoy them differently from me. Gratitude, that I had the opportunity to read and enjoy them first. It’s with gratitude then, and uncertainty, that I present the results of this project.
The list of commendations is made up of the poems that caught hold of and excited me the most. In his essay ‘The Architecture of Fictional Rooms’, Luke Kennard speaks about ‘WTF’ moments. There are many great instances of these ‘WTF’ moments on this list, which operate, for me, as entertaining surprises, unusual uses of language, and strange images, which all seem mechanisms for movement slightly beyond the limitations of conventional sense in our limited system of communication.
From the list: ‘Cassandra’ articulates a sense of anxiety I know well, through its strange internal logic, and killer finish. ‘clear cut’ houses some incredibly interesting syntax, meaning shooting in and out of everywhere. In Third Place ‘There’s chaos in my cornflakes’ utilises a clear framework in which to articulate its almost concrete unease. Both Winners (and I had to pick two because the virtues of these, from my perspective, were impossible to separate) are a mix of the qualities I have appreciated and named above. The clarity of location in ‘Wooden doll, total being’ enables the taking of risk by its speaker in the negotiation of identity. ‘Letters to Brazil’ takes the stability of its tonal qualities and form to enact a playfulness in its movement between sections, hitting upon occasions of entertainment and peculiar types of truth throughout.
In a recent article about judging poetry prizes, Vahni Capildeo writes, “I feel almost as nervous about my ‘judgments’ as I do about my own new poems – is this any good, or have I run mad?” I actually learned to enjoy this feeling, and the way these adventurous new poems forced me to straddle this unsureness, right up to their very end.
Joint 1st prize: Paul Stephenson (Letters to Brazil)
Paul Stephenson has three pamphlets. ‘Those People’ (Smith/Doorstop) was a winner of the 2014/2015 Poetry Business competition judged by Billy Collins. ‘The Days that Followed Paris’ (HappenStance) was listed in The Poetry School’s ‘Books of the Year 2016’. ‘Selfie with Waterlilies’ won the Paper Swans Press competition in 2017. He interviews poets at www.paulstep.com
Paul was also shortlisted for the poem ‘Us That Was’.
Joint 1st prize: Jenna Clake (Wooden doll, total being)
Jenna Clake is studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham. Her debut collection, Fortune Cookie, is published by Eyewear and was awarded the Melita Hume Prize. Her poetry has appeared in Oxford Poetry, The Rialto, The Stinging Fly and more.
3rd prize: William Gee (There’s chaos in my cornflakes)
William grew up in Somerset and now lives in London, studying his MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway. He began writing contemporary poetry during his BA, after studying and becoming inspired by young British and American poets. His dark, sardonic tone addresses themes of isolation, vulnerability and self-identity.
Highly Commended: Ruth Blaug (Cassandra)
Ruth Blaug enjoys writing poetry about the world around her and the hazards and joys of life. She is 78 years old and has always loved words – her favourite book is her Concise Oxford Dictionary from her 1954 schooldays.
Highly Commended: Mara Adamitz Scrupe (clear cut)
Mara Adamitz Scrupe is the author of three poetry collections BEAST (NFSPS Press, 2014), Sky Pilot (Finishing Line Press, 2012) and Magnalia (Eyewear Press, 2017). Her poems have appeared in literary journals and magazines and she has won or been shortlisted for the National Poetry Society Competition, Ron Pretty Poetry Prize, BigCi Environmental Fellowship, Erbacce Prize, Fish Poetry Prize, Aesthetica Creative Writing Award, University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s Prize, and the Bristol Prize.
Mara was also shortlisted for the poem ‘Sunflower Encolpion’.
Anna De Vaul (Language lessons)
Anna writes both prose and poetry. She is a founding editor of the literary journal Lighthouse and a recent winner of Eyewear Publishing’s Fortnight Prize. Her chapbook Cosmonaut is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press.
Katie Hale (The Call)
Katie’s debut pamphlet, Breaking the Surface, was published by Flipped Eye in 2017. She recently won the Jane Martin Poetry Prize and the Ware Poetry Prize, and was shortlisted for the Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize. Katie is currently on her first novel, My Name is Monster, as part of Penguin Random House’s inaugural Write Now scheme.
Francesca Haig (My neighbor explains why he is followed everywhere by crows)
Francesca Haig is a novelist, poet and academic. She is the author of novels The Fire Sermon, The Map of Bones, and The Forever Ship – a trilogy published in more than 20 languages. Her first collection of poetry was Bodies of Water (2006). She grew up in Tasmania, and lives in London.
Theophilus Kwek (the week it happens)
Theophilus Kwek has published five volumes of poetry, most recently The First Five Storms (2017) which won the New Poets’ Prize. His poems, essays and translations have appeared in The Guardian, The London Magazine, The Irish Examiner, the Asia Literary Review, and elsewhere. He serves as Editor of Oxford Poetry.
Ken Evans (orange)
Ken won Battered Moons and was runner-up in Poets & Players in 2016. ‘The Opposite of Defeat’ (Eyewear) featured work shortlisted in Bare Fiction’s pamphlet competition. A collection is due summer 2018. Individual poems feature in Envoi, Lighthouse Literary Journal, The High Window, Obsessed with Pipework, and Interpreter’s House.
Flash Fiction Category
Judge: Naomi Booth
1st Prize (£500): Wendy W. Ralph, Growing Things
2nd Prize (£200): Eluned Gramich, On the Night the T4 Visa Student Invites Me Back to His
3rd Prize (£100): Christina Sanders, What Is Gone
Highly Commended x 2 (£25):
Liv Norman, The Compression of Snow
Liz Falkingham Temple, Flight Instinct
Ursula Mallows, Whatever it was he did
Barbara Marsh, The painted watch
Tamsin Hopkins, New Girl
TM Upchurch, There Is No Wrong Way
Anna Orhanen, The lemons are almost ripe
Jessie Berry-Porter, Aetiology
Vanessa I Onwuemezi, The Crossing
Judge’s Report by Naomi Booth
I’ve always loved flash fiction: brevity produces an abruptness that I enjoy, and the brutal rhythms of good micro-fictions often make them feel like the literary equivalent of a joke. Reading through the entries for the 2017 Bare Fiction contest has only made me appreciate the form even more. I’ve begun to think of it as the prose equivalent of the sonnet: perfect for the precise exploration of an idea, or a relationship, or as elegy. Many of my favourite pieces produced a flash of wildness, allowing a glimpse of something animal or environmental that disturbs the reader, and disturbs language.
Reading these entries has also reminded me how hard it is to write in this form: how hard it is to end a piece effectively so soon after it has begun; how hard it is to establish a world so rapidly and to produce a strong effect that isn’t mawkish or overblown. The writers who made this shortlist make it look easy, but creating something that feels complete in such a short space really is a feat of precision and imagination.
Special commendations go to ‘The Compression of Snow’, for a particularly arresting and vivid glimpse of a child’s point of view; and for ‘Flight instinct’, for its intense descriptive beauty and physicality.
Third Place: Lots of the submitted stories deal with births and deaths, showing great ambition within the short form. ‘What Is Gone’ was one of my favourites of these, and manages to bring both the idea of beginnings and endings together in a short story that is violent as well as tender.
Second Place: ‘On the Night the T4 Visa Student Invites Me Back to His’ is a brilliant study of an intriguing relationship. The story is beguilingly intimate but is also ruptured by dislocation, by a sense of the enormous distances, literal and experiential, between these two characters.
First Place: In ‘Growing Things’, a desert childhood is brought back to life, and becomes something powerfully eerie by the end of the story: this is vivid, beautifully detailed writing that builds towards an uncanny ending. This story establishes so much so quickly—and then just as effectively de-realises its own world, conjuring the destructive power of the environment as well as the weird, destabilising effects of memory.
The winner: Wendy W. Ralph (Growing Things)
Wendy W. Ralph resides in sunny Estero, Florida where she currently spends far too many hours indoors working on a doctoral dissertation. Wendy was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2010 and her work lives in: Upstreet, The Los Angeles Review, The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, and others. www.wendyralph.com
2nd prize: Eluned Gramich (On the Night the T4 Visa Student Invites Me Back to His)
Eluned Gramich is a Welsh-German writer and translator. Her memoir of Japan, Woman Who Brings the Rain, won the New Welsh Writing Award 2015 and was shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year 2016. She currently lives in Aberystwyth, where she’s working on her debut novel.
3rd prize: Christina Sanders (What Is Gone)
Christina has had short stories and flash fiction published in literary and online magazines including: The Bath Short Story Anthology, Litro, Rattle Tales, TFM magazine, Litro, Best Small Fictions, Toasted Cheese. In 2016, she won the Aesthetica creative writing award.
Highly Commended: Liv Norman (The Compression of Snow)
Liv Norman lives in Surrey with her husband and children, writing short fiction in between compulsive bouts of baking. She studied creative writing as part of a Literature degree with the OU, and has been a Writers’ Forum competition winner, writing as Victoria Gebler. She tweets on occasion @LivNorman77
Highly Commended: Liz Falkingham Temple (Flight Instinct)
Ursula Mallows (Whatever it was he did)
Ursula is an editor and writer currently living in Oxford with her husband and two young sons. Her flash fiction has appeared in the Bridport Anthology (Redcliffe Press) and Story.Book (Unbound Press), and her work has been shortlisted for the Fish Flash Fiction Prize, the Bridport Prize and Mslexia Flash Fiction competition.
Barbara Marsh (The painted watch)
Winner of the Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2015, Barbara Marsh is a writer, musician and teacher. Her most recent poetry collection is To the Boneyard (Eyewear Publishing). As a singer/songwriter, she co-formed Anglo-American duo The Dear Janes. Formerly with Geffen Records, they released three albums and toured Europe and America. She was born in the US and lives in London.
[Photo credit: S. Parkhill and A. Kjaergaard]
Tamsin Hopkins (New Girl)
Tamsin Hopkins lives in London. She has two dogs and likes rivers. A lot. Her debut short story collection Shore to Shore was published in 2016 and was longlisted for the Edge Hill Prize. She is new to flash but finds it endlessly fascinating.
TM Upchurch (There Is No Wrong Way)
TM Upchurch is a biochemist and scientific writer. Her fiction has been published in print and online, and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, Bath Flash Fiction Award, and HISSAC short story competition. She is currently working on her first novel. Website: www.tmupchurch.com Twitter: @tmupchurch
Anna Orhanen (The lemons are almost ripe)
Anna Orhanen is a London-based freelance writer, editor and scholar. After completing her PhD on Proust at King’s College London in 2013, she has taught Literature and Critical Theory at Royal Holloway, University of London and worked as a Visiting Research Fellow at KCL. Since 2016, she has been writing for and editing Londnr Magazine.
Vanessa I Onwuemezi (The Crossing)
Vanessa is a writer and poet based in London. She recently completed an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London, where she was an editor of the Mechanics Institute Review anthology. She is currently working on a collection of short stories and a collection of poetry.
LONGLISTED SHORT STORIES (anonymous, in no particular order)
The Butterfly Project
November the Fifth
Paper Like Skin, Skin Like Paper
The Brother of the Man Who Found the Giant Squid
If only for the butterflies
The Edges of Sound
The Sky Polisher
The Creation. Or where it went wrong
The Nobleness of Life
The Scarlett Window
The Boy Who Hated Cigarettes
The Rainbow Calico
One More Cross
Luisa The Unforgotten
Hindsight is a terrible thing
Stop for Death
You didn’t know I could dance
This Small Girl
Cosmo v Cosmo
The Quadratic Formula
Something about a Seagull
from Greek dus– ‘difficult’ + chronos– ‘time’ + metron– ‘measure’
The Old Rehearsal Rooms
Sticks and Stones