The last Earlyworks Press comp of the year closes on 31st October – it’s the big short story comp. There are two categories – up to 4000 words and up to 8000 words – so if you’ve got something ready to go that you haven’t placed yet, click here to enter!

As usual at Earlyworks Press, things are running late but – also as usual, I like the way things are now shaping up. The 2018 poetry and flash fiction anthology has now gone to press, and advance copies will be winging their way to the authors who’ve been patiently waiting since its expected appearance in September. Fear not! There will be copies to order in time for Christmas.

Records, Rivers and Rats

This year, one of the questions we asked ourselves was – why do we always have all the poems and then all the flash fiction – a more than obviously striking question because we had what I thought was a piece of flash fiction but its author saw as a poem amongst the poetry comp entries, more or less at the same time as I put a poem in our club workshop on which one of our members commented ‘a flash fiction story has mysteriously developed line-breaks’ – so much for my sense of rhythm.

I decided to mix it up in this year’s collection, and leave the reader to decide what is flash fiction and what is a prose poem. I asked for some works of different lengths from the club, and used them to segue the poetry and flash sets together. Here, so readers will know which were the competition winners, are the full shortlists, and here my congratulations, and thanks to all who took part.

The Poetry

In the poetry competition, the £100 first prize went to Christopher M James, the £25 runner up prize to Nadia Saward, and commendations and £5 each to John Baylis Post, Ion Corcos and Rachael Street. The other shortlisted authors were Matthew Adamo, Nicholas Catlin, Brian Charlton, Andria J Cooke, Ion Corcos, Maureen Cullen, Andy Eycott, Carol Frost, Georgia Gardner, R D Gardner, C Gillett, Elizabeth Heddwen Smith, Jack Howard, Rona Laycock, Bill Lythgoe, Abigail Elizabeth Ottley, Alyson Powell-Rees, Derek Sellen, Jocelyn Simms, Ashley Lloyd Smith, Lizzie Smith, Phil Vernon and Catherine Westwell.

Our thanks to Mandy Pannett, who was our final round reader. Here are her comments. On the winner, Pathetic Fallacy by Christopher M James: this poem quickly reached the top of the pile of entries and stayed there. It is perfectly crafted, rich in quality. I love the syntax, the whole tone of it. Memorable lines are immediate: ‘goodbye slouching friend,/soothe my body to the junkyard gate…’, ‘Bystanders who stopped bystanding/when the world emptied of people’, ‘So, I plead/the ontology of objects in an era/of packaging.’ The last stanza, in particular, is stunning.

On the runner up, Underworld by Nadia Saward: this is a chilling but beautiful journey poem – a journey to oneself or to an afterlife, whatever that may or not be. There are expectations here but one by one they are negated – the waterfall which is seen as a portal becomes a shroud, on the other side there is only ‘the dark and the cave.’ There is no greeting, no welcome, no voices, no company, ‘No moon, no stars. There was no light.’ The narrator is isolated in a realm of silence. Memories offer no consolation. The sun ‘is only a word.’ This is a terrific poem albeit grim and tragic.

On Guillemots by John Baylis Post: there is a broken relationship here, the pain of it staved off by the ‘lingering recall’ of memories and a clever, linguistic game identifying metaphors. Neither work. In the last line the narrator confronts the reality: ‘I miss your voice.’ I love the central metaphor of the guillemots ‘allopreening’ – a loving act now missing in the narrator’s own life.

On A Stone in My Shoe by Ion Corcos: here are connections and repetitions – an orange tree, water, a river, a mountain, earth, stone and the idea of home. In the end the links grow old, creak, turn to scars. This is a subtle hard-hitting poem that ends with an outstanding couplet: ‘an iceberg sinks into the winter sea/only a polar bear afloat in the dark’. On Oedipus by John Baylis Post: The opening of this poem caught my interest at once: ‘Jocasta puked.’ A few lines later ‘palace kittens, necks in gold torques,/lapped at the vomit.’ A strong narrative poem with a great depiction of character, setting and mood.

On Records by Rachael Street: there are many depths, here not only the layers of the artist’s ‘vision’ which merge and blend. I love the language of the whole poem, the way it begins ‘Consider this:’, the descriptions of shifting light, the movement of the pencil ‘almost engrained/In muscle memory.’ Beautiful writing.

The Flash Fiction

The winner of the £100-for-100-words Earlyworks Press Flash Fiction Competition 2018 was Jim Bowen. The shortlisted authors were Paula Balfe, Cecile Bol, Tom Bowen, Lorraine Cooke, John Holland, Barbara Lorna Hudson, Andrew Irvine, Taria Karillion, Gordon Massey, Mandy Pannett, Anoosh Falak Rafat, Kate Twitchin, Alison Woodhouse and Faye Wynter.

The variety in tone and content of the entries was enormous. As ever with the flash comps, we used several judges, who then struggled to work out how you rate the serious against the comic, the gently poetic offering against the raw, stirring shout-out, and how to rate quality of content versus style and craft. What is needed now is emotional agility from the reader, to change gear in time to appreciate the mix.

How did we finally choose the winner? Once we had a set of twenty or so pieces that held the judges’ interest in one way or another and a few firm favourites picked out, we asked the famous last-ditch question. Which image, idea or feeling is going to stick in your mind the longest? The answer was – the guilty fever that rises, as you grip the wheel with one hand and grope around desperately for…

…anyway, no spoilers. There are some excellent narrative poems in the poetry shortlist and some pieces packed with rhythm and philosophy in the flash fiction shortlist. In both sets, some were satisfyingly short and to the point, others a happy meander, some as serious as serious can get, others decidedly tongue-in-cheek – so – you decide which is which. Congratulations all, and thanks for taking part. I hope you enjoy the collection.

Short Stories – including yours?

Only a few days to go for 2018 submissions

Enter your story here…

And finally, as the general state of backlog persists and I still haven’t found the time to work out how to drive the new website, you’d be wise to sign up for our newsletter if you’d like to have timely updates of goings on at Earlyworks Press.