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Second place: Dinosaur Bones by Emily Ives-Keeler

Dad watches the crows every morning from the kitchen window. A young family has roosted in the hedgerow trees and each day they line up on the fence and scream at each other, at the sky, at the Universe, at my Dad. Dad sips his tea and glares. He knocks on the window, but the crows dance along the fence and shriek louder.

‘That fence is covered in shit,’ croaks Dad, his voice thick with sleep. The kettle boils. ‘I’ll have another one, please, love.’

I pour hot water, milk, a white flower blooming in the muddy tea.

‘And how are we this morning?’

I reach into the cupboard and finger-hunt through half-empty boxes of cereal, energy bars, pop tarts. ‘I’m hungry,’ I mutter.

Dad scuffs across the lino in his slippers, collects his tea. ‘Hi hungry, I’m Dad,’ he grins, and shuffles upstairs.

Later, he picks me up from college, shirtsleeves rolled up, blasting the Eagles.

‘Fish and chips?’ He says. We order two cod and chips, plus extra chips, drench it all in vinegar and BBQ sauce. We watch old episodes of Friends while we eat, drop our forks to clap the theme tune.

In the morning, the smeared boxes are scattered on the lawn, the greaseproof lining shredded and sprinkled on the hydrangeas. The crows squawk their gratitude. Dad bursts out the back door, arms flying, screeches their cry back at them in a horrible parody. The crows thrash their wings and scramble skyward. They return to the fence quietly, one by one, and watch as we file out to the car, flint eyes trained on us.

Dad starts the engine. ‘I’m going to kill those birds.’

I tell myself he could never catch one, and if he did, he wouldn’t know what to do with it. But more than once I catch him skulking around the hedgerow with his gardening gloves on, fingers twitching. He stands at the kitchen window and matches their stony stare with his own; mocks their rattling squall until his throat is ragged. I sit at the computer and find tabs open on bird poison, BB guns. He says the thing to do is to string one up by the feet, as a warning to the others.

I get the bus to college and leave him kneeling on the lawn, rope and netting spread out on the grass. One night I come home after a shift at the supermarket and all the lights are off, his car a slippery shadow in the driveway. I find him on the bench under the garden fence, heedless of the white crust left by the birds on every surface. A still black heap is hunched in his lap. The dark shapes of the crows guard the fence, but the garden is quiet. I tread the grass.

Dad whispers my name. ‘Look,’ he says.

I hold my breath and peer into his lap, his fists closed around wing and tail. He has done it.

‘How did you—,’

‘Shh,’ he says, and the heap of feathers stirs, flashes a hard eye, a blunt beak. Dad loosens his grip, and the bird opens the palm of its midnight wing. It stands, feathers bristling into a ragged mane. With a harsh departing ‘Caw,’ it bursts up from Dad’s lap into the sky. The air stirs as the other crows follow.

‘They’re beautiful,’ says Dad, staring after them.

This is the first day Dad skips work. He doesn’t go the next day, either. He stands in his usual spot at the kitchen window, but now, when he shrieks at the crows, it’s like he shrieks with them, not at them. He moves slowly through the house so as not to startle them. When the sun sets and they scatter back to the trees, he goes out in his dressing gown and collects their glossy feathers, fills vases and old jam jars with bouquets of them.

‘Did you know,’ he says, ‘birds are directly descended from therapods. Their bones are just the same, only smaller. Birds are the only surviving dinosaurs.’ The crows scream at this as if in applause. Dad smiles.

At college, I find myself striding down the Science corridor, seeking out a teacher to ask whether crows are dangerous or somehow addictive. But I can’t form the right words for what I want to know, so I pretend to look at the notice board and turn around.

I take more shifts at the supermarket, bring home milk and microwave lasagne. Dad stops cooking, eats only what he can fit in his hand while standing at the kitchen window. Eventually, I bring him a chair and a blanket. He loses weight, grows a beard which stretches down his neck. Angry-looking letters pile up on the doormat, but neither of us opens them.

‘Dad,’ I ask, ‘What are we going to do?’ I kneel down to him and he looks past me with dark, corvid eyes. ‘Dad?’

But Dad has stopped speaking and the only rattle left in his throat is for the crows.

One morning I come down to the kitchen and Dad isn’t there. I go to his bedroom, find his pillows strewn with opalescent feathers, and I know.In the garden, perched on the sun-warmed fence, is my Dad. He looks almost like the other crows, straight beaked, smooth headed. But his soft eyes give him away. My feet whisper across the grass. The crows side-step the fence, give me a wide berth. Dad holds my questioning stare, croaks a caw. An apology, a goodbye, or both. His wings bristle and I push out the palm of my hand, a stop sign, but it’s too late. In a thrum of wing and wind, Dad rises off the fence and heads skyward, a black knot in the clear blue sky. I watch him and wonder how the air feels underwing, the freedom whistling through his dinosaur bones. 

 


This blew me away, personally. It draws you into a seemingly mundane familial relationship then swells, twists, crescendos and soars like the very best writing. It also made me cry, twice. Extraordinary.

Rachel Edwards

Hard to imagine a steeper flash character arc than what happens in this piece, which one of the other judges said made her cry, twice. A depressed father, whose life is irrevocably changed by an encounter with a crow, and the narrator who is forced to witness the father’s transformation. Does the father experience a breakdown, or a liberation? By the end, we’re not completely sure, but we feel for both the father who glides away forever, and the college-age child who’s left behind, awe-struck. 

Eliot Li

I love the way the story appears to be straightforward, then veers off into a surreal place that somehow feels more real than the real. Fully engages the head and heart

Patricia Q. Bidar

Emily Ives-Keeler lives in Aberdeen, Scotland with her husband and cat. She works for a charity and writes short fiction whenever she can. Her work has previously appeared in Deracine magazine, and is forthcoming in Neon.

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Third place: Aching Bones by Zoë D. Marriott

The bone-flutes are restless this morning. There is no wind yet, and the reeds stand unmoving amid the dark silty water; but the flutes shift where they hang beneath the thick sheaf of the eaves, rippling with mournful notes. They’ve faded from pink to yellow as they dried – though I watered them every day with tears, at first – to white. They’re almost translucent now, and their music is gentle. More beautiful with each passing winter. I whistle softly at them until they fall silent.

Amber mist cloaks the rising sun. The same mist tickles my bare ankles, but it’s colourless down here by the water, like the steam from my chipped old cup, rose-hip-scented, warming my chilled face. 

A bird calls, far off amid the dense prickling bushes that guard the edge of the marsh. Lonely, mayhap. The bleached planks of the deck creak, some shifting a little underfoot. I chose a dry-ish spot to sit and lower myself down. My knees creak too, but I’m still able to fold my legs and tuck my bare toes under my thighs to keep them warm. 

Ma always scolded me for wandering the marsh with no shoes on.

‘Them eels’l be ticklin’ your bones with their teeth, girlie, mark my words! Don’t come a-cryin’ to me when you end up with no toes!’

I lean back against the wall of the hut and sip my tea, savouring the way the sweet-bitter brew makes my mouth water. It’ll be warmer soon. The sun is starting to burn the mist off. A hot copper-penny sizzling in the clouds. 

I rub absently at the old, round knot of scarring on the back of my left hand. Some days I must remind myself that I chose it. I could have smoothed the mark away with one of my salves, if I had wanted, after the wound healed and the infection was gone. Faded it from pink to yellow to white. But I chose to remember instead. 

The far-off bird calls again. Another answers and for a moment their songs entwine. A happy ending?

I enjoy the quiet along with another sip of tea. They’ll start to arrive soon: seekers, travellers from the villages and the towns beyond the hills. They stream into the marshes like the black rivulets that raise up through the reed beds at high tide. Everyone wants healing, remedies or advice these days. A salve, a potion. A whispered fortune. Broken hearts and broken bones mended. Business is brisk. Everyone wants to see me just once, while I’m still alive, still working. There’s a good thirty years of life left in me yet – I can feel that in my bones, the way Ma used to be able to tell, with a touch, when death was rooted in someone – but I look ancient to them. In truth, I am something ancient. The last Cunning Woman of the marshes.

Ma always warned me about this, too. 

‘You’ll end up all alone out here at this rate, girlie, mark my words!’

But I never did my duty, even though Ma tried everything she could to make me – kept on trying, right until the very end. 

I never went out there with flowers braided into my hair, holding up a smile before my fear and determination like a mask. Never laid down beneath a man for as many nights as it took, enduring, then stole away in the dark to return to the marshes when I knew my belly would swell. Never broke anyone’s heart. Nor broke the spirit of any children. Or their bones. 

And I still have all my toes. 

It’s not my bones – the thick, strong thigh bone, the elegant ulna, the filigree of the long, gnarled fingers – that hang from the eaves of my hut now, disturbing the air with their plaintive notes, tying the wind into knots as it passes through the tiny holes I carved into their lengths.

When they were new, the flutes had a harsher music. Shrill and sharp, like corvids fighting over carrion. They were never silent, never still. Oh, it was a hard winter that year. I was a woman grown, but I felt like a child, tiny and fragile and afraid as I crept around the newly quiet house, learning everything afresh, every squeak of every plank underfoot, every knot and stitch of every blanket, the chipped rim of every jar, the papery dry smells of the herbs in each basket. The frosts were as thick as snow, and set over the water with a crust like iron. Icicles sprouted from the bone-flutes then, and I flinched from their song. It followed me into my nightmares. There were times when I didn’t think I would survive, especially with my bad hand and the fever of infection that seemed to go on and on and on.

But the spring came. The swifts and swallows returned, drawing the warmth of the sun behind them like a promise. My hand healed. When I wove yellow iris and bittercress and the white stars of bogbean into my hair that summer, it was for myself, myself, myself only, and I laughed as I danced through the reed beds, barefoot. I laughed.

Time flows as smoothly as water in a life without fear. And the bone-flutes really don’t sound anything like Ma anymore. 

The bird calls a final time, its trill spinning out over the misty reeds and water. This time there is no reply. Some creatures are happier alone, mayhap.

I smile. 


The author masterfully drops the reader into an unfamiliar world. I was impressed by the use of the natural environment, the seasons, and the overall world-building here.

Patricia Q. Bidar

I love the character building here, and the voice, done in a lovely, nuanced way, this healer or witch by the marsh, who has never been in love and always been alone, and prefers it that way, with her mother her only close companion. The story took me away to another time and place altogether. I interpreted that the bone flutes were her mother’s bones, still talking to her, sharing a sort of lovely pathos with her. I love the imagery, and the metaphors—the eel, the birds calling. The harsh winter when she was on her own without her mother, that she barely survived, but then the spring came and renewed her faith in herself, and the penultimate line “Some creatures are happier alone, mayhap,” all bravely point to a life alone worth living. 

Eliot Li

An accomplished tale, one painting the dark hinterland of the central character’s experience. Mysterious and memorable.

Rachel Edwards

Zoë D. Marriott is a proud working-class writer. She lives on the wild North coast of England, sharing her home with a manic spaniel called Ruskin and countless teetering piles of books. She is a former Royal Literary Fund Fellow and award-winning writer of diverse, feminist novels for young adults, including: Shadows on the Moon; The Hand, the Eye and the Heart; Barefoot on the Wind; and the Name of the Blade trilogy. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in Creative Writing at the Open University. She blogs about her journey as a mature student at http://www.zdmarriott.com and can also be found on Twitter as @ZMarriott.

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The 2022 summer short-list

We are thrilled to announce our short-list for the summer Oxford Flash Fiction Prize 2022. If your story is listed, please do not identify which story belongs to you, as the judges are hard at work making their decisions. We will be contacting you soon regarding our end of year anthology.

This year, our shortlist will be awarded publication in our next anthology and a four-week workshop called Dust Off Those Drafts with The Flash Cabin. They will get four weeks of feedback exchange and story revision (includes 20 revision exercises & 20 study stories) with Anika Carpenter.

SHORTLISTED STORIES

  • 1974 by Veneta Roberts
  • A Boy Named Blue by Judy Foot
  • A Thin Line by Emily Midgley
  • Aching Bones by Zoë Marriott
  • All My F/a/c/e/s by Adam Brannigan
  • Amy by Richard Smith
  • An Orange Wool Identity by Michael Salander
  • Comparative Advantage by Nancy Graham Holm
  • Dinosaur Bones by Emily Ives-Keeler
  • Goose by Isaura Barbé-Brown
  • Gorgo Down Under by Gillian O’Shaughnessy
  • How to spend more time with your father. by Kate Sass
  • Let’s say by Maria Thomas
  • Like Molly Ringwald in the Breakfast Club by Eleanor Luke
  • My Name is Alice by Jennifer McMahon
  • Perfect Petersons by Finley Hopmann
  • The Anatomy of Arriving by Michelle Wong
  • The Awakening by Julia Pascal
  • The Kuklops by Donna L. Greenwood
  • The Music Makers by Tom Vowler
  • The Other People by Denny Jace
  • The Poisoners Apprentice by Rowan Evans
  • The Rainbow Poncho by Anna Hopwood
  • Too soon, too late by Stephen Haines

Our next competition will be opening on the 1 November 2022. So if you don’t find yourself on this list, we hope you’ll try again in our next competition and keep crafting.

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For the Love of Flash: Interview with judge Eliot Li

In 7th grade, I started writing really depressing poetry as an outlet for adolescent angst, which I continued in high school (both the poetry and the angst). I was fortunate that my parents never discouraged me from writing. When I started college, I became a biology major instead. I didn’t return to a regular creative writing practice again until middle age.

10 years ago, the local chapter of my college alumni association organized a writing class taught by the novelist Mary Rakow. Mary’s writing insight and compassionate point of view blew me away, and I immediately approached her for mentorship and met regularly with her. I started out writing regular length short stories. But once, without even knowing about flash fiction, I wrote a piece for her that was only a few hundred words long. She loved it, and said I should consider writing flash, because the way I wrote was a great match for the form. 

Mary told me to seek out writing classes where I would be the worst writer in the room, some place that would make me feel both massively insecure and also super inspired by everyone else. I’d signed up for one of the SmokeLong flash workshops, and it was exactly as she said—I was the worst writer in the group! My early regular length short stories were very exposition heavy, and Mary would just take her pen and bracket a whole passage and write, “Condense.” My tendency to write boring exposition got so bad she set a rule that I could only use action, gesture, interiority, and dialog. I’ve been trying to write that way ever since.

That’s why I love flash – you just write these incredibly intense bursts of story, with all the connective tissue removed. I love a flash story that goes from point A to point B, that builds in intensity and urgency as it goes, perhaps moving back and forth in time or setting, that has elements from each section that resonate with each other or come back in a new and meaningful way, and that by the time we arrive at point B, something unexpected has happened, something that evokes strong emotion from the reader, or makes us feel a deep empathy for the main character.

That’s why I love flash – you just write these incredibly intense bursts of story, with all the connective tissue removed.

Eliot Li

Titles are hard. I don’t think I always get the titles right. In fact, there was one piece I just got back from a paid critique, and the first comment was, “Please change this title right away!” My feelings about what titles should do have evolved a lot. When I first started writing, I wanted a safe, short title that basically “fit” the story, often just one word, like “Barbarians.” Now, I use titles to convey information to ground or orient the reader to what’s happening in the story. It’s almost as if the title is the only introductory exposition I allow myself before jumping into the scene, so I cram as much succinct info as I can into them.

My story titles have gotten progressively longer. For instance, I have a story called “Mr. Ah Yup, Of The Mongolian Race, Applying For Naturalization.” I’m hoping it’s an attention-grabbing title, but it also does the work of telling the reader all the exposition they need so I can just go right into scene. Or there’s a 100 word story I wrote titled “It Took Courage For My Disowned Mother To RSVP Yes To My Uncle’s Wedding,” which again gives the reader everything I think they need to set up the scene that follows. At least that’s where I am with titles right now. 

My advice to writers is when submitting to a journal or competition, write something that stands out as unique from the other hundreds or thousands of submissions. A voice, a setting, a point of view that’s never been on the page before. A topic that nobody else is writing about. And then infuse the story with so much heart and guts that upon finishing, the reader has to just close their laptop and cry.

Eliot Li is a Chinese American writer who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. His work has appeared in CRAFT Literary, SmokeLong Quarterly, Pithead Chapel, trampset, The Pinch, pidgeonholes, and elsewhere. He was a finalist for the 2021 Pinch Literary Awards, and runner up for the 2022 New Flash Fiction Prize.

He will soon be joining the editorial staff at SmokeLong Quarterly. You can find him on twitter @EliotLi2.


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The 2022 summer long-list

We are thrilled to announce our long-list for the summer Oxford Flash Fiction Prize 2022.

Congratulations to all of the authors who reached the list and for all those who entered this round. We saw a wonderful range of genres, topics and stories from all over the world and it was hugely competitive. Many wonderful stories just missed the final list and for those we have permission to email – we will be letting you know! 

If your story is listed, please do not identify which story belongs to you, as the judges are hard at work making their decisions.

LONGLISTED STORIES

  • 1974
  • A boy named blue
  • A Crossing
  • A Thin Line
  • Aching bones
  • Across the lake
  • All my faces
  • Amy
  • An Orange Wool Identity
  • Comparative advantage
  • Compost
  • Dance Out Your Grief
  • Darlin’ Nate
  • Dinosaur bones
  • Fortune’s Fool
  • Four people
  • Goose
  • Gorgo down under
  • How to spend more time with your father
  • Indian smile
  • Let’s say
  • Life in the Meta
  • Like Molly Ringwald in the Breakfast Club
  • My name is Alice
  • Our Unprecedented Tranquillity
  • Perfect Petersons
  • The Anatomy of Arriving
  • The Awakening
  • The Bower
  • The Kuklops
  • The Land Where Her Ancestors Live
  • The Letter
  • The Music Makers
  • The Other People
  • The Plan
  • The Poisoners Apprentice
  • The Rainbow Poncho
  • Timing
  • Too Soon, Too Late

In the next few weeks, we will be announcing our shortlist, who will be awarded publication in our next anthology and a four-week workshop called Dust Off Those Drafts with The Flash Cabin. They will get four weeks of feedback exchange and story revision (includes 20 revision exercises & 20 study stories) with Anika Carpenter.

So watch this space! 

Our next competition will be opening on the 1 November 2022. So if you don’t find yourself on this list, we hope you’ll try again in our next competition and keep crafting.

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When you believe: Interview with competition judge, Patricia Q. Bidar

Believe you are entitled to this writing life. Write what only you can write. Read like crazy. Do your best to ensure the emotions you feel as you write will be felt by your reader. Avail yourself of the many classes, workshops, readings, books, and groups available to you. Many are free. Celebrate and honor our differences. And always take the time to uplift other writers. That’s my advice.

Patricia Q. Bidar

Encouragement goes a long way. I was that shy kid who would scrawl my poems out during class and slip them on my teacher’s desk. My mom and grandmother agreed that I was “backward,” being a curious and silent observer. I made other moms on our block uncomfortable! But I always felt welcome at our town’s library, and returned weekly for a fresh stack of books. 

I began working full-time at an early age – giving the creative life lip service but with no belief it was possible for me. Some restless spark endured. In my thirties, I applied to a college writing program. Those two years to focus on writing is a gift, the magnitude of which I still cannot take in. After graduation, I submitted my short story collection to a couple of high-level publishers; it was the same with my short stories. I had no real understanding of how else to proceed. I began work on a novel — still unfinished, but which I still love!

Flash Fiction America: 73 Very Short Stories

It has been more than thirty years since the term “flash fiction” was first coined, perfectly describing the power in the brevity of these stories, each under 1,000 words. Since then, the form has taken hold in the American imagination. For this latest installment in the popular Flash Fiction series, James Thomas, Sherrie Flick, and John Dufresne have searched far and wide for the most distinctive American voices in short-short fiction.

The 73 stories collected here speak to the diversity of the American experience and range from the experimental to the narrative, from the whimsical to the gritty. Featuring fiction from writers both established and new. Flash Fiction America is a brilliant collection, radiating creativity and bringing together some of the most compelling and exciting contemporary writers in the United States.

Arising from trauma in my teens, risky compulsions and self-defeating behaviour ruled my 20s and 30s. Then there was marriage, work, kids, and a mortgage, which needn’t have stopped my writing—I’m told. Today, I see working parents of young kids publishing and thriving. But it sure stopped me. I never accept it as a given that anyone can manage the headspace to write. There are plenty of reasons not everyone can pull off a writing life while working and raising kids.

Ingrained in me was the belief that a person like me cannot choose a life in the arts. Factor in a lack of entitlement, self-worth, the availability of mentors and role models, the aforementioned headspace, and any functional knowledge about how the process works. Further, in some cases, decision-makers have welcomed only certain versions of the working-class tale. 

After our kids left home, I continued to work too much, in the low-paying human services field, as well as freelancing in the early mornings and weekends. Once I took on a more niche full-time job as a grant writer, I returned to my own writing — 23 years after graduation from my program. I learned that the miniature but complete narratives I wrote had a name, and that was flash fiction. I enrolled in workshops and began sending my work out and participating in the online flash community. One of my first acceptances was from Wigleaf! I’m pretty proud of that.

The international flash community does beautiful things around erasing boundaries between people. 

Patricia Q. Bidar

I love flash fiction. If you’re reading this, you probably do, too. The international flash community does beautiful things around erasing boundaries between people. I know that some flash writers attended private colleges. For others, not having an MFA is a point of pride. Some have the focus and drive to build a writing life while also paying the bills. Some struggle financially and still write. Otherstake fancy vacations from swank homes. Some feel strongly about doing anything but writing professionally so as not to taint their artistic voice. Some get by on very little; some do not need to earn money. (This is the life my mother hoped I’d marry into, I think!) Through our work, even we fiction writers learn and share so much about who we are. I like everything about flash fiction, but our community, online and off—and the effort to make it more democratic and welcoming—is what I love most.

My parents didn’t attend college, but both were lifelong readers. My mother recently passed away. A family friend called her the most well-read person she’s ever known, going on to marvel at the many worlds that lived within my mom. Isn’t that amazing? Something for us readers to think about and appreciate about ourselves. 

I’m excited to serve as one of the judges for this competition. I’ll be looking for those tales and observations that no one but YOU could have forged. The earned, inevitable last line that is somehow also a surprise. A bit of magic. I know it when I see it.

For now, take some time to be inspired. There are too many superb flash writers out there to list. I recommend my fellow judge Eliot Li. His is a singular perspective: that of a health professional, family man, and son of immigrants. He writes fiction with the soul of a poet, in my opinion. A thoughtful observer with a completely original eye! There is some great work out there in Flash Frog, New Flash Fiction Review, Trampset, Vol 1. Brooklyn, Island Mag, Reckon Review, Banshee, Fractured Lit, Into the Void, and Milk Candy Review, to name a few journals publishing flash.

Next for me is a collection of flash fiction that I’m shopping to publishers now. I’ve joined the staff of Quarterly West, a lit journal affiliated with the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. My story, Over There, is included in Flash Fiction America (W.W. Norton, 2023). The book is available for pre-order now. I’m also excited that one of my flash pieces will appear in Blue Bob—a Dylan tribute anthology—published by a press I’ve been admiring for years, Cowboy Jamboree. That book will be released in early December. 

Believe in yourself and believe you deserve to do the things you love. 

Patricia Quintana Bidar is a writer from the Port of Los Angeles area. Her work appears in Wigleaf, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Pinch, Pithead Chapel, and Atticus Review, among other journals, and in numerous anthologies.

Patricia’s collection of short fiction was a recent finalist in the Moon City Fiction Award and Gold Line Press Competition. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in filmmaking from San Francisco State University and a Master’s in English from University of California, Davis. For more, visit www.patriciaqbidar.com


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Lady luck: Interview with competition judge and author, Rachel Edwards on love, luck and literature

I always thought writing was for other people, not for second-generation Jamaican-Nigerian girls like me. My mother tells me, while as a keen gardener she always had a spade in her hand, I always had a book in mine. I read voraciously, and by the time I was seven, I felt that there must be nothing finer than to be an author. A few short years later, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker and Toni Morrison helped to open a door that encouraged me into a more ambitious space, in literary terms. 

I’ve always considered myself lucky in many ways – being born on Christmas Day; I’ve always loved that. I have been lucky in my wonderful mother, an NHS nurse for 50 years; lucky in love – having been with the most amazing man for 20 years – lucky in being able to raise my stepchildren. Lucky in winning £25,000 as the fourth-ever contestant on Deal or No Deal (bit random, I know) – that helped me to buy my first flat in Oxfordshire. When writing gets tough, I am buoyed by the constant thought that I am lucky to be doing what I absolutely love: creating and living life as a published author. When it came to my second novel, LUCKY absolutely had to be the title.

Are you feeling Lucky? Order your copy here

Lucky is the story of Etta, who is in her mid-thirties and keen to nudge her loving but commitment-phobic partner Ola towards marriage and children. Ola is worried about money and reluctant to get engaged before they have enough saved for a house deposit, so Etta quietly begins to make money on an online gambling site – until she begins losing. Soon she has secretly lost their entire savings. Luckily, Etta has made a friend on the site, a friend who has recently won big. Perhaps she can persuade him to give her a loan, just until she wins the money back. What could possibly go wrong?

Lucky explores issues of race, money, immigration, power and privilege through a fast-paced, suspenseful story that will keep readers as hooked as Darling did.

It examines societal factors that can turn lives upside down: from the increasingly popular online gambling to migration and the movement of people. Ultimately, Lucky is a book that examines the risks we all take to survive.

I had the idea for LUCKY years ago while still living in Oxfordshire as a freelance writer in my 20s. At one point, as a form of elaborate procrastination, and because I have something of a moth-to-the-flame personality, I gave in to a perverse urge to explore online bingo and then a few betting games. I thought I would be impervious. But I was appalled at how quickly online gambling could pull someone in and turn into trouble. Happily, I did not go down the same path as my character Etta. But that age-old author’s question of ‘What if?’ arose – what if I had been desperate for money? What if I had not stopped?

So much of story writing comes from that curiosity, where you let your imagination run. Not knowing where it’s going to go can be its own sort of gamble too. My novel is about some of the most significant gambles we can take, from crossing an ocean for a better life, to taking a chance on love: existential gambles and the risks we take. Even entering a writing competition! For my books, DARLING and LUCKY, I was fired up about Brexit and the rise of the Far Right, then about online gambling and migration issues. I write better when I have something powerful to say, something that matters to me. 

I write better when I have something powerful to say, something that matters to me. 

Rachel Edwards

I love short fiction that is powerfully evocative: it captures a moment or a theme perfectly and it works well with the brevity of the form. If it is a moving idea, beautifully written, and if the author writes with an original voice, then it is sure to be a strong contender for me. I love to be fully immersed in a story and its characters. My characters become so real to me that they could walk into my living room right now and I know exactly what they say and do. That’s a thrilling relationship. 

I am keen to encourage emerging writers. I have long embraced new voices in fiction: I talk regularly to students at the HarperCollins Author Academy and I also host bespoke solo writing retreats, with a Masterclass option for emerging writers. Take a look at racheledwards.com to find out more. 

It is essential to encourage new talent onto the literary scene and it is a privilege to be a judge for this prize. Good luck to everyone who has entered! I cannot wait to read your stories.

Rachel Edwards is an author with Fourth Estate, HarperCollins. Her second novel, Lucky – a tale about race, migration, betrayal, online gambling and the risks we all take to survive – was published on 24th June 2021. It follows on from the success of her acclaimed debut, Darling, published in 2018.

An alumna of King’s College London, she worked in publishing, won a national Arts Council award for her fiction and became a freelance writer for over 12 years until she chose to focus full-time on writing novels. Rachel has appeared at literary festivals and events around the UK. Her articles have featured across the national media including in The Guardian and The Sunday Times. During the summer of 2020, she featured as lead columnist for The Sunday
Times Magazine
. She is a regular guest on BBC Radio, featuring on Woman’s Hour in 2019 and 2020. She lives in Somerset.

Follow Rachel on social: @RachelDEdwards on Twitter or @racheledwardsauthor on Instagram. 


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Sticks and Stones: Oxford Flash Fiction Anthology launch – 23 April, 5 pm

Sticks and Stones: An Oxford Flash Fiction Anthology

Words are powerful. Despite what the saying tells us, words have the power to hurt us, but they also have the power to heal us, too.

Sticks and Stones is a collection of sixty powerful stories from all around the world. In under 1000 words, they have the power to transport you, to make you laugh, cry, and everything in between. They are the very greatest stories from a snapshot in time where people everywhere were looking to connect by returning to their words during a pandemic.

‘Sisters turn into tigers, babies are born as half-human, hybrid creatures. These authors seem conscious that the world is, simultaneously, stunned still and also becoming unrecognizable, and they attempt to capture it in the middle of that shape-shift.’

Kim Magowan, author of Undoing and The Light Source.

We are thrilled to launch the first Oxford Flash Fiction anthology 2021 this month, and you are invited! Celebrate with us for an evening of readings, prizes and more, with past judges, and the authors themselves.

23 April 2022

5 pm


Authors

Cornerlis Affre, Gayathiri Dhevi Appathurai, Holly Barratt, John Barron, Lydia Benson, Sharon Boyle, Benjamin Britworth, Lucas Cammack, Anthony Cartwright, Philip Charter, Kevin Cheeseman, Yvonne Clarke, Patrick Clarke, Marie Day, Michelle Donkin, Kim Donovan, Daniel Draper, Conor Duggan, Julie Evans, Richard Frost, Frances Gapper, Salah Golandami, Esther González, Brian Gully, Simon Harris, David Hartley, Paul Jackson, Talis Johnson, Holly Kybett Smith, David Lewis, Rosaleen Lynch, Niamh Mac Cabe, Clare Marsh, Sarah Martin, Lynsey May, Paddy McKenna, Sarah McPherson, David McVey, Louise Mills, Conor Montague, Thomas Moody, Linda Morse, Jenn Murray, Rose New, Audrey Niven, Ayemhenre Okosun, Hazel Osmond, Tracey-Anne Plater, E.E. Rhodes, Louis Rossi, Helen Rushworth, Elizabeth Smith, Brittany Terwilliger, Matthew Tucker, Kevin West, Susan Wigmore, Erik Wijkström, Helen Williams and G.A. Wolf.

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First place: The De Facto Mother by Yasmina Din Madden

Kiki learns that male alligators have permanent erections while she watches the Discovery Channel instead of grading five paragraph essays from her eighth graders who, among the boys, she also suspects have permanent erections. Over the many years she’s taught, she’s seen hundreds of boys adjust themselves, eyes darting around the room, checking to see if anyone noticed, or openly, without a hint of embarrassment. She has also on occasion watched a boy walk out of her classroom with a full-on tent and the mother in her has wanted to rush over and hand him a folder or a book to cover himself. Which, of course, she resists. Kiki should turn off the television and grade, but she just can’t bring herself to read another essay about The Hate You Give, a book she and her students love. Reading and discussing books with her students brings Kiki actual joy. Reading their writing is another beast altogether.  

During mating, two flatworms, which Kiki has never heard of, engage in “penis fencing” in which they each try to stab each other with their two-headed penises. Yes, this is alarming and surprising to Kiki, but what really gets her, is the way the Discovery Channel describes what comes next, which is that whoever manages to penetrate first and inseminate the other wins. And the loser, their words, not hers, becomes the de facto mother. Kiki considers the flatworm’s hermaphroditic nature, what it might be like to have a penis alongside her vagina. Not interested. While she’s had her share of penises inside of her, sleeps beside a human with a penis, and has a child with a penis, she will always find them strange, and somewhat ugly. She realizes that if a man described a vagina this way, it would be viewed as misogynistic. Maybe she’s biased, but vaginas just seem more organic to the human body. 

Kiki glances at the stack of essays beside her on the couch and feels slightly nauseated. She tells herself that it’s because there’s eighty of them, but also, her period is a couple of weeks late and she’s been putting off buying a pregnancy test. Kiki loves her son, but she is not interested in having another baby—she hated being pregnant, and she’s only ever wanted a single child. Lucas, her husband, is another story. “Two is perfect,” he keeps telling her. “Then they have each other.” Kiki won’t budge—even when they were dating, she made it clear that if she had children, it would only be one. Anders is four, a sweet, gentle little boy who loves animals and has the palate of an adult. She loves him more than anything in the world, which is why she only ever wanted one child. How could she possibly love another child as much as she loves Anders? 

On television, a hen squawks and does its strange head-bobbing run across a farmyard, a fat rooster in hot pursuit. Kiki watches as the rooster, who, just for the record, seems both predatory and peremptory, mounts the hen. She knows she’s anthropomorphizing, and the rooster is just following his biological urges, but watching him mount that hen makes her mad. Some of that anger dissipates when the Aussie host of the show shares that a hen can eject up to eighty percent of an offending (again, their words, not hers) male’s sperm. She silently cheers on the hen, eject, eject, eject! Once again, the Discovery Channel disappoints when it underscores that this ejection of sperm allows for the possibility that the hen might be impregnated by a rooster at the top of the pecking order. Is it so impossible that a hen just doesn’t want to get impregnated yet again? The TV host did, after all, describe hens who eject sperm as enraged or possibly disappointed. Why assume she’s disappointed the rooster isn’t distinguished enough—too low in the pecking order? Why not focus on the possibility that the hen is enraged at the rooster’s audacity, at the prospect of laying another bunch of eggs, with the idea of being, yet again, an incubator? 

Kiki clicks off the television and puts aside her stack of essays. She slings her purse over her shoulder and grabs her keys. At the pharmacy down the street, she selects two pregnancy tests. Sitting awkwardly on the toilet, trying to pee on the stick but not her hand—harder than it might sound—Kiki thinks about the flatworms, wonders if her husband would be so gung-ho about two kids if he lost their battle and became the de-facto mother. 


The best flash rage on the page, and that’s what’s happening here. A rage against silence and men. Done so with wit, grace, and searing language. What’s so stunning about this piece is how the contempt is palatable on the page, which, just like a flatworm, digs more and more into you as you read. Nothing short of a delight.

jj Peña

The story was very cleverly structured. There were so many layers to it, and so many underlying emotions to what seemed like a very simple observation of a particular situation. I loved the voice, the structure and how it evoked all kinds of emotions in me while I was reading it.

Susmita Bhattacharya

Yasmina Din Madden is a Vietnamese American writer who lives in Iowa. Her fiction and nonfiction have been published in The Idaho Review, PANK, Carve, The Masters Review: New Voices, The Fairy Tale Review, Necessary Fiction, Hobart, Word Riot and other journals. Her short fiction has been a finalist for The Iowa Review Award in Fiction, The Masters Review Anthology, the Wigleaf Top 50, Fractured Journal’s micro-fiction contest, and nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. She is completing a collection of short fiction.

 

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Scar Tissue: Interview with competition judge Dr Clare Morgan

I was brought up in a passionate family, larger than life. There are positives and negatives in this, but passion and love in all its forms is something that has always fascinated me. My short story collection ‘An affair of the Heart’ looks to examine those topics in detail. My father was a talented musician, and a lover of poetry. My mother wrote short stories, and so I grew up surrounded by creativity. I was lucky to have had stories and poetry read to me, and songs sung to me, from an early age. 

I love to explore what motivates and drives another person. I was quite a shy child, so writing has always allowed me to explore other people’s narratives and uncover truths indirectly. I’ve travelled a lot and worked with poetry and people internationally, from UK to US to Tokyo and beyond, so have met a whole range of people who have inspired my writing and how I think about the world. 

Each story in An Affair of the Heart questions the apparently romantic title through its exploration of the enigmatic state of mind known as love. Desire and identity; displacement, emotional and geographical; the relationship between ambition, circumstances and emotion; the often difficult coexistence of passion and intellect; these are the subjects of the fifteen fascinating narratives.

Men and women reckon the worth of relationships past and present, from steamy New Orleans to urbane Paris, from metropolitan Chelsea to the industrial valleys and rural hinterlands of Wales. Frank and delicate, revelatory and secret Clare Morgan’s stories offer insights into human nature which are in turn punchily realistic and suggestively questioning.

Place is fundamental to who and what I am. It was a defining feature as I grew up in the Welsh countryside and remains so. Place to me is about belonging, or the absence of belonging. It has always been interlinked with history and time, and family in complex ways. This is an important part of my next collection ‘Scar Tissue’ coming out in September 2022. The book has five sections: Space; Home; Away; Nowhere; and Somewhere. Like scar tissue in the flesh, it looks at where things divided and where – and if – they have grown back together. It looks at what is and what might have been.

You can turn a story over, a bit like a diamond,

and it catches the light in different ways.

Dr Clare Morgan

I love short fiction and how you can turn a story over a bit like a diamond, and it catches the light in different ways. It reflects so many truths at once, endlessly revealing to us something about ourselves and humanity. You can see the light shine off it from a variety of angles, giving different perspectives. But it’s important not to spell out too much, and to ensure that you leave room for the reader to undertake their own exploration. You need to give readers room to bring their own experiences, and not tell them what to think. 

Flash fiction is a challenging form. It needs a narrative drive along with an emotional resonance, intensely compressed. Every word counts and must carry appropriate weight. What doesn’t happen, and what isn’t said, has incredible importance. That seems to me to be a kind of truth to life too. The spaces and gaps, the questions we are left with. It’s how I experience the world and how I write about it. It also provides that much-needed resonance, which is a vital ingredient in short fiction.

As a writer and academic, I’m passionate about developing writers to express their own unique voice. The Master of Studies in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford, which I founded 16 years ago, has a global constituency. The range of people and experiences it attracts provides an enriching environment in which to learn as a writer and a reader. It’s vital that we encourage writers to develop their individual writerly voice, instead of trying to enforce some kind of market-driven conformity, which risks everyone sounding the same. Voice is crucial in fiction, and is something I shall enjoy looking out for when judging the competition. 

Good luck to everyone who entered!

Clare Morgan is a fiction writer and literary critic. Her most recent novel, A Book for All and None was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson and shortlisted for the Author’s Club best novel award. Her short story collection An Affair of the Heart was published by Seren, and her new collection, Scar Tissue, is forthcoming with Seren in 2022. 

Her stories have been widely anthologized and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Her book What Poetry Brings to Business was published by University of Michigan Press and her recent writing on the subject has featured in the Wall Street Journal, FastCompany, and Humanizing Business (Springer, 2021). She is founder and director of Oxford University’s creative writing programme and a Fellow of Kellogg College, Oxford.


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Primal Flash Fiction: Interview with competition judge Catherine McNamara

It’s very hard to write about happiness and much easier to write about loss (though I realise not everyone would agree). My collection ‘Love Stories for Hectic People’ started with the story ‘As Simple as Water’, which was probably the first true flash piece I ever wrote. I was facing a long difficult winter, so I decided that it would be the first note of a collection about all types of love – flawed, impulsive, enduring, jagged. The stories just tumbled out and I took inspiration from everywhere. 

For me, place is almost like a character, and can serve to bring the reader within the story, to give a sense of escape or enquiry. I’ve moved around a lot so location seeps into my work, but I’m very aware that use of place has to serve the story, not just be a colourful backdrop. It’s very hard to write anything original set in Venice, for example, so the story has to have legs; and though I lived for years in West Africa I am not from there, so place has to be used with awareness and respect – it has to be an authentic story and not just a telling. Displacement and movement are central to my work and have given me the slight remove that can help a writer observe and spin ideas.

For me, the excitement truly lies in the creation of characters I try to become, to enter their mindset and express their thoughts. I am forever listening to people and their stories, so watch out! 

The thirty-three flash fictions of Love Stories for Hectic People explore the alignment of beings that is love. There is love that is vulgar, love that knows no reason; there is love that cradles the act of living, love that springs through the cracks; love that is slaughtered.

These tales take place from Italy to Ghana to Greece and London and Tokyo, in grainy cities and muted hotel rooms; there is a Mafia murder, an ambulance rescue worker and a woman whose husband falls off a mountain. There is unchaste attraction and slippery, nuanced love; police violence and porn, and fishing too.

Winner of the Saboteur Awards for Best Short Story Collection 2021

I live in a hard-won and stimulating environment in the countryside in north-eastern Italy. The house was a neglected unheated farmer’s house when we bought it. The area is damp and foggy in winter, with almost tropical humidity in the summer, so my writing zone shifts around the house according to the temperature. I used to have an art galley in Ghana so the house is full of inspiring sculptures and fabrics and photography.

First sentences need to be primal.

Catherine Macnamara

Flash fiction has trained me in getting to the point. The beauty of flash is that it’s a constant training session because of the exactitude and compression of the form, so you learn to edit your ideas as cleanly as your words. I knew my collection would be a raw book about the body, about our need for love and about its shape in various lives. I wrote the stories one after the other so was conscious of each piece bouncing off the last and something larger taking shape.

It’s a challenge to write about sex because it is part of our intimate lives. But it’s always been prominent in my work as I feel it is so central to storytelling. I always have my eyes and ears open and therefore have a great reservoir of story material. I wanted it to be about adult lives, and how sex is folded through.

A great piece of flash fiction has to get under my skin and jar me slightly. I know from the first note if I am going to be intrigued – first sentences need to be primal. That doesn’t mean they have to be noisy or showy, but they have to strike a human chord within me. There are so many inspiring flash writers out there. I’m a great lover of language and restraint, so when someone gets this balance right, I’m a goner.

Good luck to everyone who has entered the competition and I can’t wait to read your stories!

Catherine McNamara is a short story and flash fiction writer, novelist, writing mentor and teacher, and UK Flash Fiction editor at Litro Magazine. Her flash/short fiction collection Love Stories for Hectic People won Best Short Story Collection the Saboteur Awards 2021 (UK). Her short story collection The Cartography of Others was praised by Hilary Mantel, finalist in the People’s Book Prize (UK), and won the Eyelands International Fiction Prize (Greece). Pelt and Other Stories was semi-finalist in the Hudson Prize and longlisted for the Frank O’Connor Award.

Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney, ran away to Paris to write and ended up in West Africa co-running a bar, working in Mogadishu and Milan along the way. Catherine hikes, grows cherries and runs writing retreats at her farmhouse in north-eastern Italy.


First Place: The Anatomy of Arriving by Michele Wong

We accept simultaneous submissions to our competition, and as a result this story will first be published in December 2022 by The Master’s Review, and then by the Oxford Flash Fiction Prize in 2023.

So watch this space!


An engrossing, evocative piece with flashes of lyricism and depth; it explores belonging, loss and transformation.

Rachel Edwards

There’s genuine depth of feeling here, an earnest voice, and I felt the theme of the permanence of family bonds, transitions, the passage of time. We do feel we’ve taken a journey and arrived somewhere transcendent at the end. 

Eliot Li

Like the main character, the reader is taken on a journey to a faraway, mystifying place. The author provides a crystalline look into loneliness, family allegiance, and secrets. 

Patricia Q. Bidar

Michele’s writing first began in theatre but her love for short story arose after an early story was a winner in CityTV’s Vancouver’s Story Initiatives. Works include two short-listings for the 2022 Masters Review Anthology and Masters Review flash fiction prizes, a finalist for the 2022 Tobias Wolff award, and a long-listing for the 2022 Bath Flash and 2022 Fish Flash Fiction Prize, while two were given honorable mentions in the Lorian Hemmingway & Writer’s Digest Short Story Competitions. Her writing has been or will be published in the Bath flash-fiction anthology, ScribbleLit, Recalling the Journey Anthology, 101.Org & Blue Mountain Review. She can be found at @meaning_filled on Twitter.
 

New Voice Award: 1974 by Veneta Roberts

The clouds hang low, with a smell in the air that reminds me of our small bathroom, when I’m the last in line. The smell of six other bodies removing their night-time odours into the sink, the dregs hanging in the air, not completely eliminated by a layer of cocoa-butter and Sure. I pull the hood of my green Cagoule carefully over my hair, worrying my afro may become limp, or, what if it gets dented from the weight of my hood? Cha man, I took ages perfecting it. As I reach the end of Canterbury Road, I hear the shuffle of Deon running towards me.

‘Wait up bro.’ He shouts catching up. I don’t know how he manages to take the longest to get dressed, yet always ends up looking like he slept in his uniform. While I wait, I glance down at my neat tie and tucked in shirt, then back down the road to Deon, his satchel banging into his hip as he runs. I feel the first drop of rain on the back of my hand.

‘Thanks,’ Deon says, falling in line as we wait to cross the busy roundabout. I’m hoping to get across without breaking into a run, which could create steam in my hood. Deon sees a gap between cars and makes a run for it, pausing at the other side to look back.

‘Why didn’t you run?’ He shouts over the traffic.

‘Don’t wanna mess up my hair man.’

‘Who cares?’ He asks looking confused. Obviously not him, I don’t even think he’s buttoned up his shirt correctly and his face looks well dry, like he forgot to cream.

The traffic begins to pile up and I cross easily between cars. Before I can catch up to Deon, he waves to someone further down the road. Shouts ‘wait up’ and breaks into a run. What a blasted tief! Turning right onto Mitcham Road, there are herds of children, all walking in the same direction, it feels like being in the army, we have differing faces, yet we all look the same, dark coats, navy blazers, grey jumper, grey and navy tie. The only difference I can see, is the few black kids that go to this school all have their hoods up and none of the white kids even have a coat, letting the rain bounce on their heads to drip down their blazers. 

Once entering the school gates, I walk left, past my noisy form room, enter the boy’s toilets, face the mirror and slowly remove my hood. Yes! Hair is still looking good, phew man.

I enter 5a, relieved by the noise and bustle; Emma and Paul are perched on the teacher’s desk, her legs are crossed, one over his thigh, his hands are in her wet hair as they kiss. Felix and Nate are having an arm wrestle across a desk near the back and a crowd has gathered around them, placing bets with penny sweets. I glance through the crowd, spotting Aaron and Huntley glancing out the window. Huntley turns as I approach.

‘Michael, what’s happening?’

‘Not much, annoyed with the blasted weather,’

‘It’s crap innit? Look at Aaron’s hair, he’s well vex.’

‘Shut up man!’ Aaron says, punching Huntley in the leg. Huntley holds his hands up, ‘Alright man, no need for vi-o-lence, peace man, peace.’

‘I’m proper vex man, my hair got mash up, it literally shrank,’ says Aaron looking down at the floor.

‘Why didn’t you wear a coat?’ I ask.

‘You know I come from far man. It was well sunny dis mornin.’

‘Sad man, it looks alright though,’ I add, hoping to make him feel better. 

‘What does?’ Asks Huntley, screwing up his face.

‘Shut up, you know you’re lying,’

‘Yeah, it looks shit man,’ Huntley adds, and I can’t help but crease up.

‘You lot are well outta order man.’

Whilst the rest of the class etch numbers onto their papers, I watch the seconds tick by on the clock above Mister Richardson’s blackboard. I swear the hands are moving backwards. It took me half of the allocated hour to complete the Physics exam. The air feels thick; after this morning’s English lesson, the clouds began to disperse and now the sun pierces through the window with the intensity of an August day. Mister Richardson doesn’t hide the fact he is sleeping under his newspaper, the soles of his brogues facing into the classroom. When the minute hand reaches twelve, the bell buzzes loudly and Mister Richardson falls off his chair and the classroom fills with laughter.

I seek out Huntley and Aaron outside the food hall, falling in line to join the queue to fill our long bellies. Aaron has found an afro pick in the bottom of his bag and Huntley nudges me to watch. Aaron blows crumbs from his comb, then pulls a blue hanky from his blazer pocket, methodically stretching the material between the black teeth, pushing the grease to the ends, forming a mound that he scrapes off with his nail. I glance at Huntley, trying not to laugh as he stares and shakes his head in exaggerated shock at Aaron’s ritual. Once the comb is clean Aaron finally places the long teeth in his hair and it gets stuck. Both Huntley and I crease up.

‘Mash up!’ Huntley says nudging me again. Aaron cuts his eye at Huntley, yanking the comb out of his hair, chucking it back into his bag.

‘It looks alright man,’ I say nudging him with my elbow.

Aaron pushes up his mouth, looking vexer than ever, then quickly becomes interested in the fast-moving queue.

‘What’s the matter now?’ Huntley asks.

Aaron doesn’t reply and Huntley opens his mouth to say something cutting.

‘Leave him man.’ I say leaning into Huntley.

Huntley glances at Aaron, then nods at me.

‘Did you two watch the football last night? Huntley asks and Aaron looks like he has forgotten all about his hair.  


The point of view, the dialogue, the hair! There’s an authenticity in this slice-of-life piece about a group of upper school friends that made this piece an absolute delight to read.

Eliot Li

A strong voice, telling truths about the Black British experience in this engaging vignette. Zinging with potential.

Rachel Edwards

An energetic tale that fizzes with authenticity and the preoccupations of Black British youth in the ’70s.

Patricia Q. Bidar

Veneta has always written short stories, but only in the last 5 years has she found her passion for the preservation of Black British history. As a child, she never heard stories that she could relate to, there was always a lack of Black presence in the literature that she was taught in school, borrowed from the library, or purchased. It is important this narrative changes for herr own children and for generations to come. British history should be inclusive, and she hopes that inclusivity is found within her fiction and that her stories are enjoyable, relatable and passed around.