Second place: Skin by Daniel Draper

She was born with a caul, but at least she was human. At the birth I shut my eyes, terrified. The metallic smell of blood mixed with brine and earth under Sandra’s screams and I only opened them once I heard the midwife’s surprise. It was a surprise without horror. I’d never seen a caul before. It wrapped around her tiny head like a giant extra eyelid. If we rushed, our baby’s skin would peel off with it. The midwife sliced at the nostrils so our girl could breath and little white ridges of extra skin bunched together over her hair. I looked at Sandra. I thought, if she panics, you can panic. I had questions that were too personal to ask, even though I’d witnessed the birth. Sandra’s face was distant, reminding me of a church statue above salvation’s doors. She had blanched eyes, and her mouth was turned downwards, as if mourning. I’d never been happier.

The midwife cooed and gasped at the rarity of it, congratulating us like a judge on a baking show, marvelling at what we could rustle up given such unique ingredients. Roman lawyers would buy stolen cauls for luck, she said, joking that we should sell it. Neither of us laughed. Sandra gently held our miracle in one arm and in the other caressed the sleeve with its small slit, the only thing stopping our daughter from suffocating before she had a chance to open her eyes.

When the midwife insisted we keep it for posterity, Sandra’s eyes refocused, glistening as they met our daughters’. They were the same deep chestnut, and just as wet. Her newly uncovered cheeks were so full they threatened to evict her nose. Sandra told the midwife to get rid of it and I exhaled, unaware I’d been holding my breath.

We were married two summers ago. The wedding had been family only, taking place in the shallow lapping of the coast. It was sunset, long after the fishermen had gone home. She wore a sheer white dress and had shells in her salted hair, while I was wearing the tweed jacket that I’d tried on in a charity shop to make her laugh. We’d giggled amongst other people’s cast-offs and I told her I loved her for the first time.

Her brothers and mother had stepped out of their skins completely, pale and naked against the rocks, standing knee deep in the water. My mother had deemed it a power move on their part, which she matched with a hat that you could have set sail in. My brother officiated and we celebrated with a picnic on the rocks, my new in-laws doing their best to answer questions about life underwater as my family tried to explain what weddings meant to humans. Our fathers refused to come, their opposition being the only thing they had in common.

Sandra said they had always found the skin restrictive, but it was the only thing that would keep them warm in the depths. She didn’t like to talk about things from before us, and I certainly couldn’t visit, but every time she went I felt the goodbye pinch in my throat. What if she decided to stay? I could have hidden the skin, but that felt too cruel. We keep it preserved in seawater, by my surfing stuff in the garage.

We had no idea how pregnancy would work, and there was no chance of asking the doctor, but things were good. The inside of her changed as I had nightmares of baby seals screaming. I knew there were bones and a little heart in there as I lay my hand on her belly at night, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the skin. The outside on the inside. Skin within skin under skin.

We brought her home and named her, and life went on. Sometimes I come home and Sandra is in the garage with the skin in her arms, the baby beside her. There’s a soft grief in the way she tells her stories that I can’t bear, so I leave them to it. She didn’t tell her parents about the baby. She said it was cruel to dangle a grandchild just out of their reach, even though I’d always said they were welcome to visit, particularly in the cold winters. Apparently I didn’t understand.

I tried to be romantic and booked a day off work without telling her. I made her breakfast and brought it to her in bed with the skin. I’ll take care of the baby, I told her, you go visit your folks for the day. Her head fell and she started a low hum that broke into a wail. I didn’t know what I’d done and she couldn’t stop screaming long enough to tell me. I took myself over to the moses basket, not wanting to panic the little one. She wiggled in my arms but stayed silent, listening to her mother’s heart breaking. I spent the day holding them both, alternating as needed, and fell asleep between them in exhaustion.

It was dark when Sandra woke me up. She was feeding the baby, her soft crying worse than the wailing. She told me her skin didn’t fit anymore. She couldn’t go back into the sea. She couldn’t feel currents and whirls of darkness surround her, and she couldn’t say goodbye to her mother or introduce our daughter. She’d been telling the stories as lullabies, watching pudgy fingers try grasp the skin, instinctively placing it over her tiny head. We’ll save the skin, I said, and when she was old enough, she could take it. Visit. Explain. It was fixable.

Before Sandra could explain why I was wrong, our daughter unlatched and gave us a gurgled smile as she slipped between waking and sleeping. Sandra beamed, and in my throat a hiccough of love bubbled and burst with such force that for a moment I was convinced I was drowning.


The author shows incredibly strong storytelling skills in building imagined worlds, drawing from folk traditions reminiscent of Zoe Gilbert’s ‘Folk’, and then ever so gently pulling us back into the real world of parenthood and the emotions it brings forth.

Selma Carvalho

‘Skin’ is a breathtakingly moving story with an extraordinary visceral beginning. The first line is irresistibly intriguing, and there’s wonder and beauty throughout. A vividly imaginative take on the sense of loss that can come as a woman sets aside her former self to embrace motherhood.

Judy Darley

Daniel Draper is a prize-winning writer from Derbyshire whose work is influenced by the uncanny and macabre of the everyday. If he isn’t writing or teaching, he’s probably on Twitter @MrDraperMaths.

 

The 2021 winter short-list

We are thrilled to announce our short-list for the Oxford Flash Fiction Prize 2021.

If your story is listed, please do not identify which story belongs to you, as the judges finalise the winners.

SHORT LISTED STORIES

  • A drag queen named Lipstick by Conor Duggan
  • Barking Mad by Richard Frost
  • Connie by Linda Morse
  • Fearful Symmetry by Holly Barratt
  • For the love of Plantains by Cornerlis Affre
  • Let’s pretend by E.E Rhodes
  • Milestones by Frances Gapper
  • No One’s Dream by Benjamin Britworth
  • Procrastination by Helen Rushworth
  • Ready the Heart by Lynsey May
  • Show your colours by Sarah McPherson
  • Skin by Daniel Draper
  • Some Small Change by Thomas Moody
  • Spent Matches by Tali’s Johnson
  • Sticks and Stones by Elizabeth Smith
  • The Mycologist by Louis Rossi
  • The Ocean he poured inside by Patrick Clarke
  • Tempus Ferriviaria by Kim Donovan

Many wonderful stories just missed the final list, which is why we want to offer a chance to win a free critique on your entry when you sign up to our mailing list.

Would you like another pair of eyes on your work? Would you like a closer look at your story and what may or may not be working? Writing is a craft, and we hope you will be inspired to keep going with a little extra help from us. Your next story, may just be our next winner.

Our next competition will be opening on the 1 May 2021. Soon, we will also be announcing more prizes as part of the summer competition. We will be providing more opportunities to win and more rewards for those who enter.

The 2021 winter long-list

We are thrilled to announce our long-list for the Oxford Flash Fiction Prize 2021.

Congratulations to the all the authors who reached the top 5% of entries in the Prize. 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.

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.

LONGLISTED STORIES

  • A drag queen named Lipstik by Conor Duggan
  • Babalawo by Ayemhenre Okosun
  • Barking mad by Richard Frost
  • Burning Love by Marie Day
  • Connie by Linda Morse
  • Drone Dominion by George Honiball
  • Fearful symmetry by Holly Barratt
  • The ocean he poured inside by Patrick Clarke
  • Flashes by Conor Montague
  • For the love of plantains by Cornerlis Affre
  • Let’s pretend by Frances Gapper
  • Let’s pretend (2) by E.E. Rhodes
  • Milestones by Frances Gapper
  • Mornings were for milk by Jean Murray
  • My philosophical invention by Salah Golandami
  • My Broken Nose by Simon Harris
  • Nine hundred words on our transformations by David Hartley
  • No-one’s dream by Benjamin Britworth
  • Procrastination by Helen Rushworth
  • Rainbows in a jar by Abigail Johnson
  • Ready the heart by Lynsey May
  • Schrödinger’s Doves by Louise Mills
  • Show your colours by Sarah McPherson
  • Skin by Daniel Draper
  • Someone like you by Clare Marsh
  • Some small change by Thomas Moody
  • Something’s going on in the staircase by Esther González
  • Spent matches by Talis Johnson
  • Sticks and stones by Elizabeth Smith
  • Tempus Ferriviaria by Kim Donovan
  • The Longest day by Susan Wigmore
  • The lover by Paul Jackson
  • The mud by Michelle Donkin
  • The Mycologist by Louis Rossi
  • Virus by Rose New

We hope to have our shortlist for you next week, and our winners by 1 March.

Our next competition will be opening on the 1 May 2021. Soon, we will also be announcing more prizes as part of the summer competition, providing more opportunities to win and more rewards for those who enter.

One of the hardest things in the world is to convey a meaning accurately from one mind to another.

Lewis Carroll

So if you don’t find yourself on this list, we hope you’ll try again in our next competition.

The Next Chapter

As the competition closes, we are proud to announce our judges for this round of the Oxford Flash Fiction Prize.


We have had hundreds of entries from all over the world including: India, Spain, Canada, Ireland, Japan, Czechia, Netherlands, Israel, South Africa, France, Nigeria, Finland, Ghana, United Kingdom, United States, Germany, Australia, Switzerland, New Zealand and more. It has been our pleasure to offer dozens of free places too.

Competitions have the power to inspire, encourage, and elevate writers wherever they are on their journey. We hope it has provided writers with the stone they need to sharpen their tools. A way to improve their craft by providing motivation, a deadline, and opportunity.

Without further ado, we are thrilled to announce our judges:

You can find out more about our judges on our webpage.


Throughout February we will be reading your stories, and we will announce our long-listed entries in a few weeks time. In the final week, we will announce the winners of the prizes and the first place trophy. Those who have been long-listed will also be offered publication in our end-of-year digital anthology.

If you want to be the first to hear about the latest news, listings and results, then sign up to our mailing list below.

Join our mailing list

Deadline extension for free entries

We have extended our deadline for free entries until 25 January 2020.

We offer free entry to writers on a low/no-income or who receive Unemployment Benefits, Unemployment Insurance, Unemployment Compensation, or other state/authorised aid. We also provide free entries for students.

Did we miss something?

Whatever your circumstances, if the entry fee is a sticking-point and you won’t submit because of it, then please do get in touch. Our criteria is wide and we want everyone to have the chance to enter.

Have you already applied and waiting to hear back?

We have had some writers get in touch through our contact form, but our reply bounced-back. If you haven’t heard back from us, please get in touch again using our email address below.

Eligible applicants will be granted free entry on a first-come first-served basis and all applicants will be informed about the success of their application within a week. Only one free entry will be granted per applicant and you will be invited to submit via a new link in an email.  

To apply, email us at contact@oxfordflashfictionprize.com and include your name, email address, and a short statement detailing your eligibility for free entry. 

£1000 first prize

Thanks to a generous donation, we’re excited to announce that our first prize has increased to £1000. That’s right, £1000!

It has been a wonderful, early Christmas present for us here at the Oxford Flash Fiction Prize. We are hugely grateful to our benefactors for this opportunity, which we hope will inspire writers everywhere.

We’ve seen entries already coming in from all over the world, and we’re thrilled at the enthusiasm we’ve received, and can’t wait to begin reading them! There’s still plenty of time left to enter the competition, and for those lucky enough to be getting a break over the festive season, we hope you’ll be putting pen-to-paper (so to speak).

It’s going to be a challenging couple of weeks as we prepare ourselves for a possible lockdown in the new year, but creativity and writing can provide us with joy, peace and understanding. There aren’t many prizes in January, so we hope ours will spur you on to find a moment for yourself and write.

Do you have a New Year’s resolution to write more? Then pen your masterpiece in the next couple of weeks and send it in. We can’t wait to read your stories!

The Prize in a Pandemic

Oxford Flash Fiction Prize: Write yourself into history and become one of the greats

Here in one of the oldest towns, where the history of the English language can be traced back to its ancient streets, we want to celebrate one of the newest forms in literature – flash fiction – with an international bi-annual competition.

In times like these, we need stories more than ever to give us perspective, hope, escapism, motivation, and more. We believe competitions, such as ours, have the power to inspire, encourage, and elevate writers wherever they are on their journey.

We hope the prize provides writers like you with the stone you need to sharpen your tools. A way to improve your craft by providing motivation, a deadline, and opportunity. In the words of the famous Oxford author:

‘It is only by writing, not dreaming about it,

that we develop our own style.’

PD JAMES

We want to encourage writers from all backgrounds to enter the prize, to represent Oxford as it really is. We don’t care if you know Latin or if you’ve made up your own language, all we care about is great storytelling. Throw out the rule book, and look to the spires.

Our doors are open, so if you’re in need of a free entry, get in touch with us today.

We’ll be posting quotes and tips and keeping you up to date as the Prize progresses. So don’t forget to subscribe. We have lots of plans in the making, so watch this space.

You have 90 days until the deadline, so get crafting and feel inspired! To find out more about us, roam our website.

We’re still developing some of the finer details, so do bear with us.