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WINNING ENTRIES 2017 Flash Fiction

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Lisa Frank and John Walsh of Doire Press judged both our Flash Fiction and poetry competitions this year. 

Entries to the 2017 writing competitions from Ireland, the UK, France, Canada, the USA, South America and Hong Kong. 

Flash Fiction Winners:
1st 'Power' - Barbara Leahy (Ireland) 
2nd 'Confined' - Shauna Gilligan (Ireland) 
3rd 'Halves' - Niamh MacCabe (Ireland) 

Highly Commended Flash Fiction:
'Breathless' - Edel Burke (Ireland)

1st Prize Power by Barbara Leahy

The operation had been a success, a curious term to use in the circumstances, Helen thought. The surgeon was wary around her these days. Clearly, he thought she was a bit mental. He gave his usual little cough, an affectation that irritated her, and came to the point. What he wanted to know, was now that they had removed the tumour, did she still want to keep it?
The image on the scan had been unsatisfactory. Such a shadowy little thing, no bigger than a thumbprint. It seemed unworthy of all the attention. She had imagined a burning ball of light, a powerhouse of growth. 
It had to go to the lab, he said. Medical waste. There were procedures. 
What did he think, that she wanted to put it under her pillow, like a tooth? In the end, he gave in easily. All she'd had to do was remind him of the hospital's track record for removing things and not giving them back.
It looked like a little brain, but fattier, bloodier. Sizewise, it wasn't in the league of an orange, or even a plum. More of a walnut. He presented it to her in a kind of sandwich bag. She poked it through the plastic, making it squirm, and then, because he was watching her, she tucked the bag into her handbag, declined the follow-up appointment, and discharged herself. It would trouble him for a day or two, maybe less, she thought. The hospital must have many more tumours to incinerate.
At home she washed out the last of the marmalade and filled the jar with vinegar. She snipped the bag with her kitchen scissors and eased the tumour out. It was harder than she expected, almost rubbery. The jar slotted in nicely, next to the herbs, on the kitchen windowsill. Whenever she touched the glass, she imagined it glowing like a malignant lava lamp. Over time, the vinegar would cloud, and sediment would settle at the bottom. When they come to clear out the house, someone would find it, shake it up like a snowglobe. Until then, she was in charge.

Barbara Leahy is from Cork. Her stories have appeared in the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology, the Irish Literary Review, the Words on the Waves Anthology and have been broadcast on RTÉ radio.
She was the 2015 winner of Cork County Library and Arts Service's From the Well Short Story Competition. In 2017, she won the RTÉ Guide/Penguin Ireland short story competition and came second in the RTÉ Francis MacManus competition.
Currently, she is working on a collection of short stories. She is delighted and honoured to have won the Dromineer Flash Fiction competition.

Judges Comments

"This story has a masterful third-person voice with powerful and concise writing and strong imagery. It is poignant without being overwrought and contains delightful surprises and dark humour in all the right places."

2nd Prize Confined by Shauna Gilligan 

It is December 1975 and the days and nights are dark. You’re the only female in the group. You’re asked about a night in November 1974 when a man disappeared. 
Confined and sleep-deprived, the stench of reality – that very thing you were trying to escape – starts to surface. Your heart beats with the loss of control. With your baby’s cries in your head, you recall a party and recount a nightmare. Whispers. Sheets. Muffled voices. The dull thud of heavy doors closing. And a cold that is so dark it is black.  You wet the bed. You even frighten yourself. 
Something in you stirs when the police sit forward, eyes bright, encouraging you. So you don’t stop to think, or to question when they say they’ll help you remember everything that happened. 
Retelling the tale, with more details, scraps of evidence, light-catching threads, your insides swell with hope as the machine records your words and they write in notebooks. Occasionally they glance at each other and you try desperately to read those looks. It is time to go home, you think, and you need to use the toilet. But they keep you inside. Home is not for you, not yet. 

Inside: The fear. The thrum of isolation. The pressure, pushing down. Men. You don’t know this yet, but you’ll spend 105 days in solitary confinement, give over 100 interviews, some through the night. You need to get out; rid your mind of this nightmare, maybes running in circles. The ache you feel is beyond expression.
Outside: Your daughter – not yet three months in this world – is alone without you. Words fly across headlines: notorious, reckless, rebellious and murderous. Your family are revolted, feel their name is shamed. 

Inside: If you tell the story good enough you will be released. You talk without pause. Another disappearance. Words point at friends and your lover for whom your thighs sing. Your cries echo in your ears as you struggle to piece together all the broken stories. 
Outside: You’re one of six convicted for a double murder. 

Later you retract your words. Even the nightmare was a lie. You do not remember a body, or a killing. Your doubt is stronger than everything that came before and you realise with a jolt that now there is no guilt – except your own perjury. 

Over forty years later, you fix your gaze on the other side of the window. As the snow falls heavily you beg for truth. You ask your mind to tell you something of a memory that is true. Nothing comes but whispers of wind, the sound of geysers hissing. In this land of sharp contrasts, you picture a place of worship: how red and beautiful the roof is in the sun and how in these dark months when time seems to stop, it is iron-red, dull-blood. 
Every night you dream of people hunting for safety inside hidden caves in the lava fields. You scream silently, watching, as they slowly become trapped. Outside.

Shauna Gilligan is a novelist and short story writer who has lived and worked in Mexico, Spain, and the UK, and now lives in Kildare with her family and a black and white cat called Lucky. She is particularly interested in the depiction of historical events in fiction, creative processes, and exploring the crossover of art and literature in storytelling. In 2015 she was awarded the Cecil Day Lewis Literary Bursary for Literature and in 2016 she was the Irish Writers’ Centre Community Writer-in-Residence at the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.  

Judges Comments
"This story pulls you right in from the first word and maintains a heightened sense of tension throughout with not a word wasted. The end – a flash forward of forty+ years – sits in strong contrast with the rest of the story, highlighting what is sometimes the burden of memory."

3rd Prize  'Halves' by Niamh MacCabe


Ngoc Phung’s room is small. Three walls lined with rows of half-finished clothing, it opens onto a cramped alley that links the various stalls. To get here I had walked up Hai Ba Trung, a wide dusty rumble of bicycles, motorcycles and pedestrians looping reckless past aged colonial facades. The walkers ignored the various beeping wheels, and all groups took the street as if it was their own, seamlessly avoiding each other.

I turned down one of the alleys, recognising it from the hand-drawn sign of a steaming bowl at the entrance signalling an eatery selling Vietnamese broth. The path twisted until I came to Ngoc’s stall, yellow plastic letters spelling out F-A-S-H-I-O-N above the opening.

She has been expecting me and whizzes me in, gesture, hand-shake, and nod making up for the language void between us. She hands me coffee in a clouded glass, the strong bitter brew laced with gritty sugar and rattling with chunks of hacked ice.

She has my dress ready. It is beautiful; glimmering purple silk, with a stiffened chinese collar and tiny handmade buttons. She holds it up to me and pulls a full length mirror out from behind some swathes of cloth. Stood with our backs to the opening of her stall, we look at the reflection.

The mirror is cracked and the image is split, my pale sweating face and shoulders in the top half and the gleaming dress in the bottom. Ngoc is sliced in two by the fracture, and her dark isolated eyes float faceless and unblinking above the splintered break.

In the reflection we see a swift silver flash as a hand reaches in and snatches my bag left on the small square of floor-space behind me.

Ngoc hollers and runs out of her stall, dropping the dress to the ground in a shimmering puddle of purple-red. I hear her high-pitched voice as she speeds after the thief. Other voices join in. I leave the stall and gawp down the alley, searching, my heart knocking cold, my breath caught somewhere, my hands falling useless at my sides.

Soon I see her. She’s in the distance, holding my bag above her head with both hands, making her way back amid cheering from the other stall keepers. She beams, and when she reaches me I break all rules by hugging her slight frame. She shrieks with embarassed pride. Dusting off the bag, she pats it as mother to child, before returning it to me, placing its imitation leather strap firmly on my sun-burnt shoulder.

Slapping my hand in scold for having left it on the ground, we turn back to the cracked mirror. In the spliced halves, I see deep, bleeding cuts on her slender arms where she has struggled with the knife-wielding thief. The bright blood writes an unfathomable swirling script on her golden skin as she swings her arms up and around to place the silk dress over me.

Niamh MacCabe
Born in Dublin, Niamh grew up in Paris, in north-west Ireland, and in Washington DC, where she graduated from the Corcoran School of Art. She began creative writing in 2014, and has been published in several literary journals. 
She is currently completing an Honours Degree in Writing and Literature.
Twitter @Niamh MacCabe

Judges Comments

"This story draws the reader in with its evocative and exotic imagery and then takes the reader through a surprising series of events, culminating in a final moment that is affecting and well-written."

Highly Commended Flash Fiction:
'Breathless' - Edel Burke (Ireland)

Judges Commnets

This story is concise and contains good use of tension throughout, with writing that is economical and well-crafted.