Well, that was fun. So much patriotism and emotion, and not just from the English. A big thanks to N J Crosskey for wrestling with all your dragons and picking the winners. Here’s what she thought:
I’ve never judged a competition before, and you pesky writers had to go and make it difficult didn’t you? So many wonderful stories. You’ve made me laugh, cry, nod along, and even raised the goose bumps on my flesh. I want to thank you all for the privilege of reading your work. A lot of you took risks, either with the prose itself or by being topical/political. I really admire that. Writers should be unafraid to experiment. Each and every story was unique and well executed. Choosing winners was exceptionally tricky, and you should all be very happy with your entries. However, choose I must, and these are the stories that particularly stood out to me.
Knight of the Rock by Holly Geely
I absolutely loved the characterisation in this one. It is skilful indeed to portray personalities so well in a piece that is almost entirely dialogue. I fell for Jacob, the disrespectful squire, straight away. I can picture him so clearly in my mind, though no physical description was given. Giving backstory through dialogue between two characters (both of whom are already aware of past events), AND making it sound natural, is extremely difficult to pull off. Often the writer falls in to the “as you know” trap, and the conversation sounds unrealistic (why would character A be telling character B something he already knows?), but the author of this piece made it seem effortless. The dialogue was very realistic, and the line “you only won this battle because the goblins were ill.” Made me laugh out loud. Terrific. Jacob was a triumph!
Did they Blowtorch it? by Sal Page
There were several drunk Englishmen this week, this one stood out to me as a scarily familiar and well captured snapshot of binge drinking culture. The phrase “celebrating something or other” made me laugh, and nod in recognition at the same time. It’s all about the beer, and the singing and laughing too, but mostly the beer. I love rule breaking and risk-taking and inventing your own word certainly does that! “Sizzletasticly so.” Works so well, really conjures up the image and sounds exactly like the sort of phrase someone who has had one (or three) too many would come up with. Heck, I’ve heard a fair few new adjectives/adverbs fall from the lips of the tipsy! Thus, the language of this piece really added to its realism.
George Slays the Dragon by A.J. Walker
This one really took me on a rollercoaster. I was hooked by the snappy first line: George expects. I’m a huge fan of well-placed short, snappy sentences (y’know, the type that give your grammar checker an embolism) and this one said so much more than a longer phrase could have. Then the author led me to believe, through the use of the names Patrick and Andrew, that I was watching St George ruing the fact that his day doesn’t get as much attention as his Irish and Scottish counterpart’s do. But no, of course, George was stressing over something much more important than that – football!
Then I spat out my coffee at the line: “Like a Farage!” partly because it made me laugh, and partly because I was slightly shocked that the author took the risk of including a political reference. So this one gets an honourable mention for twisting the tale on me, making me laugh, and being topically bold!
George and the Dragon by Jacki Donnellan
Goosebumps. This one hit me in the guts and then crept under my skin. The line: “But when George returned home, none of his memories of war would fit inside” is utterly magnificent. It gives no specific details as to what those memories may be, it doesn’t have to. Instead the author trusts the reader to fill in the blanks, and gives us the type of image that sticks, and makes us reflect. An incredibly sad and poignant tale that is again painfully familiar and topical. An exploration of the terrible human cost of war, even for those who survive it. Beautiful, tragic and a memorable piece that will remain with me.
A Fear of the Unknown by Iskandar Haggarty
This was a magnificent piece that really flips perspectives, and spoke to me metaphorically as well as literally. Exceptionally clever, the author has looked for ways in which the soldiers themselves resemble dragons, and described them beautifully in the lines:
Metallic, scaly hides.”
The choice to put these short, punchy descriptions on separate lines also makes the piece stand out visually, something which is often overlooked in flash fiction, but I personally feel adds another dimension to a story (and catches the eye of the scroller!)
The line: “But as the ironclad monsters rode over the hill on their four-legged beasts, his father’s carcass in tow,” was enough to slay ME, never mind the dragon. I really felt his fear, his grief, his horror. Incredibly sad, and very moving.
Full English by Ed Broom
This excellent piece is a perfect example of how to tell a whole story using just one, seemingly ordinary, moment in time. The line “the cat’s seen it all before.” Tells us that this is a run-of-the-mill breakfast for George and his Mum. But their story is revealed through heart-breaking little details as the piece progresses. It’s hard to believe I’ve only had a hundred words to get to learn about George, I feel I know him so well, which is testament to the author’s skill. There are blanks for the reader’s mind to fill in, which only adds to the depth and heart of the piece.
“He’s already changed his shirt after tidying last night’s empties and ashtrays.” This tells us so much, about George himself, and about life at home. I really felt the grief, the loss and the unspoken emptiness in their household. The desperate attempts to be normal, to keep order, with broken hearts. George is taking care of his mother the best way he knows how, but I can’t help but feel that she is wracked not only by grief at the loss of her husband, but fear for her son as well. Her conflicting emotions (pride and apprehension) come across so well when she says: “George you’re a saint. Your father would be…” and then proceeds to study his dog tag.
The author used the bookends seamlessly, and created a beautiful, poignant tale using just one moment in time.
George waves away her smoke and reaches for the ketchup. Sunlight bounces off the dog tag but the cat’s seen it all before.
“Mind your uniform, George.”
“You know me.”
He’s already changed his shirt after tidying last night’s empties and ashtrays.
“I made lunch.”
“George, you’re a saint. Your father would be…”
Her fingers trace the familiar embossing on the metal ID hanging from his neck: name, service number, blood group.
Glancing down, George sees his yolk submerged in red gloop.
“Mum, shut up and eat. You know what you’re like if you skip breakfast.”
“I know. I turn into a right dragon.”