The winners: National Flash Fiction Day New Zealand

Congratulations to the 2017 winners!

Prizegiving took place at the June 22 NFFD events in Auckland, Dunedin, Christchurch and Wellington.

Here are this year’s winners (with judges’ comments):





Gunshots Are Too Common by Patrick Pink, Auckland

Regional Prize, Auckland



When Winter Comes by Rachel Smith, Christchurch

Regional Prize, Canterbury



It won’t happen again by Shani Naylor, Wellington

Regional Prize, Wellington



Birdman in Aotea Square by Anita Arlov, Auckland

Kinaesthesia by Allan Drew, Auckland

Shipboard Romance by Fiona Lincoln, Lower Hutt

Spindrift by Janis Freegard, Wellington

The Math of Me by Jessica Thompson, Dunedin — Regional Prize, Otago



Peace and Quiet by Derek Jones, Auckland

Scar Tissue by Nikki Crutchley, Hamilton — Regional Prize, Hamilton

Scout by Robyn Maree Pickens, Dunedin

The Chlorinated Mermaid by Nikki Crutchley, Hamilton

Three Dresses by Jessie Puru, Auckland





The Cold by Joy Tong, age 15, Auckland



Dear Satan by Asha Clark, age 12, Tauranga



The Brass Angels by Russell Boey, age 15, Christchurch



What Happens Next by Jacinta van der Linden, age 17, Kaitaia



Cake and Ice-cream by Jana Heise, age 12, Northland

Ode to Joy by Monica Koster, age 15, Christchurch

The Worry Troll Who Lives in my Head by Annick Laird, age 15, Northland



Excuses by Joy Tong, age 15, Auckland

Interchange by Freya Kelly, age 12, Wellington

The Carnival by Dominic Botherway, age 10, Queenstown




NFFD Judge’s Commentary: Emma Neale

The process:

I was very grateful that the organisers of the competition did the first filter on the 404 adult entries – a massive job. They whittled that number down to 105, and so Michael and I had the less daunting job of close-reading a much more digestible sample.

We agreed to decide on a long list of 26; we originally thought 25, but then like generous bakers we threw an extra one in … And when we presented each other with our separately selected 26,  a dozen agreed. I was pretty happy about that cross-over, until a glass-half-empty person in my family gasped, and said, ‘Oh no, not even half in agreement!!!’ Whoops. So Michael and I had to go back and read the stories the other judge had chosen, and decide which stories we could sacrifice on our own long lists, and which ones we’d fight for. I was ready for blood to be drawn; I was ready to leap off the dining table as if it were the springboard shield that Diana Prince uses in the latest Wonder Womanand fling the telephone out the window – but as it turns out, there were no real battles. Michael is an astute, open-minded listener on-the-page – as you would hope from a psychoanalyst. We both conceded on certain points: sometimes it really does enrich the reading experience to have another person walk through the rooms of a story with you, so that you can see hiding places, trapdoors, or secret entrances that you might have unwittingly missed. So we read, and re-read, and debated a bit; and there was a flurry of phone calls, text messages, emails, answer-machine messages … all of which meant that I kept forgetting how long my youngest son had been watching Netflix, so he ended the weekend saying I was the Best Mother in the Multiverse. So I get a prize out of this too.

The stories:

Many of the pieces shimmered between prose poetry and ‘straight story’, because of the tight word limit, no doubt; but after reading more than 100, the pieces that really stood out were more than just prettified paragraphs: they had a strong sense of structural shape and control, as well as a command of descriptive language; they had a sharply sculpted sense of narrative perspective; they had a disarming wit, or a deep-probing sense of character; and they often deftly explored a major transition moment for the narrator, or the people observed by the speaker.

It became exhilarating to watch writers execute narrative manoeuvres in the tightly confined space. The comparison that seems most apt is watching someone flick-flack and flip on a trampoline. The writer needs power, grace, precision and a faultless landing right on the bullseye of the material to hand. The more I read, the more I thought how difficult it must be to have all these elements coordinated and so minutely timed, and so the more respect I have for the three winning pieces.

The stories that had the most impact for me were those that did use sensuous or sensual imagery, a compression that not only carried but even intensified emotion; the plot and sense of character not getting lost in ornate language – the author always remembering or building up the tension of the character’s predicatment.  A notable exception is the Highly Commended piece ‘Kinaesthesia’, which comes exquisitely close to poetry, and which makes the mind’s taste-buds ache the way an acid-drop overpowers the saliva glands…

I know many Generation Y audiences prefer content warnings before certain subjects are addressed in public. I often feel in two minds about this, because I think content warnings can destroy the artistic shape of a work of art; sapping a work of art of the forceful use of suspense and revelation. Content warnings often merge with spoiler alert.  Yet I think with a form as short as flash fiction, actually, if you talk about the story at all, you’re in danger of spoiler alert the moment you open your mouth. So although I’m reluctant to give content warnings on aesthetic grounds, I’m going to here, partly because everything’s a spoiler tonight – and partly because of the specific topics in the winning story – which can be particularly fraught.

So, the content warning is that our winning story deals with homophobia and suicide.

It does so with a moving delicacy and sympathy.

In ‘Gunshots are Too Common’, by Patrick Pink (Auckland), the sensitivity of observation about the immediate natural setting is used elegantly to foster our empathy for the main character, so the loss becomes potent for the reader, too. It’s a story of sexual desire, developing identity, betrayal and loss; and it becomes an excoriating indictment of the potential brutality and power dynamics in an all-male secondary school.

After we placed this story first, there were reiterations in the media about the recent OECD numbers ranking our youth suicide numbers in New Zealand as the worst in the developed world. These recent reports took me right back to this story with its monochrome crow brotherhood, the heart-breaking concern the victim expresses over who might find him – and given our national reluctance to talk about this subject directly in the media, for fear of copycat incidents, I felt doubly grateful that the author has made the imaginative and compassionate effort to enter the mind of the young protagonist, and the conditions that could provoke such a desperate decision. It seems to me that the flash fiction form here heightens the sense of waste, of brevity, of tragedy, in an adolescent child assuming there is no other way out of emotional pain. It is the sort of story you desperately hope will become historical: do you remember when single-sex schools used to be breeding grounds for homophobia? It’s hard to believe, now, isn’t it?

The story in second place, ‘When Winter Comes Again’, by Rachel Smith (Christchurch), is in admirably spare prose with cool drops of simile that convey both sensory experience and the nature of close but wounded family relationship. The way the father and daughter tip and tilt the caregiver role between them in the course of such a tightly contained piece is pscyhologically deeply astute. In many ways it’s a quiet and restrained piece; the inversion of roles towards the end is done both with an aching lightness of touch and a sense of emotion gathering and flaring up in the final metaphor that the daughter uses to soothe the bereft father; part of its impact being that it’s drawn from the labour of home-making they have to divide up anew in the aftermath of loss.

In third place is ‘It Won’t Happen Again’, by Shani Naylor (Wellington). The dexterous use of an inverse chronology, and the clever shorthand of time and time zone headings to pack as much into the allotted wordcount as possible, were what dazzled me here. The dislocation between hemispheres, the scramble of who finds out what when, also become a way of registering the shock ripple effect through a community, and the loose, wild, frightening element of chance in accidents and loss. It’s a dark, punchy capsule of a story that explores the effects of social media, ‘over-sharing’ and the breakdown of old fencelines around privacy, showing how rapidly and irrevocably some intimate betrayals can go public. The often staccato sentences and the relentless present tense in the backwards winding tale, seem to sharpen the violence of Max’s demise and the bitterness of our inability to perform the rewind that art does.

The winning stories know how to handle narrative suspense and the element of surprise, or emotional opening, that also still needs to dovetail credibly with the events or sensations that have shuttled us towards that revelation.

Regional Prize Otago: ‘The Math of Me’, Jessica Thompson –  Highly Commended

This entry travels family history, social history, close friendship and social or peer pressure, within the framing confines of a mother’s and daughter’s road trip, ending in a silence that could be either liberating or stifling. It leaves room for the reader’s discretion. The struggle to understand where personal identity sits in a family and nation still riven by cultural wounds is confronted overtly and yet still has a subtle sense of inwards-turned contemplation. It makes strong, revealing use of dialogue in a way that stood out from many other submissions.


NFFD Judge’s Commentary: Michael Harlow

General comments

Greetings and Kia Ora, on behalf of the National Flash Fiction Day team, who managed to come up with 105 flash/short form stories – out of an initial 400 or so submissions (!). With colleague-Judge, novelist, poet, and editor, Emma Neale we breathed at least a sigh of relief and got down to work.  We agreed on a working method, flexible enough, that called for lots of communication back and forth, making room for agreements and disagreements, which is also a way of challenging oneself in the critical eye and ear department. This kind of long-distance tandem is that kind of of critical dynamic that makes for an alert understanding one needs to do the job.  I particularly enjoyed working with Emma as a co-judge, for her very astute eye and well tuned ear – absolute requisites for being able to read not only at surface level, but at a deeper level. And she can be benignly robust in her advocacy – that’s good;  it makes for a good deal of confidence in the judging process.

As a reader, I was looking for and listening out for some kind of narrative-line (or ‘story line’) that would drive and carry the thoughtfulness of an idea forward to some kind of ending – even if the ending is left hanging in the air (or in a certain‘slant of light’, as Emily Dickinson would have it; and Cilla McQueen too).  And equally important, what is the language doing?  The language play – and one can ‘play’ very seriously indeed – that animates/breathes life into what the text is saying, however direct or indirect, keeping in mind that ‘indirection’ can yield (especially in the ‘flash’/short-form) that element of discovery that goes beyond useful but mere ‘invention’. The language has to do more than be decorative, even if charmingly decorative. The best stories here did that: they were texts/prose-poems/tone poems, straight prose micro narratives, the very best of which evinced a musical weave…  I was also most consciously listening for the musical effects of the language – this is vital in creating a tone of voice, which in this flash/short-form is instrumental as the carrier of feeling.

Sloshing about in over-the-top sentiment was and is a no-no…

By the time we arrived at a Short List, reading and re-reading and consulting, it was pretty clear to me that the overall standard and quality of these Short List stories (and some that were on the Long List as well) was very good indeed. There is something about this short form of fiction, with its inbuilt constraints, that exercises a kind of pressure on the imagination – to think about Words in the company of other words, and what they can discover in the act of writing.  The best stories here (including the Highly Commended and Commended stories), were those where you could see and hear the ‘ideas’emerging out of the word-thought being scrupulusly attended to.  And again the most accomplished of these stories, for the most part, tended to be angled toward the strangeness that is in the familiar, or slightly off-centre of the familiar…

The top stories

Here are extracts from my final reading notes.  The 3rd, 2nd, and 1st place stories.

‘It Won’t Happen Again’, by Shani Naylor (Wellington), 3rd place award.  A clever and highly accomplished structural use of Time and time-markers to weave a story worth telling.  Rather cinematic, I thought, using a series of (rather like) film-clips to develop a story-line that goes forward and backward and forward again. Very artful in this use of discrete-but-linked moments in time, one effect of which is to quickly engage the reader to join and follow through to the end. The prose is lucid and has a kind of reticence that suggests more is happening than apparent at the surface, and it produces a kind of air of mystery (however temporal). We see also some of the subversive effects of the rampant rush and downside of blog-and-public media. I was left with various feeling responses, and a sense of ironic wonderment at Max’s fate.

‘When Winter Comes Again’, by Rachel Smith (Christchurch), 2nd place award. A tone-poem with all the muted lyric clarity of prose that makes for such truly engaging reading.  It is a story about loss, and those wounded-in-spirit (as well as body in fact); and how to deal privately in a relationship (father and daughter) with loss, and grieving. This is writing that is also about tenderness – I think rather a neglected subject to come to grips with.  Of all the stories I read, this one is the most psychologically aware – the wounded father in spirit, and the wounded and consoling daughter. There are also some striking images in the service of a deeper story. And there is a kind of intimacy evoked that in its way is rather brilliant.

‘Gunshots are too common’, by Patrick Pink (Auckland), 1st place award.  Some very elegant writing about that profound moment of decisionmaking in one’s life; a truly existential crisis made visible in writing that deals so sensitively with homophobia and suicide.  Somewhere, the French writer Camus said, words to the effect, that suicide was the only and truly serious question one can ask or contemplate. The writer explores these two experiences in a prose that is so lucid, and I would say exquisitely figured, that makes this story quite a completely rendered tone poem. The use of the crow as an accompanying symbolic (that is to say deeply real) figure that signals a redemptive moment is quite brilliant. I didn’t hear a discordant or false note – a very complete, short-form story.

Highly Commended and Commended Stories 

Overall, the standard was quite high, and the quality of the writing generally first-rate.  In the selection process, a number of these stories continued jockeying for top slots.  Another time, another pair of adjudicating voices, and a number of these stories would likely join the top list.  I’ll only single out one story because it’s not only by far the shortest ‘story’, but because it is for me ‘out of, outside the box’, as they say.  Kinaesthesia, by Allan Drew (Auckland, Highly Commended).

A prose-poem of three rather longish lines (with that prose quality of the sentence chasing time) that manages to articulate more than is at first apparent, and in a small space.  I like its succinctness and its tenderness, and the moment of quiet surprise declared low-key; and its sensuousness.  A fine example of the poetry-that-is-in-prose.




The youth competition in one word – variety!

Fleur and I read stories from ages 8 through to 18. From across that broad age range we read deeply personal stories, myth, murder and mayhem. We had talking rabbits, talking curtains and talking rivers. There were letters, diaries, prose poems and stories made up of sentence fragments, some of which may have been the result of deliberate author choice, others…. I was not so sure. Some common themes were death, loneliness, love, love and death, ice-cream and insurmountable – and at times unfathomable – terrors. Thankfully there were also stories that made us laugh – a complaint letter to Satan, battling vegetables, delightful sarcasm, and some surprising and clever last lines.

We read some stories that started well but suddenly stopped when the writer reached 300 words. Although some pieces were clearly first drafts they held great potential and I wished the writer had taken the time to redraft and polish. I hope they still will.  There were also many well-crafted and redrafted stories. Those shone out. They had crisp and interesting sentences, used words with intent and were structured to keep the reader reading and the ideas lingering.

All of this variety made the judging very hard. Reading is a subjective act and Fleur and I sometimes had opposite responses to the same piece. We decided to be generous in the long list. We sought to honour some of the younger writers. We wanted to recognise those who had taken risks and tried something fresh. We also wanted to acknowledge the craft and skill evident in other pieces. Sometimes fresh and skilful came together and these stories quickly made their way to top of the pile.

Reaching the short list was much harder and required some negotiation. We each had to let go of stories that would have made a personal list of favourites. I think it is very important for writers who are brave enough to submit for competitions to realise that a different set of eyes may see your work differently. For those who made the long list, please know that we saw something special in your work. Don’t discard it. Maybe leave it a short time and then come back to give it another redraft, a bit of a polish up and submit it again for another opportunity. Or write something new and short. Writing flash fiction is fun and so too is the redrafting; the attention to sentences, words and detail.  It can be like putting a tricky puzzle together. There is great satisfaction when it all works, for both writers and readers.




The 2017 NFFD Long Lists


A long afternoon by the river by Annette Edwards-Hill, Wellington

A Machete, a Plastic Bag and Mum’s Gumboots by Caroline Barron, Auckland

Bird Man in Aotea Square by Anita Arlov, Auckland

Dorm by Tracey Slaughter, Cambridge

For an instant  by Mia Gaudin, Wellington

Gunshots are too common by Patrick Pink, Auckland

It won’t happen again by Shani Naylor, Wellington

Kineasthesia by Allan Drew, Auckland

Like Gods by Mia Gaudin, Wellington

Peace and Quiet by Derek Jones, Auckland

Scar Tissue by Nikki Crutchley, Cambridge

Scout by Robyn Maree Pickens, Dunedin

Secret Women’s Business by Margaret Moores, Auckland

Shipboard romance by Fiona Lincoln, Lower Hutt

Spindrift by Janis Freegard, Wellington

Surprise Peas by Janice Marriott, Auckland

The Chlorinated Mermaid by Nikki Crutchley, Cambridge

The Math of Me by Jessica Thompson, Dunedin

Three Dresses by Jessie Puru, Auckland

Uncle Hugh by Stephanie Mayne, Auckland

Unleashed by Bill Bradford, Auckland

We peaked by Keith Nunes, Rotorua

Wear the Pram Wheels Down to the Rim by Maris O’Rourke, Auckland

When Winter Comes by Rachel Smith, Christchurch

Yes by Phoebe Wright, Christchurch



All the Unseen Sky – Russell Boey

Ash – Shelby Allan

Beaten Simon Brown

Cake and Ice Cream – Jana Heise

Curtains – Simon Brown

Dear Satan… – Asha Clark

Drama Queen – Olivia Giffney

Energy – Gracie McKay-Simpson

Evolution – Derrin Smith

Excuses – Joy Tong

Genuine Smiles – Bree Miles

Helium – Alexandra Litherland

I heard a whisper – Sian Wilkinson

Imperfections – Joy Tong

In My Dreams – Elise Sadlier

Interchange – Freya Kelly

Lightning and Thunder – Tess Burgoyne

Mother – Anna Mapley

Mr Pop’s Ice Cream Parlour – Ella Mitchell

No Regrets – Grace Jeong

Nothing – Lucy Anderson

Ode to Joy – Monica Koster

Otori and the Tokusawa Demon – Shauntae Clince

Red-handed – Siena Thompson

Sana’a – Dannielle Bruce

Second Chances – Abigail Nartea

Tables Turned – Luc Botherway

The Art of Water Divination – Russell Boey

The Brass Angels – Russell Boey

The Carnival – Dominic Botherway

The Cold – Joy Tong

The Dream Blanket – Anna Featherstone-Wright

The Rising – Jack Unsworth

The Silent Hand – Simon Brown

The Worry Troll That Lives in a Cave in My Head – Annick Laird

Tornado – Emily-Rose Young

What Happens Next – Jacinta van der Linden

When it rains, it pours – Tegan Moffatt-Rooney

Wolf – Louise Rippin

The winning stories will be published in the special winter edition of  Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction –– forthcoming July/August.


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