AUDREY NIVEN

Author | Editor | Coach

Winners Autumn 2021

We are delighted to announce the winners of the Propelling Pencil Charity Flash Competition,
judged by Karen Jones

First place: Songs to Escape to by Nicola Ashbrook

Second place: Between the Li(n)es by Kristen Loesch

Third place: Sunny Defiance by Sharon Boyle

Congratulations!

All of our prize-winners have asked to donate their winnings, taking our total funds raised to over £750. 


Thanks again to everyone who entered the competition and supported our cause.

Donations can still be made if you’d like to support Peter Berriman – Donate Here

You can read the winning stories below along with our judge’s comments.


First Place: Songs to escape to by Nicola Ashbrook

Girl sitting on the floor in a record shop, picture credit Karsten Winegeart
  1. Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), Eurythmics
    For when I’m in double Maths and Mr. Blaze is banging on about simultaneous equations and I’m sat next to mardy Muriel with her too-kipper tie and she won’t even do noughts and crosses in the back of my book ‘cos she’s too much of swot to engage with the likes of me and I would travel the world and the seven seas to be anywhere other than here.
  2. Fly Away, Lenny Kravitz
    For detention, after double Maths, because I didn’t finish the fucking equations and if I could fly out of the window to see the stars, the milky way or even Mars, or even Dagenham High Street at a push – if there wasn’t a choice – I would, because anywhere would be better than this stupid classroom with Mrs. Krakow and her body odour making me feel thick as shit.
  3. To The Moon and Back, Savage Garden
    For when I’m walking back to the home, wishing I was going anywhere but there, wondering where my mum is this time, hoping she’s sober at least, or not banged up anyway – though I don’t actually know which is worse – while trying to stay alert to sleazy Mr. Fariq in his taxi who offers you a ride then tries to touch your legs, or Carla Sykes who’s hard as nails and told me she’d kick my head in when she sees me next ‘cos I looked at her the wrong way and I am mentally packing my bag for outer space and waiting for the right kind of pilot to come. That’s how I got in Mr. Fariq’s taxi in the first place, but he wasn’t the right kind of pilot at all.
  4. Sweet Child O Mine, Guns n Roses
    For later, when I’m lying in my poky bed, in my cell-like ‘bedroom’ trying not to cry myself to sleep longing for someone to stroke my hair and call me their sweet child and for them to take me away to that special place where children live with parents who know how to love them and want to take them to the cinema and shit, instead of being here, hoping Sean isn’t on shift and won’t come to my room and take me to that other special place where I have never, ever wanted to go.
Judge Karen Jones said:

I loved the form here, using song titles to lead us into paragraphs that told us so much about this troubled girl’s life. The last one-sentence paragraph is particularly well done and shows the full extent of the main character’s desperation and her need for escape. I continued to worry about the character for a while after reading, and that’s always a sign of a good story.


Second Place: Between the Li(n)es by Kristen Loesch

Printed alphabet for schools, picture credit Annie Spratt

As I look at My Son use your imagination my smile is held up by toothpicks. My smile feels like the Joker’s. I’m supposed to use specific language to tell him about his diagnosis, but I can’t make eye contact with him so I look at his jacket. The jacket is slick, impossibly dark use your like an oil spill, like someone peeled off the outer layer of the human eyeball. If My Son moves abruptly, the jacket squeaks use like a knife on a shoddy cutting board.

*

I am seven years old. I ask why people lie. Doctor says it’s about seeing the world in figurative ways. It’s about metaphors. What are metaphors? I ask. She holds up a hand mirror, says, smile with your teeth. I say my teeth can’t smile. She says, tell me something about your smile, Lily. I say your smile should be spelled y-o-o-r, s-m-y-u-h-l. She says, no, something about the way your smile looks. Use your imagination! I say my smile doesn’t look. My eyes look. She says no, like this: My smile is…wide as an ocean! Pretty as a rainbow!

Children like you don’t get metaphors, she says. Where do you get them? I ask. Are there metafives? I ask. Doctor laughs. This laugh is the first lie I’ve heard that is not in words.

At home I write in my lined notebook: whyde az an oshen, pritee az a raynbo. My Mother makes me fix it. She doesn’t understand that spelling is also a lie. Otherwise it would be ly.

*

Eye contact feels like use your imagination falling into a black hole use your being flambéed alive use mace.

If peepul rote it “I contact” insted uhv “eye contact,” then maybe thay wood understand.

*

I am ten years old. Teacher says, if you know the answer, raise your hand. He looks over the class even though my hand is raised, every time. He says, come on! Nobody? Maybe he thinks my name is Nobody. Afterwards he says Lily, it goes without saying that you give others a chance. Stop thinking of you.

I write in my notebook: Iff sum thingz go without saying, how do u no whut thay r? Then I fix it, leave how do no whut thay r because Teacher said no more u.

New Doctor says there’s nothing to fix. She says, I don’t think you are Nobody.

*

My Son looks up from his encyclopedia. I sit down on his bed and show him my notebook. I say I have something to talk to you about, My Son, about My Li(f)e, only I’m not sure what language to use. I’m going to yewz my own, and u tel me iff u understand. My Sun klozez hiz ensyklopeedeeuh. I ly down on hiz bed and he joynz me, lyez down too and holdz my hand, wich iz rare, hiz hand iz warm use your imagination like lyve flame and we ly, ly, ly.

Judge Karen Jones said:

The repetition, and sometimes partial repetition, of the phrase ‘Use your imagination’ works so well in this story of a woman who has always been deemed ‘different’ facing the prospect of trying to explain her own life to her son so that she can help him understand his world. Every time I read this one I found something else to admire about the form and writing and the slow reveal.


Third Place: Sunny Defiance by Sharon Boyle

Bright sunrise over mountains, picture credit Neora Aylon

He hacked the wood into logs, blocks, slices and sticks, splintering them thinner and thinner, his muscles seizing and jamming. He stopped to draw an arm across his forehead and saw it on his inside wrist: a lump, hard and red. When he touched it, it glowed.

By evening his veins neoned blue-white, his arteries warm-yellow, highlighting the map of his workings. He switched on the kettle and short-circuited the street. While others sat in darkness, he radiated a comforting light and flicked through photo albums.

That weekend the children came for lunch. He sat at the table stone-quiet, ignoring the coals sizzling in his stomach as the two sons and daughter pestered him non-stop about selling the house. But this is where I spent the happiest years of my life, he said eventually. With your mother. It’s too big, they replied. Too much space. Mother’s been dead four years.

During the next week he fuelled himself by eating the embers off the fire. He could’ve rocketed to outer-space and raced that flash-arsed Halley. He could’ve chopped wood (in double-quick time) as he always did when thinking of his children’s demands. Instead, he lay in the garden, staring at the Sun and scorching the grass with fire angels. I will not sell the house. There is never too much space.

And as he gazed up, he understood – Sun is selfish; doesn’t give a hoot for anyone. Sun loves being on Her own, beaming like the happiest soul. The fact She’s circled by parasitical planets means nothing to Her. She is the disco ball of the universe. She beams and beams and refuses to be doused.

In one month he spent the Christmas present stash on restaurants, cinema and theatre. He used much of his retirement fund on a three-month trip where he shone and seared in different parts of the world (keeping away from the poles). He met a woman in Copenhagen who said he was hot. They fucked and fucked and afterwards he lay pulsing out solar flares of gratification.

When he returned home, the children visited and carped on about the house and equity release. He opened his mouth and roared a fireball yell of No! He wouldn’t sell; never ever.

The children left, singed with shock. They stayed out of orbit while he wheeled and whirled like an ambulatory star, growing warmer and brighter, and constantly beaming.

Judge Karen Jones said:

We’re so used to reading flashes that make us cry, but it’s always nice to get one that makes us want to stand up and cheer the character on, and that’s what this one did. I loved this story of a widower finding the fire in his belly, I loved the descriptions, I loved the ending. I kept going back to this one for the way it made me smile.