To avoid spoilers, read Hannah's winning story on Flash 500: 'Ring Pull.'
I’ve often given some thought to what helps a story win a competitive award like Flash 500. One element I think really helps, is using a memorable image. I imagine that judges, particularly when choosing the winners, have time to consider their final choices, and because of this, the memorable image used in a story has time to work its magic and stay with the judge. Hannah’s story uses such an image. It’s a clever and powerful one too: the idea of being able to pull back the surface of space and time like you might a ring pull on a can. This is captured in the first few sentences: ‘As my head hits the pillow I see it. In the corner, where the skirting board’s chipped. A small metal loop like the ones on a tin can.’ I can see this metal loop in the corner of the room, asking to be pulled.
There are two threads of story running through this piece of flash, signposted by alternating between italics and standard font. The italics sections show the image of a ring pull being pulled to open a gateway to a time in the past before the protagonist has a baby. This thread of story is filled with symbolism and belongs to the realm of imagination and dreams. Take for example: ‘A thin silver line runs out from the loop, around the perimeter of the room. I pull the loop and feel resistance.’ The description here is simple and effective. The reader can see the edge of the ring pull opening the can, the ‘silver line,’ running about the edge of the room. The opening of the floor reveals a room and the protagonist from a time in the past: ‘Below me is a familiar room. There’s a suctioning sound as I pull the floor back further. Chipped skirting board. A bed. The old me, sleeping, 10lbs lighter.’
The other thread of the story is set in the present, or very recent past, namely that day. These sections become shorter and shorter throughout the story. The reader senses the tension the protagonist feels through simple, declarative sentences that generate an unsettling tone: ‘My nipples leaked milk,’ or ‘I burst into tears,’ or ‘My ear drums vibrate with Eddie’s screeching.’
I see the story as an expression of a new mother being overwhelmed, maybe suffering from postnatal depression, and wanting to escape this new world in which she finds herself. This need to escape is compounded brilliantly through the use of a timer, running through the second half of the story. This story leads to the final lines: ‘3…I climb down the ladder / 2…pulling the floor down above me. / 1.’ The relief of escaping the situation she is in allows the reader to breathe again.
It is easy to see why Hannah’s story was chosen as the winner. It deals brilliantly with a difficult issue, and does so in an imaginative, empathetic, and I dare say, truthful manner.
A clever, innovative piece of flash fiction.
Note to self: Try using two threads of story in one piece of flash.
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