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WriteWords 21


Congratulations to the winners and runners-up of WriteWords 2021  

Flash Fiction


Toothpicks by Dorothy Cornish


Snakes by Georgia Cook 



Zap by Maura High


Family Tree by Kieran Beville

Short Stories:


Consolations in the Forest by Electra Rhodes


What Comes Next by Jason Jackson

What the Judges said

Mary-Jane Holmes

Flash Fiction


Mary-Jane has won the Bath Novella-in-Flash Prize, the Bridport Poetry prize, Dromineer, Reflex Fiction and Mslexia Flash Prize. In 2020, she was shortlisted for the Beverley International Prize. Mary-Jane’s debut poetry collection Heliotrope with Matches and Magnifying Glass is published by Pindrop Press. Her Novella-in Flash Don’t Tell the Bees will be published shortly by Ad Hoc Fiction. Her poetry pamphlet Dihedral is published by Live Canon in November. She was listed in the Biffy top fifty writers 2020.

Fallen film stars, library books longing to be read, fathers building time machines – it was a delight and an honour to have such a variety of subject matter, theme and form to read through. All these shortlisted pieces were crafted and entertaining, as well as celebrating what the short form is all about – concision, compression, and brevity. 


Winner: Toothpicks


As Venessa Gebbie once said [Flash Fiction]…should catch you as you turn away, hold you, and when you’ve finished reading, it should echo and resonate.  Toothpicks did this with brio; the expression of the deep conflict manifested in the banal act of counting toothpicks intertwined with the narrator’s thoughts and questions driven by the image of home, plus the smooth transition from the ‘now’ of the story to the past, all worked to give real grip to that final rocketing last line.


Runner-up: Snakes

The great thing about flash is that it can carry and sustain the surreal and in Snakes, the writer successfully suspends reader’s disbelief by letting the characters act out this medusian reality as if there were nothing unique in the situation. The reproduction of the child’s logic, the mother’s pragmatism and the lover’s empathy all work to produce a well-choreographed narrative.

Philip Rush



Philip Rush lives in Stroud where he reads, and sometimes writes, poetry every day. His poems have featured in journals in UK, Ireland and USA, and have been anthologised by Carcanet and Bloodaxe publications.  He runs the poetry imprint Yew Tree Press

The short-listed poems provide glimpses into the lives of others. They catch moments which blend observation and reflection, or sometimes revelation, and they share them with the reader in a way which heighten the reader’s own sense of life. Finding a moth in a woodshed, swimming in grubby water, losing sense of the passing of time. 


All the poems use language which balances the mundane and everyday with the wonderful. I remember T S Eliot saying something about the importance of that.

In one poem, winter days are weak-eyed; in another, the close observation of the tide retreating shows us shifting glints of pearl and pewter. Often the images themselves blend the everyday and the numinous: ‘I stare at the dandelions. You read the paper./ Rain turns to mist turns to sunshine’; after her death and burial a grandmother makes music with the wind/ as she did when she played the melodeon. The dandelions for all their humility seem to offer an unmediated experience which the newspaper does not; is there ever a wheezier, windier instrument that the melodeon?


All the poems know exactly where to begin. Plants are growing in my body begins one. The solitude is/ an unexpected present says another, a poem about swimming contains the wonderful insight: I am afraid of happiness.


The narratives of the poems are clear and succinct. One is set in a lightly fictionalised Pakistan and there we find that In the cookery class/ dry eyed girls boil earrings/ into barbed wire for their school. A mysterious and vaguely threatening image which lingers in the mind. In a fine poem about mourning and snow in October are the lines: and soon, I know,/ I’ll lose all trace of you, though I have mapped/ that daily trail along our gated paths and hedges/ we walked together, wind against our backs. Here, and throughout these poems, the control of the poet’s voice is well achieved and maintained. 


As the years go by, I find myself more and more seeking an open end to poems. Sometimes I find myself scratching out from my own poems the warm-up lines at the start to get to the arresting opening, to match in fact the the quality of opening achieved by so many of these poems, if not all. And then I steel myself to scratch out the end until I am back with the hint of an ending which works best to leave things just open enough. Of course, sometimes, after this, I am left with merely one or two lines. (Start again.)


If, therefore, I were to be bold enough to give any advice to these poets, it would be to ensure that the poem has not already ended before the final lines.  Are those lines necessary? Be wary of poems which close the gate politely behind them.


I like the way the Irish heritage in Family Tree is used and hinted at without dominating the poem. I like the way a family funeral is held in the poem as if in perpetuity. I know that weddings are the endings to comedies and funerals to tragedies, but that doesn’t stop my thinking there seem to be more family photographs of weddings than of funerals. Family Tree is a kind of 'funeral photograph' and it works as a condensed memorial and as the celebration of a remembered life, without being mawkish or trite. The trees are wrinkled and the roots cradle and the choice of these words is very finely judged. The aunts are shadowy and there are familiar melodies, which picks up that melodeon as well as the family. The poem allows itself to think aloud about this important memory and we follow the poem’s train of thought thoroughly engaged in its twists and turns.


What differentiates Zap sufficiently for me to plump for it as the ‘best’ of an excellent group is the wackiness of its subject matter: a man who has been struck twice by lightning. He looks as if he has been scarred by the experience: his hair a wild upstart frizz, and his eyes/ evasive and he places himself someway apart from the workers. He has earned his nickname because he has survived, met and dodged his maker. He is something of a prophet, then, something of a shaman. The poem both shies away from this version: I don’t think/ that was what he was feeling,/ right then, in the shade. I like the way the poem does not explain this, does not tell us what we was feeling. That open-endedness gives the reader pause for thought. On the other hand, perhaps there is some kind of wisdom to be found in Zap’s experience: He knew lightning/ is only looking/ for the earth. 


Zap does make the ordinary wonderful, but it also, at one and the same time, makes the extraordinary - a man who has survived two lightning strikes - into the mundane and everyday. I was grabbed by this poem when I first read it and it grabs me still after all the re-reading.


What do we learning from this? Not that we have to meet lightning survivors in distant climes in order to write a poem. No. But maybe that we peel away the layers of the ordinary and the extraordinary and try to mingle them up a bit so that the world is a little different when seen through the eyes of the poem we have written.


Winner: Zap; Runner-up: Family Tree;

Ken Elkes

Short Stories


K.M. Elkes is the author of the short fiction collection All That Is Between Us (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2019), which was shortlisted for a 2020 Saboteur Award. His short stories have won, or been placed, in international writing competitions including the Manchester Fiction Prize, Royal Society of Literature Award, Bath Short Story Award and the Bridport Prize. He was longlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award in 2019. His work has appeared in more than 30 literary anthologies and journals. He is a short story tutor for Comma Press and lives near Bristol, UK.

Many congratulations to all the writers on the longlist. Thank you for letting me read your stories. Every story had merit - vivid descriptions, moments that brought a character alive, instances of surprise or insight that felt authentic, emotional resonance. This is the stuff of good writing. The winning stories were the ones where these positives accrued most, where there was the sense of a distinctive voice and a narrative propulsion from the very beginning. Though it was a close call (there were several stories in contention), both the winner and runner-up happen to be about isolated people existing in the margins. In a sense that makes them appropriate choices for The Phare. Lighthouses, after all, are always on the edge of things, keeping their distance.  


The runner-up was What Comes Next. A sense of intrigue and mystery was initiated from the start, the author was bold enough to use an unconventional narrative structure and ensured the story didn’t give up its secrets immediately, but kept the reader interested enough to find out more.  


The winner was Consolations In The Forest. This story took top spot because of the skill of the author in creating an apt narrative voice while also conveying a visceral sense of a wintery forest setting. The story moved smoothly, but always with an underlying tension and sense of foreboding. The conflict at the heart of the story never felt forced, and the denoument was well-timed and well-paced. 



Winners of each category:

  • win £100

  • appear in our competition issue to launch on Friday February 5th 2021.

  • be invited to record their entry for our Podcast page

  • appear in our printed 2021 Anthology

  • invitation to take part in The Phare's WriteLines online writing retreat for free

  • take part in on-going publicity

Runners-up of each category:

  • win £50

  • appear in our competition issue to launch on Friday February 5th 2021.

  • appear in our printed 2021 Anthology

  • take part in on-going publicity

No correspondence can be entered into. Judges’ decisions are final.

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