Flash – judges comments and shortlist

It’s been an absolute pleasure to judge the ‘Flashing the Cover’ competition. But it also gave us trauma. How do you choose one story out of many that were excellent? And how do you choose a shortlist of five, when you really want fifty? We were thrilled to receive over a hundred entries and were equally excited, saddened, humbled and engaged by every story submitted. To all the writers, thank you for all your small gems of greatness!

Seeing the covers of so many wonderful Western Australian books, and then reading stories inspired by those covers, has reinforced to us what a great writing and publishing community we have in this state. We thank Writing WA for its ongoing support, and for making this competition possible.

Laura Keenan and Linda Martin
Night Parrot Press

Read the winning entry below + the judges shortlisted entries and their comments on these.

Winning Entry: Hidden Depths, Nicki Blake
Inspired by the cover of: The Good Turn, Dervla McTiernan
The last thing they did was drag the lake. In the early morning, with a local news crew filming, they hefted their equipment to the end of the private jetty where their tinnie was moored. They had diving suits and hooked poles. The husband paced the jetty, yelling directions which amplified over the misty surface. When they found nothing, he insisted they try again. When they refused, he struck out, punching one diver and knocking a reporter into the dark water. The whole scuffle was caught on camera. She watched it that night on the television in her motel room.
Comments:
We selected this story as the winning entry because it contains everything a flash story should. We love that the story begins in the middle, right at the point of crisis. The narrative is clear and concise, and the author skilfully uses the art of omission to deliver a subtle but surprising twist at the end. The story is complete, stands alone, and each word deserves its place and has the weight to carry this compelling narrative. Finally, the story beautifully conveys the mystery and intrigue of that haunting cover image of an empty jetty at first light.


Laura’s Top 5 Entries

Delicate Little Flowers, Melanie Talbot
Inspired by the cover of: Well-Behaved Women, Emily Paull The roses from those suddenly blank teacups? That was me. I left you the gold edging. Those daisy patterned curtains? Blank now too. I sucked their print up my calves and across my thighs. I drained the couch cover dry; my arms and breasts have become a riot of clashing petals. They’ve started to burst out of my skin. I’m sprouting, blossoming, so fertile I can’t be contained. So feminine. Isn’t that what you wanted? My tree root hands can crush stone now. My face is foliage. Get your own damn dinner, I’m going outside to stand in the rain.
Comments:
I just love the strong and confident voice of this narrator, and the images are surreal and unconventional. The last line is killer: so empowering and unapologetic. The title (‘Delicate little flowers’), when combined with the cover image of Emily Paull’s book (a woman’s face obscured by dried flowers), presents a very clever reversal: the writer has taken a stereotype of feminine frailty and turned it into a literal embodiment of floral strength and resilience. This narrator is the opposite of delicate. She’s fierce and ready to uproot herself from a dead-end and unsupportive relationship.


Settler Dawns, Nadia Rhook
Inspired by the cover of: False Claims of Colonial Thieves,  Charmaine Papertalk Green and John Kinsella
Here, afternoon tea can be consumed at first light. A baby can be born before her mother’s waters break. A map of country can surround a church and take it hostage.
At high-noon we stand upright and walk with confidence through the gap between the riverbed and the shooting stars. The church tower is firing up crosses that get wedged in holy constellations of land. History’s potted bricks are whispering ‘he who comes first will be last’. We flinch, try to keep living as if nothing’s happened.
I was born when we crawled over gravel and ancient stones into this scene.
Comments:
This story takes my breath away. I’m captivated by the gorgeously haunting atmosphere and dreamlike images, and a perspective that lays bare the tensions between Indigenous and settler experience on sacred land. Like the linocut cover image which inspired it, it cuts a deep impression that continues to stay with me long after reading.


When Diamonds become Coal,Robyn Lunn
Inspired by the cover of: Catch a Falling Star, Meg McKinlay
You’d think an astronomer would have known that stars burn out.
‘Our love is written in the stars.’ It was our line, his idea. The astronomer in him, I figured. He’d name a star after me someday, as though he had plucked it straight from the skies. That’s what he told me, each promise holding grandeur as timeless as the Big Bang itself, and my trustful fingers waited, outstretched for falling stars that never fell. ‘We’ll burn there forever.’
I threw gasoline on a dying flame, his reading light as he reached for the stars.
One slipped through his fingers.
Comments:
Such a beautiful glimpse into a relationship that held so much promise—the literal stars in the sky—but lost its trajectory to a partner consumed by his profession. It’s impossible not to feel the ache of the narrator’s loss or the burn from that parting shot of petrol. This one lingers and draws me back to read it again and again.


Hope Bird, Ros Thomas
Inspired by the cover of Red Can Origami, Madelaine Dickie
In the beginning, there were no words, only paper.
A boy could fold his feelings.
Anger was simple – one hard crease – ironed with a thumb, the hurt buried inside the fold.
Sadness was a boat – ten creases – a cup for the drifting heart.
Hope was complicated. Two wings of paper need to be tucked and pleated until a bird could whirl up from the flat earth.
There was no shape for happiness until a boy with shining eyes watched a girl cradle his hope bird in the nest of her hand.
Comments:
The pace and the rhythm of this story is so skilful and deft, just like origami. The imagery is deceptively simple, conveying a surprising depth of emotion through a series of scenes that reveal, fold by fold, an exquisitely tender love story.


To the Lighthouse, Wesley Robertson
Inspired by the cover of: The Salt Madonna, Catherine Noske
“You see, it’s erected not, as some think, to show sailors where to land, but conversely to tell them where to avoid. It’s a warning, not an invitation.”
Before I could say I knew this – that everyone did – he went on:
“It’s like Odysseus’ sirens, which, while appearing alluring and enticing, are actually ensnaring. In fact, one should avoid their song and not sail towards it. You see?”
I saw. It should have been impossible not to see. But I was about to spend ten days with this, when I should have avoided him when I saw his first ‘actually’.
Comments:
I love the clever commentary in this story on human nature’s ability to dismiss the warning signs of a bad relationship. We’ve all been there and we still run headlong into the rocks! The narrator is completely endearing because he or she is aware of the speaker’s pompous words, but follows his lead regardless. Sharp dialogue and written from a gloriously jaded perspective after the wreckage of a bad pursuit.


Linda’s Top 5 Entries

Billable Time, Laura Hutchinson
Inspired by the cover of Money School, Lacey Filipich
“Big Law is not for everyone. You need to really want it.”
Days broken into six-minute intervals: the billable unit.
A call. Glass windows, big desk. The dandruff snowflakes on his silk jacket. A red cocaine nose and hands large enough to wrap around a lonely wife’s throat. “Your billings are down this week.”
Nightfall. Elevator button. Echo of shoes in the vast empty foyer. Two minutes.
Cold wind. A bus. The climb. Nine minutes.
The jump.
It takes two billable units. Three, if you hesitate.
They say it is hard to do. You need to really want it.
Comments:
This story holds true to flash fiction in that it tells a big story in a small space and is cleverly executed. The circular structure of the story is impressive, finishing where it began, but with a slight twist. The tone is spot on – observant and direct – and the short, clipped sentences work really well in building tension. The line ‘with hands large enough to wrap around a lonely wife’s throat’ is a knockout! And this piece contains a lot of subtext. I’m left wanting to know more about the protagonist and his repellent boss. It’s a big story, laden with meaning and making a profound comment on society and greed.


Fish, Rebecca M Newman
Inspired by the cover of Fish Song by Caitlin Maling
When he turned three we gave my little brother a goldfish. He named his fish Swimming In the Water, and put it in his pocket so it wouldn’t be lonely.
I forget what the next two fish were called.
Three little fish graves. (Three matchboxes buried under the roses.)
My mother took my little brother and bought a silver-scaled snapper, picked it out at the fish market one Sunday afternoon.
That was a pet too big for a pocket. It lived in the chest freezer in the laundry. My little brother was allowed to hold it — ten minutes every day.
Comments:
I was captivated by this tender story. On first read it seemed like a sweet story with clear prose and a childlike narrator. A boy and his pet fish. But then the meaning hit me like a silver-scaled snapper to the face. The pain of the boy calling his fish ‘Swimming in the Water’ and then putting it in his pocket, and being able to hold his frozen fish for only ten minutes a day. I think about the boy trying to form love and connections with these fish and then I ask, ‘who is this mother and where is her love?’ Exquisitely written with not a single misplaced word.


Olympus Prison, Lisa Anne Rodrigues
Inspired by the cover of: The Palace of Angels, Mohammed Massoud Morsi
It doesn’t look like a prison.
Marble columns line the forum. A hundred prisoners sit cross-legged, meditating in Grecian robes. They’re so still sparrows pick at the ground around them.
My host speaks in a respectful hush. His robes brush the ground as we walk between the rows of men.
The large buildings hold the library and workspaces, he explains. Beyond them are apartments. No guards, no locks, and surprisingly, no trouble.
‘We heal here,’ he says, with an easy smile.
I smile back before I recall the faces of his victims. Then I look away, ashamed.
Comments:
I love the detailed and alluring narration of this piece. The author builds the scene by drawing on our senses and positioning us right in the prison alongside the narrator. With each sentence, the descriptions of silence and stillness made me feel relaxed and calm. I felt guided along peacefully by the narrator, almost like a tour guide, until I was slammed with the complexities and realities of political conflict as delivered in that deft final line. This sophisticated, well written and unsettling story moved me both emotionally and intellectually.

Settler Dawns by Nadia Rhook
Inspired by the cover of: False Claims of Colonial Thieves, by Charmaine Papertalk Green and John Kinsella
Here, afternoon tea can be consumed at first light. A baby can be born before her mother’s waters break. A map of country can surround a church and take it hostage.
At high-noon we stand upright and walk with confidence through the gap between the riverbed and the shooting stars. The church tower is firing up crosses that get wedged in holy constellations of land. History’s potted bricks are whispering ‘he who comes first will be last’. We flinch, try to keep living as if nothing’s happened.
I was born when we crawled over gravel and ancient stones into this scene.
Comments: This evocative and observant piece won me over because of the author’s skill in locating tension and then delicately teasing that tension out, juxtaposing ancient connection to place for first nations people against imported incongruities of settlers. The imagery is stunning, and builds a strong relationship between the piece and the cover art. Overall, it’s original, poetic, beautifully written and important.


When Diamonds become Coal, Robyn Lunn
Inspired by the cover of: Catch a Falling Star, by Meg McKinlay
You’d think an astronomer would have known that stars burn out.
‘Our love is written in the stars.’ It was our line, his idea. The astronomer in him, I figured. He’d name a star after me someday, as though he had plucked it straight from the skies. That’s what he told me, each promise holding grandeur as timeless as the Big Bang itself, and my trustful fingers waited, outstretched for falling stars that never fell. ‘We’ll burn there forever.’
I threw gasoline on a dying flame, his reading light as he reached for the stars.
One slipped through his fingers.
Comments:
This story stayed with me a long time after I read it. It still stays with me. There’s so much depth and layering in this story. I love that the astronomer is so busy looking at the stars, reaching for the stars, that he misses the fading relationship that is right in front of him. It’s subtle, beautifully written, thoughtful and poetic – and the title is superb!

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