Flash Fiction Competition Result

As part of our Independent Bookshop Week partnership with And Other Stories, we held a flash fiction competition, in honour of their commitment to and our love of exceptional short fiction. Writers were invited to submit 400 words on the theme of ‘independence’.

The submissions were brilliantly varied, from the realist to the surreal to the fantastical, with many interpretations of the theme. We are delighted to announce first and second place and to publish their stories below.

First place:

Sublimation by Adrian Bridget

Second place:

11 Easy Steps to Stealing a Humbug by Lou Curran


When I was a schoolchild in Brazil, not long after they stopped asking us, as homework, to look in the dictionary for a list of words, whose definitions I was supposed to copy into my notebook, something I did wholeheartedly, I learnt the word esquartejado – or ‘quartered’ in English, as in dismembered – during a lesson about an eighteenth-century man who pulled out people’s teeth, Tiradentes, literally the Tooth-Puller, whose name I’d known as the name of a day in April when I didn’t have to go to school, so the name itself was already a form of love, and this holiday, my loving teacher said, was first celebrated a century after the death of the man who gave the day its name, when Brazil became a republic, because Tiradentes not only treated toothache, pulling out teeth as his uncle had taught him after his parents died, but he also rode on horseback on the road between his home state of Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro, where he watched the gold from Brazil being taken away by Portugal, and Tiradentes knew about Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Tiradentes knew about the American Revolution, and Tiradentes was angry that the gold was being taken away, and I gripped the edges of my school desk that was then the only place in school where I felt safe, where I had my precious notebook and pencils, and listened to my loving teacher, who said that Tiradentes wanted his home state of Minas Gerais to be a republic, independent from the Portuguese hands that waited open for what they said was their due, and Tiradentes found other men who were like him in soul and met them in secret to talk about the revolution, of which the authorities heard the murmurs, and the men of similar soul were similarly tried and convicted, but ultimately the Queen, less consistent, my loving teacher said, gave sentences less than death to all but Tiradentes, and Tiradentes was hanged, and Tiradentes was esquartejado, and by the time the pieces of his body decorated the streets as a lesson, the bell rang, expelling me from my desk, and as I hid during the break in black-tiled corners from children’s laughter and screaming, which bounced off the tiles and sounded so absolute I could describe them as monarchic, I thought of that word I’d just learnt, esquartejado, and it soothed me terribly.

Adrian Bridget is a Brazilian-British writer based in Bristol. Their publications include the novels England With Eggs and Child’s Replay. Adrian is a PhD candidate at the University of Bristol, where they are developing a project on affect and adopted-language literature.

11 Easy Steps to Stealing a Humbug

1. Try to stand up from the bed when the strangers walk in. Fail.

2. Instead, smile, and try not to frown as you scan their faces. Linger on the young woman who hasn’t yet stepped into the threshold of your room, whose fingers wrap around the doorframe as though the wall is a curtain she could push aside if she chose, but who doesn’t choose. Notice her eyes which, even from this distance, appear mopped and wet. Sweep past her now as the half-dozen or so (you haven’t counted) figures fan around your bed, their hands all clasped in front of them like mourners.

3. Raise your chin slightly, ready with a greeting that could, in a snap, turn defiant. Hedge your bets. Keep smiling. Don’t frown, for god’s sake don’t frown. Try not to notice as the young woman finally steps in to join the others.

4. Pick self-consciously at your thin gown, which has been pasted to your bones by bed-sweat. Shift the material to cover the slit where your purpled shins have become exposed. Be uncertain why you feel the need to do this.

5. Feel an impulse to tell the older man present how awful his tie is. Tell him. Widen your eyes with glee when he places a mint on your bedside table and says it’s for you: he knows how much you like them. Don’t wonder how he knows.

6. Forget about the mint.

7. Scrutinise the young woman again, now that she has stepped more firmly into the light. Look at her nose, squared and hard. Try not to raise your hand to your own nose. Squint at the way she bites the corner of her lower lip. Think it looks familiar. Gain some confidence. Guess her name. Emily?

8. Nod when she tells you, shyly, it’s Claire. Emily is her sister. Nod confidently, like you knew all along.

9. Wonder uneasily why everyone keeps glancing to your left. Notice the mint on your bedside table.

10. Wait until the strangers collectively look away, then peel back the tip of the sheet and reach out a thin hand. Allow it to tremble. Eye your target: pill-shaped pebble. Check you are unobserved. Strike, now, and strike quickly. Pinch it between two skin-draped fingers and retreat below the covers with your crinkling prize.

11. Ponder why Emily is the only one who isn’t smiling.

Lou is a Bristol-based writer. He has written several speculative fiction novels and is preparing to query his first. He is graduating with a Master’s in Chemistry from the University of Bristol and University of Washington, where he undertook research into harmful plastic additives.