‘I Love Our Voices When We Sing Off-Key’ by Timothy Boudreau

Chosen by Gaynor Jones
 
This gorgeous flash piece outlines a loving, long-term relationship. Although it begins with the romantic cliché of a couple’s shared breakfast it soon becomes clear that this is no post-one night stand meal, but a well practised routine, ‘nothing fancy, but that’s the arrangement.’ Through references to ‘corny love songs’, it needing to be warm before the couple venture out and the ‘salt pepper and pepper spare tire dude.’ we learn that this a couple whose relationship has lasted through the years. And if we were any doubt, the following paragraph describes their sex life in humorous detail, swiftly followed by a section on knee surgery. Then we return to the prose which, for me, treads the line between corny and loving in such a way that you no longer care about the corniness – ‘Feel our same light, for we have light between us, I swear we do.’ I like this story because it gives me hope, and it’s refreshing to read a piece that delves way past the immediacy and urgency of first love.

Published on spelkfiction, July 2019
 
Gaynor Jones is an award-winning short fiction writer and spoken word performer based in Oldham. She is the recipient of the 2018 Mairtín Crawford Short Story Award and holds the title of Northern Soul’s 2018 Northern Writer of the Year. You can read her full Personal Anthology here.

‘We All Know About Margo’ by Megan Pillow Davis

‘Margo’ is my go-to story for people who say they don’t read / don’t get / don’t like flash fiction (generally categorised as stories up to 1000 words). If ‘Cat Person’ by Kirsten Roupenian tapped into conversations about sexual consent and power in relationships, ‘Margo’ stripped those conversations right back to its beginnings. The title says it all, we did all know about a girl like Margot, someone we knew only by reputation, usually because of the way she looked as much as the actions she chose (or in this case did not choose) to take. I find it hard to read and recommend depictions of sexual assault in fiction but I make an exception for ‘Margo’. I urge you to read it, if nothing else on this list. 

first published by Smokelong Quarterly, September 2018 and available to read online here

‘Jutland’ by Lucie McKnight Hardy

This is a restrained story – we follow a woman biting her tongue as she copes with uprooting her life (along with her new baby and mute child) in order to support her husband’s artistry. But in the gothic tradition, what is repressed finds a way out, and we are invited into the woman’s internal thoughts – “the port is nothing like she’d expected”, “it starts to bawl again, a screech that causes her skin to prickle,” and the glorious brutal honesty of “He paints shit. He paints like shit. He is shit.” 
 
Tension continually builds throughout the story, both through the strained relationships and through a supernatural (or perhaps not) element. It has been said that short stories should leave us with more questions than answers, and in ‘Jutland’, McKnight Hardy leaves us in no doubt of this. The final piece of dialogue is a brutal, haunting, question repeated with a clarity and simplicity that belies the horror behind the words.

first published by NightJar Press, March 2019

‘If We Survive the Night’ by Charlie St George

It’s autumn, and all the dead girls are kneeling in the yard.

So begins the story of a group of horror movie ‘final girls’, trapped in a never-ending purgatory where they repeat their deaths again and again. Throughout the story the girls first try to survive, then turn on each other whilst a strange marble angel oversees the nightly carnage, forcing them to re-live their murders every night and repent their sins every day. A self-aware mix of postmodern commentary on slasher films, the limits of organised religion and a genuinely scary story in itself, ‘If We Survive the Night’ is like nothing I’ve read before or since.

first published by The Dark Magazine, March 2017 and available to read online here

‘The Sandwich Judge’ by Ben Slotky

This story consists of a rambling inner monologue about the merits of certain sandwiches – who gets to decide which is best, why is there so much lettuce in them, what is lettuce anyway? “You get mad at sandwiches because you think maybe that will make a difference even though it doesn’t, even thought it can’t.” And gradually, as we are told where the bickering couple are queuing, why they are focusing on sandwiches, we come to understand. For me ‘The Sandwich Judge’ is a really genuine portrait of someone falling apart – that urge to focus on the minute things that you can control, when utter tragedy comes into your life. 

first published by The Forge Literary Magazine, December 2018 and available to read online here

‘The Other Lady of the Night’ by Clare Fisher

I love Fisher’s collection because it is deceptively simple. A series of very short pieces on light and darkness that uses plain language to navigate contemporary issues and human relationships. It’s a brilliant collection, often funny and relatable but then the hard-hitting stories hit so much more. When I first read ‘The Other Lady of the Night’ I had to physically stop and put the book down to cry. Even after the hopelessness and brutality experienced by the Lady, the light still tries to get in: I fixed my eye on the light until it grew to fill me. I didn’t know what I’d find there, but hope sparked all over my body.

first published in How the Light Gets In, Influx Press, 2018

‘The Less Said’ by Jolene McIlwain

This is a deeply disturbing story that brings to mind Stephen King, Quentin Tarantino and Twin Peaks. A rural community clashes with a small group of outsiders – with good reason. The title of this piece sums up the attitudes perfectly – the characters are frequently unwilling or unable to speak about the horrors in their community. “More you stir the shit, more it stinks was what everyone said.” But who needs words, when you have actions? ‘The Less Said’ is a brilliantly told story of hurt and revenge, that weaves a whole community consciousness into just a few hundred words. 

first published by New Orleans Review, May 2018. Available to read online here