We really enjoyed he variety, the quality and the originality of the entries to our Flash Fiction Competition in the run up to the TT20 Festival. We are especially grateful to world renowned writer, Meg Pokrass who was responsible for managing the difficult task of selecting a winner.
Watch the zoom event of the opening ceremony and readings by the winners.
The Finalists are:
The New Normal by Andy Cooper
Kindness et al by Jenny Cozens
The Next Normal by Susan Reed
And the Winner of out 2020 competition is:
Jenny Cozens – Kindness et al
She plumps up the cushions and fills five tall, pink glasses with a drink she knows they’ll love. It’s made with her own blue hands: hyacinths and forget-me-nots, sweetened with nectar from the
honeysuckle. Comfort and sweetness matter at a time like this.
A caterwauling from beyond the door sets her running to open it. The figure is still hopping up to reach the handle, but he’s much too short. He wails and clatters as he jumps, small wooden
feet echoing on stone floors.
‘Pinocchio’, she touches his red and yellow cap. ‘You’ve come. I’m so glad.’
He’s frowning up at her. ‘You’re all blue.’
‘I’m an angel,’ she smiles.
‘I can see that!’ He pokes a wooden finger at her wings. ‘Soft feathers. But blue?’
‘It’s the colour of affection, sweet boy. Kindness and other things.’
‘So why am I here?’
‘You’re essential, especially nowadays. Your nose…’
There’s a tapping at the door, barely audible above the raucous sounds of a dawn chorus. It opens to a monk, dressed in splattered brown, a storm of birds vying for the summit of his head.
‘Francis!’ says Blue Angel. ‘Lovely to see you. It’s been ages.’ She waves towards the cushions. ’Take a drink, dear one, and something for the birds. Pinocchio, meet St. Francis.’
The puppet frowns but offers a reluctant hand. ‘Angels and saints,’ he grumbles. ’All feels a bit religious. Can’t think what I’m doing here.’ He leaps back as the door crashes open and a well-
built man, totally bald and almost naked, catapults into the room carrying a parasol.
‘Merde!’ the newcomer shouts, but calms as he sees Blue Angel. ‘Ah, encore cherie. What is it this time? You want me?’
‘Picasso!’ she laughs. ‘Quite an entrance. I’m hoping for peace.’
‘Peace! From me?’ He puts a large, hairy arm around her waist and pulls her to him. ‘You’ll be lucky.’
‘I will, and luck is what we need.’ She wriggles out of his grip but passes him a secret smile for old time’s sake. ‘You might have caused havoc here and there, dear man, but your dove and your Guernica and your horror of war stays with the world. And the world needs artists like you. Needs all – especially now. Have a drink and introduce yourself.’
‘Who’re these guys? The one in the frock? And the little guy – I know him from somewhere.’
Pinocchio’s wooden cheeks ripple with pride at Picasso’s recognition. It happens, but not as often as ‘once upon a time’. He swivels round with the others as the creaking of hinges again fills the
room. The birds flutter upwards with anxious tweets and the door opens, a few inches.
‘Come in! Come in, my dear’, calls Angel. ‘We’re waiting just for you.’ A small, dark-haired woman with large glasses staggers in. She’s bent nearly double and seems dazzled for a moment by
the blue glow radiating from Angel who’s running forward to hug her warmly.
‘Ruth Bader Ginsburg: we’re honoured. I’m so pleased you’ve joined us. We need you very badly.’
‘I’ve only just died. I’m not sure I’m ready…’.
‘Of course you are. It was you or Portia, and you know what she’s like.’ Angel keeps an arm around her as she beams at her chosen group. ‘My friends, there’s no time to lose. Each of you is
needed now more than ever.’
Her eyes sweep over them: an odd bunch, but colourful. Pinocchio is wobbling on his scrawny legs; Francis has one arm out for his birds and a hand on the puppet’s head. Picasso sidles
up to the woman who, days before, was a Supreme Court justice, and winks his admiration. Angel opens wide her wings and bathes them all in the bright blue light of kindness.
‘The world is burning, drowning, roaring. It’s in pain. We are the community to save it.
Francis: you’ll protect all our wild life. Ruth, you will bring justice that’s struggling everywhere or missing altogether. Picasso, you’re charged with creating peace: a tough one. Pinocchio, dear child: you will teach world leaders that they must not lie. Can you do that?’
‘Of course I can. I’ll make their noses grow long as snakes whenever they do. Fool-proof!’
‘Parfait!’ roars Picasso. Ruth claps her hands thinking of Trump and others.
‘And I will bring kindness,’ offers Blue Angel. ‘Nothing will work without that. Together, as a community, we just might manage a whole new way to live.’
The Next Normal – By Susan Reed
Flash Fiction Finalist 2020
Duncan Metcalfe, a balding, middle-aged accountant, lived alone in the first floor flat of a large Victorian house in Hexham. Beneath him, lived Wendy and David Green, a retired couple in their seventies. Before lockdown, Duncan would leave his flat every weekday at seven thirty precisely for a brisk walk through the park, calling in at the gym for half an hour’s workout, before arriving at the offices of Peabody and Partners where he worked as an accountant.
Duncan always wore the same suit, a smart, grey two-piece, always with a clean white shirt, but with a different tie for every day. Monday’s was red, Tuesday’s blue, Wednesday’s a navy and grey stripe and so on. Mrs Green, who liked to keep an eye on the comings and goings in the street, said you knew what day it was, depending on his tie. In a brown leather briefcase was his lunch, which he liked to eat in the park if the weather was fine: cheese and pickle sandwiches and a stainless-steel flask of coffee. On his back, a small black rucksack with his gym kit.
Mr & Mrs Green liked having Duncan upstairs. ‘He’s very quiet’ they would have said, ‘keeps himself to himself.’ If you had asked Duncan’s neighbours before lockdown, what sort of a bloke they thought he was, they would have in all probability replied that he was a perfectly normal and respectable sort of man. Duncan was well thought of at the offices of Peabody and Partners too and had worked hard to rise through the ranks to become one of the senior partners. He was, to everyone who knew him, very sensible and trustworthy, if a little boring.
What the Greens and the staff of Peabody and Partners didn’t know, was that Duncan had not always led such a normal and predictable life, and in the top pocket of his grey suit, he carried a copper coloured plait of henna’d hair; a talisman from his misspent youth. He had had long hair, once upon a time, dyed carrot red and tied back in a ponytail. If you looked carefully at his ear lobes, you could see the faint traces of holes where earrings might once have been.
In his twenties, he had had a moment of enlightenment when he had taken acid at Stonehenge Free Festival and had joined the Tibetan Ukranian Mountain Troupe; a group of New Age Travellers who put on circus shows, touring the land in a convoy of colourful, converted buses. Duncan performed as a juggling unicyclist.
His time in the big top was short lived, however, and after a nasty experience with a trapeze artist named Zadie (from which he never fully recovered), Duncan left the circus and went to university to study Accountancy, much to his parent’s relief. He got a job with Peabody and Partners on qualifying, cut his hair, and has been there ever since. He has never married or had a girlfriend.
Lockdown now meant that the offices were closed, and Duncan was working from home. For the first few weeks he stayed in, and when he wasn’t working, drank wine, ate good food and listened to plays on Radio 4; the weight started to pile on. He missed his walk through the park to work, and he missed the gym. Then he had a brainwave.
The Greens began to hear thuds coming from the floor above, as if something was being dropped. They heard music, loud music, coming through the ceiling. This was not normal behaviour for Duncan Metcalfe.
Imagine Mrs Green’s surprise, when sitting at her usual seat in front of the net curtains, cup and saucer balanced on her ample bosom, she saw him walking down the path wearing a bright red t-shirt and jogging bottoms, not with his usual brown briefcase, but with a bright green duffel bag on his back, three silver clubs sticking out of the top and what appeared to be a unicycle in his hand. Duncan smiled as he saw his neighbour’s net curtains twitch, and as he held onto the red brick garden wall with one hand for support, he mounted the rusty old unicycle he’d found at the back of the garden shed. Despite a few initial wobbles, Duncan was delighted to see he had not lost any of his riding skills and set off in the direction of the park. He laughed out loud. Life was too short to be normal.
The New Normal – By Andy Cooper
Flash Fiction Finalist 2020
It’s 2035. Norm stares across Wentworth car park. His view, standing next to the newly opened community information office, hasn’t changed in fifteen years. And yet, everything has changed.
A closer look reveals an electric charging point at every parking space; few old polluting petrol and diesel cars are on the road now. Norm walks into town, past the community vegetable garden. Flowers and newly planted trees line the walkway. A group of students play violins, raising money to help climate refugees. Hexham, like all towns, is housing and helping several thousand immigrant families. An Amazon drone buzzes overhead. Norm sighs. He hates them – but at least Amazon now pays an acceptable level of tax. And all companies are now compelled to support community schemes. Compulsory worker representation on company boards has transformed corporate attitudes.
Norm no longer works for a company. There are fewer jobs these days because of what they called robotification. But he receives community basic income which means he can afford to live and pay his rent. He carries out regular voluntary work helping community projects. He loves it. He’s happy, and he couldn’t have said that fifteen years ago.
Life reached rock bottom for Norm back then. He lost his job in the Covid 19 recession. Even when he found work, with a small manufacturing business, they’d had to close down because of Brexit. Soon after he couldn’t afford his rent and his landlord evicted him. Norm had been on the streets. He shudders; he doesn’t want to think about those times anymore.
Everything is different now. There are no homeless people; the NHS is properly funded; schools are flourishing; university fees have been scrapped; public utilities re-nationalised. The country is even negotiating a return to the European Union. People now see how they were conned by leave politicians all those years ago. Anyway, the millennial generation seem to have a much more egalitarian approach to life.
And Norm has noticed something else. People are happier; people are kinder; and there’s much more togetherness in Hexham. Less hate, less racism, less envy and anger. Norm wanders into the park and sits on one of the many benches in front of the bandstand. There’s always some kind of arts or music event going on. People like to watch the entertainment while having their lunch. It all feels very continental.
And that makes Norm think about something else. Summers in the north-east are now longer, hotter and wetter. There’s no doubt climate change has made a difference. But at least the Washington climate agreement is into its tenth year and progress is being made. Only this week a new hydro-electric plant has opened on the River Tyne. Solar farms are springing up and hundreds of thousands of trees planted where sheep once grazed. More people are eating less meat, so farming has adapted.
Norm arrives in Market Place where an organic farmers’ market is thriving. There are far fewer shops in Hexham these days. But Government grants have helped restore most of the buildings which have been converted into flats. Fifty per cent are council owned at affordable rents. The town is alive these days.
Norm sits down beside the old Abbey. The great building is a reminder of Hexham’s violent past: The Battle of Hexham in 1464; the Hexham Riot of 1761. But today, he thinks, the world seems a better place. A more hopeful place. It’s because people started to work together, started to tell politicians what they really wanted to enrich their lives; because they began to collectively make things happen; because they made companies work for the people through protest, social pressure, and market forces; because people stopped turning a blind eye and began to stare the world full in the face. Because of all these things the world changed and Tynedale was transformed.
This is the new Norm.