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Flash Fiction Competition Winners 2023

By - 31 March 2023 - 09:30am

Read the winning entries from 2023's competition

Derby Book Festival, has announced the winners of its 2023 Flash Fiction Writing Competition, which this year was on the subject of ‘Light’. The challenge was to write a story of up to fifty words and we received our second highest number of entries since the competition started in 2015: 567 across five categories.

The Festival, which is funded by the University of Derby and Arts Council England with sponsorship from local businesses and individuals, will be held from 19 – 27 May 2023.

The winners: Martin Barker (18 and over), Maria Rowlands (12 – 17 years) and Jack Stokes-Barrett (11s and under) each receive a £50 Waterstones token and a framed copy of their illustrated story.

There was also a category for HMP Foston Hall for the third time which generated 24 entries. We were delighted that we also received entries from HMP Sudbury for the first time, generating 8 entries. The judges also chose Highly Commended stories in both categories.

The winning stories will be illustrated by Guiyu Lin, who won a separate competition for University of Derby second year Illustration and Design students. The stories and illustrations will be printed onto a set of Festival bookmarks which will be available at this year’s Festival. These will be distributed across Derby and Derbyshire to promote the Festival.

The winning stories were chosen by a panel of three: performance poet Dan Webber, author and librettist Shreya Sen-Handley and Laura Stroud, Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Derby.

The competition, a key activity since the Festival’s inception in 2015, attracts hundreds of entries each year. In previous years, writers have been invited to tackle a variety of themes: ‘Love’, ‘Secrets’, ‘Journeys’, ‘If Only’, ‘Our World’, ‘Space’ and ‘Home’. The theme can be interpreted as widely as the author wishes, so long as the story is no more than fifty words.

This year we asked the Under 11s to submit a poem rather than a story as we are keen to raise the profile of poetry amongst this age group, particularly as we are welcoming the Children’s Laureate, poet and author Joseph Coelho to this year’s Festival for the primary schools’ Meet the Author event.

Festival Chair, Liz Fothergill CBE said: “We were delighted that we received so many entries again this year across all categories. The competition really encourages children and parents to be creative.”

“It was wonderful to receive entries from both HMP Foston Hall and HMP Sudbury, offering them this wonderful creative opportunity.”

The full list of winning stories and the runners-up stories in each category are available below:

18 and over
Winner: Martin Barker
Scared of the Dark

As a child, he slept with the lights on, so that the monsters wouldn’t find him. Now Charley sleeps on a bench under the streetlights and the monsters look the other way.

Highly Commended:
Laura James
Nightshift walk home

It's only five minutes... yet a lifetime. My “click-clack” heels punctuate dim silence. Sensing the crosshair of hidden hunters, I won’t be picked off. Light is my shield: a streetlamp’s glowing force-field; my torch’s glare (I could be anyone behind here). I’m just walking home. It won’t be me, too.

Isaac Porter
Finger Hairs

I noticed now, at twenty-one, while sitting down to write: thin hairs along my fingers, sparse and light. That they would grow there, had not occurred to me. Tracing lines across my palm, remembering a time before they had come. Summers had been cooler then, and winters light with calm.

Joy Clews
The Cost of Living

The checkout assistant scans my last item and sends it barrelling down the metal slope towards me. It goes in my shopping bag with the rest of this week’s groceries. After paying, I leave the supermarket with a light bag and an even lighter purse.

12-17 year olds
Winner: Maria Rowlands

Is it a feeling? An emotion? An object?
I’ll tell you.
It’s when you understand Pythagoras;
When people like you for who you are;
When your sibling comes running to you at the end of the day.
It’s when you feel loved, respected.
This is light: indescribable yet perfect.

Highly Commended:

Evie Lawson

Sunlight no longer warms the world, which sinks under icy, black water. Enveloped in ink, unrecognisable, a nightmarish void amidst blackness. Years ago, these eyes saw light - candles flickered in bedrooms and streetlights led to safety. Ice covers, kills. Even my soul feels dark. Where did the light go?

Eisha Chandi

They’re swarming around me, dodging, ducking, bobbing, weaving an elaborate pattern. Their luminous bulbs light up the night sky, a beautiful sight, a symphony accompanied by their chirrups. Fireflies, a million little pieces, all merged together, working as an orchestra might work in harmony.

11 years and under
Winner: Jack Stokes-Barrett
To the Light

My eyes sprang open.
In a dark, gloomy cave.
Where was I?
Then I realised.
I needed light.
I quickly sprang into action.
My moth body fluttered up and soared through the narrow tunnel.
I flew until I saw a speck of light.
Or so I thought!

Highly Commended:

Betsy Taylor

Dark surrounds me, I’m not of this world I’m asleep
Prod, prod, prod
A slit of light pokes me
Through my woollen curtains
Warm, golden, fingers stoke my hair
I‘m awake
We can dance and play
What do you say?
We swirl and twirl
In the light of the day.

Erin Kendall
The Unbright Light

I climbed in the attic on Sunday past
The bulb didn't last.
It was creepy and spidery,
We changed the bulb fast.
I climbed down the ladder
Feeling much happier,
We flipped on the new bulb
t didn't work ... still dark ... disaster.

HMP Sudbury

Winner: Daniel
The Hunt

Nobody had one; I tore through the crowds with earnest ferocity. Perhaps it was the alcohol induced fugue state or merely the taste of unlit cotton that gave me a blurred determination that only the scratch of a stranger’s flint and steel could cure. Then finally “ere you go mate”

Highly Commended:

The Light of Hope

"Will it hurt," he wondered, as he waited for the headlights of a train to come. This was the only way to find peace! Lights came towards him, he braced himself, when one of the lights dipped! A voice said "Are you O.K?

Night Light

My story begins on a cold winter’s day fishing waiting for the morning light to break, when all of a sudden my bike alarm was triggered. I grabbed the rod and there was something heavy on the end. It was a forty pound mirror carp, a fish of a lifetime for myself.

HMP Foston Hall

Winner: Michelle

Last Light

Crashing waves cool heat-baked sands. Salty breeze gently caresses all it touches. Alone she stands, watching. The setting sun washes the water in tones of red and burnt orange. She stands there each day, until last light calls her to return home. Waiting for a ship that never comes.

Highly Commended:

Waiting for that light bulb moment

It burns…
But you can't touch it.
It flicks on…
But you can't hear it.
It's weight…
But you can't hold it.
It's all or nothing.
Should I look directly at it?
It could change everything.


Falling deeper into despair.
The black dog of depression eating me up
No strength or will to fight
Darkness holding me tightly in its grasp
Comforting, familiar, cold. Just a tiny shard of light
Can bring me back to life.
A reality I'm unsure of wanting.

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