The short list for the NORMAL SUCCESS Award is up. You can find them all here   Mrs Williamson’s Rose Garden – Charlie Novak Better Than Most – L White The Box – Jane Basil Grading On A Curve – Joey To Fingernails – Clarissa NG (Student)

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  The last time I cooked dolmades, you told me that for years, out of consideration for my feelings, you had avoided mentioning that dolmades were no longer your favourite dish. That you were so sick of them that it was hard to swallow even the first few mouthfuls. I realised that our meals had become dull and repetitive, so I stopped cooking dolmades, and found new recipes, using unusual and exotic ingredients. You read a book at the table, leaving the food to get cold, or sometimes eating distractedly. You offered no comment. You seemed tired. To re-awaken your interest, I wore a daring dress. You told me it was too tight, and that it was time to embrace the dignity of middle age. How right you were. It …

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  Mr Davis hummed to himself as he trimmed the hedges. The lovely rose bushes that his neighbours grew along their white picket fence weren’t looking as well kept as usual. His neighbours must have agreed, because a few minutes later an elderly woman came outside armed with gardening gloves, pruning shears, and fertiliser. Mrs Williamson. That was her name. She and her husband had introduced themselves when he moved in. Must’ve been five years ago now. It was normally her husband who did the gardening. She reminded Mr Davis of his own mother, always pottering around in the garden. His mother had loved flowers. Mrs Williamson, however, didn’t have his mother’s knack. She clipped the rose canes in the wrong places and put too much fertiliser on some plants …

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From behind the counter, Harry slides an empty cup towards Rob. “Morning. Scrambled eggs with bacon and toast?” Rob nods. “And hash browns please.” The waitress pours steaming black coffee into the cup. “You hardly ever have that.” “Need the energy to work on that new picket fence of yours, right?” says Harry as he grabs the bowl of egg and cream mixture from the fridge underneath the bench. Rob smiles and glances at the television in the corner. It’s showing the news as usual, something about some president reminding everyone that his country still got plenty of nukes. Harry shakes his head. “Crazy bastard.” He ladles the egg mixture into the pan. It hisses. “Hey, doesn’t your grandson have a test today or something? He doing well?” “Yeah, they …

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With a scowl on her face, Henri’s teacher told me what had happened. ‘Your son is only thirteen, Madam. This is serious.’ ‘I apologize on his behalf. I’ll have a talk with him.’ She sighed, seemingly dissatisfied. ‘A student’s education isn’t the sole responsibility of the school. The family also needs to take an active role.’ Is she trying to say I failed in educating my son? ‘Henri is still young. He needs plenty of guidance,’ she continued. I mustered a smile. ‘I understand.’ ‘Well then, thank you for coming.’ I bowed at her, and left. Henri was standing near the door, head hung low. ‘Let’s go,’ I said. He nodded. We left the school and walked to the main road. The entire time, Henri was quiet. ‘Are you going …

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  I wake up. At least I think I am awake. I can feel the faintest sense of sunlight on my skin, filtering through my eyelids, gently urging me to wake up. But I can’t move. My breathing feels laboured. My heart struggles with every beat. It can’t be morning, surely not already, I’m exhausted. Just lying here, feeling the sunshine, breathing in and out – it’s all so exhausting. That’s the only problem when you have a medical mind like mine. You know what your body has been up to all night – breathing, beating, digesting, repairing, regenerating. If only I could stop all of that activity, just for a minute, I might be able to summon the energy to get out of bed. But it doesn’t and I …

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 3. Choosing a winner is never easy. In fact, it can be downright impossible. At Needle we use different judges for every award. Former winners, short listers, friends, people we meet on the street. We believe that everyone’s voice should be heard, and that doesn’t just mean for writers. Still, choosing is never easy. Third place this week goes to “The Choice”  2. Needle turned two recently.  In those 24 months we’ve seen some wonderful stories pass through the short lists. Debb Bouch’s Troika is no different, taking out a close second with a moving triple edit. 1 Our winner this week engaged the spirit of the award  with a unique and entertaining vingette. Both comical and poignant, it’s pleasing to see this author’s recent efforts haven’t been in vain. …

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#1 Frigging great! She’s steered me down the tampon aisle and now we’re parked, window shopping here. Like she hasn’t bought these exact same products for at least two decades already. I’ve been ditched here before, while she ran clear across the supermarket to grab a bag of grapes. Oh, and when I say “ran”, I mean my geriatric grandmother moves quicker. And she died, two years ago. Speaking of which… sorry… Speaking of which, I’m kind of glad that if we are loitering, it’s in this particular aisle, since it means – well, you know. She needs them. Phew! We had a scare last year… Well, it terrified me. As it turned out… the pair of us just congenitally run late for everything. Like this weekend. The boys’ll have …

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  #1 The Palace Bar was meant to be a refuge for all the poofs, queers, and trannies chewed up and spat out by the virulent streets of the 1980s. Meant to be. Inside, Phil smashed a bottle over the countertop. “What did you do, you motherfucker?” A young man lay motionless on the floor, skin pale as snow. Mal stood over him, his face twisted in a malicious sneer. “The idiot little poofter has off’d himself.” Phil moved forward, enraged and swiping at Mal with the broken bottle, but two patrons held him back. “What the fuck have you done?” Mal let out a derisive laugh, “Didn’t need to do a fucking thing, your gutter-junkie of a whore did it all to himself. Not my fault he can’t hold …

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  Draft 1. The Cake. By Patrick Fisher. I first met the cake at Dino’s Diner; a smoky, dangerous bar in an unfashionable part of town. It sat at the bar alone, staring into its whiskey on the rocks. I slid onto the stool beside it, and threw my own order at the barman; double vodka, no junk. As he poured my drink I turned my head to the cake. “Rough day?” I asked. “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.” The cake replied. It through down the last splash of whiskey and nodded to the bartender for another. A dollop of icing dripped onto the bar as it put the glass down. A three piece band was unpacking its gear in the corner. “Ever been in love?” The …

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First Catch Blistering. Summer heat. The sun was high. My neck felt itchy, the result of an overdue haircut. ‘James!’ someone shouted. ‘Get the ball.’ I looked up and squinted. The ball was too high. No way I could reach it. Giving up, I let it fly across the grass field. It fell with a thump on the slope and rolled down to the pavement. I ran leisurely behind to retrieve it. I thought the ball was going to stop anyway, but it continued rolling to the main road. Across the street, a woman and her son were standing at the bus stop. She was on her phone, while the little boy was stomping around, restless. Upon seeing the ball, he dashed across the street. A taxi came at a …

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Katy trudged upwards dragging the sledge behind her. Her brother seemed to weigh more every time she climbed the hill. The snow was mushy now, more like cold porridge than ice crystals. The sledge sank deeper into the ruts from the last few runs until she couldn’t go any higher up the hill. “Up, Katy, up,” Bobby cried. “Can’t go no further, Bobs. You’re too heavy.” He cried in earnest. Shuddering, heart rending sobs that shook his whole body. Katy sighed and sat down on the sledge wrapping her arms around him. “Hush now. Don’t cry Bobs. Maybe there’ll be more snow tomorrow.” She hugged him close. He stopped sobbing and squirmed round to look at her. “Katy, promise? Please?” “Can’t promise nothing. Depends on the weather gods.” And Ma, …

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  Draft 1 Sand. It was a merciless creature, squirming into the smallest gaps, whipping holes into robes, weighing down the men who were foolish enough to go to the marketplace during Jumu’ah. There was no clink of coins, no hustle and bustle, no children weaving through, throwing their heads in merry laughter. Only the man, the wrinkled plum, was seated sedately amidst the beast which reared and tossed and clawed. He grasped his keffiyeh and wound it tighter around his head with brittle fingers. He had sat there, through incessant clamouring and days where if he laid down with sun-dried eyelids closed and allowed the beast to trample over him, he could hear his heartbeat, the rhythm of a feeble spirit trapped within a decaying shell. In front of …

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(Draft 1) Circumnavigating Wallace Terrace Wallace Terrace’s farmer’s market was unusually busy for the early hour that it was. For an observer, the behaviour of the civilians would also appear very peculiar. While busy public spaces usually resound with shouting, whistling and general bustle, there was none such ruckus here. Such a silence could surely mean nothing good. In fact, the majority of civilians in Wallace Terrace that day practically crept from stall to stall. Some of the stallholders attempted conversation, but the most they got in return was a nervous start. It was almost as though those that busied the market weren’t there for shopping. Most peculiar indeed! The cheery-mouthed Sally was the most notable exception to this rule. She skipped all about in red-spotty stockings and her laughter …

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My phone buzzes on the kitchen counter. I know that more than three vibrations means someone is trying to call, but I don’t want to get up and check who it is—the television is on, I have a drink nearby, and it’s the first chance I’ve had to relax all day. I ignore it. It stops buzzing, and then starts again. The vibration is only brief this time—a voicemail alert. It can wait. If it’s urgent, whoever it is will surely call again. I turn up the volume. I doze for a little while, the constant chatter of reality television an effective white noise machine. I’m woken by the explosions of the late night news. I drag myself to bed and disappear. I wake. At first I think I have …

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The Mysterious Lady The woman carefully approached the group of soldiers. Smoking their cigarettes and cracking jokes, the Germans seemed unaware of the fate that was hovering above their steel helmets. Blond Fury, as everyone knew her, signaled to one of the teenage boys hidden underneath the shrubbery across the street. He nodded, and she noticed him copying her signal to someone outside of her view. She counted ten seconds, before she left her lurking-place and ran towards the group. She noticed the others doing the same. The soldiers never knew what hit them when she and her group slit their throats. Upon hearing about the attack, Hermann Goering was furious. “I demand this situation to be handled must!” he screamed to the men around the table. “I’m on it, …

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I really enjoyed the short list for this award. The brief called for subtly and we got that, but I think we also got a lot of little windows into varied worlds of NITH authors. Writing is a shared experience, but every story is different and unique in it’s own way. There’s also a bit of magic in marine life. Here’s hoping we don’t destroy it all one day. Not an easy decision for our judges this time around. A close set of scores but a clear winner. Third place was shared between Bread and Tuna  and Where the Waves Meet the Shore. Second place was also shared, this time by Would You? and Fish in Aquariums. Luckily there was only one winner. Congrats to Daniel Norrish for his wonderful second …

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This month saw the release of Grimdark Magazine #1. Here’s my awesome review! SHADOW HUNTER Adrian Tchaikovsky’s opening story takes deep into the Insect Kinden world of Shadows off the Apt. Gaved, a freelance, fire conjuring Wasp teams up with two bandits to seek out the Moth, a scholar of dark arts in a time of logic and machinery. All thw grimdark stable are there. A damaged hero in a violent world. Magic, double crosses and a giant… OK OK no spoilers! It’s a taut, impeccably balanced tale that sets the tone for the rest of the magazine. THE NEUTRAL Grimdark of a more contemporary bent. Mike Gelpin’s The Neutral is part action thriller part existential crisis. After losing his wife and daughter our protagonist joins the Brotherhood. A group …

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