Flash Frontier

NFFD 2023: New writing from the judges

Interviews and Features

In this special feature, we share work from our NFFD 2023 judges: David Eggleton and Airini Beautrais, who judged the NFFD adult competition; Mikaela Nyman, who co-judged the Micro Madness competition; and Joanna Cho, who judged the NFFD youth competition.


Airini Beautrais: Tiny head


The cats keep leaving bits of things that were formerly living, now just mangled anatomy. A butt of a mouse, a bird’s leg. So it doesn’t surprise me, at first, to see a fleshy lump lying next to their bowls. But it does surprise me when I bend down and look at it. My glasses are the wrong prescription, and I keep taking them off and putting them down places and forgetting where. So I squat on the floor, peer closely at the lump and see it is a tiny head. I think mouse or rat, but the ears are on the sides and the eyes in the front and this face has no fur, it is a tiny human face. Not a Barbie head flung by a lawnmower. A real head, with hair, and a mouth with teeth, and a wet place where a neck was. It’s about the size of a fifty cent coin. The current fifty cents, not the big old one. Wallets are lighter nowadays.

Obviously, it upsets me that the cats have done this. It also upturns all my ideas about nature. This is the kind of thing that could force a re-write of the textbooks. As a child, I believed there were fairies in the garden, but I don’t anymore. This face is not a fetal or embryonic face, its eyes are fully formed and open, and its proportions are adult. I will have to call a zoology department, or forensics, about the head, but right now, I am too freaked out to do anything, so I get a Ziplock bag out of the drawer in the kitchen, seal the head in it, and put it in the fridge. I think about the freezer, but then I wonder if it might be further damaged by freezing, and be harder to study. I put the bag with the head at the back of the fridge, behind the chutney and olives and half a jar of crystallized jam that I’ll never eat, and go back to my computer. I normally avoid the dry jobs until the last possible minute, but I choose the most boring task I can find.

When it’s late, I turn off the computer and the desk light and run a bath. I like to listen to music in the bath, so I have speakers rigged up outside the door, to avoid humidity. I have the door open so I can hear the speakers, and the window too, because the neighbours like to listen to loud electronic dance music, and I think it’s only fair, now and again, to treat them to loud classical. I put on a record of Smetana’s string quartets. I disrobe and sink into the water. It slowly goes cold around my limbs. The record finishes, the house goes quiet.

In bed, I hear tiny footsteps. Not the footsteps of children: my children are semi-adult now, anyway. One is working a late shift at a petrol station, one is at a friend’s house, the other is away on an exchange in Japan. There is more than one set of feet. They are small but decisive. I hear them coming up the stairs from the basement, into the kitchen. There is a sense of urgency about them. I always leave my bedroom door open at night, a left-over from when the children were young and had nightmares, when they needed to know I was there, and the path to me was clear. I always hear the sounds of the fridge at night: the weird clucks it sometimes makes, as the coolant circulates. The footsteps cross the kitchen floorboards.

I leave everything open. My curtains are open, because I like to see the stars, and the moon. The moon is almost full, tonight, so there is a certain amount of light in the house. My door is open. I know that when they realise they can’t get into the fridge, I will hear the footsteps coming down the hall, towards my bedroom. There is no delicious anticipation about this, only a crescendo of dread. I can hide under the blankets, but they will come, closer and closer. I should not have put that head in the fridge. I can put the pillow over my head, but they will stand in my doorway, pad over the rug towards my bed. Their little hands will grasp the trailing sheets and they will begin to climb. I have something of theirs. They will be speaking in a language I don’t understand, but I will know what they mean.

Airini Beautrais, Tracey Grant Photography

photo credit Tracey Grant

Airini Beautrais won the 2021 Jann Medlicott Acorn prize for fiction at the Ockham NZ Book Awards for her short story collection Bug Week (THWUP, 2020). She is also the author of four collections of poetry, including Flow: Whanganui River Poems (THWUP, 2017). Her first collection, Secret Heart (THWUP, 2006), won the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry at the 2007 NZ Book Awards. In 2016 she won the Landfall Essay Prize, and her work has also appeared in a range of journals and anthologies in Aotearoa and elsewhere. She has also been a judge for a number of awards, including the 2018 NZ Book Awards. She lives in Whanganui with her two sons and two cats.


David Eggleton: Gog and Magog


When the sun goes down, the twin peaks
of Gog and Magog stand together.
Gog’s eye springs open; Magog’s mouth closes.
Gog jogs on; Magog plays mahjong.
Gog’s wounds cause rage. Magog’s foot’s gone to sleep.
Gog’s bod is at odds with Magog’s noggin.
Gog’s gone widdershins, and spins into a bog.
Magog’s got hooks into Gog’s sooks.
Magog plays leapfrog; Gog’s agog.
Magog’s befogged; Gog feels odd.
Doggone, by Gog’s Own Country; egad, by Magog’s blood.
Strewth, Gog’s truth runs into Magog’s demagoguery.
Gog and Magog giggle and goggle all night long;
then the sun comes up over their twin peaks, again.

David EggletonDavid Eggleton was the Aotearoa New Zealand Poet Laureate between August 2019 and August 2022. He has edited Landfall and Landfall Review Online as well as the Phantom Billstickers Café Reader. Currently he is back editing Landfall Review Online. His book The Conch Trumpet won the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry. Also in 2016, he received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry. David’s collection, The Wilder Years: Selected Poems, was published by Otago University Press in 2021 and a new collection, Respirator: A Laureate Collection 2019 -2022, is published by Otago University Press in March 2023. He lives in Ōtepoti Dunedin.


Mikaela Nyman: If you seek her monument

In memory of Birgit Brauer


Between leaves: a shimmering
thousands of sequins on a nude branch

Consignments of seeds and plants he exported
tonnes of pinus radiata, trainloads of flax

Our daughters stand where her clothed body lay
at the foothills of the Kaitake ranges

Come 1970, his Westown nursery was the largest
Antipodean exporter and importer of shrubs

Whorls in ink, a fingerprint
a smudge on a dead woman’s address book

This cathedral of sequoia in Lucy’s Gully
a gift rooted in depression slowly unfurling

His only mistake: a mark that looks
like the cross-section of the hill

Around that time, Davies won the inaugural Loder Cup
for an exhibition of five hundred New Zealand plants

But on this New Year’s Day no one is here to breathe in
the redwood, not even the owner of the dress

Each plant labelled and named
with their appropriate growing conditions

She is the reason we still hike
Lucy’s Gully in packs

Mikaela NymanMikaela Nyman is an editor and writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry in English and Swedish. Her essay on, and translation of, New Zealand poet Helen Heath’s work was published by Ellips in Finland in 2022. Read an interview with Mikaela and Helen in Flash Frontier. Widely anthologised, most recently in No Other Place to Stand (2022) and Madness: a world poetry anthology (2023). Writer in Residence for Massey University and Palmerston North City in 2021. NZ Radio Awards finalist 2023 with Sugar Loafing Arts Cast. Co-editor of Sista, Stanap Strong! A Vanuatu Women’s Anthology (Te Herenga Waka Press, 2021).


Joanna Cho: Mussel Buoys

There’d been a storm, so we were the only ones at the campsite. We pitched the tent by a sprawling pōhutukawa tree, the silver pegs leaving hypertrophic scars in the wet earth. The grass was wet, the clothes and towels we’d tied to the branches with ropes to dry were wet. All the ends flew like kites — the clothes, the ropes, our hair, soaring and then drooping, like waiting out a scene in a dream where you’re flying higher and higher, but too soon you start to sink, feet nearly dragging on the floor, and you have to muster enormous strength to float again.

The only person we saw during those days was a local farmer with a Jack Russell called Molly. She said an old rubbish dump had been exhumed by a large slip and now you could find antique liquor bottles a few bays over. We became interested, even though we’d had no prior interest in collecting, I guess it was something to do, something to have. It was summer and we’d let our phones die.

The car was filled with trash and rubbish bags of stuff we’d packed for the month. It stunk of the Bachelors handbag we’d been having for dinner, you know, the bagged roast chickens. The clouds choked out the sky, just one column of a strained neck.

The night the rain stopped was the night we saw the first mussel buoy. The air had a puffy, buoyant quality and the sea was an orange clay mask. I saw something bobbing in the waves. It looked big and rocked in a slow, metronomic rhythm that made me doubt it was a person, but just in case, I ran down the bank and shouted at him to come check it out. He was doing a poo in the public toilets, but he sped it up and then we just stood there, arms around each other’s waists, waiting.

As it got closer, we saw it was a black, plastic thing, shaped sort of like a blown up pearl in a Neptune’s Necklace. There was nothing to diminish our hope, then, and that feeling seemed to draw in the object, and that made us feel powerful, which in turn magnified the hope. We fantasised it could be a case of cocaine, we’d be rich, and if an armed group showed up in cars, we’d outrun them. When it washed up we saw it was just a mussel buoy, but its size and unexpected arrival was enough for us to want to keep it, so he pulled it up the hill, gripping the small cut of tattered rope left from when it had broken off from its farm.

That night, the wind thrashed, trying to shake off the quilted sky. The waves revved up snores, the night around it consciously still, trying to keep from waking it up. The sea grunted, sleeptalked instructions and then rolled clumsily on its side. I dreamt of a mako shark with a human face, baby blue lashes all around its shrivelled, pruney eyes, like cracks in ice sheets. It was small and flat, laying in a low plastic tub with just a few inches of water.

In the morning I woke with the same mild panic in my stomach, but it was summer, nothing was wrong.

For breakfast we ate canned tuna, the tin lid carefully folded into a spoon. Then he said he was going to do some exercise and disappeared. I reminded myself that if you’re jealous of some quality some person has, then you should just try harder to get good at it. But I set up a low camper chair and leaned back against the big mussel buoy, settled into a book. A couple hours later he appeared over the hill, panting, pulling a second mussel buoy.

In the days that followed, more and more buoys turned up, each one identical, each much bigger than me. They looked like vessels, portents. They became a chore, a burden, but he couldn’t let them go. He complained that once he saw one he couldn’t leave it, but he said it with a smile. The wind sounded like the cracking of mussel shells. The buoys littered the field.

On the final night, deep into the jammy dark, the birds screamed. They screamed on and on; sometimes it sounded like they were getting closer. Then I felt them in my chest, wings beating, climbing up my throat. I clamped my teeth shut. Scared, I kicked him a couple times but he didn’t wake up.

In the morning I began cleaning the car, got it ready for our drive back. Brushed sand off the seats, binned fruit peels and empty cans. I found some pallid bits of chicken on the floor and gathered them to throw to the birds, but he stopped me, said, “I’ll eat them.” The plastic bachelor’s handbag blew out the door, I didn’t see where it went.

Joanna ChoJoanna Cho / 조은선 is a writer and editor. Her debut book People Person was published by Te Herenga Waka University Press in 2022.



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