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I poke holes in our condoms by Manu St. Thomas

I poke holes in our condoms by Manu St. Thomas


This story is one long breathless sentence, which is a risk, but it’s something I love when it’s done well. And here it is done incredibly well. I ran the gamut of emotions reading this story...So much of life and the tension of human relationships is in these 293 words. - Tania Hershman

How I did it

I was brought up in Romania and live in Germany at the moment, so English is not my first language. I work as a freelance translator, mainly for gaming companies and websites, which means I’ve been reading game lore and fantasy in English for free. Recently I started writing seriously in English – which has been a challenge!

My two-year plan started with enrolling on a course with Curtis Brown Creative; and I’m currently on my second year of a Creative Writing MFA at the Open University. The curriculum included some of Tania Hershman’s work, so I thought it was a sign that I had to enter this competition.

Flash fiction is my first love as a genre. As a non-native speaker I feel very much at home there, because I need to put a lot of thought into every sentence.

When I first started, I was double-checking every word. I envy people who can just write 10,000 words effortlessly.

I’ve been focusing on developing my flash practice, but my plan is to move on to short stories, then eventually progress to the novel.

This piece was inspired by something I read on the true confessions website People confess something they’re ashamed of on a postcard and send it anonymously to the editors. One of these secrets, ‘I poke holes in our condoms’, stirred something in me. I’m in a relationship with a very attractive man, and I tried to imagine why I might do something like that. Most of my stories involve deep explorations of one mind, one decision, one moment.

I decided to write it in a single sentence as a challenge to see whether I could manage it – and also because I wanted to convey a sense of breathlessness, because she’s confessing and she’s ashamed, so she wants to get the words out as quickly as possible. But I wrote it really slowly, of course, like everything I write.

MANU ST. THOMAS is a freelance proofreader and translator of English into Romanian, specialising in computer games. In the mornings she freelances; in the afternoon she morphs into a creative writing student studying for an MFA. She studied philosophy at uni, then worked in publishing and advertising before getting into translation.


 The Finalists

  • Claire Williams for 'Mushy peas in a carton, please'
  • Jennifer Roberts for 'Visiting hour'
  • Sandra Hirons for 'The usefulness of dark oaths'

The Shortlist

  • Lucienne Cummings for 'So you thought being a bride of Dracula would be glamorous?'
  • Melanie Henderson for 'Be everything'
  • Rosaleen Lynch for 'Gone'
  • Lucy Peters for 'Believe it or not'
  • Lydia Clark for 'What remains'
  • Hannah Retallick for 'She will (to do, to be, to become)'
  • Natasha Tate for 'Shifting sands'
  • Jennifer Steil for 'Aikorkem'

Read all the winning stories in our Best Women's Short Fiction Anthology 2023


Meet the winners of all competitions