Pre-orders open for ‘Stormbred’, a novella-in-flash by Eleanor Walsh

Eleanor Walsh won the 2019 Novella-in-Flash Award with her stunning novella, set in Nepal, Birds With Horse Hearts. Stormbred, Eleanor's second novella-in-flash received a special commendation from judge Michael Loveday in our 2020 Novella-in-Flash Awards. You can now pre-order it with FREE worldwide shipping from Ad Hoc Fiction and it will be released on 30th October.

Stormbred is another brilliant novella about young women living on the edge. We are very happy that it will soon be published by Ad Hoc Fiction, the fifth novella-in-flash recently open for pre-order of the seven out before Christmas this year. In Jude's interview with Ellie below, you can find out about the story, what inspired it, the research Ellie undertook, her female protagonists and the strong presence of water that features in both her novellas. And make to sure to read her tip for writing your own novella at the end of this interview.

    Interview
  • Stormbred is the second novella in flash of yours that Ad Hoc Fiction is publishing. You won the 2019 Award with Birds with Horse Hearts and the book has been dispatched all over the world. What inspired this new novella?
    I’ve been a fan of an Ian McEwan since I was a kid and I always liked the way he wrote grotesque, surrealist love stories that almost slipped into a new dimension. Sometimes they were about obsessive stalkers, other times even stranger subjects like dogs or mannequins. It was a trope I leaned into with Stormbred; the story of a teenage-girl who becomes infatuated with a photo of a Bosnian refugee called Leonela in the newspaper, and becomes convinced that Leonela is headed for the Cornish coast. I was keen on the idea of unrealistic infatuation born from extreme loneliness, so I wrote a protagonist who had been catastrophically let down or abandoned by everyone else in her life, so this is her initial foray into an imagined reality where a woman who intimately understands poverty and hardship will somehow comprehend her in a way that nobody else has before. Ruby’s absence of faith in her ability to get people to like her is mitigated within this fantasy, because Leonela won’t understand English, so won’t get a chance to reject Ruby based on her personality, and also won’t have the means to abandon her. It’s written in second-person addressing Leonela – and as with Birds with Horse Hearts – it’s written in a non-linear narrative that jumps in and out of the fictive present, with much of the context appearing in flashbacks to the protagonist’s life at the boarding school to which she has been asked not to return.
  • What did you learn from writing Birds with Horse Hearts that you applied to writing Stormbred?

    While I was writing Stormbred I sometimes felt as if I had learned nothing! The idea felt like a non-starter for so long; I actually spent months on a first draft and then threw out the entire thing and started again from scratch. I wonder if that’s because Stormbred was conceived of and constructed in a totally different way from Birds. It’s far more plot-driven, where Birds was image and symbolism-based, and so it was a real learning curve for me to lead with a robust narrative.

    I also didn’t have to research prior to writing Birds, because the content came from my PhD fieldwork, whereas Stormbred required a huge amount of research as I had no prior knowledge of any of the elements of the story. I had to read extensively about the obvious components, like the Bosnian war and John Major’s response to the refugee crisis, and I also spent a long time on Reddit crowd-sourcing people’s experiences of being bullied or outed as gay at boarding school. I joined the Beltex sheep society and learned the care routine for March through June in detail, and read a lot about lambing practices and sheep diets and ailments. The book is set in 1993 which is before my lived memory, but not necessarily beyond the recollections of the reader, so I had to work hard to get the details right. Everything in the story is chronologically accurate down to the smallest detail: the lunar eclipse, the hantavirus outbreak, Operation Irma in Bosnia, even the release of Jurassic Park!

    I suppose the one thing I learned was to persevere with it, even after having thrown out the entire first draft. I reasoned that if I had finished one novella there was no reason to tap out before the end of the second.

    • In both of your novellas, I found the accounts of the brave struggles of the protagonists – young, poor women in testing situations – very moving. Would you agree that this particular focus on women is something largely unexplored in fiction? 
      Thank you, I’m glad to hear it’s a moving read! Both Birds and Stormbred involve female protagonists and secondary characters and there’s no discernible male presence in either of them, which is a fairly unusual dynamic. Archetypal female protagonists are usually defined by their relationships with men: even when they’re not romantic storylines, they’re still about women who find themselves dealing with a male antagonist. In reality when women are faced with struggles they seldom turn to men for help – nor do they curl up with a copy of The Bell Jar and cry – so my writing is not a political statement, just a literary reflection of reality.
    • The river was an important symbol in Birds with Horse Hearts and the ocean seems as significant in Stormbred. Is there something about the presence of water that helps facilitate a powerful setting?
      That’s true, I like to think that they facilitate strong settings and also support the protagonist’s progression through the story. For the women in Birds, the river is a symbol of subjugation. It cuts them off from the rest of the world and imprisons them in their village, smothering any autonomy in their own freedom or future. In Stormbred, the ocean is a force of duality: it takes away Ruby’s sheep by drowning them, but it’s also the ocean that will bring Leonela by dinghy to the shore. In reality it’s a source of peril for Ruby, and yet in her imagination, she re-writes it as the force that can give her everything she wants. By the ending it’s a symbol for renewal, for characters to absolve themselves of their pasts.
    • Have you been able to write during lockdown and if so, what have you been working on?
    • Yes, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to write a lot during lockdown. I wrote a handful of poems, some of which have been published, but the main thing I completed was my first novel called Stargazy which is also set in Cornwall, which I’ve just sent out for representation. I’m lucky enough to be in a group of fantastic and motivated writers and we’re always passing work back and forth, and I think that’s helped prevent any of us falling into a state of inactivity. I know it’s been difficult for writers who have children at home, so I’m fortunate in that respect. I have a rigid writing routine and my desk must be precise and never interfered with. I need a full spectrum of highlighters, a pack of Sticky Quips, a tea made with one of those teabags that affects grandiose by hanging on a piece of string, and my agave plant has to look hearty and ebullient. The distracting sound of a child’s laughter outside my window will usually send me on some kind of livid rampage, so I really am in awe of writers who’ve managed to keep working while they’ve been in lockdown with young families.

    • What is your top tip for anyone wanting to enter our next Novella in Flash Award?

    Have a ton of flash to work with. The luxury of being able to throw away massive amounts of material and only work with the pieces that best fit your project is a hugely beneficial starting point. The other thing that helped me was to continue reading constantly alongside my writing, which assisted my way into the material. I read representations of inadequate fathers, rural poverty, animal suffering, as well as many surrealist texts. Writing a novella-in-flash is like solving an agonizing riddle, but there are writers out there who already have the answers! Reading their solutions will help with your own.

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