Alison Woodhouse's wonderful novella in flash,The House on the Corner which received a special commendation by judge Michael Loveday in our fourth yearly Bath Novella-in-Flash Award earlier this year, is now open for pre-order on Ad Hoc Fiction with FREE world-wide shipping. It will be released for sale on 30th October, when it will also be available on Amazon and as an ebook. The stunning cover image for the book is by artist and writer Jeanette Sheppard. You can read Michael Loveday's comments about the novella in his judge's report and in Jude's interview with her below, Alison describes how she went about writing it and how it exciting she found the process. This makes fascinating reading and is very useful for anyone thinking of embarking on writing a novella-in-flash for our 2021 Award or for any other purpose.
Synopsis: Set at the end of the eighties and early nineties, The House on The Corner traces the changes in the lives of a middle-class nuclear family. As history unfolds outside the house, an ever-deepening crisis threatens the fragile, tenuous connections within.
- What inspired the idea and how did you go about it?
I moved around a lot as a child of an RAF parent, and the houses we lived in on camp were always identical, like boxes, cleared out every couple of years for the new family. There was even a marching out ritual! I’ve moved many times as an adult too, living mostly in older houses (the oldest being a seventeenth century ex pub) with much longer histories, but I always have the same feeling, that I’m only there for a while, adding another imprint, like the rings on a tree trunk if you like. Houses endure (mostly!) and the people who live in them come and go. I know this isn’t everyone’s experience and I’ve always been fascinated and slightly envious of people who think of the places they grew up in as ‘home’ or who spend their entire life in the same place, but for me, writing a lot about family, I think of the house almost like a stage where the drama unfolds.
The house itself is impassive, both a blank canvas (tabula rasa) where the inhabitants invent themselves and a mirror, wiped clean at the end of each tenancy. The end of the eighties and early nineties witnessed major upheavals globally, which I have a particular interest in, and I wanted to layer that within the minor but still seismic changes in individual lives. This produces tension, like different vibrations. My characters often feel helpless, washed along by a powerful tide they can’t see or understand, which is Time itself. People create rituals within families, to try and feel safe, yet they’re always being threatened by time passing. The father, Michael, understands at the end that life is flux and change and instead of being fearful and resistant, he accepts it. Finally, I didn’t actually plan to write it for the competition but I found myself alone for a week just before the deadline and I had the idea of the house standing empty, the estate agent imagining who would live there. As I started to write I could ‘see’ all the characters in my head and I felt like I was weaving or plaiting, jumping time and point of view with such refreshing freedom. I can honestly say it was one of the most extraordinary, exciting writing experiences I’ve had.
- What was the trickiest part of writing it and the trickiest part of the of form generally?
I didn’t give myself a lot of time, which made it harder in some ways because it was spinning plates, but in other ways that kept the energy up and I loved the whole process. It is tricky to make the various points of view sound different because I am writing in close third but I hope I’ve managed, by making their stories relevant to their personalities. It’s also hard to know when to stop! I originally imagined writing a longer book, with different families moving into The House. I think this is a fascinating form and I love reading novellas in flash. They can encompass the world of a novel, through glimpses that connect and resonate. I’m not a musician but I think of it like music, harmonising different instruments.
- What were the most atisfying aspects of writing it?
I loved using repetition and symbolism between the individual stories to help connect them. Also, combining my love of flash fiction and longer form.
Your advice for anyone wanting to write a novella-in-flash?
Start earlier! Or not! You don’t need to know the whole thing and individual flashes can be written in any order, slotting in where you feel there is weakness or gaps, but for me I think having an ending in mind when I began helped, as there was a finite shape to it, a definite arc which I could play with, expanding or contracting as I wanted. Don’t tell us everything. This form really suits writers who want the connections to be made by the reader.