With two weeks to go before the end of our 15th Award on June 7th, here's another fascinating interview in our winners' series, this time from Simon Cowdroy, second prize winning author in our February award judged by Santino Prinzi, to inspire all Last Minute Club writers. You can read Simon's wonderful story 'The Dissolution of Peter McCaffrey' here and it will be published by Ad Hoc Fiction in our end of year anthology along with the other winners, shortlisted and longlisted writers from our 2020 Awards. Simon tells us more about his writing process and his influences which include other writers like Australian Clive James and also the landscape in which he lives, pictured here. We asked him about his striking use of language and think his comment that he strives to use 'imagery derived from finding a powerful and unexpected way to frame the words' is very good advice for others who want to write memorable flash. We also like his other tips at the end of this piece and his suggestion to 'write as if it is your last chance to do so'. It was great to meet Simon at the Flash Fiction Festival last year and hope that when we hold the festival again (fingers crossed for such events), he can come again all the way from Australia, and we can hear him read it. Read in Full
Erica Plouffe Lazure was a runner up in the 2020 Bath Novella in Flash Award with her brilliant novella, Sugar Mountain .
You can read Michael Loveday's judge's comments on the novella in his report linked here. And Flash Frontier has posted a video of Erica reading a story from the novella which gives the flavour of the whole story, on the Flash Frontier You tube channel as part of the lead up to National Flash Fiction Day in New Zealand. In this fascinating interview, Erica talks about her writing process and how she finds time to write flash in her busy teaching year. Plus some great tips for those who want to embark on writing a novella-in-flash. We are very much looking forward to seeing Sugar Mountain in print, when it is published by Ad Hoc Fiction later this year. Read in Full
It's good to catch up with Sharon Telfer to find out more about 'Eight spare bullets', her second first prize win for Bath Flash Fiction Award, and about her writing in general. The first time Sharon won with another marvellous story, 'Terra Incognita' back in June, 2016, we learned she had been walking in the Welsh mountains and only found out about her success when she got home. This second time, she wasn't checking emails and social media because she was completing a big work project and discovered all the excitement at the end of the day!
The 15th Bath Flash Fiction Award judged by Mary Jane Holmes ends in three and a half weeks on June 7th. Mary Jane gave some great writing tips in her interview with us and there's more tips from Sharon at the end of this interview and in the quote below, near the beginning. It is a wonderful piece of advice for the current situation we are in, and has a particular reference to Sharon's winning story.
"...If you’re not writing for whatever reason, don’t force it and don’t despair. Those seeds are lying dormant, just like in the Svalbard vault. Give yourself time and what light and warmth and good soil you can. Germination always happens first unseen and underground.
Good luck to everyone entering our 15th Award. Results will be out at the end of the June."
Tracey Slaughter's brilliant novella if there is no shelter was one of two runners-up in the 2020 Novella-in-Flash Award judged by Michael Loveday. You can read Michael's comments on the novella in his judge's report and more about Tracey on our winners' page.
We are asking the same questions of all our winners and commended authors and it is fascinating to read that Tracey's novella was inspired by a list of emergency instructions at work and particularly the one phrase 'if there is no shelter' that ended up being the title of the novella. For those writing novellas, Tracey has the great advice to 'Banish doubt and trust the voices and don’t give up on those beautiful damaged characters'. We are so looking forward to seeing her novella in print. It will be published by Ad Hoc Fiction later this year.
- Can you give us a brief synopsis of your novella in flash?
if there is no shelter follows a young woman trying to pick up the pieces of home in the aftermath of an earthquake. As we trace the faltering steps she takes to try to restore her life, we discover the wreckage she was already leaving in her wake before the earthquake struck…a lover, a husband, the letter left stranded in a red-zoned building she cannot re-enter.
- What inspired it?
A poster pinned over the sink in the tea-room at work, where I found myself blinking, burnt-out between classes, clutching my cup with a thousand-yard stare – a stained & peeling list of emergency instructions that included the heading ‘If there is no shelter.’ That was it: somehow the heroine spoke, & started bringing her fragments to the surface…
- I am sure readers who are interested in writing in this form would love to know more about your writing process. Did it take some time for you to arrive at the final order for example?
Although the first pieces of this story arrived in intense, almost instantaneous flashes, conditions of life (which overturned not long after I embarked on writing) left the further construction of the work suspended, sometimes for months at a stretch. The forgiving form of flash (hallelujah!) could cope with the ongoing disruption, & allowed me to focus on each piece I could achieve within my narrow windows. In many ways, it even seemed to echo the chaos surrounding the heroine – I had to scratch for time, pick through scattered pieces, splice a story together from precious remains. In the end, it wasn’t so much order that I knew it needed to witness, as disorder, the truth of fracture – I had to trust that the story should be left to reflect shattering.
- All this may have changed in the present circumstances, but do you have a special place/time to write where you live? Music on or off? Pets as distractions or muses?
Silence, distance, solace, isolation, refuge from the million other pressing demands of life: I can’t seem to write unless I’m alone with my characters, tuned to their voices, breathing in their fates. I remain in awe of anyone who can tap the keys at a café table – I’ve always been secretly convinced they’re faking it!!! But yes, the present conditions are a taste too much loneliness…& with working online the static has just come home!
- And following on from the last question, if you like. If you had a soundtrack for your novella, what sort of music would be playing?
The haunting dissonant industrial poetry of the artist I.E.Crazy – as soon as I heard her twisted original ballads I felt like my book was singing back at me!
Pitfalls and pleasures of writing in this form?
Pleasures: that flash can take you in a rush, plunge you into a character’s senses, keep you fed on bursts of electricity, even when life holds scant time for sustained writing. I thrive on the little fixes it gives, the short stints it lets creativity off the leash, so there’s always a quick source of exhilaration in a schedule that sometimes doesn’t leave much breathing space. And pitfalls: I don’t know if there are any. I find that flash is the central atom of the short story mode, so it’s never wasted, whether the piece stays distilled in a single flash or keeps detonating in a series of ongoing explosions.
- Your best tips for those wanting to embark on a novella in flash for our next Award?
Banish doubt & trust the voices & don’t give up on those beautiful damaged characters & what they need to speak, not for an instant – I nearly caved-in & let go of this story, because it was largely composed during crisis, nearly listened to the offscreen murmurs of fears that were waiting to form a cold chorus. Shut that damned descant out the writing room & do it anyway. You can always fend them off for the space of the next flash.
Mary Jane Holmes won our 2020 Novella in Flash Award, judged by Michael Loveday last month with her stunning novella in flash Don't Tell the Bees. Read Michael's comments about it in his judge's report. And you can also read more about Mary Jane, who currently also happens to be the judge of our 15th single flash fiction Award, on our winners' page. Mary Jane, who is a poet, prose writer and for many years a teacher of flash fiction and other forms, has had an extraordinary few years where both her flash fiction and poetry has achieved much recognition. Ad Hoc Fiction is delighted to be able to publish Don't Tell The Bees, which is her first novella. It's really interesting to read about what inspired the story, to see inside Tom, Mary Jane's writing caravan and to have her insight into the pitfalls and pleasures of writing in this form. We expect the novella to be out later this year.
- Can you give us a brief synopsis of Don't Tell the Bees, your winning novella-in-flash?
A stonemason climbs the steeple of the village church to mend the weathervane his father had made many years before and falls to his death, leaving a family to survive in a 20th century but feudal run rural backwater of western France. The story’s main focus is the youngest child, a girl with a love of maths, who has to negotiate poverty, sexism and the arrival of a new road into the village where she lives.
It's amazing that we are shortlisted for the Saboteur Awards in five categories this year! Ad Hoc Fiction in The Most Innovative Publisher category, the Flash Fiction Festival in the Best Literary Festival category and the four books described below in the Best Anthology, Best Novella and Best Short Story Collection categories. Thank you so much to everyone who voted for us. We are very excited by all this emphasis on flash fiction in the Saboteur Awards. And if you love flash, the festival and these books, we'd be delighted if you could vote again for them to win.
It is a first for us to have a Bath Flash Fiction Anthology in the shortlist for the Best Anthologuy. In previous years we have made the longlist. We love the title With One Eye On The Cows and the cover of this our fourth Bath Flash anthology. And the stories within are stunning. 135 micros from world wide authors. You can see the gallery of where the author copies were posted to here. And here's a review of it by writer Judy Darley. Read in Full
We're thrilled that Ad Hoc Fiction, our small independent press, is shortlisted for the Best Innovative Publisher category in the Saboteur Awards, 2020. As a fun innovation to divert herself during lockdown, Ad Hoc Fiction Director, Jude Higgins has been 'dressing-up-to-go-nowhere' in outfits that colour co-ordinate with all our books.
The gallery of 16 days of photos below showcase the books. And Jude added a 'bonus' picture with colours showing the Ad Hoc Logo when we learned we'd been shortlisted.
Ad Hoc Fiction plans to publish eight more novellas in flash this year, a Bath Flash Fiction Vol 4, a further single author collection by UK author Santino Prinzi and another one in the pipe line. And a first, a craft book, by Nancy Stholman. The Corona Virus has slowed down the publishing date for these. But everything else is operating normally. It is still possible to buy books directly from our bookshop
This Saboteur Award shortlisting is a wonderful recognition of our work. We concentrate on publishing high quality short fiction available to buy directly in paper back copies from our online bookshop. And many books are also for sale as ebooks via Kindle or Kobo. All twenty books we have published are pictured here. In 2019 Ad Hoc Fiction published six Flash Fiction Novellas,'one small novel in small forms' by writers from the UK, USA and New Zealand, two single author flash fiction collections from UK writers and two anthologies, one containing micros from over 130 authors successful in the 2019 Bath Flash Fiction Awards and one containing over 80 micros from participants at the Flash Fiction Festival, UK. Last year, Ad Hoc Fiction won Best Publisher in the Creative Bath Awards, but this shortlisting is a wider recognition. And we are very excited. So thank you to all who voted for us to get to this stage and I hope you will vote for us again.
Many congratulations and more details below about our 2020 winner, Mary-Jane Holmes from the UK (who is also the judge for our June 2020 single-flash Award!) and the two runners-up, Tracey Slaughter from New Zealand and Erica Plouffe-Lazure from the USA.
Read judge Michael Loveday's report on their brilliantly written novellas-in-flash to find out a brief synopsis of each of them, and his comments.They are all very different and it is wonderful to have such variety among the winners and the special commended novellas. We hope that all three of these winning novellas will be published later this year and we are so looking forward to seeing them in print.
First Prize Don't Tell The Bees by Mary-Jane Holmes
Mary-Jane Holmes is a writer, teacher and editor based in the Durham Dales, UK. She has been published in such places as the Best Small Fictions Anthology 2016 and 2018, and the Best Microfictions Anthology 2020 Her work can also be found in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Spelk, Cabinet of Heed, Flashback Fiction, Mslexia, Fictive Dream, The Lonely Crowd, and Prole amongst others. She is winner of the Mslexia Prize (2018), the Reflex Fiction prize (Autumn 2019) and the Dromineer Fiction Prize (2014). In 2017, she won the Bridport Poetry Prize and her poetry collection Heliotrope with Matches and Magnifying Glass was published by Pindrop Press in 2018. She is currently studying for a creative writing PhD at Newcastle University and she has an unpublished flash collection knocking about that was recently short-listed for the International Beverly Prize for Literature. Her flash fiction 'Flock' was recently selected for Best Small Fictions, 2020.
Runner Up: If There is No Shelter by Tracey Slaughter
Tracey Slaughter is a poet and fiction writer from Aotearoa New Zealand. Her latest works are the volume of short stories deleted scenes for lovers (Victoria University Press, 2016) and the poetry collection Conventional Weapons (Victoria University Press, 2019). Her work has received numerous awards including the 2020 Fish Short Story Prize, second place in The Moth Short Story Prize 2018, the Bridport Prize 2014, and two Katherine Mansfield Awards. She lives in Hamilton, and teaches Creative Writing at Waikato University, where she edits the literary journals Mayhem and Poetry New Zealand.
Runner-Up: Sugar Mountain by Erica Plouffe Lazure
Erica Plouffe Lazure is the author of a flash fiction chapbook, Heard Around Town, and a fiction chapbook, Dry Dock. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Carve, Greensboro Review, Meridian, American Short Fiction, The Journal of Micro Literature, The Common's "Dispatches" series, The Southeast Review, Fiction Southeast, Flash: the International Short-Short Story Magazine (UK), Vestal Review, Wigleaf, Monkeybicycle, National Flash Fiction Day Anthology (UK), Litro (UK), and elsewhere. She lives and teaches in Exeter, New Hampshire, USA.
The standard was very high in the 2020 Novella in Flash Award judged by Michael Loveday and he chose five novellas as special commendations, which as well as the three winners, will also be published by Ad Hoc Fiction later this year.You can read comments on all the five novellas in Michaels' report. They, like the winners provide an amazing range and interpretation of the form. We are very happy that we are going to see them in print to add to our growing collections of novellas-in-flash available from the Ad Hoc Fiction bookshop. Many congratulations to all.
Elvis In The Backyard by Nicholas Cook (from the USA)
Nicholas Cook’s fiction has appeared in Lost Balloon, Jellyfish Review, Midway Journal, Bath Flash Fiction Award, and elsewhere. He was a finalist for Best Small Fictions 2018. He lives in Texas.
When It's Not Called Making Love by Karen Jones (from the UK)
Karen Jones is a prose writer from Glasgow with a preference for flash and short fiction. She is addicted to writing competitions and is a perennial long/short-lister – Commonwealth Short Story Competition, Bath Flash Fiction, Bath Short Story, To Hull and Back, TSS 400, HISSAC– though she has reached the prize-winning stage with Mslexia, Flash 500, Words With Jam, Ink Tears and Ad Hoc Fiction. Her work is published in numerous ezines, magazines and anthologies. Her story 'Small Mercies' was nominated for Best of the Net, the Pushcart Prize and is included in Best Small Fictions 2019 and the BIFFY50 2019. She is an editor for the BIFFY50 2020.
Tears in the Paku Paku by Eleanor Walsh (from the UK)
Eleanor Walsh has BA from the University of Chichester / Thompson Rivers University (CA), an MA from Bath Spa University, and a PhD from the University of Plymouth, where she researched feminist literature in Nepal. Ellie has had short fiction, poetry, and travel writing published in journals in Canada, the UK and South Asia. She also wrote a play called A Patient Drug which was produced at Royal Holloway University. Her novella-in-flash Birds with Horse Hearts won the 2019 Bath Flash Fiction award. Ellie was also an Associate Editor for the journal Coldnoon Travel Poetics, where she wrote a column on South Asian literature.
Something Lost by Louise Watts (from the UK)
Louise Watts lives in Oxfordshire and works in education. She has published fiction in Ambit Magazine, Flash: An International Journal of Short Short Fiction, Aesthetica Creative Writing Anthology and has been shortlisted in the Fish Memoir competition. Her poetry has been published in Raceme, highly commended in the Mslexia Pamphlet competition, shortlisted for The Plough short poem prize, and long-listed in the Poetry Society National Competition. Louise studied English at Cambridge University and has a Diploma in Creative Writing from Oxford University.
The House On The Corner by Alison Woodhouse (from the UK)
Alison Woodhouse is a writer, teacher and a member of the Bath Short Story Award team. She completed an MA with distinction from Bath Spa University in 2019. During the same year she won both the HISSAC short story and flash fiction competition, Hastings Flash, Farnham Flash and NFFD micro. She has also won Biffy50, Limnisa Short Story, Mattermagazine Flash and Ad Hoc Fiction twice and was highly commended in Vernal Equinox Flash, Furious Fiction and Ilkley short story competitions. She has been short and long listed in Scottish Arts Club, Bare Fiction, Bath Flash Fiction Award, Reflex Fiction, TSS, The London Magazine, Retreat West, Mslexia and Words in Jam. Her stories are published in Leicester Writes, Cambridge Short Story Anthology, Reflex Fiction, Ellipsis Vols 3 and 5, NFFD Anthology, Earlyworks and Bath Flash Fiction Anthology, Vol 4.. Many other stories are available online.
Michael Loveday, who is judging the Novella-in-Flash Award for the second year running, has been busy reading and re-reading the long list of twenty-seven novellas blind for the past seven weeks. We thank him very much for his very thorough work and can recommend anyone on the longlist or shortlist approaches him for his editing services if they want to do further tweaks to their novellas as he will have a good sense of them all. We agree with him that the standard was very high and we so appreciate all those who tackled this form of fiction and sent entries in to us in this our fourth year of the award. It is so exciting to see who the winners are this year. Many congratulations to our first prize winner, Mary Jane Holmes from the UK with Don't Tell The Bees and our two runners-up, Tracy Slaughter from New Zealand with If There is No Shelter and Erica Plouffe Lazure from the USA with Sugar Mountain. Michael has given special commendations to five authors this year. From the UK, Eleanor Walsh, our 2019 winner from the UK, with Tears In the Paku Paku, Alison Woodhouse with The House On the Corner, Karen Jones with When It's Not Called Making Love Louise Watts with Something Lost and from the USA, Nicholas Cook with Elvis In The Back Yard. We will post bios on all these authors on the website soon. Read Michael's initial comments in the first paragraph and his full report and comments on all the novellas-in-flash below that.
Michael's comments on the longlist
Every manuscript had genuine merits and I feel for those authors who haven’t made this shortlist; there were some very marginal calls.
My initial “long shortlist” of manuscripts I thought might make the final shortlist (based on a first read) had two-thirds of the novellas on it! There are some astonishingly good novellas in the list of fourteen. The overall consistency across the longlist made for some tricky/tough/brutal [delete as appropriate] decisions. My expectation is that many of these novellas, including some on the longlist, will eventually find publishers and that other readers will experience the same visceral thrill as I did when encountering these stories.
Michael's full report, April 11th 2020
The overall consistency of quality in the longlist this year made for a near-impossible judging process. Even beyond the shortlist of fourteen novellas, there are manuscripts on the longlist that I believe will interest publishers and with barely a little tinkering will read beautifully. It was noticeable this year, when compared to 2019, that many authors were now grappling with the novella-in-flash form almost as a novelist would – conjuring sustained story arcs across individual pieces, creating convincing ensemble casts of characters, and immersing the reader in fully developed world-building. This of course isn’t the only way a novella-in-flash can be written, but it did suggest an increasing commitment to treating the novella-in-flash form as something more than a collection of flash fictions – a unified story-world. Each novella on the longlist felt unique, utterly its own, and had qualities that drew the reader in. When judging, I’ve been trying to balance criteria such as readability, quality of characterization, linguistic surefootedness, flair, formal innovation, world-building, shaping of story arc, depth after repeat encounters, and insight into human experience. Looking at any single measure alone would surely create a different winner each time. It isn’t feasible to reach final decisions by any measurable ‘scientific’ process and ultimately judging comes down to such fractional margins that it’s almost absurd to proceed. I’m mindful that the process inevitably disappoints more authors than it pleases. It takes courage to write a novella and submit it to a competition, so my commiserations go to those who have missed out, including those who didn’t make the longlist that I read. It’s been a privilege to act as judge and I’m grateful for all the writers who were inspired to share their imaginative worlds during the past two years. I’m very glad that they made my role so difficult. Readers will have so much to enjoy and admire when this year’s manuscripts eventually make their way into the world.
Winner – Don’t Tell the Bees
The winning novella is a story of a young girl (called No-more) and a village community in France, around the time of the Second World War. It’s full of nostalgia for old rural ways, and, in passing, a nuanced description of the impact of industrial progress. There’s a charming fairy-tale quality, a satisfying come-uppance for a villainous character, and every page positively oozes with fondness for its characters. The novella adopts a classic novella-in-flash form, with each chapter a self-contained world of its own, a distinct moment in time, but its absolute originality is expressed in the characters’ eccentric qualities, the richly textured language, the blending of history with fable, and the way that its fragments collectively evoke the whole story of a village and way of life. Amongst a raft of brilliant manuscripts, this was the story I found myself most eagerly returning to, cherishing each time the writer’s deft skills.
Runner-Up – If There Is No Shelter
A remarkable story of a woman’s life in an unnamed city in the aftermath of a series of earthquakes. It’s written with claustrophic, relentless and urgent conviction. What’s most compelling is how the story is gleaned mostly through flashbacks, as though, like the city’s buildings, it’s been broken into fragments and we are picking our way through rubble. Gradually, like rescue workers, we uncover the situation of a hospitalized husband, a lover lost to a building’s collapse, and the tender domestic bonds the woman shares with her father and his colleague. Other haunting scenes leap out from the overall portrait of a ruined city – almost like twisted updates on Wordsworthian “spots of time” – a neighbour with a dead bird in a birdcage, a couple glimpsed making love in an office building at night, a street artist daubing impressions of the surrounding wreckage onto canvas. This is a dark, oppressive story but, through it, the writer explores how humanity responds to crisis – and has produced a metaphor for our own times.
Runner-Up – Sugar Mountain
A stunning sequence of stories about childhood shot through with irresistible yearning, beauty and humour. It’s written in a freewheeling prose that unfurls with detail after gorgeous detail piling up in the sentences. Quirky behaviour, teenage mischief, letdowns, unfulfilled dreams, romance – this novella really gets to the heart of what childhood feels like. The writer has a real gift for endings – chapter after chapter ends on a lovely resonating note that succeeds in creating the “speaking silence” of the unsaid – something so important to the experience of powerful flash fiction. Vivid chapter titles include: ‘Saved by DJ Big Man with Beard’ ‘This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’, ‘Why My Mother is No Longer a Hairdresser’ and ‘Why We Stole the Disco Ball from Satellite Skate’. A sentence from the latter offers a glimpse into this novella’s skillful evocation of childhood experience: “And then as the end of ‘Thriller’ began, I thought maybe this sparkle ball was a time machine, and all we had to do was skate backwards long enough to undo the awful of the awful week.”
Special Commendations –
I feel like each of these novellas deserves to be published. Although they didn’t quite make the top three, the quality of the writing was extremely high and they deserve a wide audience.
Special Commendation – Elvis in the Backyard
Simultaneously a narrative about family life and an affectionate boy-meets-boy love story. Quirky characters and written with a sense of humour and charm. Gotta love a story that mentions an Elvis wig.
Special Commendation – Something Lost
A clever and entertaining first-person tale of family strife and growing into adulthood, where the reader enjoys reading between the lines of the teenage boy’s narration. Funny, disarming and deep.
Special Commendation – Tears in the Paku Paku
An ambitious, startling psychological portrait of a teenage girl obsessed with the photo of a refugee from the Bosnian war. Haunting insight into the main character, written with elegant skill.
Special Commendation - The House on the Corner
Personal tremors large and small unsettle the foundations of a middle-class, nuclear family. Exquisite sentence-making, with each individual chapter beautifully sculpted and shaped.
Special Commendation – When It’s Not Called Making Love
Vivid, raw and immediate - a poignant story of a bullied and harassed girl’s struggle towards adulthood. Left me bruised and heartbroken. But also written with great wit –made me giggle many times.