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
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.
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.
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.
Johanna Robinson's wonderful novella-in-flash Homing was a runner-up in the 2019 Bath Novella-in-Flash Award judged by Michael Loveday. The novella, which spans four decades, tells the story of a family's involvement with the Resistance Movement in Norway during World War 11 and its aftermath on their lives. It was launched at the Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol at the end of June this year. Homing is already on its second print run and has been dispatched all over the world.
You can buy a paperback copy from the Ad Hoc Fiction Bookshop and digital copies will be available from Kindle via Amazon soon. Johanna's novella, although short at 18,000 words, has the scope and depth of a much longer novel, It is currently longlisted for the 2019 'Not-The-Booker Prize'. (although they have made a mistake on the list, saying it is published by Louise Walters Press and not 'Ad Hoc Fiction'. You might like to support her and vote for it. (Voting is openhere until next Monday 5th August) Read the fascinating interview below with Johanna if you are thinking of writing a novella-in-flash, historical or otherwise for our 2020 Award or elsewhere, or if you want to become absorbed in a compelling and beautifully written story on a subject you may know little about.
- I believe you did some of the research for Homing years ago. Can you tell us about this and about the process of transforming it into a novella in flash?
I first picked up snippets about the Norwegian resistance when I was on a year abroad at Oslo University. A few years later, 2002 or so, I began to read the stories of the ‘Shetland Bus’, a scheme whereby fishing boats were used to smuggle men and goods from Norway to Shetland. In fact, I wrote a whole chunk of novel-style creative writing about it, but I never really planned to do anything with it and it has sat on various computers ever since. I couldn’t let go of the stories of that community, though. Then, last year, when doing more research, online this time, I discovered the story of the village of Telavåg, and it was here that I felt the various stories could crystallise. At first – and nothing to do with flash – I wanted to write about the teachers who were taken to concentration camps. This was the first piece I wrote, and it ended up very short, and that felt right. At that point, a door had been opened, a way into writing about that time in history. This coincided with discovering the novella-in-flash format. Actually, this first piece was the only one that changed substantially. Also, two chapters in Homing, ‘Lotion I’ and ‘Lotion II’, began life in that early writing – I was really happy that I managed to weave them into the novella; it seemed the right thing to do.
- The story, spanning several decades, is very compelling and I particularly like how you use the symbol of the paper clip and the suitcase to carry the reader forward. Was this a deliberate strategy on your part?
Yes, and no. The paper clip was something that I couldn’t not have written about, as it was an aspect that I encountered a lot back in the early days of research, albeit often in a minor way. As a result, it featured in a number of the first flash pieces I wrote, and actually drove the story in the early stages. The suitcase, however, was a very late addition, and it emerged in one of the stories I wrote in a Meg Pokrass online workshop in December 2018. It found its way into one piece, and a couple of other workshop participants asked what may have happened to the case next/earlier. Already the suitcase was something that operated beyond the boundaries of that little individual story. When it came to weaving it through, it was a pretty easy job. It was as though my brain had inserted it in that Meg-workshop story, ready to be used elsewhere.
- Did you write individual pieces first, before you put them into a sequence?
I wrote them first, without thinking of an order. The sequence came at the very end, although, because it’s largely chronological,that wasn’t a difficult process. Once I had a timeline of people’s ages and the events that couldn’t be moved because of historical accuracy, the sequence really took care of itself. I think having a specific event and time as a springboard for the whole story, and for all the small, individual stories, helped me not worry too much about a narrative pattern when I was in the process of writing.
- Were there any particular novellas in flash you read beforehand that helped you to compose your own?
Yes, definitely. The first one I came across was Stephanie Hutton’s Three Sisters of Stone, in May 2018, and so this was my first encounter with the novella-in-flash form. I was hooked! I then read How to Make a Window Snake and the two others in the 2017 Bath Novella-in-flash anthology; I reread the title novella of this anthology by Charmaine Wilkerson a few times while I was writing mine. I read the Rose Metal Press Field Guide on my Kindle because I was too impatient to wait for delivery, as well as Meg Pokrass’s Here Where We Live, and the other stories in My Very End of the Universe. Finally, I devoured Sophie van Llewyn’s Bottled Goods one weekend in a motor home, in October 2018. I loved that the grand story was interspersed with different forms and strange ideas – as a reader I really didn’t know what I would be getting when I turned over the page, and that in itself kept me turning.
- What did you find the most difficult thing about creating the novella?
Probably the voice in my head that kept saying only some of the pieces were really good enough to be published. Some of the pieces – once I’d found the story – needed to be written to ‘join’ others together, and I just wasn’t sure if they looked like filler pieces, like something dashed off to fulfil a function. Much later on, when the book was nearly published actually, I finally silenced that voice, as I realised not every chapter needs to be the best piece of writing you’ve ever written – and perhaps that’s even more the case the longer the final work is. In Birds with Horse Hearts, the 2019 Bath winning novella by Ellie Walsh, each chapter is filled with beautiful, lyrical writing. It’s gorgeous, and it fits perfectly the length of the book and the setting. With mine, I think another function of the ‘filler’ chapters was to provide a breather from some of the events and fall-out of the war.
- What was the most unexpected thing that happened during the writing of it?
That I created a life for the main character that went way beyond the initial setting of Norway in WWII. Also, how textured it ended up feeling at the end. I liked how, although there is a linear movement, the short flash fiction form allows a texture to build up.
- Top tips for writers who might be embarking on one?
Thinking back, what really helped me was the expectation that no one would ever read it. That allowed me to be experimental with form, to take different perspectives, beyond those of the main characters. Cheat. If you need to get from Chapter 7 to Chapter 9, experiment with Chapter 8 – how can it link 7 and 9 in the brilliant, brief way only flash fiction can? It might work, it might not, but of course, nothing’s ever wasted
The other thing that really helped me – and without it there wouldn’t be a novella – was doing a flash fiction course at the point I’d run out of steam a little. I had come to a standstill – I couldn’t be sure who my main character was, and I definitely didn’t have a narrative arc to the whole thing, or an end in mind. What Meg Pokrass’s prompts course did was, first, make me write seven pieces in two weeks, and second, drag me out of the story, giving me a different perspective. The prompts, of course, had nothing to do with my book’s setting, but they forced me to look at certain aspects of it in a new light, to pull on threads that I hadn’t realised were there and see what came of them.
- Flash fiction is something you have come to only recently. What is it that you particularly like about the form?
In terms of the writing, I love the challenge. At university, I always over-wrote, always had to cut-cut-cut words out of my work, but that’s where and when things get to be good. In terms of reading flash, it has been a revelation to me what people can do in tiny numbers of words – and I feel it especially in historical flash, which can make snapshots into stories. Also, in terms of both reading and writing, I love language and word play, and the little coincidences and thrills that can happen when it really works in a new way. I think flash is just a great crucible for that.
- Have you any new writing projects on the go at the moment?
When I finished the novella, I wasn’t sure I’d do another, because I’d had the history in my head for so many years. Yeah, well, that didn’t last! I’m planning another historical book, but hopefully a lot longer, and hopefully still in flash form. I’ve been doing research for it, and could go on for ever with that, but I’m planning on actually starting to write something soon. It definitely feels different this time – harder to just get on and do it – now that Homing is out in the world.
Read this fascinating interview with Ellie Walsh, the winner of our third novella-in-flash award with her wonderful novella, Birds with Horse Hearts.
This year, the Award was judged by Michael Loveday. In his judge's comments copied here, Michael gives a synopsis of the novella. He writes:
Three women take centre stage in this novella-in-flash, a rich and poetic study of a poor farming family in Nepal, with whom a woman from Iowa is staying, for unnamed reasons, after the death of her husband. Here the impoverished and marginalised are, for once, placed in the foreground, and the story is partly about how we can and must find beauty and love amidst harshness and deprivation. At the centre of it all is the enigmatic, beguiling, and tragic figure of the young prostitute Putali, at once trapped in a difficult life, and yet as free-spirited as a butterfly. This is a novella shadowed by loss and the search for belonging; it is also, in its own quiet, subtle and radical way, a love story. The quality of the sentence-making is stunning, the characterisation vivid and unique, and the narrative compelling and effortlessly handled, layered with skilful exposition, motifs and foreshadowings. I couldn’t fault the decisions that had been taken by the author and, although there were several other very fine manuscripts of clearly publishable quality, in the end this dark jewel of a story haunted me the most out of all the submissions – as soon as I encountered it, the characters, setting, and storyline simply refused to leave my head.
We are very pleased that Ad Hoc Fiction is publishing Ellie's stunning novella-in-flash in a single-author book later this year. It's a must-read. Ellie is also a member of a panel at the Flash Fiction Festival UK in June, discussing the Novella-in-Flash, with Meg Pokrass and Charmaine Wilkerson. Michael Loveday is chairing the discussion and facilitating Q and A. Read in Full
Our 2019 Novella-in-Flash Award judge, Michael Loveday's writes about the process of selecting the short list and this is followed by his comments on the winning novella-in-flash, the two runners-up and three highly commended novellas-in-flash..Michael has judged everything 'blind' and did not know the names of the winners until this announcement. Read more about the 2019 Award on Jude's Award Round-Up post. Read in Full