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Interview with Jack Remiel Cottrell — Runner-up, Novella-in-Flash Award, 2018

Jack Remiel Cottrell is one of two runners-up chosen in the 2018 Bath Flash Fiction Novella-in-Flash award judged by Meg Pokrass Here he describes how his novella 'Latter Day Saints', published in our trio of winning novellas-in-flash In the Debris Field emerged from one single line which sparked his imagination and how he gets inspired from authors in many different genres and forms, including writers of 'Twitter' stories. We very much like his advice not to worry about what you are writing, or get hung up about different genres and making your novella fit under a 'Literary' label. Jack often writes in one of the most mesmerising locations we've heard about yet  the laundromat. We haven't a picture of Jack in the laundromat, but we've included his note book and beer picture, his comment being "Are you really a writer if you don't have a large stack of half-filled notebooks on your kitchen table? (Beer added for scale. Also for drinking." In the second photograph taken by his writing teacher Kathryn Burnett, Jack can be seen "hunched over second from the left at the back, trying not to be distracted by the outside world."

  • Will you give us a brief synopsis of your wonderful novella-in-flash, ‘Latter Day Saints’ for those who haven’t read it yet?
    A young man is attempting to find his patron saint, and in doing so meets a number of patron saints as they live in the 21st century.

  • At Bath Flash Fiction, we think ‘Latter Day Saints’ is a very inventive quest story. Can you tell us more about what sparked the idea to write it?
    I was 20 tabs deep in the mire of TVtropes.com when I came across something which prompted me to think of the line “It’s dark at the end of the universe.” If there’s one thing I love, it’s a good line. So I needed to find someone to say that line. I gave it to St Dominic, who is the patron saint of astronomers, who didn’t end up making the cut for the novella. From there, I wanted to explore the idea of patron saints in a modern setting. My narrator was initially supposed to be a reader proxy rather than a character. I wrote about three chapters before my writing group told me the narrator was actually the most interesting character, and they were right.

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Brightly Coloured Horses
by Amanda Huggins
Review by Debbi Voisey

The very least you can ever ask of a story is that it transport you, even if only for a short while, to another place. Just the title of this collection of flash fiction – Brightly Coloured Horses – transported me. Until I read the title story, which is number 14 of this 27 strong collection, I was not sure what it meant. It made me think of toys or a child’s dream. It immediately made me think I was going to go on a journey of discovery. And I was not disappointed.
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How to Make a Window Snake
Wins at the Saboteur Awards 2018

We’re thrilled to announce that How to Make a Window Snake, the novella-in-flash by Charmaine Wilkerson and published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2017, won the best novella category in the prestigious Saboteur Awards 2018. Charmaine also won first prize with this novella in the inaugural novella-in-flash Award 2017, judged by Meg Pokrass. When Meg heard about the Saboteur results she remarked – “There was no question in my mind about this novella. Finding a gem like this was a gift.”
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Saboteur Award Success

Charmaine Wilkerson

We’re thrilled that How to Make a Window Snake by Charmaine Wilkerson, which won our inaugural novella-in-flash Award in 2017 is short listed in the Saboteur Awards 2018. Thank you to everyone who nominated her. There were nearly 5000 nominations over all the categories and we think it is a great achievement both for Charmaine and for Ad Hoc Fiction, the publisher.

Please support Charmaine further by voting for her novella-in-flash to win before 9th May. Results are announced on 19th May at the end of the Saboteur Awards Festival running from Friday 18th to Saturday 19th May.

In her brilliant novella, Charmaine takes different angles to show the impact of the loss of a child upon a family. Our judge for the 2017 Novella-in-Flash Award, Meg Pokrass, commented “The author creates a brilliant picture window through which we see a loving but deeply wounded family trying to survive more tragedy.” And in a five star review, Raluca A. writes:
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Interview with Luke Whisnant
Novella-in-Flash 2018 Winner

It’s so interesting to see how Luke Whisnant, first prize winner in our 2018 Award created his novella-in-flash. His method has to be encouraging to other writers when he suggests how flexible this form is and that you can ‘find’ a novella-in-flash out of flash fictions you have already written. We’re interested that language, more than plot or character, is Luke’s first interest in all the forms of writing he does. Our 2018 Novella in Flash Judge Meg Pokrass, in her comments on his novella, was very impressed with his use of language. She writes “This author is a keen emotional observer, gifted in his specific, quirky and visual details, as well as in creating superb juxtapositions between sentences and fluid temporal leaps between chapters...”
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Michael Loveday Novella-in-Flash 2020 Judge

Michael Loveday is an editor, tutor, fiction writer, poet and book reviewer. His flash fiction novella, Three Men On The Edge was published by V Press in 2018 and recently shortlisted in the 2019 Saboteur Awards
Novella category. His poetry pamphlet He Said / She Said was published by HappenStance Press in 2011. His writing has appeared in The Spectator; Flash: the International Short-Short Story Magazine; Funny Bone: Flashing for Comic Relief; and the National Flash Fiction Day Anthologies 2017 and 2019.. He is a tutor in Adult and Higher Education, a Director of the National Association of Writers in Education and was judge of the inaugural Tongues and Grooves Prose Poem Prize, 2018. He won the Retreat West Flash Fiction Prize in Summer, 2018. He runs a blog for flash fiction, poetry and prose poetry at www.pagechatter.org, and is a presenter and team member for Flash Fiction Festivals, UK. Michael also judged the 2019 Bath Flash Fiction Novella in Flash Award and recently launched a one-to-one online course for the novella-in-flash. The interview we did with him below is updated for the 2020 Award.

  • You’ve been fascinated with the novella-in-flash form for several years. Can you tell us what drew you to reading and writing in this genre?

My interest emerged gradually. In 2011, I encountered Days and Nights in W12 by Jack Robinson (actually Charles Boyle). It’s a series of short prose pieces, each only a paragraph long, with a related photograph on each page. Some are clearly fictional stories, some are more like meditations, some are more journalistic – historical writing, urban landscape writing (it’s set in London’s Shepherd’s Bush district). There’s no central character, no plot – it’s a series of written snapshots about a location. I fell in love with the book (it’s still my favourite book of all time). At the same time I also read Dan Rhodes’s classic sequence Anthropology – 101-word stories about relationships. These were my first encounters with individually-authored ‘flash fiction’ collections (although Boyle’s book goes beyond ‘flash fiction’). Then I started asking other writers about books to read that were linked flash fiction sequences. That led me to Sandra Cisneros’s wonderful The House on Mango Street, which was my first encounter with a proper novella-in-flash, and the Rose Metal Press anthology My Very End of the Universe, which features novellas-in-flash by Meg Pokrass, Tiff Holland, Aaron Teel and others.

I realised that there was something very special and remarkable about this fiction form in which the parts matter just as much as the whole. My interest grew from there, as I began collecting such books and reading them more and more.

  • Writers often get confused as to what a flash fiction novella is, and how it’s different from a standard novella. How would you describe the form?

A flash fiction novella, or novella-in-flash, may be a similar page-length to a novella and generally includes similar features such as a central character (or group of characters), and a sense of story or ‘narrative arc’. But the crucial difference is that the novella-in-flash is broken up into stand-alone sections, each generally functioning as an individual flash fiction – up to the 750 or 1,000 word length that is the typical ceiling for flash fiction, though sometimes as short as only few lines, depending on the type of story.

Each of the novella-in-flash’s stand-alone sections can be a ‘beginning-afresh’ - a new moment in the story, one that’s not necessarily picking up directly from where the previous chapter left off, not in that ‘continuous’ style one gets in traditional fiction. So the novella-in-flash’s sections may restart each time with a different situation, different narrative moment, a different character, or different physical location, say. Often, at the ending of each individual piece, there’s what I call a ‘resonating space’ - some unspoken invitation to pause, reflect and re-read or re-consider. This is exactly as usually happens at end of a one-off flash fiction or with any short story, in fact; but the difference with the novella-in-flash is that overall the individual scenes and moments (and gaps) accumulate into something bigger, something with a suggestion of a single cohesive picture. You can think of it as a process of tapestry and linkage (for both writer and reader), in enabling the individual flash fictions to add up to a whole, even though they can stand on their own too. [See Meg Pokrass’s essay: talkingwriting.com/craft-flash-novella-writing].

So the difference vs. a traditional novella is mainly a formal distinction, about length of sections / chapters – although that inevitably has a knock-on effect on the ‘feel’ and the qualities of the text.

  • Your own novella-in-flash Three Men on the Edge was published by V.press in July, 2018 and was recently shortlisted for the Saboteur Awards. Congratulations! Can you tell us what it’s about and your process of writing it?

It started in 2011 with reading Days and Nights in W12 and Anthropology. I wanted to write something informed by a landscape (the town where I lived – Rickmansworth, on the very edge of NW London and Hertfordshire, i.e. where city ends and countryside begins) but that also was a partly comical study of relationships (as Dan Rhodes had done in Anthropology). And, unlike these two books, which were more like miscellaneous sequences, I wanted to focus on recurring central characters, as Sandra Cisneros and others were doing in their traditional novellas-in-flash. I unearthed three men’s voices that were alter-egos – three, because Rickmansworth is in Hertfordshire’s ‘Three Rivers District’. Then I took them further, exaggerating their personalities, making composites with other people I’d observed, and generally making the characters distinctly fictional. I wrote about 20 pieces for my M.A. dissertation, working with the poet Fiona Sampson as my supervisor, and thinking of them as prose poems. Then when I finished the degree I thought I should probably keep going. Which I did, for six and a half years.

The process was very very exploratory – at various stages the manuscript was anything from a 12-page sequence of verse poems with line-breaks, to a 200-page novel about just one character, and everything in between. In the end it settled to 85 pages, and three distinct flash-fiction sequences, one for each central character, thematically but not narratively linked with each other. So in a way it’s three ‘mini-novellas-in-flash’ in one book. Each of the sections shows one of the men going about their daily life, as they struggle for connection with the world around them. And each of the men slips into crisis as they lose connection with the women in their lives. I tried to offer up a portrait of masculinity in crisis. As I finished the manuscript, I was very conscious of the ‘Time’s Up’ movement, and I hope I've written a book that shows the value of relationships and companionships through the lives of these three deeply flawed men.

  • Have you any new writing projects on the go at the moment?

I’ve got about two-thirds of a book’s worth of miscellaneous flash fictions that I’m gradually adding to, and about half of a slow-growing poetry collection. I have an idea for another novella-in-flash, but I’m delaying starting, because I’d like to finish one of these other two manuscripts first.

    • What, for you, would create a stand-out novella-in-flash?

    A really good novella-in-flash, when it’s finally finished, has conviction – you know you’re in safe hands as a reader because the individual sentences are so compelling. As with flash fiction itself, needless words should be omitted, and there should be a combination of electricity and complete assurance in the vocabulary and in any imagery. And as with longer fiction, characterisation and the overall story need to be in satisfyingly good shape – the central subject matter needs to have merit and depth. Beyond that, in terms of the technicalities of the form, it would be wonderful to see some invention and creativity in terms of how people approach putting it together. Overall, to paraphrase Ted Hughes (who was describing the novel), there is no correct way to write a novella-in-flash, or rather, there is only one, and that one way is to make it interesting.

    You ran and edited a poetry magazine from 2005 to 2012 and would have seen hundreds of submissions. What would you say to writers about final checks and balances before submitting their novellas?

    Have one or two (or a few!) people read it and give you comments. And – beyond using spell-check, which is a no-brainer – print it out, and read it out loud over and over until your ear actively hears it sounding absolutely right. The ear is often a better judge than the eye.

    • Recommended reading in this genre?

    Classic places to start are: Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street, Justin Torres’s We The Animals, and the Rose Metal Press Anthology My Very End of the Universe, from which I’d particularly recommend Meg Pokrass’s ‘Here, Where We Live’ and Aaron Teel’s ‘Shampoo Horns’ (this anthology also includes interesting introductory essays by the writers). Also, Lex Williford’s Superman on the Roof, Joan Didion Play It As It Lays (novel-length), Kelcey Parker’s Liliane’s Balcony, Alex Garland’s The Coma, the list could go on and on... it’s also definitely worth reading How To Make A Window Snake, the first anthology produced in 2017 as a result of this competition. In the Debris Field, the collection of three novellas published in the 2018 winners' anthology is an excellent read and everybody should also read the stand-out new novellas in Flash from last year's Award. This may give you a sense of what I look for as a judge. Three of them are now published - the first prize winner, Birds With Horse Hearts by Eleanor Walsh, one of the runners' up Homing by Johanna Robinson and The Roster, by Debra A Daniel which was highly commended. There are more coming soon. The standard in the 2019 Award was very high and I was very happy that Ad Hoc Fiction decided to publish the three winners and the three commended authors in individual volumes, this year.

    • You also write poetry including prose poetry, recently judged the inaugural Prose Poetry competition with Tongues and Grooves and you discussed the difference between prose poetry and flash fiction with the poet and flash-fiction writer, Carrie Etter at the 2018 Flash Fiction Festiva in July 2018. It’s a subject of much controversy in the world of short-short fiction. Would you say there are distinct differences?

    Yes. And no. Denise Duhamel: “Prose poetry and flash fiction are kissing cousins. They are kissing on Jerry Springer, knowing they’re cousins, and screaming “So what?” as the audience hisses.” This is a favourite subject of mine (prose poetry vs. flash fiction, not kissing cousins!), and personally I feel there’s some grey area, though for some people (including Carrie Etter!) there are clear distinctions to make. The interviews (and definitions page) at the blog pagechatter.org try to tackle this very subject.

    • Can you see a prose poem working as a ‘chapter’ in a novella-in-flash?

    Perhaps inevitably, I’d say yes. You could have a ‘prose-poem-style’ piece that serves the overall character arc in a novella-in-flash. Certainly that’s what I’ve tried to do at times in Three Men on the Edge, and some of those pieces were published individually in poetry magazines. Some people feel resistance when things don’t fit neat boxes of categorisation, and that’s fine; but I don’t feel that resistance, and I’d welcome competition entries this year that tread a fine line, just as much as I’d love to see entries where each flash follows a traditional, longer narrative arc towards a crisis or climax.

    Most of the flash fictions in Justin Torres’s novella We the Animals are longer – 3 to 8 pages long in his case – with a full sense of narrative arc, building to a crisis or climax. But the first piece in the book is somewhere between a flash fiction and a prose poem – he foregrounds the sentence structures, the repetitions, and the rhythms. And the final one, the one he relies upon to draw the novella to a close, is very short and definitely more of a prose poem. Quite a few of the pieces in Liliane’s Balcony are like prose poems. So it can be done. I’m all for pushing boundaries and testing the form to its limits, just as much as celebrating examples of ‘classic’ form – otherwise the form becomes static.

    • You work as a writing tutor, offering workshops and mentoring. Can you tell us more about these services?

    My workshops these days are generally in Somerset, UK, for the St. John’s Foundation (creative writing for the over-55s and for carers) . I also supervise extended fiction projects for American undergraduates at a college called Advanced Studies in England where students drawn from American Universities come to Bath for one semester at a time to study. In terms of mentoring I work by post, email and Skype as well as face-to-face in London and Somerset. Mentoring and Editing are often favourite parts of the role of writer-tutor – it’s so rewarding to work closely together and see someone develop through in-depth feedback – and I’m trying to do more and more of this. I've also recently launched a one-to-one online course for writing a novella-in-flash or novel-in-flash. I'm very excited to have opened this course for writers now, but it's not currently open to people who are submitting to the the Bath Flash Fiction, Novella-in-Flash Award because it's important that submissions remain anonymous. The course will be open to writers wanting to enter the Award in future years when I am not judging. My workshop teaching too is very important to me, as I know how much other tutors’ workshops have helped me move forward as a writer. I want to give back to other writers some of my passion for literature, and help people feel and be more creative. I have recently taught workshops at the 2019 Flash Fiction Festival and am pleased to be teaching again in 2020.

    I love that special chemistry of getting people together in a room to talk about writing. In a more corporate former life I used to facilitate market research groups. Facilitating a writing group has some similarities, but we talk less about reasons for buying brands of toilet roll and shampoo.

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Interview with
Molia Dumbleton
February 2018 Flash Fiction Third Prize

Molia Dumbleton won third prize with 'Why Shit is Still Like This Around Here and Probably Always Will Be' Our judge Tara L. Masih said it was ‘a precise and perfect’ micro and we agree.

Kathy Fish, who judged our February 2017 Bath Flash Fiction Award is renowned for sparking stories that get published and win contests in her Fast Flash intensive writing online course. Molia’s piece was partly inspired by attending one of these amazingly productive courses and also from a random event that stuck in her mind. Her advice to other writers of flash is to sometimes just let the writing ‘come out’ and if this was the case with her piece here, it has worked very well. She also has interesting things to say about finding a title – how it is worth thinking about them for a long time. We think her long title for this story adds much to the story itself and it’s interesting that other story titles reference Shakespeare and the Bible and enhance the layers of the stories in question. She also has another discussion starter in her view that collections can contain a mix of flash fictions and longer short stories. And why not? We’re certainly looking forward to reading her collection that contains both. Finally, we thank Molia very much for her kind words about the Bath Flash Fiction Award and for being ‘with us’ from Day One over three years ago. We love flash fiction, and enjoy helping to build a friendly writing community.
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Interview with Lee Nash
February 2018 Flash Fiction Second Prize

Our judge Tara L Masih, was struck by the tight writing style of ‘When the rubber hits the road’ by Lee Nash and the way so much is covered. Many decades are traversed in the one long paragraph and like Tara, we love the way the elements shape the piece, and show how the events that take place instigated by one real and one imaginary man in different centuries, are sometimes out of human control. Henry Wickham, who the story is about, is pictured below along with some pictures of rubber sap collection. Lee writes in several different condensed forms, and her recently published poetry collection Ash Keys includes haibun, sonnets, a prose poem and haiku. She also enjoys writing poems based on historical figures. We think it’s interesting to find a way into a historical character’s life by thinking of how they have overcome incredible hurdles and failures. She has a floating ‘muse’, pointing out that inspiration is all around, and that she combs through all manner of experiences to find an ‘entry point’. Take on her tip to read your flash again and again for syntax, vocabulary and rhythm and maybe try writing your own historical flash fiction for the next round of the Award, which closes in June.
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Interview with Jo Gatford
February 2018 Flash Fiction First Prize

Jo tells us how she moved from writing her prize winning story in her head while driving, repeating the words out loud and then shaping the story on the page later. A busy writer, with all sorts of projects on the go, she is drafting a second novel with an interesting theme about survival in an apocalyptic world, has given herself the challenge of making 100 submissions this year and also co-runs the inspiring Writers’ HQ which gives opportunities, encouragement and support to writers from all backgrounds and income brackets. Whenever she’s lost for inspiration in her own writing, she always returns to Shakespeare and points out that reading Shakespeare, or “Shakey P” as she calls him “will tell you everything you need to know about writing”. Her other great writing tip for those wanting to enter Bath Flash Fiction Award is to find the “fundamental nugget of human truth in a story; something that resonates with a reader, almost on an unconscious level.” I am sure Shakespeare would have agreed with that.
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