Tag Archives: Eleanor Walsh

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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  • Saboteur Award Shortlistings!

    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

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    Top Tips For Writing A Novella-in-Flash by Michael Loveday, 2020 Novella judge

    Michael Loveday judged our 2019 Novella in Flash Award and he is pictured here at a panel about this exciting form at the recent Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol, with from left to right, Charmaine Wilkerson, winner of the inaugural Award in 2017, with How To Make A Window Snake, which later won the 2018 Saboteur Awards for a novella, Johanna Robinson, who wrote the historical novella Homing, a runner up in the 2019 Award and Ellie Walsh who is reading from her first-prize winning novella in the 2019 Award, Birds With Horse Hearts and Meg Pokrass, the judge of our 2017 and 2018 Awards.

    Michael judged our 2019 Award and he thought the winning novellas were very impressive. You can read his judge's report here. And we're happy that Ad Hoc Fiction is publishing the three winning and the three commended novellas this year.
    In our interview with him last year, we asked what he thought the main pitfalls in writing a novella-in-flash were and here he's updated his answer and given his top three tips after assessing manuscripts from the 2019 Award, which were often very good, but didn't quite work as a whole.

    He says, overall the most common manuscript problems were as follows - 

    (1) Lack of a Thread - Some manuscripts (including some with really outstanding individual flashes) just didn’t link up enough. As you write your novella, it’s worth continually thinking: what’s the thread, what’s the centre?

    Ask yourself: 
    (a)  Will it be clear whose story it is or who the central characters are? 
    (b) If not, will it be clear what the central plot event is / events are? 
    (c) If not, will it be clear to the reader what the setting / location is that links the material? 
    (d) If not, will it be really, really clear to the reader which tightly focused, controlling theme or motif is filtering all the stories in your novella? 

    If the answer is ‘no’ to all four questions, then it’s likely to mean you have a collection of flashes on your hands – more of a miscellany or story collection than a novella.    

    (2) Ensemble Casts - It's important to maintain good control of your cast of characters. Having lots of different protagonists is risky, unless they’re linked by location, or a set of central, shared events, or a tightly focused theme. Ask yourself, what’s keeping this novella in balance and focus? Am I letting some characters dominate fleetingly then disappear? Will it be apparent who’s speaking or who an unnamed third person protagonist is in any given story? (At the very least, enough clues should accumulate in the various characterisations for the reader to realise in hindsight when they look back over a novella. A process of delayed revelation is perfectly fine.)  Also, if you have dozens of named secondary characters, have you obscured the sense of any centre to the novella? 

    (3) Timelines – If your novella has a very varied or complex chronology, it can be difficult to get it right. You might need to look hard at your timeline to make sure it’s, in the end, not confusing or too convoluted to follow. This includes thinking carefully about any large or unexplained leaps in time, or any back and forth between multiple “eras” in your story that might be obscured from the reader’s understanding. One option is to include years / months / dates in the headings of your flashes, if it’s a really complex timeline, though this may not suit all novellas. Other devices include using different tenses, different points of view, or adopting other creative devices (such as italics vs. ordinary font) to help readers orient themselves between different “eras” within your novella. For example, Michelle Elvy’s coming-of-age story the everrumble mixes up its chronology into haphazard order but states the protagonist’s age with the title of most chapters, thereby offering the reader a foothold into the underlying sequence of things.

    As a final piece of advice, do maintain your patience in the process of compiling your novella! It almost inevitably will feel a bit fragmented, and maybe even a little confusing, as you try to work out how to connect the individual flashes. You may have to write a lot of material that doesn’t actually fit the final manuscript.
    Don’t lose your nerve in the face of all this. It’s part of the process, and what makes the novella-in-flash such a magical and rewarding thing to write, and for readers then to read.
    Previously published examples from past years of the competition can give you ideas of what’s possible. But these published examples hide the messy processes of their own creation – there may be a long, ungainly “caterpillar” phase while a novella is developed. And you should also feel encouraged to create something entirely new, not previously attempted.
    For writers, I’m convinced there really is nothing like writing a novella-in-flash, in terms of how fulfilling a challenge it is to take on and resolve. It’s a very very special form.

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    Out Now! ‘Birds With Horse Hearts’, ‘Homing’ and ‘The Roster’ – three winning novellas-in-flash

    We launched three of the winning novellas-in-flash at the Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol 28th-30th June. Birds with Horse Hearts by Eleanor Walsh Homing By Johanna Robinson and The Roster by Debra A Daniel. You can now buy all these marvellous novellas in paperback from the Ad Hoc Fiction Bookshop. Just click on the book titles linked above to go straight to the correct bookshop page.

    We were delighted that the first prize winner Eleanor Walsh and Runner-Up Johanna Robinson were able to attend the festival to read extracts from, and talk about their novellas. The 2019 judge, Michael Loveday chaired the panel which included Charmaine Wilkerson, who won the 2017 Award with her novella in flash How To Make A Window Snake and and Meg Pokrass, who judged the 2017 Award and whose novella Here Where We Live, is included in the Rose Metal Press Field Guide to writing a novella-in-flash. It was very interesting to hear from all these writers about the form.

    Debra Daniel lives in the US, and wasn't able to attend the Festival, but all books were available in our festival bookshop and created much interest. It is so exciting to see three new examples of this fast developing genre. They are all brilliant reads and have had much advanced praise.

    Birds With Horse Hearts takes us to the lowlands of contemporary Nepal and "explores the entangled lives of three women as they navigate grief, freedom and their own journeys to find people to call family and places to call home." Judge Michael Loveday said Homing, "an historical fiction encompassing the Second World War and telling the story of a Norwegian family from 1933 to 1970 has more epic sweep than many novels", and commented that The Roster, an "ensemble cast" novella, a superbly individualised, vivid, inventive and memorable sequence of stories about a teacher's pupils at a school is a story of immense charm with real emotional substance."

    The 2020 Novella in Flash Award, judged again this time by Michael Loveday is now open for entries and closes January 12th 2020.

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