Flash Frontier: To start: What’s the fuss? What’s so special about the novella-in-flash?
Michael Loveday: For me it’s the unique fusion of short-form and long-form fiction – it simultaneously contracts and expands. And it’s a way for flash fiction writers to experience the thrills of acting like a novelist. It’s also potentially a way for flash fiction writers to reach a wider readership: there’s a big audience out there full of people who would happily devour a novel but not feel inclined to read a one-off flash. So a novella-in-flash may be more likely to engage them. Plus writers of poems, too, might feel that through experimenting with flash, they could sidle up sideways to something that’s novel-like, if they yearn to write a full novel and doing so has always seemed daunting.
FF: You were the judge for the Bath Novella-In-Flash award for two years running, 2019-2020. Did you see change over time as you read more and more of the form?
ML: The set up for me in 2019 and 2020 was that I read a longlist of the best 25-27 manuscripts in each year. So I only got a snapshot of what writers were submitting. In 2019 there was a lot of excellent writing but quite a few manuscripts beyond the shortlist read like miscellaneous collections. In 2020 there seemed to be a clearer understanding of the novella-in-flash form across the whole longlist, that it needs to hold together meaningfully into a whole. Across the top 27 that was consistently being done quite well. At the same time, in 2020 I noticed a number of writers pushing their NIFs into a territory that was more novel-like – longer chapters, more exposition than flash usually contains, and so on. But if you look at the form as a whole, ever since writers began repeatedly experimenting with it in the 20th century, there’s always been an impulse for writers to push boundaries and try different things. As I see it, people are doing hybrid, unusual things with the form even at the same time that a kind of underlying archetype – a ‘classic-form novella-in-flash’ – is coalescing and becoming more widely understood as a foundation in the background. In the same way, lots of people can share a common idea of what a bird looks like, even though there are thousands of kinds of bird and lots of different species, and everyone’s drawing of an individual bird would be unique to them.
FF: Let’s talk about your new book, Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash. As you were compiling this book, how did you go about thinking of the most important features of the novella-in-flash?
ML: Lots of reading, note-taking, reflection and daydreaming, plus then the process of mulling over or discussing my own writing efforts, and commenting on other writers’ NIF manuscripts. A sort of melting pot of influences as a training ground over a number of years. And, in a way, I did already have a draft version of some significant parts of this book, in the form of the novella-in-flash course I’d been teaching since May 2019, working one-to-one with clients. A large part of the writing process for this craft guide consisted of hammering the course into a shape where it was shareable with a wider public, not only one-to-one clients. And certain crucial chapters about features of the form were shared with people I could trust like Michelle Elvy, Meg Pokrass, David Swann and Anne Caldwell, for reassurance that the descriptions were on track.
FF: Can you share a sample from the book?
ML: This was one of the hardest sections to get right, and Michelle, Meg and David very kindly helped me fine-tune it. There’s a balance to be struck between attempting to describe something definitively and succinctly, yet also allowing room for interpretation and experimentation. This extract was published at SmokeLong Quarterly in December 2021 but I was tinkering with the book version right up until publication.
FF: What do you each think are the most challenging aspects about writing a NIF? And the most fun?
ML: I think different people find different things tricky about the form. With the way I write (which is to generate lots of different material without planning an outline from the start), I find the hardest part is gathering everything together and integrating the disparate components – deciding which narrative elements are distractions and which are threads on which to pull.
The most fun part for me is polishing each individual flash as its own bright jewel, because I love editing more than I love drafting. Plus letting the characters take up residence in my life – living with them for longer than I would with a character from a typical one-off flash fiction. I end up caring about the characters a lot more. A character in a one-off flash for me is usually a vehicle (for something to do with narrative, theme/meaning, imagery, and so on). I care about the narrative situation that a character is in but the character hasn’t yet taken on a whole life of their own beyond that. Whereas when I’m writing a novella-in-flash, the characters are the main point.
FF: Take us back to your early interest in the small form, and how your curiosity in flash fiction led you to the NIF.
ML: The NIF bug began for me around 2010/2011, when I was doing a Masters in Writing (Poetry) at Kingston University. Everyone – novelists, playwrights, poets, screenwriters alike – had to do a module called Structure and Style, where we produced a portfolio of fiction, poetry and drama. Those were my first proper forays into fiction – I wrote a set of short-short stories, because I’d stumbled across the American prose poet Louis Jenkins (whose prose poems are often like short-short stories), although my tutor at the time was a bit frustrated and said he’d have preferred me to write one full short story. I think he felt that I was ducking the challenge of the short story, and I could certainly see the inconvenience to him of me having gone down that route – I mean, the idea was we would all learn about ‘proper short stories’. But something had taken root. Then for my poetry dissertation, I ended up writing a set of narrative prose poems, using three fictional voices. Around the same time, someone recommended Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. And then the clincher at that time was discovering Jack Robinson’s Days and Nights in W12 which is a stunning hybrid of short prose forms – memoir, journalism, historical non-fiction, prose poetry, short-short story. I absolutely fell in love with that book and I still re-read it every couple of years, as I do with Mango Street too. Then I put a call out on Facebook for books that were similar “novels in short prose forms” and just kept reading and reading…
FF: Would you like to share your very first published flash fiction here?
And an excerpt from your own NIF?
ML: This is the first I published online, in 2012, published in Smoke: A London Peculiar. I originally thought of this as a prose poem, because I hadn’t really discovered the flash fiction community, and I’d been primarily publishing poems up to that point. But if I wrote it nowadays, I’d call it a flash fiction, because that’s the label I use most often for my writing.
And this is an extended extract from my NIF Three Men on the Edge (V. Press, 2018), published at The Forge Literary Magazine in 2017, where I gathered together a number of the micros from the third part of the book.
Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash: from Blank Page to Finished Manuscript
by Michael Loveday
Ad Hoc Fiction
About the book:
Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash: from Blank Page to Finished Manuscript is the first ever full roadmap for creating your own novella composed of flash fictions, or very short stories. Whether you’ve written a novella-in-flash before, or are a beginner newly experimenting, this flexible, step-by-step craft guide will support you to produce a high-quality manuscript of linked narratives.
Michael Loveday writes fiction, poetry and non-fiction. His hybrid novella Three Men on the Edge (V. Press, 2018) was shortlisted for the 2019 Saboteur Award for Best Novella.
In 2018 he began publishing a series of articles about the history and form of the novella-in-flash at SmokeLong Quarterly, and in Spring 2022 his craft guide Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash: from Blank Page to Finished Manuscript was published by Ad Hoc Fiction.
He coaches artists, writers, and creative freelancers one-to-one, and edits novella-in-flash manuscripts through his mentoring programme at www.novella-in-flash.com