Joanna Campbell was one of the two runners-up in our inaugural Novella-In-Flash Award judged by Meg Pokrass earlier this year. Her novella A Safer Way to Fall plus How to Make a Window Snake by our winner Charmaine Wilkerson and Things I Dream About When I’m Not Sleeping, by the other runner-up, Ingrid Jendrzejewski, were published together in one anthology, in time to be launched at the Flash Fiction Festival in Bath in June 2017. Joanna wasn’t able to attend the event but we were very pleased that she could come and read at a Flash Fiction Evening of Readings at St James’ Wine Vaults, Bath in May. A Safer Way to Fall is an historical piece spanning traumatic events concerning a family pre and during World War Two, and the subsequent devastation wrought upon the family. She is pictured here reading ‘Counting’ a very tense and moving flash fiction from the novella, where one of the main protagonists is in a line-up facing a firing squad.
Below, Joanna tells us how she came to understand the form and discovered a thread, which she could form into a novella, from flash fictions she had written during the previous eight years.
Understanding the form
When I first read about the Novella-in-Flash competition on the Bath Flash Fiction Award website, I had never considered writing in this form—in fact, I had never heard of it before. I studied the insightful information provided by Meg Pokrass in her judge’s interview on the website, in order to understand what was expected and felt compelled to give it a try when she explained that our fiction pieces often have a shared thread woven throughout. I saw that the form of novella-in-flash pairs the punch of a flash fiction piece with the gentle unfolding of a longer story, gradually magnifies characters we meet at the most intense moments of their lives, allows for the recurrence and resonance of motifs which become pulses throbbing throughout the pages, and, story by story, unravels the truth at the novella’s core.
Exploring all my flash fictions
I spent a month exploring all my flash fictions, dating back to 2009, many of which contained a sense of falling, a focus on the events in life which take us to the edge, throwing us out of kilter and forcing us to reshape our lives, so that we can ‘fall’ with the least amount of suffering. And there was my thread. Once I had chosen the pieces which best displayed this theme, I could see that the raw punchiness of the original flash could still be retained within the measured and gentler unfolding of a longer piece
Teasing out connective tissue
Over the next month, I wrote several brand-new flashes inspired by the motif of falling which developed and enhanced the material to hand. It then took only another week or so of combining, ordering and polishing the pieces to create the complete novella, with my ‘safer falling’ thread
It is a fascinating form, both to write and to read. Working on A Safer Way To Fall was absorbing, especially the detection of connections between individual stories. It was like looking at a heap of disparate, blank jigsaw puzzle pieces, the picture forming only after I’d discarded some, reshaped others and created one or two which were entirely new.
Fitting them together to discover the finished picture was the best writing moment I have experienced yet. To create this novella, I explored the recurring themes and characters within all my flash fiction pieces and teased out the connective tissue naturally marbled throughout. What I found was remarkable—the selected pieces could remain whole and distinct, yet also combined to form a cohesive novella.
Strengthening the connecting threads
I gathered the flashes which shared the strongest relevance to one another, but also included others which were slightly more remote as a way of retaining the ‘flashness’ within the finished novella. I reworked every piece until the connecting threads became stronger, but most of all I wanted to establish a rhythm which would give the disparate works a single, beating heart.