Flash Novella

Interview with John Brantingham, Judge for the 2023 Novella-in-Flash Award

John Brantingham was Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks’ first poet laureate. His work has been featured in hundreds of magazines, Writers Almanac and The Best Small Fictions 2016 and 2022. He has nineteen books of poetry and fiction including Life: Orange to Pear (Bamboo Dart Press). He is the founder and editor of The Journal of Radical Wonder. He lives in Jamestown, New York.

    We’re delighted that prose and poetry writer, teacher and editor from the US, John Brantingham, is judging our 2023 Novella in Flash Award. He has so much of interest to say in this interview, to inspire you to write a novella-in-flash. We hope you will give it a go and if you want to read a survey of the form and exercises to help you structure, and finish your novella as well as get ideas, the new craft guide book Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash, from blank page to finished manuscript by Michael Loveday,recently published by our small press, Ad Hoc Fction will help you with the writing process.

    Interview
  • Thank you for judging our 2023 Novella in Flash Award!
    As well as many poetry books, you have written three Novellas-in-Flash yourself. Inland Empire Afternoon, which was a runner up in the 2019 Bath Flash Fiction Award and published by Ad Hoc Fiction the same year, Finding Mr Pembroke, The Wapshot Press and Life: Orange to Pear, published by Bamboo Dart Press. Can you give us a few sentences about each of them and their themes?
      Inland Empire Afternoon follows a new character in about forty flashes, all linking to the others to tell the story of a region of the Los Angeles area. The Inland Empire is a much-maligned section of California. It is stereotyped and insulted because it is not nearly as wealthy as Los Angeles, and I don’t like that human tendency toward provincialism and hatred. I wanted to capture the humanity, grace, and craziness of the area, which might be anywhere.

      I wrote Finding Mr. Pembroke after a particularly difficult semester of teaching. It had been overwhelming physically and emotionally, and one day, I shut down. I just couldn’t move, so I wanted to capture that experience. Along with that, I’m well into middle age (as long as I live beyond 100), and it surprises me when I realize that I’m not in my twenties any longer. I wanted to deal with self-concept as well. It’s a book done in one long sentence, and I was hoping that it captured part of the reality of rumination, and the way I was feeling at the time. I couldn’t go to sleep, and I was never really awake.

    Life: Orange to Pear was written slowly, and I understood halfway through that I was asking and answering a question. It is about an alter ego of myself. I started out my adulthood on a journey to become an academic and dropped out of a Ph.D. program in favor of an MFA and the life of a writer. Sure I taught at a college, but the writing I was doing stopped being academic at that point. I was a dismal academic writer. My articles tended to explore the obvious. I also missed the experience of fatherhood, so this answers the question to me of how my life would have been different with those two changes. The answer I came to was that I would have been a boozy, erratically employed father of someone I loved deeply. I’ve written a shadow companion to it called Finnegans Awake to ask and answer other questions about myself. Actually, that entire collection was inspired by an exercise at the Bath Flash Fiction Festival last autumn.

  • What interests you in the novella in flash as a form?
    I like the way that it breaks away from previous modes of expression that were damaged by financial concerns. So much of writing before the new technologies of today was limited by the realities of print media. It was too expensive and too difficult to distribute forms like flash or the novella. A friend of mine wrote and published a flash novella in the 1970s, Gerald Locklin’s The Case of the Missing Blue Volkswagen. It is an absolutely brilliant book that changed the way I understood fiction, but it never got the kind of distribution it needed. It asks us to reconceptualize not only what fiction is but what life is because it can be a series of interlocking moments with or without narrative arc, as our lives often are.
    The problem with this is that when we limit forms of expression, we limit what we can say, and voices that should be heard are silenced. It is part of the process of gatekeeping, and I want to hear as many points-of-view as possible. It’s not just about the kinds of stories that we can tell, but the ways that we see. It’s not just story; it’s point-of-view. Not all concepts can be expressed in 100,000 words, and so these new forms, like the novella-in-flash, allow us to explore other selves and ideas (We need to be able to see from other people’s perspective. David Foster Wallace tells us why.).
  • For many years you were a professor of English at Mt. San Antonio College, California,where you coordinated the creative writing programme and ran the yearly creative writing conference. But you have recently left teaching there and moved to New York State.
    Have you plans to teach elsewhere?
    I might. Technically, I’m just on leave so I might return to Mt. SAC, but currently I’m feeling that I’d rather not. The work I did there was good and important, maybe the most important work I will ever do, but I’d like to focus more on creative writing than I did there. I had a kind of hybrid assignment where I taught creative writing and essay writing, and I worked with and evaluated part-time professors.
    What I’d like to do now is teach creative writing exclusively. I don’t know what the realities of the United Kingdom are, but in the United States there is too much gatekeeping, starting with professors who do not help their students find their own voice and platform. Many educators ask their students to mimic their voices. I want to help people create something that is true to them and their experiences. I love to help marginalized students find their audience for the same reason I love new forms of fiction. I want to hear new things. This might be at a formal college or university or in places like flash fiction festivals. It could be in the United States or outside of it. I don’t know. I’m so new to not being a tenured professor that I’m still spinning a little; after all, for twenty-five years my first name was Professor. Now, I’m back to being John.
  • Have you any new writing projects on the go?
    I always work on many projects at once. I just finished a collection of 100 ekphrastic sonnets about four artists who lived through times of war, Miro, Klee, Goya, and David. Some of their art gives a path forward through international trauma. David often celebrates tyranny, propping up dictators like Napoleon. Of course, this is the nationalistic quest, and I see many in my country acting in the same way. I’d like to understand those people, but I doubt I ever will.

      At the same time, I’m working on a flash novella or novel following the life cycle of one person born during WWII. We follow his life and the effect that war has on him. It resists the idea that there are individual wars rather than just one war that shifts all over the world. If we say, WWII ended, then there’s no way that it can. There’s more to it than that. There are other throughlines like how returning to nature heals, but that was the impetus for the work.
      My third collection in progress is a series of free verse poems looking at empty spaces and why they have been abandoned, and how that abandonment feels in a world that is often hostile and feels meaningless to people who live in it. I live in a rural part of New York State and people are leaving for places like the Inland Empire, California. There are abandoned factories and houses everywhere.
    The fourth project, which I’m more or less done with, is about the Santa Ana River Watershed. It’s an 80 page haibun about what makes a watershed. In the Los Angeles area, where the Santa Ana River is, water is so scarce that it must be used and reused. If a drop of water lands on a mountain, it’s likely to pass through 3 or 4 people before it reaches the ocean. That means the human population is part of the calculation that the water resources people make when they try to understand how much water there is. This fact makes it clear that we are a part of nature, not disconnected. We are in fact a part of the watershed; we are a mobile reservoir. I try to explore those connections to nature. “Connection” is even the wrong word because it implies disconnection is possible. It is not. We are of the rivers that run past and through us.
  • You have also recently started The Journal of Radical Wonder on Medium. Can you tell us more about it and how people can submit and what you are looking for?
    It’s a journal that came out of years of conversations with my writing partners. I agree very much with Hannah Arendt about the dangerous nature of the banality of evil, and we’re trying to extend that idea a bit. Being able to see this world, any part of it, as banal is where evil begins. The lens of banality is a way of seeing beauty, oneness, and connection as being disposable (Have you heard Cosmo Sheldrake’s song against boredom? Here it is.). Not everything needs to be positive, but it’s trying to understand how everyday moments are not simple or humdrum. It fights cynicism, which is a sophomoric approach to life meant to make someone seem smart without taking the time to understand.
    What I’d like people to submit is anything that lays bare what is true in this world. I don’t want to read anything merely clever. I hate smugness and punching down. I assume that I’m wrong about a lot in this world. I want to be shown the truth.
    Okay, so on a practical level, what would l like to see? Flash of all sorts. Poetry, although formatting on medium is very limited, so I think it’s best to send poems that rely on shape to other publications. Essays. Book reviews. We’d love more book reviews. Interviews. Art and images, these don’t go to me but to Jane Edberg, the visual arts editor.
    Here’s the link to our submissions page. Please send me work. At heart, I am more of a teacher than an editor. I’d love to have a conversation about your work: Link to our submission guidelines.
  • If you are able to answer this, it would be very interesting to know what kind of novella would particularly grab your attention?

    I want to understand other people in a profound and meaningful way. I want to have a moment of humanity. I’m driven by character and setting. Kathy Fish, Kendall Johnson, Romaine Washington, Aimee Bender, Grant Hier, Tony Barnstone, Pamela Painter, Karen Jones, Lynne Thompson, Michael Loveday, and Stuart Dybek move me. Kareem Tayyar always floors me. I think he’s one of the best living writers. All of these writers and poets show us what it means to be human. Of course, I love others too, but this kind of writing tends to reach me.

  • A tip for the difficult moments in writing a longer narrative in flash fictions?
    When I am having trouble moving through writing, it usually has to do with me running from trauma. When that happens, I try to understand what it means, and what pain I’m afraid to work through.
    A psychologist friend of mine once said that nightmares are not the problem, they are the solution your body is giving you, and you need to listen to them. When we’re entering fiction, we’re entering dreamtime. If you’re struggling, it could very well be this. It also might be that it’s dangerous in these moments to proceed alone. Support systems matter. The image of the alienated writer is a warning, not an aspiration.
    On top of that, if you’ve had the kind of shame-based vaguely religious childhood training grounded on groupthink and cognitive dissonance that I had, everything in your stupid brain will tell you that if you enjoy an experience then it must be without value, that if you create something, it has no meaning, and that everyone around you always has greater insights than you do.
    Let me tell you this:

Your work is important.

Your voice matters.

The world needs to hear what you have to say.

Also, if you are a beginning writer, please watch this: Ira Glass’s flash essay.

share by email

Novella in Flash, 2022 Round-Up

Thank you to all the writers,again over one hundred, who submitted novellas in flash to our 6th Novella in Flash Award, judged this year by Michelle Elvy who also judged the Award in 2021. It’s a challenging form to tackle and we really enjoyed the variety of subject matters and styles within the entries. It was hard to choose the longlist from a very strong field of stories that again extended the scope of this genre.

Many congratulations to the Winners and commended writers: First Prize winner, Caroline Greene from the UK; Runners Up, K. S. Dyal from the US and David Swann from the UK; Highly Commended, Christopher Drew and Jupiter Jones; Commended Kristen Loesch from the US and Slawka G Scarso from Italy and the shortlisted writers: Finnian Burnett from Canada; Jeanette Lowe from the UK and Sheree Shatsky from the US. We have added the bios of all the winning and commended writers and will add the bios for the shortlisted writers soon.

We are very pleased to say that all the ten authors in the shortlist have been offered publication by our small press, Ad Hoc Fiction and we can look forward to up to ten wonderful novellas in flash to add to the eighteen Ad Hoc Fiction has already published.

Our huge thanks to judge Michelle Elvy, whose comments on reading the longlist and her in-depth comments on the shortlist and winners are in her report linked here. We really appreciate her very close reading of all the twenty five manuscripts she received and studied over the past six weeks. She is also a brilliant editor as well, and some of the writers, as they did last year, will I expect, be contacting her for some extra suggestions before publication. Her own hybrid collection the other side of better and her novel in short forms the everrumble are both published by Ad Hoc Fiction.

The seventh Award will be open later this year with a closing date of January 2023. Judge to be announced. And for anyone who wants to read more about tackling the form, Unlocking the Novella in Flash – from blank page to finished manuscript by writer, editor and teacher, Michael Loveday is now open for preorders.

share by email

Novella in Flash, 2022 Award – Winners and Commended

Many congratulations to all. We’re looking forward to when all these wonderful novellas in flash fiction are published by Ad Hoc Fiction. Read judge Michelle Elvy’s comments on all. And our Award Round Up.
First prize: Lessons at the Water’s Edge: by Caroline Greene
Caroline Greene @cgreene100 is an English Language teacher who’s also worked as an editor and features writer, and as a fund-raiser in the theatre. Her work has
been performed at Liars League, and appeared in the Fish Anthology 2011, Flash Magazine, Splonk and FlashBack Fiction, as well as anthologies from Bath FlashFiction, the National Flash Fiction Day, Flash Fiction Festival and Retreat West.

Runner-Up: It Felt Like Everything by K.S. Dyal
K.S. Dyal is a writer and lawyer from Washington, D.C. She has stories in or coming from SmokeLong Quarterly, JMWW, CHEAP POP, Cleaver Magazine, and elsewhere. She won CutBank’s 2021 Big Sky, Small Prose Flash Contest and placed second in Bath Flash Fiction’s spring 2021 contest. She has previously published under the name K.S. Lokensgard.

Runner-Up: The Twisted Wheel by David Swann
David Swann’s flash fiction collection Stronger Faster Shorter was published in 2015. In 2016 he won the Bridport Flash Fiction Competition, his eighth success in a Prize that he judged in 2013. His other publications include The Privilege of Rain (based on his experiences as a Writer in Residence in jail, and shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award) and The Last Days of Johnny North, a collection of his prize winning short fiction. His novella in flash Season of Bright Sorrow, illustrated by Sam Hubbard won first prize in the Bath Flash Fiction Novella in Flash Award in 2021 and is published by Ad Hoc Fiction. He is currently Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Chichester, where he teaches modules on fiction, poetry, and screenwriting.

Highly Commended: Essence by Christopher Drew
Christopher M Drew lives in Sheffield, UK with his wife and two children. His flash fiction has been published widely in journals such as The Forge Literary Magazine, Splonk, Lunate Fiction, trampset, and SmokeLong Quarterly. His work has featured in Best British & Irish Flash Fiction (2018-19) and Best Microfiction (2021), and has been nominated for Best Small Fictions and Best of the Net. He has served as editor for historical flash fiction journal Flashback Fiction, and is currently Guest Editor for the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology 2022. You can connect with Chris on Twitter @cmdrew81, or through his website https://chrisdrew81.wixsite.com/cmdrew81.

Highly Commended: Gull Shit Alley and Other Roads to Hell by Jupiter Jones
Jupiter Jones lives in Wales and writes short and flash fictions. She is the two-time winner of the Colm Tóibín International Prize, and her stories have been published by Aesthetica, Brittle Star, Fish, Scottish Arts, and Parthian. Her first novella-in-flash, The Death and Life of Mrs Parker was published by Ad Hoc Fiction and her second, Lovelace Flats by Reflex Press @jupiterjonz

Commended: Presence by Kristen Loesch
Kristen Loesch is an award-winning writer and novelist. Her debut historical novel, THE PORCELAIN DOLL, is out now in the UK (Allison & Busby) and is forthcoming in the US (Berkley) and in eight other territories in 2023. Originally from San Francisco, she now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and children. Twitter: @kristenloesch


Commended: All Their Favourite Stories by Slawka G. Scarso
Slawka G. Scarso works as a copywriter, translator and marketing lecturer and has published several books on Italian wine. Her short fiction in English has appeared/is forthcoming in Mslexia, Ellipsis Zine, Scrawl Place, Spelk, FlashBack Fiction, Fractured Lit, Bending Genres, Five Minutes, Firewords and others. She was shortlisted in the 2022 NFFD Microfiction Competition and longlisted in the 2022 Reflex Press Novella Award. Her flash fiction has also appeared in anthologies such as Snow Crow (Ad Hoc Fiction), Flash Fiction Festival Anthology Volume Four (Ad Hoc Fiction), and in the forthcoming In the Belly of the Whale (Ellipsis Zine).She lives between Castel Gandolfo, a village perched on a dormant volcano near Rome, and Milan. You can find her on Twitter as @nanopausa and on www.nanopausa.com.

share by email

Launch Party for 4 Novellas in Flash, 22nd December!

Come to the launch party, hosted by Ad Hoc Fiction director, Jude Higgins on Wednesday 22nd December, 7.30pm – 9.30 pm on Zoom for four of the novellas-in-flash published from our 2021 Award! Published today (9th December 2021), in a beautiful line up, One For the River by Tom 0’Brien a runner up in the Award; and two short-listed novellas, The Listening Project by Ali McGrane and Kipris by Michelle Christophorou. We’ll also be officially launching Small Things by Hannah Sutherland, highly commended in the 2021 Award and published in October.

These are four brilliant novellas in flash, all very different and at the launch the authors will tell us more about them and each read three short pieces from the books.There will be break out chats and a book giveaways at the end of the evening. Hope you can come! Email jude {at} adhocfiction {dot} com for a link. All welcome. In the meantime, have a look at our 2021 judge, Michelle Elvy’s comments on the novellas.

You can buy all of them directly at the online bookshop at Ad Hoc Fiction. On each bookshop page there are also links for buying in paperback from Amazon world wide. And if you want a signed copy, some of our authors are selling them directly. Please DM them on Twitter to ask for a copy or email Jude at the above address for her to pass your details on.

And the last of the ten novellas in flash from the 2021 Award (the fifth yearly Bath Novella in Flash Award) will be published by Ad Hoc Fiction on 18th December. It’s the first prize winner, Season of Bright Sorrow by David Swann. Read more about it here. It is now open for preorder. We hope to launch David’s book in early January.

The 2022 Bath Novella in Flash Award closes on January 14th. Submissions welcome for novellas in flash in between 6000 and 18000 words. Michelle Elvy is judging again and results will be out in April 2022.

share by email

Preorders open for Season of Bright Sorrow, winning Novella in Flash by David Swann

We’re thrilled that Season of Bright Sorrow David Swann’s brilliant first prize winning novella in flash from our 2021 NIF Award judged by Michelle Elvy is now up for preorder at a 25% discount from Ad Hoc Fiction, until publication day on 18th December.

It’s such a moving story, and is wonderfully illustrated with drawings by artist Sam Hubbard, some of which are shown below.

The striking cover image was also designed by Sam and shows a prison notebook. Sam and Dave have supplied a ‘Property of the prison’ stamp for us to use to make the book unique before it is posted off to purchasers. Season of Bright Sorrow will also be available on Amazon worldwide at publication, but you won’t get an individualised stamp there!

Here’s a brief synopsis:

After her father is jailed for murder, a young girl is re-housed with her mother in a crumbling resort. There are terrors here: tides and quick-sands, also a strange boy who wanders the marsh. But when the girl meets an elderly beachcomber who has known heartaches of his own, she senses that her fortunes could turn like the tide. The tide that rushes in faster than a horse, bringing life – and sometimes taking it…

Read in Full

share by email

Three more novellas in flash available for preorder now!

Ad Hoc Fiction is publishing all the shortlist and winners from the 2021 Novella in Flash Award. Ten novellas in all and today three more are up for preorder.
You can read judge Michelle Elvy’s report here.

One for the River, a story about the tragic death of a young boy in a river by Tom 0’Brien was the runner-up in this year’s Award and he has extended the story for publication so it has even more poignant impact since we read it first at Bath Flash. We’re also pleased that Kipris by Michelle Christophorou a coming of age story set in British occupied Cyprus in the last century has a few extra stories in it, which add to the depth of this little written about period of history. The Listening Project by Ali McGrane focusses brilliantly on other aspects of loss — the loss of hearing and the loss of a brother.

All these books are beautifully written and address important issues in different ways. You can now pre-order at a 25% discount until publication day for all three on Thursday 9th October. We hope to host an online launch shortly and will keep you posted

Below, we’ve added a gallery of these three novellas in flash now up for pre-order and the six others from this year’s award already published and available from the Ad Hoc Fiction bookshop. They are A Family of Great Falls by Debra A Daniel, Things I Can’t Tell Amma by Sudha Balagopal, The Tony Bone Stories by Al Kratz, Hairy on The Inside by Tracy Fells, The Death and Life of Mrs Parker by Jupiter Jones and Small Things by Hannah Sutherland.

The winner of our last year’s award, Season of Bright Sorrow by David Swann will also be out soon. And if you want to enter next year’s Award, it closes on January 14th and is again judged by writer and editor Michelle Elvy

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

share by email

Round- Up, 2021 Novella in Flash Award

Thank you to all those who entered our fifth yearly Novella-in-Flash Award. We received just over one hundred entries from around the world, about the same number as last year. It’s a difficult genre to write in, and we very much appreciated the range and variety within the entries both in style, setting and subject matter. There were many themes about relationships and family and also wider political issues and contemporary concerns. It was so enjoyable reading them and making the decisions, although hard, on which ones to include in the long list of twenty-five novellas. Michelle has written a wonderful report with comments on her process of selecting for the short list and choosing the winning novellas. We thank her very much for the extreme care she took over this process; many, many hours mulling over the choices for the shortlist and then choosing the three winners and two commended authors.

We love the novella-in-flash ‘genre’ at Bath Flash Fiction Award, and are so pleased that Ad Hoc Fiction is able to publish the entire short list of ten novellas this year. Many congratulations to all authors: our first prize winner, David Swann; our two runners up, Tom 0’Brien and Al Kratz; the two highly commended Hannah Sutherland and Sudha Balagopal and the five shortlisted authors; Michelle Christophorou, Debra Daniel, Tracy Fells, Jupiter Jones and Ali McGrane. You can read the biographies on our winners and shortlisted writers pages on this website and we will be publishing short interviews with them soon.

We are also much looking forward to seeing all these novellas in print to join 14 novellas-in-flash series already published by Ad Hoc Fiction since we ran the inaugural Award in 2017. Hopefully, the books all be available from Ad Hoc Fiction in paperback and from Amazon worldwide in paperback and digital versions by the end of this year or early next year. We will keep you posted.

The 2022 Novella in Flash Award will be open soon.

Jude Higgins
April 2021

share by email

Novella-in-Flash 2021 Judge’s report, Michelle Elvy

What a very fine set of flash novellas! And what a daunting task – perhaps the most difficult reading I’ve done. A huge congratulations to every writer who completed a novella-in-flash and submitted, and then a further round of applause to the writers whose work is in the Long List. Wow.
Many thanks also to Ad Hoc Fiction/ BFFA for entrusting me with this challenging and rewarding task. I learn so much every time I read new sets of flash fictions – and this collection of novellas certainly raises the bar.
It’s no easy task writing a collection of stories with a narrative arc, with overtones and undercurrents, with full yet flawed characters, with suspense and mystery in such a small space. Every one of the novellas in the long list has something special about it – many of them intense family portrayals, many of them drawn from history of a place and the nuances from a time long gone, several of them capturing innocence and loss. The form is evolving; writers are taking more chances in the way they write novellas-in-flash, as this long list demonstrates. Some experiment with time; some explore voice and point-of-view in inventive ways; a few play with dialogue and the vernacular; one begins with a recipe.
This long list takes us from Augusta to Reykjavik. And the names: imaginative and evocative, from ‘Fishing Lines’ to ‘Throw A Seven’, from ‘Wild Boys’ to ‘His Raucous Girls’ – I wanted to meet the people in these pages.
The stories captivated me from the opening lines, too. Here are few memorable ones:
I’m starting to believe my own stories. – Remembering What the Doormouse Said

“Two girls in thrift-store broomstick skirts leap from the dinner table, two girls in the
desert smell rain.” – His Raucous Girls

“Sixty-one paces between the Pool of the Monster and the Elm Field. Cara says fifty-five. I don’t argue. Never argue. She’s a year older. Knows things I don’t know.” – Long Bend Shallows

“Greedy and selfish. That’s babies for you,’ said the old woman.” – The End of History

Arriving at the Short List took ages. I moved back and for the between stories, I examined beginnings, middles and endings. I examined dialogue and pacing. I walked away and let them settle into my brain and heart. I read them again. Finally, the ten on the short list emerged as they each took all of the things we love about the short form one step further. They took risks, and I admired them for that. Here’s a hint of what the short list holds:

A Family of Great Falls. Two sisters growing up with a sense of the potential promise that life may hold, as well as the dark realities that are unavoidable with a father who, as an undertaker, is the ‘keeper of the dead’ and a brother buried in the town cemetery. Oh, and a name that must be buried and farewelled, too. Tender but not sentimental, this is a balanced set of stories that reveal the bonds of sisterhood and the way two young girls face the hardest challenges.

Hairy on the Inside. A group of flatmates try to hold onto their compassion and civilising tendencies in the face of pestilence and plague – mostly. Their new lockdown lives include all the typical things, from counselling sessions to book clubs. But this is no ordinary tale: you will howl when the moon is full and grimace when there’s a hunger for blood. A funny and irreverent monster mash-up, with love in the mix, too, and a serious message about how to be the real you. Carefully written with excellent pacing but also: it’s clear how much fun the writer had writing this!

Kipris. New life, and repeated death on the island of Cyprus. A story that intertwines people and politics, historical drama and myth, in an intricate and lyrical way, moving from the oceanside to the mountains to lemon and orange groves, and then to Liverpool and back again. Spanning across generations from the 1940s to the 1980s, this is a study in self-determination and love, on many levels. And goats – filling us with warm frothy milk, filling the stories with sustenance.

The Death and Life of Mrs Parker. Set in the structure the title suggests, this novella brings the reader into the moment of Mrs Parker’s demise and then, with swift moves and snappy dialogue, takes us through her life (moments both special and mundane), all while the ambulance lights flare and the compressions are counted. A life lived, a life revived, a life lost: there are many wonderful moments in this clever set of stories.

The Listening Project. A boy lost to his family; a young girl growing up without her brother. This is a beautiful story of grief and the way it changes us. It’s also about tuning in, and learning to hear, as the title suggests: to both outside and inside worlds. Moving across generations and sometimes navigating delicate moments and thin ice, this novella takes us through a family’s sad story, but also rebirth – in more ways than one. Musical and rich in tone.

And now, here are the top placements…
HIGHLY COMMENDED
Small Things. A beautiful story of loss, told in a way that surprises you, because love is expansive between the people in this story – between Jude and his Da, between Jude and the memory of his Ma, between Jude and Una, between Jude and Kit. And even as the love is grand, the moments are captured with subtle storytelling, and the heart shines with all the small things between them. These stories hold sharp dialogue and sometimes uncomfortable encounters; these feel like real people building real relationships. Friendship and love resonate in these pages, and the ending is both surprising and perfect. The story is layered over the years, from Jude’s first encounter with the new boy Kit (age 7) to his early adulthood when the world is baffling and unbalanced, where weaknesses and strengths come to light. And Kit, Kit Kit, at the centre of it all. Exceptional storytelling!

HIGHLY COMMENDED
Things I can’t tell Amma. A coming-of-age story of a young woman studying abroad, reaching across oceans and time to her family back in Calcutta. Deepa misses the spices and comfort of home, but she embraces the newness and choice that this new world has to offer. Deepa’s encounters captivate the reader. The details take us there; this in 1981 America: giggly girls tune into General Hospital and Good Morning, America, President Reagan is shot, Prince Charles marries Lady Diana Spencer. Deepa is far from the traditions and expectations of her known world, and she opens her mind and her heart. It’s a world of jalapeño and new spices and even danger. And humour, too: there’s a clickety typewriter with a missing letter and ‘Whats-his-name’, the pet bird she can’t name. And there is love, first hinted at when Deepa does not pull back as Theo reaches for her hand, and then told delicately in second person and closing the set with a wonderful, gentle ending.

RUNNER UP
One for the River. An economy of words that tells a richly layered story. This is one of the shortest collections in the batch, and yet here we have so much as the writer shows the death of a boy from many views and paints a picture of the people who inhabit this small town. A great deal of control is exercised here; both the writing and the story are restrained but full. The themes intrigue: impermanence versus permanence; a fleeting moment versus decisive finality; an encounter observed as chance but with clear results. A photograph not taken encompasses the idea of ‘would have/ could have…’, while a stone carved with hammer and chisel reminds us of what can be said without words. This story leaves me with images of these people, and the moments between them – some wicked, some funny, some full of sorrow and also grace. And there’s a play with language, too: the chip van, the chipping of the stone; the rock of one’s life, the rock that Aiden drags, Sisyphean, to the bridge where the drowning boy was first observed. The idea of change, too: what happens to Fat Barry; what happens to Aiden. And then there’s the drowning itself – the five stages that are essential and eloquent, placed between the scenes. Spare in style, this small set of pages resonates with the complexities of an entire novel.

RUNNER UP
The Tony Bone Stories. A strong and sure narrative, this lively set of stories explores truth and fiction, the line between reality and make-believe, and the way one story will influence the outcome of another. It is worth noting that this is one of the few novellas in the Short List that does not deal with death and grief; this is a completely different take on The Meaning Of Life. I applaud the writer for taking a route that is fresh and fun. Rich in layers and confident in voice, the writing is witty, humorous and charged – and leaves the reader with a delicious set of questions to ponder, without being overly ponderous. It’s a romp through Tony Bone’s world – the good moments (he has a girlfriend!), the sleepless nights, the trip to Vegas – all the while working alongside his, and the narrator’s, existential crisis. Tony Bone has to exist, yes, but there must be a reason; as we learn here: you can’t just take someone from a news story and create a character to bring to your writing group, right? The narrator must build Tony – and plausibility – before our eyes. What a fun and rewarding exploration of the relationship between character, narrator and reader, and a reflection on possibilities, down to the very last marvellous line.

FIRST
Season of Bright Sorrow. A girl lives by the sea, and the rhythm of life both lived and observed emerges in these pages. Here we have a gathering of things unexpected: an external exploration of young Lana’s world, and the internal workings of her imagination, both built artfully by the writer. This collection stands out for the rhythmic storytelling and the variety the reader encounters in these small fictions – told in fragments, in lists, in long breathless sentences, in repetitions, in sharp and believable dialogue. There is great care here, and yet the stories spill from the page seamlessly. We peek into a bag and see what’s being collected; we have glimpses of a map, shards of shining things. There is both breadth and depth in these stories, and each page reveals something more: faraway objects and items close up need examining, need understanding. The strong characters are woven together beautifully: Lana with her missing father, her not-too-sober mother, an old man collecting objects along the beach and an unlikeable boy. The encounters are poignant and surprising. And we get the sense that, despite a yearning for order and control, there is a wildness, too: from lions to spiders to whelks to whales to the sea itself. By the end, Lana – and the reader – come to terms with realities and limitations that this life delivers, but there is an innocence and a hope that lingers, too. A superbly designed set of stories, from beginning to end. And although the style and confidence of the prose itself is enough to garner the top prize in this competition, it is worth mentioning here that the sketches that accompany the writing add another intriguing layer.

An extraordinary set of novellas-in-flash! I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!

-Michelle Elvy
April 2021

share by email