Charmaine Wilkerson is an American writer who has lived in the Caribbean and is based in Italy. Her award-winning flash fiction can be found in the Best Microfiction anthologies from 2020 and 2019 and other anthologies and magazines, including 100-Word Story, Bending Genres, Fiction Southeast, FlashBack Fiction, Litro, Reflex Fiction, Spelk and elsewhere. Her story How to Make a Window Snake won the Bath Novella-in-Flash Award in 2017 and the Saboteur Award for Best Novella in 2018. Her debut novel Black Cake is due to be published in 2022. She is represented by Madeleine Milburn of the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency. Read in Full
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?
(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.
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.”
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.”
Read in Full
Our second novella-in-flash award, judged by Meg Pokrass, closes at midnight 29th January 2018. Our first winner was Charmaine Wilkerson, an American writer, who now lives in Rome.
Her winning novella-in-flash, How to Make a Window Snake, was published in Summer 2017, by Ad Hoc Fiction, in our anthology of the same title. Also included in this anthology are flash novellas from the two runners-up, Things I Dream About When I’m not Sleeping by Ingrid Jendrzejewski and A Safer Way to Fall by Joanna Campbell. The anthology, which was launched at the inaugural Flash Fiction Festival in Bath in June 2017, has been selling well around the world. Here’s a photograph of How to Make A Window Snake taken by Charmaine in a café in Rome, complete with an authentic Italian cappuccino.
Read in Full
Charmaine tells us how, on a walk around the ancient wall of Rome she arrived at the inspiration for her wonderful first prize winning novella-in-flash How to Make a Window Snake. When writing at her dining room table, she had to battle interruptions from her family and from others in distant time zones. It is interesting to learn how the structure of this novella emerged and how Charmaine was influenced by many different authors writing stories within stories. The tipping point for her to give the form a go, was reading the novellas-in-flash and essays by Meg Pokrass and others in the guide My Very End of the Universe published by Rose Metal Press. Ending the whole piece was the most difficult part of the writing for Charmaine. But take advice from her if you are embarking on a novella-in-flash – don’t force it. “Let your stories emerge, breathe some life into them, and then see if this is the structure that will allow them to blossom.”
You’ll be able to read How to Make a Window Snake, and the two runner-up novellas-in-flash by Joanna Campbell and Ingrid Jendrzejewski shortly. Our publisher, Ad Hoc Fiction, is in the process of compiling the book, due to be published in June.
Read in Full
Our winner and two runners-up tell us a little about themselves.
Read in Full
We were inspired to launch the inaugural novella-in-flash award by reading the excellent guide on the subject, My Very End of the Universe published by Rose Metal Press in 2014. Meg Pokrass’s flash novella, Here, Where we Live is one of five novellas in this book and she also has a craft essay in the book. The novella-in-flash is one of her favourite emerging forms, and we were thrilled when she agreed to judge the first competition.
Read in Full
I was honoured to be asked to judge Bath Flash Fiction Award’s inaugural novella-in-flash contest. There were many strong novella entries making the competition fierce. It was fascinating to see the different way each writer approached this challenge!
One of the most important traits of the flash novella is in creating a sense of urgency that pulls the reader in quickly. This is achieved through pacing, stand-alone story strength, and the creation of unforeseeable dramatic tension. Ultimately, success relies on the crafting of an inventive, non-traditional narrative arc. The short nature of the novella-in-flash does not allow for much context or rumination. Instead, it relies on tragic urgency.
Read in Full