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Monday 23 November 2020

The House on the Corner by Alison Woodhouse

I’m excited to welcome Alison Woodhouse to chat with us today about her debut ‘The House on the Corner’ (published by Ad Hoc Fiction). ‘The House on the Corner’ is a novella-in-flash, which is still a new form and perhaps is unknown to many of you. I’ve been lucky enough to meet Alison at various events in the last few years, and to hear her read her work at the Flash Fiction Festival and other workshops. It was a delight to read her debut (I could hear her voice in every story) and my own review is at the end of this post. 

Alison Woodhouse is a teacher, tutor and writer. Her short fiction has won a number of competition, including Flash 500, Hastings, HISSAC (both flash & short story), NFFD micro, Biffy50, Farnham,

AdHoc micro (twice) and Limnisa and many others have been placed or shortlisted. Her stories are widely published both in print and online, including In the Kitchen (Dahlia Press), With One Eyes on the Cows (Bath flash fiction), Leicester Writes 2018 & 2020 (Dahlia Press), The Real Jazz Baby (Reflex), A Girl’s Guide go Fishing (Reflex), National Flash Fiction Day Anthologies and Life on the Margins (Scottish Arts Trust Story Awards). She is part of the team who run the Bath Short Story Award and has an MA in Creative Writing (Distinction) from Bath Spa. Her debut Novella in Flash, The House on the Corner, is published by AdHoc Fiction. 

Twitter: @AJWoodhouse

Facebook:  Alison Woodhouse

Set at the end of the eighties and early nineties, The House on The Corner traces the changes in the
lives of a middle-class nuclear family. As history unfolds outside the house, an ever-deepening crisis threatens the fragile, tenuous connections within. 

Question: A novella-in-flash will be a new form to many readers. Can you tell us what makes this different from a collection of stories?

Hi Tracy, thank you for inviting me onto your blog. I’m not sure I can give a definitive answer as I’m still unravelling what a novella in flash is myself! There are as many styles and subjects as there are flash fictions! For me, I think it differs from a collection of flash stories because it tells one story, the unifying story, in tiny shards or fragments, leaving a lot of space for the reader to make the connections. Each flash contains a nugget whose whole meaning is revealed in conjunction with the rest of the pieces. Whilst each story does stand alone, the impact is greatly increased when they are read together. A collection of flash stories can share themes and even recurring characters, but they are not narratively interdependent and often you can dip in and out. My novella in flash (Nif) is about what happens next, the consequences of characters’ choices. It was a wonderful way for me to explore the family of four over a period of time and chart the changes that happen both within and without the house, moving freely between point of view and jumps in time. I especially enjoy the fracturing in a Nif, because it leaves so much unsaid, which I love in fiction. You really can show not tell! But I wouldn’t get too bogged down in trying to define exactly what it is. In the end, I wanted to try and get the weight and feel that a novel can give a reader, but in far fewer words and I hope the Nif worked! 

Question: Can you tell us how The House on the Corner came to be written and then published? I’m interested to know if you always had a story arc in mind or if it evolved after writing several individual flash stories?

Bath Flash Fiction Award runs an annual Novella in Flash competition, which closes in January. I had read a few of the AdHoc Fiction Nifs and really enjoyed them. The ones that particularly stayed with me (How to Make a Window Snake by Charmaine Wilkinson, for instance, or Homing by Johanna Robinson) were novelistic in scope but so crafted and clever and memorable. The deadline for Bath was a week away when I had a coffee with a friend (Diane Simmons, author of An Inheritance and Finding a Way) and she suggested I entered. I’d started writing flash and entering competitions a couple of years ago and had a fair bit of success winning prizes etc but though I often write about family I didn’t think the flash I’d written had enough connections in terms of story, so the challenge was I’d have to write something new, minimum 6000 words in under a week (Note: maximum is 18,000 words and Alison's is 10,000 words in length). I do like a challenge! I’d been struggling for months with a novel set in the eighties and early nineties and had done lots of research about the impact of the Berlin Wall coming down and the end of the Cold War and all the seismic changes that happened in such a short time and I knew I wanted to set it in that period but wear the history lightly as the novel had got bogged down. Walking home I began to ‘see’ my family of characters and where they lived. I wrote the first story that evening, with the estate agent selling them the house, and then I was off! I wrote the whole thing in less than a week, giving myself a day to proofread. I can honestly say it was thrilling – the most writing fun I’ve ever had. I didn’t stop to look down, just leapt from story to story, keeping all the connections in my head. I think I said this somewhere else, but it was like weaving, or harmonising! To get back to your question (sorry!), there was an arc of sorts set by dates and the opening and closing stories, but the lives of the characters evolved as I wrote. The novella was Highly Commended, which meant it would be published, alongside the other six novellas. The official launch date is actually this Saturday 28th November. Michael Loveday, the judge, offered some excellent feedback prior to publication and I wrote two new stories for balance and strengthened the ending. I feel incredibly lucky, as I really enjoyed writing it, and Jeanette Sheppard (multi-talented author of Seventy Percent Water) painted me the most beautiful cover.

Note: Jeanette Sheppard recently featured on here to talk about her writing and art, you can read her interview here.

Question: What triggers or inspires a story for you? Can you share your writing process for short fiction? 

Interesting question. I often ‘see’ a phrase, or a word, or a scene. Not exactly memory but just my mind wandering off then getting snagged on something. I also like prompts. Last year Adhoc had the word ‘mistake’ as their weekly competition prompt and I saw the first sentence of my flash, that went on to win (read it here); and the rest of the story flowed from that. My story that won Flash500, The Green Dress (read it here), came from an exercise to write about a loved object from childhood. It took me over two years to write that one, as in each subsequent rewrite I delved deeper into the complicated emotions around ‘love’. A lot of writing, for me, is rewriting and I think that’s particularly important in short fiction. In longer form you need the momentum to keep going and though you edit afterwards you can forgive undulations in the text. In a novel sometimes people just have to get from A to B. In short fiction every word matters, every resonance has to sound the intended note. That’s what I love about the rewrites. It’s about finding the sound and rhythms and perfect image for the emotion of the story.

Question: Can you tell us about your next writing project(s), what do you have in the pipeline? 

I have several projects on the go. Firstly, a sequel to The House on the Corner, set a few years later. I don’t know if this is another Nif or not yet. It’s quite different to the first one as it is mainly the wife, Helen, at the moment. I also want to finish the novel I began on my MA two years ago, the one that got bogged down! Since writing the Nif I can approach it differently, so I think that writing experience was really important. I also have about a dozen short stories, quite a few of them prize winning and published, and I want to add more and try and get them published as a collection. And I always have a folder of flash I’m rewriting! In other news, but still writing related, I’m now offering a critique service for flash and short story via my website (alisonwoodhouse.com). 

Question: Where can we buy a copy of The House on the Corner? 

Thank you for asking! Signed copies are available from my website.  

Online at AdHoc Fiction, Waterstones.com or Amazon

The House on the Corner is a novella-in-flash, taking us through eight years of one family’s life in 13 flash stories. Alison Woodhouse writes with such a delicate touch, exposing the heart of the King family with insight and understanding, yet the prose is never overdone or judgmental. This is small enough to be read in one sitting, but I’m glad I read it over several days, to savour and relish the unfolding story. When I finished, I immediately wanted to dive right back in at the beginning and wrap myself up in her writing. Each story can be read and enjoyed on its own, however together they build a complete and satisfying arc. I particularly loved how the opening and concluding stories dovetailed like a handshake, despite being set eight years apart. The recurrent details, such as the doorbell or the hamsters, were a joy to pick out and smile at.

The House on the Corner creaks with the melancholic sadness of unfulfilled lives; its stories echo with loneliness. This house is haunted by the living. The characters still linger with me, and my one final hope is that they all went on to find some happiness and contentment, if not together then at least for themselves.

Monday 2 November 2020

Manual For A Decent Life: a novel by Kavita A. Jindal

I am delighted to welcome Kavita A. Jindal onto the Blog today. Kavita is here to talk about her novel ‘Manual For A Decent Life’ winner of the Brighthorse Prize for Novel and now published by Linen Press. I know Kavita's writing from The Whole Kahini, you can read about their anthology 'May We Borrow Your Country' here. LitPig is also chuffed to learn Kavita is a fan of Walnut Whips (a big favourite in our household). My review follows at the end of the interview …

Kavita A. Jinda
l is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in anthologies and literary journals worldwide and been broadcast on BBC Radio and European radio stations. She is the author of the novel Manual For A Decent Life which won the Brighthorse Prize as a manuscript. She has published two poetry collections to critical acclaim: Patina and Raincheck Renewed. She also writes short stories and essays. She's worked as an editor for literary journals and she's the co-founder of 'The Whole Kahani' writers' collective. In common with The Literary Pig's owner, Kavita regularly consumes walnut whips. 

Manual For A Decent Life:

India, 1996. Waheeda, a principled and spirited young woman from Uttar Pradesh sets her sights on becoming a Member of Parliament. But her romance with the scion of a Delhi business dynasty threatens that dream. Manual for a Decent Life plays out against the backdrop of a tumultuous time in

Indian politics in a world where nothing is what it seems and danger lurks at every turn.

 This ambitious novel is both epic and intimate as Jindal moves seamlessly between domestic family scenes, the passion of an illicit love affair and the instability of political parties vying for power at any cost. The fast-paced, plot-driven drama unfolds against the turbulent backdrop of India in the 1990s. The writing is accomplished, the story is thrilling with a bombshell of an ending.

Q- Can you share how you came to write ‘Manual For A Decent Life’ and tell us more about its path to publication?

This has been a long-haul project, with a meandering and tortured path to completion. I started the book about ten years ago after I’d completed a Masters in Creative Writing at Birkbeck College, University of London. I’d already written and published poetry and short stories but wanted to tell this particular story as it was based on my observations in North India from when I was a young adult and volunteered to help during elections. The narrative is completely fictitious as are the main characters, but the backdrop to their lives is real as is the social context. The novel is not set at the time that I myself observed elections, but a bit later, in the closing years of the twentieth century. This is because India was entering the digital era, alongside the rest of the globe, and things were changing dramatically. Political agendas were getting even more skewed than before. I hoped that some of the social issues, especially the treatment of women, would be different in the 21st century. I cannot say that there hasn’t been progress, but it is so little, and the crimes perpetrated against women are still not punished severely enough, that it’s dispiriting. 

A separate interest of mine is a general record of the times and the clash between rural and urban India. In the metropolises of India wealthy people can live in a kind of societal freedom to be had in Western cities and I wanted to write about that bubble, where women and men can attempt to carve out alternative destinies for themselves, than what is being dictated to them. However, one of the themes of the book is that no one can escape the tentacles or effects of politics or gossip.

I did a lot of research, following the trajectories of women politicians in all regions of India and from all religions, just so that I had a lot of information to draw on for the steps my fictitious protagonists would take. 

The reason the book took ten years from inception to publication is that I wrote a few chapters every year – that’s all I could manage. In my head I had the story, and I had all the complex characters who people the novel, and all the episodes that make up the book, so it was a question of finding blocks of time in my schedule to set it down on paper. Or rather, in a Word folder on the computer.

In an echo of what so many other authors have probably told you, the actual publication happened because at the very last minute of the Brighthorse prize deadline a friend sent me the link and said ‘You have a completed novel. Don’t you?’ The submission required a full manuscript. And yes, I did have one, having finally re-written and edited till I was pleased with it and I was sending it out instead of just talking about it. Some months later I heard, out of the blue, that I’d won the prize. Publication would happen soon. That was at the end of 2018, and the book was published by Brighthorse in early 2020, so there was a wait of another year. Because Brighthorse is a small indie outfit, they agreed that I could find another publisher for the UK edition once the US edition was released. This is where Linen Press came into the picture and is now launching the UK paperback of Manual For A Decent Life.  

Q- The title is unusual, how did you decide on this? I’d be interested to know if the title is something you have right from the onset of writing or does it evolve out of the narrative?

The title has generated a lot of interest. I chose this title at the stage of the final edit of the manuscript. Before that, for several years, the book had another working title. When I started the novel that other title felt right and there was a chapter that alluded to it, but that chapter was cut when I re-structured the book a few years ago. I don’t recall how this title came to me, but I knew it fitted the theme of the book which questions ‘what is decency?’ The word holds different meanings for different people especially in hypocritical societies. Who is decent and who isn’t? Are the people who consider themselves better than others more decent, as they think they are?

In another sense, that of a self-help book, if you will, ‘Manual For A Decent Life’ also sets out pathways to achieving what each individual may consider a decent life for themselves, and for dealing with consequences. But this is really for the reader to fathom, and as I’ve discovered, several have ascribed their own meanings to the title.  

Q- I am in awe how you write across different forms. You have publication credits for novels, short stories and poetry, which is impressive. When an idea begins to stir do you instinctively know which form it will take or does this change at all during the process?

Oh, thank you, Tracy. I am just happy that I’m able to write. 

To answer your question though, I do know which form a particular piece will take. Poems come unbidden usually and I don’t change them into another form even if I spend a long time re-drafting and crafting into a piece I’m happy with. Short stories begin with a germ of an idea and as I’m writing them I begin to figure out where they are going and how long the piece is going to be. A short short story or a long one?

As for novels, well, I have two ideas on the back burner, hopefully one of them will move to the front burner soon, and I do know they have to be novels because there is so much I want to fit into those particular narratives – so much about “place” and so much about people’s emotions and motivations and the general craziness of our current world.

Q- All writers have their own process, what triggers a new piece and how do you take it through early drafting to publication?

I have a lot of ideas and observations noted down for future pieces of writing. I also clip stories out of the newspaper almost every day. When I’m drafting a piece of work I never think of publication. I really want to set down something that is unhampered by thoughts of ‘is this publishable?’ or ‘what will somebody think when they read this?’ I absolutely want to write how I want to write and say what I want to say. 

However, at the next stage, when I’m preparing to submit for publication, I cast an editor’s eye over the poem or story. I try to be a stranger reading it and I do make changes that I think will work better for publication. Then it’s a case of submitting, and getting on with other things, so that there are no expectations, and when I hear back that a piece is being published, I’m simply happy.

Q- Can you tell us about your next writing project, what do you have in the pipeline?

I’m preparing a manuscript of collected short stories that I would like to see published in book form. 

Q – Most importantly where can we buy a copy of Manual For A Decent Life?

Lots of buying options:

1) From the Linen Press website.

2) Order in bookstores or online from Waterstones, Foyles and some other retailers. 

3) It’s also available at Amazon.

You can learn more about Kavita from:


Twitter: @writerkavita 


My review:

I confess to knowing nothing about life or politics in Indian in the late 1990s, but that made the whole reading experience of ‘Manual for a decent life’ by Kavita A. Jindal all the more intriguing and sweeter. Within pages I cared about Waheeda, her aspirations and dreams, and was quickly immersed in her world. Social constraints have Waheeda trapped in a marriage where her husband no longer wants her in his life, yet they have a daughter, precious to both of them, and cannot separate formally. Pushed into a new political role where she finds herself a candidate in the local elections, Waheeda finds her private life on display at all times and governed by the strict rules of her society and culture. Amidst this scrutiny she risks everything by falling for Monish, a younger Hindu man from a wealthy and influential family, and has to hide their passionate relationship with constant lies and secrecy. We see how complex and dangerous political canvassing is for a female candidate, yet Waheeda bravely embraces the challenge and uses her influence to improve the lives for school-age girls. The final outcome is tragic and heart-breaking as Waheeda’s family is once again ripped apart by violence. 

I enjoyed the rich details of Waheeda’s world in this novel and found it an absorbing story of two people who really should be together but because of social, family and religious rules have to deceive everyone around them for any chance of love. What surprised me was how both men and women are constrained by rigid social rules, neither can find true freedom to simply be themselves or follow their dreams. Lyrical prose and great characters kept me hooked to the end.