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Welcome to The Literary Pig's blog - a safe haven for all those afflicted with
the unbearable urge to write.

Monday, 13 June 2022

Unlocking The Novella-In-Flash by Michael Loveday

Today we have a brilliant guest on the blog, the multi-talented writer and guru of the novella-in-flash genre, Michael Loveday. He’s chatting with LitPig about his new craft guide and his own writing process.  

My review of Michael’s craft guide Unlocking The Novella-In-Flash (from blank page to finished manuscript) published by Ad Hoc Fiction can be found at the end of the interview below.

About Michael Loveday:

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 also edits novella-in-flash manuscripts through his mentoring programme at www.novella-in-flash.com.

Twitter: @pagechatter 


Unlocking The Novella-In-Flash
: from Blank Page to Finished Manuscript is the first ever full road-map 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.

Q. Why did you decide to write the craft guide?

The honest truth is that it wasn't a book I'd intended or planned to write. Jude Higgins at Ad Hoc Fiction, with whom I'd worked before (teaching at the Flash Fiction Festival and judging the Bath Flash Novella-in-Flash Award competitions in 2019 and 2020), got in touch to suggest writing a craft guide to the form.

I had to think about it for a couple of days, as I was immersed in writing a short-short story collection, and also the time frame felt like a significant hurdle – Jude had initially requested that the book be written in 12 months, I think because she thought that the material I already had (from my novella-in-flash course) wouldn't require much alteration to produce a book. Having thought it through, writing a book seemed like an interesting thing to try – it felt like stepping into somewhat uncharted territory, and I thought… OK. I'll give it a go! But it wasn't a decision I took lightly - I felt a certain amount of responsibility to the flash fiction community to get the thing right!  

Q. How did you go about it? 

I mapped out an outline of chapters, and then worked backwards to create a weekly work plan based on the agreed deadline. In the end it took a few extra months. But I basically approached the entire time knowing what I would be working on every week – sometimes even every day! 

It felt like there was no other way of coping with such a big project other than to break it down into chunks and pace myself methodically! I went through step by step, researching what I wanted to research, drafting what I wanted to draft, and editing what I wanted to edit, ticking off the to-do-list systematically each week. 

I would never normally construct a book methodically from an outline – it more or less goes against my whole philosophy for the creative process! 

But it seemed necessary with this project, which felt daunting to attempt – a work plan gave me some reassurance. Plus it's a teaching book, a kind of (hopefully engaging!) textbook, rather than a book of my own creative writing, so I felt the more practical, informative nature of the book required a different mind-set. 

I also had a crucial phase when I shared some very rough draft chapters with a bunch of beta readers. I was wary of burdening too many people with reading the entire manuscript – two writers, Danielle McShine and Ali McGrane, very kindly agreed to read a shorter first draft and give me feedback, and then over a dozen other writers read one, two, or three chapters each, and gave comments on those. It was particularly essential to run some of the more technical chapters past beta readers, to solidify what I was describing. 

And towards the end of the process, I managed to get some Arts Council England/National Lottery Grant funding to cover a small number of weeks of my usual work as a coach and editor, so I could spend a bit more focused time on the manuscript. 

Finally, in the last few months, I could see that the challenge of mapping out the whole thing was going to limit my ability to fine-tune the individual sentences and paragraphs. There were simply too many ideas to integrate to complete the bigger picture and it was making my brain ache to get every little detail of every sentence right as well, especially under time pressure! Normally my editing process for a draft manuscript takes a long time. So I got some help from two people – John Mackay and Johanna Robinson – to give me some extra support during the copy editing and proofreading stage. 

Q. Can you share your process (including planning/research), and a typical writing day?

As a general rule, I tended to write or edit from about 8 a.m. to about 9.30 a.m., six days a week, usually two bursts of 30-45 minutes in that time. Sometimes I started earlier, and the hours went up and down slightly depending on tasks involved, but that was the broad pattern. Then the rest of the day was devoted to my paid work. 

In the late afternoons/early evenings, I also spent about an hour a day reading novellas-in-flash (or related books) throughout the 16 months in which I was writing the book. This helped me fine-tune what I was saying about the form. 

During the Arts Council-funded period I did three hours a day of really concentrated editing. I couldn't manage more intense concentration, day after day, than about three to four 45-60-minute bursts. It doesn't sound like much, in hindsight does it?! But when I concentrate intensely on a long prose manuscript, I find myself quite tired after each session of work, so I was pacing myself. Plus, I need time in between the bursts of concentrated writing/editing to let my subconscious brain kick in and do some integration work. 

Q. Do you have any different habits/approaches for writing non-fiction compared to fiction?

I don't know if it would apply to all non-fiction, but certainly for this teaching book, having a chapter outline and a clear plan from the start was essential, especially when facing a stiff deadline. I wouldn't normally write fiction that way – I normally allow a lot more exploration and uncertainty and happy dawdling down cul-de-sacs. 

It feels really important, nevertheless, when working to an outline, to cultivate moments where you can still have leaps of insight – about doing things differently. It's so important, as a writer, to stay connected to our creative, imaginative self. That way writing a long manuscript doesn't become a mechanical, factory-style process. So I would do a concentrated burst of writing or research, reach a natural moment to pause, then get up from the table and go and do something different that didn't involve concentrating – do some washing up, take a shower, go for a walk, tidy some papers (anything that involved solitude yet without using any brain power). 

And then new insights would come to me in those day-dreamy kind of time gaps, where little bits of information I was unintentionally processing would join up unexpectedly, and lead me to a realization about a certain clarification I could make. 

I really cherished those moments – they kept a kind of magic alive for me in the process of writing a book to an outline. I guess those are the kind of private, creative moments in the otherwise crazy life of being a writer that really keep me going – where you’re accessing something you’re not in control of. 

Q. Most importantly, where can readers buy ‘Unlocking The Novella-In-Flash’?

Here from Ad Hoc Fiction.

Thank you, Michael, for such an insightful interview! The amount of work and hours you invested in reading and preparing to write this guide is incredible, and it has definitely paid off. You have written something to be proud of. 

My review of Unlocking The Novella-In-Flash:

This perfect craft guide does exactly what it says on the cover, because everything you wanted to learn about writing a novella-in-flash is here, it truly takes you from blank page to finished manuscript. In fact I believe Michael Loveday answers in “Unlocking the novella-in-flash” every question you will have, from “what is a novella-in-flash?” to “how do I write my own?”

I have written a novella-in-flash (and been lucky enough to have it published), but oh how I wish I could take this craft guide back in time … it would have been such a marvellous companion & writing aid as I worked through my own nif (novella-in-flash). I found Chapter 14 on “Tapestry and Linkage” particularly enlightening with its guidance on selecting which chapters go where. The guide is divided into three phases, and for me phase 3: Integration was incredibly helpful on talking through what to put in / leave out, giving you permission to experiment with chronology. There are too many excellent top tips to detail in this review (every section is packed with examples and exercise to work through yourself) but one of my favourites concerned generating standalone pieces (which you could submit elsewhere) and then how to integrate these pieces back into the structure of a nif. Loveday uses the analogy of composing a music album i.e. laying down the album tracks to sit alongside the hit singles - a light-bulb moment for me (I’ll remember this technique for any writing any future nifs). 

My copy is plastered in yellow stickies and I will be continually returning and delving into different sections of this craft guide again and again.

Importantly, this guide contains many exercises and constructive advice that apply to and help with writing other forms of fiction, including short stories /flash fiction / novellas and novels. I’ve written in all forms and would definitely recommend Loveday’s guide when seeking guidance and inspiration on character development / structure / setting and creating new work. This clever book is an excellent guide to writing a novella-in-flash, and so much more ... think of it as a guide to writing good fiction and developing any narrative form.



Monday, 11 April 2022

The Girls are Pretty Crocodiles by Angela Readman

I am delighted to have a very special guest on the blog today. I’ve been a huge fan of Angela Readman and everything she writes, ever since I first discovered her stories when she won the Costa Short Story Award in 2013. Her fiction and poetry resonate with me because her imagination is fuelled by all the weird and wonderful myths and legends of the world. 

My review of her new collection The Girls are Pretty Crocodiles & other fairy stories (published by Valley Press) can be found at the end of the interview below.

About Angela Readman:

Angela Readman is a British poet and short story writer. Her debut story collection Don’t Try this at Home was published by And Other Stories. It won the Rubery Book Prize and was shortlisted in the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. Her stories have won the Costa Short Story Award, the Mslexia Prize, the
NFFD competition and the New Flash Fiction Review Competition. She also writes poetry, her collection The Book of Tides was published by Nine Arches. Something Like Breathing, Readman’s first novel, was published by And Other Stories. You can follow Angela on Twitter @angelreadman.

About The Girls are Pretty Crocodiles and other fairy stories:

Fearless, fierce, vivid and strange stories that crackle off the page – from the multi-award winning master of magical realism. Bold, beautiful and spiky, Angela Readman’s stories are both magical and real. Following her acclaimed debut Don’t Try This at Home, she approaches the fairy tale with a scalpel. The Girls are Pretty Crocodiles reads like a love


letter to girlhood and a ransom note to all the fairy tales we have been told. In her prize winning work The Story Never Told, an illiterate woman sells fairy tales for a book she knows will never have her name on the cover. In What’s Inside a Girl, a class takes lessons on dating invisible girls. Dark, funny and surreal, these stories explore, challenge and ultimately transform the traditional fairy tale narrative. Women learn to be origami, climb into swan skins, feed wolves, flip burgers and snog kelpies. In dazzling prose that remains matter-of-fact, these tales take to task the happy endings we have been sold. Otherworldly, yet down to earth, The Girls are Pretty Crocodiles discovers the hidden voice in the stories we know and reveals the magic within working-class lives. These stories have teeth.

Questions for Angela …

Q. I love everything you write from flash/short fiction, novels and poetry. Your prose is often poetic and lyrical, so I wonder how your process works ... what initially triggers a piece of writing for you? 

And do you know the form of the work right at the start, or can a piece evolve or transform (i.e. from story to poem or vice versa)?

You are too kind, it means a lot to hear that. Thank you so much for having me here. Every story is different, approaches vary. Usually, I start with a voice. It might be an observation or an image someone is focused on and their relationship to it. I'll write a bit down and see where it goes. I usually know if it's a story or a poem, though not always. Some characters won't be contained in a poem. They kick off the line breaks and want to smash things.

My story Fish Tail was like this. It started with an image in my head of someone laying a suit on the beach. It rattled around sounding like it a poem until I wrote anything. It kept going. Sometimes an image can unlock a whole story. I suppose that's why it might come across as poetic. Occasionally, a piece transforms when I don't expect it.  There's one story in the collection, Twelve Steps for Godmothers, I assumed would be a prose poem until a story started to unfold. Oddly, starting out thinking it would be a poem created a voice that surprised me. There's a contrast of the poetic and business speak. It seemed strangely right somehow, fairy tale Godmother's bug me a bit. I wouldn't go for a pint with one. They seem sugary but I always thought they seem a bit bossy. It's surprising how often things that bug you are stories waiting to be written.

Q. Once you've an idea for a short story how long does it take from that first idea to a final version? When is a story finished for you, are you working alone or do you seek feedback/input from others?

I've written stories that take a few days, others months. It's not that I'm working on them constantly, but I'll start something and set it aside until the writing rush fades and I can look at what it's really about. I like to feel less involved to look a story it again. The fastest write in the collection was a flash about Rumpelstiltskin, it took about 2 hours. Longer stories like Magpies and The Hobthrush, take about 3 weeks for a full first draft. Editing's another story, I can tinker forever. 

It's difficult to know when leave work alone, as writers sometimes we have to accept we may always wish it was better.  I think a story is finished when it seems like an independent creature. A story is a whole little world with its own concerns. When I find I can't touch it without introducing aspects that seem to belong to a different world, the story is finished and I know I've started a different story. It's rare I get feedback on my work. I'm shy, live in the sticks and don't know of any local story groups. It's something I crave since lockdown, I think, fiction friends. I'd love to be in a supportive story group in the future. I never know if anyone's going to like my stories until a book comes out, it's a bit scary.

Q. Magic realism, fairy tales and myths continually appear in your writing, what are your sources for fairy tales and myths, do you have any beloved/treasured collections?

I have a Brother's Grimm worn as some bibles. The cover's fallen off. I still have the copy of Alice in Wonderland I read when I was seven too, I feel guilty whenever I pick it up because I folded the corners. It's disgraceful. Many of my favourite poetry books draw on myths: Ted Hughes, Max Porter. Robin Robertson's Grimoire and Vicky Fever's The Book of Blood are classics I keep going back to. There's also a TV show called Clash of the God's I love. It's about Greek myths, the graphics are like a video game. The voiceover is so OTP it's like a 50 minute movie trailer. It's awesome.

Q. If you could live out a fairy tale or myth/legend is there any character (human or animal) you'd choose for yourself and why?

And is there a villain or monster from a tale that you secretly admire?

Oow, I love this question! I don't see myself as a heroine. I'm drawn to the outsider. I always wonder about the villains, what happened to make them that way. They're full of stories untold. I'd like to be an animal if I lived in a story. The wolf in Red Riding Hood is interesting. He's a wolf, he has fangs but chooses unusual methods to catch the girl. I imagine he just wanted to see what it felt like to be a person, just for a day. If he'd gotten away, I think he'd spend the rest of his life stealing clothes off washing lines. There's a fantastic sculpture by Kiki Smith of sirens that stuck with me, the sirens are tiny birds/women. Flying would be cool. There's a myth in Mexico and Texas, La Lechuza, about old women who turn into barn owls to right wrongs that have been done in their life. I'm not sure how they'd achieve that as a barn owl, but it would be fun to find out.

Q. Animals (both real and imagined) feature throughout all of your writing, where does this fascination with nature come from in your life? How do you keep yourself close to nature?

It's funny, for most of my life I've lived in a city. I think that's where the fixation with nature stems from, a longing. I lived on a busy road for 17 years and starlings would land on the school field at the back. I'd sit on my doorstep and just listen to them a few metres away.  I couldn't get close. The field was locked, all that lovely grass I couldn't sit on.  I started paying attention to little things like a bird on the wall, spotting a hedgehog in the lane. I didn't know anything about nature, but was drawn in. 4 years ago, I finally moved out of the city and got a garden for the first time. I like to sit in it for 15 fifteen minutes on my own every morning, just looking. If it's raining, I open the back door and listen.

Q. If you suddenly found yourself with a bonus day-off how would you spend it?

Hmm, a realistic day off, or an anything goes day? I think for an anything goes day I'd like to drive a motorbike. I can't drive, so it's unlikely to happen! In lockdown I started wishing I could, I suppose it's that longing for freedom at a time everything was limited. Realistically, for my day off I'd go to the coast for a walk on the beach. I'd go to Boulmer or Alnmouth, maybe get take-out macaroni cheese to eat looking at the sea. One thing I've always wanted to do is see puffins. There's a boat trip you can take to spot them when they return every year, for years I've been thinking it sounds awesome though I've never been. I'd love to go, I'd like to see what puffins look like when they fly.

Q. Most importantly, where can readers buy The Girls are Pretty Crocodiles?

It's at Valley press, I hope people will give it a try. 

My review of The Girls are Pretty Crocodiles:

If you’ve ever wondered how the Grandmother from Little Red Riding Hood felt after being cut out of the wolf then this is the collection for you. Angela Readman writes of people and places that feel recognisable, normal even, but there’s something off-kilter with her viewpoint - the story’s axis is often tilted towards the magical spectrum. This collection of stories peers into the lives of familiar fairy tale characters, but there are also brand new creations too, Readman’s own myths and legends born from her incredible boundless imagination. 

Between some of the longer stories are shorter pieces (flash fictions) of only a couple of pages, infused with Readman’s poetic but razor-sharp prose they fizz and sparkle like palate cleansing fireworks. These small interludes often showcase her more boundary-pushing writing, where images and ideas make you marvel at how she sees the world. 

In this collection you will find wit and dark humour, but also moments of poignancy and heartache. I cried over ‘Magpies’, which captures the emotional torture of living with teenagers. I cheered on the kick-ass Fairy Godmother and all the other females battling to get their stories heard. And ‘The night we killed the witch’ felt scarily authentic right now, hinting at the grim truth behind the creation of fairy tales. I will return to this collection, again and again, one reason being Readman’s descriptions. Her writing is both beautiful and mind-bending, her use of language is breath-taking and her sentences drip like jewelled fruits, lush and colourful but always leaving you hungry for more, and thankfully each new story brings more … 

A magical, readable and unforgettable collection!