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.
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.
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.