A RAPID INTRODUCTION TO THE NOVELLA-IN-FLASH

We’re delighted to welcome Michael Loveday to the blog today.

This article is an adapted extract from his new novella-in-flash craft guide: Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash: from Blank Page to Finished Manuscript (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2022). Available for pre-order at 25% discount before 17th May from Ad Hoc Fiction.


What is a novella-in-flash?

The simplest answer is that a novella-in-flash is a short novel composed of individual but linked flash fictions – each section/chapter/story is fewer than 1,000 words long – in which the individual parts build towards a bigger whole. The 1,000-word limit is important because it’s generally agreed to be the maximum for an individual flash fiction, or short-short story. Many flash fictions are much shorter than that – under 500 words, or sometimes fewer than 250 words.

How is it different from a novella?

The story arc for a novella-in-flash tends to be composed of individual moments, presented with spaces and pauses in between, rather than using the unified and continuous narrative arc of a traditional novel or novella. The novella-in-flash is a marriage of opposites – its short, individual components typically add up to an expansive whole, and yet that whole is often full of gaps.

The modern meaning of ‘novella’ as ‘a short novel’ was settled upon in the 19th century. Most critics and writers suggest that somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 words, give or take a few thousand, is a fair guideline for a novella’s length.

However, this guideline doesn’t adhere in the case of the novella-in-flash.

The novella-in-flash, because it’s composed of a series of ‘flashes’ (usually miniature stories – but sometimes other kinds of prose fragment), can often deliver a satisfying, extended narrative within a frame of only a few thousand words.

The Bath Flash Fiction Award Novella-in-Flash Competition, for example, which was launched in 2017, sets its minimum word length at 6,000 words, and runs up to a maximum of 18,000. The inaugural competition from the UK’s National Flash Fiction Day team in 2021 set a word length limit of 6,000–12,000 words. As you can see, both of these are much shorter than the accepted length for a traditional novella. And in 2020, Retreat West launched a writing competition for the ‘novelette-in-flash’, a new label to describe manuscripts of between 3,000 and 8,000 words.

What about the ‘novel-in-flash’?

Other novella-in-flash-style texts run to many thousands of words and can be called ‘novels-in-flash’ (or ‘flash novels’). Books such as Graham Swift’s Last Orders (1996), Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum’s Madeleine is Sleeping (2004), Geoff Ryman’s 253 (1996/1998) and Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays (1970) are all between 200 and 350 pages in length, and belong to the novella-in-flash family as taller siblings.

So there is no reason why, if you are setting out to write a novella-in-flash, you shouldn’t keep going for several thousand words more and write a novel-in-flash/flash novel instead, if you prefer.

So is it all just about word count?

The novella-in-flash differs from a traditional novella by more than mere word count; it mimics the long-form aspirations of the novella yet is actually composed of individual flash fictions. It therefore combines two impulses at the same time: expanding and contracting. And it’s a form that often makes use of silence and the unsaid, letting the reader do some imaginative work to fill in other parts of the story that a more traditional, continuous novel would have included, because any overarching plotline is broken into the crucial scenes, moments or fragments.

Can a collection of flash fictions be a novella?

For a set of flash fictions to feel like a novella-in-flash, it must be more than a miscellany of diverse stories. Generally speaking, there ought to be some connecting thread. The thread could be:

  • a recurring character or characters
  • OR some plot events that are common to most of the flashes
  • OR some shared location or setting that ties the flashes together into a whole
  • OR, in rarer cases, some very focused theme or motif that has been ruthlessly applied across every flash, perhaps with some linking material or ‘scaffolding’ chapters in between, such that the parts still cohere into one whole.

Is this genre of writing new?

The novella-in-flash is definitely not new, despite its seemingly sudden emergence and recent popularity. Books using the novella-in-flash form were published as long ago as the 1950s. Two early examples are Maud Martha (1953), by Gwendolyn Brooks, and Mrs Bridge (1959), by Evan S. Connell. And really it’s a form rather than a genre. It’s a vessel into which any genre of writing can be poured – crime, fantasy, science fiction, horror, young adult, historical, romance, literary, etc.

Who exactly is publishing novellas-in-flash/Where can I find some novellas-in-flash to read?

Current publishers of novellas-in-flash and novels-in-flash can be divided into:

  • smaller, independent publishers (often flash fiction specialists), such as Ad Hoc Fiction , Ellipsis Zine, Rose Metal Press, V. Press, etc.
  • major publishers interested in innovative fiction, such as Faber & Faber, Granta, New York Review Books, Penguin Books, Picador, etc.

At the following link, you’ll find a list of publishers and competitions where you could submit a finished novella-in-flash: Where to Publish Novellas-/Novels-in-Flash

Over the decades, there have been hundreds of publications that could be categorised as novellas-in-flash, and dozens more are being published each year. One good place to start is with the small press publishers mentioned in the links above: their websites will direct you to relevant novella-in-flash publications. As of 2021, there is also a free Facebook Group open to everyone interested in the form: Novella-in-Flash Writers and Readers | Facebook


Author Bio:

Michael Loveday has been a writer, editor, and tutor of creative writing for more than a decade. He judged the 2019 and 2020 Bath Flash Fiction Novella-in-Flash Awards, and in 2018 began publishing a series of articles about the history and form of the novella-in-flash at SmokeLong Quarterly. Michael’s hybrid novella Three Men on the Edge (V. Press, 2018), which consists of three mini-novellas-in-flash, was shortlisted for the 2019 Saboteur Award for Best Novella. He has taught creative writing in Higher Education since 2017, and he coaches writers and edits novella-in-flash manuscripts through his online mentoring programme at www.novella-in-flash.com.

Author Website: www.michaelloveday.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/pagechatter

Literary agent tips: Nicola Barr at the Bent Agency

We’re delighted to welcome Nicola Barr to the blog today and as the next guest judge of our annual First Chapter competition, which closes in January 2022.

Nicola has been a literary agent for about ten years, and has been with The Bent Agency for four years now. She represents a range of writers across fiction and non-fiction. She has previously worked as an editor at Flamingo, the literary imprint of HarperCollins, a scout for European publishers and a book reviewer for the Guardian and the Observer.

We asked her some questions about what’s going to impress her both as judge of the competition and when submissions land on her desk.


When you read the submissions you receive at The Bent Agency, what is it about a story that gets you excited enough to request the full manuscript?

It’s more voice than story that makes me want to continue reading. But also an author who knows the genre they are writing within and has a set up that I haven’t come across before.  

After a full manuscript request, writers often then get their novel declined so can you give us some insights into what makes you take the next step with a novel and offer the writer representation?

It’s at this stage that the difference between good writing and a good novel becomes so important. That fresh voice that got me to request it has to be maintained but I also have to see that the author can structure a novel, create a satisfying arc that doesn’t become outlandish or — probably worse — dull.

When reading the shortlisted first chapters in this competition what are you going to be looking for and what will make it stand out for you?

I will be looking for natural flowing prose that is a pleasure to read and invites me to read more. Prose that isn’t trying too hard to get my attention but demands that I read on.

What types of novels are you looking for to build your list?

Upmarket thrillers, upmarket commercial women’s fiction, literary novels of any description. I like novels about families, about different generations, about big houses, siblings, secrets from the past having an impact on the present. I also love a good childhood narrator and haven’t fallen in love with one of those for a long time.  

When you’re reading for pleasure, who are your favourite writers and what is it you like about their work?

I love smart women who write about relationships, with other women, with their families, with the world around them. I love Anne Enright, Elizabeth Strout, Emma Straub, Bernardine Evaristo, Rachel Cusk, Katherine Heiny, Anne Tyler, Sue Miller, Anna Burns. Debuts I’ve loved recently – Snowflake, Shuggie Bain, Exciting Times.


Thank so much for your time and insights, Nicola.

So if you’ve got a novel that sounds like what Nicola is looking for, polish up up your opening chapter and send it in to be in with a chance of getting detailed editorial feedback on your submission package from Nicola. The deadline is 30th January 2022.

Volunteer role available – do you want to run our Twitter account?

After a brilliant year with us, sadly Emma can no longer run our Twitter account. We loved having her and will miss her and all her great ideas – she’s the brains behind the new Retreat West Awards and the Flashback Friday revisit of our older stories, among other things. Thanks for everything Emma – we’ll miss you!

So we now have a volunteer role available to take Emma’s place. As well as running the Twitter page, so you’ll need to Twitter savvy and love spending time there, you’ll also get to learn loads about writing through the great stuff we’ll give you in return!

You’ll need to:

  • Schedule and post Tweets to share our news and let people know about our community, our courses and our competitions.
  • Share other people’s Tweets from the writing community and our members’ news.
  • Start conversations and keep them going.
  • Respond to messages and replies.
  • Run the #retweetwest Wednesday hashtag to share positive news.
  • Choose stories to feature for #FlashbackFriday.

If you also want to suggest new ideas then we love hearing them!

In return for your help, you’ll get:

You’ll need to commit to doing the volunteer role for 12 months from when you start.

If this sounds good to you, then mail us at news@retreatwest.co.uk by 5pm on Friday 27th August 2021 letting us know why you’d like to do this and what you can bring to our team!

What on Earth is Memoir-in-Flash?

by Jan Kaneen

When Retreat West first revealed the cover of my memoir-in-flash on Twitter, someone asked what I’d been asked again and again since I finished writing The Naming of Bones. What is memoir-in-flash? 

Not wanting to define an emerging form in terms only of what I’d produced, this was my reply, ‘… speaking for myself … my memoir-in-flash is an aspect of my real life written in a series of flash fiction ‘chapters’, that are each standalone … but which, when read in sequence, tell another overarching story.’

The questioner then asked if it was complicated to write. My answer was no, because the truth is, I wrote most of it without knowing what I was writing. Which sounds weird, so let me explain. 

I came to creative writing at the age of fifty as a sort of mindfulness therapy, pouring out free-written stories without ever thinking some of them might be linked. I just knew that writing them made me feel better emotionally. 

My epiphany came in a workshop run by Michael Loveday at the Flash Fiction Festival. That weekend was stuffed full of flash: reading flash, writing flash, chatting flash. I was very nearly all flashed out when, on Sunday afternoon, Michael presented his workshop about sequencing flash. He had us thinking about how theme and imagery can link flashes, and how sometimes writers can write to themes subconsciously. This struck me as fascinating and on the drive home, I stopped for coffee and bunged some of my flashes into WordCounter – Count Words & Correct Writing searching for the words I’d used most to see if this revealed any hidden themes. (Just follow this link if you fancy doing the same – it’s free, though it’s best if you take out common words such as ‘like’ and ‘because’ first). I won’t give away what my key words were, but it was a revelation. 

Over months, I sequenced my, as it turned out, themed and connected flashes, freewriting new ones to fill narrative gaps. This process was very, VERY emotional, and life-changing too, because it allowed me to reconstruct and reclaim my past in a way that was both empowering and healing, which leads me to my final point.

In 2020, I beta-read several novellas-in-flash and was surprised to see that works which draw, sometimes quite heavily on lived experience, are termed novella by their authors. This got me thinking about what differentiates novella-in-flash, i.e. fictional works told ‘in-flash,’ and memoir-in-flash, i.e. works anchored in real events, told ‘in-flash.’ 

I didn’t really find an answer. Maybe it comes down to individual motivation in the writer. Certainly, for me, it was crucial that The Naming of Bones be defined as memoir, because its self-therapeutic potency lies in the form itself – because that immediately tells the reader these characters really lived in a story that actually happened.

So far as I know, The Naming of Bones is the first memoir-in-flash to be published that describes itself as such (and I did look long and hard when I was final editing, keen to find previous examples that might guide my hand). If it is the first, I hope it’s the first of many, because it’s a form stuffed full of creative non-fiction possibilities and so, so much potential. 


Check out The Naming of Bones for yourself: retreatwest.co.uk/the-naming-of-bones/

New editorial services launched

We’re always getting lots of messages asking us for feedback on stories submitted for competitions and for critiques on novels, memoirs and short fiction collections.

So we’re excited to have launched our new Editorial Services today and have put together a fantastic team of professional editors who have experience across all genres who can help you take your work to the next level. You can also sign up for one-to-one mentoring to get in-depth, tailored advice, support and motivation as you write.

We’ve also now added the option to select feedback on all of our competitions at submission stage. Just choose the add-on in the Submittable entry and we’ll get back to you with feedback after the longlist has been announced if your story doesn’t go through. If you pay for a critique and your story goes on to win, you can use the critique to help you develop another story up to the same word count.

To celebrate the launch of the feedback services, one of our editors, Matt Kendrick, has kindly donated two free critiques on flash fictions up to 500 words. Email us by 5pm UK time on Friday 4th September to go in the draw to win one of these. We’ll use a random number generator to pick a winner.

We’re all really looking forward to helping you develop your work.

Announcing: new launches added to the Retreat West course collection

Looking for expert guidance to hone your writing skills during lockdown? You’ve come to the right place. We’re launching a range of brand-new courses, as well as celebrating our long-running favourites. Whether you’ve been writing for years or are just starting out, our comprehensive courses are designed to help you take your fiction to the next level.

Explore the Retreat West course collection here, or take a look at what’s on offer below:

  • Find out how flash-fiction techniques can help you draft your novel with this free, one-week course: Develop Your Novel in a Flash.
  • Finding your feet with fiction, and looking to learn the basics of great storytelling? The new Fiction Fundamentals course is the one for you.
  • The ever-popular Fantastic Flashing course will polish your flash skills, and support you in writing your own complete collection of micro-fiction stories.
  • Get ready to upgrade your storytelling with the Flash Weekender, another firm favourite with students. It’s now available to start anytime ⁠— and will also still be running as a group course through the year, too.
  • Transform memories into beautiful memoir with the Flash Memoir course. It’s running as a group course, or you can choose the start-anytime solo option instead if you choose.
  • Jump into the Micro Fiction Month this June: it’s all about creating short, submission-ready stories.
  • Finally, announcing The Novel Creator: A Mentored Course. With one-to-one mentor guidance and in-depth modules exploring every aspect of novel writing, this year-long course has everything you need to complete a professionally edited manuscript. Applications are now open.