Updated: Oct 29, 2020
Book cover by Jeanette Sheppard
What inspired the idea and how did you go about it?
I moved around a lot as a child of an RAF parent, and the houses we lived in on camp
were always identical, like boxes, cleared out every couple of years for the new family.
There was even a marching out ritual! I’ve moved many times as an adult too, living
mostly in older houses (the oldest being a seventeenth century ex pub) with much longer
histories, but I always have the same feeling, that I’m only there for a while, adding
another imprint, like the rings on a tree trunk if you like.
Houses endure (mostly!) and the people who live in them come and go. I know this isn’t everyone’s experience and I’ve always been fascinated and slightly envious of people who think of the places they grew up in as ‘home’ or who spend their entire life in the same place, but for me, writing a lot about family, I think of the house almost like a stage where the drama unfolds.
The house itself is impassive, both a blank canvas (tabula rasa) where the inhabitants
invent themselves and a mirror, wiped clean at the end of each tenancy. The end of the
eighties and early nineties witnessed major upheavals globally, which I have a particular
interest in, and I wanted to layer that within the minor but still seismic changes in
individual lives. This produces tension, like different vibrations.
My characters often feel helpless, washed along by a powerful tide they can’t see or understand, which is Time itself. People create rituals within families, to try and feel safe, yet they’re always being threatened by time passing. The father, Michael, understands at the end that life is flux and change and instead of being fearful and resistant, he accepts it.
Finally, I didn’t actually plan to write it for the competition but I found myself alone for a week just before the deadline and I had the idea of the house standing empty, the estate agent imagining who would live there. As I started to write I could ‘see’ all the characters in my head and I felt like I was weaving or plaiting, jumping time and point of view with such refreshing freedom. I can honestly say it was one of the most extraordinary, exciting writing
experiences I’ve had.
What was the trickiest part of writing it and the trickiest part of the of form generally?
I didn’t give myself a lot of time, which made it harder in some ways because it was
spinning plates, but in other ways that kept the energy up and I loved the whole process. It is tricky to make the various points of view sound different because I am writing in close
third but I hope I’ve managed, by making their stories relevant to their personalities. It’s
also hard to know when to stop!
I originally imagined writing a longer book, with different families moving into The House. I think this is a fascinating form and I love reading novellas in flash. They can encompass the world of a novel, through glimpses that connect and resonate. I’m not a musician but I think of it like music, harmonising different instruments.
What were the most satisfying aspects of writing it?
I loved using repetition and symbolism between the individual stories to help connect
them. Also, combining my love of flash fiction and longer form.
Your advice for anyone wanting to write a novella-in-flash?
Start earlier! Or not! You don’t need to know the whole thing and individual flashes can be written in any order, slotting in where you feel there is weakness or gaps, but for me I think having an ending in mind when I began helped, as there was a finite shape to it, a definite arc which I could play with, expanding or contracting as I wanted. Don’t tell us everything. This form really suits writers who want the connections to be made by the reader.