Following my lovely experience with a memoir-in-flash, I am extending my experience of this intriguing genre with a novella-in-flash, in the form of When It's Not Called Making Love by Karen Jones.
From the outset I ached with understanding for the main character. We meet Bernadette attempting to navigate the social and emotional bog of teenage girlhood. From casual sexual assault to vile rumours circulating about her at school, this difficult and traumatic time is communicated through a blunt refusal to shy away from unpleasant situations coupled with a beautifully lyrical style.
I wanted to find out more about Bernadette (we are all Bernadette) and the important motivations behind the writing of this book. Read on to find out.
I was really struck by the flowing, lyrical style of your novella-in-flash. Was it something that came naturally out of the idea for the story, or did you spend time crafting it?
Thank you. Yeah, a bit of both, really. I think it’s partly just the way I write, especially when I’m writing flash, but also what happens when editing flash, when you go back and read aloud and listen to the rhythms of the piece. Once I got into Bernadette’s voice, which happened quite quickly, it did just flow. None of the stories underwent massive rewrites, but there was certainly tweaking of language.
Powerful words, gorgeous cover.
I had so much sympathy for Bernadette, your main character. What was your inspiration for her and how did you go about making her so empathetic and real?
Bernadette is partly me and partly every girl and woman I have ever met. We all have these stories from growing up, how certain friendships, interactions, situations we got ourselves into went on to shape us as individuals. I also think that her struggles with her own body, her appearance, how other people taunt her about how she looks is something we’ve all been through at some point in our lives. I didn’t shy away from any of the raw emotions and painful truths in Bernadette’s life and I think that’s why she’s relatable, empathetic and real – we feel her pain and her joy and her hopes because she’s so ordinary, so easily hurt and manipulated, just like all of us.
The country lane that inspired 'Nature Walk' in the book
The book deals with some harsh and upsetting ideas around young girls and sexuality. The things it describes are (unfortunately) very familiar to me. Why did you want to highlight this particular time in a young woman's life and what would you like your readers to take away from it?
‘The things it describes are very familiar to me,’ – that’s why I wanted to do this, to write this book, this girl. I don’t feel it’s talked about and written about enough, that first foray into bad friendships, love, sex. There are plenty of romances out there, obviously, but not so much about the struggles, not so much about just how young girls are when they first have sexual thoughts and feelings and how confusing, and often downright terrifying, the discovery of the real world of sex and sexuality can be. I wanted to write this as honestly and bluntly as I could, so that other girls and women could read it and say, ‘Yes, these things happened to me,’ to realise they were not – are not – alone.
I think it’s all too easy look back on those years and still feel a sense of shame, of guilt for things that happened to us or things we did – it’s so ingrained in how girls/women should behave and feel. I wanted to write a story that girls could relate to so they could accept that they were not at fault.
This was the most exciting place to shop for a teenager in the 70s
This story is set in the 1970s and it saddens me that very little has changed for girls. I think each generation of women think theirs will be the last to suffer this way, that they’ll change things for the generation coming next. I’m not convinced things will ever change.
Flash is a genre that really seems to be taking off. Do you always write short fiction and what is your process for going from idea to full story?
I’ve been writing flash and short stories for a very long time. I think I first wrote flash way back in about 2004 but didn’t have any published until 2008. Since then, things have, obviously, really taken off in the flash genre and there are hundreds of outlets for flash fiction.
I almost always start with a character rather than a story idea as such, and, more often than not, an opening line will pop into my head, closely followed by a last line, and then it’s a case of getting that character from first to last line with, hopefully, something interesting in between. A first draft, especially for flash, but usually for short story as well, will usually come out in a blurt, then I’ll close that file and ignore it for a day or so before I go back and decide whether it just needs tightening or a complete re-write. If I have time and am not writing to a deadline, I prefer to leave a story alone for a few weeks before looking at it again and doing final edits before submitting.
How did you go about getting published and what advice would you give to writers starting out?
I entered this novella-in-flash into the Bath Flash Fiction Novella-in-Flash award and was fortunate enough to be highly commended, so being published was the prize. It was my first attempt at a N-i-F and that’s still a relatively new genre, so I didn’t really know what else I would do with it if it didn’t get published by Ad Hoc. Fortunately, there are now several independent publishers who accept novellas-in-flash and a few more competitions out there as well, so for anyone writing one now, there are far greater opportunities.
To anyone starting out in flash my advice would be to read as much flash as you can. I’m an editor at New Flash Fiction Review, so obviously I’d recommend our issues, but there are so many great zines out there where you can read excellent flash and learn and be inspired. I’m a fan of short courses, the kinds run by Kathy Fish, Meg Pokrass, Nancy Stohlman and other flash greats. A lot of my most successful stories have come from courses that provide craft articles and writing prompts and I really do think prompts work brilliantly for flash fiction. So, yes, do your research, read, learn, take a course, get feedback from trusted writer friends, and then submit, submit, submit until you get your first hit. Flash is quite addictive, but it also improves any other kind of writing you do because it teaches you how to edit, how to make every word count. Give it a go – what have you got to lose?
Karen Jones is a flash and short story writer from Glasgow, Scotland. Her flashes have been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Micro Fiction and The Pushcart Prize, and her story Small Mercies was included in Best Small Fictions 2019 and BIFFY50 2019. She won first prize in the Cambridge Flash Fiction Prize, Flash 500, Reflex Fiction and Retreat West Monthly Micro in 2021. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies and magazines. Her novella-in-flash, When It’s Not Called Making Love is published by Ad Hoc Fiction. She’s Special Features Editor at New Flash Fiction Review.
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