KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Books

Novellas are no short shrift

by Carody Culver , May 26, 2014Leave a comment

Hologram

Somewhere between the novel and the short story is the novella, a frequently overlooked literary form that’s finally enjoying a resurgence, partly thanks to the success of ebooks. It’s about time we gave more consideration to those works that fall in the word count no-man’s-land of between 10,000 and 50,000 words. Aside from the fact that many of us these days welcome a short read, for writers, the art of crafting a mid-length narrative ‘merges skills’, according to author James Everington: ‘You have to keep everything tight and purposeful like a short story, but you’ve got some of the plotting challenges of a novel as well’.

It’s fitting, then, that young and emerging writers turning their hands to novellas are now getting some well-deserved attention. An impressive six novellas will be launched at the upcoming Emerging Writers’ Festival in Melbourne this week. Two are from Hologram (Holly Childs’ No Limit and Elisabeth Murray’s The Loud Earth), and four are from Seizure (these titles will be announced on the night, as they’re the winners of Seizure’s Viva La Novella 2 competition, a great initiative for new writers that I’ve been lucky enough to take part in this year as an editor).

Hologram’s two releases – both of which are by writers under 30 – are a worthy reminder of just how powerful short fiction can be. There’s something particularly mesmerising and intense about a book you can read in a couple of hours and still find lingering at the forefront of your mind for days afterwards, and Murray and Childs manage, in quite different ways, to hold their readers’ attention long after the final pages of their books have been turned.

The narrator of The Loud Earth is a recluse who lives in a remote mountain cabin above a lakeside tourist town. She was accused of brutally slaying her parents; formal charges were never laid, but the stain of the double death hangs heavy over her and the townsfolk, who remain convinced of her guilt. But when a young stranger named Hannah shows up at the cabin door one night and suddenly fills the empty spaces of the narrator’s existence, violent memories are reawakened and the mysteries of the past threaten to destabilise the present.

Murray is an assured writer, and her debut is a brooding and atmospheric exploration of isolation and the mental fragility it can engender. Despite its very dramatic-sounding plot, Murray’s evocative imagery and poetic prose bring a sense of subtlety and contemplation to this short but sharp tale.

No Limit pulses with a different kind of energy – it’s frenetic, fast-paced and unrelenting, a semi-surreal riff on our relationship with technology. Ash’s flight from New Zealand to Australia has been delayed due to a threatened volcanic eruption that morphs from inconvenient natural disaster to potential harbinger of the apocalypse: Ash is grounded in Auckland on ‘what may be the last night on Earth’. Trying to find her cousin Haydn, Ash ends up attending an end-of-the-world rave party as the digital landscape seems to fall away around her – phone signals disappear, there’s no internet and no one has any idea what’s going on.

Childs’ story is less a plot-driven narrative than a careening charge through contemporary youth culture and its exhausting stream of tweets, texts and tumblrs; in the process, the book pithily captures the complications of today’s favoured methods of communicating and disseminating information.

It’s great to see the work of new writers with fresh ideas invigorate a neglected form. I’ve long associated novellas with classics, from Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, but it’s a shame that that shorter works of fiction by today’s literary heavyweights often aren’t consistently referred to as novellas (I still haven’t figured out whether Julian Barnes’s Booker Prize-winning The Sense of an Ending is technically a novella or a novel; I’ve seen it called both). Literary agent Karolina Sutton of Curtis Brown has even claimed that ‘if you pitch a book to a bookseller as a novel, you’re likely to get more orders than if you call it a novella’.

Thankfully, it seems as though this particular chapter of literary disregard is coming to a close, and readers, writers, booksellers and publishers are ready to start using the term ‘novella’ with pride. For all its brevity, it’s a form that sure isn’t short on possibilities.

Carody Culver is a Brisbane-based freelance writer, editor and part-time bookseller. 

ACO logo




9781926428239

Abigail Ulman

Cold Feet and Hot Little Hands: Abigail Ulman on writing – and not writing – her first book

Post-book deal, every time I sat down to try to write something, I felt paralysed by some kind of literary stage fright. I had shown my work to other people before – for writing workshops, and submissions to literary journals and competitions – but I had never before written a story while thinking This story is going to be published in a book. Or, more accurately, This story idea is nowhere near good enough to be published in a book. Read more »

9781926428239

Sian Campbell

Girlhood and The Woman-Child in Abigail Ulman’s Hot Little Hands

Each of the stories in Hot Little Hands navigates girlhood in some way, from the lives of high school-age teenagers to those of young twentysomething women. ‘Girl things’ such as horse camp, gymnastics, feminised bodies, clothing, periods, crushes, yoga and gossip weave through the fabric of the text. Though the subject matter is often adult – the girls of Hot Little Hands navigate abortion, sex trafficking, young motherhood, drugs, and deportation – the girls themselves are not… even when they technically are. Read more »

Dont-Try-This-at-Home-_-cover_-FINAL1-300x460

James Tierney

Subscriber Stories: Angela Readman’s Don’t Try This At Home

As a subscriber to publisher And Other Stories’ distribution model, I am in the unusual position of reviewing a book – Angela Readman’s short story collection Don’t Try This At Home – that thanks me by name for making its existence possible. Read more »

amy-schumer

Rebecca Shaw

Amy Schumer and the equal right to be funny

I don’t think men should be banned from making jokes about contentious subjects. I am of the belief that anything can and should be laughed about, and if done right, it can be beneficial. But more often, women are doing it right, and women are doing it better. Read more »

womens-home-companion

Kate Iselin

Trivial Pursuits: The media and ‘women’s interests’

Women, especially in public life, exist as a part of men’s worlds – a big part, sure – but still a part. Even as women become more vocal in demanding accurate and respectful representation, we are kept at arms length by a mainstream media which struggles to catch up. Read more »

SGbTsPQ

Rebecca Shaw

Command and Control: Trophy daughters and overprotective dads

There is no doubt that an overprotective parent is better than a parent who couldn’t care less what their child gets up to. And there is no doubt that most overprotective mums and dads are well-meaning. But paternal ‘protectiveness’ shticks often boil down to fathers not wanting their daughters to have sex, and by extension, get pregnant. Read more »

kstew

Joanna di Mattia

Kristen Stewart Through the Looking-Glass

Kristen Stewart is an actress who has been criticised, maligned even, for an acting style that transmits from set to screen as sullen, adolescent, wooden, blank, fidgety and inelegant. But perhaps she’s an actress concerned with authenticity, and the defining feature of her style is to show us herself by appearing like she’s not acting at all. Read more »

it-follows-4

Anwen Crawford

Behind You: The subtler horror of It Follows

I don’t watch many horror films. Lifelong victim of an overactive and slightly morbid imagination, I regularly envisage disasters, natural or otherwise, that might befall me, without requiring the added stimulus of cinema. Read more »

anne-dorval-and-antoine-olivier-pilon-in-xavier-dolans-mommy

Joanna Di Mattia

All About His Mother: Xavier Dolan’s fierce women

Xavier Dolan has created an exuberant body of cinema that privileges women (and others on the margins) as complex, chaotic beings. Dolan’s fierce mothers are cleaved from the pedestal that so much of cinema places them on, so that they may dig around in the dirt that is life. Read more »

Struggle+Street+KEY+IMAGE

Anwen Crawford

Shame and Stigma on Struggle Street

Struggle Street framed poverty as a combination of genetic inheritance and natural disaster – a barrier to be overcome only through ceaseless positive effort. Those who sabotage themselves through bad choices are therefore fair targets for our scorn, while those who gain employment or remain sober deserve praise for overcoming the odds. The deserving and undeserving poor, in other words. What an old story. Read more »

TheSlap_Show

Genevieve Wood

The Slap: What’s lost when a cricket bat becomes a baseball bat?

‘A cricket bat wouldn’t make sense in an American context’, says Tony Ayres, executive producer of the US adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. He’s right, of course – it wouldn’t. But when, in US playwright Jon Robin Baitz’s version, the eponymous slap occurs as the result of a swinging baseball bat, something’s not quite right. Read more »

empire-tv-review-fox

Anwen Crawford

Rise of an Empire

Watching Empire, I wondered why there haven’t been more television shows about record labels, the music industry being the cesspit of venality that it is. Forget TV dramas about police departments and hospital wards – a show about a record label comes with all that conflict, plus outfits, plus songs. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

DUKMRUTRHLU31425064919799

Katie Williams

The Currency of Games: The real world cost of in-game purchases

A new item introduced in World of Warcraft lets players purchase a month of playing time for the real-life price of $20, which they can then sell to other players in-game in exchange for virtual currency. It’s an exchange of real money for a virtual currency that has in-game value but none in the physical, ‘real’ world – and it makes me incredibly uneasy. Read more »

16741557134_5206bec0cd_k

Jane Howard

Dark Side of the Rainbow: Belvoir St Theatre’s The Wizard of Oz

This production of The Wizard of Oz is ‘after L Frank Baum’: after his book, after the 1939 film, and after our collective memories of both. Fragmented, non-narrative, and largely wordless, it relies on our existing knowledge of the text to build a work of images and emotion, and in doing so demands an extreme generosity from the audience. Read more »

Arts House_Image_10c_Oedipus Schmoedipus (post)_Credit – Ellis Parrinder copy

Jane Howard

A Case for Diversity in Theatre

Attracting different audiences to the theatre is about many things. It’s about accessibility for people without high disposable incomes, but it’s also about marketing and publicity; about creating venues which are physically accessible for people with disabilities; and about ensuring the performers on stage are as diverse as we want their audiences to be. Read more »

2909252617_1f456d0c81_b

Jane Howard

A Working-Class Mythology: Ironing boards at the theatre

In theatre, there is perhaps no prop piece more mythologised than the ironing board, which came to signify the birth of contemporary British theatre. Read more »