It’s a privilege to introduce you to Cath Barton, a prize-winning writer of novellas. Cath has agreed to share her experience of novella writing and I hope it will encourage anyone looking for a publisher for a novella length work. Over to Cath:
I never wanted to write a novel. As a writer I found pleasure – and some small success – in writing short stories and flash fiction. I would have happily carried on along this path, but at the first meeting of a local writing group in 2015 one of my fellow writers unexpectedly threw down this challenge – Who’s going to write a novella this year? I saw my hand going up! The truth is I relish a challenge, and a target too, so I looked for a novella competition and aimed for that.
My starting point for my novella The Plankton Collector was a flash I had written as an exercise about a boy whose brother had died. The boy was at his bedroom window, watching his mother visiting the brother’s grave in the churchyard just below their garden. That gave me the centre of my story – a family’s grief – and a location – a house in the middle of England. To that I added the mysterious character of the Plankton Collector, who visits each member of the family in different guises and helps them. I saw a clip on TV about the Victorians collecting plankton, those tiny shells which have housed the creatures who are the base of all life. Quite how my story evolved I can’t tell you – not because I don’t want to but because it’s as mysterious to me as the Plankton Collector himself!
When I’d completed the story I sent it off to the competition – and got nowhere. I looked around for other opportunities and found very few. Disheartened, I put the story aside. Nearly two years later I heard about another novella prize. It was in Wales, where I live, so, without any great optimism, I decided to give it a try. To my great surprise and delight I won! The prize was an advance on publication, which was wonderful. But the best thing about that win was the affirmation and the impetus it gave me to continue writing.
I had experimented before I won that competition with writing a novella-in-flash – a collection of short pieces which can all stand alone but together form a whole. I didn’t really know how to do that and, unsurprisingly, my effort didn’t get anywhere. But when I saw another publisher looking for novellas last year I sent her the first few thousand words. She was keen to see more and that has led to me completing and signing a contract for publication of my novella In the Sweep of the Bay.
Will there be a third novella? Possibly. And now I have given myself a new challenge, yes, you’ve guessed it – to write a novel!
Cath Barton is an English writer who lives in Wales. She won the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella 2017 for The Plankton Collector, which is published by New Welsh Review under their Rarebyte imprint.
Her second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, will be published by Louise Walters Books in September 2020.