Image description: A book, Spear by Nicola Griffith. On the cover, the background is charcoal, shading to black at the bottom, with the author’s name at the top is orange-red and the title, at the bottom, and ‘from the author Hild’ in white. The main image is of a great hanging bowl of black iron with inlaid figures and great bronze escutcheons for the hanging hooks. It is wreathed about by smoke and flame and steam, and the steam forms images: in white, woods with a woman and a stone and a sword; about the trees, shading to orange, is an figure with a spear on a horse; a fort gate and box palisade, and over all, flying up in the smoke towards the author’s name, two birds.

I’ve been asked several times by readers who are drawing up their award-nomination lists whether Spear should be categorised as a novel or novella.

Simple Answer

The book is 45,000 words (excluding the Author’s Note). So if the award you’re nominating for has word-length categories for novella (and most SFF awards specify 25,000 – 39,999 words), then it’s a novel. ETA Having said that, the Hugo apparently allows 20% leeway—so in Hugo terms it could, in fact, be a novella because it’s under 48,000!

More Complicated

If the award does not specify such word-length categories, then it gets a bit more complicated. When I started writing Spear I was aiming for a novelette of 12,000 – 14,000 words. By the end of the first day, though, it was perfectly obvious it would be longer than that, and I switched gears. I treated it as a novella. Which means it’s structured as a novella, with no chapter breaks and a single through-line.

Having said that, the narrative timeline covers years, which usually spells ‘novel’ territory in Fantasy (though not necessarily in SF). There’s enough Arthurian touchstones/tropes—Percival’s story, the Grail, Excalibur, Arthur-Lancelot-Guinevere, Merlin-Nimuë (plus one nifty Arthurian-historiography easter egg that no one’s spotted yet, chortle)—for half a trilogy. And then there’s the historical feel, coming of age story, love story, and the folding in of Irish myth.


Spear is a short novel or a long novella with a lot packed in. I’m truly delighted that so many people like it well enough to want to nominate it for something. The book was a joy to write and it thrills me that some of you found it a joy to read. Thank you.