The Gestation of my book of short fiction “Melting Point” by Baret Magarian (Salt)

Eight years ago I was on a flight to Larnaca, Cyprus about to start a holiday in the company of friends. There was something faintly momentous about my feeling of excitement and liberation from the daily habits and deadening routines that normal life can slip into.  About two hours into the flight another faintly momentous thing happened, sliding out from under the tired, calloused epidermis of the quotidian. It was almost imperceptible, an undefined tension in the stomach, a fluttering of emancipating excitement.  I half recognised that feeling, though it wasn’t wholly familiar. I pulled out my Macbook and began to write, and after an hour and a half I had a more or less complete story before me (the story would eventually be titled “Clock” ; it is the sixth in the collection). It needed some shuffling, some polishing, a bit of polyster, maybe a few injections of literary botex, but I had the “thing in itself”, the essential bolus of the piece in front of me. I was rather pleased, never having experienced this kind of creative ease before. Intercourse, fertilisation, conception, incubation, delivery – they were all concentrated, distilled into those one and a half hours.

I can’t really account for it. But then, while I was on holiday, the same thing happened on two other occasions. More or less complete stories more or less fell out of me, or my brain, or what remains of it.  Maybe it was something to do with the Cypriot breezes, the mezedes, or the penumbra of peace that slid over my consciousness like a mystical lover in the night. After the third of these epiphanic creative bursts I began to realise that I might have embarked on that long, vexing, wonderful, self-cannibalising journey also known as the composing of a book.  Now many ideas for stories were popping up like mushrooms, all demanding to be developed and realised. It was rather wonderful and mysterious and I started two, three, four stories in a spirit of excitement and mild delirium.

On a few other occasions other stories “wrote themselves.” I remember very clearly that before I began to write them I had absolutely no idea of what the stories would be about, no idea of what the basic story or plot was, or of who the characters were. I somehow managed to pluck deep into some subterranean crucible of molten creativity and pull out these little nuggets of narrative. Other stories – the longer ones in Melting Point – were more recalcitrant, and had to be planned, structured, meditated upon. Notes were made, diagrams drawn, snatches of dialogue containing important ideas or plot developments jotted down. But throughout all this I was always careful to work on several stories simultaneously, to juggle different projects, so as not to get stuck on just the one story, so as not to become obsessive about finishing it. I wanted to push hard against the threat of writer’s block by fuelling this frenzy of diverse activity. By keeping up the heat I was able to thrawt the forces of inertia and stasis. I may have been influenced in terms of this multi-faceted approach by something Roberto Bolano had once said regarding the importance of writing stories not one at a time, but simultaneously.  In any case it was a very happy writing experience on the whole and relatively free of the doubts and vexations that had assailed me during the writing of my first book The Fabrications.

As I reflect on the (not always, but often) trance-like ease of the composing of Melting Point it seems to me that the following might be of elucidatory value: perhaps after studying literature and attempting to write it for many years the shape of its tropes, structures, devices begin to become in some way ingrained in one’s mind, become, so to speak, second nature and one arrives eventually at an intuitive place beyond the rational and empirical. And at this point it becomes possible to create something without so much obvious planning. Obviously, however, one cannot finish a book while always being in the delirium of white heat inspiration – the process of revision, expansion, problem-solving, stylistic polishing: all of these require full frontal, stone cold sober deliberation. But I do think that what happened to me in terms of the initial stages of writing Melting Point may have had its basis in a kind of abdication of the cerebral part of creation, a giving in to something far more spontaneous, emancipated and – ultimately – mysterious.

     I’m very glad it happened.

 

Baret Magarian is a British Armenian writer who divides his time between Florence and London. His first book “The Fabrications” was extensively and favourably reviewed. Jonathan Coe, writing about Melting Point, observed: “We find here the irony, moral ambiguity and self-interrogation of writers like Kafka, Pessoa and Calvino.” Find out more here.

 

Writing Soul Etchings

Writing Soul Etchings

Sandra Arnold lives in New Zealand. She is a novelist, non-fiction and short story writer. Her short fiction has been published and anthologised in New Zealand and internationally including Bending Genres, Connotation Press,  Flash Frontier, Spelk, Fictive Dream, New Flash Fiction Review and Bonsai: Best Small Stories from Aotearoa New Zealand. Her recent awards include  finalist in the 2018 Mslexia Flash Fiction competition and the 2018 University of Sunderland Short Story Award. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and twice for Best Small Fictions. Her third novel, The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell (Makāro Press, NZ) and her first flash fiction collection, Soul Etchings (Retreat West Books, UK) will be published this year. https://www.sandraarnold.co.nz

Three years ago a poet friend told me about the upcoming New Zealand National Flash Fiction Day. At that point I hadn’t read any flash fiction and I said I was sceptical that a story could be conveyed with much depth in just a few hundred words. He, on the other hand, a practitioner of the prose poem, enthused about the flash form, which he defined as being similar to prose poetry with a narrative arc. He recommended that I read Flash Frontier, an online journal established in New Zealand in 2011 by Michelle Elvy. The journal’s 250 word gems captivated me enough to want to investigate further. In the process I discovered a whole world of flash fiction complete with supporters hailing it as the future of literature, critics decrying it as the death of literature, and others dismissing it as a passing fad of the internet generation.

Although flash fiction has become more prominent since the advent of the internet, its roots go back to ancient times. For the kind of ‘slice-of-life’ flash fiction commonly published today Charles Baudelaire’s prose poems are credited with being the precursor. In more recent years many accomplished writers are turning to the form for the challenge of conveying the greatest possible effect in the fewest possible words. There are now hundreds of online journals, as well as literary prizes and print publications that include or focus exclusively on flash. The position of marginalised obscurity it once occupied  has long gone.

After the conversation with my poet friend I decided to set myself the challenge of trying to write in this intriguing form. At that time I was working on my fourth book, a novel titled The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell. While the two forms are completely different, I found that writing flash helped me to think more about the weight of  words in my novel. Writing flash is good discipline for writing in any form.

After publishing work in various journals around the world and being placed in competitions I approached Amanda Saint of Retreat West in the UK to ask if she was interested in publishing the stories as a collection. To my delight she was. Amanda suggested taking out some of the stories so that the fifty seven left in the collection formed a cohesive whole with connecting themes.

Many of the stories deal with social dislocation, other-worldliness, loss and grief. Others explore memory, love, the search for belonging and new possibilities. The  ideas for these stories came from a variety of sources – newspapers articles, fragments of overheard conversation, images and memories, but a few appeared out of nowhere, almost fully formed.

An example of this is The Gatherers. This appeared one day as I walked by the river with my dog. The sky was blue, the Southern Alps glittered with snow, the tracks were covered in wildflowers, and the only sounds were bees and birds and the dog splashing in the water. Unannounced, The Gatherers arrived.

The distress of a bird unable to help her fledgling when it fell from the nest triggered Waiting Lists. A visit to a spooky second-hand shop with one-eyed dolls, stuffed animals, and a massive carved bed with enclosed wooden sides resulted in Whistle on the wind, my lad. Early one morning I opened the curtains  and saw a golden hot air balloon drifting over the Canterbury Plains  towards my house. It looked beautiful, but it also triggered a memory of being in a hot air balloon accident  twenty five years before. At that time the pilot was inexperienced, and when a fierce wind blew up he was unable to deflate the balloon quickly enough to land safely. It crashed to the ground and was dragged on its side by the wind at top speed towards a lake. No one was killed although most of us were injured. The memory of that accident surfaced after I sighted the golden balloon and I wrote The Golden Balloon, giving it an ending that could so easily have happened.

An experience my youngest daughter and her friend had one night observing a strange object in the sky while lying in their sleeping bags in a paddock with their horses inspired Soul Etchings, which became the title of the collection. A painting she did of a girl who was part tree with green hair, feet like roots and arms like branches was the inspiration behind The Girl with Green Hair. Esbos Boo came from a dream of a child named Esbos Boo who was hiding in a forest The name was so intriguing I wrote it down as soon as I woke up. When I started writing his story I saw he had blue skin.

I have picked just a few examples of how the stories in my collection began. It isn’t difficult to find ideas. Ideas are everywhere. The challenge is in creating fiction out of them. Flash fiction is defined as a complete story between 100 and 1,000 words. Because of this restriction much of the story must be implied rather than stated, but there must also be enough to deliver a moment of clarity, a punch to the gut, a stab of recognition. I hope the stories in Soul Etchings achieve that.

 

Soul Etchings by Sandra Arnold

Reading Short Stories

Every year Dahlia Publishing hosts two students from the University of Leicester for a 10 week placement. The scheme run by the university provides students with an opportunity to gain work experience in a small press to enhance their learning. Students often work remotely and are supported by editor Farhana Shaikh to pursue a personal project – something where they can channel their interests and make a difference. During the 2018/19 academic year we were joined by Amira Richards who had an interest in editing. Following our Short Story September project we were inviting short stories to read and Amira was keen to work on this. Our meetings were joyous – filled with passionate response for the work we’d pondered over, and often found ourselves battling with the question: what makes a short story?  Here’s Amira on what she learnt during the process… 

Writing short stories can be hard and surprisingly reading them can require the same kind of effort. From a personal perspective, knowing what to look for, what works about a story and what doesn’t is a process that one must discover for themselves. Everyone reads differently.

For my placement I have had the opportunity to read many submissions for Short Story September. I have really enjoyed learning what people like to write about and what urges them to produce a piece of work that will be read by other people. I have learnt that people like to write about the mundane but also the extraordinary and the little things in between. There are stories that captured my attention straight away, and others that left me feeling a little unsatisfied.

However, the most important thing I have learnt is that stories – especially short ones – need a purpose. They need to illustrate a clear message to the reader, which doesn’t have to be personal but nevertheless allows the reader to understand why the story was written. I found that the stories with a clear aim and purpose were the ones that were the most pleasant to read. I understood why the writer decided to send the story in and what they were trying to convey through each carefully formulated sentence.

“The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something that feels important to the reader.” ~ John Steinbeck

So when you write a short story, think about what you want to convey. I would love to see stories that not only show me something but also make me question myself as a reader. And while short stories can lack the detail and intricate backstories of longer works, in my opinion, a good ending makes a short story. Think about how you want to end your story and how it relates to the content as a whole. After all, they are short for a reason. But short doesn’t mean lesser just as long doesn’t guarantee better. I look forward to reading more short stories in the future and urge writers to never stop practising.

Amira Richards is currently reading English at University of Leicester. 

Dahlia Publishing is currently inviting submissions to the Leicester Writes Short Story Prize 2019 until 15th April 2019.

Recommended Reads: Table Manners and other stories

Every year at Dahlia Publishing we provide a placement for two students from University of Leicester to undertake a 70 hour project. The placement forms part of a publishing module and offers students the opportunity to gain some valuable hands-on experience at a small press. 

This year, Ella March spent ten weeks with us. She was particularly keen to work with short stories and has written a short blog about her favourite short story from  Susmita Bhattacharya’s debut collection, Table Manners and the connections she found to her other favourite books.

It’s not exactly an uncommon experience to wake up to the sound of someone you love calling your name. It’s a little bit more so if that someone is dead. That is what happens to Mouli, the main character of ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’.

It takes her a little while to work out what’s happening- and if you don’t know, then you should read the story! But if you have read it, then you’ll know that hearing her husband’s voice helps Mouli come to terms with his sudden death, and her isolation from her family in its wake. Here are a few more books which deal with similar themes.

The obvious connection between ‘Good Golly’ and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is the isolation experienced by both of the main characters. They are perfect examples of how grief can make you feel trapped, but they also eventually find a way to let other people help them. Neither of them can be said to have truly happy endings, either- you come away feeling that you understand the characters, and wishing them well beyond their stories.

‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ is in many ways similar to PS I Love You, by Cecilia Ahern. If you enjoyed reading about how Holly came to find a way forward in her life without Gerry, you’ll also enjoy reading about Mouli’s journey. There are a lot of parallels between their stories, not least the peace it brings them both to feel like their husbands are still a part of their lives and the way they renegotiate their relationships with their friends and family. However, there’s a more humorous edge to ‘Good Golly’ that’s bound to make you smile.

The suddenness and brutality of death, which Mouli cannot really cope with, is also a struggle for the family of Maddy in I Liked My Life, by Abby Fabiaschi. Just as Maddy’s daughter Eve and husband Brady wonder how their beloved mother could disappear so abruptly, so there is an air of shock in the way Mouli reflects on her husband’s death. There is also an element in both stories of loved ones never fully leaving, and the knowledge that the only way of honouring a life loved is to move forward.

Finally, another story about accepting death is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. This is a book which can be equally enjoyed by children and adults, and features a main character who feels just as isolated in his grief as Mouli does. Both characters also choose to find refuge in memories of their loved ones in happier times. They are both heartbreaking tales, but ultimately rewarding to watch the characters accept the magnitude of their loss.

Like many of the other short stories in Susmita Bhattacharya’s anthology Table Manners, ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ is not a happy story, but it is a hopeful one. It reflects on human life and love and pokes into the corners of how we deal with loss.

‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ is a short story in Table Mannersavailable from Dahlia Publishing.

Ella March is a final year student at the University of Leicester. She studies English and Creative Writing and is hoping to go on to a career in publishing.

SHORT FICTION COMPETITION CLOSING FOR ENTRIES SOON

There is just one week left to get your entries in for the Short FICTION 2015 Short Story Prize.

FIRST PRIZE: £500 + PUBLICATION    SECOND PRIZE: £100

Open for entries until March 31st  2015

Enter up to 2 stories and get a free copy of our next issue.

JUDGES: Alison MacLeod    Anthony Caleshu

Full details of how to enter can be found by following the link HERE. GOOD LUCK!

SF Competition 2015

December Round-Up II

Hello short story lovers,
In our final pre-holiday dispatch, here’s what’s been going on on our blog over the past 2 weeks.

Lit Mags
Another new publication’s just joined our list – welcome to Taylz: “a free website for short story writers to test and develop their work”.

There’s loads to read and many places to send your stories: The Manchester Review has just published Issue 13 and is calling for your submissions. Short Story Sunday gives us a round-up and a festive special.

Firewords Three is here, Jotters United has a new issue out and is calling for submissions, and the second issue of Confingo is now on sale. The Emma Press is calling for prose pamphlet submissions.  Issue 4 of Holdfast Magazine is live and they are calling for submissions, as is Bunbury magazine, while giving us a peek at what’s been going on over there. Short Fiction journal also wants your short stories.

Anthologies

Queen’s Ferry Press is calling for submissions – from lit mag editors – for the first Best Small Fictions anthology.  Freight Books wants short story submissons for an anthology inspired by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. To celebrate National Short Story Week, 32 young writers have been published in an anthology, on sale now.

Competitions & Festivals
The Solstice Shorts Festival is approaching. Felixtstowe Book Festival has launched its 2015 short story competition, deadline May 16th.

Live Lit
White Rabbit has a new family story-telling show at Knole in December. Story Fridays is calling for submissions on the theme of The 1980s for its January event in Bath.

If you are eager for even more short-story-related news, do follow ShortStops on Twitter where, when we should be writing, we spend (far too) much time passing on news from lit mags, live lit events, short story workshops and festivals! If you’d like to review an event or a publication, drop me a line.

Happy reading, writing, listening and performing!
Tania x

December Fortnightly Round-Up I

Hello short story lovers,
The final month of 2014 has arrived, happy December! A good time for short stories… (isn’t it always?) Here’s what’s been going on on our blog over the past 2 weeks.

Tania x

Lit Mags
We’re delighted to welcome a new lit mag, Hotel, to our lit mags list which “seeks to accommodate fiction, poetry and contemporary thought”. Go and visit!

There’s loads to read and many places to send your stories: Firewords Three is here, Jotters United has a new issue out and is calling for submissions, and the second issue of Confingo is now on sale.

The Emma Press is calling for prose pamphlet submissions Holdfast Magazinelaunched Issue 4, Diverse Reflections and is also calling for submissions. Bunbury magazine is also calling for submissions and giving us a peek at what’s been going on over there. Short Story Sunday, which has just launched its first issue, is calling for submissions and Short Fiction journal also wants your short stories.

Anthologies

Queen’s Ferry Press is calling for nominations for the first Best Small Fictions anthology.  Freight Books wants short story submissons for an anthology inspired by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. To celebrate National Short Story Week, 32 young writers have been published in an anthology, on sale now.

Competitions
Felixtstowe Book Festival has launched its 2015 short story competition, deadline May 16th.

Live Lit
Fictions Of Every Kind is holding its next event, Help Yourself, tomorrow Dec 2nd in Leeds, including an open mic. Word Factory is having its free Christmas Party Dec 13th, in London.

If you are eager for even more short-story-related news, do follow ShortStops on Twitter where, when we should be writing, we spend (far too) much time passing on news from lit mags, live lit events, short story workshops and festivals! If you’d like to review an event or a publication, drop me a line.

Happy reading, writing, listening and performing!
Tania x