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

Launch of new Stroud Short Stories Anthology

Stroud Short Stories

We are launching the new Stroud Short Stories Anthology 2015-18 on Friday 28 September 2018 at the Ale House in John Street, Stroud from 7.00 to 10pm.

img_09147The new anthology covers stories from the six events from November 2015 to May 2018. That’s 57 stories by 45 authors including Joanna Campbell, Rick Vick, Melanie Golding, Steve Wheeler, Chloe Turner, Jason Jackson, Ali Bacon and Andrew Stevenson.

The first print run is 300 books and we already have 270+ reservations, so why not reserve your copy and then collect it at the launch? Email me on stroudshortstories@gmail.com

The anthology is priced at £10.

The launch is free and unticketed. Please come along. There will be a few words from me at 7.30 and then Mark Graham will read his story ‘Wayland Smith: Warrior of the Milky Way’ from the anthology.

More information on our website.

I hope to see you there.

John Holland

Submissions for National Flash Fiction Day 2018 are NOW OPEN!

Now in it’s seventh year, National Flash Fiction Day will be on Saturday 16th June 2018 and we’ll be celebrating with events and readings and submission opportunities! We’re currently open for our micro-fiction competition and our annual anthology, so get writing!

Micro Competition

From now until Saturday 17th March 2018, you can send us up to three micro fictions on any theme for our Micro fiction competition. These must be 100 words or fewer, and can be on any theme.

More details about the micro completion can be found here: http://nationalflashfictionday.co.uk/comp.html


This year’s anthology theme is one you’ll be able to sink your teeth into, and we’re hungry for your flashes! From now until Saturday 31st March 2018, you can send us up to three 500 word flashes on this year’s theme: Food! The anthology will be edited by award-winning writer, Alison Powell, and National Flash Fiction Day Co-Director, Santino Prinzi. Your stories must be 500 words or fewer.

We’re looking for stories inspired by and about whatever’s on your plate. We’re ready to salivate over your sentences, to savour the subtle flavours of your subtext, to devour your delicious dialogue. Sweet, sour, savoury, sharp, tangy, rich, or rotten. Serve us up some scrumptious tales and tantalising treats with tasty twists. Are we all becoming too healthy? Or is suet the main dish of the day? Has a friendship been ruined by raw chocolate? We’re looking for full-fat, jam-packed flash fiction with an aftertaste we won’t forget. Feel free to interpret the theme of “food” however you wish, but your flashes must fit the theme in some way.

More details about the anthology submissions can be found here: http://nationalflashfictionday.co.uk/anth.html


We can’t wait to feast upon your words!

Submit your flashes to National Flash Fiction Day’s Micro Competition and Anthology!

National Flash Fiction Day UK is on Saturday 24th June 2017, and we are open for submissions for our Micro Fiction Competition and our Annual Anthology! Entry for both are free!

Competition: There is no theme for our competition, so feel free to send us up to three of your stories that are 100 words or fewer! Deadline for entries for our Micro Fiction Competition is Friday 31st March 2017. You can find out more information here: http://nationalflashfictionday.co.uk/comp.html

Anthology: Once again we are delighted to open ourselves up to submissions for the annual NFFD anthology. This year the theme is Life As You Know It.

This year’s editors will be the Co-Director of National Flash-Fiction Day, Santino Prinzi, and renowned flash-fiction writer, Meg Pokrass.

We want stories inspired by the lens of your own experiences, stories that navigate life and the world as only your characters know how. Tales of hope, loss, fear, and resilience. Flashes about identity, vulnerability, and triumph. We want you to harness and make use of your own experiences in fiction: What are your secrets? What makes you cry? What keeps you awake? Feel free to interpret “life as you know it” however you like, but your flashes must fit the theme in some way.

However you care to work with our theme, we want to read your stories. The word limit is 500 words, and you can submit up to 3 stories. Please include them in the email as MS Word attachments, and follow all the guidelines below.

All writers who have a story selected for the anthology will receive a free print copy of the book upon publication. Deadline for entries for our Anthology is Friday 14th April 2017.

You can find out more information here: http://nationalflashfictionday.co.uk/anth.html

This year we will be launching the anthology the U.K.’s first ever Flash Fiction Literary Festival, which will be taking place in Bath.

Elbow Room Competition- Less than two weeks to go!

With a little under two weeks left until the deadline of our inaugural competition we thought we would share a few details about Elbow Room, the competition and what we do here on the Short Stops blog.

Elbow Room was inspired by a desire to muddle up the worlds neatly categorised bookshelves. To stop putting poetry over here and photography over there, fiction over here and sculpture far, far over there, music on this shelf and painting on that one and instead sit them cover-to-cover, showing and sharing inspirations, similarities and yes, differences. We wanted to create a space that celebrates art in all guises and so we made Elbow Room.

Elbow Room started life a publication. The print run for Volume One was so small we only had 15 copies. Volume Nine (our latest) is a print run of 50 copies and includes photography, mixed media embroidery, poetry and a short story. Each volume is carefully curated and thoughtfully produced, hand bound and numbered. We want to create a publication that people want to keep and collect, one that reflects and compliments the work between its covers. Every time someone takes a copy of Elbow Room home or a new bookshop agrees to stock us is a thrill. That we are on the shelves in shops as diverse as the bookartbookshop and Foyles is more than we dared hoped for when we started this journey and reflects the breadth of the work we publish.
With the Competition Anthology edition we want to show off the talent and diversity of the poets, writers and artists working today. We want to create a book of the same high quality as Elbow Room but that also a little different. A book that lives up to the submissions we are receiving and that can be read and enjoyed with ease. From the choice of paper to the printing, the cover design to the binding we intend to make every element of the publication the highest quality possible. We have already started making plans, discussing ideas, hoping and dreaming about the book we can put out to celebrate the competition and to promote the community of artists’ who make Elbow Room possible. Now all we need are your submissions.

Help us make this anthology the best it can be, share the competition among your friends and colleagues, submit your short stories to us and then let us publish and promote the book around the UK and across the world.
However Elbow Room and the competition doesn’t end with the publications. Elbow Room Live has become an integral part of what we do. Bringing art off the page and together in one space Elbow Room Live has brought poetry and music to London and Norwich.

It is with these live events in mind that we are planning a mini autumn festival of the arts for the competition. In October the winners and runners up in all three categories will be showcased in London. Somewhere (we haven’t chosen a venue yet) we will host an exhibition and a night of live readings. Short stories, poems and visual art will share a space and an audience for a weekend. Whether you live in or near London does not matter, submit your work from anywhere in world and if you are placed in the competition we will work out how to include your work in the festival.

It is truly important to us that the competition showcases as diverse a cross section of the arts as possible. That we show off the incredible work of incredible artists from across multiple disciplines. In the next few weeks it is your job to decide if you want to enter and share your work with us. It is our job to ensure that our first competition is a true celebration of art in all guises.

Let us know if you have any questions and keep the submissions coming in.
All the details on how to enter are on the website www.elbow-room.org/competition
Best Wishes and Good Luck,
Rosie, Zelda and Lauren

Smoke on the Water


Please note that the actual cover/title
will be finalised later!

Water. H20. Adam’s ale. We’ve all seen it, gathering ominously in puddles, bouncing from umbrellas and rolling off the backs of insouciant ducks. Water doesn’t just fall from the sky, though: there’s a whole mucky load of it flowing in a big trench along the northern rim of south London, thankfully steering a course between the buildings on either side. And rather smaller amounts trickling past the bottoms of back gardens out in the suburbs. Some people even believe in such things as lost rivers, underground streams and tadpoles. And let’s not forget the docks, the canals, the broken Victorian water mains.

In short, it’s bloody wet out there. Which is why we’ve decided to produce the Smoke Bumper Book of Water. Although it won’t actually be called that, for obvious reasons. Basically, a compendium of words – fiction, non-fiction, something-in-between – and pictures in which London’s water is the ruling element. If you’ve seen our first book, From the Slopes of Olympus to the Banks of the Lea, you’ll know the sort of approach we’ll be taking; if you haven’t, you’re a fool to yourself, but click on the title and scroll down for a sample pdf.

It’s a deliberately broad topic, and the focus might change slightly, depending on what arrives. There are plenty of other books out there dealing with the history of the Thames, for instance, so we’d prefer to meander more around such things as, say, the Dagenham Brook, the last remaining tidal streets in London, a riverside pub crawl, or the reservoirs at Tottenham. Back in issue 2 of Smoke, we published Seb Brennan’s marvellous London Shipping Forecast – a nightly bulletin to guide and protect those stranded on the city’s streets and lull those safely tucked up in bed – and that’s the sort of thing we’re after. The stuff we really want to avoid, I suppose, is anything too drily informative; if anything, we’re after the exact opposite: something wet and fanciful.

As with all Smoke books, successful submissions will initially also appear on the website as regular posts; towards the end, though, we’ll probably keep them for the printed version.

Deadlines and word counts

People always want to know how many words are needed, and our answer is usually “roughly half as many as you’re thinking of sending us, sunshine – go back and delete all the adjectives”. Basically, though, there are no real rules – just whatever seems appropriate. Bear in mind, though, that the longest pieces in From the Slopes of Olympus were around 3,000 words, and most were a lot lot shorter; shorter is always better. As for a deadline… shall we say the end of February?