Fuel Flash Fiction Anthology

Today on our blog we have a Q & A with Tania Hershman, about the fantastic Fuel anthologyORDER HERE

Can you tell us about how the Fuel anthology came about?

I was getting more and more upset last summer, as I’m sure many of us were, as I listened to the UK news telling me that even before the predicted stratospheric gas and electricity price hikes there were already people having to choose between heating their homes and heating their food. It seems so wrong and I wanted to do something to help. As I thought about it more, I realised that I could do more than just make a donation to fuel poverty charities, especially because, as we now know even more clearly, this situation is not going to go away any time soon; more prices increases are coming and it will most likely get worse. 

A flash fiction anthology of some sort was my first thought because, after writing flash fiction myself for over a decade, I know most of the flash fiction community, I already had all the contacts. And, knowing the community well, I had no doubt that people would want to help. But I was nervous about doing it alone, I’d never undertaken anything like this, producing a book from scratch – from gathering 75 flash stories by authors around the world all the way to doing the design and layout and getting it printed! Sometimes it’s best not to think at the start about everything you’re going to have to do that you’ve never done before – it was a lengthy but really fascinating, rewarding process, with much help from people along the way. I learned a lot. 

Holding the FUEL book in my hands two weeks ago, just 6 months after I first had the idea, was very moving to me. All the profits are being donated to at least four UK fuel poverty charities, and as I write this we’ve already raised over £700 for charity from pre-orders, which is amazing.

What makes this book different from other flash fiction anthologies?

As I began musing about putting together a flash fiction anthology, I wondered if I could not only create something people would buy just to support the charities, but a book that would be unique and potentially useful to writers, a book that could explode some myths and misconceptions and pass on permission to write what you want to write in the way you want to write it. Then the idea hit me: how about a collection of award-winning flash fictions, stories that had all won first prize in various competitions over the past few decades? This was something I’d never come across before but would have loved, especially when I was started to write.  A book like this—with an enormous variety of flash fictions of different lengths, shapes, forms, genres, voices— could serve, as I mentioned above, to bust some myths about what kinds of stories win writing competitions, as well as celebrating and giving another outing to all these stories, some of which had never been published in print. 

As I reached out to competition organisers—who were all as generous and helpful as I’d known they would be, including yourselves at Retreat West!—and then to authors, and as such a diverse and surprising set of stories started arriving in my Inbox, I thought of more ways to try and make the book helpful to writers. I added something often seen in poetry anthologies but rarely in fiction: an Index of First Lines, so readers could scan the list, see what first line grabbed them, and then read that story. As someone who has judged writing competitions, the first line is where I always hope, faced with a huge pile of entries, that a writer will grab me and not let me go. Here are 75 very different ways that a story can start, each of which grabbed a judge and didn’t let them go! 

As well as the contributor biographies, so you can find new favourite writers and read more by then, I’ve also listed all the competitions at the back, with a short description and a list of the first-prize-winning stories included in FUEL from that particular competition. And of course a reader can just dip in and out as they like!

For people unfamiliar with the concept of flash fiction, how would you explain it?

To me, flash fiction is just one name for very short stories, roughly 1500 words and under – sometimes a long way under! The shortest flash story in FUEL is 78 words; the longest is 1000 words. For me, length is the only definition; a piece of flash fiction has to be short, but there are no other rules at all. It can be any genre (we have crime fiction, science fiction, humourous stories included in FUEL); it can be told from all sorts of points of view. Some stories are one long breathless line with, some are in the form of a letter, a play, Internet search results. Flash fiction can be anything and everything – what will yours be?!

Are there any Fuel- related events coming up we can let our readers know about? 

We are having an online launch party on Feb 15th, hosted by the wonderful Writers HQ, where I’ll be introducing the book and a line-up of writers from around the world will read their prize-winning stories. We’ll then open it up to a Q&A so you can ask everything you always wanted to know about writing flash fiction and about competitions! What is it like to win, what can it do for you and for your confidence and your writing? How is a competition judged? Please come, tickets are pay-what-you-can, with the proceeds also donated to fuel poverty charities, book here: https://writershq.co.uk/fuel-flash-anthology-launch/

In July, I’ll be hosting a reading of more of the FUEL authors and running a workshop inspired by the FUEL anthology at the amazing Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol, if you’re going to be there please do come along, it’s a joyous weekend celebrating everything flash fiction can be! Details and booking for the festival here: https://www.flashfictionfestival.com/

Meet The Writer – Nora Nadjarian

Today on our blog we have a Q & A with writer Nora Nadjarian, who will be leading a zoom workshop for us in February – Making The Ordinary Extraordinary. What is it that transforms the everyday? It’s a different way of looking at things, a shift in consciousness, a change in language. Sometimes a single word will make a difference. In this workshop we’ll read micros and flash which deal with everyday subjects, and you will be prompted to write your own, making the ordinary extraordinary through words. BUY TICKETS HERE.

What made you choose this particular topic for your session?

There should always be an element of surprise in writing which draws you and your reader in, and the surprise that comes from what you thought was ‘ordinary’ is all the more powerful because it is unexpected. Don’t discount the ordinary. Don’t be afraid to make your characters do seemingly ordinary things. No matter how banal or mundane you think a subject is, you can make it come to life. It is up to you as a writer to spring the surprise, to reveal the extraordinary, through your writing. 

What do you hope participants will get out of it?

They will be introduced to selected flash and micros, which we will read and discuss as a group, and there will be guided writing in response to prompts. Participants will come away with lots of new ideas and with drafts of two or three out-of-the-ordinary stories.

Do you have a favourite piece of writing that reflects this topic? Either your own or someone else’s.

I have too many favourites to list here but “Leftover” by Glen Pourciau beautifully illustrates how a seemingly innocuous, quite ordinary visit can tell us so much about the fraught relationship and tension between two people. Dialogue is used to great effect and we are left with a vivid sense of the main character’s desperation and loneliness.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just completed a novella-in-flash, so I’m taking a short break before embarking on my next project. I am also editing a collection of flashes and micros. As well as short fiction I also write poetry, and a full collection is being published by Broken Sleep Books later this year – so I’m very busy!

Where can we find out more about you and your writing?

My writing news and links to my writing are on my website, www.noranadjarian.com, where you will also find details of the writing workshops I am leading this year.

I am also on Twitter @NoraNadj

Nora Nadjarian is a poet and writer from Cyprus. She has been commended or placed in numerous competitions, including the Live Canon International Poetry Competition 2020 and the Mslexia Poetry Competition 2021. Her work was included in Being Human (Bloodaxe Books, 2011), Capitals (Bloomsbury, 2017), The Stony Thursday Book (Ireland, 2018) and Europa 28 (Comma Press, 2020). She represented Cyprus in the Hay Festival’s Europa28: Visions for the Future in 2020. Her short fiction has appeared, among others, in Sand Journal, FRiGG, MoonPark Review and Lunate and was chosen for Wigleaf‘s Top 50 Very Short Fictions of 2022 (selected by Kathy Fish). She has led successful creative writing workshops for the Flash Fiction Festival (2019 and 2022), the Wirral Poetry Festival and the Cheltenham Poetry Festival (2021), the Crow Collective and Retreat West (2022).

The Way Of Unity – Sarah K. Balstrup

Today on our blog we have a Q & A with writer Sarah K. Balstrup, who was a participant on our Novel Creator Course.

  1. Can you tell us a bit about your novel?

The Way of Unity is a dark fantasy novel about a society bound by psychic intimacy that is torn apart by a religious schism. It is epic in scope but focuses on inner emotional experience more than your average fantasy. In the novel, Sybilla Ladain seeks to destroy the religious order who murdered her family. Yet she does so out of fear and her revolution signifies the closing of her heart and the prevention of social and spiritual communion among her people. Lost souls gather against her, angered by what they have lost, knowing life will never return to the way it was before.

  • How did your Religious Studies background influence this story?

I signed up for the RW Novel Creator Course during lockdown after moving to a new city and that kind of set the mood, crystalising the theme of unity vs. alienation. As a Religious Studies academic who had always been interested in the shift from collective to subjective religious practices (in Romanticism and especially in a post-1960s context), The Way of Unity picked up on many of the ideas that I had been exploring in my previous book Spiritual Sensations (Bloomsbury: 2020). Sybilla seeks to destroy The Intercessors because she mistrusts religious intermediaries but the generation who grow up in a ‘priestless’ world resent her because the chain has been broken and there is no one left to pass on the wisdom of the past.

  • What authors inspire you?

Virginia Woolf’s Orlando has long been my favourite fantasy novel, and that probably tells you all you need to know about where my work sits in the genre (that is, it doesn’t fit very well at all!). 

One writer I discovered while trying to come up with comparative titles for this book is a horror author who dabbles in fantasy: Christopher Buehlman. I absolutely loved Between Two Fires, a surreal vision of plague-ridden France, conceived as the eruption of Hell into the earthly plane, and the parable-like quest of a disgraced knight to wrest his soul from the spreading corruption.

Overall, I am drawn to unusual examples of genre fiction, and unfailingly to stories with underlying religious themes e.g., Ursula K. Le Guin, Kazuo Ishiguro, Alex Pheby, Lauren Groff and Susanna Clarke.

  • What are you working on now?

I have paused work on the sequel to The Way of Unity to focus on a contemporary novel about a struggling Canberra mum who inadvertently starts a cult following a neighbourhood tragedy. 

Sarah K. Balstrup is an Australian writer and former Religious Studies academic. Sarah’s debut novel The Way of Unity comes out 6 February 2023.

Twitter: @SKBalstrup

Website: https://www.sarahkbalstrup.com/

Newsletter: https://www.sarahkbalstrup.com/home#newsletter


Goodreads Reviews: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/62986432-the-way-of-unity

Purchase here or, better yet, order through your local indie bookstore: https://tinyurl.com/evnxuawm

Year of Indie Debuts – Exquisite by Sarah Stovel

This month’s’ books is ‘Exquisite’ by Sarah Stovell.

Hello Sarah, thank you for agreeing to chat about your book, Exquisite, I really enjoyed reading it.

Your writing is frankly amazing and I am in awe of it, which has actually made it quite hard to come up with questions! But I would like to talk about the process of writing such an intense book with two such strong characters. Did you find that they developed at the same time, or were they fighting for your attention as you went along? I wonder if one of them came to you first, or were they both always there at the start?

They were both there, full formed, at the very beginning. I had been thinking of them for years, though, so it wasn’t quite as easy as that makes it sounds.

People often talk about a writer needing a glint of ice in the heart, that we mine personal experience ruthlessly. I think both your characters demonstrate that to the extreme, in different ways. I’m not going to ask if any of this is drawn on your own lived experience, but I am asking if you feel inherently that writers are risky people to get to close to maybe?

No, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t advise anyone to behave so badly to a writer that the writer feels a need to expose them. Because obviously, the writer will go ahead and do that.

The writing retreat in this made me smile, the description of the people there, I think I saw myself among them! I guess I would say this, but they are an amazing opportunity and can have that other world feel as you have time out from the real world to focus on your passion. Have you been on one before?

Yes. I have been on them and taught on them. They can be excellent. Really life-changing.

I like the way you use food in the book, it makes a statement about each of the main characters and the worlds they live in and that they create, especially Bo. How do you feel you the food relates to your story?

The sort of food we eat, like everything, is an indicator of social class (sadly). People at the top of the class-food chain get to munch down on gold. Those at the bottom get a few tins of economy soup from the food bank. This, in turn, will affect a person’s mental health. In ‘Exquisite’, Alice is very vulnerable and often hungry. She can’t cook, or look after herself. Bo, who has more power and wealth, eats well and uses food as a way of nurturing others. This is the first novel where I’ve used food in this way. In my new novel, I take it much further. Food is a big deal.

I think there are parallels between the literary debate over the Wordsworths, the discussion around the William/Dorothy relationship, and your book. Do you feel the two stories relate to each other?

Yes. There is a theme of a love that is so deep and shocking, it transgresses normal boundaries.

I hope that you’’ve written tons of books before this, because if this really is your first book I really will cry – but how have you developed your voice and got to the point of publication with Exquisite?

It’s very hard to pinpoint a smooth line of development in writing, but I would say that my first novel focused mainly on the voices of the characters. As I’ve developed, I have become more interested in landscape (which is something that has become increasingly important to me personally) and psychology. I think this shows in my more recent work.

Are you a baker? (Just thinking of the delicious and yet sinister french bread!)

Yes. I love baking. I’d never get anywhere on the Bake-off because I absolutely can’t be bothered to do a show stopper, but I love making cakes, scones, meringues, desserts, bread…

So, where is your writing heading next?

I’ve almost finished my next book. It’s about a young woman named Annie, whose mother has gone missing. Annie is evicted from her house for not paying the rent and goes to work as a nanny. While there, something happens to a child in her care…

Thank you for coming Sarah and giving us an insight into this novel and your writing process.

In my day job, well, one of them, I teach silversmithing, and one of the things you need to learn about is silver soldering. But soldering, the process of using a metal alloy with a lower melting point to the silver to fuse pieces together, doesn’t work without the use of flux. Flux, most commonly borax, is a glass like mineral which you paint on before you solder, and what it does it prevent the surface of the mental reacting with the silver to form an oxide. If you don’t use flux, the hot metal pulls oxygen from the air and when the solder melts, it fuses to this sooty deposit and the joint will fail.

With a lot of the writing I read, even writing I enjoy, I feel that it’s silver without flux, that there’s a coating on I can’t quite get through and which prevents the book from taking, from fusing completely with my mind. Sarah’s writing is like flux, it’s so good that I didn’t feel like I was reading, but rather that the two main characters were with me or that I was with them, that we were fused. I don’t know how you find the flux your writing needs, I don’t know if I have, but read this book if you want to understand what I mean.

You can get a copy of Exquisite here in print, digital or audio book.

And connect with her @sarahlovescrime on Twitter.