Published by Retreat West Books, UK
Published: 27th June 2019
Published: 27th June 2019
Death, motherhood, the nature of reality, and the gender expectations of cultural conditioning are woven through these biting little stories in Sandra Arnold’s debut flash fiction collection. Sometimes sad, surreal and sinister, they’re also shot through with love and a deep understanding of humanity.
In gorgeous, spare prose that paints a vivid picture, Sandra Arnold gives voice to characters that are often unheard. From Daisy in Fireworks Night, willing to do whatever it takes to protect her little sister; to Martha in The Girl With Green Hair who has her body in the world we live in and her mind in the one that not many people see; and Ruby in Don’t Mess With Vikings who finds strength in a diagnosis of illness to stand up to bullies. With the stories in this collection, Sandra Arnold etches marks on your soul that will last.
Amanda Huggins, Author of Separated from the Sea
Sandra Arnold takes us into a different world in these vivid and haunting stories. She leads us through a landscape we think we know and recognise, but it proves to be a world that is slightly off-kilter and faintly surreal. The prose is both sparse and beautiful, yet there is nothing instant here - no quick, fleeting reward. These tales don't fizz and die like fireworks, they are slow burning tapers, fires that burn through the night. They are stories that creep up on you from behind, and once they sink their teeth in they don't let go. A crowd of images remains in wait at the edge of your vision, popping up in your mind when you least expect it. Sandra Arnold has a deep understanding of the human condition and her writing gets under your skin and stays there.
Alyson Baker, Alysonontheblog Reviews of New Zealand Fiction
Posted on June 22, 2019
'I love short short story collections and Soul Etchings is a superb example. A collection of evocative snippets, about loss,
grief, missed opportunities, women stuck in mis-matched relationships, misunderstood children, murder and over-obsessive inanimate objects.
When I reviewed another short story collection: Frankie McMillan’s My mother and the Hungarians, I wrote “The stories work like magic; your brain telling you a story based on snippets” and it is the same with Soul Etchings. There are 57 stories, all complete, but as you read them there are links and connections: The child full of wonder who is denied her experiences, the loss of a child through cancer, the missed opportunities to connect with those who have passed on, the unfair father, the fathers who want sons and not daughters.
One of my favourites in the collection was The day of the horse, with its lovely, but tragic, twist, on “crying wolf”, with the hearer at fault not the messenger. Soul Etchings is a collection embedded in our time, with our difficulties with connection, the solitary carrying of burdens, the attraction of the artificial rather than the natural, and the failure to see hope and wonder around us. It is full of those brief moments that are etched onto our souls and which impact the rest of our lives.
It is both confronting:
“Until the day Briony came home from school and found her father dead in the kitchen she hadn’t paid much attention to detail”
“She wrote in shafts of sunlight striking the scrubbed white wood of the old kitchen table. Head bent over her book, words streaming from head to hand to pen to paper”
I devoured this collection and highly recommend it.'
'The cover of Soul Etchings reminds me of a sculpture a friend had in their house. A clutter of dolls heads glued together, they kept it in the living room above the fireplace and even though the dolls eyes were dead and blank they still followed you around the room, and all the way home come to that. Soul Etchings doesn’t quite haunt to that extent, but the more sinister stories linger damply in the mind long after being read.
House rules and A voice called Gavin are worthy of Stephen King, possessive bricks and mortar not willing to take no for an answer and a voice recognition app who just won’t let go. The stories about a baby being taken – A real live one – and taken from – The patchwork quilt – have an unsettling Mary Bell-type mythology, albeit with a more pleasing conclusion, the twisted nature of childhood is explored honestly.
Baby and child loss are examined and reflected on from different angles throughout the book not only very sadly but beautifully – a determination in Derived from the Latin meaning happiness for example that the baby will not be forgotten, the memory cherished instead of stifled.
Grief – there are so many kinds – is explored sensitively and well, from different angles.
This isn’t a collection of horror stories, though; the story Soul etchings from where the book takes its name is a gorgeous tale of a precious snippet of time of pleasure, one woman and her horse capturing perfect moments. Simple, and unforgettable.
There are laughs as well – gender codes attached to biological sex have fun poked at them – Tom Thumb raises a smile at a benign revenge at unthinking bigotry, but it carries a certain sense of sadness too.
Domestic violence and misogyny and effects are not shirked from, themes repeatedly stressed. Somethings cannot be mentioned just the once, the message needs to underscored. Overbearing fathers, the sexual predator next door, all aspects are here.
The stories throughout made all the more relateable due to the author’s use of strong narrative, eventful, colourful stories. There’s a place for more abstract flash, sure; but these small but perfectly formed stories are supreme examples of perfect flash fiction combined with precise, perfect storytelling.'
Niles Reddick, author of Reading the Coffee Grounds and Other Stories
'Sandra Arnold’s debut flash collection Soul Etchings is simply beautiful. There’s an element of the mystery of humanity and the world that will fill readers with wonder. Each detail is unique and woven together in a universal tapestry, and Soul Etchings will leave readers craving more from Sandra Arnold.'
Meg Pokrass, Author of Alligators At Night
'Sandra Arnold’s stories are small windows into another world, a world which is almost this world. She brings the readers in, page by page, enticing with dream-like language and insightful observation. Beguiling, strange, tender and chilling, these potent gems continue percolating in your mind long after the reading is done.'
James Norcliffe, author of Dark Days at the Oxygen Café
'Mastery of the short form is a delicate, nerve-wracking balancing act. Tilt one way and you fall into bathos, tilt the other and you plunge into artifice and contrivance. There is very little room to manoeuvre. Sandra Arnold, in this rich collection demonstrates just how it should be done. In story after brilliant story, she negotiates the tightrope surely, often with bravura, and all without the aid of a safety net.'
Robert Vaughan, author of Funhouse, EIC Bending Genres
'From the detritus of daily life, Arnold forges a tenderly rendered, nuanced account of her character’s lives- which she avoids over-simplifying. Soul Etchings is vital, and the stakes are high: this author pools the deep to plumb the raw and wounded, and in doing so, spellbinds and provides release.'
Robert Scotellaro, author of What We Know So Far
'A wise and poetic sensibility currents through these stories in Soul Etchings. They are short, yet substantial—intimate and keen. Here are stories of place and of the heart.'
Michelle Elvy, author of The Everrumble and editor of Bonsai: Best Small Stories of Aotearoa New Zealand.r
'In Soul Etchings, Sandra Arnold creates a patchwork of memorable moments, weaving scenes of human striving, folly and joy. These stories create a lingering interconnectedness – between character and place, between past and present, between writer and reader. This collection hums with quiet discord and persistent longing.'
Jude Higgins, author of The Chemist’s House.
'Soul Etchings, Sandra Arnold’s collection of short-short fictions travels deep into the human experience. The stories are compelling, sometimes surprising or disturbing and show great insight into how people behave. A pair of young girls steal a baby not really knowing what they are doing; a sudden storm causes a horrific balloon accident while a mother watches; a couple who try and escape memories at Christmas find unexpected solace in the simple words of a stranger. Often, children have to understand and deal with the adult world and what adults do to them. The sense of place is very strong in this collection and the vivid prose emphasises both the beauty and the fragility of life. Soul Etchings is a brilliant and poetic read, one not to be missed.'