Touching Connections: All Their Favourite Stories (Novella-in-flash) by Slawka Scarso

Jun 19, 2023 | Blog, Reviews

I love dabbling in different styles. I met Slawka Scarso when she ran a workshop on writing flash fiction with the Geneva Writer’s Group last year. What I was most struck by was how there a little stories hiding everywhere – she used images, titles, recipes, lists. It made me feel as though I could mould anything at all into a nugget of a story. She also offered the most practical ideas I’ve ever had for thinking of titles. I’m terrible at titles! Now I have such gems as ‘What If The Cake I Just Gave You Is Poisoned?’ and ‘Six Feet From Your Door on October 3rd.’

The other thing I encountered in the workshop was Slawka’s writing. She shared with us a beauitful piece of flash she wrote called ‘The Sound of Dust‘ which verged on prose poetry – a beauitful moment when someone returned to a house damaged by war and rediscovered the beauty of music. So of course, when she told us she had a book coming out, I wanted to read it! I think what I liked most about her All Their Favourite Stories, her novella-in-flash, is the way that she links the stories together. Although we are taken into many lives throughout the book, it is centred on a Polish worker in a retirement home in the UK. The title refers to the stories of their lives that the residents tell over and over – their favourite memories of their lives. It’s impressive to see how we explore both the individual experiences of many characters but also how they grow and interact with each other over the time frame of the book. As a novella-in-flash, themes, characters and ideas grow and develop over the course of each story, while they can also stand alone as pieces of short fiction. I’m really enjoying how our ideas of stories and lengths and shapes are changing, and that books like these are in a lovely, fluid place in the middle of what we might expect from either a short story collection or a novel.

The stories themselves are beauitfully told. We never veer into the sentimental, but are given touching and incredibly human moments between the residents and in reflecting on their lives. It’s also lovely to see so many stories from the perspective of older people, this isn’t an angle we see often and to live in their skin is an important experience. I enjoyed the humour and light touch of the difficulties of living in a space that is not at all your home, while also delving into the more difficult elements of growing older and feeling dissociated from the world you inhabited for so many years. A truly moving collection that touches on such a broad range of human experience.


Each story takes us into a different character’s life

I wanted to talk to Slawka about where her idea for setting and characters came from, and what she enjoyed about writing flash fiction. Read on to find out more:

I loved the overall idea of setting all of the short stories around a central place and character – someone who works in a care home. How did you come up with this idea and what drew you to it?
While I was in Geneva, I used to run writing sessions at Parc des Bastions every couple of weeks. Each participant brought a prompt and then we picked one randomly and wrote around it for twenty minutes. On two occasions, months apart, I wrote about a woman working in a care home. I didn’t do it on purpose. The realisation came hours later. I guess it was one of those occasions where a story finds you, or rather a character finds you.
I also thought the idea of residents telling their ‘favourite stories’ was wonderful. It gave us a real insight into those characters and their backgrounds. And they were so different! What were your inspirations behind writing these stories in particular?
One of the themes in this novella is solitude. At one point, both of my grandmothers lived in a care home for a short time before returning home. They were lucky because their children and grandchildren were visiting regularly but during one of my visits, I realised how this was not the case for everyone. Other residents wanted to talk, needed to talk, even to me, a stranger to them. And there’s another thing: the elderly all have their favourite stories. The kind they’ve told so many times nobody cares to listen anymore. I wanted to give them someone who was still willing to listen. And Maria was the perfect character to do so.


Having a central character that ties the collection together really made the collection interesting as we could see different facets of her life and struggles through different lenses. Why did you decide to write her story like this rather than in one long narrative?
I think with some stories, we have an idea of their ideal length and structure the moment we start to write. This was the case with All Their Favourite Stories. Novellas in Flash (NIFs) have the length of a novella, but each chapter is linked and yet it could stand alone as a separate flash while following a narrative arc. I find that NIFs allow you to play with structure and form more than a classic novel normally would. They’re experimental by definition. In that sense, as soon as I got the idea not only of Maria as the main character but also of the constellation of different elderly people around her telling their story, I knew that this would be a novella in flash.
You have a lot of experience writing short fiction and flash fiction. How do you find the process of writing these and are there any tips you have to share on writing in these forms?
What I like in flash writing is the focus, the sense of urgency, and the tension. I like the fact that you could write the first draft of a flash in twenty minutes (then of course you might end up spending hours editing it!). It makes writing less scary. In novellas in flash instead, I tend to write a story now and then, letting it build gradually. I also make lists of possible titles: I can go back to that list when I feel stuck. Then I use competitions and deadlines to finish the work. I find setting deadlines or using competitions as deadlines help me be more productive. I also use prompts and workshops to help me build on a novella in flash. Sometimes looking at a prompt I’ll think: do I have a character for whom this prompt could fit? Often enough I’ll end up writing a story that I didn’t expect to write. And I think it’s always a nice fresh feeling when something in your writing surprises you.
How did you go about getting your collection published?
In this case, it was fairly straightforward. Ad Hoc Fiction is an independent publisher in the UK that has been doing a wonderful job promoting flash fiction. They were running a novella in flash competition for a few years. I submitted All Their Favourite Stories in  2022. The deadline actually helped me finish the work because I had been working on it on and off for two years already. When the novella was commended, publisher Jude Higgins offered to publish it and a few months later the book was out.



Slawka G. Scarso has published flash and micros in Fractured Lit, Ellipsis Zine, FlashBack Fiction, Ghost Parachute and others and has received two Pushcart nominations. Her debut novella in flash “All Their Favourite Stories” was commended in the 2022 Bath Novella in Flash Award and is available from Ad Hoc Fiction. Two of her stories will be featured in the 2023 Best Microfiction Anthology. She lives between Rome and Milan with her husband and her dog, Tessa. More words on Twitter as @nanopausa and

1 Comment

  1. Valeria

    This sounds so good, Sarah! I love the idea of the stories of care home residents told this way!


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