Flash Frontier

New Book: Jenna Heller’s The End of the Beginning

Interviews and Features

The End of the BeginningHeather McQuillan launched Jenna Heller’s new book, The End of the Beginning, at Scorpio Books on Thursday 13 June in Ōtautahi, with an in-depth dive into what makes up this flash fiction collection and winner of the At The Bay I Te Kokoru 2023 flash manuscript award.

This month, we publish Heather’s launch speech and celebrate Jenna’s book.

You can find the book at the publisher’s page here.


From Heather McQuillan…

I was delighted to be asked to launch this collection, The End of the Beginning, a gorgeous book that is as raw and honest and as beautifully brutal as the landscapes it traverses … and as twisty as the life paths it takes us down.

Jenna asked me to help launch this book because I apparently introduced her to writing flash fiction – just as James Norcliffe did for me and no doubt Jenna has done for others.

Many of the Ōtautahi flash fiction community are here today but as flash fiction is still a newish form Jenna has asked me to give a brief explanation of the craft, maybe a summary of my thesis…

Jenna and HeatherHere it is: The stories are short.

BUT – and it’s the but that is important – that doesn’t mean they are shallow, small or of little consequence. The best of flash fiction, and Jenna’s writing is up there as an example of the very best, has a TARDIS-like quality. Like Dr Who’s Time And Relative Dimension In Space Machine, flash fiction stories defy the laws of physics by containing so much more than the word count. Through careful selection and arrangement of words, talented writers – such as Jenna – can create very short stories that still manage to be wide-ranging and multi-dimensional.

The stories in this collection are beautifully written and often brutal in their honesty. They are full of real nature, grounding the emotional turbulence of the characters in a physical world. At the core of these stories are strong girls and women whose experiences reflect the struggles and triumphs of many, particularly those within the queer community.

At one point, a year or two ago, Jenna declared that she was giving up writing stories to focus on poetry. I am glad she didn’t but you will definitely see the influence of her poetry years within these stories the space between prose poetry and flash fiction is often liminal.

Writing stories like these takes craft and skill but this book is more than just a collection – it has been curated.  Jenna has done this brilliantly too. The arrangement of the stories in four sections tells a wider coming-of-age journey, taking us from the swamps and summer camps of the United States where “you dodge poison ivy and poison sumac all the way to the creek, the one that twists like a black snake” to the wildness of New Zealand’s shorelines where Large brown seals dot the craggy flat like giant cigars spilled from a box” and “Bull kelp tangles in large puddles and black-billed gulls soar on the breeze.”


The collection begins with the section Some Home, Any Home. These stories set the stage, exploring the concept of home not just about a physical place but a place of belonging and identity, of finding a place where we are accepted for who we are. But these ‘homes’ are brimming with dangers: here reeds slice skin –  there are snakes, spiders and scorpions lurking – and fences are there to “keep the wild out” and the neighbours out too! The children in these stories are not protected from the world but equally, the world is not protected from the casual cruelty of the children which we see in the opening story ‘Best Friends’ and also in ‘Nestling’ where a child retreats from cruelty to the sanctuary of a barn.

Hoist myself up onto the narrow windowsills and search the nests for unbroken eggs. I’d scoop them up and place them in the front of my T-shirt, cradle them all together while the mama birds screeched and squawked. I’d sit down on the dirt floor and pile them in my cupped hands. The future so fragile, so full of promise. Then I’d put them back in the nests randomly and wonder if the mothers would love their unusual chicks just as much as their own.


Next, we move to the section The Sting in the Corner where the characters face change head-on, head butts and all. ‘The Candle’ starts with: “They were always hitting and punching. Playfighting, they called it. It would start with laughter and then Dad would punch Mum a little too hard. Knock the wind out of her. Then it was on.  All fists and feet.”

This line, “When the heck did I enter the land of adulting anyway?” seems to sum up this section. I loved finding out from Jenna that this story is a found flash – lines collected from a series of emails. 


The third section is titled Risk It All, where change is actively pursued. In this section, the characters reach into the unknown towards a future that promises both risk and reward. In ‘Coming Out’ : “At 18, you spend money on a second piercing in your right ear – a silent signal to those in the know. The mirror is a window of recognition. But this is still Texas, where being you is against the law. So you are careful, hesitant, pronounless.” These stories explore the idea that the hope of finding something better on the other side is what drives us to leap across the abyss. These characters make decisions!

I was delighted to rediscover the story ‘Right in the Middle’. I remember first reading it while sitting at Jenna’s kitchen table quite a few years ago and being astonished at her control of the writing craft. The opening sentence is 289 words long – longer than some of the other stories in their entirety. But wait there’s more: there’s another sentence that’s 402 words.  I won’t read it now but I dare you to read this piece out loud to feel its power and understand the way and the why of  Jenna’s playfulness.


Too soon, we arrive at Vanishing Point. In this final section, we are confronted with the aftermath of the decisions made and the paths taken. Whether it’s dealing with loss, accepting the finality of death, or coming to terms with the consequences of our choices, these stories delve into what lies beyond those pivotal moments of our lives.  It might be “the end of the beginning” but the stories don’t end there for the reader – like all great literature they linger with you for a long time!

Jenna, we are all thrilled that you have this well-deserved and fabulous first book out in the world. We also eagerly await the second, the third… knowing that maybe they won’t be flash fiction but a novel, a poetry collection or something else entirely because it’s not the genre that matters most but the way you use words to challenge us to look beyond the surface, to understand the complexities of identity and belonging.

To everyone here tonight, whether you see yourself in these stories or find a new perspective through them, I am certain there is something in this book that will resonate with you. Buy a copy. Or two!

Jenna Heller Book Launch


Jenna Heller’s book The End of the Beginning can be purchased from the publisher here.


Heather McQuillanHeather McQuillan lives in Ōtautahi Christchurch where she is the director at Write On School for Young Writers. Heather has a Master of Creative Writing with distinction from Massey University (2018). Part of her thesis, Where Oceans Meet, a collection of very short stories, was published in the UK in 2019. Her flash fiction has been published internationally including in Best Small Fictions. She also writes novels for young readers with her latest, Avis and the Call of the Kraken released earlier this year. In 2021 she was the University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children’s Writer in Residence.

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