Nanaimo writer Liz R. Sparkes, pictured here with her cat Dali, has a short essay published in a recent Chicken Soup for the Soul book, Life Lessons from the Cat: 101 Tales of Family, Friendship and Fun. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)

Nanaimo student writes cat tale for ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’

Short essay by VIU student Liz R. Sparkes appears in ‘Life Lessons from the Cat’

A VIU English student has had her work published for the first time in a new edition of the inspirational true-story anthology series Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Liz R. Sparkes was looking to supplement her income through paid writing opportunities when she found Chicken Soup for the Soul was accepting submissions for an upcoming edition, Life Lessons from the Cat: 101 Tales of Family, Friendship and Fun.

As someone who works with local cat rescue charity CatNap and lives in a house with seven cats – her own cat plus one foster, three kittens and cats owned by her roommate and downstairs tenant (“I know I sound like a crazy cat lady,” Sparkes said. “I’m not, actually. I swear.”) – she said it was an ideal publication.

“Cats are something near and dear to my heart, so I thought if I were going to submit to a Chicken Soup for the Soul, this would be the right one,” she said.

Sparkes’s essay is called Anything Helps and was inspired by the actions of a cat who frequents the University Village Mall at Bruce Avenue and Fifth Street.

“He was kind of a little plaza celebrity named Arthur who would sit around all the businesses and greet everybody,” she said. “So I thought that was an interesting premise for a story.”

She describes a scene where Arthur comforts a man sitting outside a grocery store with a cardboard sign and a paper cup on a wet winter afternoon, and how the cat’s gesture of kindness without prejudice rubbed off on her.

Sparkes wrote the story only days before the submission deadline and did not expect to make the cut.

“This is actually my first piece I’ve ever submitted to anything, so I was very pleased and surprised that it got selected because this is the first try,” Sparkes said.

She said she suspects her essay was chosen because it is unique among the others in the book.

“A lot of the stories in there are very personal stories about people’s own pets and this one was something a little bit different than that. It was more being inspired by the actions of an animal…” she said. “It’s something that I think people can relate to, especially people who’ve been in this plaza before because they’ve probably seen him.”

Proceeds from Life Lessons from the Cat, published this summer, support the American Humane Society, but Sparkes plans on unveiling the book at CatNap’s next adoption weekend to raise funds for the local group.

Sparkes used to write fiction for high school publications and she said getting her first work professionally published has encouraged her to keep writing. She said she may take some creative writing courses, but added, “I don’t know if I have it in me to write a huge book just yet.”

“This was my first real-life story and I actually think I’m better at it. Fiction was not really my forté … I would call this a little bit more me,” she said.

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