Looking into the past... Image via Pixabay

PRIORITIES, REMEMBERING, AND A REVIEW

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This week’s Chandler’s Ford Today post is my review of Murdered to Death by Peter Gordon, recently performed by the Chameleon Theatre Group. I look at what you look for in great spoofs and discuss the wonderful Agatha Christie send-ups in this highly enjoyable play, which was brilliantly performed by the Chameleons to a packed house. I hope they put on more spoofs. I have a very soft spot for funny plays (funny books too come to that) and spoofs are a fantastic part of this.

Image Credit:

All images for Murdered to Death kindly supplied to Chandler’s Ford Today by Lionel Elliott and taken by Liz Strevens and Marilyn Dunbar, all of The Chameleon Theatre Group.

Many thanks.

Image Credit:  All images below are from Pixabay.

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When is less is more? Certainly in flash fiction. Also on Twitter (I’ve been following the debate on the increase in characters from 140 to 280 and agree that the tighter character limit increases creativity. If you can say something in 140 characters, why on earth would you want to say it in more? There is no point to writing which isn’t necessary to the story!).

Twist endings depend on the less is more principle. In The Truth in From Light to Dark and Back Again the last sentence contains the twist in a total of 10 words (and by my rough tot-up 68 characters including the full stop!). In Serving Up a Treat, the twist was in 8 words (which this time is 39 characters including the full stop).

A guiding principle for me has been to write what needs to be written and get out! (It is in the edit that you work out what does need to be in the story. It can be surprising just how much can be cut too at times).

(From Light to Dark and Back Again can now be found in MIBI Gift Shop in Chandler’s Ford, along with Leap of Faith and Trouble With Swords by fellow writer and friend, Richard Hardie. Images below taken by me and many thanks to MIBI. I hope to write a CFT post about how local communities can help their writers and vice versa).

Image Credit:

All images below taken by Allison Symes.  Many thanks to MIBI.

Image Credit:  All images below are from Pixabay.

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog

What do your book choices reveal about you? Well, for a start, hopefully, that you have excellent taste in books!

Your choices should also reveal you are widely read, with a good selection of non-fiction books, as well as fiction, on your shelves.

Certain titles give themselves away, of course. Having the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook on your shelves points to there being a writer or artist in the household!

Your choices should also reveal which genres are your favourites as these will tend to dominate your bookshelves. (In my case, it’s humorous fantasy and yes I do have a shelf full of Terry Pratchett and Tom Holt’s works).

On the non-fiction front, your choices should reveal what your favourite genre is here (for me, it’s anything historic).

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Fairytales With Bite – Priorities

What are your characters’ priorities and why have they chosen them?  (Did they get to choose them or did family/tribal expectation force them to “choose” the priorities they have?).  What are the priorities for your world’s government(s)?  What stops them or individual characters from fulfilling their priorities?

I must admit I sometimes find it difficult to work out my priorities (given all my jobs do actually need to be done!).  This is where deadlines (actual and ones you set for yourself) can be useful.  They give you something concrete to work towards, can help against procrastination and, I think, help you achieve more in terms of your writing than you would without them.

The biggest but nicest problem I have had this year is giving the right priority to publicizing From Light to Dark and Back Again (including taking part in things like the recent Chandler’s Ford Book Fair) and getting on with my other writing.  I know I will get this balance right eventually (experience does show!) but I also know I haven’t got there yet (as I said, experience does show!  So does lack of said experience!).

Writing directly to screen

Prioritising writing work isn’t always easy.

This World and Others – Remembering

This weekend has Armistice Day (11/11), which given it is on a Saturday this year is followed by special services throughout the UK (where I’m based) on the nearest Sunday to it.  It is a strange thing about us as a species that we need to actively remember especially those things that are the most important.  The biggest lesson from history, I think, is the importance to remember and then maybe some of the worst mistakes we’ve made won’t be repeated.  At the very least that is a good thing to aim for.

This week has also seen the second anniversary of my mother’s passing and I can’t believe where the time has gone.

On a happier note, as I’m settling in our new rescue dog, Lady, happy memories of my previous dogs, Gracie and Mabel, are flooding back as Lady shows some traits common to them all.

On a writing front, what would your characters choose to actively remember?  What are the most important things for them?  What does this say about them as characters?  What made them choose these things?  Do any of these things go against what would be their cultural norm and, if so, what consequences do they face?

Looking into the past... Image via Pixabay

Lest We Forget.

 

Comic Fiction and Stories told in Letter Form

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Comic fiction is amongst the hardest things to write, given humour is subjective. My late mother had very wide tastes in books (think H.G. Wells to Dickens to Shakespeare to Jane Austen to Daphne Du Maurier to name a few). Her one blind spot was humorous prose. No time for it at all, though she did have a good sense of humour (and loved Morecambe and Wise amongst others).

Humour doesn’t always work well in text. You sometimes need to be able to read someone’s body language so that you know they are joking. Subtle humour can sometimes be too subtle for the joke to really work. I’ve always found the best humour in fiction has been either through a character that is generally funny in and of themselves or through a funny situation, which is well set up and acted on.

In From Light to Dark and Back Again I’ve tended to use humorous situations and I also like to give my characters a good sense of irony. They may not pick that up but the reader will. Sometimes the best humour is the unconscious kind!

 

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What is the point of any short story? To make a specific point and show how the characters reached where they are, and what they are going to do about it. A short story can cover those changes of attitude or incidents, which would suit the form well, but not that of a novel. Less is definitely more in this case!

I have a distrust of padding out a story in any case. You should have enough material to draw on to write a story without any padding. It may be that what might look like a short story idea is really just an incident (you could think of turning it into a flash fiction piece.). Equally think the idea out more, brainstorm, even put the whole thing aside for a bit until you DO have a strong enough idea, you easily have enough material for it.

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My favourite form of flash fiction are those stories which leave a definite impact on the reader. Doesn’t have to be a happy ever after kind of story but one where there is a clear resolution to the problem set up at the beginning of the piece.

Of course with flash that impact is very sharp because there isn’t a lot of room in which to deliver it. Yet the impact mustn’t feel forced, must arise naturally out of the situation the story has created, and be appropriate to that tale.

Ernest Hemingway’s famous example of For Sale One Pair Baby Shoes has everything, Your emotional reaction to that story can be one of horror, sadness, or matter of fact acceptance. A lot will depend on your own outlook on life. (It can also be positive – the baby had LOADS of shoes, quickly outgrew them and so didn’t need this pair).

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Technically a flash fiction piece is anything under 1000 words, though I think anything on the upper limit mark is really a short story. (Just a shorter one than the norm for competitions!).

The advantage of the 500-word and 750-word flash fiction tales is I can go into a little more detail, give a bit more depth into the character but literally about as half as much as I would do for a standard length short story (1500 words).

In Punish the Innocent and You Never Know, I use the longer version of the flash fiction I write to tell the stories in a letter format from the main character. It is one of those areas where I don’t think the main character would write 50 or 75 or 100 words. They would write more. In Punish the Innocent, the main character is a mother writing to her daughter. In You Never Know I don’t name the recipient but it is clear it is someone the main character knows well.

The great advantage of “letter” stories is the way in which they are written tells you so much about the character (and their mood!) when “they wrote it”. You can save on word count here. When a letter writer is irritated by someone, you know at once the recipient has to be someone they know well. You usually write fairly politely to strangers! Well I do…

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WHEN LIFE GETS IN THE WAY… IN A GOOD WAY

I’ve not managed to achieve much writing wise this weekend due to settling in our new dog, Lady, but for once life has got in the way in a good way!

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Making slow but steady progress on the follow-up to From Light to Dark and Back Again. Have got enough material for Chandler’s Ford Today posts to the end of the year and probably well into January, though this is a good position to be in! Looking forward to the Bridge House Publishing/Cafelit event in early December. Frightening to think it’s not far away now. (Have got precisely one Christmas present so far!).

Lady, our new border collie cross, is now home and does not appear to be fazed by fireworks. This is nice as Mabel and Gracie were petrified of the things. Lady will need additional training, being so young still, but we hope to take her to classes soon. (It will be as much for us as for her). Has a very good temperament.

Pictures below were taken at the Dogs Trust, Salisbury. More will follow in due course!

 

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It’s been a busy but lovely weekend as we settle Lady into her new home. Lots of walks, which she has loved, and she’s not fazed by fireworks, which came as a very welcome surprise. Mabel and Gracie loathed them.

We will be taking Lady to training classes (to also help with her socialisation, though she has been very good on the lead when meeting other dogs). She’s not made up her mind yet where she’s sleeping and tends to flit for a while before settling but both Mabel and Gracie did this for a while.

Lady was a bit fazed by the noise of the printer but has now got used to that. She will get used to that – a LOT!

Writing wise, have not got a lot done this weekend. Am not surprised but equally unworried. Will be making up for that!

The bigger ball was a favourite of both Mabel and Gracie.

 

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One form of flash fiction I like a lot is to hint at a film or fairytale I love and show an aspect of it from a character that is not the lead. A story I’m working on for my next book focuses on one of the witches from The Wizard of Oz as my lead.

I’ve also experimented with a four-line flash piece, which tells a complete story, but which might just technically count as a poem. It is a real pleasure to play with form like this.

I also have a couple of historical pieces in the next collection and hope to write more on these.

Whether I’ve written novels, short stories, scripts or flash I’ve always loved getting straight into the characters’ heads. Flash fiction almost encourages you to do to that given you’ve got to get the story up and running so quickly – and this is where the character does the work!

Image Credit:  All images below by Pixabay

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Can’t quite believe how quickly the light fails now the clocks have gone back. Book title very appropriate! (Wish they’d choose one time and leave it at that but there you go).

Due to settling in the new dog, Lady, I’ve not got much writing done this weekend but did manage to do some work on the follow-up book, so I’m pleased with that.

Am working on next CFT post which will be a review of a recent spoof I’ve seen (good fun it was too, though my review will go into more detail than that!). My next few weeks of CFT posts are pretty much lined up with an author interview (two-parter) to come and a look at how local places are supporting their local writers. So plenty to get on with when not working on follow-up book.

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Val Penny and I at Swanwick earlier this year. Good luck to Val with her book, Hunter’s Chase, due out in 2018

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My desk in my room at Swanwick.

Local authors' books at Chandler's Ford railway station

Local author books on sale in Chandler’s Ford Railway Station including mine

Allison book-signing Chandler's Ford railway station

Book signing at the railway station earlier this year

 

 

DEVELOPMENTS/MAKING PROGRESS AND BOOK FAIR REPORT

Lots happening tonight!

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I shared details of my latest Chandler’s Ford Today post earlier in the day about last weekend’s Book Fair. Going to share it again as my lovely editor has turned the galleries of photos into slideshows (which look fab. Many thanks, Janet).

I take a look at, not at only the event itself, but why I think the Book Fair helped writers (and is of wider benefit to a community that no longer has an independent bookshop). I also love the fact that when writers work together, great things can happen and the Fair was a great example of that.

Image Credit:  The photos in the slideshow are a mixture of those taken by me and my lovely Chandler’s Ford Today editor, Janet Williams, who started the site alone and has developed it into a popular online magazine.  Slideshow right at the end of this blog post.

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I love the way stories can come in so many different formats – literally everything from flash fiction to epic novels. This aspect was very well represented at the Chandler’s Ford Book Fair last weekend.

Then there are the formats of “transmission” – everything from the book itself to the audiobook to the play and film scripts. A good story is adaptable to more than one medium and can be appreciated and loved in more than one medium too. I have a soft spot for radio (and one thing on my To Do list is to try to write something for radio that makes it on to the air).

As well as “straight” stories, so to speak, there are the well-done spoofs, which are a sheer joy to read or watch. Last weekend was a busy one with the Book Fair in the morning and my going to see the Chameleon Theatre Group’s production of Murdered to Death by Peter Gordon in the evening.

I’ll be writing about that for next week’s CFT post but just wanted to say now that the story world, regardless of genre, truly is a fantastic one. The fact it can send itself up via farces/spoofs as well just adds to my love of stories overall.

 

My stories are in The Best of Cafelit 4, 5 and now 6 and also by Bridge House Publishing (Alternative Renditions). My first collection From Light to Dark and Back Again is published by Chapeltown Books.

My stories are in The Best of Cafelit 4, 5 and now 6 and also by Bridge House Publishing (Alternative Renditions). My first collection From Light to Dark and Back Again is published by Chapeltown Books.

Fairytales With Bite – Developments

There have been developments in my writing career which I thought I’d take the chance to share now.  I also hope to look at how I’ve changed the ways in which I develop my characters.

Firstly, I’m now part of the Goodreads Author Programme.  I am blogging on here once a week but am also open to questions on its Q&A section.  So if there is anything book/story/writing related you would like to ask, please head on over and send me some questions!

Secondly, Goodreads have author/book widgets for those writers on their programme, meaning you can link to reviews of my book, From Light to Dark and Back Again.  Also listed on Goodreads is Alternative Renditions, an anthology by Bridge House Publishing, where the first thing I ever had appear in print, A Helping Hand, was published.  I think it is quite a nice symmetry to have my first book and my first published story listed in this way.  (What is also nice for me is my late mum, who so encouraged my love of books, got to see my first published story.  My dad, who I lost earlier this  year, got to see my first published book).

Thirdly, I am now taking part in more book related events and loving each and every one of them.  The latest was a local Book Fair and my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week is a report on this.  There are plenty of pictures so it does give a good “flavour” of the event.  All good fun and I very much hope there will be more Fairs like this.  I hope to have more news of further events later on in the year.

As for character development, increasingly I am looking at what impact I want my characters to have on my readers.  This is, I think, essential for flash fiction with its tight word count.  The stories have to be character led so I am looking more closely at my characters’ motivations and what they are prepared to do to achieve their wishes!  I am also looking at how I want my characters to make the reader feel.  Those two things together, I’ve found, are giving me a clearer picture of my characters in my head before I actually write them and are helping with the writing of the stories immensely.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34146438-from-light-to-dark-and-back-again

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Let your stories have impact. Image via Pixabay

This World and Others – Making Progress

All writers should, obviously, seek to make progress with what they do but I would add that the progress should be what you are happy with.  Writers work at different paces so therefore progress has to differ.  Besides, nobody can guarantee publication or an instant best seller but you can work towards the first (and hope for the second, we all do!).

Also with the second, most of us would recognise that book sales are not necessarily the most reliable indicator of a book’s quality (am not going to name titles here, but I’d be surprised if you couldn’t think of some titles where you wonder how that got published at all! Again, we all do).  I think most of us would recognise then that you need to put your work out there, do what you can with regard to marketing (this will vary from writer to writer), and that sales build up over time (usually).

What I’ve sought to do since seriously trying to write for publication is to make steady progress year on  year.  Some years that has been just to have more work online.  Now I do have a book out, From Light to Dark and Back Again, my aim has been to promote it as much as I can and carry on writing the follow up to it.  I’ve recognised that book marketing is an ongoing thing.  Even when I have book 2, book 26 or what have you out there, I will always be referring to my back list etc.  So to a certain extent marketing for any one book doesn’t really stop.  Therefore it makes no sense to put myself under unnecessary time pressure.

On my Fairytales with Bite site tonight, I’ve written about Developments (both mine and in how I write characters now, as opposed to when I first started writing) and I share that link here.  I am now on the Goodreads Author Programme and talk about that in this post and welcome writing related questions on the Q&A spot it has so please do go and have a look and come back to me!  I’ve shared on there the Goodreads widget leading to my book reviews, below I share the widget showing my books.  What is nice here is you see both my first published book and the anthology, Alternative Renditions, where my first published story appeared, A Helping Hand.

As for progress for 2018, I don’t really make New Year’s Resolutions but I do over the Christmas break, think about what I’d like to see what happen – and then do what I can to achieve it.  At the end of the year, if I’ve achieved it all, brilliant.  If I’ve achieved some (and especially if opportunities have opened up where I didn’t expect and I’ve rightly followed those), equally brilliant.  If I’ve achieved “just” some, then that’s fine too.  Onwards and upwards!

Image below is just a screen shot but if you follow the links above via Goodreads you will come to my author page with all relevant information on it.

Goodreads Snip

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Never give up, work hard, be disciplined... all valuable traits for success, whether you're a tennis player, a writer or a character in a story! Image via Pixabay.

FAVOURITE STORIES, FLASH FICTION AND FURRY FRIENDS

Image Credit:  Unless otherwise stated, all images are either from Pixabay or taken by me.

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My favourite kind of story usually involves a villain getting their comeuppance. This covers everything from episodes of Columbo (great series!) to fairy tales to most fiction genres. I suppose this is because we all know so often justice is NOT done in life so perhaps we look to fiction to “compensate”.

I’m not into gruesome revenge tales (I think the danger with those is if you overdo it, you end up feeling some sympathy for the villain), but I do love poetic justice stories (and have written a few in From Light to Dark and Back Again),

The other reason is when the villain hasn’t got away with whatever evil scheme he/she devised, the story comes to what feels like a natural conclusion. Generally, there is no need to go beyond that point. And I like stories which are complete in themselves – an intriguing opening, an engrossing middle and a satisfying ending. I don’t want “beyond that”.

So what is your favourite kind of story and why?  (Image Credit:  Most below are by Pixabay.  The one of my books is by me).

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My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week will be a look back at last weekend’s Book Fair. While I can’t name all the authors taking part (there were LOADS!), I can share several pictures to give a good idea of how things were. I very much hope this will be the start of many such events.

Sadly we lost our independent bookshop some time ago so the Book Fair and other events like it can help plug the gap a little. We are lucky enough to have a fantastic library and one of their staff, the great Jane, came out to support the event too with their information stand. More details tomorrow. But we definitely need more of this kind of event!

At the weekend something special will happen. My family and I have made it our role in life to rescue lady collies down on their luck and regardless of age. Well on Saturday we will be bringing Lady home. Our third rescue dog, our third dog with a name we like so we won’t be changing it, so we still haven’t named any dogs we own!

And up in our front room? Two photo portraits of our Gracie and Mabel, much missed and always loved. We used the images below (on the first picture) and are really pleased with how the portraits turned out. The odd thing is it was about a month between Gracie and Mabel and it will be the same again with Mabel and Lady. Not planned on our part. Just a question of the right dog, the right time, the right place.

(Oh yes and with our innate sense of timing, of course we’re bringing Lady home on Bonfire Weekend. Still, this is the family that had their central heating installed in the middle of a very cold November so we have formhere!).. Pics of Lady to follow, I hope, at the weekend.

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Gracie, my first dog, is on the left.  Mabel is on the right.  Both lovely dogs.  Image taken by me.

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What can you do with flash fiction that it would be difficult to do with longer forms of longer writing?

1. Use flash to convey a strong but short idea that genuinely wouldn’t run to a short story or beyond.

2. Use flash to hone your editing skills. Every word counts here and you know your finished piece has to be at least under 1000 words. With short story competitions, while a lot ask for 1500 to 2000 words, there are many who welcome longer short stories. With flash, you have a definite fixed overall limit.

3, You can come up with any character in any setting or genre because the tight word count means you have no room for description (much) or narrative that doesn’t advance the story. I find it much easier to have my stories character led and it is huge fun finding out where THEY take me!

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When I interview writers for Chandler’s Ford Today, I always ask for their three top tips. Naturally, there is some crossover on ideas here. What’s really interesting is the priority the authors give to those ideas. So what would be MY three top tips for writing flash fiction?

1. Focus on the character. It really is their story. There’s no room for much in the way of description so you need to show what THEY are like by what they say, their attitude to others etc.

2. Only have a couple of characters at most in in a piece. The limited word count almost dictates this, You can have them refer to other characters “off stage” though.

3. Have fun. Set your characters in any era, any world, any genre.

Bonus tip: There are many sub-divisions within flash fiction. I like the 100-word tales but I do write the 250, the 500, the 750 variety of flash tale as well. It is a question of ensuring your story is the correct flash length for the story. Not all will suit the very short (100 or less) forms. Sometimes you do need 500 words! (Besides it is fun to mix it all up a bit!).

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog

I believe all writers, regardless of their usual genre, would benefit from writing flash fiction from time to time. Why?

Firstly, writing flash fiction really hones up your editing skills. You can kiss goodbye to weak word choices.

In a form where every word has to earn its place in your story, you do learn to select the strongest words possible. No more of the “He made his way quickly up the hill”. It will be “He raced up the hill”.

The image is so much stronger in the second version (yes, you could use “ran”, but I think “raced” is superior. To me it shows more effort being expended).

Secondly, if you can summarise your story or non-fiction work as a flash fiction piece, well you’ve just written a good basis for your synopsis and/or blurb, which I know most writers dread writing.

Thirdly, you have to have strong, memorable characters. As flash fiction is so short with no room for much narrative, I find the tales must be character led.

Therefore, those characters must stick in a reader’s mind. Developing strong characters like this can help you in writing them for longer fiction works too.

Fourthly, you can set your character in any genre or time with flash fiction. You never know but in doing this, you might find a genre you didn’t know you liked to write in becomes a favourite. That’s exactly what happened to me with flash fiction. I gave it a go and quickly became hooked!

Good luck if you do try writing flash fiction and have fun. It is a great form for experimenting with and that is one of the joys of writing overall: to discover new ways of story or genre you want to explore further.

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