Celebrating Writing

Image Credit:  Unless otherwise stated, all images are from Pixabay.

A very big thank you to Paula Readman, Debz Brown, and Dawn Kentish Knox for kind permission to use their photos which were taken during the Bridge House Publishing celebration event.

Facebook – General

On my way to the Bridge House Publishing celebration event as I draft this post at 7.30 am on Saturday, 7th December 2019. Not going to see much of the lovely Hampshire countryside this time – it’s pitch black still and will be again on the way home.

Am happily ensconced in a comfy seat plugged in and listening to Classic FM as I write. Generally I find classical music soothing unless they put on the 1812 Overture when I have to resist the urge to use my stylus as a conductor’s baton! You’ve heard of air guitar. This is my equivalent!😀

When I get to read my stories publicly, I like to pick a mixture of tales in terms of length and mood. For today’s event I’ve picked short humorous (which can also be used as a description for yours truly!), a mid-range fantasy with a twist, and a crime tale. Hope they go down well. Will be writing the event up for CFT for next Friday.

What I am looking forward to most is meeting up with my fellow writers. It will be fun!

And the pics below prove it was fun!

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Loved the Bridge House event yesterday. Got home shattered but happy – always a sign of a good event, that! Many thanks to Paula Readman and Russell for the group pic of us holding up the books we were in this year. It’s a smashing photo. And this gives me the perfect excuse to repeat showing it!

Was very happy with my work during the day too. Drafted my FB and Goodreads blogs on the way up to London, posted them on the way home. Drafted two new flash fiction stories and wrote a reasonable section for a non-fiction book I’m working on as well. On getting home I started drafting my CFT post for this week so plenty of writing done I’m pleased to say. Naturally I came home with books to read too…

I do love Evernote and a smartphone! Even better was being on a train where I could keep my phone charged up as I actually had a power socket! (I know, I know, writers can be pleased by strange things indeed but I’ve been on too many trains where there is no power socket for phone charging or, worse, where there were some and they’ve been blanked out so I don’t take this kind of thing for granted!).

It was also lovely to chat to different people during the speed “dating” exercise at the event yesterday. Books, whether writing or reading them (or both), are a great conversational ice breaker. (Many thanks also to Dawn Kentish Knox for the pic of me reading from From Light to Dark and Back Again).

Oh and the Christmas tree at Waterloo was lovely. More pics in my CFT post later in the week.

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Am enjoying singing along with the carols on Classic FM. Lady doesn’t really know what to make of it all though… 😀😀 – mind you, she does love Christmas. For a household with a collie in it, there is no such thing as left over turkey! And we get to go on post-Christmas walkies, which always goes down well – with Lady at least.

One of the nice things about coming back from events like the Bridge House one on Saturday is I can be sure of being “mugged” by the dog (demanding a big cuddle, how dare you go away, Mum!) on my return home! (Lady has almost followed me on to the train to Swanwick before now!).

I’ll be writing about Friends and Traditions for my CFT post this week. The Bridge House event has become a tradition for me and it involves lots of friends so win-win there! Link up on Friday. (I’ll also be looking at the benefits of meeting up with other writers).

Oh and I was delighted to find one fellow Bridge House author, #LindaPayne, is a fellow fan of the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. Another instant topic of conversation right there!

I remember being a very nervous newbie when I went to my first writing event aeons ago. Now, I can hardly wait for my favourites to come around. What has helped here? Why, making writer friends of course. It makes a huge difference. And I’ve always found that when you meet up again, you continue your conversations as if there hadn’t been a break of months or what have you since you last spoke directly.

There is so much much to enjoy about writing and this is one aspect of that. All hugely encouraging too and we all need encouragement on a regular basis.

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A very wet day (as Lady would testify if she could) and I spent a lot of it fervently wishing my glasses came with mini windscreen wipers!

I don’t tend to use the weather much in my stories as, if I wish to add atmosphere to a story, I can usually do it in some other way. If I want to show my characters under stress, there are usually better ways of doing it.

I tend to save the weather for when the story wouldn’t make sense if it wasn’t brought in. That way I can avoid parody (“it was a dark and stormy night”, anyone?) and any description of the weather is kept to the minimum I need to achieve my objective.

 

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Flash fiction lends itself well to being read publicly and also gives an instant demonstration of what flash is. Its brevity is its strongest selling point. Not got enough time to read?

Well, you can read a 50 or 100 worder quickly enough! See it as a great way to enjoy a fiction fix! A good friend has described it as a bus stop read, which is a great way of summing it up as well as suggesting where you can read it!

I love to read shorter fiction in between novels too. Flash fiction is the story form you can enjoy between “meals” of longer works without ruining your appetite for long or short fiction! Anyone else out there who remembers the old Milky Way advert?!

 

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A story comes to life for me when the lead character comes to life. For flash fiction, that has pretty much got to happen in the opening couple of lines. I try to do this by:-

1. Giving an intriguing situation the character has to solve and you want to find out how the character does it.

2. Take you inside the character’s head immediately and something about their attitude/thoughts will make you want to read on.

3. In my Punish the Innocent, I use a letter format to show my lead character addressing “their” reader and by opening with powerful lines. “Dear Sarah, They say the perfect crime is where the criminal doesn’t get caught. Wrong.” Again I’m seeking to intrigue a reader here into wanting to find out if my letter writer is right or not and if THEY’VE committed the perfect crime as their line clearly implies they think they have. It is the “got to know what happens here” scenario and if there was a kind of holy grail for writers, I would say that was it.

So basically then my way into a story is via an intriguing character or intriguing situation. The ideal, of course, is to have both but often (and I’ve found this in works I’ve read by other writers too), you don’t always realise how intriguing a character is until you have got to end of the story.

After all, if you take A Christmas Carol, you would hardly warm to Scrooge if you only read the first page or two, would you? There has to be something to make you want to read on and it is only at the end of that Christmas classic, you have got to see the depths of the real Ebenezer. In flash fiction, you have to do that much more quickly but it is a fun challenge!

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I sometimes write one liner flash fiction stories. (These are great for the 25 words and under competitions/markets). One of the stories I drafted in London on Saturday was one of these. I saw the potential for expanding it and did so! I’ve got work to do on it but the character comes across better in the longer version so I will stick with that.

The flexibility of flash here is one of its strengths I think. If I want to I can still submit the one line version but to a different, appropriate market for that word count.

At other times I will look at my one line stories again and realise they are best left as they are. But this is added reason to put work aside for a while before coming back to it. You need distance to be able to assess whether something would work at a longer word count than the version you originally came up with.

The deciding factors are whether the character is strong enough for their story to be expanded at all and does that character benefit from this.

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Thought it would be nice to share a story tonight. Hope you enjoy it.

WHAT THE NEIGHBOURS THINK
Had the neighbours seen the appearance of a witch in the huge chestnut tree?
Mary fervently hoped not. She also hoped they hadn’t seen her frantically wave at the witch indicating exactly where she could go. Back into the sky on that dodgy looking broomstick and away from Mary.
What is it about me that attracts the oddballs?
Mary poured herself a cup of tea and added a decent amount of brandy to it. She felt in need of it.
Even by her standards, the appearance of a witch was unusual. Annoyingly it was nowhere near Halloween so Mary couldn’t pretend it was one of the neighbourhood kids taking a prank that bit too far.
Looking again out of her kitchen window, Mary sighed with relief. The witch had gone. Mary turned back to her tea only to discover she now had company in her kitchen.
‘Well, aren’t you going to make me a cup of tea then, sister?’
Mary grimaced. She now knew where the witch was.

ENDS.
Allison Symes

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Goodreads Author Blog – What Reading Does For Me

Hmmm….where to start on this one!

1. Reading helps me escape. It doesn’t matter if the day is a good one or not – when I get to read I get to switch off.

2. Reading shows me worlds, real and fantastical, and expands my horizons. You can’t know everything, no one person could, but books are a brilliant way of expanding your knowledge. They can help you develop new interests too.

3. Reading inspires my own writing. I see what other authors do with their characters and think well I would have written them this way instead because… and off I go with my own tales.

4. Reading non-fiction expands your general knowledge. Handy if you like quizzes!

5. Reading expands your vocabulary. Handy if you love word games as It do.

6. People will never run out of present ideas for the book lovers in their lives!

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Trains and Wish Lists for Writers

Image Credit:  Unless otherwise stated, all images are from Pixabay

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

It was a joy to write about trains for Chandler’s Ford Today this week. It is one of my favourite inventions. I share how it has affected my writing (in terms of how I use a train journey and writing events I get to) and share some links to some great places to visit connected with the train. All of this just ahead of my going to the Bridge House Publishing celebration event tomorrow. Naturally I’m travelling by train!

Yes, I did have a train set as a kid, shared with my sister, but you can’t beat going on the real thing and I’ve loved trips on the Fort William to Mallaig line (think Harry Potter) and the Watercress Line amongst others. (The latter has a Permanent Way sign on one of their engineering sheds as a tribute to Terry Pratchett. They also have an old advert for Nosegay tobacco – make of that what you will – see the post for the picture proving it!).

One thing I didn’t mention in the post was I love stories connected to trains too. I’ve always loved Agatha Christie’s 4.50 from Paddington (a Miss Marple story) – and who could forget Murder on the Orient Express? And I’ll always have fond memories of my book signing at my local railway station. That was good fun. (Many thanks to the Three Rivers Rail Community Partnership for their help there and I’m pleased to advertise their Mulled Wine and Mince Pie event coming up on 13th December. See the post for more).

Oh and my favourite Terry Pratchett story? Very hard to say but I do adore Raising Steam.  Captions over on the CFT post, as always, but I will say a big thank you to the Three Rivers Rail Community Partnership for their poster for their Mulled Wine and Mince Pie event.

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Had lovely day in Dorset celebrating wedding anniversary with other half and Lady. Plenty of walking and very fresh air! Hope both prove to be inspiring!

Many thanks to all who read my story Staying In on Cafelit earlier this month..it is nice to know it did very well in the number of reads for the period. Things like this are so encouraging.

If there was a wish list for writers I would include:-

1. Encouragement to always come when most needed.

2. Time to somehow magically expand when the writing is going well and you are on a roll.

3. Inspiration to always come when most needed.

4. Always knowing not only have you found the right publisher before submitting work you have sent them the perfect pitch.

5. Never running out of paper, computer consumables, and good ideas!

And below is Lady having a fab time on West Bay beach!

Lady having a good time at West Bay

Lady having a good time at West Bay in Dorset. Image by Allison Symes.

What dates have special meaning for your characters and why? How do they celebrate key events/mark the more sombre ones? Do they live in an environment where commemorations/celebrations are enforced? If so, what led to that and do they toe the line or rebel? What are their reasons?

Questions like these are useful for fleshing out the characters you want to write about but also their setting (which can often be treated as a character in its own right).

In flash fiction, I have to hint at a setting but for standard short stories (1500 words +), there is more room for manoeuvre. I’ve found that the telling details (often only a line or two) are the ones that create the greatest impression of the world you’re trying to convey and so have the biggest impact on a reader.

 

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I’m looking forward to the Bridge House Publishing celebration event tomorrow and enjoying hearing fellow writers read their creations. I love being read to – doesn’t happen often enough (though this is where audio books are brilliant).

I’m planning to read some of my flash fiction stories too and this is where my favourite type – the 100 worders – come into their own. Short and with a sting in the tale. What’s not to like?! Looking forward to sharing new material and an old favourite or two.

I hope to write further stories on the train. I usually get a couple drafted, along with blog posts etc.

And one of the best ways of showing someone what flash fiction is simply to read them an example!

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What do you like your characters to be? I like mine to show spirit, whether or not that stance is justified! I also have a very soft spot for the older hero/heroine.

All of that is fine but I have to watch out I don’t just write characters who are all like that.

It can be a challenge to write about characters I dislike. The even bigger challenge is ensuring I do that so a reader would never know!

It can be really satisfying though when a character you don’t particularly like wins you round by the end of the story you’ve put them in.

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All fiction writers are given the advice to show, not tell in their stories. It’s even more crucial for flash fiction writers to do so. We have to imply so much and leave readers to fill in the gaps (which is just one very good reason why I love reading and writing flash. I’ve always loved filling in the gaps – and yes I was a huge dot to dot fan for much the same reason when I was a kid! I HAVE to fill the gaps in!).

All we can show you is this brief moment in a character’s life and its impact on them. You should be able to see the point of every flash fiction story and why this moment is important to that character. I’m particularly fond of those stories which leave me wondering at the end whether I would have made the same choices as the character. A story that encourages you to think is a very good thing indeed.

 

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Fairytales with Bite – A to Z of Fairytale “Rules” – Part 3

O = Obscure Origins. Fairytales love their lead characters to have humble beginnings. Many a hero has sprung from there. So never despite anyone coming from such a background. In the fairytale world, they usually go on to greatness.

P = Poverty. This is often an underlying theme. Look at Cinderella. She was made to live in poverty. The fairytale world generally looks kindly on such and will go out of its way to help. Good news if you are that person. Less good news if you’re the one forcing the character to live like this in the first place. There is a comeuppance in most fairytales and you will face it.

Q = Queens. Don’t always get a good press in the fairytale world. Just ask Snow White’s stepmother. Alternatively, there are those such as Sleeping Beauty’s mother, who struggles for a long time to conceive (there is a whole story there which would resonate), gives birth to the heroine, but is not even named (which I think is a great shame).

R = Royalty in general. There is a right royal mixed bag here. The fairytale world is full of princes who aggravate magical beings (Beauty and the Beast), kings who send their three sons out on missions (and it will always be the youngest one who succeeds), and those who try to prevent a bad spell from ever being activated by burning all the spinning wheels in the kingdom. Nice try that but the king concerned should have guessed it only needed one to escape that particular edict and for story purposes that was bound to happen, wasn’t it? Even kings are bound by the rules of story in the fairytale world.

S = Story. There has to be a beginning, a middle and, a lot of the time, a happy ending though The Little Mermaid and The Little Match Girl are notable exceptions to the latter. But it is also true in the fairytale world that the hero/heroine will overcome all obstacles in their way, sometimes with magical assistance. The story is usually a test of character for that hero/heroine and they have to pass it.

T = Time. Most fairytale stories play out over a relatively short period of time (Sleeping Beauty notwithstanding!). What always begs the question for me is why did Cinderella’s fairy godmother turn up so late to help her goddaughter, who clearly needed help much sooner?!

Final section next time.

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This World and Others – Visiting Fictional Worlds

A recent question which came up on my Goodreads page was which fictional worlds would you visit if you could and why? Well, my choice was Middle Earth from The Lord of the Rings, as I’ve always loved its portrayal and the films just confirmed what I had already imagined this glorious place would be like. I also liked the hobbit holes and fancy one myself as they look lovely and cosy. Mind you, I’m under 5′ tall so I would probably fit in quite well! I must admit though I’d happily give Mordor a miss.

My second choice would be Narnia from The Chronicles of Narnia, though I would ensure I wrapped up well (see The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for why!). I wouldn’t mind visiting Harry Potter’s Hogwarts either. I like the look of the school grounds! (And to tie in beautifully for this week, I would love to get to Hogwarts on their train!).

So where would you go if you could and why?

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Reading Lists and The Joy of Writing

Image Credit: Unless otherwise stated, all images are from Pixabay

Facebook – General – and Publication News

Delighted to share the link to Green Door, my latest story on Cafelit. I was particularly pleased with the ending on this one. See what you think and I hope you enjoy it.

HISTORY - What stays in your book or story must grip your reader and only you can decide what details must go in

Hope you enjoyed Green Door, my latest on Cafelit, which went up yesterday. More to come in December and January. I’m very fond of my lead character, Emily, in this one but I do have a very soft spot for feisty older heroines.

I’ll be taking a look back at my writing year in a couple of weeks’ time. I like to review what I’ve achieved, where I’m making progress, and what I’d still like to do. I then make plans for the coming year and give them my best shot.

One thing I have achieved this year which I am pleased about is entering more competitions. Okay I haven’t been shortlisted in them but I can (and have) reworked some of those stories and either will or have got them out elsewhere.

I’ve found very little is wasted in writing. Especially for short stories and flash fiction, taking another look at the piece, submitting to another competition or market, is very much worth doing.

One nice thing about this time of year as the weather gets colder is I get to write with Options hot chocolate keeping me going! This is where I am thankful writing is NOT an outside thing!

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I’m not the world’s most gregarious person but two things have got me chatting to people. One is becoming a dog owner. That really does break down barriers of reserve. The other is becoming a writer.

Instant topic of conversation at writers’ events and so on: what do you write, how long have you been writing etc? By the time you get to compare your favourite kinds of stationery (and you will), you’ll feel like you’ve known the person you’ve been talking to for YEARS.

 

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Top tips for writing:-

1. Enjoy it. Know you would write whether you are published or not. Know rejections are part and parcel of the writing life. Go into writing with your eyes wide open.

2. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different forms of writing. I didn’t start out writing flash fiction after all.

3. If you can, get along to good writing conferences. You’ll learn lots from them and hopefully make friends too. Having writer friends is wonderful. They will understand the ups and downs of the writing life better than anyone else.

4. Never be afraid to ask questions about writing services etc. All industries have their charlatans, publishing sadly is not exempt. (Do check with the Society of Authors/Alliance of Independent Authors and again writing friends can be invaluable here. You learn so much from them and they can learn from you too).

5. Have fun with your writing. The first one to enjoy your work should be you!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

My goal on the flash fiction front is to try to get my next collection ready for submission. Hopefully I’ll then submit it next year.

I’m still adding stories to it, which is a joy, but I need to go through it and ensure only the very best make it.

Of course that is the challenge. What is the very best?

Again I am looking at the impact the stories have on me. If they have the impact I hoped they would have, then they’ll stay in because they’re likely to do the same for a reader. If not, out they come and I’ll rewrite.

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One liners can work well in flash fiction because they have to keep to the point. They can be a great ending to a story, especially a humorous one.

I sometimes draft a few possible one liners and then work out what could lead to a character coming out with them. (This is where writing the story with the ending mapped out and then work out what the beginning and middles are is useful).

The advantages of drafting one liners like this are (a) it’s fun and (b) your one liners will be justified. That in turn will lead to the story finishing on a natural, funny ending, leaving a reader with a smile and on a high point.

 

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Looking forward to the Bridge House Publishing event on Saturday. Plan to draft plenty of flash fiction and blogs on the journey to and fro.

I’ve long loved the train (I’ll be writing about that for CFT this week) but also love having that period of time when I can just sit and get work written. It’s extra to what I’d do back at the old desk and I get to go home, having had a wonderful time and feeling virtuous I’ve got new stories mapped out! Win-win.

Learning to work almost anywhere obviously increases productivity but I’ve found it helps me cut out distractions back at home. It’s a question of what works for you.

 

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A flash fiction story should be focused around one central character and one major point of change affecting that character.

There really isn’t room for anything else but I have found having a character think about another character or mutter about them under their breath etc is a good way of (a) showing something of what my main character is like and (b) the effect the character they refer to has had on them.

So much in flash fiction has to be implied but this is very effective. I know as a reader I don’t necessarily want everything spelled out. I want to come to some conclusions myself.

 

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Goodreads Author Blog – Reading Lists

Do you have a reading list (or several)?

I tend not to bother with this. I read according to my mood. I tend to flit between non-fiction, read that, then move to fiction and read that for a while.

I also mix up whether I’m reading books or magazines, short stories or novels.

I can see the point of a reading list. My worry is I’d feel guilty if I didn’t get to the bottom of it and, given there is always so much I would like to read, I never would! And reading should never encourage a feeling of guilt.

I also like mixing up my reading according to how I feel and not to some prescribed formula.

I receive notifications in from booksellers as to what is on their recommended list and I will take a look. I’ll go for the suggestion if it takes my fancy but if not, forget it.

What matters is getting the reading done, list or no list!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Progress, Success, and How to Judge Them

Image Credit:  Unless otherwise stated, all images are from Pixabay.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My CFT post this week (Progress and Success and How to JudgeThem) was inspired by thoughts on what makes a writer successful. Is it having multiple books out? Is it having a movie option on your book (which would rule most of us out!)?

So I thought I’d look at what I think would count as progress and success. The trouble with both of these things is they can be hard to measure. This is where science has the advantage – it is much easier to define progress and success there. Note I say easier. It’s not the same thing as easy though!

I also look at this topic particularly from a writer’s viewpoint and share why I think there can’t be a one size fits all for writers. I also share what I think would be progress and success for humanity. Very much one of those “if only” thoughts…

Captions as ever over on CFT.

 

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Enjoying the latest series of Tom Wrigglesworth’s Hang-ups (Radio 4). Great characterisation and dialogue.

My CFT post this week is about progress and success and how to judge them. Link up tomorrow. I’ll also be on the ACW More Than Writers’ blog tomorrow with a piece about history in stories. (I’m looking at this from a character history viewpoint and working out what you leave out of the actual story). I’ll put the link up for that tomorrow as well.

Happily writing further flash fiction stories. I often write these a batch at a time. I hope to edit my short story for a competition this weekend too. Making good progress on the novel though I know I won’t be submitting it anywhere this side of Christmas. Hope to get it submitted sometime during January though.

Also want to get a few blogs drafted in advance at some point to try and be more “efficient”! Scheduling posts is a great idea and I need to do this more often. No – tonight’s one wasn’t an advance one!

 

A big thanks to all who reacted and/or commented on my lighthearted post about the signs of being a “proper” writer (which I’ll repeat here shortly). I love writing fun posts like that.

Of course the real answer to being a “proper” writer is that if you write regularly, you are a proper writer and that’s it. By regularly, I would define that as being committed to writing no matter what, whether you write for several hours a week or can only manage 15 minutes every other day etc. If you can’t imagine your life without writing in it somewhere, that’s a pretty good sign too!

I’ll be talking about progress and success and how to judge them in my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week. Link up on Friday. I’ll be taking a look at this topic as it applies to writers too.

 

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I think this lighthearted post is worth repeating. Many thanks to all for the reactions and comments to it. Much appreciated.

How do you know if you’re a “proper” writer?

1. You scorn the very idea you have too many notebooks.
2. You develop a thing for collecting nice pens too, some of which you will actually use.
3. You dread power cuts as they always seem to happen in the middle of a writing session.
4. You have the great joy of having a number of books written by friends on your shelves.
5. You are even more thrilled when your works are on the same shelves!
6. You can’t wait to tell everyone your latest publication news.
7. You open the latest copy of Writing Magazine and look for people you know in the letters page and the Subscribers’ sections in particular.
8. You feel a little miffed when you come across an issue when there isn’t someone you know in it. (It’s a kind of something’s not quite right with the world feeling).
9. Launches, especially online ones, are a regular part of your life and you love them all.
10. Your TBR and TBW piles never diminish but that’s the way you like them.
11. There is no such thing as having too many books. What you CAN have is not enough shelving.
12. You just feel SO at home in book shops and libraries.

Okay, guilty as charged on all those. How about you?

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Time for a flash story to end the working week with. Hope you enjoy.

The End of the World

He was going to miss the end of the world. He was late. Of all the days this could happen, it had to be this one.

It was all over the media – the world would end at midnight on Wednesday, 3rd June.

It never occurred to him to ask about the oh-so convenient timing and how could anyone be sure of the exact date anyway when, even in the Bible, there were warnings against those predicting such things.

All he knew was he had to get to a good vantage point to witness first hand the last moments of the world.

It was a pity really. On the way to the top of St. Giles’ Hill in Winchester, he was run over by a bus that was also running late.

They put the time of his death as midnight, Wednesday June 3rd.

Ends

Allison Symes – 29th November 2019

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Drafted a couple of flash fiction stories yesterday based on a couple of phrases conjured up thanks to a random phrase generator.

It also occurred to me that a random letter generator could also be useful. You can use an electronic one or pick a letter at random from a Scrabble set. Some thoughts here:-

1. Take one letter and write a story where the opening word of every sentence starts with that letter. For example, M – Mary had no regrets about her life of crime. Misuse of a library book WAS a crime. Mind you, the miserable little wotsit behind the offence wasn’t going to be bothering her and the rest of the library staff for some time. Mary wondered how long it would take for the idiot to get out of the handcuffs and locked room down in the basement.

2. Take one letter and use it for every word in a sentence. For example the letter D – Daft duck drives dumpers daily! (Could have great fun generating some nonsense but this could be a useful way into a writing session or a way from winding down from an intensive time at the old desk).

3. Take one letter and use it for the opening and closing word of a sentence. (Could be a challenge though if you get the Q!). (Example: Queenie happily chomps quiches!).

Have fun!

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Flash fiction is a great vehicle for telling a story from an alternative viewpoint. As you know, I am very fond of fairytales told from said alternative viewpoint, not least because my first story in print, A Helping Hand, was precisely that type of story. (It’s the Cinderella story as seen through the eyes of the younger stepsister and can be found in Bridge House Publishing’s Alternative Renditions anthology). (Link takes you to my Amazon Author Central page where you can find Alternative Renditions).

I find these stories huge fun to write (and indeed to read) but the sharp focus of flash fiction I think makes them work even better. It forces you to focus on what is really important for that alternative viewpoint to get across.

It’s not enough for say Character C to rant about how Character A got all the breaks. What an alternative viewpoint story should show is why Character C deserved to do as well if not better than Character A. It’s then up to the reader to decide whether the character has a point or not!

Association of Christian Writers – More than Writers – History In Stories

It’s that time again – time for my monthly blog spot for the Association of Christian Writers. I look at history in stories from the viewpoint of character histories. What do you need to know about your characters before you write their stories? What do you need to know but don’t need to put in the story itself? Hope you enjoy. Captions over on the More Than Writers blog.

Fairytales With Bite – A to Z of Fairytale “Rules” – Part 2

G = Generosity. You can guarantee those characters who are generous in heart, especially to those less fortunate than themselves, will do well in the fairytale world. Fairy godmothers will be falling over themselves to assist! So be generous!

H = Honesty. What is the point of lying to a magical being? They’re going to know. Honest characters do well. What I loved about Puss in Boots was the master knew full well the cat was far smarter than he was. Good man. Credit where it is due and all that. Again, be honest.

I = Integrity. There is a definite theme developing here and that’s not coincidental. Again, those characters with integrity such as Beauty from Beauty and the Beast prosper. The fairytale world knows what it likes and rightly sticks to those things. So keep hold of your integrity. In the fairytale world at least it makes all the difference. (It ought to here as well but that’s another matter).

J = Judgement. The fairytale world has a strong sense of what’s right and wrong and will ensure justice is done. Beast from Beauty and the Beast was punished for his arrogance and had to learn humility and to win true love before being set free from his curse. Evil does not prevail here (though it doesn’t necessarily mean there are sugar sweet happy endings to every story. Just look at Hans Christen Andersen’s The Little Mermaid). Judgement is always proportional too.

K = Kindness. It pays to be kind to people in the fairytale world. So many of the wizened old people turn out to be wizards or fairy godmothers in disguise! So be kind…

L = Love. As well as the romantic love, the fairytale world celebrates love. Take the story of Hansel and Gretel as one example. I also loved Bella’s love of books in the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast. I guess I would! It could be argued that magic and love power the fairytale world.

M = Mayhem. This is common in the fairytales until a magical being comes along to put things right. My favourite example is the mayhem caused in the Emperor’s New Clothes by a child shouting out the truth! (You’ve almost got to admire the rip-off merchants who “stung” the Emperor and made him look like an idiot). Always look for the one causing mayhem in a fairytale. They’re the ones to avoid.

N = Names. Names are important and have meaning, as Rumpelstiltskin would be the first to testify. The important thing for a fairytale character is to keep their good name.

More next time…

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This World and Others – Top to Bottom

When you set out to create your fictional world, what do you focus on? How it is governed (the top) or how the practical stuff is done (the bottom)? Is there a class system? Can characters better themselves or are they expected to stay within their allocated class? Now you can guarantee that just asks for someone to rebel so how do they do so and what do they achieve?

By having a good idea of how your world works, you will write it with a conviction that comes through to a reader so it plans to to deduce what it is you need to know first.

Good luck!

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On Characters and Being a “Proper” Writer

Image Credit:  Unless otherwise stated, all images are from Pixabay.

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What I look for in a great character:-

1. I totally understand why they’re acting the way they are. It doesn’t mean I have to approve though!

2. You can see how they got into the situation they’ve got to overcome and are keen to see if/how they get out of it again. You believe the character has the potential to get out of it and it’s a case of seeing whether you were right about that or not.

3. I love characters who come out with great one-liners but only as long as they arise naturally out of the situation and the character. It must never feel forced.

4. They stay with you in your imagination long after you’ve finished reading the story!

Examples of great characters for me:-

1. Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy

2. Jeeves and Wooster

3. Sam Vimes and Lady Sybil Ramkin – Discworld

4. Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee

5. Aslan – Narnia

6. Ebenezer Scrooge (though I prefer him AFTER the visitations! Am very fond of the Muppet Christmas Carol. Thought that was the best Muppet film too).

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I’m delighted to share Part 3 of Peter Russell’s local history series on The Hutments for Chandler’s Ford Today. If you have any memories to share of a part of the community that has now gone, do comment via the comments box. I know Peter would be pleased to hear from you.

Feature Image - Hook Road Hutments and My Family

It has been a good writing week. There has been plenty of progress on the novel. I’m enjoying it ! (That HAS to be a good sign, right? 😊😉).

Short story and flash fiction submitted. Am fleshing out another standard length short story for a competition and have got another “resting” for me to have a look at again, hopefully later this week.

Almost done on next week’s CFT post too. Continuing to add to my website and working on a non-fiction project.

So, no, I’m never short of things to do but that’s how I like things to be!

I’ll be talking about progress and success and how to judge them in the CFT post for Friday.

Am really looking forward to the Bridge House celebration event. Not far away now. It’s a great chance to catch up with friends and to make new ones!

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Word association can be a great way of triggering words to use in a story. You can play the standard way by setting a word and then finding others to link to it – e.g. play, toys, games etc.

Equally you can play the I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue version where there should be no connection at all to the chosen start word – e.g. play, universe, green.

Whichever version you go for, I suggest setting a limit of how many words you are going to use – I find that helps me focus. But of course you can raise or lower that limit for future stories.

 

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How do you know if you’re a “proper” writer?

1. You scorn the very idea you have too many notebooks.
2. You develop a thing for collecting nice pens too, some of which you will actually use.
3. You dread power cuts as they always seem to happen in the middle of a writing session.
4. You have the great joy of having a number of books written by friends on your shelves.
5. You are even more thrilled when your works are on the same shelves!
6. You can’t wait to tell everyone your latest publication news.
7. You open the latest copy of Writing Magazine and look for people you know in the letters page and the Subscribers’ sections in particular.
8. You feel a little miffed when you come across an issue when there isn’t someone you know in it. (It’s a kind of something’s not quite right with the world feeling).
9. Launches, especially online ones, are a regular part of your life and you love them all.
10. Your TBR and TBW piles never diminish but that’s the way you like them.
11. There is no such thing as having too many books. What you CAN have is not enough shelving.
12. You just feel SO at home in book shops and libraries.

Okay, guilty as charged on all those. How about you?

 

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I always consider impact to be the most important aspect to my flash fiction writing, but do you go about creating the impact you want to achieve?

Some of it is out of your hands. You may write a funny story but a reader doesn’t find it amusing – this is why humorous writing is so hard to do. It is subjective after all but what can you do to level the playing field a bit?

Having decided what the impact of my story is going to be, I look at what would make ME feel that impact. For example, if the tale is going to be a sad one, what would trigger that feeling of sadness in me?

Then it’s a question of picking the most appropriate trigger for your story. I prefer to go for understated emotional impact too. A story that tips overs into melodrama can put people off. I know it would do so for me. But sadness that is shown through the character without laying it on with a trowel will always make me want to read more if only to find out if the character “overcomes” the sadness or is beginning the process of adapting to the sitution by the end of the story.

For example if your story is about a fairy godmother rapidly approaching retirement and she really doesn’t want to retire, you could take that in a humorous or sad direction. So decide what you want it to be first.

If funny, what would make you laugh? Would setting your character into a ridiculous situation do it or are you better off having a wise cracking character who comes out with tremendous one liners?

Think about what you would like to read here as if the story was being written by someone else. I’ve found this to be really useful and hope you do too.

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Have you tried writing a piece of flash fiction to, say, 25 words, and then separately, writing it out to, say, 250 words?

It’s all perfectly legitimate but there will be different markets and competitions for the two stories.

I sometimes do this as a writing exercise (it’s a good way to get into a session of writing).

Not all stories or characters will be capable of being expanded. If the impact you are seeking to make on a reader is over and done with in 25 words then leave it at that. Never ever pad out a tale.

But if you CAN expand the story because the character is capable of so much more (and that’s the key way to judge whether a story IS capable of being expanded), explore what else you can do with that character and then you can either submit the two stories to two DIFFERENT places or pick the one you like the best and just submit that.

I like my titles to give a flavour of what is to come in the story without giving away too much. I like the title to lead people into wanting to read the rest. Of course, the challenge for me is to make sure I deliver on that promising title!

I occasionally use questions as story titles but prefer the statement, though I try to keep this as open as possible. Most of my titles could be taken in a humorous or serious direction.

I’ve mentioned before I have to have a title to work to as I draft my story but I am more than happy to change it if something better comes along as I am writing. It does sometimes and it is best to go with the flow here. Again, as with the story itself, I am looking for the likely impact of the title on the reader. The stronger impact title always wins.

 

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Do you ever think of music to suit your flash fiction stories?

The main time I have was coming up with ideas for the music for the book trailer for From Light to Dark and Back Again. I plumped for Saint-Saens Danse Macabre – quirky music to suit quirky fiction.

One of the things I love about music (and especially classical) is that, like flash fiction, there is something to suit every mood. I’m not going to be at any risk of running out of ideas for suitable musical themes any time soon either!

I’ve not yet used a piece of music to influence a story idea but may well give it a go and see what happens. The potential is there!

Goodreads Author Blog – Juggling the TBR Pile

I must admit I couldn’t physically juggle my TBR pile. There would be an almighty crash and some inventive language on my part, I think, if I tried that.

I love reading a mixture of fiction across many genres, non-fiction, short stories, novels, articles etc. I also like to mix up reading on the Kindle with reading “real” books but I also want to put magazine reading into the overall mixture too.

Over the course of a week, I try to cover most of those bases. I’m currently reading historical fiction, true crime, short stories, flash fiction, and my own novel (on Kindle. I’m reading it as a reader would. It has been illuminating!).

Over the course of a week, I have been thoroughly entertained too!

And yes I have a TBR pile on my Kindle too. One of the reasons I don’t put a Kindle app on my phone is so I don’t have a TBR pile on there as well.

It is true – too many books, too little time!

Still I’ll press on and have a fab time doing so.

Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Love History

Image Credit:  

Unless otherwise stated, images are from the marvellous Pixabay.

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Just sometimes I write a CFT post where I have to stick to a very strict word count limit. I could go on at length about Why I Love History but that is precisely why I shouldn’t!

I’ve forgotten who it was who apologised to a friend for sending a long letter as they hadn’t the time to write a short one, but I know what they mean. (Whoever it was behind this comment would surely have made a great flash fiction writer – or at least had an appreciation for it!).

Captions over on the CFT site.

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This is one of those posts where I HAD to set a strict word count limit. Too easy to go on at length on Why I Love History. I take a look at how history gets everywhere, I discuss the importance of remembering, and how fiction writers use history. (Just to name one example, there will be the histories of our characters that we need to know to be able to write about them, though most of this will not end up in the stories themselves). I also look at the joy of local history. Hope you enjoy.

You found more in this amazing stained glass window the more you looked at it

The more you looked at this amazing stained glass window, the more you saw in it. Image by Allison Symes and taken at Tewkesbury.  History also gives you plenty of places to visit!

Why do you write? I write because I have to and that’s it. I aim to be published as often as possible yet know there will be plenty of rejections to cope with too. The former is a joy when it happens, the latter is a pain, but that is the writing lot, which is fine by me. Ups and downs are part of normal life, so they’re going to happen in the writing life too. It’s working out how you handle them that’s important.

I just cannot imagine (literally!) not writing. It is my way of playing with words. I was (and still am) useless at art but words are my way of being creative. I think everyone has some creative instinct in them somewhere. It’s a question of finding what is right for you.

I love the challenge of creating new posts for Chandler’s Ford Today, short stories, and flash fiction. Particularly for the latter, the challenge is to keep on coming up with interesting characters that will grip a reader (and said characters have got to start by gripping me first!).

Writing is a great way to keep the brain very active!

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Glad to report Nativity is now showing on my Goodreads page. Many thanks to the folks there for sorting that out for me.

I have had the joy of being published in other Cafelit titles though some of those stories made it into From Light to Dark and Back Again and naturally I’m going to focus on publicising that which is why is has a prominent place here!

Glad that I’m finally getting a grip on things like my Goodreads and Amazon pages though. It is easy to overlook things like that. (Also nice to find I’ve now had work in 12 books, including FLTDBA though there is one book missing from my Amazon page. I had a piece in The Shamblelurkers Return, a charity book edited by #MaritMeredith, many moons ago, which does show up on Amazon but is unavailable. It was good fun to take part in though! Many thanks, Marit!).

Nativity by Bridge House Publishing is a great example of several authors working to the same theme but taking many different takes on it. If you needed confirmation all authors have their own unique voice, anthologies like this prove it. I concede though it can take a while to work out what your voice is! I know it took me some time to do so. I think you know you’ve found what your voice is when you write in a certain way and know that IS the way for you to do it. When you can only write the way you do…

That doesn’t let you off the hard graft of editing and polishing your stories and articles to give them the best chance “out there” though. Knowing what your voice is and using it is just the start! But a reader should be able to read several pieces of yours and hear your voice through the way you present your characters etc.

 

 

 

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I don’t often use adverbs in flash fiction. They don’t give me enough of an impact to justify their inclusion. For example, what makes the most impact out of these two sentences?

1. She ran quickly.

2. She ran as if the hounds of hell were after her.

Sure, the first one is economical in terms of word count but to me it is meaningless. When you run, you usually do it as quickly as you can for a start!

The second one, while longer, is much more promising. It conjures up much stronger images and I would definitely use this one. If I needed to reduce a word count down to say 100 words and this phrase took me over it, I would be looking to make cuts elsewhere in the text OR submit the piece to a competition with a higher word count limit.

Impact on the reader is by far the most important consideration when working out what to leave IN a story.

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Top tips I’ve found useful for writing flash fiction include the following:-

1. Keep the pace taut. (Short sentences and paragraphs work wonders here).

2. Stick to one major character if your flash fiction story is sub-500 words. The idea of flash is to focus and limiting how many characters you have in your story helps enormously with that focus. The character themselves can refer to other characters – I use this technique a lot to show what my lead thinks of the others who are “off stage”. That in turn shows up what this character’s attitude is and as the story goes on, the reader should find out whether the character is justified or not in their stance.

3. Vary how you create your flash stories. I sometimes start with the closing line and work backwards to get to the start. Mixing up your methods here keeps things fresh and interesting for you and I believe some of that filters through to a reader.

Have fun!

 

 

Quick bargain alert: From Light to Dark and Back Again is on offer at Amazon. Paperback and Kindle versions are at the same price. If you know someone who likes quirky fiction… 😊

One of the things I would love to become true, if it isn’t already, is that flash fiction helps reluctant readers overcome that reluctance to read. After all, none of us started off by reading War and Peace, did we? Oh… that was just me not doing so then…😀😉

Children are encouraged to read and with the wonderful world of children’s literature out there, they have such fantastic choices. “Grown ups” (the jury’s out on me!) also have fantastic selections but I’ve heard people say at book fairs etc that they “don’t read”. That strikes me as being incredibly sad. They are missing out on so much.

But what can we as authors do to encourage people NOT to stop reading much later on in life? To see reading as every bit a valid form of entertainment as TV, cinema etc? Thoughts welcome…

FromLightToDark_medium-2

Image from Chapeltown Books

Allison Symes and published works

Image taken by Adrian Symes

SG PART 2 - Warning - poems, blogs, stories, novels, all writing alike benefits from good editing - image via Pixabay

Warning: Writer at Work. Pixabay

Ideas, the spark for writing competitions, image via Pixabay

Read widely to inspire these. Pixabay

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Fairytales with Bite – A to Z of Fairytale “Rules” Part 1

This is what I think fairytale rules might consist of – see what you think.

A = Always Believe. The lead character usually has to!

B = Be Humble.  Characters who are not tend to get their comeuppance.

C = Charity Welcomed. Think of the characters who have been kind to little old men/women who then turn out to be powerful wizard or fairy godmother in disguise.

D = Deserving. Characters who are considered to be deserving of assistance get it – Cinderella is the classic example of this for me.

E = Energy.  The best fairytales are full of energy and zip along. There is not one dull moment, something all writers need to aspire to with their own work.

F = Fairy Godmothers. These turn up when needed. They always turn up to characters who aren’t expecting them. There has to be a rulebook about this somewhere…

More next time…

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This World and Others – Setting Your Sights

When coming up with your characters, how much of the world you’ve put them in are you going to show to your readers? How much do readers need to know? How much do you need to know that never makes it on to the page but which is crucial for you to create your characters and their setting with conviction?

You need to decide whether it is best to set your sights on a tight focus – i.e.  you show your characters living in one specific town, say. Or would your story be better served showing the complete world in which your characters live and the contrasts between areas in that world?

Only you can answer that one but it pays to set your sights as early on as possible and then focus on whichever route you’ve decided to go. If your story world has a major affect on how your characters act and react, then you probably do need to show the reader as much of that as possible so they understand why.

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The Writing Week, History, and Publication News

Image Credit:  As ever,  unless stated, the images are from Pixabay.

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Glad to say Nativity, the new anthology from Bridge House Publishing, is now up on my Amazon Author Central page.  I hope it will be added to my Goodreads page soon too. Am getting better at being organised about this sort of thing.

Have finished the first draft of a standard length short story so will probably look at that again to read it afresh next week. Need to outline another story. Want to submit these two stories at the same time. I like to do them in batches!

Am also drafting a couple of blogs, one of which will be my CFT post next week. Picking topics for CFT can be interesting. Times of year can be useful (I nearly always produce a Christmas limerick or piece of festive flash fiction, for example).

When I’ve got events coming up, such as the Richard Hardie/Antony M Brown talk on Tuesday, that gives me the post for that week. I like to do extended posts every so often and invite guest contributions. I’ve found a three part series works well (beyond that, people tend to switch off). Generally though I go for a “wide” topic (this week’s one will be about history) and then look for either my take on it or link it to something in the news or an event which is going on in my area.

What were your favourite subjects at school?

Mine were English and History. No big surprises there. I loved composition as it was called back in the day and enjoyed inventing stories then.

I also used to like the old SRA cards which were colour coded. The card had a story on it, you had to read it and then answer some questions. You could then progress to the next card and so on. I used these at junior school usually either when a teacher was marking or we had a supply teacher in.

History – well it is a great big story when you think about it. There’s “standard” history – the tales of kings and queens. There’s the history of scientific discovery and invention and so on.

And there’s local history too. CFT has two great series going on at the moment on this. One is The Hutments by Peter Russell which I edited. The other are extracts from the journals of Rick Goater’s grandmother who covers social and natural history in her diaries.

I love history for its glimpses into the past (and it makes me so grateful I live when I do now. I wouldn’t have made it to anywhere near my age had I lived in medieval times. I am assuming here I would have been a peasant!).

English obviously feeds directly into my writing and reading. History influences the topics I come up with. (Oh and the other reason I’m grateful to live when I do, despite all that is currently going on, is that in medieval times, it would have been highly unlikely I could read or write at all. The thought of not being able to do either makes me shudder).

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When do you know a book has really got to you?

1. You can’t wait until you can continue reading it.
2. You fear for the fate of your favourite characters (and usually with good cause).
3. You re-read it often.
4. You worry when you discover there will be a film or TV adaptation. How can it do the book justice?
5. You are overjoyed when the film or TV adaptation IS faithful to the book and brings to your eyes the scenes you’d only seen in your head as you read the book.

For me that’s fulfilled by The Lord of the Rings in particular but I also loved the adaptations of Going Postal, Hogfather, and The Colour of Magic.

For me adaptations only work if it comes across that whoever is behind said adaptation HAS been faithful to the book. There’s no point in going away from the original material.

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Publication News

Pleased to receive my copies of Nativity, this year’s anthology from Bridge House Publishing. My humorous fairytale, What Goes Around, is in there. Love the cover (and honestly I still would even if I wasn’t in it!). The joy of opening a parcel with your books in it never lessens.

I’ll be looking at Why I Love History later this week for Chandler’s Ford Today. History plays a major role for all writers and not just historical fiction authors. More details and the link will be up on Friday.

 

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Let’s see what I can do with a phrase taken from a random generator as an acrostic flash fiction story.

TALK THE TALK

T = Touche, the witch thought, someone’s trying to frighten me.

A = All the people I’ve cursed in my time and someone’s fighting back; it has to be one of them.

L = Less than five seconds in and my feet have turned into concrete.

K = Keyword here is preparation; someone’s put so much thought into this, so who’s got the skills for that round here?

T = Turns out I’ve a magical rival who’s clearing the opposition, me!

H = Hell, no; they’re not getting away with this.

E = Extending her arm, the witch reached for her wand and cursed the concrete away.

T = Turning to her desk diary, yes every magical being needs one, the witch flipped the pages.

A = Ah, yes, it’ll be her – she’s had her eye on my cottage and the privileges of being head witch here for ages.

L = Likely she’s assumed I’d die – well let’s show her I’m still very much alive and well and bloody annoyed, how dare she try this on me.

K = Kind of got to admire her nerve, the witch thought, as she uttered the spell that would turn her rival’s cottage into millions of splinters, hopefully with said rival still inside it.

Allison Symes – 16th November 2019

Hope you enjoy.

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Many thanks for all who read Talk The Talk, my flash story that I created yesterday, using a random phrase generator to come up with this as a title (and theme. My character really did talk the talk!). I created this live. I only edited a few words where I realised a tweak here or there would improve the impact.

Normally of course I would prepare a story, put it aside for a while and, once happy with it, I would then share it here or submit it somewhere. But I deliberately use the random generators (word, phrase, number) to create a “live” story with only a light editorial touch on it afterwards.

Can stories created this way be improved? Oh yes, almost certainly but I find it fun to create stories this way sometimes. It also keeps me on my toes.

It makes for a really good writing exercise even if you don’t share the results. You can pretend you are and see what you can come up with in a set time limit, say. You then leave the story at that and move on to the next one.

You can come back and “edit properly” later on. But there is a freshness to a newly created story I adore, which is another reason why I like to create stories this way and then leave them be. Often I find when I DO come back to them later, I still sense that raw energy of creating them and it is usually a case of tweaking words to create stronger images and impact. I always think about the impact of the story on the reader. It helps to keep me focused.

Oh and random number generators can be useful. I’ve used the numbers that come up as times to be used in the story, or as a countdown to something happening. The number 13 could in itself be taken as a theme given it has its own phobia – Triskaidekaphobia. (Just don’t try saying that quickly!). How could that manifest itself in a story?

And do have fun with the random generators. They’re excellent triggers for stories.

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Flash fiction is a great vehicle for dropping your characters right in it! They also have to get out of the situation quickly too but it must all be plausible, even if your characters and/or setting are magical. The characters need to be seen to get themselves out of the situation which is why I have to outline before I get the first draft down. It’s also why I sometimes start the story by working out what the ending is and then deducing how the character could have got to that point.

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I tend to “hit the ground running” with my flash fiction stories. I want to get a reader into the story as quickly as possible (and of course out again at the end of the tale). I mix up the way I do this as it keeps things interesting for me (and I hope for readers).

I sometimes take a reader straight into my character’s thoughts. Sometimes I ask a question I hope will provoke curiosity – the must find out the answer type. Sometimes I will start with a character action, again the type that will trigger the where will this go reaction (and there is only ever one answer to that – read on!).

I mix up using the first and third person for my stories (though I love the immediacy the first person gives you). I also mix up my settings. My first love is the humorous fairytale with a sting in the tale but I adore writing crime and historical ones too. That is the thing I love most about flash fiction – its flexibility with setting. It is just the word count I have to watch!

Goodreads Author Blog – Book Dreams

Do you ever dream of your favourite characters (written by you or others)?

I can’t say I do. I’m also relieved about that. I can think of several of my own characters who I don’t want to meet in any kind of alley. I certainly don’t want them haunting me at night either!

Where I DO dream of characters is in hoping they have the impact on a potential reader I set out to achieve. It’s not really for me to say whether that works or not, only the reader can know. All I can do is give it my best shot.

When reading works by other writers, the ones that stay with me the most are the ones where the characters have the most impact. So that inspires me with my own writing. I’m still glad they don’t disturb my sleep pattern though! (I would not be a happy bunny…!).

I do a lot of my reading at bedtime so I did wonder if I would have strange dreams based on whatever it was I was reading. Hasn’t happened at all. Given I read fantasy, crime, historical, and a good range of non-fiction books, it is just as well. I think some very strange images would be conjured up.

 

 

 

 

 

When Authors Talk and Publication News

Image Credits:

The photos of the author event at the Hiltonbury Farmhouse were taken by me, Allison Symes. Many thanks to Antony M Brown (Cold Case Juries series) and Richard Hardie (Temporal Detective Agency) for supplying other photos, especially their book covers. The other images are from those fantastic people at Pixabay.

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This week’s CFT post When Authors Talk is a look back at an author event held by YA author Richard Hardie (Temporal Detective Agency) and Antony Brown (Cold Case Juries series) recently.

Both authors talked about how they got into writing (and in Richard’s case publishing too) and the ups and downs of the writing life.

I also look at the benefits of author events like this from the viewpoint of a reader. Hope you enjoy. (And do support author events!).

The joy of author events, from a writer’s viewpoint, is they give us a chance to engage with readers (actual and potential). From a reader’s viewpoint, you can quiz the author about what inspired them and find out their latest news. So do support author events you know of (the support is always appreciated).

My favourite remains, I think, the signing at my local railway station. It was a great venue, I hope to do it again at some point, and flash fiction is great to demonstrate to curious passengers! It also doesn’t take up too much time (which is one of its selling points to the reluctant reader).

My next event should be the Bridge House celebration event in December, all being well. It’s a great opportunity to catch up with writer friends I don’t see the rest of the year too.

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When you go to author events, what do you like best about them?

For me, it’s always hearing how the writer concerned got the “itch” to write in the first place and how they kept going despite all the rejections etc that happen. I’ll be reporting on the joint author event held by Richard Hardie and Antony Browne tomorrow for Chandler’s Ford Today. I’ll also be looking at what readers can get out of events like this. It is very much a two-way thing.

I loved the old James Garner films Support Your Local Gunfighter and Support Your Local Sheriff. There ought to be something for Support Your Local Writer!😀

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Had a lovely evening at a local author event held by YA writer, Richard Hardie, and Cold Case Jury writer, Antony M Browne at the Hiltonbury Farmhouse yesterday. Write up to follow for CFT later in the week including why author events are important for the READER as well as the writer.

Publication News

It’s a nice feeling to get to Wednesday and to already have had publication news with the “advent” of Nativity by Bridge House Publishing yesterday. I make no apology for the pun. (Am shameless like that but that’s what being a fan of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue can do for you).

Nativity Full

Am catching up with some fantastic reading on my Kindle. Hope to post some reviews soon.

It’s also nice to get to the stage where Writing Magazine hits the doormat and the first thing I check is if there is anyone I know in there! Usually there is…

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Some ways to trigger ideas:-

1. Random generators – I’ve used random word, phrase, and even number ones to trigger ideas. It also pays to mix up the parameters you set for these things too.

2. Play the What If game. Ask that question of potential characters. Think about the setting and play What If on that. Can the setting have an effect on what your character can and cannot do? Are there stories there about how your character overcomes this?

3. Think attitude. What kind of attitude does your lead character have and how does that land them in it? What do they do to overcome the issues that throws up?

4. Is your character a rebel or a conformist? If the former what are they rebelling against? (That can be anything from a corrupt power to expectations they or their famiies have). If a conformist, what has led them to take that view? Is it a case of fear for their own safety to be otherwise? Look at the story behind that fear.

Have fun!

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I received a lovely message from FB that the FLTDBA page is now up to 50 followers. A big thank you to everybody (and to all who follow this blog!). Just for that, I think the appropriate response is a flash fiction story for you! Hope you enjoy.

JUST A MINUTE

The big mistakes don’t take long to make.
Stranbarb chose the wrong shortcut in no time and faced a witch.
Her glower told him his life could be measured in seconds. Her wand was raised and she looked as if she wanted blood. It didn’t matter whose.
‘Dwarf, why are you here?’ She paused. ‘Did you see two children go by?’
‘I got lost. No.’ The dwarf looked at the confectionery cottage behind the witch. Understanding dawned. He’d just stopped her having dinner.
He looked at her again. She was smiling. She’d already selected an alternative main course.

Ends.
Allison Symes – 14th November 2019

SEASONS IN WRITING - But setting your own deadline can be helpful for writing competitions

One thing flash fiction is brilliant for is that it is so easy to demonstrate what it is at signings etc. Nor does it take long! (Mind you, I make a point of sticking to ONLY reading out a couple of my 100 word stories. The longer ones in the flash word count range can be saved for when people read the book!).

I was asked at a local author event I went to yesterday if I used adverbs. Generally I don’t. It’s an easy save on the word count. The exception is if I think the use of an adverb adds something to the characterisation or the plot of the story. That doesn’t happen often.

For example:-

The witch wickedly put the kids in the oven.

You really don’t need the wickedly for that, do you? I think wickedness is definitely implied by the action!

BUT:-

The kids put the witch in the oven forcefully.

It makes more sense to use forcefully here (though I would say forcefully can still be implied. Well, you’re not going to put a witch in an oven gently now, are you?). I would prefer to write a sentence like this as:-

The kids shoved the witch in the oven.

You’ve got all the force you need in the word “shoved” and you save a word on the old word count. Those saved words mount up over the course of a story which in turn can make all the difference to which competitions/markets you can use. (Paragraph Planet, for example, is 75 words INCLUDING title so for something like that you are really looking to pare things back).

Oh and no kids or witches were harmed in the making of this post.😀

 

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Fairytales With Bite – Adverts

Okay so adverts get everywhere so why not in the magical realm? How about some slogans then?

The porridge so good thieving girls will love it – won’t commend itself to the Three Bears but Goldilocks might go for it.

For comfortable shoes, don’t go to the fairy godmother, come to us – Cinderella would concur with this one.

Need a long sleep? Be sure to get a comfortable mattress! – One for Sleeping Beauty. Possibly Snow White too.

Looking for the perfect apple? Don’t go to the old crone, come to us. Definitely one for Snow White.

Worried about your looks? Come to us at Swan Beauty. One for The Ugly Duckling.

Hope you enjoy!

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This World and Others – Working Out Your Characters

I’ve mentioned before that I start by working out what my characters’ major traits are and, from there, what kind of scrapes said traits are likely to get them into! If a character is stubborn, you can have a lot of fun with that. But with most traits there is a flip side to that. Stubborness can also mean grit and determination and courage to keep going when nobody else will. How can you use that aspect in your stories? That’s only naming one trait too.

Another way in to knowing your character(s) is to interview them. Work out what their tastes would be and why.  You can also ask yourself why you want to write about these characters. Why are they special enough to be written up into a story? If they’re not special enough, then why even consider putting them into a tale? The first person that has to be convinced by your characteristion is you!

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The Gift of Reading and Writing

Image Credit: 

As ever, unless otherwise stated, the images are from Pixabay. The stained glass window shot is taken by Allison Symes (at Tewkesbury Abbey).

Facebook – General

Publication News

Am absolutely delighted to announce my short story What Goes Around is now published in Bridge House Publishing’s anthology for 2019 called Nativity.

Many congratulations to all of the other writers who are also included in this eclectic collection. Currently available in Kindle but will also be out in paperback. Naturally I will share those details when available!

(It’s going to be a nice task updating my Goodreads and Amazon Author Central pages again! That’s the kind of task no writer will ever mind!).

 

Nativity Full

Am delighted to share this new three part series by Peter Russell on Chandler’s Ford Today. I acted as editor and it was a pleasure and privilege to do so. The Hutments were a community within a community and are now long gone. For anyone interested in local history, do have a read. Part 2 will go live next Saturday.

Feature Image - Hook Road Hutments and My Family

I cannot tell you how much pleasure writing and reading books has given me over the years. They are gifts that keep on giving.

The more widely you read, in terms of both volume and genre, the more room you give your imagination to fire up. Every writer is inspired, and continues to be inspired, by both what has gone before and what is contemporary and that’s exactly how it should be.

I realised long ago that I will never be in competition with any writer for the simple reason I write in my voice and they write in theirs. What inspires each writer is also unique to that writer.

Sure, there will be themes and books in common BUT there will be differences too. It is what we as individual writers bring to the mix that matters and we will bring something unique because we bring something of ourselves to our stories, consciously or otherwise, and we are all different. None of us brings exactly the same thing as the writer next to us (metaphorically speaking).

What I DO know is I owe a huge debt to my late mum, who I lost four years ago today (9th November 2019) to dementia, who taught me to read before I started school. She got into trouble for that. Apparently, I was taught “the wrong way”. Today, she’d probably be given a medal but things were very different back in the 1970s. Oh they were different! Incidentally, I don’t think I’ve done too badly for having been taught “the wrong way”.

One of my treasured memories is her joy in seeing my first story in print (A Helping Hand in Bridge House Publishing’s Alternative Renditions back in 2009). That memory will always mean so much to me.

Says it all really

I owe a huge debt to my late mother for her encouraging my love of books.  Pixabay image.

 

Thought it was time to update the cover photo (on my Facebook page).  I’m using this image on this website too. As well as being “branding”, it makes it simpler for me to have a common image running through my Facebook page, website etc.

Happily drafting a new story for a competition. Really like the way the character has come to life. That is one of my favourite aspects to creating new stories, regardless of word count. When that character “takes off” for me, they will do for a reader too. It is then a question of finding the right competition or market to reach the kind of reader I think will enjoy the story the most.

Biggest writing issue for me? Finding enough time to do all the things I would like to do, writing wise, but that’s a nice problem to have. What I loathe is having additional time but not knowing what to do with it – what a waste that is! – so I make sure I always have competitions to draft for etc.

Allison Symes and published works

Image taken by Adrian Symes

Great to hear I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue is back on Radio 4. The word play on this is sublime (as it is on Just a Minute too).

Have completed the draft of a short story. Time to rest it for a bit and work on something else. I’ll probably look at the story again in a couple of weeks’ time. It will only be at that point I can re-read the tale and look at it as a reader would.

I also ask myself questions as to what I think a reader would make of the story and why. I also look for anything that might be considered weak from a reader’s viewpoint – and then either eliminate it or strengthen it.

But the crucial thing is having enough time away from the story before I look at it again. You really do have to distance yourself.

Also looking forward to going to YA writer Richard Hardie’s and Cold Case Jury writer, Antony M Brown’s, author talk and signing session at the Hiltonbury Farmhouse tomorrow from 7.30 pm. Should be fun.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Publication News

Many congratulations to all of the writers in Bridge House Publishing’s Nativity anthology. I have a standard length short story in here called What Goes Around.

I often use well known phrases and proverbs as titles for my flash pieces too. They can make a very useful short cut as they spell out the theme too without me having to repeat it! They’re also open to interpretation too. For a story like What Goes Around that could be humorous or serious. I love the flexibility of that.

Looking forward to the Bridge House celebration event in December. It will be the first time I’ve had a story in the BHP anthology AND two in the Cafelit collection for the year, The Best of Cafelit 8 (The Art Critic and Dignity and Injustice).

I just love that the buzz of being published online or in print or both never goes away. And does it encourage me to keep writing? Of course!

 

I’d not heard of flash fiction when I began writing seriously. I was sticking to the standard length short story (which I still love writing) and drafting a novel. It was when Cafelit issued their 100 word challenge, I thought I would try the form and quickly became hooked. So beware of what you get into then!!!

Having said that, I adore flash. Sometimes when writing a longer story (or more accurately what is MEANT to be a longer story), I realise the material is strong enough for something around the 750 word mark but to get it to, say, magazine requirement, I would have to add at least 250 and probably 500 words to it.

If there is one thing I have learned over the years it is NEVER pad a story. It never works. It comes across, I think, that the good ideas were in the first half of the story and the rest was to get it to the required word count length. I know I’ve read stories where I’ve had the impression and I also think you, as the writer, just know this isn’t really working. So stick with a shorter piece you know DOES work and find an alternative home for it instead.

The lovely thing with flash fiction is there is now a very welcome home for those shorter, strong pieces. So win-win then!

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How do I create a new flash fiction story?

It depends! I know, I know – not particularly helpful is it, but it really does depend on:-

1. Am I writing for a competition with a set theme?

Here I need to focus on the kind of character who would suit that theme best. Once I’ve got them pictured and outlined, away I go. You can tell when you’ve got the character right because it can feel as if they are telling you the story!

2. Am I writing for a competition with an open theme?
I start by thinking about what theme I would like to tackle. I like to give myself room for manoeuvre here so I tend to go for a simple but open theme such as love, justice etc. You can do so much with themes like that. I then look at the kind of character who would suit the theme I’ve chosen.

I sometimes deliberately set myself a word count target even if I haven’t got a competition in mind. This is partly to keep me on my toes and also because I know I’ll find a potential market for it later on.

Again, I outline the character I want to write about and then think about what kind of trouble I can stir up for them. That is the fun bit, always! I also look at what it is about my character that will either get them out of that trouble or land themselves further in it.

For a very short flash (under 250 words), I go for one lightning quick problem the character has got to resolve quickly. They really have to get on with it but there has to be strength in that character so I know they are capable of doing it.

 

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When do I know a flash fiction story is complete?

I put the piece aside for a while, re-read it and then work out what impact the story had on me. I’m usually looking for a strong response whether it is to laugh, scream or what have you.

Sometimes I write more thoughtful flash tales and there I’m looking for impact in terms of just how thought provoking was the story? When it is a character study, did the story leave me with insights as to why that character is as how they have been portrayed? Do I get a sense this character is realistic? Am I glad to have spent time in their company?

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Goodreads Author Blog – Living in a Fictional World

I’ve never really wanted to live in a fictional world.

I wouldn’t mind a guided tour of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld (as long as it wasn’t by Rincewind and Twoflower. See The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic for more on why!).

I’d love to visit Middle Earth from Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, though I would give Mordor a miss.

And I never had the slightest inclination to follow Alice down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, Even as a kid, I thought that was a daft idea, though I loved the story itself.

Incidentally is this just me or was Alice either incredibly gullible or greedy? Whenever she saw signs saying Eat Me or Drink Me, she’d just do so. Never thought to question it and then wondered why she