Lessons from Writing and Scenic Scotland

Image Credit: Pixabay/Pexels. Scottish pics and images of Lady, the daft but loveable Border Collie cross, were taken by me, Allison Symes.


Book cover images for The Best of Cafelit 9 and Tripping The Flash Fantastic supplied by my publishers – Bridge House Publishing and Chapeltown Books respectively.


Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today


Pleased to share the link to Part 2 of my Lessons series on CFT. This week I look at lessons learned from the writing life, all of which are useful beyond that.
So over to you. What lessons have you learned from writing and how have you applied these in other areas of life?

Went back to Dunnet Bay. Such a wonderful beach. Lady thinks so too! Walked for miles though it always seems further on sand than it actually is!

Plenty of brisk fresh air. Managed to see buzzards fairly close up (could make out the colouring underneath. Don’t usually get to do that). Also spotted a kestrel, sand pipers, and oyster catchers.
Now drum roll please… Very exciting news on Tripping The Flash Fantastic to come soon but in the meantime, take a peek at this!


Achievement of the week and possibly the year for me  – I climbed 600 feet in about a mile exploring the track that runs behind where I’m staying. Yes, it was a very steep track! But see the views below. 

Lady bounded up it with no issues at all before going on to have a splendid playtime on Dornoch Beach later in the afternoon. Result? One tired but happy dog!

What would be the perfect day for your characters and why? What would they do to anyone or anything that got in the way of them having that perfect day?

There are story ideas there for a start but also use questions like this for outlining your people. Work out what their strengths and weaknesses are.

Different writers have varying requirements here but what you do need is enough for you to get going on a story with characters who deserve to be written about.




Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again


I’ve learned so much from the writing life as I discuss in this week’s CFT post. The great thing is I know that learning will continue.
My hopes with regard to flash fiction is to continue to develop characters and stories.

Maybe try different genres within flash? Maybe write a novella in flash one day – who knows?

But while I know there is writing to do and things to try within that, I know the buzz of writing won’t diminish. And I love that!😄

Big news is that I can now do a book cover reveal for my second flash fiction collection, Tripping The Flash Fantastic. Will be sharing more news soon on this.
I will be talking about TTFF as part of an author talk with Gill James and Dawn Kentish Knox on 26th September.

More details next week and my CFT post on 18th September will give details on how to register for the FREE Zoom event at the end of the month.

Am I a happy bunny right now? You bet!
Lovely day back at Dunnet today. One great thing about dog ownership is that our pets break down barriers. I’ve had far more lovely chats with people since owning a dog than before! 
Although 2020 has been an awful year, I am so pleased to hear in one week The Best Of Cafelit 9, where I have flash stories included, and Tripping the Flash Fantastic, are “out there”. (Kindle only at moment for TTFF but paperback to follow).
Would still like 2020 to dramatically improve though and I know I’m not alone there.

I love autumn. I love the changing leaf colours. And the heathers on the hills around where I’m staying at the moment are such wonderful colours.

But there is a sense of transition this early in September as we leave summer behind. 
Flash fiction is great for demonstrating those senses of transition in your characters.

They go from one state of being to another – that is the story you’re writing after all.

What you need to figure out is which moment of transition is the important one to write up.


Fairytales With Bite – Favourites


My favourite part of most fairytales when I was a kid was when the fairy godmother etc turned up and you knew somehow from that point, everything was going to work out okay.
My favourite part of a fairytale now is harder to define but I like to see characters contributing to the fairy godmother’s efforts to help them.

I also like to see the villains get their comeuppance.And I know that last like is something I’ll always have!
I refer to a lot of my work as fairytales with bite precisely because they are not twee. Nor am I writing to the children’s market (Roald Dahl was the past master there in my view!). 
I’ve never liked it when someone dismisses something as “just a fairytale”. There is no just about it. Fairytales are deeper stories than some give them credit for!

 

This World and Others – Geography


I don’t refer to geography a lot in my flash tales but did use it in my unpublished (as yet!) fantasy novel.

I needed to know something about the landscape my characters inhabit and whether that gets in their way. Also I wanted to look at the differences and similarities with our world.
This is where photos come in handy for sparking ideas. I totally understand why so many fantasy works have a map with them. (I must check out the Discworld one for The Streets of Ankh-Morpork as that is one map which will be fun!☺).
The nice thing now is there are far more avenues of research available now. Archives, libraries, the web etc. I guess the danger now might be you could have so much fun researching, the writing takes a back seat!

So it would pay I think to plan out your research just as much as you would plan out the story itself.

Think about what you need to know, jot down where you think further research might be needed later, and write.

Also make a note of sources of research in case a publisher asks and in case you need to retrace your steps. It happens!

FANTASICAL AND REALITY WRITING

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My CFT post this week looks at how “fantastic” and “reality” writing feed off each other. No matter how fantastic the world setting, there still have to be elements about it and the characters that readers can identify with. So there has to be some system of government, some rulers and some ruled, some system of food gathering etc etc to help make the story itself believable.

In a well written fantasy story, these elements are hardly noticeable. They are what I call the necessary background structure to make the whole story work. Not only that, literature would be much the poorer without fantasy stories. It would also be much the poorer without good quality non-fiction. And that’s the way it should be.

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What slogan would sum up your writing style? I think mine would be something like “quirky, sometimes twisted, and often humorous”. Before anyone says that sums ME up quite well, I know!!

Questions never to ask a writer (unless you want to run the risk of having something thrown at you) include:-

1. How IS the writing going? (We want to give you chapter and verse, literally. You want a quick one line answer. No winners here).

2. But editing is the easy bit, surely? After all, you’ve got the writing done. Tidying it up a bit can’t take long, can it?

3. Have you given up the day job yet? (Is there any way of answering this politely and still remain friends with whoever dared ask this? Answers on a postcard….).

4. You don’t mind if I borrow your book from the library, do you? (Actually, no. We want to support the libraries. However, we would prefer it if you bought the book – bills to pay and all that).

5. It can’t take you long to write flash fiction/short stories/novellas (delete as appropriate) as they’re all much shorter than a novel. That’s where the hard work is, isn’t it?

(Many thanks to all who sent in wonderful comments on my Facebook page and to those pages where I shared this.  Glad to know I’m not alone on this topic!).

 

Delighted to say I will be a guest speaker at the Hampshire Writers’ Society meeting at the University of Winchester next Tuesday, 9th October. It will be nice to be back at Winchester again as I’m normally there for the Winchester Writers’ Festival and it is a long time until next June when it is on again!

I’ll be speaking about flash fiction (and why I think every writer should try it).

(I know I put up this post last time but can’t resist doing so again!  Am looking forward to next Tuesday’s event.  Am nervous and excited about it all at the same time!).

POSTER SHOWING ALLISON AS GUEST SPEAKER AT HWS OCTOBER 2018

Many thanks to Maggie Farran for the poster

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Flash fiction writing has taught me so much about editing, but it has also shown me the joy of choosing the right word to make maximum impact. I’ve found that spills over into other writing I do (especially my Chandler’s Ford Today posts), which is no bad thing.

We all know we should put work aside for a bit before coming back to re-read it with fresh eyes but I have found that doing so means you also look at a story and think “I could have expressed that better”. I then go on and do so!

It is true your best ideas and expressions sometimes have to be “teased” out of you. But the great thing is that the more writing you do, the more you’ll be ready for the “well actually this works better than what I had done originally” moment and won’t think twice about changing something.

The latter I think can be a confidence thing sometimes. You do have to have confidence in your own writing ability but also to trust the process – that as you work, better thoughts will come, all of which will help you improve your story and increase its chances of being published.

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It’s important to mix up the moods in a flash fiction collection. I love volumes of stories to dip into as and when I fancy and what I like to find are tales for all occasions. I will always have a very soft spot for the humorous tale but a well written tragic flash story will move me in a way a funny one can’t (and perhaps shouldn’t).

Also given flash fiction has to be character led, and characters all face different challenges, it is not unreasonable to portray said characters in very different moods, which will also affect how you write their stories.

Even in a book which is meant to be sombre, there can be different shades of sombreness in the tales within it. You don’t want to come across in a monotone style. Nor is levity appropriate but I want to see Character A handling a bad situation in this way, Character B reacting differently etc. I will then be intrigued by what makes A and B tick.

As well as mixing the moods of my stories for a flash fiction collection, I like to vary the word counts I use. The majority will be at about the 100 word mark as it is my favourite and the one I seem to gravitate to, but I like to ensure there are some 250, 500 and 750 word stories in there too. For the book I’m currently writing I am also including one line stories.

I love flash fiction collections (not just mine, honestly!), because of their variety. There are wonderful collections out there based on a specific type of flash fiction (usually the 100 or 140 word stories). There are collections with a mixture of length of stories, like mine, but focussed on one theme.

When you’ve not got as much time for reading as you’d like, these books are perfect to dip into. If you like your books electronically, I think flash fiction is wonderful for that. So very easy to read on a screen. And easy to slip into a stocking for that well known festival coming up in December….! (Get the word in early, that’s what I say!!).

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – The TBR Pile

Confession time. I have a large TBR pile in paperbacks AND on the Kindle. There really isn’t enough time in the day, though it is nice to know I won’t be running out of good reading material any time soon.

Does that mean I won’t want any books bought for me for Christmas or book tokens/cards? Don’t be silly, of course I will!

Okay, I may need to figure out a way of making sure my TBR pile (paperbacks) doesn’t topple over and crush someone (probably me). Or that my Kindle doesn’t explode with the effort of containing all those ebooks for me. But I’ll manage those!

The lovely thing about being a reader and a writer is you’re never stuck for gift ideas, whether you’re dropping hints to your nearest and dearest, or buying for other readers and writers.

As for my TBR pile, back to reducing it a bit at a time (before I inevitably top it up again!).

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Fairytales with Bite – A Good Fairytale…

A good fairytale should have:-

1.  Believable characters (no matter how magical they are.  There should be something about them that resonates with a reader, which is why magic is NOT the be all and end all situation to your characters’ problems.  There should be things for them to work out without magic.  There should be things about their character which engage the reader so if the old fairy godmother turns up and does work magic for them, your readers are going to be pleased for them rather than see it as a plot device to get your character out of trouble!).

2.  Emotional impact.  Whether this is where your reader ends up screaming at your character to stop being so stupid or laughs with them or cheers when they get their happy ever after, as long as there is some emotional impact, your story is “getting through”.  People will want to read more.

3.  Justice will out somehow.  This is true most of the time.  Stories where the villains win always make me feel uncomfortable.  It just doesn’t seem right.  This is why I love the cliffhanger ending in The Italian Job with Michael Caine.  Even where the villain does seem to get away with it, I like to see some hint that in the future their success may come back to haunt them or they would have done even better had they acted better.  I suppose one reason why I like to see justice of some sort being done is because in life, it so often isn’t like that.  One appeal of stories overall is that they can reflect life as it should be at times – the underdog does win out, wrongs are put right etc etc.  (The other thought here is that perhaps the villain does have cause so are they so much of a villain after all?  Food for thought here I think).

This World and Others – Things You Need to Know about World Building

This is definitely not a comprehensive guide but I list below some useful pointers for you to consider when building your fictional world.

1.  Identifiable Elements
There has to be something about the world you create your readers will identify with, no matter how fantastical the setting.  Worlds have to be governed.  How is that done?  Every living creature needs to eat so how do the characters in your world do this and what is their food?  How are their societies organised?  (There must be some sort of organisation – could anyone survive sustained anarchy?).  These things are what I like to refer to as necessary background structure.  They may not be the main point of your stories but you need to know this information so you can write with confidence about your setting (it is a character in many ways) and that confidence will come through in your writing to your reader.

2.  How things change
A living world adapts and changes due to new technologies, diseases forcing change on society, wars changing the political landscape and so on.  Again these things may not be the main point of your stories but there should be a sense of your world changing and developing as your characters do within it.  It gives the sense that your world really is a live one and therefore infinitely more believable.

3.  Roles
What are the major roles in your world?  How are genders dealt with (and is there any difference in the roles each play?).  What happens to those who won’t accept the roles they’ve been assigned?  (There is always at least one who does this and some fantastic stories emerge from that).

It would pay to outline your thoughts on these three points before committing to major writing (especially if it’s a novel you’ve got in mind).  Work things out early.  It will save you a lot of time later on.  Good luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is a Good Fairytale?

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

A quick reminder about the Chandler’s Ford Book Fair is my topic for Chandler’s Ford Today this week. Hope to see some of you there. Everyone taking part is hoping this will become a regular event especially since there are no bookshops in Chandler’s Ford now.

We’d all be glad to see fellow writers too and can give information about local writing festivals and creative writing classes too – so do come and ask! There will be signings and special offers too.

Why are events like this important? Well, they give local writers both a voice and another outlet, which helps us all.

Events like this show the community there IS a strong creative writing element within it. (At the earlier Hiltingbury Extravaganza, there had been some surprise expressed at the range of writers and genres respresented there. There will be many more at the Book Fair tomorrow!).

We also hope the Fair will promote the love of books and reading in general.

BookFairPoster8

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Reading your work out loud is useful for helping you to pick up where your sentence construction is perhaps not as smooth and free-flowing as you thought it was (especially for dialogue). It is one of those oddities that something which looks fine written down is not necessarily easy to read out loud.

It is also useful for picking up the rhythm within your story and I’ve found it handy for detecting hidden undercurrents of mood in my flash fiction. It is another oddity that the writer doesn’t always pick up on these immediately! (That in turn helps me when I read the finished work out publicly. It helps me “pitch” it correctly).

I hope to read a couple of my stories at the Chandler’s Ford Book Fair tomorrow. If anyone has questions about flash fiction, please do come over and have a chat.

 

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Goodreads – Book Review

I share here my review of friend and fellow writer, Jennifer C Wilson’s excellent novella, The Last Plantagenet?  Novellas aren’t as common as they once were but they work brilliantly for those stories not long enough to make it to full novel status or are far too long for a short story.  I’d like to see more of these.

 

The Last Plantagenet? by Jennifer C. Wilson

The cover of Jennifer’s novella.  Image from my review on Goodreads.

 

Fairytales With Bite

A good fairytale is not necessarily one with a happy ending but, as with other stories, it should show the lead character changed during the course of the tale.  Ideally it will be for the better.  They will have learned something from their experiences and so on.  Sometimes a character does NOT learn from their experiences (the result is usually disastrous – the lesson there is for us readers.  It’s a warning we should learn or risk disaster ourselves).

A good fairytale will also show us something of ourselves/our human nature.  That doesn’t necessarily mean we will like what we see!  The Little Match Girl by Hans Christen Andersen is, to my mind, rightly scathing of those who pitied the girl because she was dead but did nothing to stop her dying, which is the whole message of that story (and the exposure of hypocrisy).

A good fairytale will have memorable characters and there is usually a strong moral message with it (though conveyed in the story.  A good story, of whatever type, will never leave you feeling as if you’ve been preached at).

A good fairytale will keep you gripped to the last world, will conjure up images of its setting and give you characters you can identify with/root for, even if they are strange alien monsters!  A good fairytale will usually see injustices put right too.

 

castle-2115425_640

Fairytales can be considered as “pie in the sky” but the reality is they often convey great truths.  Image via Pixabay (and one of the images used for my trailer for From Light to Dark and Back Again).

 

THIS WORLD AND OTHERS

One advantage of flash fiction is it has to be character led.  There isn’t the room for lengthy descriptions so your characters “carry” the stories.  So you have to create the world your character comes from via them directly.

This can be done through internal thoughts.  Show what your character thinks about their situation and what has led to it.  That should reveal some insights as to the world he/she comes from.   For example:-

She threw the cup at the wall and watched it smash.  Bloody government.  I’ve already voted once.  Why have I got to do it again?

That reveals at once that the government is dictatorial, voting is clearly compulsory, and any world where you have to vote again (to get it right this time perhaps?) is somewhere you probably don’t want to live if you have the choice.  She is taking her frustration out on a cup so there is no choice element here (and almost certainly severe consequences if she doesn’t vote again).

You can also show something of your created world through what your character observes.  In a flash fiction story, this would have to be a line or two at most (though that does make you stick to the really important things you want your reader to know so is no bad thing).

Description is the obvious way of showing a world but, again, in flash, a line or two at most and focus on what is important to the character (as this also reveals a lot about them).

 

Themes pour out of good books - image via Pixabay

Great Themes pour out of wonderful books but it needs strong, memorable characters to achieve this.  Image via Pixabay.