Voices, Radio Story, and Relaxing Books

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Images of me reading at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School were taken by Geoff Parkes and Penny Blackburn respectively (and in succeeding years at the school. We all hope to be back there in 2021).

Facebook – General

It is odd not writing about what my Chandler’s Ford Today post is going to be this week, but even I take a week off occasionally. A huge thanks to my lovely CFT editor for the surprise “Legends Box” parcel which reached me today. Lots of nice goodies inside with a flyer saying the sender thought I was a legend!

Better still, all proceeds from these parcels go to the Trussell Trust. Imaginative and positive gift ideas for next Christmas I think and such a lovely thing to do. So many thanks to my editor again and to the people behind the Legends Box idea. I like things like this. My church a few years back supported the Send-a-Cow charity and we managed to send two cows and a goat I believe.

I AM working on CFT behind the scenes however. I am working on what will be an informative mini-series which will hopefully go up in January plus another interesting feature with a writer/publisher. So plenty to look forward to then!

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Delighted to share the link to Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM. My story, Up to Scratch, was broadcast here on Saturday 19th December. My story comes in at about the 1 hour 28 minutes mark but the show makes for a wonderful celebration of festive flash fiction. Hope you enjoy. I loved taking part and hope to do so again at some point. A big thanks to #HannahKate and also to #ElizabethDucie for flagging this up to me.

Link:  https://www.mixcloud.com/Hannahs_Bookshelf/hannahs-bookshelf-pre-christmas-christmas-special-19122020/

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One of the highlights of Christmas for me is the Carols by Candlelight service. Of course, this year the way it is held is different. It was pre-recorded and then put on Youtube. It was lovely to be able to sing along. I gave one of the readings (I went down to the church to record it a couple of weeks back) but the whole service cheered me no end. Yes, sure, it is not the same as being there but it was the next best thing so a huge thanks to all who worked so hard on making this happen.

By this stage of the writing year, my poor old writers’ diary is looking more than a bit tired (as indeed is this writer!). But I do find this an invaluable aid to planning out what I am writing and for when. I know it seems old-fashioned to write with a pen in a paperback diary but it works for me! I didn’t use any of the writing prompts in the diary this year. I will try and make up for that in 2021.

Am almost at the end of the first draft for my non-fiction project so am pleased with that. I am on target to have this written by the end of the year (though possibly not this side of Christmas). There will be no Chandler’s Ford Today post from me this coming Friday (I wonder why!) but I will be posting on New Year’s Day. And I’ve got a good initial draft of a third flash fiction collection to work on while I’m resting my non-fiction for a while so I can resume work on that with a fresh eye in due course.

But I must admit I do hope we can get back to some sort of writing events where we can meet people. Here’s hoping!

Candlelight - Book Brush

Delighted to say it was my recording of my reading Up To Scratch that went out on Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM earlier this afternoon. Many thanks, #HannahKate for picking my story. I hope to share the link to the show in the next couple of days or so.  (Done, see further up!). Well, there is always time for a flash festive fable! (And I do hope to submit stories to Hannah’s Bookshelf in the future. Flash works well on audio given it is so short).

This story was one of those where I had the “voice” for my characters immediately and is a tale told entirely in dialogue. Good fun to do. I’ve always found dialogue tales work best when kept short so they’re a good choice for flash fiction writers.

How do I know when I’ve got the voice for my characters? It isn’t just a question of knowing how they sound funnily enough, It is a question of knowing yes this is the kind of thing they would say, the kind of vocabulary they would use because…. , and also knowing what wouldn’t suit them. For example the two characters in this story would not swear. Therefore, they didn’t!

Oh and to make sure I don’t forget to do this, please find below a little something created using Book Brush this afternoon.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTenqfNs3k8

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

One thing I love about writing for Chapeltown Books has been helping to choose suitable images for the book covers. For From Light to Dark and Back Again I choose rippling circles with light playing on them. For Tripping The Flash Fantastic I chose a castle with lights shining in it with lightning seeming to strike one end of the castle. That image was not my first choice but it proved to be better than what I had chosen initially given there are historically based flash stories in this book. I also liked the idea of the lightning flash as being a kind of clue to the book genre.

What I do know is you have to be happy with your book covers and a good one will convey something of what the contents are likely to be. You then hope someone picks up the book, looks at the blurb, and looks inside to find out more (before going on to buy it of course). But it is easier for the writer to do the necessary marketing work if they themselves love the cover, the blurb, and the book itself. One of my favourite Wodehouse quotes is “God may forgive Herbert Jenkins Limited for the cover of……… but I never shall”!

Glad to say that has not been a problem for me!

TTFF squareBookBrushImage-2020-11-14-19-1939BB - blue poster for books


Taking part in Open Prose Mic Nights was not something I anticipated doing when I started writing flash fiction seriously but it is a very good vehicle for developing your writing skills, funnily enough. It pays to read your story out loud to yourself a few times before you do an event like this. You’re looking for anything that might make you stumble over your words. If you find anything (and you inevitably do), it’s time for a rewrite. The aim is for a smooth read for you and a smooth listening experience for your audience. Recording a story and playing it back to yourself helps too. All of this helps you hone your editing skills further too so win-win!

The Open Mic for Prose night

Many thanks to Geoff Parkes for this image of me reading at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School Open Prose Mic Night.

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Quick plug alert! Amazon say that the paperback of Tripping the Flash Fantastic can be with you for 22nd December if ordered today. See http://mybook.to/TrippingFlashFantastic for more.

If anyone would like a signed copy directly from me, just send me a Direct Message and we’ll take things from there. I would really need to get books off in the post by Tuesday, 22nd December at the latest to have any chance of getting this to you in time for Christmas. If you’re not in a hurry, then just message me anyway and we can sort things out after Christmas and Boxing Days.

And do remember if you are on the receiving end of book presents this Christmas (you are, aren’t you?!), please do review the book in the usual places. Reviews don’t have to be long but they do help the author.

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Horrendous weather off and on in Hampshire today. Mud levels in the local park are quite something now too. Not that Lady minds! I am blessing my dear old mum for leaving me a shed load of old towels. They do for Lady nicely!

Delighted my story Up to Scratch was on the radio this afternoon. Will share a link when I have it. This story was an all dialogue on between two characters only (though others are referred to in the tale).

I like the challenge of writing all dialogue stories from time to time but I think they are best used sparingly. The advantage of “standard” prose stories is I can take you into the heads of the characters and show you their thoughts. I can’t do that if I’ve got them talking to you!!

But that is where the challenge lies. What could a character be reasonably expected to know to be able to say to another character? It’s also got to sound like natural conversation (though without the ums and ahs we all come up with).

This kind of story makes for a good writing exercise too. Try it some time and see what you come up with. I’ve found this kind of story is best kept short (and I keep mine to about the 100-`150 word count length). It keeps the tale tight and to the point and you really don’t want characters wittering on!

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Goodreads Author Blog – Perfect Books To Relax With

What kind of book do you like to relax with? My favourites are fantasy (especially the humorous kind such as Terry Pratchett’s wonderful Discworld stories) and crime (though I am more at the cosy end of the market).

Though right now I am loving Peter Ackroyd’s London, which is a biography of the city. An interesting way of writing up a history and full of fascinating tales. It’s a fairly big paperback but is an engrossing read so very happy to recommend it.

If a writer’s style draws me in, as it does here, it doesn’t matter how big the book is! They’ve got this reader to the end (which is a challenge for all of us writers to ensure we try and do that with our own writing).

I can’t read in the bath. I’d be worried about dropping a book or Kindle in the water. Neither would come out well. This is why my main reading is just before I go to sleep. I am so relaxed then. It’s not the time to read a gripping vampire novel though. Mind you, I wasn’t planning on doing this so that’s okay.

For me books have to be entertaining and help me relax. If I want a challenging read, I will carve out time during the day when my brain is better able to cope with said challenging read!

I hope you have plenty of excellent new reads for Christmas and I hope you have a safe and as good a celebration as possible. If ever there was a year, we all needed books to help us escape, it is in 2020.


Twitter Corner

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LAST BUT NOT LEAST

My next round-up will be on Tuesday 29th December. I’m having a couple of days off over Christmas though I still plan to write my weekly Goodreads Author Blog post. I am likely to move this to Sunday 27th December.

In the meantime, I wish you all as safe and happy a Christmas as possible in what has been such a strange year and I look forward to seeing you back here next week!

Many thanks for your ongoing support. It is much appreciated!

merry christmas sign

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

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!

New Year, New Book

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

Happy New Year to you all!

PUBLICATION NEWS

As you can imagine, I am thrilled to bits to start the New Year in such a positive way and look forward to bringing more news about Tripping the Flash Fantastic in due course.

Advance Notice

I am planning to change the name of my book page on Facebook from From Light to Dark and Back Again to something more flash fiction related nearer to when I know Tripping the Flash Fantastic will be out. That way the page can cover both books and I’ve been using this page mainly to discuss flash fiction anyway.

Facebook – General

One goal I have set myself this year is to try to prepare more posts in advance and schedule them to free up writing time for other things. I have done this before, mainly ahead of going on holiday, and it works well but I need to do this more often. (If I can do the same with Twitter as well, even better!).

I’m currently reading 500 Words You Should Know, which was a lovely gift from a friend who thinks I probably know most of them already. Hmm…. we’ll see. Incidentally I did pick up the word “soporific” from Beatrix Potter many, many moons ago. Reading is by far the most enjoyable way of improving your vocabulary.

I’m relishing being back in the writing saddle again properly now having submitted two short stories already and working away on several new flash fiction tales. What I love about writing is that buzz of creativity never loses its attraction! I always feel so much better within myself for having created something with words.

Loved Part 2 of Spyfall from Doctor Who tonight as well and that’s all I’m saying on this for now, given I know people who haven’t seen it yet! Very much looking forward to the rest of the series after such a cracking start.

Hope to be able to share publication news again soon (so I think I’m off to a cracking start for 2020 too, not that I mind this, far from it!). Again will share news as and when I can but really looking forward to being able to do so soon.

One of the writing prompts in my new diary is to write a New Year’s Eve party from the viewpoint of three different characters. Not sure I’ll do this one mainly because I simply don’t do New Year’s Eve parties so feel I wouldn’t write convincingly on same! I would rather stay at home and curl up with a good book (and I would have done so in my younger years too. Yes, I know. Boring it may seem to be but give me a good book and I can assure you the hours whizz by very nicely reading and that suits me just fine!).

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Am thrilled to announce my second flash fiction collection, Tripping the Flash Fantastic, will be published by Chapeltown Books later this year. Will share more details as and when I have them.

What I love is that the buzz of being published never diminishes whether it is having a story online, or in an anthology, or you have another book out.

I only wish I could bottle the buzzy feeling for those times when writing feels like really hard work and you have to push yourself harder to keep going!

 

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Many thanks, everyone, on your wonderful support at my publication news yesterday. It is very much appreciated. I look forward to sharing more news as and when I have it.

I am also delighted for friends who I know will also be published later this year – well done, all. I look forward to seeing your books come out too. I never mind adding to my To Be Read pile!

Now back to the nitty-gritty! The writing life can be compared to a rollercoaster. It really is full of ups and downs. Stamina is useful!

Incidentally, I’ve mentioned elsewhere that you have to play the long game in writing. You can’t know that what you write will be accepted or successful. You can only give it your best shot (and be prepared to edit, rewrite, edit etc). So writing for the joy of writing is vital in my view. It is what helps keep you going when nothing seems to be happening.

Seeds can take a long time to germinate. That’s even more true of the writing seeds you send out there. But it is lovely when the first shoots and then the blooms appear! And it is important to cherish the moment, especially as you can’t know when the next one will be. It is equally important to then move on and keep writing and sending work out.

So I’d better get on then!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Do you find when writing stories in batches one mood tends to dominate? In the last couple of days, I’ve written sinster and sadder but moving stories. I am hoping to lighten up a bit in the next few days!

What matters is being true to the characters you create. If their story is a sad one, so be it, but the character has to engage with a reader so they will want to find out what happens to said character.

I am very fond of stories where characters find a way of dealing with issues troubling them. I always thought it realistic that Frodo never did fully recover from all he went through in The Lord of the Rings. A happy ever after ending still has to be appropriate for the character. It wasn’t for Frodo, it was for Sam.

 

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I hope to be able to share exciting publication news soon so, as they say, watch this space.

Meanwhile, I’m happily drafting plenty of flash fiction pieces I will submit as and when over the next couple of months or so. I am also currently sorting out my running order for a further flash fiction collection I hope to submit at some point though I know there will be further editing to do on that once I’ve done this. I find sorting out the running order helps clear my thoughts and makes editing easier to do. Note I said easier, not easy!

Running order matters to a collection. It can make a huge difference as to how well the stories flow into each other. Also when you specifically want a contrast in moods (as I did with FLTDBA) you want that contrast to stand out. I grouped my stories in FLTDBA specifically by mood and that worked well. I suspect for what I am currently working on, I will probably organise it by type of flash fiction (e.g. group the historical ones together, group the funny ones together etc).

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As mentioned on my author page, I am delighted to say Tripping the Flash Fantastic, my second flash fiction collection, will be published by Chapeltown Books later this year. Will share further details as and when possible but naturally am thrilled about this. (I had the great joy of sending the signed contract back today. That’s a good job to have!).

Meanwhile there will be more flash stories from me on Cafelit later this month and in March. Naturally I hope to get some more on there throughout the year too.

You have to accept, I think, that you are playing the long game when you are writing and seeking publication. There are no guaranteed results for anyone. You do have to work hard on your writing and be prepared to edit and edit again etc but the joy of publication is truly a wonderful thing and never diminishes!

 

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Many thanks for all the kind messages here and on Twitter re my publication news yesterday. All very much appreciated.

Whatever your writing projects are, I hope they are going well and that you are having the proverbial ball writing them.

Writing should be enjoyable. Yes, it can be a hard slog but there should be the joy of being creative in there too. I love it when I hit that moment when I know my characters have come to life for me. (If they do so for me, they will do for other readers).

There is something fantastic about storytelling, whether you read stories, write them, or do both. It is certainly worth celebrating!

Goodreads Author Blog – Happy New (Reading) Year!

Happy New Year!

I’m looking forward to discovering authors new to me this year and getting plenty of reading done. The TBR pile, unlike my ironing pile, is one where I’m not that sorry if it stays pretty much at its high level!

I’d like to read more non-fiction this year too and expand my range of subjects.

The biggest problem, of course, is time. I always mean to read more over the Christmas break and, yes, I did catch up a bit. However, I’m usually too tired to read for long so I never get as much done as I was hoping for.

Am trying to read more (particularly magazines) at lunch time and am enjoying that.

I’d also like to get back to more humorous reading and suspect it will soon be time to resume the works of P.G. Wodehouse and Terry Pratchett, both of whose books bring me much joy.

Whatever your reading plans are this year, I hope you have a fabulous time with them. I intend to!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tried and Tested – and Book Offers!

A very busy night tonight and a special post about book offers too and I will start with those I think!  Also included this week is a link to my guest spot on crime writer Val Penny’s wonderful Book Review blog.  Many thanks to her for hosting me.

BOOK OFFERS!  ONE WEEK ONLY.  ENDS 18TH JANUARY 2019

Book news! I’m Bridge House Publishing/Chapeltown’s author of the week and there are free books up for grabs AND special offers on others. What’s not to like?

I’ve had the great pleasure of being published by BHP/CB in various anthologies as well as with From Light To Dark and Back Again. These form the basis of the package below.

BOOK PACKAGE: There are SIX, count them SIX, publications where I have work on offer for £4.00, all as mobi-files. This includes To Be…To Become (the Waterloo Festival competition, anthology), Baubles (BH anthology), The Best of Cafelit 4, 5 AND 6 and From Light to Dark and Back Again, my first flash fiction collection.

And for those of you who would like print paperbacks there’s an offer for you too.

PAPERBACK OFFER: My first published story was A Helping Hand in Bridge House Publishing’s Alternative Renditions. That isn’t available on Kindle BUT is in paperback and that along with From Light to Dark and Back Again is on offer at a mere £7.00 for the two!

FREE BOOKS! BUT YOU HAVE TO BE QUICK.

I’m giving away one signed copy of:-

From Light to Dark and Back Again AND
Alternative Renditions OR
Baubles OR
One of the Best of Cafelit books I’m in.

First come, first served, naturally. Also one book per customer.

If you’re interested email my lovely editor, Gill James, at editor@bridgehousepublishing.co.uk with your contact details. Also let her know which of the books you would like and Gill and I will take things from there. I’m looking forward to getting some books off in the post next week!

So two lucky people can be in for a free read! What are you waiting for? Gill is waiting to hear from you!

All of the above books are available on Amazon.

And if you would like to try some of my work out first, head over to Cafelit at http://cafelitcreativecafe.blogspot.com/…/l…/Allison%20Symes

Do check out the other wonderful stories here. You’re in for a great read, I promise.

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Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Busy night tonight but fun! Hope you saw the book offer posts earlier. Meanwhile back to CFT and I’m glad to share my Tried and Tested Writing Tips this week. Hope you find it useful.

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Will be a busy day tomorrow. As well as my usual CFT post (all about tried and tested writing tips), I’m Bridge House Publishing/Chapeltown Books author of the week and will have news of book offers so stay tuned.

Re my CFT post: I’ve picked those tips I use most often and go into detail as to why they are useful.

Absolutely delighted to have been guest blogger on Val Penny‘s Book Reviews blog. Many thanks to her – it’s been a good week writing wise when it comes to getting the word out there!

And talking of words, the ones I’ve found most helpful are the ones that encourage when all that seem to come in are rejections etc. This is why you need writing friends. We know what it is like – both the joys and the down sides. It is a roller coaster ride but nobody says you have to be alone on the thing!

Am delighted to share the link to the great blog from crime writer Val Penny. The fact that I am her guest on it tonight is not at all coincidental!

Many thanks, Val, for the invite. The questions were great fun to answer. Val and I met at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School (or more accurately just outside Derby Railway Station just ahead of us both going to Swanwick!) and we’ve been great friends ever since.

It is also lovely being on the receiving end of questions too!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I’m due to be Bridge House Publishing/Chapeltown Books author of the week. News of book offers tomorrow.

Getting the balance right between writing new material, revising and improving material that has not yet found a home, and marketing has never been easy to get right. Has there ever been a writer who doesn’t feel there is always something they could be doing better in any of these departments? I don’t think so!

One advantage to flash fiction of course is it can be a great way of getting work done and “out there” while working on longer projects. (And if said work is published, you’re building up your writing CV too).

What questions would you put to your characters to get the best out of them before you write their story?

One of my favourites here is “what drives you?” I use it to dig deep into a character because there will be an answer that is something nobody would mind revealing – the public face, if you like.

However, it is the answer the character (and we as individuals) try to keep to ourselves that is the really interesting one to work with! It can also reveal things about our characters that make us realise we can do so much more with them. It IS worth digging that bit deeper to get to these points.

Your stories will be deeper and have more impact as a result – even the shortest of flash fiction stories will benefit. If I know my character thinks they’re capable of, say, robbery, but I dig deeper and find in certain situations, they could kill, guess which story I’m going with!

You DO want to dump your characters right in the mire and put them under as much stress as possible and really see what they’re made of. Let the drama play out. Have fun with this, I do! (Oh and nobody said writers have to be nice to their characters, often it’s the opposite in fact!).

 

Many thanks to #ValPenny for hosting me on her Book Reviews blog. It was great fun answering the questions.

Questions like these are really useful for making you evaluate why you write and whether the “how” could be improved. (The answer is almost certainly “yes” to that by the way!).

Fairytales with Bite – Storytelling

Storytelling is one of our oldest traditions of course. You can understand the appeal of fairytales especially when it comes to the oral storytelling tradition. A simple plot, a structure that works, a clear goodie and baddie, and a happy ever after ending. Perfect way to end the day!

Now, of course, we expect our characters to be more nuanced. There is no such thing as the perfect hero. Villains have to have good (and understandable) reasons for acting the way they are (and that can include the fact they simply enjoy being evil. To them, that is reason enough!).

What I love about stories is that there is no one perfect format. I love books in all their forms but totally understand why audiobooks work for some, whereas the print format doesn’t. Our focus as writers is to come up with stories that can work in several formats. Our focus is to entertain. I’ve never understood why some look down on escapism. The world is sad and bad enough to make a wish to escape understandable. After all why did our cavemen ancestors tell stories? To remember what was important. To bring the community closer together. To escape the cares of their day and the ones to come for a while.

So as a writer then I want my characters to appeal to readers. I also want to drop my characters right in it whenever I can. I want my books to engage people. It’s a good thing to aim for: to improve your storytelling as much as possible. You discover better ways of expressing things, learn what works and what doesn’t. Enjoy your storytelling and relish every moment of it.

 

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This World and Others – Tried and Tested

My latest CFT post is Tried and Tested Writing Tips, which I hope you find useful.

How are your characters tried and tested?  Do they pass the tests you set them?  In almost any story you can think of, it is only when the characters are put right through the emotional wringer, do you see what they are capable of and where their limits are.  That is also where sidekick characters are useful – to help see your leads through to the bitter end and to get them through that “about to give it all up” moment.

Testing doesn’t need to to be overly dramatic either.  It can be as simple as a character having their patience tested by a relative who is trying to goad them (deliberately or otherwise, it’s not always consciously done).  Your character is very patient to begin with, then they become slightly less patient as time and the goading continues, and so on before they snap or do something they would not ordinarily have done.  Your character may be aware of this process so what do they do to try and fight it?  To not give in to that urge to snap no matter what the provocation?

Think about what would stress your characters out.  Think about their coping mechanisms.  What would happen if they failed or weren’t available when needed?

Have fun finding out!

Writing Wish List, Why Write Flash Fiction, and Special Offers

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If you could make a writing related list for Santa, what would be on it? I’d ask for:-

1. The ability to stretch time so I can get all the writing I’d like to do in and done! Naturally I would not feel any side effects from this.

2. The ability to spot ALL typos etc before submitting work anywhere ALL the time. (If it is any comfort, most writers spot errors in work later on. We just don’t admit to it! We do feel annoyed at ourselves over them though – very much the “why didn’t I spot that one?” school of thought.

3. To never run out of pens, notebooks, ink cartridges, paper etc and also to arrange for the printer toner NOT to run out half way through a print run ever again. (You do get sick of this happening when it occurs more than once. Trust me on this).

4. To never miss a writing competition that might suit you ever again. (It is difficult to keep on top of them all so help from Santa here would be useful).

5. To never run out of inspiration and ideas and to always follow them through thoroughly.

6. Extra stamina would also come in handy. You need it when the umpteenth rejection comes in during the week.

7. More reviews of my book!

8. For the charlatans in the publishing industry to disappear from it for good so nobody is ever taken in by false promises again. Meanwhile, do check out the Society of Authors and/or ALLI, the Alliance of Independent Authors websites for sound advice on what to look for in publishing contracts, self publishing services etc.

9. To never run out of bookmarks. When I don’t need them I seem to have loads. When I do, can I find any? What do you think?

10. For more independent book shops and for them to thrive and do well.

I’m not putting these in any order of importance though 10 should be very high up on any list to Santa, I think.

Am glad to share, via the link, details of some special offers on Chapeltown Books’ flash fiction collections, including From Light to Dark and Back Again by yours truly.

The offers are open until the end of the week. There are currently 8 books in the Chapeltown series and there is an offer on for all of those. Equally you can buy three or four of them and still have a special offer! This offer is on until 21st December.

Some last minute Christmas present ideas, everyone?

Hope that whatever else is amongst your presents this Christmas, some good books are amongst them!

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The YouTube below shows the books produced by Cafelit/Chapeltown/Bridge House during the year. A lovely selection.

I was in the To Be…To Become ebook produced by Bridge House. This contains the 16 winning entries to the Waterloo Arts Festival’s first writing competition. I hope they go on to have others!

What can be confirmed is there is a lovely variety of books and stories to suit all tastes here.

When do you know a story is really special? When you can’t forget the characters.

For me, story has always been about finding out what happens to the characters. I don’t necessarily need to like them (though most of the time I do) but I do need to be intrigued enough to find out what happens to them. So then there has to be something about the characters I can either identify with or which hits my “curiosity switch” and keeps that pressed down so I have to keep reading!

A good plot can be let down by characters that aren’t strong enough for it (and this means the writer hasn’t got to know his people well enough before writing about them). Great characters will lift any story they’re in. Great characters will generate plot. Imagine the chaos a devious character can cause when they set out to cause mischief deliberately. All sorts of stories can come from that, humorous and otherwise, but the character has to be well portrayed for that to work.

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Time for some micro Christmas stories then:-

1. The innkeeper smiled, having seen his guests to the last available room. Nobody else would be disturbing his sleep tonight then.

2. Scrooge grimaced as he walked home, having heard some youngster tell a snippet of a ghost story. Ghosts! Whatever next?

3. In the bleak midwinter, they could have done with a snow plough.4. Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer found that telling everyone he was suffering from a nasty cold stopped the awkward jokes about what he was adding to his water trough to generate said red nose.

5. Frosty the Snowman was the first to admit he really could not appreciate the benefits of central heating.

Allison Symes – 15th December 2018

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Never worry about overwriting a story. That overwriting can and should be cut later. Usually this is a case of sharpening up phrases etc. I like the creative aspect of that side of editing where you are happy with your characters and story but know you can express things better than you have done with your first draft.

For me, it is far more of a problem when, on odd occasions, my story is too short. Not a problem for my flash fiction but it can be for standard length short stories (usually 1500 words or so). This always means one thing in my book, pun intended (!), and that is my idea simply wasn’t strong enough. I needed to do far more outlining to see where the idea could take me before I committed to writing it and that process would have shown up inherent weaknesses in it.

So do outline. It can save you a lot of grief later.

Reasons to write flash fiction:-

1. You learn how to edit well.

2. You learn to be ruthless when cutting out anything that is not moving the story forward.

3. You really do watch your word count. (This pays off for other forms of writing competitions too).

4. Given flash fiction markets and competitions have different requirements (for example some include the title as part of the word count, others specificially do not), you learn to make sure you ARE following the right rules for the competitions you’re interested in.

5. It is a great way to get work out there while you are working on a longer project.

6. There ARE more competitions and markets out there now so there should be at least one to suit your style of writing.

7. You have to write character driven stories but there’s nothing to stop you setting that character in any time, genre, or setting of your choosing. You are definitely NOT stuck to one genre here.

8. Flash fiction can make a great warm up writing exercise ahead of a longer project. The great thing is you can now do something with what your produce from those writing exercises!

9. You learn to write precisely because you are looking for the maximum impact on your readers for the minimum word count . This is a fantastic discipline which can be transferred across to other forms of writing you enjoy.

10. It’s fun! I’ve loved the challenge of writing to 100 words, to 75, to 50 etc. Flash fiction can be addictive!

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F = Fantastic Fiction
L = Lines that Hit Home
A = Amazing Characters
S = Stories with Impact
H = Humour and sometimes with a twist too.

F = Fairytales with Bite
I = Imagination is fired up!
C = Can cross genres
T = The word count is the main thing to watch
I = Insist on ruthless editing to cut all that is unnecessary
O = On the look out for markets and competitions
N = Never underestimate the time taken to craft your tales!

Allison Symes – 18th December 2018

Goodreads Author Programme Blog – Christmas Wish List

Naturally I’m assuming books are high up on your Christmas wish list. I would like to add to that though the following:-

1. More time to read!

2. More time to re-read old favourites. Does anyone else feel a pang of guilt sometimes when you really want to go back to a novel you’ve read a few times when you know there are so many other books you really should be getting on with and reading? That you actually want to read but the “clarion call” of the old favourite just can’t be resisted.

3. Being able to read “children’s” books without feeling guilty or embarrassed. Incidentally I understand the point of more grown up covers for certain books to get around this issue but for me this doesn’t really work. I like the original covers far better in the majority of cases and want to stick with those!

4. That all adaptations of stories and books do justice to their source materials. Too many don’t!

5. That I can always find a bookmark when I want one. (I either have LOADS when I don’t need them or none at all. Don’t ask… it is the way it is!).

Hope you have a book and story filled Christmas. The joy of the winter months is WANTING to stay indoors and curl up with a good book!

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Celebrations, Reading Work Out, and Framing Stories

A nice mixed bag tonight I think!

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My CFT post this week is the review of the recent Bridge House event, Celebrations, Crackers, Chapeltown, and Cafelit, though I’m quite pleased I managed to come up with an alliterative title! I also look at how reading work out is useful to writers, as is listening to others reading their work out. For one thing, you literally hear a story’s rhythm and can apply that to your own stories.

Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for kind permission to use some of the images in this piece. I’ve yet to find a way of reading work out and taking my own pictures of me doing this at the same time! (Oh and before you ask, I am really not keen on selfies!).

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My CFT post this week will be a look back at the Bridge House celebration event held on 1st December. I’ll also share some thoughts on the benefits of reading work out loud and on being read to, both of which are lovely!

One of the nicest things about this time of year is that it is very much a time for stories, which is a theme I will be looking at for CFT before too long. Naturally, I love the Christian Nativity story but I also love those wonderful tales associated with it. For example, how did the robin get his red breast? By burning himself on a fire he was fanning to keep a fire going to keep the Holy Family warm.

I also like to have a general review of the year (and also a specific writing review. How did things go? Did I achieve all the goals I set myself? What goals would I like to set for 2019 etc?). So that’s my CFT posts sorted until the year end! Just have to finish writing them now…

One of the great joys of stories (both writing and reading them) is their escapism value, especially if the news is particularly grim. That shouldn’t be underrated.

Whether you read or write humour, horror, sci-fi, or what have you, a story, of whatever length, should transport you into its world. You should be happy to stay there for the duration too! That, ultimately, I think is the biggest challenge to a writer. But it’s a great challenge to have a crack at!

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I like to choose themes which can be open ended. Love, for example, can obviously provide happy stories. It can also provide tragedies, something Shakespeare took good advantage of in Romeo and Juliet.

I’ve found that picking the theme I would like to use and then deciding on the mood of the story is so helpful in giving me a “frame” for my story. Then the title comes into play and again I try to choose one which is open, unless I specifically want to put a twist into the tale right at the beginning (my Punish the Innocent is a good example of that).

I find it useful to have my “frame” and then write. It helps me focus.

When drafting a story, what is the first thing you are keen to get right?

For me, it’s ensuring I know my character well enough to know how they would react/act regardless of what situation I drop them right in! (Dropping your characters right in it can be a great way of finding out just what they’re made of). I also like to know what would shake my character out of their sang-froid and what their general beliefs are. Naturally, there should then be something to challenge all of that!

I like to use things that inspire me as a source of story ideas. The great thing with this method is what inspires me and how I combine these to create a new tale will help my writer’s voice to come through. Nobody’s tastes and inspirations are exactly the same. The way these are combined will also differ from writer to writer. So list what your inspirations are. Think about how you can use these. At the very least, you should find some great themes emerging. Good luck!

Fairytales With Bite – Why Fairytales with Bite?

It occurs to me I should have written this post long ago but never mind!

I use the phrase “fairytales with bite” as a lot of my flash fiction work, in particular, is set in a fantasy world and I use a lot of irony. There really is a bite to a lot of what I write. I like quirky writing – my own and that of others! I also use twist endings a lot and there can be a great deal of bite behind those. I am, after all, looking to make an impact with my stories.

My catchphrase is also a reaction against those who think fairytales are twee. I know I’ve touched on this topic before, here and on other blogs I’m involved in, but fairytales can show up human nature for what it is and are anything but twee as a result. Think of all the tales where kindness is rewarded and/or greed is punished. What happens to the villains in lot of fairytales is anything but twee!

Of course, with the Big Bad Wolf, you could argue the fairytale with bite is literal here!

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This World and Others – Reading Work Out Loud

This theme ties in with some thoughts I share on this as part of my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week called Celebrations, Crackers, Chapeltown, and Cafelit.  The latter is a look back at my publisher’s annual celebration event but one part of this is where some of the writers, including me, read some of our stories out to our audience.  Good fun whether you’re taking part or not, but for a writer it’s incredibly useful and here are some reasons why.

1.  You quickly realise if you stumble over words, so will your readers, so out comes the editing pen again.  Always better though that this happens before you submit the story anywhere.  By reading the work out to yourself before submission, this acts as another editing layer and can save your blushes!

2.  You literally hear the rhythm of the story.  There should be a natural ebb and flow to it.

3.  Especially if you write in a genre where you’re inventing names/place names etc, you can literally hear if what you’ve come up with is pronounceable!!  So no more Xxxrbtrzog (try saying that sober yet alone if you have had alcohol!) but something like Xerstone is “do-able” and still conveys to a reader they are in a setting NOT of this world.

4.  As you listen to someone else’s work, take note of what makes a real impact on you.  Is it the power of the dialogue?  Is the sentence structure hitting home well?  I usually find short, simple, and to the point works best.

5.  As you listen, watch out for where you are anticipating what comes next.  What MAKES you wonder what comes next?  Can you apply those thoughts to your own writing?

6.  We all love a story, it’s why we’re writers, and the oral tradition of storytelling is fantastic.  Without it we would have no stories at all so it is a joy to take part in and kind of “support it” ourselves.

Love your reading!

 

 

 

Celebrations and Acronyms

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Had a fabulous time at the Bridge House celebration event in London today. Great to meet up with friends and fellow writers once again.

In no particular order, I’d like to give a shout out to Paula Readman, Ana and Russell, Dawn Kentish Knox and her lovely mum, Pat, Gail Aldwin, and Amanda Huggins. Meeting for lunch in a pub before the event was a fantastic idea! It was nice that the venue was so easy to find from Southwark Tube Station too.

Lovely to hear some great stories read out. Lots of twists and surprise endings, several of the characters I would be very wary of were I meet them in life (!), and it is SO nice being read to!

I read Circle of Life from From Light to Dark and Back Again, Moving On and Time for a Change which were published on Cafelit fairly recently. Laughs and applause were much appreciated by me so thank you all.

Above all, thanks to Gill James and Debz Hobbs-Wyatt for all their hard work behind the scenes at Bridge House, Cafelit and Chapeltown. (I plan to write a Chandler’s Ford Today post on this event in the not too distance future and will share more photos there and then).

Below are just some of the authors who read works out during the celebrations.  All of the stories read were excellent and had the audience spell bound.  Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for taking the photo of me and for kind permission to use it.  Also thanks to her for other images used further down in this post and for the one I’m using as the feature image for this post.

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Some signs of really good stories include:-

1. Promising opening line that MAKES you want to read on immediately.

2. You loved the story so much you feel disappointed when it ends.

3. You remember it (or in the case of novels, for example, you recall your favourite extracts).

4. You’ve read that opening line but CAN’T read on immediately and rush through everything else you’ve got to do so you CAN! OR If you can’t rush through, part of you is inwardly gnashing your metaphorical teeth, until you can sit down with a cuppa and get on and read the story!

5. The real classics become a tradition. The best example of this, of course, is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

6. In the case of twist stories, you really didn’t see the surprise coming. It is only when you re-read the tale, you spot the clues. Roald Dahl was the past master of this in his Tales of the Unexpected.

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Time for some more writing acronyms. I expect some of these will ring a bell or several.

OFD – On First Draft
SOFD – STILL on First Draft
DAASD – Don’t ask about Second Draft
EWE – Editing, What Editing?
PDHRN – Printer Died Halfway (through) Running (out) Novel
WCINFAP – Why Can I Never Find A Pen (when I call myself a writer)?
RFOMN – Room For One More Notebook
DWD – Deadline, What Deadline? (Theme emerging here I fear!).
PWP – Procrastination, What Procrastination?
WSWPS – Will Start Writing Properly Shortly – linked to PWP inevitably.

If there is one thing I don’t miss from the “good old days”, it is having to cut and paste literally! I also don’t miss carbon paper.

Has the PC spoiled us all? Perhaps but it is a boon knowing I can correct material easily and can move passages of writing around as I want to and without having to then photocopy the new sheet with the amended bit on (as the copy wouldn’t look as if it HAD had anything added to it!).

I suppose the one thing I really DO miss from said good old days is that reading lots of stories and books was something, if you will pardon the pun, that WAS taken as read. Now we have to encourage reading as much as possible. That isn’t a bad thing obviously but it strikes me we are detecting a “reluctance” that has to be overcome somehow. Why is reading seen as a poor relation to other forms of entertainment?

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There were some great flash fiction pieces read out at the Bridge House/Chapeltown/Cafelit celebration event in London today. Many congratulations to all.

I’ve found the biggest benefit from writing flash fiction is it teaches you quickly how to REALLY edit! You learn to write with precision and that skill can be transferred to whatever other writing you do.

Must confess I am feeling somewhat tired and I swear I was only on tea and orange juice today!! (More pics to come in a future Chandler’s Ford Today post in a couple of weeks time).

(I don’t know when they got the Christmas tree up at Waterloo but it looked nice, as always).

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Questions to ask yourself when writing flash fiction:-

1. What do I want the impact to be on the reader?

2. What mood is the story? (Some titles could take you in several directions so I find it helpful to work out whether it is going to a sad tale, a funny piece, or what have you and then think about a title).

3. Would this story work best as a short, sharp piece (say 25 to 75 words) or expanded a little so there is more depth (say 100 to 500)?

4. Which market/competition am I aiming at? Always have your audience in mind! It directly affects how you write the piece.

5. If writing to a familiar theme, think about the unique take you can bring to it. For example, if you’re writing a love story, what will make that stand out? Dig deep for ideas. The first ones you come up with will inevitably be the “obvious” ones. So search a bit more and a bit more…

It is ironic cliches are usually avoided in fiction (and is that in itself a cliche I wonder?!). However, they can have their uses in flash fiction. Why? Because they can be a useful short cut to conjuring up images you want your readers to conjure up. Because they can tell you a lot about your characters. Because they can save a lot of words!

However, the trick here is to not use the cliche directly. I sometimes use a cliche as a title but in the story itself I twist it. One example was a story I drafted a year or so ago at Swanwick where instead of using “take the biscuit” I came up with “take the Garibaldi”. That made people smile when I read my piece out but it should put a picture in your mind as to what kind of character would think automatically of a Garibaldi as THE biscuit to go to! Equally had I said “take the cheap Rich Tea”, that would, I think, create in a reader’s mind an image of a very different character.

The idea here then is to use the cliche but don’t let it use you. Do something different with it. I know I get tired of reading cliches when I come across a lot of them in a story (and it does happen) but the odd one or two, ideally with a twist to them, is fine.

Advantages to writing flash fiction include learning how to REALLY edit, keeping to word counts, and writing precisely. (That is the only way to keep the word count to where it should be). You have to think of the strongest word to convey the greatest image and to again save on word count. No weak images here, thank you!

You are also thinking about the impact of your story on a reader as giving this some thought early on will dictate the way the story goes and save you some time and work in editing later. Putting yourself into the mind of a potential reader will ensure you are writing with an audience in mind from the outset (which will help when it comes to finding a suitable publication to submit the story to as well).

Goodreads Author Programme Blog Being Read To

When was the last time you were read to as an adult?

For me, that was this afternoon – 1st December 2018 – but more on that in a moment.

I have, as I hope you have, many fond memories of being read to as a child. It instilled a life long love of books in me at a very early age. Thanks to Beatrix Potter, I learned the meaning of the word “soporific” early on too! Good books can do wonders for your vocabulary.

This afternoon I was at the Bridge House/Cafelit/Chapeltown Books celebration event. My favourite time was listening to published works being read out by fellow authors (and I read some too). Let’s just say there are some characters I heard about today I am so glad I can never meet in life. One in particular had a penchant for getting away with… well to say more would give the plot away! Oh and I wouldn’t want to meet all of MY characters either!

But it was such a joy just sitting back and listening. I love audio books but there is nothing to beat hearing an author read out their own work. Dickens was definitely on to something there! I don’t know quite what it is but, even in a tale that has you gripped to the edge of your seat, there is something soothing in being read to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOW STORIES SOUND, DESCRIPTIONS AND CLARITY

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I’ve read my stories aloud at times to literally hear how they sound (and have sometimes recorded them so I can play them back too. This is particularly useful if you need to time a story). If you trip over your dialogue, your readers will too so definitely time to get the editing pen out again.

It is an oddity that what looks okay written down suddenly isn’t okay when you read it out loud. You can hear where the text sounds awkward. My More than Writers post, due up on the Association of Christian Writers blog tomorrow, talks about clarity. (Link to come tomorrow). One thing I discovered a while ago is that simple, clear writing is a joy to read and it can take several rewrites for an author to get it to that stage. It is worth the effort though.

I’ve forgotten who said that the professional writer is the amateur who didn’t quit, but there is a lot of truth in that.

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I don’t necessarily choose the mood of the story (or the main character) before I start writing. Often the theme can mean the mood of the story can go in a couple of different directions and my job then is to pick the outline that seems to have the most promising characters that I can do something with!

I like it when one character clearly stands out. You find yourself rooting for that character to succeed (usually). It is their story so it’s my job to let “them” tell their story their way. That disguises a lot of editing and ensuring that all the information you’ve given the reader marries up, is only what they absolutely need to know etc.

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Am glad to share the link to my monthly spot on the Association of Christian Writers’ More Than Writers blog. I talk about clarity this time.

I discovered the Plain English campaign have a gobbledygook generator. Yes, really! Had lots of fun clicking the box and seeing what garbage emerged… all based on real examples too. It’s a great example of how NOT to write!

CLARITY POST - Clarity - image via Pixabay

Should clarity, rather than cleanliness, be next to godliness?  I think so!  Image via Pixabay.

CLARITY POST - Clarity of thought should lead to clarity of expression - image via Pixabay - Copy

Clarity of thought should lead to clarity of expression.  Image via Pixabay

Feature Image - Part 5 101Things to Put into Room 101

A recent CFT post of mine but the questions can help you ensure your writing is beautifully clear.  Image via Pixabay.

The basic kit for a writer - image via Pixabay

The writer’s basic toolkit – image via Pixabay

Some of the tools of the scrivener's trade here - image via Pixabay

The tools of the scrivener’s trade. We’ve come on a bit since then! Image via Pixabay

Electronically or by print, both face publishing frustrations - image via Pixabay

Ebooks and print – both have their own frustrations when it comes to publishing. Image via Pixabay

Books can be one major key to knowledge - image via Pixabay

Books are the keys to knowledge. Image via Pixabay

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News just in, as they say! Two of my stories will be on Cafelit – one on 5th May and the other on 5th June. Will share links on the days. Very pleased. Don’t think I’ll ever tire of hearing something I’ve written has been accepted!

Having acceptances is obviously one of the highlights of writing, but what about the downside? Yes, the rejections would come into that category but, for me, I’m more despondent when the writing simply isn’t going as well as I’d like. Rejections I see as par for the course and I try to learn from them and see where it is where I may have gone wrong. If it is just down to editorial taste, then I can submit the story elsewhere. So generally I can get something positive out of this.

But when you are keen to write and it seems like a struggle (and it happens to us all), that is more of a challenge to deal with. I tend to have a break away from whatever it was I was working on to write something else or brainstorm ideas for future projects. I’m not sure why it is but whenever I write something else, ideas come to me for the original thing I was struggling with. Distraction therapy perhaps? All I know is that it works.

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