Music and Books – Free Book Offer!

Image Credit:  Unless stated, the images are from Pixabay or Pexels.

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Music and books are going to be great boons during the current situation. They are marvellous comforts anyway but whatever you enjoy on either or both fronts here, I hope you have a wonderful time catching up on what you want to listen to/read.

Talking of which…

Would you like a free book?

Magnetism, a collection of short stories, edited by Gill James may be just the ticket for you here then. Just follow the link below and sign up to Scribblers Books, Books, Books.

Magnetism will not be on sale anywhere and it is a great advert for the kind of stories you will find published by Bridge House Publishing, Cafelit, and Chapeltown Books.

Authors included in Magnetism are #RogerNoons, #SallyAngell, #GailAldwin, #AlysonFaye, #PaulaReadman, #DawnKentishKnox, oh and one #AllisonSymes amongst many, many others. There is a lovely variety of styles and stories here. Do check it out.

Keep safe, keep well, God bless, be kind, and have a good read!

I can’t say I write for therapeutic reasons though there are plenty who do. What I can say is I always feel better in myself once I have written whether it’s 50 words or 500.

I feel even better when I’ve polished a piece of work up and submitted it somewhere. But the act of producing a piece of work and getting it as good as you can make it is so worthwhile in and of itself. Any results such as publication are a marvellous bonus.

Whatever your creative activity of choice is, enjoy. Particularly enjoy the side benefits. Creativity really is good for you.

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Having written a story, I put it aside for a while so I get some distance from it. If I don’t do that, I find I have two responses to a piece of work – what I’ve written is rubbish or is a work of genius (and neither is true! To be fair, I AM trying to work on the latter and will be to the day I put my pen down for the last time I suspect 😆😆!).

I ask myself certain questions when going through a piece and these include:-

1. Is the story making the impact on me I thought it would on a reader? If it doesn’t, it certainly won’t on said reader.

2. Do I HAVE to find out what happens to the character, no matter what? When the answer to that one is yes, that’s a very good sign. Where it isn’t, I need to look at why a character isn’t gripping me the way they ought to be. Tweaks here and there usually put that right. I then put the story aside again for another breathing space and then ask myself this question again. The answer should be yes for sure the second time.

3. Does every word (particularly for flash fiction) HAVE to be in the story? Have any of my infamous wasted words crept in? If so, out they go.

Happy writing and rewriting!

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I have the feeling some of my favourite “comfort reading” books will be making a reappearance on my TBR pile during this very strange time. Still if I can stick to comfort reading instead of comfort eating, I’ll be ahead of the game!

I think it is fair to say we are living in interesting times. I’ll be talking a bit more about that in my CFT post this week AND share some thoughts on story creation for anyone who would like to give it a go but has not yet tried to do so. The whole idea is just to write for fun.

The nice thing about the advent of flash fiction is you need not be put off by the thought of having to write thousands and thousands of words either. You don’t have to unless you want to! And writing IS fun especially when you remember the important thing is to enjoy it. Tidying up a piece of work can come later.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Flash tales are short but they should pack a good emotional punch for their word count. I like to think of it as illuminating one specific moment in a character’s life. It has to be the single most important thing too, else why write about it?

I love reading flash fiction too of course as its great joy is being able to dip in and out of collections, sample different styles and mood of story, and have a good read in few words.

Whatever you are reading or writing (or both) right now, enjoy!

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Time to use the random phrase gnerator again. On offer tonight the phrase On Cloud Nine. Let’s see what I can do with that then. Hope you enjoy!

ON CLOUD NINE BY ALLISON SYMES
Well it is where I’ve been parked. Don’t ask me why it wasn’t Cloud 8 or 7 or what have you. Here I am sitting on Cloud 9 waiting for instructions.

I was told Cloud Nine is where trainee fairies go before being let loose on an alien world of their choice to do what good they can.

I was also told it was where they put trainee fairies our government thinks are clumsy clots and where they’re trying to limit the damage.

Of course they don’t tell the likes of me anything so goodness knows what the true story is – that fake news stuff gets everywhere I tell you.

I do feel daft sitting here twiddling with the star at the end of my magic wand. I’m itching to get out there somewhere to do something.

Ah! My trainer has just turned up. Tells me my itch to get out there to do something is the problem. Apparently I caused a mass over-production of pumpkins around Cinderella’s garden. Well, where is the problem? She needed plenty to choose from, didn’t she?

Apparently that’s not the point. The girl only needed the one. And there’s a limit to how much pumpkin pie anyone can eat.

Well that’s me told.

My offer to make the spares vanish was hastily turned down.

My trainer tells me they’re sending me to Earth. I’m to wave my magic wand where I see fit. Hmm… that sounds good and fun. I ask what I’m to do specifically.

I’m told to inspire a love of reading, writing and general creativity.

That sounds good but I thought the humans did that already.

Not enough, I’m told. They still fight and squabble. They need more creativity apparently.

Well that’s me set up for a good job for some time then.

It will be a lot better than sitting here on Cloud Nine. Wish me luck.

ENDS
Allison Symes – 22nd March 2020

Have as good a week as possible, folks.

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What do I look for in a character that will make me want to follow their story no matter what? (This applies to whatever type of story I read and/or write but for flash fiction, all of this has to be condensed of course). I look for:-

1. A character that intrigues me. They’re showing an attitude I like and I have to find out how things work out for them OR conversely I’ve got to find out where they’re coming from to have the attitude they do have. (Whether I still agree with their attitude is another matter but if they come out with good reasons for it, then that grips me and makes me keep reading too. And that is the key, isn’t it? How DO you keep a reader reading?).

2. Humorous characters. I ADORE characters with a sense of irony especially when it is directed at themselves.

3. A character with courage and determination.

4. A character who mucks things up big time but redeems themselves. (Can’t we all identify with that one?!)

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I mix up how I come up with titles as well as the flash fiction stories themselves. I often use one word titles. I sometimes use alliterative titles (for example Telling The Time in From Light to Dark and Back Again). As you know I sometimes use proverbs/well known sayings as either titles or themes (occasionally both).

But whatever type of title I use, it has to be a suitable “peg” to hang my story from. Occasionally I change a title as a better idea comes to me when I’m writing the first draft but this doesn’t happen often. I’m usually happy with what I had planned initially. I hope that means I’m getting better at what would work for a piece. I have learned to trust my gut instinct more over the years and it doesn’t usually let me down. This is where the writer’s voice comes in. You have to learn to recognise your own and trust it!

 

Goodreads Author Blog – Comfort Books

When times are tough, or your own situation is going through a difficult patch, what books do you turn to for some comfort and cheer?

Do you look to escape for a while via the printed word or does that aspect not matter as long as you’re reading?

I tend to turn to humour and this is where the wonderful books of P.G. Wodehouse and Terry Pratchett in particular come to the fore for me.

All of their work is capable of withstanding multiple re-readings and I usually pick up on gags, in-jokes etc., that I missed before. (I just do! I also don’t believe I’m alone in that).

After humour, I turn to crime – reading wise that is! I adore Agatha Christie but I enjoy contemporary crime too. (See Wendy H Jones and Val Penny for more on these, especially if you like your stories set in Scotland).

After crime I turn to history and that can be a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. I’ve enjoyed Jennifer C. Wilson’s Kindred Spirits series here as that combines a very different take on history with ghost stories.

By this stage, I’m usually looking for some non-fiction to get my reading “teeth” into and then I’m back to the funny works again.

Above all, I have a fabulous time doing all of this!

Whatever you read, especially now, enjoy. Take care, keep well, be kind, and God bless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Objectives

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Looking forward to seeing the Chameleons’ production of Blackadder later this week. Should be a very good night out. The last episode of Blackadder Goes Forth is one of those sublime moments of writing where comedy meets tragedy and both are done superbly. Definitely not an easy thing to do.

Blackadder clearly had one objective in mind in Goes Forth – to get out of the war and go back home. Totally understandable.

What is your character’s overriding objective in your story? What will they do to achieve it? What gets in their way? In those three lines, you have a plot outline!

Pleased to have sent off some flash fiction stories last night. Plan to get more out later this week, there is one particular website I’m keen to try out, and finally want to get around to doing so!

One of the trickiest things to handle is time. (And yes I think Doctor Who showed that brilliantly in the Rosa Parks episode). How much time do you spend working on new stories and ideas? How much time do you spend marketing?

As with so much in life, there has to be a balance. I’ve found it helpful to look at the week as a whole. By the end of it, I want to have written some new material, be editing older work ready for submission, have my next CFT post up and ready to go, and have carried out at least some marketing. Okay life does not always go according to plan but whatever I’ve not quite done enough of writing wise in one week is what gets the focus of my attention during the following one. It does all balance out eventually.

Acronyms featured in this morning’s church service sermon and of course they’re a common feature in writing. KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid is probably the best known one. Very much the antidote to “purple prose” – the days of the long descriptive passages are behind us!

I suspect that is due to everyone being used to films etc where you get into the action quickly but it is not a bad thing. I like descriptions in stories to be to the point and to feel as if they are a seamless part of the narrative and not a “bolt on”.

All parts of the story must feel to the reader as if they have to be there and the tale would fall down without them. If you’re not sure if something should be cut, ask yourself how your story works without that something in it and that should indicate quickly enough whether it is needed or not.

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Had a fabulous time at the Writers’ Day run by the Association of Christian Writers today. The topic was on writing for children and YA but there was discussion on crossover fiction and contracts, all very useful stuff. From my viewpoint, it is lovely to meet some of the membership face to face given I usually only meet them via emails!

The importance of networking came out as well during the day and I lost my own fear of this when I realised it meant chatting naturally about books, what I’m writing and so on. I have no problem going on at length about that topic!

(Oh and a quick reminder: if you’re offered a publishing contract, always get it checked out. The Society of Authors and Alliance of Independent Authors are the places to go for that. Both I believe issue guides which are free to members. There’s a small fee charged to non-members. Never be afraid to ask).

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

A = Alliteration. Can be useful for titles in flash fiction (though I don’t use it much) but as with any story, it can grab the attention and help set the mood. Best not overused I think. You want each title to set the tone for what it is to come and a variety of methods for doing that is best. Keeps it fresh for you as the writer too.

B = Backstory. Not a lot of room for that in flash fiction! Best to hint at it through one or two vital details the reader has to know and leave it at that.

C = Character. The kingpin of fiction I think. Get the character right and the plot will come from them. Know your character inside and out – I find it useful to know their chief trait (and I piece together a mental picture of what they are like from there). Find the appropriate starting point for you but it is worth taking the time to know your character well before you start. Your writing will flow better because you write with that knowledge. It does come through in what you write.

There was talk at the ACW Writers’ Day today of how boundaries, far from restricting creativity, help it to flourish. This is SO true for flash fiction as well. The limited word count means you have to dig deeper to come up with those original ideas that make flash fiction stand out and have the most impact on a reader. It is worth the effort!

I usually know what impact I want a story of mine to have on a reader before I write it. This is to help me choose my words with precision. However, sometimes a story (more accurately the lead character) surprises me and the tale ends up being funnier, darker, sadder than I’d originally thought. This is no bad thing. It means the character has life and if they surprise me, they’ll surprise the reader too.

It may also indicate I hadn’t outlined enough but the great thing is ideas that come to you as you write a piece are not wasted. Jot them down, step back and take a look at where they can fit in. Are they better than your original thoughts? Do they add depth to your original thoughts?

 

Back to working my way through the alphabet again then…

D = Drama. Even the shortest flash fiction has to have some drama in it! But it is also true that serious drama doesn’t necessarily have to have lots of words to make it so! There is drama and anguish in Hemingway’s famous example of For Sale: One pair Baby Shoes. The drama should suit the story though (and be to the right length for that tale).

E = Editing. Every story needs this and I don’t think it should be something a writer dreads. I always feel a sensible amount of relief when I’ve drafted a story as it means I’ve then got something to work with. Editing improves a story and, as a result, increases its chances of success. Take your time over the process though.

F = Fun! Writing should be fun. You are creating something new for others to enjoy. The first person to enjoy said tale should be you!

So marching on then:-

G = Genre. One of my favourite things about flash fiction is because it has to be character led, due to the word count restrictions, you can set those characters anywhere. So, if you’ll pardon the pun here, you do have an open book when it comes to genre in the stories you write. Have fun with that, I do!

H = Humour. Can work well in flash fiction as you can end the story with what is effectively a punchline. Also when you have a very short funny piece, look at turning it into flash fiction. It can be an ideal vehicle for those pieces which would be spoiled if you added anything more (and this often goes for humorous pieces).

I = Imagination. True for any form of fiction, but I find with flash fiction I’m using my imaginative muscles far more. Why? Because I try not to come up with the obvious idea from a theme or title. I dig deep and see what else I can come up with, something that will make a greater impact on the reader.

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog –

After the End, What Next?

If you’ve enjoyed a really good book, what do you do when you finish it? Go on to read more books by the same author, or read more in the same genre, or do you go for something that is completely different in mood and style?

I have done all three of these (though obviously not at the same time!) and it very much depends on my mood at the end of the story. If I’ve loved a gory crime thriller, I may well want something humorous to show the lighter side of life, albeit a fictional one!

With short stories especially, I tend to read a few by the same author before moving on. With novels, if the book has really gripped me, I’ve got to check out what else the author has done, even if I decide I’ll come back to those later.

The important thing though is that whatever you read, you enjoy it so much, you keep on reading, no matter what author, genre, style etc you choose next. Happy reading!

Stand Alones, Flash Fiction and Fairytales

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Many thanks again to Jennifer C Wilson, Val Penny, #AnneWan, Wendy Jones, and Richard Hardie for their further insights into the joys and challenges of writing series fiction. Amongst tonight’s topics is how to ensure each book in a series works as a stand-alone, given our series writers can never know which book a reader will actually start with. It isn’t necessarily book 1!

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What five things do I like to see in a character? Ideally they have all of the traits I list below but as long as a character has the majority of them, I’m likely to enjoy spending time in the company of that character as I read their story.

1. Courage.
2. Sense of Humour.
3. Loyalty.
4. They, at the very least, respect books; at best they have their own library!
5. Kindness.

Does that rule out the villains? No! Even villains can be kind to their pet cat, have a decent library etc.

Looking at that list, it’s what I like to see in myself and, before you ask, I’m working on the personal library bit! (It’s nowhere near as grand as the one in the pictures below though!).

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One of the things I love about going to writing conferences is that I always learn something pertinent to what I write. And it is not always an obvious link.

I’m off to the Association of Christian Writers’ Day on Saturday, the topic is Writing for Children and Young Adults, which is not directly what I do, but I just know I will pick up useful tips that I can apply directly.

And you never know – looking at what other writers do can help you re-examine whether you are working in the best way you can. It may also inspire a new direction of writing too! What I do know is it will be fun finding out if it does or not and what useful tips I’ll bring home with me.

The great thing with writing is you never stop learning how to improve what you do and that is so good for your brain!

(And networking is always fun!).

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

A = Alliteration. Can be useful for titles in flash fiction (though I don’t use it much) but as with any story, it can grab the attention and help set the mood. Best not overused I think. You want each title to set the tone for what it is to come and a variety of methods for doing that is best. Keeps it fresh for you as the writer too.

B = Backstory. Not a lot of room for that in flash fiction! Best to hint at it through one or two vital details the reader has to know and leave it at that.

C = Character. The kingpin of fiction I think. Get the character right and the plot will come from them. Know your character inside and out – I find it useful to know their chief trait (and I piece together a mental picture of what they are like from there). Find the appropriate starting point for you but it is worth taking the time to know your character well before you start. Your writing will flow better because you write with that knowledge. It does come through in what you write.

As ever, am planning to write flash fiction on the train journey to and from London on Saturday as I head off to a writing day run by the Association of Christian Writers. It’s amazing what you can get done on a smartphone with no interruptions! (Daren’t do this on the Tube though. Always worried I’ll miss my stop! I do think the Tube is a wonderful invention and you never get cold down there either…).

I also sometimes draft non-fiction articles and future blog posts when out and about. I just need a long enough train journey to draft a novel now. 😉😁Hmm….

 

When planning your story (you do, yes?), I find it useful to work out what the obvious ideas might be from a title I’ve thought of, and then work out what could come from those. I don’t plump for the first ideas that come to me. I try to make myself dig that bit deeper to come up with something that fits the theme, makes sense, but is also different precisely because I haven’t gone for the obvious ideas!

Spider diagrams or flowcharts can be useful here. I find I must have a title to kick start the process with, even if I do end up changing it for something better later. It is always a tad annoying that a better title idea crops up when you are writing the story and NOT before you get started, but that is one of those quirks of writing!

Picture of me reading was taken by the lovely #DawnKentishKnox at last year’s Bridge House event. Am very much looking forward to this year’s one too!

 

Gill talks with Dawn and I at the BH event, image taken by Paula Readman

Gill James talks with Dawn Knox and I at a networking event held by Bridge House Publishing last December. Am glad to report Dawn will also be in the Waterloo Festival Anthology. Image from Paula Readman and thanks to her for permission to use it.

Paula Readman, Dawn Kentish Knox and Allison Symes and books - with kind permission from Paula Readman - Copy

Paula Readman, Dawn Knox and I at the recent Bridge House celebration event. Many thanks to Paula for the image. Also Paula is another winning entry for the Waterloo Festival.

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Dawn Kentish Knox, fellow flash fiction writer, reads some work from her excellent book, The Great War. Image by Allison Symes

Lovely having an appreciative audience, pic taken by Dawn Kentish Knox

I read three stories from From Light to Dark and Back Again. Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for the picture!

Book Buying News!

From Light to Dark and Back Again is available from The Book DepositoryDelivery time on the paperback is 1 to 3 business days.  As ever, reviews are always welcome in the usual places.  The great thing is reviews do not need to be long but they all help the writer, even the indifferent ones!

Fairytales with Bite – Flash Fiction and Fairytales

Flash fiction is an ideal vehicle for fairytales.  Why?  Because the best fairytales set up their world quickly, have a definite conclusion, and often pack a powerful punch.  Flash fiction does this too so to my mind flash and fairytales are a match made in writing heaven.

Flash fiction has to be character led due to its limited word count but you can set that character wherever and whenever you wish.  A few telling details can set up a magical world quickly.  For example from my George Changes His Mind (in From Light to Dark and Back Again), I set up a magical world with the opening line “He refused to kill the dragon.”  The telling detail there is in one word – dragon! The story goes on to show what happens and that is the important bit of the story after all.  I don’t need to use thousands of words setting up the magical world in which this is set.  This is not crucial to this story.  What matters is it IS in a magical world and what George goes on to do or not do.

A lot of my stories are either reflections of a fairytale world or set in it and they are great fun to write but I always focus on what the lead character is like.  That is the crucial point of any story I think but in flash where every word must work hard to earn its place to stay there, it is even more so.

This World and Others – Stand Alone

Part 2 of my CFT mini series on The Joys and Challenges of Writing Series Novels looks at, amongst other topics, how to ensure a book stands alone given no series novelist can know at which point a reader will discover their writing.  It is highly unlikely to be book 1.  Indeed I’ve discovered series at the mid point! Many thanks again to my marvellous panellists – Jennifer C Wilson, Val Penny, Anne Wan, Wendy H Jones, and Richard Hardie – for some great insights.  Very happy to recommend their books to you too.  Great reads one and all albeit for different audiences!

It is true that every writer stands alone, even those that collaborate as they have to go off to write “their bits” before coming back and swapping notes with the other one(s) in the project.  We have to judge whether our work is strong enough to submit and, if there is a choice of places to submit to, which is the best one.  We have to judge whether we have edited a piece enough or if it still needs work.  The call is with us and we are going to get it wrong.  The joy, of course, is when we get it right and a piece is published.

This is where meeting other writers, whether at conferences, online, at courses etc., is invaluable.  There is nobody like another writer to know exactly how it feels when you’re struggling to get the words out or who knows the joy of the words pouring out and work going well.  You do have to share this sometimes for the sake of your own sanity!

I learned a long time ago no writer is a competitor to me.  I write as I write.  I cannot write as you would.  We all bring our unique perspectives to what we write – and that is the great thing about it!

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