Seasonal Stories and Songs

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

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I’ll be looking at what makes a good story for the next CFT post. I promise to make it a reasonable length as I know I could write chapter and verse, quite literally, on this topic! I know, I know – the irony, given I write flash fiction and I’m duty bound there to keep it short!

I’ve mentioned before I have “patches” of reading one specific thing – e.g. crime stories – before moving on to the next thing I fancy. At the moment I’m particularly into short story collections. Hope to be reviewing a couple on Amazon before too long.

Stories coming up that I always enjoy at this time of year are Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather (probably going to watch the DVD), A Christmas Carol (have watched the Muppet one which is brilliant but I also like the Patrick Stewart version), and possibly The Polar Express. (I like that as it is not twee. I loathe twee).

I love the carols as so many of them are stories in themselves and/or encourage strong imagery. My favourite there is probably In the Bleak Midwinter. Fabulous poem by Christina Rossetti. I love both tunes to the carol but for me the Holst one is THE one to sing along to.

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Part 1 of Hogfather watched tonight. Cracking story and the film adaptation is wonderful. Fantastic music to it too. Do check it out. I’ll be watching the final part on Friday I hope.

Am feeling virtuous as have given my desk the pre-Christmas tidy up. Yes, it did take a while. It doesn’t take long for clutter to gather. I freely admit to not being the tidiest writer in the world but I do know where everything is so there!

What must I have on my desk? Well, aside from the usual pens, PC, printer etc., there have to be the family photos, notebooks, my dictionary, Writers and Artists’ Yearbook, the Mslexia Indie Press Guide, and Scrivener for Dummies.

I also have my writing diary and the projects I’m working on and a lovely doggy calendar (which is one of those will do for any year types. Each date has a picture of a dog and a suitable quote to go with it). Incidentally, Lady takes no interest in my writing whatsoever. She’d rather curl up on the sofa with my other half!

I deliberately keep reading material well away from my desk. The temptation to read rather than write is far too obvious! (And not that easy to resist!).

Murphy’s Law For Writers (an occasional series!):-

1. Your printer will run out of paper and/or ink at the most inconvenient time.

2. You will either have loads of ideas for stories/articles or none at all.

3. Your favourite writing conferences will always have several talks/workshops to go to but they’re all on at the same day and time. (I know. I don’t envy those who put the timetables together. Anyone who prepares timetables come to that…).

4. You will never find a new notebook when you want one, though you know you’ve got loads. There’s nothing for it, of course, but to go out and choose another!

5. You will find that notebook you were looking for when you get back with your purchase. Never mind.

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Have just got back from a lovely evening at our church’s Carols by Candlelight Sing-Along. The church goers used to go around the village singing carols. Now the village comes to the church and frankly it is warmer, more comfortable, we can have tea, coffee, mince pies etc., and a lovely time is had by all. In between the carols were Christmas cracker jokes and poems!

Why did one of Santa’s helpers need to go to the doctor?
Because they had low elf-esteem.

Not sure the writer of that one is going to get any prizes but I am very happy to claim I DIDN’T write it! Mind you, a good cracker joke is one that can make you laugh or groan so I guess you can’t lose here!

All of the carols tell the Christmas story in different ways. Now there is inspiration for writers. There may be only a few basic plots but it is what we do with them that gives a story its uniqueness.

Oh and we did sing my favourite carol, In the Bleak Midwinter (and it was tonight too – very foggy!) and to the tune I love – the Gustav Holst one.

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A good flash fiction story should have:-

1. Impact (whether it is to make a reader laugh or cry or to surprise them).

2. A strong lead character.

3. Not many characters. Many of my stories are single characters only (though they often refer to others and that can tell you quite a bit about the “off stage” people and my lead’s attitude towards them. It’s not always nice!).

4. Leave the reader feeling as if nothing more could be added to the story.

5. Have a good pace to it (and funnily enough that goes for reflective pieces too. The pace must be suitable for the kind of story you’re telling).

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Is it worth analysing flash fiction given its brevity? Oh yes!

Coming across flash tales you love still gives you the opportunity to work out what it is you DID love about them. You can still look at why the story worked for you. You can also think about how you would have approached the theme in the story you’ve read and why you would take the approach you would.

Also if you come across flash fiction tales that don’t grip you for whatever reason, again take the opportunity to look at why. Then look at your own work and see if any of the points you noted might apply to your stories.

Taking time to figure out what works or doesn’t work in a story always pays off, regardless of the word count.

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Another form of writing prompt that can prove useful is to list ten words associated with something and get all of those into a story. For Christmas as a topic you could have:-


The clever bit will be to ensure you use the words in a way that makes sense but doesn’t seem too obvious. (Mind you, the idea of the elves doing the Christmas Day cooking while the reindeer look on horrified at the mess the elves are making is one that quite appeals to me!).

It’s also useful to think of connections but to then go beyond the obvious ones. For example, we associate the elves helping Santa get the presents ready but what if the elves decided they’d had enough for one year and went on strike? How would that story resolve? (Who would mediate between Santa and the elves? I have images of someone like Cinderella’s fairy godmother being called in but then I have an imagination like that! What could yours come up with?).

So if you’re stuck for story ideas try listing some words and using some or all of them in a tale. Make the story as ridiculous or otherwise as you want. Have fun with this. The idea is to help you “relax” into writing (which I always find increases creativity).

Singing carols tonight reminds me that stories can be shared in many formats. Each carol tells its own tale though for me Ding Dong Merrily On High is not so much a carol as a challenge. I’m asthmatic and have to take a breath halfway through the long “Gloria” so I sing it as “Glor….or…..or TAKE IN BREATH…. or….ia”! Hmm…. very much a case of taking a run at it and giving it my best shot and that will have to do!

I guess carols could be considered a form of flash fiction. I can’t think of any of them that would be above 1000 words!


Goodreads Author Blog –Weighty Tomes

I guess the reason Santa’s sleigh is as big as it is must be to take the weight of all of the books that are given as Christmas presents. (He must’ve loved the invention of the Kindle. Think of all the weight and space saved!).

On the assumption you have made it on to Santa’s nice list, how many books have you asked for this year?

I don’t ask for as many as I used to funnily enough. I download many to my Kindle. I almost always pick up books to read at book events such as the Bridge House Publishing I was so pleased to be part of last weekend. (Still saving Santa time and effort here. That’s got to put me on the good list alone, surely!).

The heaviest hardback I own is The Collected Works of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Wonderful book. Beautifully illustrated too but not something you have on your lap for a quick read.

The heaviest paperbacks I own are The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Seven Basic Plots. Neither are books you’d want to drop on your foot!

But I love all my books, whether they’re ebooks or print, whether Santa brings them or I pick them up.

Of all the joys in life, books, music and chocolate are my top three.

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Christmas and Stories

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

A night early due to having lovely family commitments to look forward to tomorrow and Saturday! I take a look back at my highlights of 2018 which includes everything from a wonderful wildlflower meadow to my writing high points. I hope you had a lovely Christmas and wish you all the best for 2019!

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Watched The Muppets Christmas Carol. Fab film. I love the “Marley and Marley” sequence (it’s only in the last year or so I got the gag about Jacob and ROBERT Marley – yes?! Reggae fans catered for here!) and Gonzo recommending reading the book itself at the end of the film. Don’t ask why I didn’t get the gag before. Couldn’t believe I hadn’t spotted it before but there you go.

Also watched the film version of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather a few days ago. Loved that too. Thought Michelle Dockery was a superb Susan. Next thing to watch will be the Patrick Stewart version of Dickens’ classic and at some point over the festivities I will try and rewatch The Ladykillers with Alec Guinness. I catch up with old favourites on film as well as in book form at this time of year!

What makes for a good adaptation? It should stick reasonably faithfully to the book. (I say reasonably as I accept some things would have to be cut). It’s more important to stick to the spirit of the book, I think. Whoever is cast should be utterly believable in the role. Michael Caine is as Scrooge with the Muppets. Reminds me of the classic Eric and Ernie “Andrew Preview” sketch – it had to be played seriously by all parties for the humour to work – and yes I’ll be watching that again too. All time favourite comic sketch for me.

Whatever you watch, listen to, or read this Christmas, have a wonderful time doing it!!

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Just after Christmas, I do an annual “stock take” of where I am writing wise, what I’ve achieved this year, and what I’d like to achieve during the next 12 months. Naturally, the latter list is always longer than the first one! But I find it helpful to look back and make myself take some time out to think about specific writing hopes and then get on and try and fulfil them, of course.

Just about ready for Christmas now. Had a lovely Carols by Candlelight service tonight. Some lovely poems in amongst the singing fest and Nativity readings.

Another aspect to the season is that having a dog in the house means there is no such thing as leftover turkey ever again! Lady loved her first Christmas with us last year, she has left the trees alone (much to our relief! Our vets have a tree in their surgery which looks lovely but I do wonder about this. It’s a matter of time before the lights on it fuse because every dog that goes in HAS to go over and at best sniff it and… well you get the picture).

Am winding down on writing for the next few days but will relish it the more when I do get back into my usual routine.

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I’m not surprised the Christmas cracker joke writers prefer to remain anonymous. For example, these were taken from our recent informal carols night.

Why did the scarecrow get a payrise?  Because he was outstanding in his field.

What do you get if you cross a vampire with a snowman?  Frostbite

How many letters are there in the alphabet at Christmas time?
25 – there is No L at this time of year.

Is there such a thing as a bad pun? Of course. Still make me groan and smile in equal measure though. And to finish for a few days break I leave you with:

There was once a cracker joke writer
Whose puns made people curse the blighter
So when his pen was taken
He felt forlorn, forsaken
But the world felt much brighter!

Allison Symes – 24th December 2018

Merry Christmas! Back in a few days…

Hope you had a lovely Christmas and that you received all the books you wanted to have as presents. Well, you did ask for some, yes? Am pleased to report my To Be Read pile has gone up again – no surprises there!

Won’t be back completely to my usual writing routine until Sunday as will have having a lovely time with family tomorrow and Saturday. Glad to grab chance to write now though!

I enjoyed the break away from the PC but must admit am raring to go again properly from Sunday. It is great to be eagerly looking forward to writing again though. It is a good feeling.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Do you like your own characters? I think like many writers, I love some of them, loathe others, and the rest I definitely wouldn’t want to meet in an alley in broad daylight, yet alone at any other time. Good thing? Yes, it means I’ve created characters I believe in and react to – so readers should believe in and react to them too. In many ways, the first person you’ve got to convince about the veracity/worthiness of your story IS YOU!

This is why it pays to put work aside for a while after first writing it because I’ve found there are two reactions to a piece you’ve just finished. You either think it is a work of genius (the Move Over Shakespeare school of thought) or, even more likely, it is total rubbish (the Why Did I Think I Could Write school of thought).

Neither is true! What you will have written is something that has promise but needs a decent edit (and ideally more than one) before the work gets submitted anywhere. I’ve also found coming back to a piece after a break means I will look at it with fresh eyes. You do spot the mistakes better. You also spot the things that work (which cheers you up a lot!). So literally give yourself time here.

‘You do know at what speed you were travelling, sir?’
‘Er… no… officer, I’m afraid I was concentrating on getting to my next destination. I have to cover everyone on my list, you see, and I don’t have much time. Was it important?’
‘I’ll say so, sir. You will cause chaos flying at that speed. If everyone did that there’d be accidents galore.’
‘But, officer, it’s Christmas Eve, I’m Santa Claus, there’s nobody up here except us and I’d love to know how YOU got here.’

Allison Symes – 23rd December

Hope you enjoy. This was inspired by a Pixabay picture I recently used where Santa is on the ground but his sleigh is parked in the sky with reindeer on standby! See below!

There's a story here not least in how Santa got down from his sleigh, see where he has parked it - Pixabay

HOW did Santa get down from his sleigh? Look at where he’s parked it! Pixabay image.

Flash fiction lives up to its name both in its brevity and the way it illuminates one moment in time for a character. It is like shining a spotlight on one particular aspect and there should be a sense of the resulting intensity coming from that. There should also be a sense that the story is the correct length and would be spoiled somehow if a word was taken away or added to. Tough order but writing flash will improve your editing skills.

‘Have I passed the MOT then, young man?’ The elderly gent peered at the guy, who could easily have been his grandson. ‘Can I resume my duties now?’
‘Oh yes, Grand…er… sir. And you are getting the correct CPM out of your chosen fuel source too.’
‘Carrots Per Mile, sir. You must be feeding your reindeer well.’
The elderly gent smiled. ‘Quality will tell, it always does. I don’t suppose there is anything you can do about the lead one’s red nose is there? I swear it stands out even in the thickest fog and I know Rudolph is embarrassed by it.’
‘Sorry, sir, you will have to go back to the manufacturer on that one.’
The elderly gent sighed. ‘That will have to wait. I’ve got places to go, people to see, and the big boss will want me to get that done first.’
And with that Santa and his reindeer took off as Christmas Eve broke. It would be a busy night.


Allison Symes – 24th December 2018

Merry Christmas! Back in a few days…

Hope you had a great Christmas and got to enjoy lots of stories, whether in book, audio, or film formats! I was given 365 Stories which is a wonderful book where for each day of the year there is one story at 365 words exactly. I have already demolished January!! (There is no way I am reading ONE story per day. It’s like trying to stop yourself taking a second Quality Street. You’ve got to have a backbone of steel for that and, frankly, I haven’t!).

And yes flash is great for this time of year. Too busy with all the festivities? Too tired to read much afterwards? Then just dip into a flash fiction collection and enjoy. A brief dip into the world of fiction is particularly refreshing when you know you haven’t time for a “full immersion” (i.e. a novel!).

Goodreads Author Blog – Merry Christmas!

Hope you have a wonderful time at Christmas and all the best for 2019. I hope you have many fantastic book-related presents under the tree this year. One of my favourite times of Christmas Day is that lovely period when I curl up on the sofa and start “tucking into” my festive reading material!

Have recently enjoyed film versions of some of my favourite stories. Don’t think you can beat the Muppets’ Christmas Carol. What’s not to like about Gonzo recommending reading the book itself right at the end of the film?! I’m not surprised A Christmas Carol has never been out of print since it was first published and it must be Dickens’ biggest earner even now.

Have also watched the film version of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather. These are two must sees in the countdown to Christmas.

Aim for next year is to try to read more (and to review more too). There’s a lot on my Kindle I haven’t updated as finished here! (Bet I’m not the only Goodreads fan guilty of that though).

So whether you take in your stories in book form, audio format, film or what have you, enjoy. And here’s to looking forward to more reading in 2019.

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Fairytales with Bite – Tis The Season for Fairytales?

I love fairytales no matter what the time of year is, but the Christmas season I think makes those who don’t usually read the genre more open to it.  I think a lot of this is due to the influence of pantomime (at least in the UK it is.  Several of the best known pantomimes are fairytale based – The Babes in the Woods, Aladdin, Cinderella, Puss in Boots etc).

Also it is the perfect time of year in the UK when it is cold and gets dark early to curl up with favourite stories and books and again fairytales play a huge role here.

The one thing I wish I could wish away is the image of fairytales being twee.  They are  NOT.  Just look at what Hans Christen Andersen wrote!  Also I’d like to get rid of the “it’s just a fairytale” statement that people come up with sometimes.  There’s nothing “just” about being a fairytale.

Fairytales contain truths, show up humanity for what it can be like, and can be scathing about greed and unkindness.  Justice can be on the rough side too!  So no unfair dismissal of fairytales then?  I think that’s a good wish for 2019!

Happy New Year!

This World and Others Christmas Stories

Due to (lovely) family commitments, this post is going up a day early.  Christmas Stories ties in with a recent CFT post though naturally this week’s one, as we rapidly approach 2019, is my usual end of year/highlights of year post.

What are your favourite Christmas stories?  Mine are:-

1.  The Nativity
2.  A Christmas Carol
3.  Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
4.  Twas the Night before Christmas – it IS a story, albeit one told in poetic form!

I hope you had lots of lovely books as presents and whether you enjoy stories in book form, audio, or as film, I hope you managed to find time to relish your favourites again here.

Of course the dark and cold (at least in the UK!) encourages you to stay in and curl up with a good book, though I could be living in sunnier climes and still want to curl up with said good book!

The great thing about reading is it encourages your own writing (ideas spark from other ideas) and you learn so much about story by indulging in your love of reading them.  So read on!



Christmas Stories

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My last CFT post before Christmas is all about Christmas stories. I look at the Nativity, Hogfather, and A Christmas Carol amongst others. I also discuss the role of books and stories. I hope you find many a book related present under your Christmas tree this year!

Also in the post are links to some of my Christmas related Cafelit stories. Hope you enjoy.

And however you celebrate the festivities, I do hope you have a lovely Christmas.

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My last CFT post before Christmas looks at Christmas stories appropriately enough. I look at some of my favourites, share a few of my Cafelit pieces with a Christmas theme, and look at why we need stories. Link up tomorrow.

Hope there are plenty of books on your Christmas wish list and that you get them!

Very pleased to say my first non-fiction piece was published in Christian Writer today. It is a 500-word piece about the telling details which help bring stories to life (though there is no reason why this can’t apply to articles as well).

What is lovely about writing is the joy of being published never diminishes. Yes, the first time you hear someone else loves your work enough to print it or put it online is very special but so are the others that follow! It also encourages you to keep going.

Am working away on my novel plus what I plan to be my third flash fiction collection in due course. Would like to write more non-fiction too. Now if only there was a way to stretch time… Still there is no chance whatsoever of boredeom setting in and that has to be a good thing.

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Flash fiction is the ideal vehicle for capturing those story thoughts that are illuminating in themselves but would not stretch to a standard length short story. I find this makes the focus sharper and sometimes for a tale that’s what you need. Short, sharp focus and then that’s it.

Flash fiction is also a great vehicle for showing the thoughts and actions of a character in detail. You are focusing on this one character alone. What drives them? What are they hoping to achieve? What do their thoughts and actions reveal about them? (The great thing here is the character does NOT have to be aware that they are showing themselves up as, say, greedy, when they think they’re not).

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What is the important thing about any story? Figuring out what makes it work as a story and that is usually down to outstanding characterisation.

So how can you make characters count especially when you’ve got a limited word count as you have with flash fiction?

1. Show the character’s attitude. This can be done in thoughts, actions, or direct speech. Attitude reveals a lot about a character. A character that is sarcastic will show that in what they say without you needing to spell it out. In the case of actions, if we see a character setting something out “just so”, you can imply this character is fussy (and I’d want to know the reasons behind that). A character that moves a doily half a centimetre to the left is going to be far more fussy than someone who slaps said doily down on the arm of a chair!

2. Show how others react to the character. This can be very revealing. Do they all react in the same way or is there an awkward one who treats the lead character differently to everyone else? What are the reasons behind that? Is the awkward one justified in their stance?

3. Focus on the MOST important aspect of your character as that will determine how your story will go. If your character is stubborn, show how that plays out and the consequences (there will be some!).

Names are important of course and the more often they are used in a story, the more important the character is (even if they never appear in the tale itself).

My They Don’t Understand has my narrator refer to his wife, Joan, throughout. That will give some indication in itself of how important she is to him as well as what he actually tells you as the tale goes on. He only names his carer the once!

So how can you make names work for you in a story? Well, the name itself can give a good indication of the age of the person. How many people are called Gertrude these days? If the name can be abbreviated, IS it or does your character insist on the name being used in full? Equally are they known by one name in one situation and by something else in another? (Good potential for double life stories there).

Fairytales With Bite – Stories, Lovely Stories!

My Chandler’s Ford Today post talks about Christmas Stories (and I share some links to some of mine on this too).    One of the great things about this time of year, when the nights draw in so early, is that it is a fantastic time for reading more!

One of my highlights at Christmas is at the end of Christmas Day itself when I’ve put my feet up on the sofa and I’m curled up with a book given to me as a present.  It is very easy to please the writer in your life by the way – just ask them what books they’d like and Christmas present shopping problems are resolved!

So what stories do you hope to enjoy over the Christmas period?  I like a mix of fiction and non-fiction books plus, of course, there is the chance to enjoy stories as films.  (Watched The Muppet Christmas Carol earlier tonight, which is one of my favourites).

As for writing stories, I tend to take a short break over Christmas and then resume but I come back eager to write again and find the respite incredibly useful for recharging the imaginative batteries.

However you spend Christmas, do have a lovely time, and I hope you get to enjoy stories old and new!

This World and Others – What Defines a Good Story

What defines a good story for you?  What I look for in a good story includes:-

1.  Strong, memorable characters.
2.  An intriguing plot.
3.  The story makes me laugh, or think, or react in some way.  (That’s how you know a story has had impact).
4.  An ending that delivers on the promise of the opening lines.
5.  Where there is a twist ending, for this to genuinely take me by surprise.  I like to look back at a story and then spot the clues I missed first time around! (The great thing about doing that is you can learn so much from doing this and, of course, apply it to your own writing).
6.  It is a story you are keen to read again and again and again. A Christmas Carol is a classic example of this for me.
7.  It is a story you remember well.  This doesn’t stop you wanting to read it again because you will not recall all the details but you DO recall the pleasure this tale gave you and THAT is what you want to experience again.
8.  You can easily envisage the story being a film.  (This is a great test of how memorable the characters are and how strong the plot is).
9.  It is a story that adds something to the language.  Shakespeare takes top honours here.
10.  It is a story that defines its genre or expands it.  I’m thinking of Hans Christen Andersen here who added so many wonderful fairytales to that genre.

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I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.  My next post would usually be due on Tuesday but, surprise, surprise, not next week!  I will resume here on Friday, 28th December.  See you then!