Non-Fiction Journey and Author Interviews

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Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

It is always a huge pleasure to chat with fellow authors on Chandler’s Ford Today. There is always something interesting to learn. Every author’s writing journey is unique and I find that endlessly fascinating. Hope you do too.

This week I chat with Scottish crime writer, Val Penny, about her venture into non-fiction publishing with her recently released Let’s Get Published. Not that she has left her (writing) life of crime behind, I’m glad to say.

I love reading as well as writing author interviews. Every writer has their own insights into the business of writing, as well as thoughts on the ups and downs we all face, whether published or not. It is also good to know you are not alone on those ups and downs. (It is also reassuring to know that is normal!).

Hope you enjoy!

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The current hot weather is one of the few times I bless living in a north facing bungalow. It is relatively cool in here. The heat doesn’t affect my writing much in that I still get on and do it but I tend to finish earlier than normal knowing I’ll feel tired earlier than normal. Still I compensate by starting my writing session earlier so that’s okay.

Looking forward to sharing my interview with Val Penny on Chandler’s Ford Today tomorrow. She talks about her venture into non-fiction with her recent publication, Let’s Get Published. I’m always fascinated by other authors’ writing journeys. Each is unique to the writer and you can always learn something useful and interesting.

Am happily editing a short story which I hope will end up being published at some point! As ever, having a bit of time away from it has proved useful. That time away makes it much easier to see where the weaknesses are and therefore do something about them!

Have also been busy drafting flash fiction pieces.

I’ve also recently revised my Linkedin profile.

So not a bad old week so far but I must admit I won’t be that sorry when it cools down a bit. (And neither will Lady!).

Screenshot_2020-06-26 Allison Symes LinkedIn

 

I’ve mentioned before that sometimes I will start a flash fiction story by writing the ending first and work backwards from there. It’s a useful technique but I do sometimes find that by the time I’ve finished, I’ve thought of a better last line. But that’s okay. I just change it.

I remember I used to feel annoyed at that kind of thing. Why couldn’t I have thought of the better last line in the first place etc etc?

Now I know better than to waste time and energy fretting about that. Just change the line and move on. It’s a good sign the story has “go” to it when you can think of things to improve with it.

Yes, it would save a lot of time and effort if you could cut straight to the chase, but writing doesn’t work like that for me. I need to get some ideas down before I can come up with better ones.

What helped me to come to terms with that was on realising other writers find the same thing happens to them. It’s always good to know you’re not alone!

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One thing I’ve learned to watch out for when editing my stories is my pet phrases. Most of the time with my flash fiction, they are amongst the first things to be cut, along with my wasted words of very, actually, and that. (Very few examples of that are actually necessary! If the story works just as well without them, out they come).

Every writer has their pet phrases. Sometimes they’re useful BUT not each and every time! Pet phrases can act as a kind of shorthand for you but if they’re not useful to your readers, it is best said phrases come out. (Another meaning for the phrase “kill your darlings” perhaps).

 

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Finding ideas for flash fiction is generally not an issue for me. It is working out which are the really strong ones and worth pursuing that can be tricky at times.

But I find character outlining helps me with that. By the time I’ve fleshed out what I need to know about my lead character, I can tell whether they’re “up” to being in a story.

I can also tell the kind of trouble they’re likely to land themselves in (with help from yours truly of course as I love landing my people right in it!) and from that the story starts to take shape. Away I go and write it before resting it for a while before editing it.

I also find flash fiction writing to be a useful warm up or warm down writing exercise. From my viewpoint, it’s another piece of work produced which I can polish and hopefully find a home for in due time.

Whatever you’re working on at the moment, I hope the writing is going well and that you’re enjoying it. Enjoying your writing is so important. It helps to motivate you and to keep you going when all you seem to get are rejections or not hearing back from competitions etc.

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I’ve found it helpful to think of flash fiction as it being from the viewpoint of ONE main character getting across ONE vital point and there has to be transformation in it somewhere.

That’s why we read. We want to find out what happens to the character. Do they get their happy ever after ending? Do they muck it up big time but somehow manage to redeem the situation? (I LOVE those stories!).

One of the aspects of flash fiction I love the most and I think is one of the useful as well is that it does make you focus on what really matters to your character. You do have to work out what the story is so you can focus on it properly.

 

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Fairytales With Bite – Murphy’s Law of Fairytales

So how could Murphy’s Law relate to fairytales then? I offer the following thoughts.

1. Never be unkind to the wizened old crone or man etc. They are bound to be a powerful witch/wizard/fairy godmother in disguise. It will be just your luck to cross them and be turned into something unpleasant. These things happen in the fairytale world.

2. Never be rude to passers-by. You might be glad of their help later on, especially if you HAVE crossed the wizened old crone etc. You’ll need someone to tell you what it is you have been turned into. Then and only then can you scream.

3. You know that downtrodden kid everyone ignores or is rude to? Watch them. They’re either going to end up marrying Prince Charming or somehow do something heroic. In the fairytale world, that kind of character is always marked out for great things. They like humility here.

4. It is best to assume the animals you come across can talk, are intelligent etc., and a quick word to the wise – if you do come across bears who live in a house, never ever pinch their breakfast. It won’t end well.

5. Actively be kind. You may be rewarded. You may not. But you won’t end up crossing the aforementioned wizened old crone etc.

6. If you come across a sweet covered house, run the other way as fast you can. (Well, you don’t want to risk a huge weight gain thanks to gobbling all that sugar now, do you?).

7. Don’t try and eat the Gingerbread Man. He resents that kind of thing.

8. If you need to cross a bridge and you are not sure if there are trolls in the area, see if you can get some friendly neighbourhood goats to cross the bridge first. They are excellent at getting rid of unwanted trolls.

9. If you think Grandma has suddenly become very hairy, it is not a trick of the light. She has. Go and get the woodcutter NOW.

10. If something seems too good to be true, it is. Mind you, that applies to all universes so is a good general principle to go by.

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This World and Others – 

Creating Something Out of Nothing

I was listening to Classic FM when it was reported a well known composer still suffered nerves when coming up with a new composition. They were still made nervous by the blank page, despite their many years of successful composition. Ironically, this cheered me up somewhat. It’s the same for any creator and I know it’s true for me. That touch of nerves before you start writing is the worst bit. Once you get going, you’re absolutely okay.

I’ve learned over time to just get the words down any old how. Editing and polishing happen much later. Nobody writes a perfect draft. Shakespeare didn’t. Austen didn’t. Dickens didn’t. I’m certainly not going to but that’s fine! So how can you get over the nervous start bit or, at least, make it not so bad and easier to handle?

I’ve found having a range of ways to get started on stories or blog posts helpful. I also find having brainstorming sessions every so often useful to jot down ideas and when I am struggling, I can turn to these and find something to inspire me there. My range of ways to get started include:-

1. Using a random word generator, pick three, and put them into a story. Using random words like this makes me think deeper and if there is no obvious link between the three words, even better. It makes me think again!

2. Look back over my old blog posts and stories. Often there will a link there I didn’t follow up at the time but might prove useful now.

3. Take a well known saying and use it as a theme or title (sometimes both) for a story or article.

4. Use a spider diagram or flowchart to flesh out basic ideas. That will soon show if ideas in the back of my head do have some “legs” to them or not. Naturally I go with the ones that do! This is especially useful when used in conjunction with a random word generator.

5. Look up writing competitions. Sometimes I’ll enter said competitions. Sometimes I’ll just write up a story to the theme and not submit it deliberately. I will go back to that story at a later date to polish it up further knowing it is not ready for a competition yet but I can still write to the theme. Who knows? The story might end up in an anthology later. Themes come up reasonably often so there will be other competitions the story the might fit.

However you get over the blank page nerves, happy writing and good luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rules That Need to Exist

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

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Thinking further about my CFT post this week about Rules That Need to Exist made me consider which rules I absolutely follow when writing. The ones below are not in any order of importance but I think they are all necessary.

1. Keep my prose, punctuation, grammar etc simple. It helps clarity and pacing.

2. Always edit on paper, not on screen.

3. Read work out loud.

4. Accept the first draft is only that. Of course it won’t be perfect and that’s fine. That is what editing and polishing are for.

5. Be entertaining whether I’m writing blog posts, flash fiction, or short stories. I want my readers to engage with what I’m writing and a simplistic, entertaining style is a good way to do that. Incidentally never confuse simplistic with simple. It really isn’t the same thing. It’s easier NOT to write simplistically. I’ve forgotten who it was who apologised to a friend for sending a long letter because they hadn’t time to write a short one but whoever that was SHOULD have been an editor!

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I’m a fan of Pointless, the game show where the idea is to score as few points as possible while still coming up with correct answers.

Am I annoyed when I don’t get as many as I think I should on the literature/author rounds? Oh yes. Am I equally annoyed when nobody gets the Terry Pratchett or P.G. Wodehouse question right? Yes and yes.

I really enjoy the words rounds. You know the kind of thing – name a word ending with two or three particular letters. I find with these that the first ones I name are the obvious ones. It’s only when I make myself think that bit deeper I come up with some good low scoring words. (My dilemma then is working out whether something is hyphenated or not – great for a flash fiction story as it counts as one word but not for the Pointless words round when it counts as two! That really does scupper me.).

Having said that, the thinking deeper bit is relevant for all writers, regardless of what you write, because the same point is true. We DO think of the obvious ideas and links first and we need to clear those away before coming up with something much better. When I have brainstorming ideas, I just write down what comes to me, knowing the first few on the list I’m almost certainly not going to use. But that’s okay. It’s what I’m left with that gives me the most interesting material to work with.

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W = Writing is my idea of a brain workout.
R = Rigorous challenges range from the word count limits of flash fiction to ensuring your Great Novel is not TOO great in terms of size and fits in with the kind of size your publisher usually brings out. (Or the publisher you would LIKE to be your publisher!).
I = Integrity – you’ve got to be true to your characters. They need to be realistically drawn (no matter how fantastical a world they live in or whether they’re magical beings themselves). Readers have got to be able to identify with the characters and either love them or loathe them.
T = Tension. Is there enough in your story? Does the tension increase as you get closer to the end of the story or book?
I = Identifiable. Is your writing voice identifiable as you? Do you have a distinctive style?
N = Names (of characters). Are they memorable? Are any too close in sound to others in the same story? The answers should be yes and no respectively!
G = Genre. Can you say where your book or story would fit? Can you target your work to the right genre of competition or the right publisher for it?

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What do I look for when editing my flash fiction?

1. Wasted words. I’ve mentioned before mine are actually, very, and that, and these add little to a story which cannot be expressed in better ways. Out they go then! The odd that is useful sometimes but nowhere near as often as you think. I have had to learn to cut them out where they’re really not needed.

2. Phrasing which doesn’t trip off the tongue when reading it out loud. Out comes the red pen again then! If I trip over it, a reader will too.

3. A nice mixture of short sentences and longer ones. I want my stories to have a good rhythm to them but too much of one type of sentence length can and does disrupt that. (That was a necessary that – and so were those!😀😀😀).

4. Clarity. Is there anything which could be misunderstood or misconstrued in any way? Could something have a double meaning you really did not intend? All worth checking for, if only to save yourself some blushes when you re-read work later.

5. Looking at the story as a whole, does it fulfil the promise of its title? Does it grip me? Would I like to read more? (That’s usually a good sign as it shows the characters have come to life for you).

What kind of characters do I enjoy inventing for my flash stories the most? It can vary but they include:-

1. Characters who are full of themselves. I just love bringing them down to earth.

2. Characters who see things from a different perspective. I’ve written stories from a dragon’s viewpoint before now! Trust me their view on gold is somewhat different to that of a typical fairytale dwarf. I just know…

3. Characters who are prepared to bend/break the rules. For this kind of story, I love dropping them right in the mire and finding out whether their willingness to break rules helps them or lands them further in it. All good fun!

4. Fairies or other magical beings confronting sceptical humans. Someone is heading for a fall here…

5. Characters who are either secondary in fairytales or are the villain. Very much an alternative rendition! (And I make no apologies for the pun on the title of the first Bridge House Publishing anthology I was in called Alternative Renditions where my A Helping Hand took the viewpoint of Cinderella’s youngest stepsister!).

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F = Fast, frenetic (at times), and fun writing
L = Like being able to set my characters in any time/genre/setting I choose. I just worry about the word count.
A = Animated conversation in the stories? Not really. Not enough space but you can show so much though a character’s thoughts and attitudes coming out of those thoughts, you don’t really need this for this kind of of story anyway.
S = Simplifies your writing and helps increase your clarity. This is always good!
H = Historical flash fiction has been a recent development for me and I hope to write more of this. Using characters who may have witnessed events is a good way forward here.

Fairytales with Bite – Rules That Need to Exist

I discuss Rules That Need to Exist in my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week, but how can we apply this specifically to our fiction writing?

Rules for Writing

When it comes to writing rules, there are specific ones I always follow. These are:-

1. Keep my prose, punctuation, grammar etc simple. It helps clarity and pacing.
2. Always edit on paper, not on screen.
3. Read work out loud.
4. Accept the first draft is only that. Of course it won’t be perfect and that’s fine. That is what editing and polishing are for.
5. Be entertaining whether I’m writing blog posts, flash fiction, or short stories. I want my readers to engage with what I’m writing and a simplistic, entertaining style is a good way to do that.

Rules for Characters

1.  The character must be someone I can identify with, even if I loathe them and their attitudes. There has to be some spark of understanding why someone has turned out the way they have.

2.  The character must be memorable (whether it is for good reasons and they’re the hero, or for bad ones where they’re the villain). What they must never be is forgettable, else why have them in the story at all? If you’ve got a character you think you can cut out of your story, you almost certainly can because they’re not contributing anything and your tale will tighten up in terms of word count and pacing if there is no unnecessary baggage.

3.  The character must have at least one distinctive thing about them that can’t apply to anyone else or handle situations in ways that are unique to them.

What rules for writing or for characters do you use and why?

This World and Others –

Creating Something Out of Nothing

I was listening to UK based radio station Classic FM earlier this week when it was reported a well known composer still suffered nerves when coming up with a new composition. They were still made nervous by the blank page, despite their many years of successful composition. Ironically, this cheered me up somewhat. It’s the same for any creator and I know it’s true for me. That touch of nerves before you start writing is the worst bit. Once you get going, you’re absolutely okay.

I’ve learned over time to just get the words down any old how. Editing and polishing happen much later. Nobody writes a perfect draft. Shakespeare didn’t. Austen didn’t. Dickens didn’t. I’m certainly not going to but that’s fine! So how can you get over the nervous start bit or, at least, make it not so bad and easier to handle?

I’ve found having a range of ways to get started on stories or blog posts helpful. I also find having brainstorming sessions every so often useful to jot down ideas and when I am struggling, I can turn to these and find something to inspire me there. My range of ways to get started include:-

1.  Using a random word generator, pick three, and put them into a story. Using random words like this makes me think deeper and if there is no obvious link between the three words, even better. It makes me think again!

2.  Look back over my old blog posts and stories. Often there will a link there I didn’t follow up at the time but might prove useful now.

3.  Take a well known saying and use it as a theme or title (sometimes both) for a story or article.

4.  Use a spider diagram or flowchart to flesh out basic ideas. That will soon show if ideas in the back of my head do have some “legs” to them or not. Naturally I go with the ones that do! This is especially useful when used in conjunction with a random word generator.

5.  Look up writing competitions. Sometimes I’ll enter said competitions. Sometimes I’ll just write up a story to the theme and not submit it deliberately. I will go back to that story at a later date to polish it up further knowing it is not ready for a competition yet but I can still write to the theme. Who knows? The story might end up in an anthology later. Themes come up reasonably often so there will be other competitions the story the might fit.

However you get over the blank page nerves, happy writing and good luck!

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