Late Running, The Inside of a Ping Pong Ball, and Why Books are Special to Me

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated. Some images created in Book Brush using Pixabay pictures.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Image of Wendy H Jones kindly supplied by her. Many thanks to Janet Williams (my lovely editor at Chandler’s Ford Today) for the image of me reading at a book signing at our local railway station (yes, really!). Also to Geoff Parkes and Penny Blackburn for their images of me reading at various Swanwick Writers’ Summer School Open Prose Mic night events. All great fun.

And I think I’ve finally cracked the “most unusual title for a blog post” category! Read on to find out how the inside of a ping pong ball is relevant for my flash fiction writing this week. If you had asked me last week whether I would anticipate such a thing, the answer would have been a firm “no”! How much can change in a week?!

Facebook – General

A huge thanks to the #DundeeCityWriters – I was talking to them over Zoom last night on the topic of flash fiction (naturally!) and it was such fun. Many thanks for hosting me.

(Also one of the best ways to show what flash fiction is to read some out and I always enjoy doing that. I’m hoping the Open Prose Mic Night will be on again at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School this year. Flash works well for this kind of thing. You can’t go on for too long for one thing!).

My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week is on the subject of Favourite Lines. I’ve touched on this topic before but for this post I will also be looking at how catchphrases and repetition can help us form said favourite lines. Looking forward to sharing that on Friday.


Many thanks for the wonderful responses to my rather unusual tale, The Inside of a Ping Pong Ball, which I posted yesterday (see below) in reply to a writing challenge set by #WendyHJones on Wordy Chat. (The latter is a Facebook group set up by fellow Association of Christian Writers member, Maressa Mortimer – lots of giggles and chats about the writing world – naturally we meet on Zoom).

I have two standard ways of getting into a story. By far my favourite is working out who the character Is, what their main trait is etc as that usually gives a pretty good idea of the kind of story in which such a creation would appear. But my other way into a story is with a promising title and that was the take I took on this one.

The Inside of a Ping Pong Ball not only gave me my title, it set the tone (with a title like that it had to be a humorous tale), and therefore the kind of character likely to be in it.


As promised yesterday, here is the flash fiction tale I wrote in response to a challenge set on Wordy Chat the other night. The story title says it all!

The Inside of a Ping Pong Ball

Look, don’t blame me. I have to travel in whatever vessel I can find and blend in with my surroundings. I am in what you humans call a sports hall doing various horrid things with balls and bats and making yourself all sweaty. So gross!

But it means I am currently curled up inside a ping pong ball. It’s cramped in here. I’ve had to shrink my normal size down by well over 80% to get in here. Trust me that is not a comfortable experience.

I am here to study you lot on the order of the big bosses. Personally, I would far rather have gone to the seaside.

But I have to go where the bosses tell me to go. (Would so love to tell them where they can go but they’re not forgiving of any kind of insubordination and I do like living so that rules this out).

To be honest with you, I think they’re preparing for an invasion.

I’m going to tell them not to bother.

I’ve seen the way you treat other ping pong balls. Smash them about with absolutely no thought. What would you do to the likes of an alien invader?

I tell you it is terrifying to think about.

So you lot have won. And I must get out of this ball before…

Arggh! Too late.

Ends.
Allison Symes – 2nd May 2021

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Hope you have had a good Saturday.

New author newsletter from me went out earlier today. See https://www.facebook.com/501180463318271/posts/3429068970529391/ if you missed this.

If you would like to receive the newsletter regularly, please sign up at my landing page at https://allisonsymescollectedworks.com – on receipt of the welcome email, you’ll get a link to a giveaway as well.

I’m enjoying putting the newsletters together and, unless there is some specific time urgent news, will keep these to monthly send outs.

In other news, as they say, the next couple of topics for Chandler’s Ford Today will be on Favourite Lines and Understanding. I look forward to sharing those blogs as it is always a joy to talk about favourite lines from books and I make the case for how reading encourages empathy in the latter post.

Am currently drafting a flash fiction story based on what is probably the most unusual location I’ve chosen to date. Well, I say chosen. It’s a response to a challenge set on Wordy Chat last night, where a group of writers from the Association of Christian Writers get together for a good giggle and lots of talk about writing related topics. Those who were at Wordy Chat last night will know what the location is but will share the story tomorrow! (See above – and I hope you enjoy it. I loved writing it).

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Many thanks for the lovely responses to my story video Late Running. (See below for video). Also to The Inside of a Ping Pong Ball. (See above for story).

One lovely thing that came up with the latter was I used it in my talk to the #DundeeCityWriters group I spoke to via Zoom yesterday about flash fiction. I used it to prove my point that flash fiction lends itself beautifully to being able to set characters anywhere!

And the great thing? Dundee City Writers is led by #WendyHJones who set the topic of The Inside of a Ping Pong Ball at last week’s Wordy Chat!

What goes around etc etc!

Still, I think I am going to have to try very hard to think of a more unusual setting for a flash fiction story!

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Pleased to share my latest story video. Hope you enjoy Late Running. Pun intentional (and indeed for a lot of my flash fiction it is a case of no pun knowingly overlooked! Why the fondness for puns? I love them anyway but for flash, having words and phrases that can carry double meanings helps with (a) impact and (b) keeping that old word count nice and trim!).

Over on my author page at https://www.facebook.com/allison.symes.50 I’ve shared a flash fiction story, The Inside of a Ping Pong Ball, which was written in response to a writing challenge set by Scottish crime writer, #WendyHJones. It is certainly a top runner for the most unusual writing challenge I’ve responded to (!) but it was great fun to do.

And it is important to have fun with your writing. Okay, there are times when it won’t feel that way. I find being over-tired can sap the joy out of writing (and everything else come to that) so I try to avoid getting into that state.
But one lovely thing about flash fiction, especially if you’re working on a longer project and it is proving to be a slog-fest, drafting a very short story can be a refreshing break from your main writing work and you have something else to submit elsewhere later.

And when I am tired, just jotting down a couple of hundred words, whether it is a full flash tale or will end up being part of a longer one, still makes me feel connected to the creative process. That in itself makes me feel better.

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One of the best ways to demonstrate flash fiction to people is to read some to them! I’ve done this a few times now at things like the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School Open Prose Mic and even at book signings. (That led to sales -win-win there!). I’ve found the 100-word stories (aka the drabble) work best for this. They don’t take too long to read and demonstrates the capacity of flash fiction well, especially for impact on a reader.

I’ve mentioned before here and on my author page that reading work out loud is great for literally hearing whether your dialogue is as smooth as you think it is. What looks good written down doesn’t always work so well when spoken out loud. But this technique also works for the rest of your prose. If you stumble over something, you can be sure your readers will too. And again with flash it is easy to read a piece out loud and hear whether or not something is working.

 

Goodreads Author Blog – Why Books are Special to Me

I could write chapter and verse on this week’s topic, appropriately enough. So where to start on why books are special to me?

My love of books and stories comes from my late mother who encouraged my love of reading and taught me to read before I started school. Books were regularly given as presents. I would often buy books with pocket money and money gifts sent by my relatives for Christmas etc. I went to the library a lot.

Best of all, Mum had a lovely collection of books herself, which I now have. And I so wanted to have a collection of my own (which I have). As well as being read to as a child, which is so important, I saw Mum read for pleasure herself more often than I could say. It sent the unspoken message that this was definitely an okay thing to do – and it is!

Then there are the books with particular meaning. I treasure the Bibles given to me by my late parents and the one given to me by my son.

I love The Reader’s Digest of Classic Fairytales two volume set. I spent hours reading those and loving the beautiful illustrations. I remember the shock I first had on reading The Little Mermaid in here and discovering fairytales didn’t always have happy ever after endings. I identified with the way The Ugly Duckling felt and cheered when all did work out well in the end. (You know full well as a kid it doesn’t always work that way in life, You know it even more as an adult).

I treasure my paperback of The Lord of The Rings and my copy of Pride and Prejudice.

For me, there is absolutely nothing about a book to dislike.

I like my paperbacks, my hardbacks, my audio and ebooks. The format doesn’t matter. The fact it is a book does!

Happy reading!

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Characters, Podcast, Interview, Summit and Talk News – Yes, it has been a busy week!

Image Credit:- All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Images of Wendy H Jones were kindly supplied by her.

Many thanks to Geoff Parkes and Penny Blackburn for the images of me reading at Open Prose Mic Nights at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School (pre-2020 obviously!).

Image of me signing Tripping the Flash Fantastic in front of a distinctly unimpressed Lady was taken by Adrian Symes.

And I think the above will be my longest blog post title ever! 

ANNOUNCEMENT:  I launch my author newsletter on Monday, 1st March 2021 and there is a giveaway with it (which you link to in the Welcome to my Newsletter email you receive on signing up). Sign up page here

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Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

After what has been a busy, fun, and especially creative week, I’m delighted to share my Chandler’s Ford Today post which shares some of what I’ve been up to (!) and looks ahead to what is to come.

I’m thrilled to share here the link to #WendyJJones’ podcast, the fabulous The Writing and Marketing Show, where I was her guest back in late January talking about writing a regular column.

I discussed with Wendy, amongst other things, how to find ideas and to keep on finding them. Naturally Chandler’s Ford Today was well plugged here and I should stress that though it is an online community magazine, many of the articles go beyond local.

My posts here are aimed, mainly, at writers and I specifically aim to write posts that will prove timeless and therefore useful to people for longer. So do go and have a look!

I also discuss a little about what is coming up including when my interview with #HannahKate will be broadcast, about the international writing summit I’m taking part in, and about a WI talk I’m currently working on for delivery in mid-March.

See https://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/local-author-news-allison-symes-summits-talks-and-interviews/ for more.

And a big thanks to Wendy once again for hosting me on her podcast. Also thanks for her contribution, and to all of my other guests for theirs, to the recent CFT series Launches in Lockdown.

Feedback on that has been good (many thanks, folks!) and I hope it proves useful for anyone planning their launch this year. What was particularly positive about that series was the range of ideas people had for overcoming the obvious difficulties in trying to have launches during a pandemic. I was also encouraged to see though that, despite all the miseries of the last year, book sales went up considerably. Now that is always good news!

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When I first started out as a writer (the last T-Rex had just left the planet to give you a rough idea of time scales!), the thought of talking about my work or networking would have brought me out in a cold sweat (and did. Thank goodness for deodorant!). Now, it’s fine. Why the change?

I cheered up about the thought of networking when I realised it often meant chatting with another writer about my work over a cup or glass of something lovely. They’d ask me about my work. I’d ask them about theirs. Before I knew it, a good conversation was being had and I made new writing pals. So win-win.

(I’ve only ever come across the odd one or two who only wanted to talk about their work and I learned from that this is not the way to make writing pals. It is no coincidence the best writing pals are the ones who take an interest in what you do and of course you take an interest in what they do. I’ve learned something useful from every writer I’ve ever chatted to, regardless of their genre, and it is true that to have writing pals you need to be one yourself first and foremost.).

But I realised before going to my first writing conference all those eons ago that I would have to think of something to say to introduce myself and what I did then writing wise. So I drafted something. The old pen and paper came in handy here, I drafted something useful and it made sure I didn’t forget anything either and it gave me that little bit more confidence when I went to that first conference as I rehearsed it to myself too and I knew I at least had something to say!

I was very nervous but I quickly found writers are a friendly and welcoming bunch and before I knew it I was chatting away as if I’d known these good people for ages. And that’s the way it should be and one of the major things I love about the writing community.

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It was a joy to be interviewed by #HannahKate for her Hannah’s Bookshelf show on North Manchester FM today. I look forward to sharing the links later but it was a real pleasure to talk about flash fiction and blogging. It is a funny thing I fell into both of those things by accident but the writing journey is unique to each writer. We all face our twists and turns but sometimes those twists turn out to be smashing ones!

In other news, my Chandler’s Ford Today post is going to be a summary of my recent news, including mention of the interview with Hannah, but also includes the link to #WendyHJones’ The Writing and Marketing Show podcast where I was a guest a little while back talking about writing a regular column. (I didn’t want to interrupt the Launches in Lockdown series, otherwise I would have shared this sooner). I’ll also be sharing a little about what is happening in March as it is going to be a busy month with most of the prep work done for it this month!

It is often the way with the writing life things come in batches and then nothing for ages. You do get used to it!

 

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I’ve found mixing up the way I approach writing flash fiction interesting and useful. It keeps me on my toes for a start! I always start by knowing who my character is but I don’t necessarily write from A to B until I reach The End. Sometimes I write from B to A (and this is a specially good technique for twist in the tales. You know what the twist is and then work back logically to where the start should be).

Sometimes I know the mood of the story I want to write. For example, let’s say I feel like writing a funny story that will make people smile and, better still, laugh. I then think about the kind of character who would serve that kind of tale well.

And I do the same if I want to write a tale that makes you shudder. What kind of character could produce that kind of reaction?

I’m sure you can see from all of that why I think characters are what makes a great story (or not. A promising story can fail miserably if the star performers, your characters, are “not up to the job”. I’ve only ever abandoned a couple of stories in my time and both times it was for the same reason. Weak characters, a story that didn’t grip me precisely because those characters were weak. And my conclusion? It was all my own fault for not getting to know these characters well enough before writing them up. I try hard not to make that mistake now!).


One of the things I’ve found when talking to people about what flash fiction is all about is that demonstrating it by reading one or two of my 100-word stories goes down a treat and does the job nicely! In the days when we could still have live events (hopefully soon to come back again!), I made sales doing that!

And it shows the impact of the very short form in the best way imaginable too.

When taking part in Open Prose Mic Nights, such as the ones at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, it is a great way of finding out whether the impact you think the story has really does have that.

Gauging audience reaction is not just useful for the story you’ve read out but it can guide you as to how approach writing others, especially if the reaction is not quite what you thought it would be (and that happens). Mind you, it is wonderful and appreciated by me when a story does produce the reactions I’d hoped for and people do laugh when I wanted the story to produce that.


I write a mixture of flash tales – ghost stories, historical, crime, fantasy, humorous, slice of life etc – which is why I sometimes describe my collections as “mixed assortments”. They don’t just work for chocolates! But each type of flash I write has its own challenge in that I have to convey the type and setting without using too many words to do so.

With a historical piece, I use the character to take you back in time. That saves a wealth of description for one thing but I can also show you the world that character lives in through their eyes. And what they see tells you the story is set in the past.

With crime, I often show it is one with the last line as twist in the tale endings work so well for this. I also use an interesting first line sometimes to indicate a crime has either just happened or is about to happen.

For fantasy, I often show this via the character. For example in Tripping the Flash Fantastic, my story Where The Wild Wind Blows starts with the two words “The Witch” so that shows you immediately this has to be a fantasy setting (as opposed to your local High Street, unless it is a very odd High Street!).

But I love mixing up the kind of flash tales I create and again it keeps me on my toes as I have to work out what is the right approach to them and no two stories are exactly the same here.

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Fairytales With Bite – Who are Your Minor Characters?

For longer works, I like spotting the minor characters who end up playing a major role in the overall story. I try to guess at the start of the tale which of these will end up with a kind of starring role.(For The Lord of the Rings for example, I would put Merry and Pippin in this category. They’re not so important as Sam but they will still play an important role that contributes to the overall plot).

The main thing to make sure of, naturally, is such minor characters really do serve a purpose and are not just there for decoration or to make up the numbers. (Writing flash fiction means I can’t do that. I have to focus only on what serves the story but it is a great technique to develop for all forms of writing, including non-fiction).

So who are your minor characters? What roles do they play? Do the major characters realise the contribution from the minor ones?

I also wouldn’t kill of a minor character for the sake of it. There has to be a good reason for them to go, otherwise the reader will see straight through it. Everything and everyone in the story has to serve a useful purpose, otherwise out they go!

I outline my characters so I know who they are before I write their story up (and I like to think of it as being their story and not mine. That also helps me make sure my author’s voice does not come into it). I do this by asking a series of questions.

For minor characters, you won’t need to know so much but you do have to be crystal clear that they are necessary to your tale and why.

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This World and Others –

What I Like to see in a Fictional World

I could write chapter and verse (appropriately!) on this one so it is a question of working out what is the most important and I think of that in terms of what I think the reader will consider most important. So my suggestions?

Interesting Characters – no story without these. I want to see fully formed characters who intrigue me enough to make me want to find out what their story is going to be. (I also have a soft spot for quirky characters but there has to be a good reason for them to be quirky and in your story).

A Sense of Their World – I don’t need every detail. Nor do your readers, otherwise you run the risk of sending them to sleep with too much description etc. I do need to know where the characters live, how they provide for themselves, and what kind of government they live under (as that gives me a feel for what liberties they have, or don’t have, as the case may be). Even here a broad overview is fine. And you can build up what you “feed” readers, a bit at a time. Think about the “need to know” basis, it’s a good guideline. You as the writer will always need to know more than the reader but not all of that necessarily has to go into the story.

Level of Education – This can be shown by how the characters speak. Readers will deduce what is normal, what is not from context. Also references to books (or not) can indicate whether the society is a literate one or not. It can also be shown by how the characters communicate. If it is an oral tradition, there will be no written records, as we would know them for example.

Conflict – No conflict = no story. Even when the character struggles with themselves, there is conflict. And the conflict should be based on what readers find out about your fictional world from what you choose to show them. We should be able to see Country A hates Country B because…

Resolution – As ever with any kind of story, this doesn’t have to be a happy one but it should be appropriate for what has gone before.