Onwards and Downwards

Image Credit:  As ever, images are from Pixabay or Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Facebook – General

Making progress on editing my flash competition story. You get to a point where you remove the “obvious” unnecessary words. (As you know, I get to cut very, actually, and that out as these are my pet wasted words. I still haven’t found a way of stopping myself writing these things in the first place but hey that’s what the first edit is for!).

The tricky bit is now when I’ve got what I want in place but need to find ways of rephrasing without losing meaning. There’s the challenge of flash fiction writing. I know this story will work well at the word count I’ve got to get it to. It’s whether I’m up to the job of doing it that is the issue here!

Onwards and downwards then (with the word count!).


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Am enjoying listening to the Classic FM Hall of Fame for 2020. Disappointed though one of my choices, Danse Macabre, has slipped down in the rankings, though I expect I’ll hear my other two choices sometime tomorrow. (Jupiter from the Planet Suite by Holst and Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Vaughan Williams).

Classical music is a wonderful relaxation aid which is why I have this on while writing. The more relaxed I am, the more I write.

Almost there on my flash fiction piece. Want to put it aside for a while so I come back to it with a fresh eye. It is amazing what a difference that makes. You spot things you missed etc. Also I look for how the story makes ME feel when I’ve had a break from it. If it still makes me feel the way the story is meant to make me feel, then it will do the same for a reader.

I was so sorry to hear about the loss of Tim Brooke-Taylor. Was a huge fan of The Goodies (and still am. Favourite episode? Hard to pick but Goodies Rule UK and the giant Dougal from The Magic Roundabout is an image that is hard to forget!).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It hasn’t felt like a Bank Holiday Monday, has it? Still on the plus side, the bluebells and primroses are out, we are successfully wearing Lady out so know she is definitely getting the right amount of exercise, and the writing and editing continue apace.

Two of my nominees for the Classic FM Hall of Fame dropped places this year (yes, I know. I am beginning to wonder if there is an Allison effect here. If there is, it’s not a good one!). Jupiter, appropriately, rose though! Well done, Gustav Holst!

I’ll be looking at Reasons to Be Cheerful in my CFT post later this week and yes I am of an age to remember Ian Dury and the Blockheads.

My favourite picture, taken today, is of Lady with one of her favourite toys in her mouth, as if it was an overgrown dummy. Enjoy (she did – and promptly dropped the ball on realising Mum was trying to take pictures again!).

Lady with dummy

Lady with dummy! Image by Allison Symes

Coping with the downside of the writing life (rejections, competition entries not getting anywhere etc) takes time but it does get better over time. Why? Because I’ve learned if a story hasn’t done well in one place, I can look at it again, see if I can improve it, and submit it somewhere else. I’ve had work published by doing that.

Oh and I almost always can improve a piece of work. The one thing I’ve learned years ago is that nobody writes a perfect piece of work. All you can do is the best at the time and seek to grow and develop from that point. Yes, I look back at work I’ve had published for a while and I can see now how I could make it better, but that was where I was at as a writer at that time. What matters here is moving on and always striving to improve what you do.

That’s the challenge for any writer, published or not. Enjoy what you do, that’s crucial, but also seek to get better at it. In the striving, you WILL improve.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

What do I look for in a flash fiction story when I’m reading works by other authors?

1. I want to be entertained. (Hey I’m just like that!).

2. I want the story to have emotional impact.

3. I want the point of change to be a good one with a real problem for a realistically drawn character to resolve.

4. I want to feel as if not one word could’ve been added to the story.

5. I want to feel as if not one word could’ve been taken out without the story losing something important.

6. I want to feel something for the lead character, whether it is to empathise with them, or to heartily hope they come to disaster because they’re a well drawn villain. But that character has to make me feel something (and separately to what the overall story makes me feel).

7. I want to read more by that author!

Naturally all of these points are a challenge to me too but that’s a good thing. There is no such thing as a perfect piece of work. It is the best you can make it at the time. What you want is for it to resonate with readers and for them to enjoy where you’re taking them with the stories.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

How do you know when you’ve found your writer’s voice? I think it is when you come up with a piece of work in a way that seems the most natural way to you. You see a competition, say, like the sound of it, and know instinctively how you’re going to approach it. Ideas may start coming to you based on how you’ve approached competitions before and obviously you go for what worked best for you.

In my case, I know I’m going to outline my character, then a story they could be in, and away I go when I’ve got that in place. The style of writing is an indicator. There is a lot of humour in my flash fiction but it is generally shown through the characters themselves. So based on that alone a competition which calls for a darker style is probably not going to be for me. (I’ve got to get a little humour in it somewhere and that’s not suitable for all topics/competitions).

Learning then where your strengths are and where your writing cup of tea is, I think, crucial to you finding your voice. Once you’ve got that, away you go.

Story time I think. Hope you enjoy. Hayfever sufferers, this one is for you.


After a fraught day in town, Hattie told Betty a soothing walk in Meresfield Park Gardens would do them both good. Tea and cake would follow.
The smell of the tea roses was so strong Betty thought she was being bathed in it.
It was a pity she suffered from hayfever.
It took her a fortnight to stop sneezing altogether.
It took her a month to speak to Hattie again.

Allison Symes – 13th April 2020

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While every genre has specific requirements, what every good story needs can be summarised as follows. (A lot of this can apply to non-fiction too).

Memorable characters with distinctive voices. For non-fiction, this equates to a memorable narrative style and voice. Think of documentaries you have loved. What made them stand out? A lot of that will be down to the narrative voice.

A plot that keeps the reader enthralled and has plenty of ups and downs. For non-fiction, it is a case of setting out what you want to share with the reader in an entertaining and informative way. No dull list of facts etc. You want to engage with your reader and draw them into the world you’re trying to show them.

To meet the needs of the reader whether it is to entertain them with a story or show them something they hadn’t known with non-fiction. You really do need to know your audience.

A powerful ending that delivers on a promising start.

No sagging middles!

A good, memorable title which hooks the reader.

To be a good advert for the other writing you do!



Goodreads Author Blog – Entertainment and Escapism

I can understand why, after the coronavirus is over, there will be lots of books and stories dealing with that topic. It’s just I can’t bring myself to write stories like that. I’m not sure about reading them either. Why?

For me, in times of trouble, I want books and stories to make me laugh and give me some escapism for a while. I don’t think that should be undervalued.

I raise a hearty three cheers for all who, by writing, seek to entertain and amuse us. It is not an easy thing to do.

So I shall continue to look for escapism and entertainment. Those can be very good coping mechanisms and books and stories are great vehicles for delivering on those things.

I do hope and pray though that the bookshops, particularly the independents, will recover well from this. I hope online buying of books has proved to be a lifeline.

The one thing that is clear to me is people still want stories. And I doubt if I’m the only one who wants entertaining right now!












Word Play

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

One joy of writing is the joy of reading. This is partly because it makes sense to read from (and therefore support) the industry you want to join! Also, you need to read widely to discover the range of writing out there and to find out from that what it is you want to write. There’s also the sheer pleasure of reading well crafted stories that inspire you to work harder on your own!

Playing with Words, as my CFT post this week discusses, is both a fun and invaluable thing for writers to do.  My post this week also pays tribute to Denis Norden and celebrates puns and playing with language.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I like to “hit the ground running” when I write flash fiction and do so in a number of ways.

I can take you straight into the lead character’s thoughts, or show you an image of them doing or reacting to something. I also try to show you their general attitude within the first couple of lines. Attitude in itself can tell you so much about what a character is likely to be like (and whether you would like them or not!).

I can also show you a character’s observations such as in my Circle of Life. That opens with “People throw kittens in the river here. I hate that.” Immediately shows a conflict. Immediately shows an attitude at odds with the view held by others around the character. You also know they’re going to do something about it. It is a question of what and will they get away with it?

With all of these different kinds of opening, I am aiming to provoke curiosity in the reader to make them want to find out more.

My CFT post this week looks at Playing With Words. I also pay tribute to the late Denis Norden, who along with Frank Muir, was a wonderful wordsmith. Link up on Friday. I also take a look at puns. (Muir was wonderful on Call My Bluff years ago and Norden – well, I loved his dry wit and manner – and Take It From Here, written by them both, was a forerunner for modern radio comedy).

Two of my favourite ways to end a flash fiction story are a twist in the tale finish or a punchline. Both of course can revolve around puns. I love playing with language but one of the great joys of loving books is coming across others who are masters at this sort of thing. Their work is a joy to read and/or listen to and if you haven’t come across a copy of Muir and Norden’s My Word Ultimate Collection, do yourself a favour and dig out a copy from somewhere. If you like tall tales and puns, as I do, this is a fabulous book.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Flash fiction can be a great vehicle for (a) puns (as part of a punchline to finish with) and (b) short, sharp humorous moments. A good funny flash fiction will not only make you laugh but you should be able to spot other potential for humour had the story been a longer one.

The lovely thing is you can combine humour with other things such as poetic justice to create a great story. Characters being annoyed at the situation they’re in may well make you smile in recognition of their predicament. The situation is rarely funny for the characters themselves. Shouldn’t stop us smiling though!

My late mum always believed in being short and to the point. Think she’d be pleased I take the same approach by writing flash fiction!

You lose any fear of killing adverbs or cutting whatever isn’t necessary for your story when you write flash and, of course, you can carry that over into whatever other writing you do. There’s no chance of getting confused over your characters either given, realistically, you only have the room for 1, maybe 2, main people.

I admit I do miss the fact you can’t have subplots in flash fiction, that really is the privilege of a short story or a novel, but I do love being able to cut to the chase with the very short tale. Definitely a case of you pays your money, you take your choice here.

Time for some autumnal flash fiction one-liners, I think. Hope you enjoy.

1. There were some things brought down by the autumn winds that would have been best left undisturbed.

2. The mouse scoffed the loaf that was meant for the church’s Harvest Festival display, much to the vicar’s chagrin.

(A case of For what we have received, we are truly grateful, I think!).

3. Would the leaves come down deeply enough to cover a body, she wondered?

4. With the nights drawing in, there was more scope for planning and executing the perfect crime.

5. It would be easy enough to do, he thought, given she always has soup at lunchtime on these cold days.

Hmm…. it looks like I’m in a criminal frame of mind this evening!


Is it harder to write longer fiction where you have to keep the readers enchanted enough with your writing to follow the story through to the end or more difficult to write short, sharp stories?

I wouldn’t like to judge on that one as both have their challenges and their joys. Both are vital for ensuring literature has a wide range of styles and lengths of story to suit all tastes.

One problem I face when editing flash fiction is ensuring I keep the important details in as it can be easy to cut far too much out to keep to a set word count and the story is the poorer for it. In those situations, I let the story go what is its natural length whether it’s 50 words or 500 or 1500!

The acid test for me is the editing is done when I cannot add to the story or take away from it. It is a question of not overegging the pudding or cutting back so harshly you have a limited story left. Anything that dilutes the impact of the story on a reader, and that can include harsh editing, is out.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Playing with Language

One of the joys of reading across a wide range of genres, including non-fiction, is discovering the different ways authors play with language.

For me the late Denis Norden and Frank Muir were great exponents of this and one of my favourite paperbacks is their My Word The Ultimate Collection. This is full of puns and tall tales galore! Bliss and an addictive read.

I like crisp, punchy styles of writing but every so often you come across a line or two that are just so engrossing, they almost take your breath away. P.G. Wodehouse was a master at creating worlds within what would be considered now very long sentences, but you simply have to read to the end.

I suppose the real test of a good story is does it provoke your curiosity enough so you read it through regardless of the style or genre in which it was written?

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytales A to Z Part 8

Since the alphabet doesn’t divide neatly into three, I will conclude this mini series tonight with the final five letters – V through to Z.  Hmm… going to have fun here I think!

V = Variation
Whatever genre you write in, there should be variation in the types of character you portray.  A story with all heroes is no story at all!  There has to be a villain somewhere (even if the characters concerned don’t think they’re villainous at all).  Also, in a magical setting, there should be variation in how much magical ability characters have.  If they all have unlimited powers, where is the conflict? You’d have a stalemate situation.  The characters know they can’t better each other, at least not with their powers.  So vary things, mix things up, deliberately drop your characters in it, and see what happens!  This is very much the fun side of writing.  You will soon find out who your strong characters are.

W = World
The world you set your stories in can almost be a character in itself.  It needs to be believable, no matter how fantastical its powers or setting.  There must be things about that world we can identify with here.  For example, every world has to be governed somehow so politics has to rear its (at times) very ugly head.

X = Xeno (meaning strange!  Confession time: did have to look it up.  I could have gone for X-rated for this but felt it was too obvious.  I also want to remember this word next time I play Scrabble!).
So word of the week for me is this one then!  Seriously, though, no matter how strange the world you’ve created is, there still has to be something about it that fascinates a reader.  If it is too odd, you risk alienating the reader.  Does that mean your world has to be a sensible one?  Not necessarily.  There has to be a point to what the world does.  If it mines balloons for example, it would make sense to do that if is that world’s chief export to its nearest neighbour.  I did like Monsters Inc for showing why the monsters had to get the children’s screams (they needed it as it was their power source) and I liked it even more when the monster world discovered making the children laugh was a greater source of power.

Y = You
The first fan of your writing should be you.  Your fairytale, whoever it is aimed at, must first convince you.  Is the magic a vital part of the story?  It should be for a fairytale. Do your characters have to get themselves out of trouble without magic?  Even better!  You should enjoy what you write and at the same time be open to where it can be improved.  Not an easy balance to strike which is why it is such a good idea to put work aside for a while and then re-read it.  You will come back to the story with a more open mind, having had the break from it.

Z = Zippy
There will be many in the UK especially who will remember Zippy as a character from children’s TV show, Rainbow!  However for this, I mean zippy in terms of lively.  Your fairytale should be a lively read from start to finish.  Your characters should be lively and engage with your reader.  (This is why if you enjoy your writing, there is every chance others will too.  As for the feeling after reading something you’ve written “this is rubbish”, bear in mind every writer goes through that.  This is another reason for putting work away for a while before coming back to it).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This World and Others – Playing with Words

Playing with Words is not just the title of my latest CFT post but the theme for this week for me.  I also take a look at this topic on my latest Goodreads blog.

So how do I like to play with words then?

1.   I like twist endings to a lot of my stories so there is a lot of playing with words to be had there in coming up with a twist that works.

2.    I sometimes end stories with a punchline which often revolves around a pun.  Puns are the very definition of playing with language!

3.     I like to take known phrases and play with them to come up with something that has “echoes” but which is also unique to my story.  For example, we usually talk about punishing the guilty for crime etc but my story in From Light to Dark and Back Again is deliberately called Punish the Innocent.  The idea is to get you wondering (a) why would someone want to punish the innocent, (b) do they do so, (c) were the innocent that guiltless after all?

I sometimes use spider diagrams to help me work out in which directions I could take a story idea and then I pick the one that I like the best.  Playing with words here helps me come up with thoughts deeper than my initial “obvious” ideas and therefore I hope a more original story line.