Favourite Characters and Publication News

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Many thanks to Dawn Knox for supplying her author photo.

Image of me signing Tripping The Flash Fantastic by Adrian Symes.

Facebook – General

Hope Tuesday has proved okay. More raking up of the oak leaves for me today with Lady assisting by looking for sticks in amongst the leaves though she would have preferred to find a squirrel.

Talking of which, I would love to know why every dog I know/have ever known, on spotting a squirrel, always looks hopeful that said squirrel will come and play with them!

Has not happened on my watch. Is unlikely ever to do so. Mind you, Lady is the only dog I’ve had who might be in with a chance of catching one.

Writing wise, I’ll be interviewing fellow flash fiction and Cafelit writer Dawn Knox about her latest book, The Macaroon Chronicles, on Chandler’s Ford Today on Friday.

This will be a two part interview and we’ll be discussing the challenges of writing chronicles, what drew Dawn into writing, and how long it took her to become an established author, amongst other interesting topics.

I love conversations with other writers. I always learn something useful. Given no two writers ever have the same writing journey, it is fascinating to find out what others have found most helpful to their writing or, conversely, find out what they think has to be the worse writing advice of all time etc. Link up on Friday.

I haven’t kept a word count for my kind of NaNoWriMo project but to be fair I never intended to do so. My non-fiction project needed restructuring, which I’ve now done, and it is now a question of adding material to it. Then a massive edit or several! But that’s okay. I’m enjoying seeing the project coming together and this is an interesting experience since I’ve not written non-fiction to this length before.

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Am continuing to have fun playing with Book Brush.

Many thanks to Dawn Knox for inviting me on to her blog today. It was great fun to take part. I chat about flash fiction, Tripping the Flash Fantastic, the one regret I have about writing and other topics.

Do check the interview here.

And more news from Dawn and I in a moment….

Bonus Post – Publication News

Talking of further news from Dawn Knox and I…

It has been a busy Monday, as always, but it was nice to discover further publication news! Dawn and I both have stories in the new Bridge House Publishing anthology, Mulling It Over. It is currently out as an ebook but the paperback will be out soon.

Many congratulations to the other authors in this ecletic collection. It is always great fun to be between the (electronic) covers with writer friends!
My story, It Is Time, is one of my colder, darker ones. Appropriate for this time of year I guess!

Mulling It Over Medium

It was great fun taking part in the Brechin/Angus Book Fest earlier today (22nd November 2020). I shared videos for Judgement Day, Being Yourself, and the book trailer for Tripping The Flash Fantastic. (See further down for all of these).

I also shared some of the recent images I’ve had fun creating on Book Brush! (The phone one which also has From Light to Dark and Back Again on it too works really well I think). (Again see below).

Below is a round-up of my posts from earlier today in descending order of appearance.

Last but not least from me. This is Judgement Day from Tripping the Flash Fantastic. Hope you enjoy.

Am happy to take questions about flash fiction. The irony is I never started out as a flash fiction writer. I discovered the form by accident but it has been a very happy accident!

BookBrushImage-2020-11-14-19-1939

My story, Being Yourself, on Brechin/Angus Book Festival today.

My book trailer as shown on the Brechin/Angus Book Festival event today.

Many thanks #SarahArchibald for your hard work putting the Festival together online. Great fun to take part! A big thanks for the opportunity events like this give authors especially since our usual events are not possible right now.

It was also lovely to share the posts and share a little of what flash fiction is about. It is the ultimate in the quick read of course but its impact should be a powerful one precisely because of its reduced word count. It lives up to the phrase less is more!

More details about my books can be found here (Amazon Author Central)

Screenshot_2020-11-22 BRECHIN ANGUS BOOK FEST(1)Screenshot_2020-11-22 BRECHIN ANGUS BOOK FEST

Bonus Post – Guest Blog Appearance on Gill James’ Blog

Am delighted to share the link where I am the guest on Gill James’ blog as one of the contributors to The Best of Cafelit 9. See  for more (the screenshot is a sample!).

Screenshot_2020-11-22 Talking to another of our Best of CafeLit 9 contributors

Have been enjoying the first day of the Brechin/Angus Book Fest. Looking forward to tomorrow when I’m due on from 1.35 for about 25 minutes.
Plenty of videos to watch and you could make a good Christmas book present list here.

Continuing to make good progress on my kind of NaNoWriMo project. Really enjoying writing new material for this though I am also looking forward to tackling the editing later on. I like editing. You can almost “feel” your work improving when taking out the wasted words and so on.

Good questions to ask when preparing blog, Facebook posts etc include:-

1. What have I learned as a writer that could benefit others? Posts like that are always useful and I have learned from so many over the years and continue to do so.

2. How can I entertain a reader so they’ll want to come back to read more of my posts? One of my ways is to share a new flash fiction story every so often. Flash being so short works well for this – and who doesn’t like a new story to read from time to time?

“See” you tomorrow at Brechin online!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again


Monologues can make great flash fiction pieces. I find they work best when kept short anyway so you’re immediately on to a winner there. Monologue with its demand for the focus to be on one character and flash fiction with its demand to keep the word count low make for a good match!

I outline my characters for my stories and, if you don’t usually do that, it would pay to do this for monologue writing. The question to ask above all I think is what it is about this character that they deserve a monologue?

What would fascinate a reader to keep them glued to your character?

A good tip is always to put yourself in your potential readers’ shoes and ask what is in this story for them?

 

Hope your Monday has been okay. Mine has been hectic as usual but the plus side of that is it will free up more writing time for me later on in the week, which I make good use of!

Lovely watching Lady having a good old fun session with her Rhodesian Ridgeback buddie this morning. (It is a case of watch the show and stay well out of the way! Part of the reason for that is both dogs are still convinced they’re puppies… erm….no… and they have the size to prove not!).

The weekend went from having a flu jab to cracking on with my kind of NaNoWriMo project to taking part in the Brechin/Angus Book Festival. So yes, it got better as the weekend went on!

Writing wise, I’m drafting a future CFT post as well as working on my big project. I’m a little ahead of myself for once with CFT as I have a fab interview to share over the next two Fridays. More on that tomorrow and link up on Friday of course.

(I can always tell how rapidly the year is going thanks to writing for CFT. The Friday deadline zooms and then vanishes week on week and before I know it, another 12 months has gone by. Mind you, I don’t think anyone is going to be sorry about that this year).

Am working also on more flash material which will no doubt see the light of day in due course. Oh and how about a flash two-line story to finish with tonight? Here goes…

To Turn Or Not To Turn, That Is The Question

It wasn’t the odd creaking that terrified Bill. It was the frightened rat who was looking at something behind Bill.

Ends.

Allison Symes – 23rd November 2020

 

New Story Video on My Youtube Channel

It has been a busy day on the old video front but given it’s a Sunday evening as I share this, what better than to finish the weekend with another story? I took my The Best Laid Plans which I shared here a couple of weeks ago and created a video for it using Book Brush and then uploaded it to Youtube. Be sure to watch to the end! Hope you enjoy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilOcaCJMqQc

Channel:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPCiePD4p_vWp4bz2d80SJA

Screenshot_2020-11-09 Allison Symes - YouTube

I must admit I don’t have a favourite character in my stories, which is just as well I suspect, given I’m inventing people all the time for flash fiction writing. My favourite kinds of character do have things in common though.

They’ve got a sense of humour.

They’ve got guts.

They’re prepared to stand up for what they believe in.

I especially love those characters where coming out with witty one-liners would be appropriate for them to do.

I have a soft spot for thoughtful characters where their reflections show you so much about their personality. Flash fiction works well for this kind of story as they work best when kept short.

Favourite characters from other books? Hmm… hard to say as there are so many to choose from but they have to have some of the above attributes to catch and keep my fancy.

Goodreads Author Blog – The Joy of (online) Book Festivals

This weekend is going to be an interesting one as I’ll be taking part in a Book Festival for the first time. I’ll be “at” the Brechin/Angus Book Festival which finishes tomorrow, Sunday 22nd November. I’ll be “on” at about 1.35 pm UK time and am looking forward to sharing the joys of flash fiction, which is the form in which I’ve been published the most.

Book Festivals and events are wonderful ways of celebrating the written and spoken word. (Bear in mind we do talk about audio books).

The one positive thing about this strange and horrible year has been that many events like this have been able to take place online and that has made them more accessible to more people.

I wouldn’t ordinarily have been able to get to Brechin for one event, much as I’d love to go, as from what I’ve seen, Brechin looks lovely. But I can take part in its Festival online (so a big thanks to the organisers and #WendyHJones for putting me on to this one).

I love going to book fairs and the like even when I haven’t got my author’s hat on. I love seeing the variety of books available and I enjoy listening to author talks too. The latter can still be done.

For the first time this year I’ve made videos of my reading from Tripping The Flash Fantastic and explaining a little about how I came to write the story I chose to read.

What I do know is authors are still glad of reader support and always will be. Whether it’s writing a review or going along to an online event and commenting on videos you’ve enjoyed watching, remember it all helps.

And in helping authors, you’re helping books in general. You’re showing they’re important. That books matter. They so do!

Twitter Corner –

Re Brechin/Angus Book Festival – tweeted on 22nd November 2020

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Great fun to take part in the Brechin/Angus Book Festival today. I was on from about 1.35 for 20 minutes or so but the Festival does go on for the rest of today. Grab a notebook and make a Books Make Great Christmas Presents shopping list!!<a href=”https://t.co/5ygkIuokBi”>https://t.co/5ygkIuokBi</a></p>&mdash; Allison Symes (@AllisonSymes1) <a href=”https://twitter.com/AllisonSymes1/status/1330510528591093760?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>November 22, 2020</a></blockquote> https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Re appearance on Gill James’ blog – 22nd November 2020

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Gill’s Blog: Talking to another of our Best of CafeLit 9 contri… <a href=”https://t.co/4MIXeTjl76″>https://t.co/4MIXeTjl76</a&gt; I was thrilled to be guest on Gill James’ blog today. Screenshot is a sample! See link for what led me into writing for Cafelit and what I find more difficult than writing stories for them! <a href=”https://t.co/BiMUZ1oalD”>pic.twitter.com/BiMUZ1oalD</a></p>&mdash; Allison Symes (@AllisonSymes1) <a href=”https://twitter.com/AllisonSymes1/status/1330609892701462529?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>November 22, 2020</a></blockquote> https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Re Appearance on Dawn Knox’s blog – 23rd November 2020

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Please join <a href=”https://twitter.com/AllisonSymes1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@AllisonSymes1</a&gt; on my blog today and find out more about her new book ‘Tripping the Flash Fantastic’, her writing and what she thinks of custard, cheese and chocolate! <a href=”https://t.co/SSJrZfIr0a”>https://t.co/SSJrZfIr0a</a></p>&mdash; Dawn Knox (@SunriseCalls) <a href=”https://twitter.com/SunriseCalls/status/1330803625375961089?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>November 23, 2020</a></blockquote> https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Interviews and Characters

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

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

For my CFT post this week, I look at why writer interviews are so useful. I also share news of an interview I’ve taken part in, more details on that next week, and share memories of an interview that went wrong and another that involved an Emu! Anyone growing up in 1970s Britain will remember the latter!

I look at what I think makes for a good interview too and share my thoughts on interview etiquette. I also share a little of how I go about interviewing authors for Chandler’s Ford Today (and I hope there will be many more of those later this year).

I discuss the art of interviews as part of my Interviews post on Chandler’s Ford Today this week. Good preparation for an interview is important for both parties to it, of course. But it is just as important for writers, as well as interviewers and interviewees, to think of good questions. (In the latter’s case, anticipating questions that are likely to come up gives you time to prepare your answers).

For fiction writers, you may well want to interview your characters to find out more about them and what makes them tick before you write their stories. (I do this as part of my outlining process. I have to ask what the character thinks makes them tick. They don’t have to be right! Other characters may have completely different ideas as to how Character A really ticks!).

For non-fiction writers, it’s a question of working out what research you need to do for your project and there you ask yourself what you think you need to know. As you start working on your project, other questions will inevitably crop up but, having already decided where and how you will research and found answers to those initial questions, you will know where to look to deal with the other ones as they come up!

I often find this to be the case for my CFT posts. I know a thread I need to look into initially to help me write on my topic. Inevitably there will be threads from those initial ones I need to check out to see if they are relevant to what I want to write about. Sometimes they are. Not always. It is important not to be sidetracked but this is where asking yourself what you really need to know first can help. It helps to keep you focussed.

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How well do you know your characters before you start writing your stories?

Particularly for flash fiction, I outline what I need to know about my character before I work out what their story is.

A character who is a loud mouth is going to need a tale that will show this trait in action and the resultant consequences. This could easily be a funny story or a tragic one.

A quiet mouse of a character is going to need a tale that will either show when that trait saves the day or they get so fed up of being treated as a doormat, they rebel. Then you can go into the consequences…

I’m a great believer in getting the character right. Then it is a question of deciding what kind of story they WOULD naturally be at home in and whether that shows them at their best or their worst. Either can be a great deal of fun!

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My CFT post this week will be about interviews and what I think constitutes a good one. It’s a timely post for me as you’ll see when I put the link up on Friday! (I also hope to be sharing more interviews later in the year on CFT too).

Moving on, let’s think of a wish list for writers. My top three wishes would be:-

1. Time expands so you can do all the writing you want and the boring things of life (e.g. housework) somehow magically go away. I do see that as one wish, so there!

2. There are never any tech issues. Computer batteries won’t go too flat. You’ll never get a power cut at any awkward moment (if only!). You’ll always be able to connect to the net. I’m sure you can think of loads to add to that one!

3. Never running out of ideas and enthuasism for writing (again I see that as one wish on the grounds the first bit is no good whatsoever without the second part as well).

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I see a novel as akin to seeing a beautiful tapestry on a wall. You step back and literally see the whole thing. You are rightly taken in by its scale and how much it covers. There are so many wonderful threads to follow and your breath is taken away wondering at the mastery in putting such a thing together. You are immersed in the whole world portrayed.

A novella is like seeing one half of the tapestry, complete in and of itself, with plenty of stunning details to take in but simply not as much as the full novel, which is fair enough. But there is more than enough to capture your interest, plenty of threads to follow, again just not so many as the novel, but exactly the right amount for what you want to take in and enjoy. (I’m very pleased to see the form is back. Why? Well, people have all kinds of tastes in reading, not just in genre, but in length of story that they want too. There is plenty of scope for the novella).

A short story is like seeing one quarter of the tapestry. There is still plenty of detail. There are interesting threads to follow but obviously not so many as for a novella or a novel. You are taking in a world in minature and that’s fine. Maybe you want to enjoy some of these before taking in the whole of the tapestry again. (I often read flash fiction and/or short story collections in between reading novels).

Flash fiction is like focusing on one section of that quarter of the tapestry. You can’t see the whole picture. You are literally too close to it. Everything else around that section is blocked from your view. What you DO do is find those wonderful moments of sheer detail that those looking for the bigger picture will overlook as they have so much to take in and follow. They are standing too far back to spot what you are looking at. You are focusing on the ONE most important thing and can tease out every vital detail from that. You will pick up on things missed by the longer forms of creative writing.

And I love them all! (Whatever your preference is here enjoy! Writing and reading are two of the most wonderful things in life).

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Story time again. Hope you enjoy.

Putting My Face On

If I can fake this, I’ve got it made.

I’ve only got to go and meet John at 3. I don’t want to go but it will be the acid test. If I can keep my act together when I meet him, I can keep it together for anyone. Anyone, I tell you.

So if a bit of lippy and rouge are what I need to cover how I feel, so be it.

Well, I say I’ll meet him. It’s really a question of seeing him.

John’s in the Chapel of Rest at the local undertakers.

I put him there.

ENDS

Allison Symes – 6th February 2020

Now this is one of those tales where I knew my lead wasn’t looking forward to meeting John but I then had to work out why. So I did! Could’ve taken this in all sorts of directions but that is the joy of flash. It is open to genre and I fancied this one being a crime tale.

The irony is I can change the mood of the story completely by adding a few words to the ending.

If I added “I put him there – and so wished I hadn’t” – the mood of the story completely changes. Yes, there could still be a crime element but tragedy becomes the lead genre here instead.

So have fun with your flash fiction. Think about what impact you want your character and story to have on a reader.

 

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The story I shared yesterday, Putting My Face On, was something I came up with while out on a walk with my dog, Lady. I mentioned yesterday I could’ve changed the mood of the story by adding a few words. That is one of the arts of flash fiction if you like. You can change mood with a judiciously placed word here and there. The fun bit for you as the writer is working out what mood it is you want to go with!

The story on the book trailer for FLTDBA is one of my favourites. Part of the reason for that is the whole mood of the story turns on the very last word of Calling The Doctor. Do check the trailer out and you’ll see what I mean.

One thing I make sure of is that whenever the twist of moods comes in the story, it IS something that could reasonably be expected from the rest of the tale based on the information given.

Calling The Doctor does this because the conversational style of my narrator here is (a) consistent and (b) ties in with the mental image you will form of the character especially their age and such a conversational style would be appropriate for them and their age. The story leads up to … but that would be telling now, wouldn’t it! But the denouement is appropriate given the facts already stated by my narrator.

And very conveniently here is the book trailer with Calling the Doctor for you to check out!

Fairytales with Bite – Favourite Character Types

We all have our favourite kinds of characters, the ones we instantly gel with when we come across them on the page/on audio/on video etc. Some of mine include:-

  1.  The underdog. I always look out for the character who is bullied, despised, overlooked etc. I am never surprised when this character beats all the odds and has transformed their life by the end of the story. I adore stories like that.
  2. The fairy godmother. I love these. They are the agents through which cruelty and neglect will be put right. (Think Cinderella especially). Sadly we only know cruelty and neglect are so often not put right and even as a kid I remember being aware of that. Fairytales are comforting in that in those you know things will be rectified. I think we all need that comfort sometimes.
  3. The one who sees the error of their ways. Firstly, they too can be used to transform the story. Secondly, I like anyone who can see the error of their ways in life as well as in fiction! I am also very fond of redemption stories. I like to see characters being redeemed (it gives hope for us all!) but it has to be done in a way that makes sense. This is why I think gradual realisation of said errors is far more realistic.

Whatever your favourite kinds of characters, happy reading!

This World and Others – 

What I Like to See in Created Worlds

  1. I like to get a picture of the overall world. This is partly because I’m nosey (!) and partly because I like to be convinced the writer really has thought it through.
  2. I like to see a system of government, even if it is a basic one. A world does have to have someone leading it after all. (Best one here: Terry Pratchett’s wonderful Lord Vetinari from the Discworld series).
  3. I like to know how people live. I love the Middle Earth/Shire scenes in The Lord of the Rings. Okay, I could probably make myself very cosy and comfortable living in a hobbit hole as I’m not tall (that’s my example of understatement for this week!). More importantly, again it convinces me the author has thought this through and recognised different species will have different kinds of home and so on.
  4. A sense of how the different species get on, assuming they do. Where there are conflicts, and I would expect some, I want to see how these originated. Both sides in the conflict should have good reasons for holding the views they do, even if they are only good to them and their people. It should be something a reader can understand.

Managing My Writing

Facebook – General

I’ve found getting into a regular time for writing has helped me get more work done but I sneak in writing as and when I can during the day. (Generally easier to do at weekends). I’ve learned over time that pockets of time mount up and of course flash fiction can be written as complete works in those pockets.

I tend to break longer projects into time slots – say 20 minutes on a longer short story, 30 on writing my CFT post for the week and so on. Inevitably I will find I overrun on a piece as it “grips” me and I carry on writing but that’s fine. I will “mine” that for all I can and then carry on with whatever else I was working on afterwards or the next night. I look at my writing over the course of a week and work out what I’d like to achieve over that time span.

So don’t give up just because you haven’t much time. It’s a question, I think, of working out what you time you have got and deciding how best to “spend” that time.

Looking forward to going to the ACW Writers’ Day in Bath on Saturday. What are the benefits of going to days like this/writing conferences in general?

1. You get to meet other writers and make friends.

2. You learn from the talks/courses.

3. Given most of the time you’re behind on the desk on your own writing, it is fantastic to meet up with others who know what the joys and problems of writing are and can sympathise!

4. Some writing conferences run competitions. Always worth a go.

5. My CFT post from last year talks about the benefits of a good writing conference. Many thanks to Geoff Parkes for the pictures of me reading at the Open Prose night.

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Reading and writing are great joys at any time but I think they come into their own the most when your own mood isn’t so great.

Books and stories can (and indeed should) take you out of yourself and into a new world where you can lose yourself for a while. The challenge for the writer, of course, is to create a world the reader will want to spend time in. How best to do that? By creating characters the reader will either love or love to hate and where they/you have got to find out what happens to them.

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Favourite characters beginning with the letter A:-

Aslan (Narnia)
Aragorn (LOTR)
Angua (Discworld – her bark really is worse than her bite!)
Adora (Belle Deerheart – Discworld. Feisty doesn’t begin to cover it for this character!).

All of these characters are memorable and stand out, not least because one of them is a lion! All overcome perils (and in Aslan’s case death as well. See The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe for more on that! I refuse to believe this is a plot spoiler after all this time. Having said that, much as I love the book, I think Prince Caspian is even better).

It is the characters that draw me into any story, regardless of its genre. Yes, an odd set-up can provoke my curiosity but unless the characters appeal in some way, I won’t stay with that story.

PS Am having difficulty posting images with this one. Don’t know why. Sorry!  This is true for my Facebook post but I can and will post images here!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

When does a character come alive to you, their creator?

I think it is when you can put that character in any situation (outside of those in the story) and you would know immediately how they would react/deal with it. I sometimes know what my character’s favourite songs would be. I don’t always work thing out to that level of detail but I can hear a piece and think X would like that.

And yes it is perfectly possible to be irritated/annoyed with your characters as you get to know more about them. You need to look at why that is happening and ask yourself if this is an effect you want your readers to experience. If not, it’s time for amendments!

Flash fiction shines a spotlight on writing faults due to its word count limitation but that can be useful as you can then do something about said faults! It is so easy to repeat phrases or to use words that don’t add anything to your story so when I’m editing, these are the first things I look for and remove when I (inevitably) find them.

Often that edit in itself can be enough to get a story down to a required word count. Even when it isn’t, getting rid of the dross can then help you assess what you really need from what you’ve got left. And at that point, I’m looking for “does this move the story on?” or “if I cut this out, would it be missed?” I’ve found those two questions so useful for helping with edits and of course they work with longer fiction too.

I use the first person for a lot of my flash fiction as that immediacy of viewpoint suits the story form very well. It makes it easier for me to hit the ground running with my stories by showing you their viewpoint from the outset.

I often outline a character by just working out what their chief characteristic is and then deciding how far they will take that. You can have a lot of fun here if your character’s chief trait is stubbornness! Just what trouble can they land themselves/others in… and that of course can lead to a tragic tale or a funny one.

Flash fiction can be useful for generating story ideas for fleshing out into much longer pieces later on. I’ve sometimes taken a flash piece of mine and created a separate standard short story from it (circa 1500 to 2000 words).

Sometimes I think an idea will work better at a longer length but it isn’t always the case! For example, a quirky character can work well in a short piece. In a longer one they may irritate a reader. Just not worth going there! So when I’m pondering whether or not to expand a flash fiction story, I look at whether the lead character is really up to a longer word count. And they have to have plenty going for them for the answer to that one to be “yes”! (Beware the one trick pony – they really are best off in flash fiction and staying there).

PS Sorry for lack of images. Just not loading on this or my author page today. Don’t know why. All that happens is my text vanishes and no picture appears eitther! This has occasionally happened before. Hopefully normal service with pics tomorrow…  Again, this is true for Facebook today but not here!

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Goodreads Author Programme Blog –

Saturday Night is Alright for Reading

As is every other day of the week, of course! I thought of this title (and by default Elton John’s hit Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting) because I recall Saturday night being THE night for TV viewing.

There would be something good on everyone would want to watch and, especially in the days before VCR, you’d have to catch the programme live or hope for a repeat.

I was reminded of that this week with the news of the sad passing of Andre Previn aka Andrew Preview on the Morecambe and Wise Show.

So given I think that kind of Saturday night viewing is a thing of the past, perhaps making it the Big Read Night is not such a bad thought.

It does surprise me a bit, given how many great novels and short stories there are out there, that more are not adapted for TV. I would love to see the Discworld novels brought to the small screen. The Vimes/Watch novels would work particularly well. And it would be very original material too!

So back to the books for entertainment then. That’s not a bad thing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TITLES AND PROMPTS

How easy do you find coming up with the right title for your story?

I can think of something suitable most of the time nigh on immediately but it is a question, when I am editing the story later, if the “something suitable” is good enough. Could it be replaced with something which will make more of an impact? Yes, it usually could be!

So I often change my initial idea but I find I have to have something to act as a peg to hang my story thoughts from before I write the tale.

I suppose the point here is be open to changing things. If at the end of the editing process, you’re not sure if the title is strong enough, then it almost certainly isn’t. Don’t be afraid to play around with different title ideas. (Often a better title idea will come to me as I edit).

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What kind of story prompts are your favourite? I’ve never used picture ones (though I must give that a go at some point).

My favourite is the opening line prompt. I spend some time working out who the lead character will be (if it is not apparent from said opening line). I also work out different directions a potential story could go in and then write up the one I like best.

I also think of the effect I want the story to have on a reader. Do I want to make them laugh, cry etc? Most of the time I go for the make them laugh route!

 

What do you like best about your favourite characters (whether you’ve created them or not)?

For me, they’ve got to have spirit and the integrity to do what is right (which is not necessarily what their society would consider right. Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice would have been expected to marry the odious Mr Collins).

A good sense of humour is also invaluable in making your characters appeal to readers. I’ve always loved Elizabeth Bennett’s wit and sense of irony and long thought of her being ahead of her time.

What is your favourite creative writing book? I’m very fond of On Writing by Stephen King but another favourite is How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. This also has the bonus of being funny!

I love books which can get their point across humorously, there is an art to it, and I find the message sinks in much better. I suppose this is why if given a choice between reading, say, a crime novel with humour in it or one without, I will always take the “with” option!

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DO WHAT YOU MUST

The monster sat down and cried
No matter how hard he tried
He wasn’t scary any more.
The awful brat showed him the door.
No chance of any street cred here.
He could hear the others jeer.
What to do now? Oh yes, he knew
It bent the rules, that was true
To hell with it; do what you can
He went to the adverts man.
It was a way to earn a crust
He would up and do what he must.
The irony was what he sold
In his world would be like gold.
Rare and only for the few.
Here, it went to anyone who
Had the ready money to pay.
He disliked it but had no say.

Allison Symes – 25th August 2018

And before you ask, yes, I loved Monsters Inc!

If a novel is a portrait of a world and its characters, then flash fiction is the equivalent of the old Polaroid instant snap!

I am revealing my age here by saying I can recall when the Polaroid was THE height of camera technology. For the first time your pictures came out immediately instead of having to take a roll of film to the chemists or where have you for developing. Yes, and for younger readers, it really was another world away in terms of technology compared with what we have now! Dinosaurs had only just stopped walking the earth etc etc 😁😉

But instant snaps really do capture moments in time and that is precisely what flash fiction should do. Hone in on what matters and nothing else. The joy of flash fiction is the focus.

The restrictions of flash fiction force you to think about what it is you really want to convey through your story. This is no bad thing in and of itself. I’ve found that kind of thinking through has then carried on into other writing that I do, which has definite advantages.

When it comes to editing, I’ve mentioned before that writing flash has helped me locate those wasted words I use by habit and which don’t add anything to the tale, so they’re the first things I cut. I am finding, however, that more often now as I am writing the first draft, I am instinctively NOT writing those words at all. I hope that continues!

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Flash Fiction Favourite Pointers:-

1. Never forget, no matter what the length of the story, it still needs a beginning, a middle, and an end.

2. There should be conflict pretty much from the start as without that there is no story. You do have to hit the ground running.

3. Limit your characters. You haven’t got the room for subplots. I would focus on two characters or so though there’s nothing to stop you referencing another character as part of the story, as long as that is relevant to the tale. In my story Punish the Innocent, the two characters are the mum and daughter but the mum refers to others in the letter she writes to her daughter. This fills in backstory very quickly in this case and fleshes out why the mum has the attitude she has in this story.

4. Focus on what is most important only.

5. Let your readers fill in gaps. Just show them what they need to know and let them use their imaginations for the rest. From a reading viewpoint, that is the bit which is the most fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SPECIAL CHARACTERS AND HOW CHARACTERS SPEAK

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Why are your favourite characters in other writers’ stories your favourite? What is it about them that makes them stand out from the other characters in that story or book?

It pays to take time out now and again to think about these questions as the answers to them can inspire you as to how to make your own characters stand out in a way that is appropriate to them and your own story.

Another reason for reading widely and well (and including non-fiction) is you do learn from other writers and you can analyse what works well and what works less well. So the more you read, the more you can learn.

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Glad to say I’ll be taking part in the Hursley Park Book Fair in just under a month’s time. I’m there on the Saturday, 23rd June, and will also be giving a talk on flash fiction. The event is FREE, there is parking and a wide range of authors and genres will be represented. Hursley Park is the home of IBM and is between Romsey/Chandler’s Ford and Winchester and just on the edge of Hursley Village itself. Hope to see you there!

Book fair Flyer

Image Credit:  Many thanks to Glenn Salter for the book flyer image.

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Characters can speak in all sorts of ways, sometimes by not speaking at all! Silence as part of a story can be very powerful. A character usually happy to chat who suddenly clams up – I would want to know why, what happened to trigger the clamming up and so on.

Characters can always speak through “their” writing – diaries, letters to others and so on. Characters can also speak in the way that they talk. For example, you could have a character who refuses to use contractions and as a result their speech is far more formal than everybody else’s.

Characters can also “speak” through how they treat each other. Are they as nice as pie to most people but treat Character X despicably? Wouldn’t you want to read on and find out why?

So what are your characters telling you and your readers? And are you aware of what your characters are saying or do they surprise you (sometimes)? One of my favourite things as a writer is when I write a line and just know it is exactly what that character would say, but I also relish the “out of the ball park” moments when my characters surprise me. I like to explore where that takes me as I nearly always discover something more about my characters.

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What is the image that you want to leave in the minds of your readers from your flash story? How will you achieve that? What impact do you want your flash tale to have on your readers?

I often ask myself the latter and so think along the lines that I want this story to be a dark one, another a light one and so on. I then ask myself how can I achieve this and prepare an outline. As other ideas come to me I add them to the outline and then work out which would be best.

My outlines for flash are, appropriately, brief but they help me to focus on what I want the story to “do”.

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My next book event will be at the Hursley Park Book Fair on 23rd June. I will be posting more details about this via Chandler’s Ford Today nearer the time but I wanted to flag it up a little early as it is a FREE event, there is plenty of parking and a wide range of authors and genres will be represented. I’m waving the flag, so to speak, for flash fiction and will be speaking about it at the event too.

The Fair is on 23rd and 24th June and my only regret is I can’t be there on the 24th as well, but these things happen! Having said that, I hope there will be a good turnout on both days. Sure to be good fun!

SIDE VIEW MIBI DISPLAY

My book (and a friend’s!) on sale at a local gift shop.  Image by Allison Symes

Books from Bridge House, Chapeltown and Cafelit

Some of my published works, the majority are anthologies.  Image by Allison Symes

Don't think I'll ever tire of signing my books

Don’t think I’ll tire of signing my books!  Image by Adrian Symes

Let creativity spill out - image via Pixabay

Let your creativity spill over.  Image via Pixabay

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Some thoughts to ponder as you create your fictional world. What would happen when push came to shove for your characters?

What do your characters do when under extreme pressure? (What is the first of their virtues to suddenly bite the dust?).

What laws do your government(s) bring in to cope with emergencies? (What freedoms and rights suddenly bite the dust?).

What good qualities does your hero/heroine suddenly discover they’ve got in response to a quest or other task they know they’ve got to see through no matter what?

What would it take for your hero/heroine to either break or compromise with evil?

What would your fictional world do to defend itself (and what could threaten it)?

What is the driving force behind your characters’ motivations and actions?

Are the media still free to operate in an emergency situation or do new rules come in?

How do the “good guys” remain “good guys”? What do they do to fight the temptation to compromise with evil?

What triggers the “push”? Who or what is behind the threats to your fictional worlds ?

Are your characters better for having been put through so much pressure or have they caved in and what are the consequences?

There is definitely plenty of stories to be written here, just answering some of those! Okay, they may be on the dark end of the scale as opposed to the light but there may be a place for your characters to show humour in the face of adversity. (Equally whether it is appropriate humour or not would tell your readers quite a bit about them).

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In every good book or story, there is at least one standout character. Something about that character grips you so you have to keep reading until the end of the story.

So it pays, as a writer, to work out what exactly it is about that character which gives them their unique standout identity. How has the writer treated their character’s faults and virtues?

It pays writers then to read widely and across genres, including non-fiction. The more you read, the more you take in what other writers have done with their characters and that can inspire you with your own.

We all have favourite books and most of the time the reason they’re our favourites is because of the characters. (They don’t have to be the heroes either).

Characters have to be special to make a story work. For me, some of my favourite characters include:-

1. Frodo Baggins/Sam Gamgee
2. Severus Snape
3. Robin Hood
4. Jeeves and Wooster
5. Sam Vimes
6. The Patrician (Ankh-Morpork)
7. Hercule Poirot
8. Sherlock Holmes
9. Jane Marple
10. Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy

All of these have traits that make them unforgettable (even if some of these, as with Sherlock, would make them questionable even now).

So what qualities do you look for in stories you read that really identify the character as the standout one for you?

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BEING CREATIVE

There’s a definite theme tonight!  (Sometimes I don’t plan that, a theme emerges from the different things I’m writing but this theme was planned and is inspired by my wondering if, when you’ve been creating works such as stories for some time, do you still appreciate the joy of doing so?  Anyway, more to follow).

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This week’s Chandler’s Ford Today post talks about creativity being good for you. It is too!

Being creative has proven health benefits (mentally and physically) and my post talks about that and why creativity is a wonderful thing.

I do sometimes wonder if we appreciate it enough at times (which is my inspiration for writing this post). Whether you bake cakes, write stories, play music or what have you, if you have been doing this for a long time, can you end up taking the joy of creating these things for granted?

I think so and I hope my post helps to give us all a renewed sense of enjoyment about what we do creatively.

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My CFT post this week will be on the theme of creativity being good for you. And it is – mentally and physically. I feel much better once I’ve completed something creative during the day – whether it is flash fiction, a Facebook post (😀), or baking a cake.

The nice thing about creativity is anyone can join in and you can find your own level where you want to be. For those wanting to develop creative skills further, there are courses, online as well as the traditional evening classes/OU etc. I’ve found that though my major creative interest is in writing, I have a greater appreciation of all of the arts, music especially.

I also think if you are involved in one art form, you have an appreciation of the hard work that goes unseen behind others. I learned years ago that if a piece of writing looks easy to read then you can bet that author worked their socks off to get it to that point. (Other hosiery accessories are available!).

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What is the most helpful aspect of a book review? To be fair, there is more than one! There is obviously the publicity aspect but when people have said what they liked, or what they felt didn’t work so well, that has been what I’ve found most useful to know.

Okay nobody is going to please all of the people all of the time and there are many sound reasons not to even try doing that, but a general consensus does mean you are on the right lines (or not, as the case may be!).

Incidentally I can vouch for the fact Dawn, Paula and I do all appreciate the reviews we have had for books where our stories have appeared!

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

Paula Readman, Dawn Knox and I at the recent Bridge House celebration event. Many thanks to Paula for the image.

Such appropriate decor for the Bridge House event in a pub room

This was part of the pub decor at the place where Bridge House had their event. Very apt! Image by Allison Symes

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At the back are some of the other books I’ve appeared in. Image by Allison Symes

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Am currently listening to the wonderful Planet Suite by Gustav Holst on Classic FM. Each piece of music within the suite tells its own story. (My favourite piece is Jupiter, the bringer of jollity. It also contains what many will know as the hymn tune for I Vow To Thee, My Country).

Holst used music to convey his thoughts. Writers of course use words. But the way you put them together (and the order) makes a huge difference to meaning. So are your words having the impact you actually mean them to have? Of course, this aspect can be “sent up” for comedic effect (hence the pun, the innuendo etc) but it is true you do have to know the rules before you break them!

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Why does editing always take longer than you think it will? Answers on the back of a postcard… Seriously though, I do give myself plenty of time for this and it STILL takes longer than anticipated. I think there must be an unknown Murphy’s Law for Writers happening here. Talking of which:-

1. You tell people you’re a writer, they suddenly need a pen for something, and you cannot find one on you for love or money. Cue one embarrassed writer!

2. Your printer cartridge always runs out halfway through the printing of the story or book you are desperate to get out to your publisher.

3. You know you have more printer cartridges, you remember ordering them, but you filed them somewhere safe and now cannot remember where that place is!

4. You have a power cut just as you are getting to the end of your story and you forgot to back up so you lose what you’ve just written and have to start again from where you HAD last backed up. You discover you have words in your vocabulary you make a mental note NOT to use in front of the vicar when they next call in.

Guess which of these have happened to me!

Contributions to the Murphy’s Law List for Writers very welcome!

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What is your favourite way to start a story? I must admit I don’t have one single way. And so much depends on whether I’m writing flash fiction or a standard length short story.

I am very fond of being right inside my main character’s head from the start. I like to think of this as hitting the ground running.

I also like to start with a brief sentence or two scene setting. Using a time as part of this can be handy as if the opening line says it is 4 am in mid-summer, you’ve got an immediate image of light levels, whether it is likely to be warm or not and so on. Setting place names can be great too. Mid-summer in the UK is vastly different to mid-summer in Australia, say.

I always look for the words that give me the strongest images whichever way I start though. It saves on word count and has the greater impact on your reader.

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I sometimes use the opening line in a short story competition to inspire my flash fiction. (Sometimes I write up the short story and enter the competition!).

It can be an interesting challenge to see what you can do with an opening line meant to generate a 1500-words short story and see if you can make it work for a tale of under 1000 words (and in my case usually around the 100-words mark).

I must admit I much prefer opening lines competitions to those where you have to finish with a certain line. I think there is more freedom in taking an opening line and running with it rather than being told where you have to stop!

What competitions do you prefer?

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The challenge of writing a complete story in the shortest number of words is not a new one but it does make you increase your vocabulary. (As a flash fiction writer, you will always be on the lookout for those words that can convey stronger meanings than others or can convey more than one meaning. Saves on the word count (!) and the rightly chosen words will give your story a more powerful impact).

Does that mean you’ll never write longer fiction again? Not a bit of it but working to a tight word count helps develop your editing skills and that is always useful, regardless of what you write.

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I have too many favourite characters to name them individually, as I expect is the case with most of us, but I do like particular types.

My overall favourite is the unexpected hero. Think Bilbo and Frodo Baggins! I admit being on the short side myself, I probably was always going to favour the idea of a hobbit as a hero!

I also love those characters who suffer injustice but win through in the end. That covers everything from Cinderella to the Prisoner of Azkaban to The Man In the Iron Mask.

I don’t have a problem with talking animals in stories as long as they make sense! Ideally, I prefer it when the animals know more of what is going on in the story than the hero does. (Hello, Puss in Boots!).

Characters have got to be appropriate to the fictional world in which they’re set so hobbits could only be in a fantasy world. Mind, if I had to live anywhere in fiction, I can think of far worse places than The Shire. (Mordor, for one!).

So what are your favourite character types and why?

 

Fairytales with Bite – Appreciating What You Do

My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week looks at why creativity is good for you and it was inspired by my wondering whether when you’ve been creating, say, stories for some time, do you still appreciate what you do as much as perhaps you should?

I think it is easy to take the joy of creating anything for granted and I hope this post encourages all of us to take a fresh look at what we do creatively and almost, if you like, fall in love with it all over again.

I also think it is a good thing for writers to be open to trying different forms of writing.  It flexes your writing muscles, you may well discover a form you become addicted to (in my case, I found flash fiction or maybe it was a case of flash fiction finding me!), and you get to find out what you really want to write.

It also means when successes come your way, no matter how large or small, you appreciate those more too and that can never be a bad thing.  One way of appreciating what you do is read your work out.  If you are gripped by the tale, others will be too.  Images below were taken by me and are from the Bridge House celebration event.  The range of stories read out was great.  I took part too.

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Gill James reading from her January Stones collection. Image by Allison Symes

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Dawn Knox reading some of her flash fiction. Image by Allison Symes

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Margaret Bullyment read a wonderful justice story at the Bridge House event in December. Image by Allison Symes

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Robin Wrigley read a poignant, character driven story. Image by Allison Symes

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

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

This World and Others – Enjoying the Creative Process

My latest Chandler’s Ford Today post takes a look at why being creative is beneficial (and for science as well as the arts too).

I think it is vital to enjoy the creative process to get the most from it.  That doesn’t mean it won’t be difficult at times.  You will feel like swearing (and may do so!) when the words don’t seem to flow so easily as they usually do, but if, generally, you love what you do as you create your characters and stories, then you can know you’re on the right lines. That love will keep you going (along with support from other writers whether that’s online or in a good wriitng group) throughout those tougher times and the inevitable rejections we all collect as if they were going out of fashion.  The one great thing is I can’t think of any writer who hasn’t felt in need of that support at times.  You are definitely not the only one!

It is difficult to say what my favourite part of the creative process is but I do feel elated when I know I’ve got a character right.  I know then that what I get them to say or do is right for them, and their story will flow much more easily as I am writing from deep knowledge of who and what and why they are the characters they are. I also think that will come through in the writing itself and make for a better read for future readers.  I also feel elated when I’ve got a first draft down as I know I’ve got something to work with then (and it can only get better!  All first drafts need work, even Shakespeare’s would have done!).