Music and Characters

Facebook – General

Loved listening to a wonderful hour of Dr Who music on Classic FM tonight. Each piece brought back many happy memories of wonderful editions of the show. I suppose that is one reason why I love music – it can be so evocative – and for films/TV etc, it can really help set the tone for what is to come.

With stories, of course, there is no background music usually! We have to set the mood through what we reveal about our characters in what they say, think, and do. But the great thing about being the writer of the stories is you get to make the characters dance to YOUR tune! The really fun bit is making that tune varied – no monotones here, thank you.

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It was great fun earlier today taking part in #ValPenny‘s book launch for her second novel in the Edinburgh Crime Series, Hunter’s Revenge. Many thanks, Val!

The great thing about things like this is it makes you think about what you are reading and what you particularly enjoy.

The big thing for me with series novels is discovering how the characters change and develop from one book to another. Great fun. I also see it as getting more than one story for your money.

Not only is there the individual story of each book to follow, you get to see how your favourite (and least favourite) characters move on or not, as the case may be.

My overall favourite for character development is Terry Pratchett’s Sam Vimes. Compare him with how he appears in Guards, Guards to how he is in Raising Steam. Literally a character that comes a long way!

Good luck to Val and I hope everyone has a fabulous time with their reading and writing. It should be fun.

 

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How often do you review where you are with your writing? I tend to do this at the end of each year. What I’m looking for here is where I’ve been published during the last 12 months and whether I’ve achieved something I’ve not done before. I also set myself a couple of goals that I’d like to achieve in the next 12 months.

With regard to my CFT posts, I tend to look back at my topics every time I write a new article. This is partly because I’m looking for links to go with the current post. Often one writing related topic will kick off ideas for others. I love that when this happens.

In fiction, what I really love is getting ideas for other characters from the characters in the story I’m currently writing. Say Character A acts in a certain way due to pressure being put on them, I come up with a Character B who faces different pressures but reacts differently.

I love the creative buzz you get. It is always a good sign when you are buzzing with ideas to write up at some point.

Other than people giving plot endings away, what is the one thing you loathe most which is writing connected? (I take loathing the giving the plot endings away thing as read by the way!).

I suppose mine is when someone believes short stories (including flash fiction) must be easier to write than a novel. What is forgotten here is, no matter the length of story, all tales have to be edited and polished well ahead of submitting them anywhere.

Sure, a novel is going to take longer. Of course it is but it doesn’t mean short stories (including flash fiction) are any less worthwhile. Far from it. And, of course, many novelists write shorter pieces too!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Managed to write some flash fiction on the way to and from an Association of Christian Writers Committee meeting today. I do love using train journeys for this! I find it liberating to be writing but away from my desk.

I drafted a nice mix too – one story was a very short piece, the other I think is going to come in at about 200 words, but both can be submitted somewhere later once I’ve had the chance to polish them.

Looking forward to giving a brief talk on flash fiction at the Hampshire Writers’ Society in October. Will post more details nearer the time.

I like story collections which offer a variety of moods of story. I see it as dipping into a “selection box” of story treats (and a lot less fattening than dipping into an actual selection box!). This is why I wanted From Light to Dark and Back Again to be like this and that mood selection inspired the title too.

As for flash fiction collections on single themes, I like those too. (Dawn Knox’s The Great War is a fabulous example of this). Don’t know if I’ll go that route myself but it’ll be posted here first if I do! It’s fantastic having so much choice with flash fiction.

I like being able to come up with different settings for my flash fiction stories. Though my rule here is one setting for one story and generally one character too. (Sometimes I’ll use two but if I’m keeping to the 100-word limit especially it is nearly always one character only and often I’m telling the story in the first person for a more immediate impact).

The great thing is the character or the setting can dictate the story genre being used. If I mention a character is a fairy godmother, well you’ve got the fantasy genre there in a nutshell. What images you have of what a fantasy world with fairy godmothers in it looks like will almost certainly differ from the images I conjure up here (pun intended!), but that’s good. We bring our differing experiences and thoughts when we read a story. How much more when we write them too!

I find it hard to say whether I prefer writing the lighter or darker stories in From Light to Dark and Back Again (and indeed the book I’m currently working on).

I love coming up with something humorous but with the darker pieces, I often feel there is more character development in those.

Certainly whenever I read darker flash fiction whether it is written by myself or others, I am always wondering what led to that character being like this and thinking about what their back story could have been. This is a good sign as it shows that character has really come to life in your imagination.

With humorous pieces, I am kind of working to the “punchline” though this must wrap the story up beautifully, make sense, and be funny.

Goodreads Author Blog – Read the Book First or Watch the Film?

When it comes to adaptations, do you read the original book first or watch the film and then decide to go and read the book?

I must admit I’ve done both. I read The Lord of the Rings before seeing the films. I read Oliver Twist after seeing Alec Guinness play Fagin on TV all those years ago. (Mesmerising performance in evil manipulation there!).

I must admit one thing I love about the Muppets’ version of A Christmas Carol is they plug reading the original book right at the end of the film. (And they’re right – you should read it!).

A good adaptation will bring a story to life and help draw people into reading the original book. A bad one will do the exact opposite!

So where DO you turn first – the book or the film? Why do you think you’ve chosen as you have?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handling Criticism

It has been a very busy week but it was a great joy to welcome Val Penny to my blog on Tuesday last.  Looking forward to her Hunter’s Revenge coming out in September.  I’m also looking forward to the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School later this month.

Facebook – General – and Association of Christian Writers – On Criticism

My More than Writers blog post for the Association of Christian Writers went up on site yesterday.

On Criticism talks about handling criticism, and how showing how your characters handle that themselves can be used to reveal a lot about them. It can be a good way to get depth into a story given no character should be one-dimensional. They should act and react and then usually act on that reaction! How they handle being criticised is a good way to show how they related to the ones doing the criticising for one thing!

I also share some thoughts on allowing time to elapse before evaluating your own work. Link above.

My CFT post this week will be a review of the Chameleon Theatre Group’s latest production, What a Bunch of Amateurs. A really funny play (writers: Ian Hislop and Nick Newman). Looking forward to sharing the link on Friday.

A great story, regardless of format, is one in which you are very happy to suspend disbelief for the duration of reading it/watching it performed/listening to it etc. Amateurs was easily that and good fun.

Images below kindly provided by Lionel Elliott and the Chameleons (and used with permission). More to come on Friday.

Beginning to heat up in Hampshire again…. Lady not keen. Neither are Lady’s owners! Still our park did perk up a bit after the rain last weekend. It doesn’t ALL look like straw now!

Weather can be used as a descriptive shorthand. If you say someone has a sunny disposition you know exactly what is meant. It can be a useful technique for flash fiction of course – all those words saved on your word count!

However, it is too easy to fall into cliche with it (and that’s what I’ve just done with that phrase I think!) so best to use this sparingly. (Think of it as the writing equivalent of chilli powder – too much and you will know it! Too little and well what was the point?).

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Am hoping to submit some more flash fiction before I head off to Swanwick. Happy with progress of WiP (which is nice – haven’t always been able to say that). Have all sorts of ideas bubbling away for future flash fiction collections, which I’m looking forward to having a go at.

Would like to investigate more flash fiction competitions too, so plenty to be getting on with over the summer, but then that is never a bad thing!

The lovely thing about flash fiction is the freedom it gives you to write in different genres, albeit in a very short format! FLTDBA has everything in it from humour to horror to fantasy to poignant pieces and a little bit of crime too. I adore that flexibility. The only thing I have to worry about is the word count!

I love to use thoughts in my stories (though admittedly in flash fiction, I have to keep these brief. That’s no bad thing though). Thoughts reveal the character’s attitude, what state of mind they are in at the time and so on. Thoughts can also help you cut the word count (something every flash fiction writer is looking to do!) because you can go “straight to the chase”. The character is showing you what they are thinking.

Had a nice time earlier going through the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School brochure, trying to decide what courses I will do when there. The lovely thing about writing flash fiction is all sorts of things can feed into it and spark off ideas so a course on crime writing may well inspire all sorts of very short stories on that topic.

Expecting, Why Stop Now, and Punish the Innocent are just three of my flash stories in FLTDBA where the theme is crime. Other themes in the book are fantasy, Pride and Prejudice, Frankenstein, and abusive relationships. Quite a mix! I can’t stress enough how vital it is to read widely. You need to spread your net wide to “catch” as many sparks to fire off ideas as you can and then the work is in deciding which are the strongest ones to actually write up into stories.

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Goodreads Author Blog – Heatwaves and Reading

Is the hot weather (in the UK at least) encouraging you to read more or less than you would usually?

I find I’m “dipping” into things more, especially magazines, given by the end of the day, when I’d usually like to read for a while before lights out, I’m feeling far too washed out to read much. Oh and I am reading more magazines on Kindle now, which was something I never thought I’d do, but I’ve got on better with it than I thought I would.

Magazine reading is ideal for that feeling washed out to concentrate much scenario, as are short story and flash fiction anthologies. Quick reads when you feel as if your brain has melted are ideal. The literary fiction can definitely wait for when it is cooler!

Looking at my reading patterns over the year, I tend to read more novels over the autumn and winter months. It’s not a conscious thing. I suppose you hone in to the fact that with the nights drawing in, now’s the time to get on with a good, LONG book!

Meanwhile it’s back to the cool drinks and quick reads for me!

 

 

 

 

Introducing Crime Writer, Val Penny

Introducing Val Penny…

One of the lovely things about writing is getting to meet other writers at conferences and so on. You can share tales of woe, exciting publication news etc and know the other person will appreciate where you are coming from. Sometimes you can find out about markets and competitions you hadn’t heard of, but above all you have friends – and social media makes it so much easier to keep in touch.

I was delighted to meet crime writer, Val Penny, at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School a couple of years back. I’m looking forward to catching up with her again there this year. I am very pleased to have Val join me on my blog tonight and she shares an excerpt from her forthcoming book Hunter’s Revenge, the second in the Hunter Wilson/Edinburgh Mysteries series. (Good news for those of you who like crime writing, as I do, is there will be more to come).

Over to you, Val… (and I want to know the moment you DO achieve your childhood dream of owning a candy store. I shall be right over….!).

The Author Bio for Hunter’s Revenge

Val Penny is an American author living in SW Scotland. She has two adult daughters of whom she is justly proud and lives with her husband and two cats. She has a Law degree from Edinburgh University and her MSc from Napier University. She has had many jobs including hairdresser, waitress, lawyer, banker, azalea farmer and lecturer. However she has not yet achieved either of her childhood dreams of being a ballerina or owning a candy store. Until those dreams come true, she has turned her hand to writing poetry, short stories and novels. Her crime novels, Hunter’s Chase and Hunter’s Revenge are set in Edinburgh, Scotland, published by Crooked Cat Books.

author pic 2

And Val has very kindly shared the extract from her forthcoming book.  Enjoy!  I know I did!

 

Hunter’s Revenge
Prologue
East Germany, January 1968
The last thing Georg did on his eighteenth birthday was kill a man.
He really hadn’t meant to kill the Stasi officer in front of him, but it was him or Georg – and Georg did not want to die. It was the first time he’d seen a corpse. The streets were slick with ice. The man lost his balance and cracked his head on the pavement. Georg stared down at the body: there was blood and brains all over the pavement. He looked into the officer’s eyes. They stared blindly to heaven, but Georg knew there wasn’t a Stasi officer on earth who was going there. He looked away from death and towards his friends in horror, but when they saw what had happened, they scattered. Georg picked up the officer’s gun and began to run.
More Stasi officers appeared as the boys fled.
Georg was out of breath when he got home.
“What’s the rush, son?” his father asked.
“Shit, Dad! It’s bad.”
“You’re drunk! No language in this house, boy,” said his grandmother.
“Dad, the boys and me were leaving the bar to come home and we saw a Stasi officer”
“So?”
“We were laughing and having fun.”
“And?”
“For a laugh I knocked his hat off.”
“Idiot! You know Stasi have no sense of humour. Ever. So what next?”
“He pulled his gun and told us to stand silently against the wall.”
“And you apologised and complied, I hope.”
“I panicked and punched him. He slipped on the ice and fell over. He hit his head on the ground, and when I checked him, he wasn’t breathing. He was dead. I just took his gun and ran.”
The silence in the room was deafening.
“You did what? You fucking idiot! Did you really punch a Stasi officer? Are you mad? You know we don’t even have to openly engage in resistance to draw the attention of the Stasi and incur its retribution. Just failing to conform with mainstream society can be enough. Shit! I sired a fool.” Georg’s father’s red face reflected his rage.
“And now you are here,” his grandmother added. “You ran home, leading them straight to us. We will all die now. Thank you.”
“What is all the noise?” Georg’s mother came through from the kitchen, drying her hands on her apron. His twin sister Ingrid and younger brother Wilhelm followed her. They looked bewildered. Their father rarely raised his voice, especially not to Georg.
As his father explained the issues, Georg’s mother burst into tears.
“They will kill him,” she whispered.
“They’ll kill him?” his father shrieked “Fuck, the rest of us will be lucky if all they do is kill us too! Have you any idea the danger you have put this whole family in, you young imbecile?”
“God, that’s true!” his mother sobbed. “Georg has to leave. He must escape right away. Maybe, when they come and find him gone, they will believe we had no part of it.”
“You and I both know that is not going to happen,” his father said. “They know everybody in the town, and even if they don’t already know it was Georg, one of their informers will turn him in for reward or to save their own skin. They will soon find out where he lives.”
His wife nodded.
“Mum, where do I go?” Georg pleaded. “Dad, what will you do? I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just fooling around.”
“Then you are more of a fool than I ever thought,” his father said. “It’s a bit fucking late to worry about us. We will cope, but we must deny you and any knowledge of this atrocity. I love you always, but you must leave, son. Now. There is no choice, and you must be quick because they will be here all too soon. Make a start on your escape tonight. It’s your only hope, and ours.”
“Quick, Wilhelm, fetch him my savings and your grandfather Georg’s book,” said his grandmother. “Georg will need the money, and he can always sell the book.”
“I’ll pack a meal,” his mother said. She gathered up the family Bible, along with some bread, ham, cheese and apples.
“Don’t give him too much, it will slow him down,” said Ingrid.
“Pack everything in a rucksack. You can put it on your back, Georg, and still run,” said Wilhelm as he handed their grandmother’s meagre treasures to George.
“I am so sorry, Father. Where do I go? Where am I running to? What will happen to you?” Georg’s voice raised to a scream.
His mother held him and kissed his head, but his father grabbed his arm, pulled him from her and shook him.
“You got yourself into this; we will get you out of it. No point in worrying about us. Get out of this country. Don’t look back. Just run. Go west, go to Britain. Stay alive. Get out of this house, get out of my sight and never come back. Do you hear me, Georg?”

Hunter's Revenge Banner

Wow!  Plenty to get your teeth into there!  Well done, Val.
Hunter’s Revenge Blurb
Hunter by name – Hunter by nature: DI Hunter Wilson will not rest until his friend’s death is revenged.

DI Hunter Wilson is called to the scene of a murder. He is shocked to find the victim is his friend and colleague, George Reinbold. Who would want to harm the quiet, old man? Why was a book worth £23,000 delivered to him that morning? Why is the security in George’s home so intense?

Hunter must investigate his friend’s past as well as the present to identify the killer and identify George’s killer. Hunter also finds a new supply of cocaine from Peru flooding HMP Edinburgh and the city. The courier leads Hunter to the criminal gang but Hunter requires the help of his nemesis, the former Chief Constable, Sir Peter Myerscough and local gangster Ian Thomson to make his case. Hunter’s perseverance and patience are put to the test time after time in this taught crime thriller.

Hunter's Revenge Cover
Many thanks, Val, for sharing such an intriguing extract! I look forward to reading more!

I think one of the appeals of crime fiction is following the development of characters like Hunter Wilson over a series of books. Crime fiction reveals a lot about the human condition and I think there will always be a fascination with what makes criminals tick, what got them into crime in the first place, could anything have been done to prevent it, and so on.

It’s not a new fascination either. I’ve recently been watching a series of programmes on BBC Four about Highwaymen, Outlaws and Robbers and the old printed sheets detailing someone’s crimes (usually just before they went to the gallows) sold like the proverbial hot cakes in London. We’re talking 17th and 18th centuries here. And going further back, there is fascination now about what happened to the Princes in the Tower, but that fascination started at pretty much the moment it was known the boys were missing.

So crime writers are very much tapping into something fundamental here – the need to know why someone would act in a way at odds with what is seen to be right.

Happy writing, Val.  Very much looking forward to this.

CHARACTER RESEMBLING - Just what is your story then

Find out more about Hunter Wilson’s story in September! Image via Pixabay

Finding Ideas

Facebook – General

The challenge of finding new ideas for stories, is, of course, ongoing but the great thing is there are so many avenues to explore.

Proverbs and sayings can give themes for stories. Someone coming out with a strange way of expressing something can be an inspiration. (I was on the receiving end of one of these this week. Am certain I can get a flash fiction story out of it – will keep you posted!).

How about taking advertising slogans and changing a word or two to get your own theme? Instead of the old egg advert which said “Go to Work on an Egg”, how about “Go to Work on a Unicorn”. Now there’s a fantasy story or several behind that. Have fun (I intend to with that one as well).

Items of clothing (for example an odd shaped hat) can lead you wondering about the kind of character who would wear such a thing and what they might get up to while wearing it!

Keep your eyes and ears open. I’ve found, over time, when I hear or see something that could be useful for a story, I tend to hone in on it. It’s almost as if you develop a kind of antenna for this so be open to it. If the ideas don’t work out, well you’ve lost nothing but time trying them. (And I would be surprised if you didn’t get something out of them, if only the core for a stronger story you write up later).

I love stories that mirror others as long as it is done well. The play I saw on Wednesday was a great example of that. More details in my CFT post on Friday. The play was influenced heavily by one of Shakespeare’s finest which confirms something I’ve believed for a long time.

Reading widely is so important for anyone wanting to write. Indeed, it is more than that. It is NECESSARY.

Not only can you see how writers set things out, you DO learn by reading what others have done. You take in things like ratio of dialogue to narrative, where passive tense IS used appropriately, and how the writer you’re reading uses drama and cliffhangers in chapters to make you keep on reading so you have to find out how the story ends. That’s just a few things you take in when reading.

Also, by reading widely you are supporting the industry you want to join so it makes sense on so many levels. Ideas for your own stories come from all over the place and the theme of a novel you love may well be one you’d like to also write about, albeit in a totally different way.

Reading non-fiction can open your mind to ideas that you would want to bring into your fictional world. For example you read about how the phone came into being. Okay, how would that happen on the world you’re creating? What is their equivalent of the phone? Reading history (fictional and otherwise) can not only give you a sense of the past so much so you will want to set your own stories there, but there’s absolutely nothing to stop you writing about a minor character in the court of a monarch. Equally you could take your knowledge of how the court of Elizabeth 1 operated and set up a similar style of government in the world you’re creating.

Happy reading and writing!

 

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Flash fiction, because it has to be character led, can deal with “issues” but, obviously, briefly. That can often work better than a longer story where the writer can feed more into the tale. Short and to the point is what flash fiction does and, with stories that pack a punch like this, I believe brevity is best. No danger of repeating yourself either!

Flash fiction can take you anywhere
You like in terms of worlds, time or space.
Readers find out how your people fare
In whatever word count fits the case.
As long as it is under one K,
You and your story will be okay!

Allison Symes – 29th July 2018

COMING UP NEXT TIME…

Guest Post from crime writer, Val Penny

I’m looking forward to sharing with you on Tuesday, 31st July a guest post from friend and crime writer, Val Penny.  She is behind the Hunter Wilson/Edinburgh Mysteries series and shares with us an extract from her forthcoming novel, Hunter’s Revenge.  It is very good but don’t just take my word for it.  See what you think from the extract on Tuesday!