Favourite Things and Publication News

Image Credit:  Pixabay and Pexels unless otherwise stated.


As you will see from my posts below, Tripping the Flash Fantastic, my second flash fiction collection, is almost ready to be published by Chapeltown Books. I will share more news when I have it but I can say now that the cover is stunning. I hope to share a book cover reveal in due course. Am I excited? You bet! This week has been very busy in working with the cover designer and ensuring there is nothing further to change to the text but it has been a great few days as you can imagine. I do hope to have a cyberlaunch in due course.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Favourite Things was such a fun post to write but with a title like that, it should be really! I share five favourites in various categories ranging from book genres to dog breeds to TV themes, stopping at favourite meals and drinks along the way.
Do check the post out and send your nominees in via the CFT comments box.
Also check out the fab TV themes I picked, they will bring great memories for many, and it was marvellous hearing them again.

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Gracie, my much missed bearded collie cross (with border collie). Image by Allison Symes


Mabel, my much missed border collie. Image by Allison Symes.

Inquisitive Lady - 1

Lady, the border collie cross (flat coat retriever and chiahuahua, yes really,the inquisitive and loveable! Image by Allison Symes

Glad to see that the beautifully painted stones around my neck of the woods are still in place. I’ve enjoyed spotting those when out and about with Lady. I’ve no artistry at all when it comes to painting, drawing etc., but I do know what I like when I see it!
My CFT post is all about Favourite Things. I share various categories and pick my five favourites. Link up tomorrow. See what you think and do send comments in. There are also some TV themes from yesteryear as part of this post too and it was fun looking those up and playing them again. Hope you’ll enjoy them too. And with all of the categories I’ve chosen, I could’ve picked a lot more than five!
Incidentally, a good way to outline your characters is to think about what their favourite things are and why “they” would choose them. (By all means use the categories in my CFT post tomorrow to start you off and good luck!).

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Another nice day. I’m shortly going to start the final text checks on Tripping The Flash Fantastic so that will keep me out of mischief for a while.
I was also “on” a hugely enjoyable Zoom creative writing workshop this afternoon which was good fun. Live writing to different challenges and work produced I plan to polish up in the next couple of days. There will be a follow-up Zoom workshop to this one next week so am already looking forward to that.
Good workshops will show you what you can do and then set you the challenge to do it. They’re a great way of stretching your imagination. For example, I wrote a couple of haiku this afternoon. Fun to do, not my normal area of work at all, and will I write some more in due course? I expect so.
I write in notebooks;
I write on laptop and phone;
Edits by red pen!😊😊
Allison Symes – 15th July 2020

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

This week has been a very exciting one as I’ve worked with the cover designer from Chapeltown Books on Tripping the Flash Fantastic. I’ve also checked the text for the final time. So a busy but productive week and a lovely way to go into the weekend.
I hope in due course to post a cover reveal and I plan to hold a cyberlaunch. More details to follow.
This is the lovely side of writing. So much goes on behind the scenes and often for a long time at that. When you get to the point that the book is shortly going to be “out there”, then that’s the exciting and lovely pay off for all that hard work behind the scenes.

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I was at a creative writing workshop via Zoom on Wednesday afternoon. Great fun it was too and I have a few flash fiction pieces from it I will polish up in due course! Now there’s a result.
Okay, I could’ve done without the dog barking an hour into it but she doesn’t like disembodied voices. That’s not going to change any time soon. Even when I’ve been away at events like Swanwick and I call home, I am told she looks at the phone, she can clearly hear my voice, and she backs off from it. (Phone eaten Mum type of scenario in Lady’s head I guess!).
So is Lady an aide to my “muse”? Err…. no. That’s not going to change any time soon either though I have sometimes written dog related flash fiction stories.

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I need stories to make me react in some way, whether I write them or read them. A story that I’m indifferent to is one that has failed for me and it is always a challenge to make sure I don’t write tales that people would be half-hearted about.
This is the biggest reason I think why the characters are the most important element in a story. If I can’t get behind the characters, or see why they are the way they are, then why should I read on?
So when I write stories, I try to ask myself throughout editing, how do my characters make me react? Do they still make me laugh, cry, scream or what have you? Is there anything I can do to “beef up” their portrayal?
Sometimes slipping in an odd extra detail can help make that portrayal more realistic and add depth. But it’s not until I’ve read the story afresh I can see where that odd extra detail might be necessary.
(So for anyone thinking stories just get “bashed out”, they really don’t!).

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Nice day today working with the book cover designer on Tripping the Flash Fantastic. Look forward to revealing more later.
This, of course, is the lovely side to writing where you can see your work almost ready to be out there in the big, bad world. What isn’t seen is the writing, rewriting, editing etc that goes on to get the stories into shape for a collection like this.
It is so true that overnight success usually takes years! Meanwhile a story from From Light to Dark and Back Again to enjoy.


Fairytales with Bite – Murphy’s Law

Now we all know Murphy’s Law is no respecter of barriers. Whatever profession you’re in, whichever hobby you enjoy, it will strike at some point. So as to the actual creating of a story, what are the things to look for so you can avoid them?

Naming Characters

For longer works of fiction, it is too easy to give characters names that are too similar to others (for example Stephanie and Stephan. Two different characters but the problem with names that are similar is they can make the characters forgettable or interchangeable, neither of which you want).

I get around this by ensuring each of my characters has a name that starts with a different letter of the alphabet. It’s simple but it works.

Murphy’s Law can kick in here by making you not spot this until after you’ve got your first draft down. (Yes, it can be fixed at that point but it can be frustrating when you’ve got two similar sounding characters. The last thing you want is anything that might cause confusion in a reader or a sense of “what is that character doing here? I don’t see the point of them” reaction).

Outlining –

The query here is how much to do? Will Murphy’s Law strike in that you either outline too much or not enough? How can you judge what is correct for the writing you’re working on?

A rule of thumb I use is have I got enough to get started on the story? Have I got enough to get me to the middle of the story? Have I got enough to be able to conclude the story? You don’t necessarily need to outline everything. You just need enough to get you to the next stage in the story. Think of this as outlining the major markers. Get those right and it will help you get everything else in place.

You just want to stop yourself going off at unproductive tangents and that is where Murphy’s Law will trip you up. Stop the unhelpful tangents and you save yourself valuable time too. Work out what you think you need to know.

Settings –

The trap here again is detail. How much do you need to know before you write the story? What impact will the setting have on your characters? Preparation is the key to beating Murphy’s Law hitting you here.

Again work out what you think you need to know. And bear in mind the setting must have some kind of impact on your characters – they’re either going to love where they are (but it is under threat – which is where your story comes in) or loathe it and want to escape (which is where another type of story can come in).

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This World and Others – Making Space and Characters

Where does making space come into your creation of characters?

I think the best way to answer that is to list what I think a truly great character needs to have. Also, it really does pay to take time out (make space) to think about your characters in advance and plan them out. It doesn’t mean you have to plan everything but you do need to know about your people in enough detail to be able to write about and for them with utter conviction. You need to decide what you need to know first!

I am convinced that when a writer writes with conviction something of that does show through in your writing and readers subconciously pick up on that. I also think they pick up when a character really doesn’t work and I know, for me, when that has happened, it is nearly always due to my not taking the time to flesh my character out properly in the first place.

So a truly great character should:-

Be Memorable – (and that usually means having distinctive traits a reader will love to love or love to hate. Both work but not usually in the same character!).

Be Someone –  Be someone a reader would want to identify with or be happy they’re nothing like them!

Be Put in Situations – Be put in situations a reader has to find out whether the character resolves or not (and how. Failure to resolve something can ironically be a resolution of sorts. For example, a character wants to achieve a goal, they find they can’t do it, but they do achieve something positive they had not done before despite the overall “failure”. Readers will pick up on something being achieved, a positive point of change for the character, and everyone accepts not all endings are happy ones necessarily. Endings do have to be appropriate).

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The Highs and Lows

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I look at the highs and lows of the writing life in my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week. It’s easy to forget that the writing journey isn’t a straight line going up and up and up etc. It twists and turns, goes up and down, and the one predictable thing about it is it isn’t predictable!

Hope you enjoy the post but also find it consoling to know you’re not alone on that bumpy road!

Image Credit:  As ever, the images are from the fantastic Pixabay.


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The writing life has its ups and downs (and that’s the theme of this week’s CFT post, link up tomorrow).

The irony is that without at least one of the downs, rejections, your writing is unlikely to progress. Why?

Because you do have to learn from what you do do wrong. Also because a rejection makes you look at a piece again and either try and improve it or submit it to another, relevant, market to test the water with it there. Onwards and upwards is a good motto to have here!

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I’m very fond of stories told from an alternative viewpoint. This works really well for fairytales and my A Helping Hand, the first story I ever had published (thanks Bridge House!), was a reworking of the Cinderella story but from the viewpoint of the youngest stepsister.

In The Outcome in From Light To Dark and Back Again, I tell the Cinderella story from the viewpoint of the fairy godmother. Both stories were great fun to write (and it shows how powerful the Cinderella tale is given it is capable of being adapted like that. Also, how many other stories over the years have had what we’d recognise as a Cinderella theme?).

If a story isn’t working for you, even after you’ve drafted and edited it, try rewriting it from the viewpoint of another character in it and see what happens. Does the story grip you NOW? Was it the case of the wrong character leading the tale initially? It is worth playing around with a story in this way. If the story STILL doesn’t work, then move on. (Even then it may be worth an occasional revisit later to re-read it and see if there is anything you can do then. There is NO use by date for stories and as you write more and gain more experience, you do pick up all sorts of useful tips to improve your work. You may find that kind of tip will be the key to finally sorting your story problem out.).

The other great thing is if you really do have to abandon a story altogether (which I’ve only done once or twice), you will still learn something from it. I realised with mine the character and situation simply wasn’t strong enough and as a result I realised that I can’t NOT outline. Winging it on stories just doesn’t work for me. I’ve got to put some prep in first. And yes I outline flash fiction too! A line or two to work out in which direction I’m heading with my character and away I go.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Time for some more one-line stories then as it’s been a while since the last lot. I have great fun coming up with these (and I may or may not write them up into fuller flash fiction pieces later. I do love the flexibility of flash for things like this).

1. Sam would soon find out if there was a barrier against the cliff edge, given he’d decided not to bother looking.

2. When the collie rounded up the sheep, she included the shepherd as part of that process.

3. Gerry was sure wine bottles weren’t supposed to be cleaned out in one gulp and was unsure how Margaret could do it.

4. He’d have to report back there was no intelligent life on earth and that journalist’s stupid questioning put the tin lid on that conclusion.

5. The journalist watched the alien leave in their spaceship and smiled at the thought she’d just managed to give the thing the best fake news ever.

I don’t always name my characters in flash fiction. Sometimes this is due to my using the first person and it’s simply odd not to use anything but “I” for that.

Also a lot of my stories only feature the one character (though they often refer to other characters). This is due to the story only needing the one character and the one viewpoint. This is useful for oddball characters in particular.

The point of stories like that is not to challenge the oddball view but to show a reader why this character could be like that/do what they have. You are seeing right into that character’s mind. You don’t have to like what you see there though! I do like the immediacy first person gives you though and sometimes that is exactly what the story needs.

Flash fiction is great for showing you a complete little world in a few sentences. This is why I think the form is addictive. You want to see what else you can do with it and push yourself (never a bad thing to do in writing!). Also having tried 100-word stories, can you manage 75-worders or 25-worders and so on?

Another enjoyable challenge is coming up with a suitable title which has a powerful impact on the reader. I like titles which draw readers in, can convey something of the setting or mood of the story (saves word count in the story itself doing that), or is a well known phrase or proverb. (The hope there is the reader will find out how that well known phrase applies to my story).

Fairytales with Bite – Dealing with the Highs and Lows

My CFT post this week looks at The Highs and Lows of the Writing Life from the viewpoint of a writer (though there are some thoughts in there as to how readers can help too.  Okay, buying our books is the obvious way to help but there are others!).

For this post, I want to look at this from a character’s viewpoint.  Your characters are not going to have an easy life where nothing ever troubles them, otherwise you have no story.  Who would want to read about characters like that?  So what a reader is after then is a situation your characters have to cope with.  It can be a threat to life of course, but there are other ways of turning your character’s life upside down, and it is how your people respond to that which will keep readers turning the pages to find out more.

How do your characters cope with the highs and lows of their life? What situations do they find easier to cope with and others nigh on impossible?  (The latter incidentally could be something simple.  They have no problems crossing a haunted forest to get to where they need to be but struggle with communicating with others, which could put them and the others in danger if taken to a logical conclusion).

What are your characters’ emotional strengths and weaknesses?  Do they learn from their mistakes immediately or do they need several “goes” to get something right?  If their core trait is courage, what opportunities do they get to show that and does that trait ever fail them?

Answer questions like that and you should get some interesting story scenarios to write up!

This World and Others –

The A to Z of Story Essentials Part 5

Now for the final section covering U to Z.  Hmm…

U = Uniformity.  Not to hasten to add of characters, readers should be able to tell them apart easily.  What I mean here is if you have decided Character A is going to have a yellow bulging neck because that is how his species is made, then that should be shown uniformly throughout the story. Character A can’t suddenly NOT have a yellow bulging neck by the end of the story.  Whatever is vital to your character in terms of physical existence should be uniformly shown (and for the other characters who will be affected by the same things).

V = Variety.  It had to be this really as it follows on from U above in every sense!  Where variety does come in is via the traits your characters have.  Not everyone is going to be meek and mild (just as well really, there’d be no story!).  Not everyone is going to be hot tempered and causing fights all the time.  The secret to a good story, of whatever length, is getting the balance right.

W = Writing that Flows. Every good story has this.  Readers turn the pages, gripped by your characters, their world, and the situations you’ve put them in and your prose flows.  The pace should be appropriate. The style of words used should be appropriate to the story and your intended audience.  Nothing should jar the reader experience.  And yes it is tough to achieve.  It’s never done on one edit!

X = Xeno.  I’ve been looking forward to using this word again after having discovered it means strange!  A really good story has to grip the reader.  Something about your characters and situation should stir up their “HAVE to know what happens next” gene.  Strangeness can do that in terms of strange characters, strange worlds etc. Sci-fi and fantasy depends on this.  But even in an everyday setting, there should be something that draws your reader in.  I’ve found this is generally down to an intriguing character that I’ve got to know more about.  So what intrigues?  There must be something “xeno” about them.  For example, a fairy godmother who refuses to use magic.  Now that’s strange!  Got to know more… you get the idea.

Y = You.  I might be cheating a little here but I’ll plough on anyway.  What I mean here is you, as the writer, need to decide what tense you’re writing your story in – fine, that’s done, good.  Okay next task is to make sure it is your characters’ voices that your reader hears, not yours at all.  From a reader’s viewpoint, you here is to symbolize being totally engrossed with that story.  The story should entice you in and keep you there until it is finished.  So you and your reaction to a story is hugely important.  A writer should be looking to make impact on the “you” they think will read their story.

And last but not least…

Z = Zest.  A story essential, regardless of genre, is that it should be an enjoyable read.  There should be a zest to it that gives the sense the writer loved writing it.  (It does show).  I’ve also found characters that have some zest to them are more lively and therefore better to read about than those without that quality.

Phew!  Got there!  Whatever you read and write, enjoy it.  It’s the single most important thing about the story.  If you’re the writer and you’re not enjoying the process of writing it, why would anyone else enjoy reading it?  If you’re the reader and the story’s not gripping you, put it aside for a while.  Look at it again after a break. Does it still not grip you?  Then read something else. Sometimes it can be a case of timing.  I recall trying to read books when I was younger, not getting on with them, coming back to them later (sometimes via film adaptations) and loving them then.

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