Favourite Things and Publication News

Image Credit:  Pixabay and Pexels unless otherwise stated.

PUBLICATION NEWS

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.

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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

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

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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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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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Zooming Around and Cyberlaunch Tips

Image Credit:  Pixabay and Pexels as usual, unless otherwise stated. Many thanks.

Special Note:  Today, 8th May 2020 is the 75th anniversary of VE Day. My parents and grandparents, who lived through this, are sadly gone, but to all who gave up so much so that we could live, thank you. You are not forgotten. Nor should you ever be.

My parents were evacuated, my father more than once as many East End families came back to London before having to leave again due to the doodlebugs.

My grandparents? One served in the Forces before being invalided out and then working as an ARP warden. He saw things as an ARP warden nobody should have to see. My maternal grandfather was in a reserved occupation – he worked in munitions and was often bombed out.

There is much to be thankful for despite our current difficulties.

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I hope this week’s CFT post, Zooming Around and Cyberlaunch Tips, proves particularly useful. I share my thoughts about Zoom. I go on to share hints and thoughts about having a cyberlaunch. I discuss what I found useful when I had mine for From Light to Dark and Back Again and what I learned from this.

Naturally in the fullness of time I’m looking forward to having another one for Tripping the Flash Fantastic!

What I do know though is preparation is key! And a cyberlaunch should be fun for you as author/host. That fun will be picked up on by those attending your launch.

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I hope the tips on cyberlaunches in my latest CFT post, Zooming Around and Cyberlaunch Tips, prove useful. The good thing about holding events like these is you will always learn something from them in what worked well, what you could have done better and so on. Those you take with you to your next event!

Going to other cyberlaunches, as well as being great fun and supportive of other writers, also provides good opportunities to learn.

I held a raffle when I had mine for From Light to Dark and Back Again. I used a random number generator and allocated a number to every visitor. When it came to doing the draw for a prize, I simply put in the range of numbers from smallest to largest and picked out the winners that way.

That wonderful tip was something I picked up from a cyberlaunch I went to (and I’m sorry I have forgotten whose that was but I will say a big thank you now as it did prove useful and I am sure it will again!).

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Good support at 8 pm for the Clap for Carers though Lady decided not to use her vocal talents this week. I’m sure she’ll make up for it another time…

Am absolutely thrilled to say I am one of the winners of the Waterloo Arts Festival’s Writing Competition. Many congratulations to all of the other winners who are:-

Mehreen Ahmed: Dolly
Gail Aldwin: The Price of Firewood
Christopher Bowles: Chroma
Maxin Churchman: Pulling Together
Jeanne Davies: Utopian Dream
Jo Dearden: A Small Clay Vase
Linda Flynn: Fishing in Troubled Waters
Anne Forrest: Number Twenty-seven
Dawn Knox: Rising from the Ashes
Roz Lyn: Circle Time
Paula R C Readman: Cobalt Blues
Hannah Retallick: Bookclub for the Elderly
Theresa Sainsbury: Transforming Teenagers
Allison Symes: Books and Barbarians

I will miss enormously NOT going up to London for the Festival, meeting up with my fellow writers for a very convivial pub lunch etc, but there will be online events so I will look forward to those.

What with the news of two of my stories being in Cafelit 9 later this year, it has been quite a week! This is the lovely side of writing of course. What doesn’t get seen is the work that goes into those stories over weeks, writing them, honing them, sending them off, and then waiting to hear.

This is why I like to have something I’m about to send off, another competition in mind to have a go at, and something I’m resting ready for editing after a suitable time break away from it. Over the course of a year, it means I’ve submitted a number of stories. Some will be accepted, some won’t but even there I can revisit the tales and try them out again with another market/competiton. I’ve had work published doing that.

Now on to the next story, which is almost ready for submitting!

 

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Another reason for outlining my characters is I want to be able to see the world through their eyes and until I know certain things about them I can’t do that. What their attitudes are is, to me, far more important than knowing what they look like.

I know some writers need to know the physical appearance of their characters first and then work out what else they need to know from there.

But what matters here is finding the starting point that works for you, whichever way around it happens to be!

It took me a while to work out which way WAS the best route for me to take. But all that practice in writing early on, though the results were never published, has paid off now. I know what works for me and I go with that.

Where variety comes in is how I approach writing the story. Sometimes I start with the end line and work backwards. Sometimes I use the more conventional start to end approach.

Practically always, I find I need to change the beginning of a story. It is usually only once I’ve got the first draft down I can figure out the best start is at, say, paragraph three, and the opening two are either not needed at all or I can salvage useful bits of information and drip feed them into the tale later. I know I often have to work my way into the “real” story and that’s fine. The dressing to help me do that never stays in the final tale you hopefully get to see!

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Another way to mix up how you approach writing flash fiction is to take a closing line from a story of yours and then use it as the opening or a title to a completely new story. I’ve not done this YET but I have in my draft third book used the same characters in more than one story AND have someone else refer to them in yet another tale.

A little while ago I had a series of linked flashes on Cafelit which was prompted by an exercise in the Prompts book by Gill James and that was good fun to do. See link!

As you know, I like to mix up the mood of the stories I write plus I like to write in different genres too. My overall favourite will always, I think, be what I call my fairytales with bite (aimed at an older audience, usually with humour and/or with a twist). But I have enjoyed writing historical flash fiction and hope to do more of this too.

Prompts 2020

Image by Gill James

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and Publication News! (Yes, it’s been a good week!)

It will be lovely having another story in the Waterloo Arts Festival Writing Competition ebook anthology during the summer. It will be the third year in a row I will have had a story in there. This year’s theme was Transforming Communities and my story is called Books and Barbarians. I’ll leave you to wonder about that one for the time being!

Every writer had to write to a 1000 word count maximum and all on the same theme. The other ebooks from the Waterloo Arts Festival (publisher: Bridge House Publishing) are a fantastic mix of styles and moods.  Here is the link to Transforming Being. The first in the series was called To Be…To Become.

The books prove, to me at least, that each writer has their own voice and, as a result, we really are not in competition with each other. Do check the books out. Available you know where….

 

What do characters in a flash fiction story need to have? For me this would include:-

1. A strong voice. They have to be distinctive and intrigue a reader enough to want to follow their story.

2. An intriguing personality (though it doesn’t necessarily have to be a nice one!).

I also need to feel at the end of the story that no other character could have/should have been the lead.

When writing the story, I want to be fascinated enough by the character to WANT to write about them. I usually know fairly quickly when outlining thoughts for a story/character that yes, this is going to work because…

I sometimes know that the character will work if I beef them up a bit here and here… (and that’s nearly always a sign I needed to do a bit more outlining at the beginning to get the character right but that can be and is fixed).

And talking of which, I have a character in a draft story that definitely needs my attention!

Happy writing!

 

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Fairytales with Bite – What is Your Favourite Fairytale?

I would list my favourite fairytales as:-

Cinderella

Snow White

The Little Mermaid

The Ugly Duckling

Puss In Boots

Toy Story series!

Shrek series

Be fair, I didn’t say they had to be just books now!

Common themes here:-

  1.  Wrong being righted.
  2.  Not judging by appearances.
  3.  Animals being smarter than humans – okay just the cat in this instance but be fair, what a cat!
  4.  Evil being thwarted.

All great individual themes for stories of your own there! And yes, you can still write fairytales with animals in them. It never did Roald Dahl any harm!

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This World and Others – Interaction

When you set up your created world, are you getting it to engage with other worlds or is it just one universe you are concerned with? The advantage of having at least one other world in your set up is the possibility of conflict between World A and World B, which can lead to some great stories. The disadvantage is you have at least two worlds to think about and plan for fully before you start writing.

Having said that, bear in mind, as with The Lord of The Rings, you can have one complete world and within it varying countries/regions. Here you will need to give careful thought to what these have in common and what the differences are. Who lives where and why? Do they get on with the other regions and if not, why not? How are they governed? Do different governing styles lead to conflict and what are the results?

Also think of interaction at a local level. Local officials can often have more sway over people’s lives because they are dealing with said local officials all the time. The people may never  have dealings with the overall government so what are the local officials like? What actions of officials might lead people to rebel? Again, think consequences and happy writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twists, Trailers, and Judging Your Own Work

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Lovely night out at a local pub/restaurant. Good opportunities for people watching! (You never know when something said or what someone wears will strike you as a good idea for your own characters).

Have earned my first royalties on my published works, many thanks to #GillJames and Chapeltown Books for such hard work here. Glad to say will need to put in an order for From Light to Dark and Back Again before too long.

Have confirmed I will be going to a big Book Fair later in the year. More details later but am looking forward to this.

 

 

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Book trailer for From Light to Dark and Back Again.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FAllison.Symes.FairytaleLady%2Fvideos%2F1236887723080871%2F&show_text=0&width=560

I’ve put up the book trailer for From Light to Dark and Back Again on my main writing page as I was thinking of my choices in this year’s Hall of Fame that Classic FM put on at the Easter weekend.

Danse Macabre by Saint Saens was one of them. I came across it when I watched the TV series Jonathan Creek but it struck me as being the perfect piece for my book trailer. Quirky music for quirky fiction!

I nearly always do have classical on when writing. It relaxes me and I write better when in a good state of mind. It also has the huge advantage of using up zero calories (sadly, the odd glass of prosecco and bar of chocolate cannot claim that! Sighs…. there really is some fantasy that is unlikely to be realised!😁).

 

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Why do I like twist ending stories so much? For one thing, I like guessing at the ending. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m not.

A really good twist tale will make me admire the way it was set up and carried out (even if I did guess the outcome). An even better one not only surprises me with the way it turns out, but makes me go back through the story to look for the clues I clearly missed in the first place. I then berate myself for having missed them!

 

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When do you know your story, of whatever length, has really “taken off”? For me, it is when the characters come to life. You know (though almost certainly won’t say in the story) what they have for breakfast, what their major traits are, and what they’d be like in a fight – just to name a few random examples!

I find outlining a character before I write “for” them really helpful (and this is one reason I love Scrivener. The character and setting outlines in the fiction – short story option are amazing. The great thing is you can adapt them with anything you feel you want to jot down before you write the story itself).

For my flash tales, I prepare a brief outline (appropriately!) but I just need to know what my character is really like. Sometimes “awkward but brave” is enough to get me started on a character.

 

 

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Flash fiction takes at least as much crafting as any other type of story because of the need to get the story across in as few words as possible. There is a balance to be struck here between the needs of the writer getting their story down and the editor ensuring the story comes in at the right word count.

I’ve found that it never pays to do the two writing tasks together. I get the story down and worry about editing later.

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I’ve talked about classical music on my main writing page tonight and why I used Danse Macabre for my book trailer theme for From Light to Dark and Back Again.

Do I have music in my mind when I write my stories? No, but I can often think along the lines that Character X would be a huge fan of rock or Character Y would love opera and so on. Thinking about what a character’s tastes would be is a great way of helping you to bring them to life on the page and, from a reader viewpoint, a very easy way to tell characters apart.

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Sometimes you’re not always the best judge of your own work, but it is always good to know you are not alone here.

Spoiler alert!

I’ve been listening to Classic FM’s Hall of Fame and the 1812 Overture is the new No.1. Listening to it now in fact. Love the piece. Its composer,Tchaikovsky, however thought it had no artistic merit. Well, how wrong can you be? Quite a bit as it turns out!

I’ve found when looking through my stories, I’ve got to allow some time to pass between writing them and editing. I’ve got to come back to the pieces as if I’d not seen them before. It’s the only way I know to be objective about what I’ve written.

And it’s nice to know sometimes you can be wrong about your own work when you’re negative about it and others like it!

Classic music can make a classic filmMusic, whether writing it or playing it or both, is just one form of creativity - image via PixabayWriting, whether it is fiction or otherwise, is a wonderful way to create something new - image via Pixabayonce-upon-a-time-via PixabayOne joy of blogging is ease of publication via Pixabay

 

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Flash fiction can be great for brief character sketches which give you a glimpse into that character’s life. My Pen Portrait is an example of this. What I’ve revealed in this tells you all you need to know about my heroine, Mary. The final line also shows something of her nature.

So what would you convey in a flash fiction piece like this given you haven’t the room for backstory as such? Just enough information to tell you what you need to know (in Pen Portrait you need to know what Mary’s job is) and leave enough “space” for your readers to fill in the gaps. In Pen Portrait, Mary has found a way of avoiding causing embarrassment to one of her neighbours but I don’t tell you why this is important to her. That’s for you to figure out!

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I love listening to classical music as I write my flash fiction. So what has this got to do with books and stories generally?

Firstly, I find classical music relaxes me and so I write more easily. Secondly a great piece of music can help you envisage the world you create. If it is vivid for you, as it should be, it will be vivid for your reader.

Reading, however, whether it is my work or not, is carried out in silence. I don’t want music distracting me. Besides, my main reading time is just before I sleep! Definitely not time for something like the 1812 Overture (much as I love that!).

Music can convey so much. There have been some truly amazing film scores which can enhance the original story. I’m particularly thinking of the score for The Lord of the Rings trilogy here. Fabulous and fantastic story. The music for the film version reflected those aspects well, I thought.

Sometimes I can hear a piece of music and it will make me immediately think of a story. I hear Danse Macabre by Saint Saens and think of the stories in my From Light to Dark and Back Again as this great piece was used for my book trailer. I hear a Bond theme and I think of the film first but without the books by Fleming in the first place, there would be no movies.

It is quite nice to think that a creative work such a book leads to a film and in turn leads to wonderful music being created for that. What can the stories we read and write to lead to ultimately, I wonder? Well, it should be fun trying to find out!