Swanwick, Set Backs, and Favourite Writing Tips

Facebook – General

Back to business then and I’m working on a short story that I hope will go in for a fairytale competition.

I drafted this on the train up to Swanwick (what ELSE are three hour train journeys for?!😁} but, for once, need to add to the story to get it to the required length. This won’t be a problem. There was one scene I had wanted to expand but hadn’t, because I was wary of the word count. So it looks at if I might to get have my cake and eat it here after all (though I expect the overall cake will still need a darned good edit once done!).

I’ve got other pieces to type up which I hope to do over the next few days and I’m happily reworking my novel too. So busy, busy, busy, and all of it fun and that’s a very nice position to be in. Am grateful for it too. Doesn’t always work that way.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing

I read at the Prose Open Mic at Swanwick this year.  Great fun!  Many thanks to Geoff Parkes for the photo.

Ironically, for a week associated with stories, I didn’t get to read many while away at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. By the time I got back to my room most nights, I was far too tired to read much.

Buzzing with ideas and taking in so much from the different courses does that to you! So one of the things helping me with the “come back to earth again blues” is returning to my book pile, which includes some lovely new additions, thanks to the Swanwick Book Room!

How do your characters handle setbacks? Do they bring out the best or worst in your creations? Or do your characters need time out before coming to terms with what’s happened and then moving on? If they have a sidekick, do they react in the same way? Do differences of opinion here mean the end of the partnership or it going in a direction neither had anticipated at the start of the story?

Whatever you choose, have fun with it, but just as we’re prone to strops when life does not go our way, some of our characters at least should reflect that too.

Favourite writing tips I’ve learned so much from over the years:-

1. Edit on paper. You miss things on screen.

2. Read widely (in and out of your genre and include non-fiction too).

3. Put work aside for a while before editing it so you can read the piece with fresh eyes.

4. When facing a deadline (competitions etc), take away a week to ten days from the official date. That way you still have a few days to get your entry in if the piece takes longer than you think to complete. (And it often will).

5. Read work out loud. If necessary record yourself and play it back. This is really useful for hearing how dialogue sounds especially. Golden rule here: if you trip over it as you read it, so will your readers. Time for the red editing pen again!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Be open to finding sources of ideas for any kind of story in places you don’t expect to come across them.

The reason I mention that is because I had great fun with an exercise set in Simon Hall’s A to Z of Novel Writing at Swanwick recently and know I’m going to get a flash fiction piece from it.

Another exercise from the same course looks like it may become a longer short story and I am looking forward to writing these up soon.

Neither of these exercises were specifically set to generate flash fiction or a short story (as the course name suggests!!) but when you can see where you can adapt something for a form in which you are already writing, go for it. You have nothing to lose.

How do I know when a piece I’ve drafted will make a flash fiction story? It’s not just down to the word count. What I’m looking at is the impact of the story.

If I feel that impact will be strengthened by adding to it, then I will and often these pieces end up being standard length short stories (which I usually then put into competitions).

But often I will feel a piece has a powerful impact at a couple of hundred words and I will leave it at that. I focus on editing the piece then and fine tuning it so that impact is as powerful as I can make it. Then those pieces go on to Cafelit, the online magazine, and/or are put into the collection of flash fiction I’m currently working on. Sometimes I’ll put them up on my website too.

The nice thing about flash is it is easy to share on a site. It literally doesn’t take up too much room, is read easily on screen, and I’ve found before that the best way to describe flash fiction is to read some out/put some up for people to see for themselves.

One of my favourite techniques in writing flash fiction is to take a first person viewpoint and let them lead the reader up the garden path so to speak.

In Health and Safety I start with my character letting you know they road test products. By the end of the story, you find out that my narrator has glossed over their actions in an attempt to justify what happened as a result of them.

Not so much an unreliable narrator, more of an embarrassed one who wants to try to save some face! Good fun to write though…

I love writing stories from the viewpoint of characters who were “overlooked” for the starring role in the traditional fairytales. My first published story was A Helping Hand in Bridge House Publishing’s Alternative Renditions anthology and told the Cinderella story from the viewpoint of the younger Ugly Sister. Great fun to write. Sympathetic to Cinders? What do you think?! But it is great to turn a tale on its head like that. Do give it a go.

I also love those minor characters in a story that can’t be the lead but who still have a vital role to play in it. From The Lord of the Rings you know from the outset the focus has to be on Frodo, but Merry and Peregrin are great fun and do come into their own much later on.

So how can you make your minor characters interesting and fun to follow? Humour is great here, especially if the lead role, as is the case with Frodo, have a burden to deal with and where light relief will be welcome. Get your minor characters right and you will create wonderful subplots, which add layers to your story. They give added reasons for your readers to keep reading, which after all is the objective of a good story!








Just returned from the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, after a fabulous week of excellent courses and getting to catch up with writer friends, with whom, for the rest of the year, I stay in contact with via social media.  Lovely as that is, you can’t beat getting together face to face!

So tonight’s post is all on the theme of coming back to earth and I also look at Books That Should Have Been Written as a lighthearted CFT post.  There is nothing anywhere that says you HAVE to come back to earth with a bump or several!

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My CFT post this week is called Books That Should Have Been Written and, if you like puns, this is definitely for you!  I also take a peek at irony.

Back from a wonderful week at #Swanwick70. The highlight of my writing year is the week at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. Why?

I meet up with writer friends that for the rest of the year, I keep in contact with by social media. I make new friends. I learn loads from the courses, which is never a bad thing. Oh and I sold a few books in the Book Room too!

Back down to earth then but with perhaps a more gentle bump! My CFT post this week is a lighthearted one called Books That Should Have Been Written. Contributions welcome in the CFT comments box!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Had a lovely time at #Swanwick70. Really enjoyed reading three of my 100-word stories from From Light to Dark and Back Again at the Prose Open Mic hosted by #JenniferCWilson. Flash fiction works really well at these things (as indeed does poetry – I missed the Poetry Open MIc night as it clashed with the Literary Quiz and I do love a good quiz but I hope all who took part in the Open Mic slots had a fab time).

Images of Swanwick were taken by me at last year’s event. Such a lovely place to be!

Fairytales with Bite – A toZ of Fairytales Part 2

So on to the second part of this series…

D = Determination.  The best fairytale characters I know have this trait in buckets (other suitably large utensils are available, as they say…!).  They can vary from determination not to be ground down (Cinderella) to determination to survive (Hansel and Gretel).  Determination can keep a character going when the world and its dog/unicorn/dragon seem to be out to “get them”.  Determination separates the wolf (big, bad or otherwise) from the sheep.

E = Energy. Can be topped up by determination but your characters are going to need plenty of energy to get them through whatever frightful horrors you’re putting them through.  Not only are there the obvious physical needs to think about, but bring in how your characters top up their mental strength.  They will need plenty of that too.

F = Fairies/Fantastic Creatures.  The great irony with fairytales is you can have them without fairies in (Little Red Riding Hood), but when you do use them in your stories, give them plenty to do and ensure not everything is solved with a wave of the magic wand.  Your fairy character still has to work for/struggle to get success, even if that is only implied in your story.  A wave of the wand may be what they do to remedy a situation or modify it (Sleeping Beauty) but there should still be issues for the characters in your story to overcome.    Otherwise there is no conflict and without that, the story vanishes.  Fantastic creatures can vary from animals to other magical beings (including your own invented ones) but we still need to have some sense of what they are like and where they fit in to the world you’ve created.

More next time…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This World and Others – Coming Back to Earth

Coming Back to Earthis the title of my latest Goodreads blog (where I do suggest a cure!).  I wrote a lighthearted post for CFT this week, Books That Should Have Been Written,partly as a “gentle” way of coming back to earth after my return from the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School.

But how do your characters come back to earth?  They’ve experienced perhaps great adventures, now there’s a lull in the action as they come to terms with what they’ve just gone through.  How do they handle that?  I love The Lord of the Rings  for many reasons but the portrayal of Frodo becoming more and more tired as the stress of what he has to do becomes more and more of a burden is realistically shown.  On the assumption your characters are not super heroes who never get tired or out of sorts, how do your characters handle setbacks, tiredness, illness etc?

How do they pick themselves up from “earth” to get back to their “mission”?  Who helps them and how?  Plenty to think about there!

Goodreads Blog – Coming Back to Earth

Have just got back from my annual highlight – the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School.

Had a wonderful time discussing and learning about all things connected to the worlds of books and stories. What’s not to like about that?

But, as ever with these things, you come back home again and you feel shattered and a bit flat. (You take in far more than you know you are when you are there and then I think the physical/mental tiredness of that hits you later).

So what can help you perk up again?

Why, nothing but a good book of course!

And the lovely thing about being a writer? You need to read widely, in and out of genre, to help feed your own imagination in any case, but you also get to write the books and with a lot of hard work, and some luck, get them out there.

So happy reading and writing!