Waterloo Arts Festival Online and Story News

Image Credit:  As ever, Pixabay and Pexels generally unless stated otherwise.

Plenty going on over the last few days… phew!

Facebook – General

Had a wonderful time at the online Waterloo Arts Festival launch for Transforming Communities last night (Friday, 12th June 2020). Great to see many friends there and the readings were fantastic. Well done, everyone.

I’ll be sharing a book trailer for Transforming Communities later in the week but meantime I thought I would share this…

Hope you enjoy. Video also below.

As well as my video being here (with a taster of my story, Books and The Barbarians), there is a great intro for #MaxineChurchman too.

There is a series of these Meet the Winners posts, each combining a video with a short text from two winners. These will give you a good flavour of the wonderful mix that has gone into this ebook. Do check it out.

 

I hope you’ve had a lovely weekend. This one has been really nice for me. I

Loved being part of the Waterloo Arts Festival online on Friday. It was good fun and it was great to see everyone. I always love hearing extracts from stories. What’s not to like about that?

For the first time since lockdown, my sister and her partner came over for tea and cakes in the garden and a lovely time was had by all. Amazing how the simple things can boost your morale the most at times.

And I’m reading some smashing short story collections on Kindle at the moment so my reading drought is over. Hope to review in due course.

I’m preparing interview material where I’m on the receiving end of the questions AND where I’m setting them. Watch this space as they say!

And the ebook of Transforming Communities is now on my Amazon Author Central page. It is lovely to see the number of books increasing here! I can’t wait to be able to see Tripping the Flash Fantastic up on here too!

Hope you have a fabulous week.

Facebook – General – Further Publication News!

Lovely start to the week. My story It Is Time will be published in Bridge House Publishing’s Mulling It Over anthology later this year. Always a pleasure to return a signed contract to a publisher! I could do with more Mondays like this…

Many congratulations to all of the other wonderful writers in the collection. Good to see some familiar names here and equally great to see names that are new to me in this anthology.

I am very much looking forward to reading the collection in due course. What can be guaranteed is a fantastic mix of stories in terms of style and mood.

 

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Many thanks for the good wishes and congratulations yesterday on my recent publication news. Very much appreciated!

My CFT post this week is going to be a look back at how the Waterloo Arts Festival Writing Competition Event worked as a purely online Zoom affair. It is the first time I’ve taken part in a festival in this way. All good experience! (And for the WAF running it too I should think!).

On to other issues and question of the day is what it is about stories you love the most?

For me, it is always about the characters. I’ve got to be intrigued enough by them to want to read what they get up to but how about you?

My big problem with books, though it is a lovely one to have, is having too many I want to read and not enough time. Doesn’t matter if they’re paperback or ebook, I have the same dilemma. Still I’m never short of a good read! How about you?

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

The Waterloo Arts Festival ebook launch for Transforming Communities went very well last night. Great mixture of styles and stories. Was lovely to hear the extracts and I enjoyed reading mine too.

If you want to check the stories out in full, see the link above or my Amazon Author Central page (link further up this blog post)!

Transforming Communities Full

 

I was having some fun with the random word generator tonight and selected choosing four words at a time. The ones that came up were:-

Experience, Elect, Rebellion, and Uranium.

Now there’s an explosive mix for you!!

So how could you use these in a story?

1. You could try getting all four words into your story in any order.

2. If you want to make your life a bit more difficult, get them into the story in the order in which they were generated.

3. Pick one of them as your theme and/or title but get the others into the story itself.

4. Ensure your first paragraph contains the four words.

5. Or finish your story with your last paragraph containing the four words.

The nice thing with the generator is you can choose the number of words you go for. So play around with things like this and see them as a generator for story ideas. The fact you don’t know what will come up forces you to think creatively around what DOES emerge.

Have fun!

 

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Great start to the week with my It Is Time being accepted for the annual BHP anthology. That will be called Mulling It Over and will be released later this year.

One joy of writing both flash fiction and short stories is while nobody should underestimate the time taken to produce these and edit them etc., because you are writing so many more of them, publication news can come in much more frequently than if say you were writing a novel a year.

That is one aspect to writing in the short form I like a lot! And I highly recommend it!

One thing I learned years ago was that if writing appears to read easily, regardless of whether that work is a novel, a play, a 100-word story or what have you, the guarantee is that the author worked hard for years to get to that point. And continues to work hard!

On that particular piece of work they will have edited, put aside for while, edited again and again.

I do find deadlines useful here. It can be easy to put off submitting something because you’re not quite happy with your story. Having a deadline (even if it is one you impose on yourself) is a great way of making yourself submit work.

I can’t recommend enough getting into the habit of regularly submitting work. It makes you produce more stories. The more you write, the more you will learn, the more chances you have of one of your pieces or more being “out there” and therefore in with a chance of being acepted.

I found it helped a lot when I recognised rejections were nothing personal, that every writer has them and keeps getting them, but you learn from what works and what doesn’t.

Good luck!

Many thanks for all the support after yesterday’s publication news. It has been a good couple of weeks! 😆😆

Of course the reality is I wrote those stories a while ago. You can’t know if your work is going to be accepted or not. And stories I’m writing now or have done in the last few weeks… well it is likely to be at least a couple of months before I know anything about those.

I do know a couple of competition entries haven’t been placed (no hear basically!) so I will be looking at those again at some point and seeing what else can be done. There is always room for improvement in these things!

But taking the long view, having work nearly always out there or on the point of being about to be out there, ARE good things and I’ve found both very useful. No time to mope over no hears or rejections for a start! On to the next story. Allow a little time to go by. Look at the old story and see if it can be revamped or whether it is worth trying a different competition with it.

Always things to be working on!

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Goodreads Author Blog – Ebook -v- Paperback

Now I must declare an interest in this topic. I’ve been published in both formats and so, naturally, I love both. Well you would, wouldn’t you?

My trusty old Kindle goes with me whenever I’m away at events or holiday (not that this is happening right now!). But when I want some comfort reading, I will nearly always turn to a trusty paperback.

Flash fiction and short story collections I nearly always have on the Kindle. Most of the novels I read are in paperback.

I have a nice mixture of ebook and paperback for non-fiction books. (And yes I do take advantage of special offers on ebooks. It can and does make the difference as to whether I buy a book at all at times and this is another reason why I have no problems with book format. I also don’t mind at all if my book and the anthologies my work has appeared in sell well in either format! Naturally, ideally I’d like them to do well in both!).

So however you read, enjoy.

Whatever you read, enjoy!

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The Writer’s Journey: Introducing Paula Readman

Image Credit:  As ever, Pixabay supplied the pictures unless otherwise stated. A big thank you also to Paula Readman for supplying some pictures for my Chandler’s Ford Today interview of her this week.

Every writer’s journey is unique. For a story of grit, determination and perserverance, check out Paula Readman’s story in my CFT post this week.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

It was a real pleasure to interview Paula Readman for my CFT post this week. While Paula and I have publishers in common, it is also true every writer has a unique writing journey. Discover Paula’s fascinating writing journey in this interview and why grit, determination, and striving to be the best you can be as a writer is SO important to any writer, published or not.

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It is always a joy interviewing writers for CFT but it is also great fun interviewing your own characters. I’ve used this technique for my longer short stories but even with my flash fiction, I’ve outlined what I need to know about a character and why it is I need to know that.

To do the latter, I have to quiz my potential character as to why they’d be, for example, greedy. What has triggered that? There usually is a reason behind it even if it is not a nice or honourable one. From all of that I begin to hear my character’s voice and away I go. I have to hear their voice before I can write about them at all.

Think about what you need to know before you write a character. Some writers need to know what their characters look like. I have to know my character’s voice and what drives them above anything else and I find physical description follows from that.

Sounds a bit odd I know but it works for me. I know my character is well spoken and is driven to prove themselves, for example. I quiz them as to why. Possible answer would be to prove all those who said they’d be a failure wrong. Their voice is to cover up the fact they come from a poor background – sounding upmarket is a kind of armour for them.

I’m then thinking of what my character might look like. They’d want to look smart for one thing so how that would manifest itself? Can I give them a real fad for fancy shoes, say, and make that a quirky trait that comes up in the story?

No two authors go about this process of discovery in quite the same way (which is another reason why it is such fun to interview them!). It is a case of working out what works for you.

I’ve often read of writers keeping magazine pictures of people to inspire how they would describe their characters’ physical appearance. I’ve taken that idea and modified it because I know I’ve got to hear the character’s voice ahead of anything else. Then, like a good actor, I need to know the character’s motivation. And then off I go!

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My CFT post this week will be a fab interview with #PaulaReadman, author of The Funeral Birds (and with more to come later in the year). She shares with me what books (reading and writing them) means to her. Her writing journey is a powerful one and inspirational. Link up tomorrow.

Interviewing other authors is great fun to do. None of us come into writing in exactly the same way. None of us are inspired by exactly the same things. All of us have a unique voice. And we all love books. What’s not to love?!

Many thanks to Paula for supplying her author shot below. And if you’re wondering what the owls have to do with anything, look up the link when I put it up tomorrow! Update:  Hopefully by now you will have seen the CFT post and know exactly what the owls are about though there is a good clue below!

 

Am making good progress on my edits for my second flash fiction collection, Tripping the Flash Fantastic.

I always feel a certain amount of relief when I get to ANY editing stage on a book, a short story, or a piece of flash fiction. It means I’ve got something I can work with! And, yes, I have cut my wasted words – very and actually especially! Those went before I submitted the book at all!

Over the course of an average week, I’ll have writing slots where I’ll create new stories for competitions, another book etc.

I’ll then have others where I’m writing non-fiction (covering my CFT posts, ACW blog spots, draft articles I hope to pitch in due course etc. A recent edition to this is preparing various posts I can use either here on on Goodreads for those times when I’m pushed for time. I hope this is going to make me more productive as I would like to schedule more posts in advance).

Then there will be those slots where I’m editing. That can feel as if I’m not doing much but I am, of course. The writing really is in the rewriting. The chances of me writing a perfect first draft is remote. The work is in getting rid of the dross from what I hope will prove to be gold!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Some of my narrators in my flash tales are impartial observers and it is something I hope to use more of as a technique in my stories.

The advantages are that I can get straight into the head of this character, they come to the situation in the tale with no preconceptions (as there is no way they could have any), and what might seem obvious to us could appear alien to them.

That in turn can make us think about how something WOULD look to someone who has never come across it before and therefore doesn’t know what to expect.

So how can you make your observer truly impartial?

By ensuring they are not part of the main set up in the story. They’ve been invited in by someone who IS in that main set up. (Exploring the reasons for that can also make for interesting stories).

For example if your set up is the Court of Queen Elizabeth Tudor, your outsider could be someone who is the servant of one of the ambassadors to that Court. They would never be asked for their opinion by anyone in the English Court or by their boss but they would have some thoughts on what they get to see. Nobody is immune to having thoughts even if you do have to keep them to yourself.

Your impartial observer can share those thoughts in your story though! (And maybe the battle to keep said thoughts quiet knowing they won’t go down well with the boss or the English Court, say).

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As you know, I sometimes use a random word generator to kick start story ideas. This works especially well for flash fiction.

Some of the generators allow you to set your own parameters. For example, you can see how many letters or syllables you want in your selections etc. You can even set the first letter and the last one.

When I use the parameters, I focus on word length and maybe the starting letter but leave it at that. I don’t want to be too prescriptive. If the first word generated doesn’t seem to suit, I trigger another three or so. I’ve usually got an idea I can work on within three or four goes on these things. And they’re great fun. (Bear in mind too you could combine ALL of what you trigger for an idea as well).

It could be useful to have a “stock” of these in ready to submit to competitions and markets as and when you come across suitable ones. (And yes I have a stock of stories in! Every so often I have a big writing session where I write a lot of flash. I know I’m not going to be submitting them anywhere for a while but it does mean when I have market or competition information that interests me, I can go through said stock and find something useful to submit).

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Reading in and out of your genre inspires your own writing. You also take in subsconsciously how stories are laid out. I’ve never understood the attitude I’ve sometimes come across where, when people find you’re a writer, they seem surprised when you reveal you’re a reader as well!

It was the love of books and stories that I read which sparked my wish to be a writer at all. It is the books and stories I still read that fires my imagination and helps me to “up my game”.

So read away, folks, it’s good for you!

 

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Fairytales With Bite – Happily Ever After?

The first indication I had that fairytales did not necessarily have to have a happily ever after ending was when I read Hans Christen Andersen’s The Little Mermaid for the first time. That was an eye opener to me as a child. Likewise how dark The Snow Queen is – the image of the ice piercing Kay’s heart still makes me shudder.

The crucial thing for any story, fairytale or not, is that the ending is appropriate. Also the author should deliver on the promise made by the opening of the story. There has to be a proper resolution, whether it’s a happily ever after or not!

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This World and Others –

How To Drop Your Characters Right In The Mire

This is not the be all and end all list. I’m sure you can think of others to add to it.

  1. Use the elements of your created world against your character – unstable terrain, dreadful weather, and so on.
  2. Put them up against a tight deadline.
  3.  Put their loved ones at risk if they don’t complete the task you’ve set them whether this is to actually rescue their loved ones or to do something for an overlord to ensure their loved ones are not menaced at all.
  4. Put them in any other situation where failure is not an option though emotional ties are very good to exploit here. (I know, I know. Authors don’t have to be nice to their creations, okay?!).
  5.  Put them in danger directly.
  6.  Or put them at risk of losing that coveted promotion etc. What will they do to ensure they get what they want?
  7.  Get your character having to defend their reputation etc. Putting them up against a blackmailer here is good. Again what will your character do here?
  8.  Make them The Chosen One for a quest. Get them not to be able to get out of it either.
  9.  Going on the adventure is the only way to salvage a bad situation at home or, if that’s not possible, to escape the consequences of where they’ve mucked up here.
  10. Put them under pressure of society expectations. They can’t let the side down.

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The Long and The Short of It

Image Credit:  Unless otherwise stated, all images are from Pixabay.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My CFT post this week is The Long and the Short of It – Reading and is a celebration of literacy, in particular the joy of stories and books across genres and formats.

There really is a genre and format of story and book to suit everyone. I think this is something that is too easy to take for granted.

I look at the advantages and disadvantages of short and long fiction from both the reader’s and writer’s viewpoint. Hope you enjoy.

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Facebook – General – and Publication News

It has been a good week on the story front. Three linked stories of mine were up on Cafelit earlier this week and today I had a 75-word piece, Time Is Everything, on #ParagraphPlanet. I could do with more really productive weeks like this!

Time Is Everything was one of those stories when I did actually start with the opening line! I know, duh, every story starts with an opening line. True but sometimes I come up with a line which I know will make a cracking ending to a tale and I then work backwards to get to the beginning. This one I went from A to B rather than from B to A!

The Cafelit stories are three linked ones and are based on an idea from #DawnKentishKnox in the Prompts Book by Gill James. I picked some numbers and wrote stories to those numbers. I also used the numbers as a theme – in this case Time. Seven is for seven days in the week, Twenty Four is for the hours in a day and so on. The whole “package” is called Story by Number and I must thank #GillJames for picking such an appropriate drink to go with these tales. See the link for more! I usually select a drink to go with my Cafelit stories but, confession time, forgot this time.

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Hope to have more publication news to share tomorrow as well as the link to my CFT post.

For the latter, I’m looking at The Long and the Short of It – the It being a celebration of literacy. (Now there is a word you must make sure you spell correctly to spare your own blushes!).

I’ll be looking at the joys and challenges of long and short writing (yes, I include non-fiction). The problem with a post like this one is in keeping it down to one post! I do think literacy is something that is far too easy to take for granted. We are so fortunate having a wonderful wealth of materials to read and enjoy.

One wonderful thing about all of this is there is at least one genre and one format of writing/reading to suit you. And that goes for non-fiction too. Think of the wealth of topics there alone!

If you’re a writer you have the joy of creating said materials too.  Now off to work on more short fiction and non-fiction myself!

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How do I decide what IS the most important thing I have to get across in a flash fiction tale?

Sometimes it’s an obvious thing. I have an interesting character and I simply have to find out what happens to them. That is the single most important point. (That’s always a good sign when the writer is keen to find out what happens. I’m convinced some of that does get through to future readers).

Sometimes I know what the character is going to do to end the story so have to work out what has to happen for them to get to that point – the B to A approach so to speak. So again I’ve got the most important thing to focus on.

Sometimes the character has an attitude problem (!) and here I can go with either finding out what was behind that. There’s the point of the story. Alternatively, I can use the what are the consequences of that attitude approach. Both are fun to write.

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Story time again…

GUARANTEE

Genuine? Of course it is, Madam.
Unassuming but pretty little object, isn’t it?
And it can be all yours for £50.
Really, I’d be selling it cheap at twice the price.
Auntie Jo always said my kind heart would land me right in it, but you just have to go with your instincts sometimes, don’t you?
Nah, of course, I’m not conning you.
Tried it on with everyone else in the market today, have I – well, no actually, I really have saved this for you, Madam.
Ever since I was a nipper, I could match a face to a bargain and this one is designed for you.
Everlasting wish maker this is, okay so you know it as a magic lamp, but wouldn’t you say it goes rather nicely with that broom I saw you fly in on?

Allison Symes – 20th February 2020

I used a random word generator to come up with the trigger for this story. I don’t always use the first word that comes up. I look for a word that is open to interpretation. Ideally I’ll use a word that could be used in a funny or serious context. Then I can have some real fun with it!

Hope you enjoy.

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Am having one of those days where everything has run late. I may be a flash fiction writer but not everything I do can be said to be achieved in said flash! Oh well…

What do you do if you find that inspiration is hard to come by? I find a lot of the time when I feel “used up”, it is simply because I’m tired so I rectify that. I accept on those days I don’t write so much. I go to bed early, read, and wake up, hopefully refreshed, and ready to do much better on the writing front the following day.

Unless life gets in the way, as it can do, I usually do have a better “performing” writing day as a result. (One thing I’ve learned late is NOT to beat myself up if I can’t write much. I can and will make up for it. What matters is to enjoy writing as and when you can. If you’re not well or tired, it will affect what you do. Self care matters here too).

Another way to refresh the inspiration pot is of course to read. This is the time to try reading away from what you would usually go for. If you usually read fiction, try something from the non-fiction shelves and vice versa. I find reading longer forms of fiction is a great aid here too because it is different from what I usually work in. I think this mentally refreshes me.

Getting out and about for a good walk with the dog works wonders too though I won’t be sorry when the weather improves. That can’t come soon enough!

Fairytales with Bite – Once Upon A Time

Well, it is a classic opening, but what does it mean for you? For me, it means favourite fairytales, of course, but from a writing viewpoint I take it to be as follows.

Once – I pick the single most important moment to focus on in my character’s life for my flash fiction stories. Flash fiction illuminates briefly so it has to be the single most important thing for that character I then write up.

Upon – What am I going to make my character face? Is it going to test them enough? How will they cope?

A – What is the turning point in my story? There has to be one. Great stories can often change direction completely upon one word and even more where it is placed in the story. My Calling the Doctor is one of my favourite examples of where I’ve done this. Book trailer below but look to see how the final word of the story changes the mood completely of what has come before. I see the “A” word as that tiny moment which is the pivot for change in my character and/or their situation.

Time – When am I setting the story and why have I chosen it? Does the time chosen make sense for the story I am telling?

 

This World and Others – Once Upon a Time

I thought I’d follow on from Fairytales with Bite above with a look at the classic fairytale phrase and how it can be used when it comes to world creation.

Once – Decide what is the most important factor your readers needs to know about the world in which your characters live. Why do readers need to know this? How best can you show them this? For example, if the most imporant element, is the employment opportunities in your world, show what these are and why they matter.

Upon – What could happen to your created world that would have a direct impact on your character and the outcome of your story? Think weather conditions, climate, pollution, earthquakes etc.

A – Attitudes of your created world to other worlds or to countries within it. Are there power blocs? Who dominates? Is there democracy?

Time – Again decide what time is going to be the most appropriate for your story and think about what kind of development your world has got at this stage.

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Time, Heat, and Random Generators

Facebook – General

I wrote this while in the car on the way to a family do (on Saturday 24th August). Looking forward to seeing everyone again. Glad of the air con though.

I remember when that first came to the UK thinking it was a daft idea. With the exception of rare very hot summers, we’d never need that here, I thought. The States, yes; Australia, yes, but here?

Just how wrong can you be?! Very, as it turns out!

Where I am glad not to be wrong is in taking up writing seriously. My only regret is not starting sooner. It does take far longer than you anticipate finding out what it is you want to write and to develop your voice.

Give yourself plenty of time then and ensure you enjoy the journey, at least most of the time!😊

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Must admit I’m not enjoying the heat much (neither is the dog) and it’s hard to believe we’re almost into September. My plans for the last quarter of the year then?

1. To continue submitting work to competitions. I’ve entered more at this stage than I had done for the same period last year so I am pleased with that. I’m waiting to hear on some but will presume no luck if I don’t hear by the end of September. The good thing with that? I’ll have another look at the stories, do any further work on them, and submit them elsewhere.

2. To continue submitting flash fiction to publishers.

3. To hopefully get my novel out into the submissions process.

4. To complete and edit another major project I’m working on with the idea of looking to submit it early in the New Year.

5. To continue with my blogs on CFT and Goodreads. Am hoping to do more with blogging in terms of being a guest on others’ blogs and inviting more on to mine. That is a long term ongoing goal.

6. To revamp my website.

So definitely not stuck for things to do! And I’ve written my goals down too… (much more likely to achieve them or make progress towards achieving them writing them down).

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Just a Minute famously doesn’t allow repetition (except for the subject on the card) in its rounds. Do you find repetition creeping in with your writing?

I find favourite phrases tend to be repeated. I watch for these and limit my use of them. I might’ve written them down six times in my draft but they’ll only appear twice at most in the piece of work that goes “out there” (and that’s assuming I need the second one for emphasis or because it is a phrase my character would use like that).

Most of the time the repetition is not deliberate but I have learned over time not to worry about this when I’m drafting a story. The most important thing is just to get the words down and then tidy things up in the edit.

 

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Glad the weather is supposed to be cooler from tomorrow. Lady and I have drunk gallons (spread out over the day obviously), stayed in the shade etc, and followed all the sensible advice but we still feel more ragged than a ragged cloth that once belonged to a ragged man who lived in a ragged house on a ragged street in a ragged town. I tell you, a used teabag has more life in it than me right now!

Am so glad writing is something you can do sitting down! Moans about the temperature aside, I don’t find writing in high heat a problem. Writing takes me out of myself and I forget everything else and that helps a LOT!

Getting engrossed with characters or the latest blog post is a great situation to be in. It means you know you’ve got something viable. So back to it then….

 

Images:  Those of Lady were taken by Allison Symes. Thankfully side on face shots of dogs can work quite well. Just as well really…

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Getting out and about during the summer can be fun, especially when you catch up with family and friends.

It can also be hell if transport is not all you”d like it to be – and it so often isn’t! If you want to test if your deodorant works, go on the Tube during the summer!

How easy do your characters find their journeys? Is their journey the story or just an important component? What difficulties are you throwing in their way?

In flash fiction, of course, the story is usually the character’s journey in terms of their development and/or how they change in some way. What it should always be is interesting.

I was pleased to get lots done writing wise while travelling to see family yesterday. I love Evernote.

Having said that, writing in the back of a car is not always easy. I use a stylus for writing and every time you go round a bend, the phone screen flips from vertical (my preference) to horizontal and THAT was driving ME round the bend. The Romans were definitely on to something with their straight roads idea…

For once I was focusing on drafting some blog posts rather than flash fiction so I will redress the balance there when I’m next out and about. Need to get some more work out for specific flash fiction competitions I think. (I am waiting to hear on some but it will be a case of only hearing if I do well. If I haven’t heard by the end of September it will be a case of revisiting the stories and then seeing what I can do with them but I never mind that).

F = Fantastic Fun to Write
L = Lines to be kept Tight
A = Action and Animated Stories
S = Super Characters who will keep you gripped
H = Heroics condensed (to 50 words, 100 words, 250 etc etc!)

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I’ve mentioned random word generators before and they can be a great form of writing exercise. But I’ve now come across a random phrase generator. You can select one or several phrases at a time. I think I’ll have some fun with this!

I selected three phrases at a time tonight and my selection came up as:-

Ride Him, Cowboy
Scot-Free
Throw in the Towel

Now there are options here:-

1. Use the phrases as titles for your stories,
2. Use the phrases as themes for your stories.
3. Use the phrases individually, combined or the lot in your tale!
4. Do any or all of the above!

So here goes then… (and this isn’t a story I prepared earlier, honest!).

RIDE HIM, COWBOY
‘Go on then, ride him, cowboy. You are supposed to ride horses, you do know that?’
‘Fine, Jake, but nobody said I had to ride that beast. It’s snorting and pawing the ground. That thing wants to hurt someone and I know it isn’t going to be me.’
‘So Dirk gets off scot-free with his taunting then, Joe. You’ll have a reputation for cowardice for miles. He is watching to see what you’ll do. He’s put bets on that you’ll throw in the towel.’
‘How do you know?’
‘I put 200 on. I came into some money. You know I had that lucky find. Well, I’d been wondering what to do with it and I thought I’d have a flutter. I thought I’d bet on you!’
‘Really?’
‘Yep. Now do you really want me to lose that?’
I gave Jake the look that said I didn’t care but I made myself walk towards the beast from hell. I ignored Dirk’s outright laughter. I knew I’d have to prove myself eventually and it may as well be now. Besides I had a trick up my sleeve and in my pockets.
I stopped within ten feet of the beast and held out my hands to him. He looked at me and came walking slowly over.
There isn’t a horse yet that can resist sugar lumps.
Dirk looked like he wanted to be sick and Jake was rubbing his hands in glee. What he didn’t know was I’d put that money out for him to find. I wanted to take money off Dirk somehow. That would hit him far more than anything else I could do against his taunts and bullying. I just had to do it indirectly.
As for the horse, well every time I see him now, I just stop for a bit and feed him sugar lumps. It’s Dirk’s horse, see. If he ends up with expensive veterinary dental bills for his horse, I’ll have taken money off him again!

ENDS.
Allison Symes – 26th August 2019

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Further to my post about random phrase generators, I thought it was time to give random number ones a turn! How can those be used to generate story ideas?

I found a generator where you set lower and upper limits. The number I generated from this was 313.

Thoughts on how to use this for a flash fiction story:-

1. It could be your word count (to include title or not, as you see fit).

2. You could use a number like this as a time – 3.13 am or 3.13 pm and that time has to be important to your character for some reason. (For numbers that don’t fit with the clock, generate more that will! Or you could use, say 499 if that was the number generated, as a countdown for something. For example your character had 499 minutes to rescue someone).

3. You use the number in some way in your story (for example your character has to run up 313 steps to get away from someone else).

4. Does your character have a number phobia? Can’t bear to see anything with the number 13 in it, for example, and then you put them in situations where that is all they see. How would they react? Would their phobia bring them to a screeching halt or would they find ways of overcoming it so their life isn’t crippled by it any more?

5. Could be a house number either for the character or somewhere the character has to get to or avoid.

Definite story idea triggers there. Have fun!

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Goodreads Author Blog – Reading for Inspiration

Do you read specifically to be inspired for your writing?

I don’t as such.

What I do is read in subject areas of interest to me, fiction and non-fiction, and expect sparks for story/blog ideas to come. I’m rarely disappointed!

Sometimes I know I need to research and then I target my reading appropriately. But usually the spark ideas come as a nice surprise. I know I will find the sparks, it’s just the form they’ll take I can”t anticipate.

But that’s a good thing. In having an open mind, I can make far more use of those sparks when they turn up.

And I increase the amount of reading I do. Win-win!❤😊

 

 

Bluebells, Beautiful Books, Ants, and Editing

Hmm… now there’s this week’s contender from me for Unique Blog Title!

Facebook – General

Bluebells out all over the place at the moment. It’s always great taking Lady out for her walks but this time of year is special. Not that she appreciates the local fauna. If it’s a convenient place for her to have a wee break, that’s precisely what she’ll do! (No. She hasn’t weed on the bluebells. Have had couple of close calls though).

I don’t tend to write much about nature partly because flash fiction is not the place for lots of lovely descriptions! I prefer to get my characters up and running quickly within their setting.

The weather, the nature of the area my characters are in are gaps for readers to fill in, though the clues are there. In my The Haunting my character is trying to get rid of a hated umbrella that somehow is managing NOT to be got rid of. The implication there is the weather must be reasonably okay. You don’t dump a brolly on a wet day generally. I don’t specifically spell that out but there’s no need to do so.

I’ve found it useful when outlining to work out what the reader HAS to know, ensure that gets put into the story, and get on with the action of said tale. It is all down to selecting what is the most important thing(s) for the reader to know. Often in flash fiction there will be room for one or two things. The trick is to ensure what you can’t put in can be implied in other ways.

Bluebells in Knightwood

Bluebells on a local walk.  Stunning sight.  And this is just a short section of them too.  Image by Allison Symes

When do you know you’ve finished editing a piece?

When you’ve put it away for a while, come back to it and read it, and can’t think of a single thing to change. Also that it has the impact on you that you wanted it to achieve.

Does that always take longer to achieve than you originally hoped?

Oh yes!

Went for a wonderful walk with better half and Lady to round off Bank Holiday Monday. The bluebells were amazing (though frankly I was far more interested than the dog was. Lady didn’t wee on them tonight so I guess that is a plus!).

I remember thinking ages ago that I’d use walking time to work out ideas for stories/articles/blog posts etc. I haven’t done that once! This is partly due to being far too interested (aka nosey) in what is going on around me including, tonight, trying to spot the noisy woodpecker who was clearly doing some DIY. (How apt for a bank holiday weekend!). The other reason is, of course, Lady and the need to keep an eye on her though, if she thinks she needs attention, she’ll give you a nudge with her nose.

But a break away from the desk does refresh the mind and the spirit and that feeds into my writing, so that’s okay. Pleased to say I sent off some submissions over the weekend and made good progress on my novel. Onwards and upwards!

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Enjoyed listening to the new Hall of Fame on Classic FM over the weekend. Mixed bag of results from my votes.

Jupiter (The Planet Suite) – Holst – down 18

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis – Vaughan Williams – non-mover

BUT

Danse Macabre – Saint Saens – (the wonderful piece I use for my book trailer for From Light to Dark and Back again went up a whopping 50 places. It was also used as the theme to Jonathan Creek to great effect).

I love music which conjures up a mood or in the case of the VW piece seems to take you back in time. Perfect background music as I work out what to do with my next batch of flash fiction characters. Will they meet a horrid end? Will I put them in humorous set-ups? Ah! The joy of creating!


Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Do you use spider diagrams for working out story ideas? I do sometimes. They can be useful for working out variations on the “what if” question so you can decide which is the strongest to write up.

I like to start with a potential character name and a bizarre situation (but then I love reading and writing quirky fiction). I work out how the character could’ve ended up being in that situation before going on to work out how they get out of it. The nice thing with this sort of planning is I just need rough ideas at this stage.

If Character X is going to end up on Mars with a limited oxygen supply, then logic dictates they’re either going to be rescued or die. For me, the story there is how they got dumped there and above all, why. So a spider diagram for that could be something like this:-

Character X brags, is pain in backside etc – demands lead position on next space exploration. (Motive here immediately)
|
Character X has been driving Character Y mad for years without being aware of it. Character Y is a quiet soul and for once would like an uneventful space trip. (More motive here).
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Character Y pushes Character X out of the space capsule and heads off, knowing Character X would insist on leaving the capsule first. Character X would swear profusely at this point but realises the need to save as much energy and oxygen as possible.

That is very rough but you get the idea. Must admit though spider diagrams for me look better when drawn out on paper!

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Editing is a crucial skill whatever you write but writing flash fiction is a great way to improve what you do here.

I’ve found I’ve got into the mindset of looking at phrases to double check they make as much of an impact as possible in the fewest possible words once I’ve carried out an initial typo/grammatical error edit.

Often a tweak or two will (a) reduce the word count and (b) strengthen what it was I wanted to say. You never come out with the exact wording immediately. Well, I don’t anyway. Usually a stronger adjective than the one I’d originally chosen will increase the impact of that particular sentence.

It’s a great weight off my mind to know I don’t have to get it right on the first go!

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Managed to submit three flash fiction pieces over the weekend so pleased with that. Would like to try and get more out this coming weekend. I try to carve out a specific writing slot for sending submissions out and weekends tend to be my best time for this.

It always pays to double check submission requirements given these vary from market to market/competition to competition. There have been times I’ve been cross with myself for spotting a typo after I’ve submitted a piece. And that’s despite editing on paper, putting work aside for a while so I come back to the piece with fresh eyes etc The one comfort I take from things like that is this happens. It happens to a lot of writers at some point.

What I don’t want to ever happen is for a piece to fail because I missed something on the submission requirements. To date, it has never happened. So help me, it never will. It really does pay to take extra time to ensure you have got everything spot on here. Don’t rush this aspect.

I’ve found it useful to take at least a week off the official deadline of any competition etc to give me that breathing space I need to ensure everything is as perfect as I can make it. (I usually take two weeks off in fact). Give yourself time and space.

Time to have some fun with the random word generator again. I used a as the start letter and t as the final one and selected six words. These were:-

achievement
account
argument
ant
accept
announcement

Let’s see what can be done with these (and I won’t count the title as one of the words).

ACHIEVEMENT

The ant was of little account in the grand scheme of things. She was just one of thousands of worker ants whose greatest achievement would be to ensure the survival of their colony. There was no room for argument. Her role was her role and that was that. It was best to accept this. Everyone knew a sole ant would never survive long outside of the protection of the colony. For the colony to work, everyone had to fit in with their alloted roles. So when the announcement came the queen ant had died, there was consternation. There would be no more ants. No more worker ants like her. Not in this colony.

Ends

Allison Symes – 23rd April 2019

This is almost certainly the tiniest character I’ve created and is likely to remain so!

But have fun with random word generators and see where they take you. They can be great ways of triggering fresh story ideas.

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Goodreads Author Blog – Beautiful Books

I love books in all their different forms, of course, but I do appreciate the art in a really good book cover.

Difficult to say what my favourite cover is but I must say I love the children’s editions of the Harry Potter series and the original Discworld covers.

I don’t get the tendency to produce plainer covers for “grown ups”. Blow that. I want escapism in a good book and the cover has got to entice me in. A plain black or grey cover with sensible lettering just isn’t going to do it for yours truly.

I also appreciate beautiful bindings. I inherited my late mother’s collection of hardback Dickens (all in green with gold lettering) and they are a joy to look at. They are even more of a joy to read! I also have a fab Agatha Christie collection (red hardbacks with gold lettering). Great stories but my enjoyment is enhanced when I can appreciate the physicality of a book. (This is where the Kindle DOES lose out to “proper” books).

At the end of the day, it is the story which matters most of all, naturally. But I’m all for getting as much enjoyment out of a book as possible and beautiful covers and production standards can make books very special indeed.

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Crucial Characterisation and a Charity Cookbook

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest CFT post shares news of a very special cookbook written by Barbara Large MBE. Barbara was the founder of the Winchester Writers’ Festival (as it is now known) and her book is raising funds for the Nick Jonas Ward at the Royal County Hospital, Winchester.

Barbara shares her thoughts on the joys and challenges of writing this book, as does Anne Wan, who through imprint North Oak Press, published the book. There is also a delicious recipe to try!

 

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Shooting Star - Barbara and Anne 1

Barbara Large and Anne Wan at the launch of Anne’s book.  Image kindly supplied by Anne Wan

Anne Wan and Allison Symes at Bay Leaves Larder

Anne Wan and I enjoying a cup of tea as I interview her for Chandler’s Ford Today a while ago.  Image taken on Anne’s phone by the cafe staff!

When Writing Magazine comes in, I flick through and see if I know anyone who has written in to the letters page or the Members’ News section. I’m glad to say there usually is someone I know in either section in most editions!

Going to writing courses, conferences etc., is the best way I know of for networking with other writers and connections build up over time. Though a week at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School speeds that process up a LOT!

Talking of connections, how do your characters build up their relationships with other characters? What kind of networking exists in the world you’ve created? Often it is a case of showing Character A has this relationship (of whatever nature) with Character B but can you hint at how it all kicked off? Is there a solid basis to how your characters interact with each other? There should be…!

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My CFT post this week will share news of a charity cookbook called Scrumptious Recipes Shared with a Pampered Patient, written by Barbara Large, MBE, who founded the Winchester Writers’ Festival (formerly the Winchester Writing Conference). More details and the link on Friday.

I look forward to sharing thoughts on the recent Bridge House/Chapeltown/Cafelit celebrations the week after. As ever, can hardly believe how the year has raced by. Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for the pic of me reading some of my more recent stories from Cafelit and also from From Light to Dark and Back Again.

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Have fun mixing up the settings you use for your stories too. Some of mine are set in a magical or fantasy world but others are very much here on Earth.

My Time for Tea is set with the opening showing an old man arranging the tea things as he is expecting his adult children to visit. But this is no ordinary tea party.

And I guess that is the point of this post. The setting may be ordinary but it is what you do with it that will turn your story into something special.

A random word generator can be fun to play around with sometimes. Having a look at one tonight, and having set the first and last letters I wanted, my haul was “bloody”, “biography”, “biology”, and “beneficiary”. Hmm… definite possibilities there.

DANGEROUS WORDS
The biography of my long dead great-aunt whom I cared for, well it was well over a decade in the end, was a revelation, a bloody one at that. No wonder she didn’t want this coming out during her lifetime and I’m heartily wishing I hadn’t been sent this book. Someone wanted me to have it but who and why? And why send it now?

Frankly, I’m not sure what I want to do with this. The logical thing would be to burn the wretched book but how many copies were produced? How could I find out without revealing what I know? And whoever sent this to me is expecting some sort of reaction I guess. There’s nothing to stop them sending me other copies either is there? Have they gone to the police? Well let them… I’ve done nothing wrong except be a beneficiary to a sick old lady whose family abandoned her. Except I now know why they dumped her. Has one of them finally decided I ought to know? Or are they going to try to take my inheritance from me?

What did I find out? That my aunt knew quite a bit about biology as it turns out and where exactly to stick the knife. She wasn’t always crippled with arthritis! Said knife ended up right in the backs of anyone to whom she was a beneficiary. Collected quite a sum in the end – well over £500 K. People have been killed for less than that. What I can’t figure is how she got away with it. All I know is I’m keeping that money and I am getting out of here NOW.

Ends.

Allison Symes – 6th December 2018

See a random word generator as another way to conjure up ideas for you to play with. You don’t have to use all the words that come up – a lot will depend on how much of a challenge you feel up to tackling! But have fun with this and hopefully you’ll get some stories down as a result.

 

Ideas for flash fiction stories can come from many sources (and I’ve used advertising slogans, scenes from films, well known phrases, and sometimes puns – e.g. my Raising the Stakes. Yes it IS a vampire story but told from the viewpoint of…. well no spoilers here!).

Mix up your sources of ideas from time to time. Never use just one source. You want to have a nice wide “net” to scour for story ideas. Don’t forget pictures either. They can be a great starting point for a story. What could you do with the images below for instance?

Above all have fun with your writing. It does show through!

Fairytales With Bite – Editing Your Story

Some of the ways I edit a story are:-

1.  To put it aside for a while.  Sounds odd I know but you need to put some distance between you as the writer of the piece before you can become you, the editor of that piece.  You are too close to the work to be objective about it just after you’ve written it.  You’re either going to think it is the best or worst thing ever written (there seems to be no happy medium here!) so remind yourself, you will look at the piece when it will seem like new to you again.  Then and only then can you judge it properly.  Assuming you have done that:-

2.  Read work out loud.  This is great for literally hearing whether your dialogue works as well as you think it does.  If you stumble over words or phrases, so will your reader.  I’ve sometimes recorded a story (using Audacity) and played it back.  You get to listen to it as a listener would then.

3.  Do a basic edit first.  I start by getting rid of my known wasted words, repetitions, and go through for spelling and grammatical errors.  You will need to do this again at least once more once you’ve got a final draft but I have found it useful to use this to get me into “editor mode” and to get started on the whole business!

4.  Look at whether the structure makes sense.  Are there gaps the reader can’t follow?  Where you have hinted at something happening in the story, did you follow through on it later?

5.  Do all of your characters have a vital role in the story?  If not, can you get rid of some or amalgamate them into one person?

6.  Do all of the plot lines tie up and make sense?  Have you shown a point of change in the characters?  Have you ensured the story reaches a logical conclusion (which doesn’t need to be a happy one)?

Good luck!

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This World and Others – Crucial Characterisation

Characterisation is always crucial, of course, but pointers I have found really useful include:-

1.  Ensure there is something about your characters that your readers can identify with.  They don’t necessarily have to agree with your characters but should be able to see why your characters are acting as they are.  Part of the challenge of a story is to get your readers to wonder whether they would have done the same as your characters and, if not, why not and what would they have done!

2.  The goal should be an understandable one.  From the character’s viewpoint, naturally, it has to be a life or death matter.  It should be something they are prepared to risk all for.  It should be something they can’t refuse to do.

3.  Characters should be memorable.  Doesn’t matter if they’re heroes or villains, the crucial point is your characters should stay in the minds of your readers long after they’ve finished your story.