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.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

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

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

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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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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

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

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

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

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

 

Fairytales with Bite – Murphy’s Law

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

Naming Characters

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

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

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

Outlining –

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

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

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

Settings –

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

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

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This World and Others – Making Space and Characters

Where does making space come into your creation of characters?

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

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

So a truly great character should:-

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

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

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

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Winter Trips

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

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I look back at some of the trips taken post Christmas. Lady, naturally, went everywhere.Very fond of pic I managed to get of her for this piece. I don’t get many of her looking thoughtful!

I also share a pic of an advert seen on one of these trips that could have come straight out of 1970s comedy Are You Being Served? See if you can spot it.

And there’s a literary connection too. I walked part of the Harry Potter bridge on one of these trips. No sign of any eager looking students looking for a certain railway platform here though!

It was great fun going out and about with the family (including the four legged member of same) during the post Christmas/early New Year period.

Apologies for the first few seconds of my video below. It is far too easy to have the camera aiming at your foot instead of at the steam train!

This is from the Watercress Line, a well known tourist attraction. Terry Pratchett spent time here researching for his novel, Raising Steam, which brings the locomotive to the Discworld.

But Lady, while having a ball, is not sorry to be getting back to her usual routine, including having plays in the local park with her best pal who happens to be a Rhodesian Ridgeback. (Before you ask, you stand well back when the two of them play, otherwise you will be pistol whipped by one of their madly wagging tails!).

It is also back to my writing properly this week and I admit I did find the first couple of days tough going. News of Tripping the Flash Fantastic coming out of course boosted morale no end but it’s now onwards and upwards.

But I’ve found it useful in the past to be gentle on myself for the first couple of days after a break and gradually pick up my writing pace again. I then find I can keep that pace going until the next break comes along.

I’ve learned to accept that I don’t have to work at breakneck speed all the time (and indeed it is better that I don’t even try that. Writing has peaks and troughs and you kind of need to look after yourself to be able to cope with all that).

Oh and yes I am looking forward to trips out in the spring, the summer, the autumn etc etc.

All images for CFT this week were taken by Allison Symes. Captions over on CFT.

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Apparently today (9th January) is National Apricot Day (US) and National Static Electricity Day. Now there’s a combination of ideas I never expected to see! I also know which of the two I prefer. Bit of a challenge to get them into a story though…

Am fleshing out ideas for a couple of competitions I want to have a go at and working on an article idea too. I do like mixing up writing (and indeed reading) fiction and non-fiction.

I often find ideas for stories spark from non-fiction I’ve read. Mind you, if I get ideas for a weird story about a giant apricot powered by static electricity, I will think twice about writing those down. (The giant peach has been done by the marvellous Roald Dahl!).

I love quirky fiction but I have my limits!

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When choosing a book what is THE hook that draws you into buying it?

For me, the book cover attracts but it is the blurb that sells it to me.

Why? If the blurb has intrigued me enough to then want to have a look at the opening paragraph or so, then the purchase is as good as made.

It is a very rare occurrence when what I read on the opening page doesn’t grip me. I can’t remember the last time I felt let down by the promise of a blurb but the opening to the book let it down. And that’s a good thing. It’s also a challenge of course!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I was out and about a fair bit during the post Christmas/early New Year period and had a great time, but one thing I forgot to do this time was jot down a few notes via Evernote and my phone. This is something I intend to rectify next time I’m away on any trip where I’m not driving. Notes on what exactly, you ask?

Well, what do trips out give you a chance to do? See new surroundings. See new people. Have brief conversations with people travelling with you. See things that amuse you. Any of those can provide sparks for story ideas. Those are always worth jotting down.

And don’t underestimate the importance of having some down time every now and again to recharge your batteries (including your imaginative ones).❤️❤️

PS Lady, on one of our days out, is wondering where we’re off to next. (Mind you, right now as I type this at 9.25 pm, she’s off in the Land of Nod on the sofa!).

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When I’m thinking of a story, the first thing I consider is the voice of my character. Are they a feisty soul? Are they humorous? What bugs them? What happens when they are forced to deal with said bugs?

Just asking and answering a few questions like that gives you a good outline with which to get started on your story. For me story is all about the characters. I’ve got to get behind them (and sometimes it IS to boo them – we all love a “good” villain!).

Another tip is to think of what would be your character’s worse nightmare and then make them face it. (Nobody said a writer has to be nice to their characters. It’s just as well really. Crime writers would have a tough time of it if they HAD to be nice to their characters. Nobody would be bumped off in prose ever again! It’s also hard to imagine a “nice” Dracula!).

 

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Story time, I think! Hope you enjoy this one.

RETIREMENT

When a witch decides to hang up her broom, it is best she does so quietly and disappears. Else she will find she is disappeared and her broom stolen. And nobody was doing that to Griselda. She knew the horror stories.

And she’d sent those two brats packing with as much sweet stuff as the greedy pair could handle. There was no way Griselda was being shoved in an oven for anyone. Besides it would help her good friend, Labelle the Tooth Fairy, out. Her rounds had been quiet of late. Hansel and Gretel would soon put that right if Griselda was any judge. And if she wasn’t anymore, maybe it was time to go after all.

But she would exit in a way she thought fitting. Reports of a dragon sighting were all over the news and as Griselda checked her monster slaying kit (every good witch had one), she realised, for the first time ever, she had nothing to lose.

Beat the beast and she’d still be useful and prove those who scoffed at her age wrong. Lose and she’d die quickly and be remembered for a heroic but tragic failure.

She slipped on her cloak and pointed hat. It was time to go.

Ends
Allison Symes – 8th January 2020

(Definitely time for a story mid-way through the first full week back after Christmas, I feel!)

 

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Fairytales With Bite – What Do Fairytales Mean to You?

Now there’s a leading question if ever there was one but to be fair I’ll have a crack at answering it myself. This is by no means a comprehensive list!

Fairytales are to me:-

1.  Something I’ll always be grateful for as they introduced me to the world of books and stories.

2. They’re entertaining (and yes I like the Disney adaptations by and large too but you can’t beat reading the stories themselves).

3.  You know in the fairytale world right will be done in the end. (The one exception I’d say was The Little Mermaid as told by Hans Christen Andersen as opposed to the one produced by Disney, though I understand why they did that. Even there that particular story opened my eyes to the idea there wasn’t always a happy ever after – and his The Little Match Girl took that idea further).

4. Bring back very good childhood memories and I still have my two classic fairytale volumes.

5. Something I’ll be grateful for as looking at stories from alternative viewpoints led to my first published story, A Helping Hand, in Alternative Renditions (Bridge House Publishing).

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This World and Others – Settings

What settings are important for you as you create your stories? I admit I don’t think about them that much, though they can become characters in their own right to an extent. Think about Mordor in The Lord of the Rings. I swear you could almost feel the evil emanating from it every time I read about it/saw it in the film.

I always focus on character creation as you know and I find the setting from there. I think about who my character is, what their traits are, what their situation is and from there I can work out how and where they live and so on. I like my characters to run the story rather than the setting though I always make settings appropriate to my people (and other beings!).

 

 

 

The Writing Life – and Publication News

Image Credit:  As ever, all images, unless stated, are from Pixabay

 

Facebook – General

I thought I would look at what reading non-fiction has done for me.

I was a huge fan of the Simon Schama History of Britain TV series so got the books too. They are a fascinating read both in terms of content and how they are structured. Lots of useful pointers there for a writer.

I love guide books. Whenever I visit a historical place, I always get the guide book (and usually a nice pen too!). I learn so much from the contents but also from the human interest stories that often form part of these and how they fit into the factual narrative. Again, things to learn about blending material there.

I sometimes read specific books around a subject but I also love dipping into encyclopedias and other reference books (Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is a favourite) and seeing what I find out! It is a lot of fun exploring avenues here and makes you think along ways you wouldn’t have planned. Ideas for stories and blog posts do spark from doing things like this. Give it a go. If nothing else, you expand your reading!

Pleased to bits to have my first review for From Light to Dark and Back Again on Amazon.com – the simplest thing people can do to support authors is to review their books. Reviews don’t have to be long either. Honesty about what you liked (or didn’t) is key.

So please, please review!

Also pleased to say that the Kindle version of The Best of Cafelit 8 is now available. There will be a paperback later in the year. My flash stories Dignity and Injustice and The Art Critic are here. The book is now on my Author Central page.

Last but not least, I’ve finally sent off a pitch for an idea I’ve been working on. Got to have the old hat in the ring after all to be a contender!

Do I still get nervous about submitting new work? Oh yes. Do rejections still leave me feeling flat? Oh yes. But, over time, you do get used to this being a normal part of a writer’s life. You do dust yourself down, look at your idea again, think about reworking it and so on.

Sometimes when an answer is no, the real answer is not yet or not here. What you can’t know when you submit material is whether similiar ideas have been received by whoever it is you’re submitting work to and so, of course, they can’t have something that is too like work they’ve already accepted. Park the idea, revisit it later, and if you can think of a suitable alternative market, go for it. The worst that can happen is they say no but, even after all the years I’ve been writing, you still have to fight the nerves and get that work out there!

Of course, you can’t beat the feeling when you receive acceptances! I only wish I could bottle it.

Open Prose Mic Night Swanwick 2019 - image by Penny Blackburn

I read The Art Critic at Swanwick earlier this year. Many thanks to Penny Blackburn for the picture.

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Love having my creations around me! Image by Adrian Symes

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My flash fiction collection. Image taken by Allison Symes.

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The lightbulb moment of inspiration for writers is wonderful. Pixabay image.

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Write to screen but edit on paper. Pixabay image.

Glad to report The Best of Cafelit 8 is now up on my Amazon Author Page (see link above). Looks good on there! (Am also looking forward to the paperback coming out later in the year and the Bridge House Publishing event in December. Always good fun).

How do you find writing works for you when you’re tired? I find that shorter pieces of writing perk me up and I save the marathon sprints for when I have more energy. I do get ratty if I can’t write at all as those nearest to me would testify.

I have got to write something creative even if it is just the outline for a flash fiction story. Having said that, once I get started, I find the creative instinct takes over and often I’ll get to the end of a session having written more than I thought I would. So that cheers me up no end. Mondays ARE the worst day of the week for me for this. Do you have any bugbear writing days? How do you manage them?

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My favourite part of writing is when I’m drafting a character’s thoughts. Why? Because I can get the character to show something of themselves without them being aware of it! It is the reader who will make judgements about the character based on what they read of their thoughts and actions.

I also like writing thoughts because they can be a great way of a character revealing what they think of themselves and what they feel other characters think about them. They don’t have to be right on either of these! (There’s potential for comedy or tragedy there).

Also characters will think things they would never say out loud to anyone else (just as we do) and there can be fun to had there as a reader “watches” a character struggle to keep their real feelings for another character hidden.

If you think someone is a dingbat but they’re your boss, you’re going to think twice about saying so AND know you’ll have to suppress how you really feel to make sure nothing embarrassing unwittingly is “let out”.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Do the seasons affect what you write? I can’t say I’ve noticed anything here but I can imagine it may be easier to write a darker tale when all is dark and gloomy outside. (You’ve at least got the atmospheric setting for it!).

Having said that, I often write cheerier stories during the darker months because I like something to cheer me up and I figure readers would like that too!

From a practical viewpoint, when the weather is awful, the lure of being at my desk in the warm with hot drinks on the go is too tempting to resist so I don’t! There is much to be said for bad weather increasing productivity!

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Managed to do some writing while I was away in glorious Northumberland for a week. As well as my blog posts, I’ve drafted two new flash fiction stories (of the circa 500 words variety. I know, that’s going on a bit by my standards! Good fun to write though).

Pleased to say The Best of Cafelit 8 is now out on Kindle. It is now on my Amazon Author Central page (see links shared earlier). My flash tales Dignity and Injustice and The Art Critic are in there. Very different moods too just on those two stories. What I love about the Cafelit collections is the range of styles and moods of tales they have. (Paperback will be out later in the year).

I’m a great advocate of short story and flash fiction collections for the obvious reason I am sometimes in them (!) but also because they are a fabulous way to get a feel for a writer’s work. Give them a go!

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I was away last week in gorgeous Northumberland and the scenery was amazing. The dog loved the stunning coastline and we all did plenty of walking.

I don’t usually go in for a lot of descriptions in my stories. There isn’t the room for them in flash fiction but if I ever set a story on a windswept beach with stunning views, then you can take it I was referring to either Dunnet in Scotland (right on the top edge of the country) or Duridge Bay in Northumberland! Would love to revisit both places next year.

Where setting is invaluable for a writer is where it is almost a character in its own right. Check out the crime writing series for great examples of these (Morse = Oxford is probably the best known). Mordor hangs over Frodo Baggins long before he gets anywhere near it. The latter is a great example as the very name Mordor implies dread and darkness. Well it does for me anyway.

(Oh and for Part 3 of my What Books Mean to Me series on Chandler’s Ford Today this week I will be featuring, amongst others, two Scottish crime writers who very much use their settings as a vital part of their stories. More later in the week).

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What is your favourite kind of character?

I like characters that can surprise me even though I created them.

I like characters who might seem a bit dodgy but really do have good hearts. (It may be a cliche but it’s one I love. I also think we need far more good hearted people in this world – can we ever have enough of them? I think not).

I love characters who can make me laugh. The character who is good at one-liners will always go down well with me, even if they’re a villain. (‘And cancel Christmas’ – Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a great example of that kind of character).

I love the underdog who becomes the hero/heroine. I like supporting characters who understand their role is to support the lead and don’t resent that. (Sam Gamgee of The Lord of the Rings and Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter series are great examples there).

So what kind of characters do you really love to read about and, better still, write for?

 

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Goodreads Author Blog – Holiday Reading

I drafted this just as I was packing up to come home from a fabulous week in Northumberland. Lots of walking and wonderful scenery.

As ever, I took lots to read, read some of it, and fell asleep far too quickly.

My best opportunities for reading came before an evening meal and even then I had to fight the urge to nod off. I blame the gloriously fresh northern air!

I mixed up the reading I did do. Naturally I took the Kindle, magazines, and paperbacks.

Do you find you read more or less when away?

I don’t usually buy specific holiday reading as I see holiday time as a chance to reduce my To Be Read pile a bit. It’s another matter whether I’m successful or not!

What matters though is whether you can read for five minutes a day or five hours a day, you ARE reading!

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