Introducing Elizabeth Hurst – History, Romance, Ghosts, and Strong Female Characters

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Images of Elizabeth Hurst and her book covers for Siren Spirit and A Friend In Need were kindly supplied by Elizabeth Hurst.

Images of me signing Tripping The Flash Fantastic were taken by Adrian Symes.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I’m delighted to welcome fellow Swanwicker, Elizabeth Hurst, to Chandler’s Ford Today this week.

Feature Image - Introducing Elizabeth Hurst

We discuss her Lost Souls series and her love of history. Her stories take history and combine it with romance, ghosts, and strong female characters. Plenty to keep the pages turning there I think!

(And I have a soft spot for cross-genre stories. They work so well – and it never did the Harry Potter series any harm now, did it?).

Elizabeth also discusses the challenges she faces in writing her stories, including the issue of research, and how she came into writing late.

This is one thing I adore about the writing world. Age is no barrier (and nor should it ever be. Also think about Mary Wesley who broke through with The Camomile Lawn very late in life).

Siren Spirit by Liz Hurst

Elizabeth also shares her three top tips and what she loves about the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. Both of us are very much hoping to be back there in August 2021.

It was a joy to chat with Elizabeth. I always learn something useful from every author I interview for CFT and it reminds me of what a big writing world it is out there.

It also reminds me of what a supportive world it is and that is so encouraging to us all I think.

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How would you describe good writing? For me, good writing is material that moves me and makes me feel something (usually sympathy for the character in the story I’ve read or glee they’ve got their comeuppance – there is no middle ground with me here!).

I love witty turns of phrase and relish, in humorous prose, those lovely “in-gags” which are a delight to “get” but which do not spoil the story if you don’t get the other meaning. Terry Pratchett and P.G. Wodehouse both excelled at these as well as the more obvious “in your face” humour.

Good writing leaves you with a feeling you are glad to have read it. For fab books, it is a case of putting said book down with reluctance when duty calls. (In some cases, duty has been known to yell at me to put the book down and get on with what I’m supposed to be doing).

Am posting early tonight as I’ll be “going” to a couple of Zoom events this evening. One is a book launch and the other is a Bookbrush seminar. Looking forward to both. And am looking forward to a lovely Zoom chat with writer pals tomorrow night too. I might not be going out anywhere much right now (unless it is with the dog) but the diary still gets full – with good things and I do consider myself blessed for that.

Hope to continue with good progress on my non-fiction project after the Zoom sessions. Happy with how it is going but plenty still to do. But then writing is a marathon and not a sprint so that’s okay. It is a question of pacing yourself.

Happy writing!

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11th November – Remembrance

 

Many thanks, everyone, for the great response to my post yesterday about TTFF being on Barnes and Noble. I like nice surprises like that!

For Chandler’s Ford Today this week, I will be interviewing #ElizabethHurst, author of the Lost Souls series. Link up on Friday.

Looking forward to sharing that as she shares some wonderful insights into what drew her into writing romance with history – and with a twist too. Let’s just say there’s plenty to keep the pages turning but more in the post on Friday.

Other items on the horizon are the Brechin/Angus Book Festival taking place online on 21st and 22nd November. Looking forward to being part of that. Naturally there will be a CFT post about it!

Very happy with progress on my non-fiction project. Is coming along nicely. My goal for the end of November is to have a first draft down though I know it is going to need several good edits before I even think of submitting it anywhere. But that’s fine. Am enjoying the challenge of writing something different to what I usually do too.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Flash fiction has an advantage for writers whose main work is elsewhere. How come?

Simply because a flash fiction story makes a good warm-up writing exercise and, with good editing and polishing, those pieces could find a home somewhere. And that is a great way to build up a track record of publication credits.

Just a thought… never waste a writing exercise again!

I also think writing flash can help with producing a blurb and synopsis. After all, anything over 500 words is lengthy to me (!) but most blurbs etc do have to be under that.

It also helps to work with what the ending is and then put in the most relevant things that lead to this point. Of course deciding what the most relevant things are can be the problem (!) but flash writing makes you focus and it is that focus you want for this kind of writing too.

And if time is tight, as it so often is, drafting a flash story or even a flash article (yes, there is flash non-fiction now), you are still getting writing done.

You can expand on this or not, as you choose, later on, but you will at least have something to work with. As has been said, it’s impossible to edit a blank page.

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Hope you enjoyed The Best Laid Plans yesterday. This is a good example of taking a well known phrase and writing to its theme. I don’t often write all dialogue stories though they can be fun to do. Generally I do need to put in a little bit of “action” which is not speech for most of what I do.

But it is an interesting technique to try as it means you have to get your characters showing you the story. What they actually say also has to be what you would expect characters to say in “real” conversation so absolutely no author speak. No sense of the author pulling the strings either.

A good test for whether dialogue works is to read it out loud. If you stumble over it, a reader will. Also you can literally listen to how your dialogue sounds.

Does it sound natural to your own ears? Recording it and playing it back can also help enormously here.

Ask yourself always if the story situation was real, would your characters really speak in the way you’ve depicted? You want a firm “yes” for that one!

Stories have to read naturally so the characters have to act and speak naturally. (The only over the top characters I can think of that work are Mr Toad from Wind In The Willows and Cruella de Ville in The 101 Dalmatians. That’s because both of these are set up as OTT characters early on so readers know what to expect).

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Hope your Wednesday has been okay. Time for a story I think. This is one of my all dialogue ones. I find these work best when kept short and I prefer the 100 mark or under for these. Hope you enjoy.

THE BEST LAID PLANS

‘I never forget a face, sunshine. I wish I could make an exception for you. You never liked soap and water.’
‘Where has keeping squeaky clean got you, Mister? I know where the money is. Give me the key and I’ll reveal what you want to know. Then you need never see me again. That suits us both.’
‘The key is in Maisie.’
‘What?’
‘My spaniel ate the key this morning. See you this time tomorrow.’

Allison Symes – 11th November 2020

Fairytales With Bite – The Biter Bit

This is a common theme in classic fairytales. The villains getting their comeuppance has always been one of the most satisfying aspects to fairytales with me. Even as a kid, I knew the world was far from fair. In the pages of a book, it can be fair! And I loved (and still love) that.

What interests me far more now is understanding where both the villain and the hero come from. I’ve got to understand their motivations, even if I don’t agree with them. I’m always torn when there’s a villain I can understand but the hero is priggish. Who should I support there?!

So for the biter bit to work effectively, you need to show why the villain should have their comeuppance at all. The comeuppance should be in proportion too. There has to be a sense of fairness about it.

I dislike over the top reactions in life, yet alone in fiction, and readers see right through it. You run the risk of turning your story into melodrama. For me, stories work best when they keep to the point.

A good tip for this kind of story is to work out what the ending is first. Write that wonderful comeuppance scene and then work out what would have led to it. There will almost certainly be more than one possible starting point but in working out different possibilities, you can more easily spot the strongest one and go for that.

The lovely thing with biter bit stories is both the biter and the one biting back have to be strong characters. They’ve got to draw your reader in so they will be anxious to find out what happens.

So think about how you can show the best and worst sides of both of them. Give your readers dilemmas here. They know they should support the hero but they can understand the villain… On the other hand the villain did this, this, and this so they really should be brought down.

And humour is a possibility here too. The biter bit works well for characters who are pompous who need bringing down several pegs or so.

Above all, have fun with what you write here. It should be fun!

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This World and Others – Identification

How do your characters see themselves? Are they right to do so or are they fooling themselves? What does identify mean to them? Are names used as we do or are your characters identified another way? Is there such a thing as fingerprints?

Identification ties in closely with class/social status so how does that work in your world?

No matter how strange your world or how odd your characters look, sound etc., there has to be something about all of this that readers can identify with. Certain struggles are the same no matter what the universe. Beings need to eat, drink, find shelter etc., so how is all of that done?

And the possibility of conflict, the driving force of stories, is always there. Envy is not just confined to human beings!

And then there’s ambition. We know it can make people do all kinds of things. This can be true for your fictional world too so how does this manifest itself?

What would your characters do to defend their identification and how they are seen by others? How does your fictional government identify its citizens?

What do you want your readers to see?

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Surprises, Titles, Barnes and Noble, and Youtube

Nice combination for a title I think!

Image Credit

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Facebook – General

Had a nice surprise today. Discovered I’m on Barnes and Noble. See link and screenshot further down.

Why the surprise? Well, I guess it is because I hadn’t really thought I could be on there! Nice way to finish a Tuesday having said that! Also note to self: you really should check these things out sooner!

Very happy with progress on my kind of NaNoWriMo project too. So not a bad start to the writing week.

One thing I find about my Chandler’s Ford Today posts at times is picture finding. All hail the mighty Pixabay and all of that because they are brilliant but sometimes I will write a post where I think I will find loads of excellent images to go with it.

What do I find? Precious few.

Using Pixabay has taught me to think laterally and that will often resolve my problem but not always. For example my post on board and card games proved surprisingly difficult to find the right images for and I did think I would have a surfeit of richness there.

Still no such problem this week when I chat to #LizHurst! (Another advantage to interviewing authors – as well as being huge fun to do, you can always rely on them for book cover images, author pics etc!!).

Screenshot_2020-11-10 Tripping the Flash Fantastic PaperbackHope you have had a good start to your week. Lady and I had a wet start to the week…not that she worried. Mind you, she was pleased to see her best buddy, who is the sweetest Rhodesian Ridgeback ever. And the news about a possible Covid vaccine is fantastic news. Definitely need a lift right now.

Looking forward to sharing an interview with #LizHurst later this week on Chandler’s Ford Today. Liz and I are big fans of the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. So looking forward to being back there hopefully in August 2021.

One of the biggest things about the lockdown is missing being able to meet up with people in the way we used to do. Mind you, I love Zoom and like the way that has made events accessible. We want the best of both worlds here.

Had the delightful task yesterday of going through a proof of a short story that will be appearing later in the year in an anthology. More news later of course but this kind of writing work I’m always going to enjoy!

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As promised yesterday, here’s the link to the video for Being Yourself from Tripping The Flash Fantastic, which I uploaded to Youtube yesterday. Hope you enjoy.

I also talk a little about what inspired me to write this story. I love this kind of thing when other authors do this as I always learn something useful that I can apply to my own writing.

In other news, I’m making good progress on my non-fiction book which is my “kind of” NaNoWriMo project so am happy with that. Looking forward to getting back on to that shortly. And for another story here is the book trailer for Tripping The Flash Fantastic.

Have just scheduled another video to go up on my Youtube channel. I’ll be putting up my story, Being Yourself, which I created a video for as part of my cyberlaunch for Tripping The Flash Fantastic. Link in above post!

The story is due to go live a little later on this evening (and I will share the specific link tomorrow) but I am impressed at how easy it is to upload videos on to Youtube.

I’ve been creating videos for the first time this year for both my website and things like the launch so it makes sense for me to develop this side of things further.

Flash fiction works very well for this as it isn’t too long (so download times etc are also good). Hope to have more fun with this and create new stories specifically for the Youtube channel in due course.

Screenshot_2020-10-31 Allison Symes - YouTube

From Light to Dark and Back Again

I tend to keep my titles short for my flash stories. This is partly because some markets/competitions do include the title as part of their word count so that’s all the incentive I need to keep the title short!

But it also pays to do so simply because shorter titles are easier to remember. That in turn makes it easier for that title to impact on the reader.

It is also important for a writer to be able to keep tabs of what they wrote and where it was (hopefully) published so again make your life easier here and keep the titles short!

Most of my titles are from one to five words, though I occasionally use a six or seven worder. In Tripping The Flash Fantastic, my story Time Is For Others To Worry About is deliberately at that length as it intrigues (I hope!). If I’m using a proverb or well known saying as my title, then I will use it in full but again that phrase will be designed to spark curiosity in the reader as to what the story is all about.

So as well as outlining my lead character and story line, I do give thought to the impact I want my titles to have. It pays.

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Had a wonderful catch-up chat with Swanwick pals on Friday night via Zoom. I don’t know if this is just me but I do find Zoom easier to use than Skype.

Good to also catch up with listening to a couple of writer pals who’ve been on Chat and Spin Radio recently too. And one thing that came out of a good old chat on Friday night was the joy of flipping through the latest copy of Writing Magazine and spotting the names of writers you know in there. What is lovely is these days I feel a bit disappointed if I don’t spot the names of at least three people I know in there!

And do bear in mind that some of the magazine’s competitions would count as flash fiction. I’ve seen a 750-word competition in there, a 500 words one and so on. They may not be labelled flash fiction but they are all the same!

And online magazines like Cafelit have a lovely mixture of flash fiction and standard length short stories so bear them in mind too.

My story page on Cafelit can be found here and I deliberately have a mixture of flash and standard length short stories on there.

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Both of my book titles have reflected either the mood of the stories within them (From Light to Dark and Back Again) or the overall genre, flash fiction (Tripping The Flash Fantastic).

A good book title should draw potential readers in and the best way of doing that is for the title to spark their curiosity. Otherwise known as the “I’ve got to find out what that’s about” effect!

I didn’t know either of the titles for my collections until late in the writing stage. I DID have working titles (I do need to have something to “peg” my stories to) but also knew these would not be the final versions (but that was okay as I still had my “security blanket peg” so to speak).

It also pays to jot down ideas for titles as they come to you (and it’s often when you’re not expecting them!). Having a shortlist of possibles is reassuring and there is bound to be at least one that really grabs you (and hopefully would also grab other readers).

 

One good exercise to do is to give yourself five minutes to come up with opening lines. Don’t edit what you’ve come up with either.

Just jot down the ideas and work with those.

I have fun here with coming up with seemingly impossible scenarios that I am going to have to find a way for my character(s) to overcome. The best kind of opening line is open to interpretation and can be taken in different directions. See what you can do with these.

1. The postman may have rung twice but he wasn’t going to do so again.

2. When your living room lights up with blue sparkling fairy lights even though it is nowhere near Christmas, you know you’ve got a problem.

3. The dog was never wrong.

Allison Symes – 7th November 2020

 

Goodreads Author Blog – Favourite Non-Fiction Books

I must admit my favourite non-fiction books tend to be the writing guides. I’m especially fond of Stephen King’s On Writing (which is also a great memoir. There aren’t many writing books which can claim that).

I also like How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman is packed with great advice and is very funny.

I also like the Jane Wenham-Jones books Wanna Be a Writer? and Wanna Be a Writer We’ve Heard Of? Again lots of useful information given in a chatty and funny way. I adore that kind of thing.

I suspect I’m not the only one here but I do take information in better (and retain it) if I’ve enjoyed the books said information is in!

No pressure on the non-fiction writers then!

I also love the Ben Macintyre books – again history presented in an entertaining way. I am glad the days of non-fiction being confined to serious and literally heavy tomes have now gone.

And it is a good idea for any writer to mix up their reading material. Inspiration for our own stories can come from a variety of places so it makes sense to read widely and to include non-fiction in that. You just need to read one fascinating fact and ideas for working that into a story can come.

I’m currently reading on my Kindle Spike Milligan’s Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall and loving it. It is non-fiction because Milligan did serve in the war. It is humorous (as you would expect from him) and it draws you in and is a real pleasure to read.

And that’s what a good read should be after all!

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Twitter Corner

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Sweet Dreams and Reading Acrostics

Image Credit:  As ever, Pixabay/Pexels unless stated.

Facebook – General – and Publication News:  Cafelit

Weather cooler again today – yippee! (Dog pleased too). Easier to concentrate and write too. Am preparing some blog pieces to send to various places in due course. As with the flash fiction, those are lovely to write during those pockets of time when I can only write for short bursts.

I forgot to share on this page the link for my latest Cafelit story, Sweet Dreams, (though I did share it on my book page). Hope you enjoy! This was a prompt from #GailAldwin in Gill James’ Prompts Book and it was good fun to write.

Now, without giving too much away, a favourite chocolate bar comes into this story. You’ll have to read it to find out why!

But it is useful to consider favourite and loathed things that your characters might have. Not only can you use those to add depth to your characterisation, you might be able to get short stories out of these things in and of themselves, as I’ve done here, thanks to Gail’s excellent prompt.

Oh and it’s a definite thumbs-up for writing to prompts set by others. They do make you think outside of your own writing box and that’s a good way to stretch yourself and what you can come up with as a result.

Happy writing!

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Hope you have had a good weekend and that the week to come is a productive and fun one. I did enjoy using the random noun generator (yes, there is such a thing!) to create a new flash story for my From Light to Dark and Back Again FB page yesterday. I will be using the noun generator again. NB.  The story I created, Misunderstood, will appear further down under the FLTDBA again section. Hope you enjoy it!

You can set as many nouns as you want and even choose the opening and finishing letters. I just went for two nouns at random and the great thing with that is you could use these as a title, the theme, or just work them into the story somehow.

I see all of the random generators I’ve used (word, phrase, question, noun, and even number!) as an alternative method of finding story prompts. And the great thing here? You’ve got an endless supply!

Give them a go and have fun. See what you can create. Playing with words and having fun in this manner is a wonderful trigger for creativity. And I’ve always found once you’ve got a creative spark going, you want to keep it going and you end up being more productive than you might have been otherwise.

Also the stories you draft here can be polished and edited and submitted later.

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I outline my characters as I’ve discussed before. What do I look for in said characters?

1. Basically a good reason for me to tell their story.
2. Go back to 1!

So what would count as a good reason then?

1. They have the qualities to overcome adversity even if they themselves don’t realise that to start with (and the best characters usually don’t). They don’t easily give up. They take good advice. They have the ability to recognise good advice when they hear it.

2. They are usually from a background that would make others consider them to be the underdog. I do love underdog winning through type stories and they are a mainstay of the classic fairytales too.

3. They have a moment of change they have got to see through, ensuring their lives can never be the same again. Stories like that are always fascinating.

4. They will often experience internal conflict as well as the obvious external type. Really gripping characters will have moments of self doubt (as we do) and that is what readers will identify with. It is then how the characters overcome that which will keep the readers reading!

 

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I’d thought I’d share some favourite moments in writing (and as ever this is not the be all and end all of lists. Am sure you can think of some things to add here).

1. Knowing I’ve picked exactly the right word for whatever it is I’m putting my poor characters through. I’m even more pleased if this is in dialogue. Good dialogue has emotional “whoomph” and shows a reader how the character is feeling.

2. Knowing my first draft is completed and I now have something to work with. This is where the work begins for me. It IS all in the edit(s) – and yes, there is always more than one! Sometimes considerably more than one!

3. Knowing my first edit has significantly improved my original story and I am getting glimmers of how it can be improved further. Out comes the trusted red pen and away I go…

4. Reviews for From Light to Dark and Back Again (and a big thanks to all who have reviewed it).

5. Having positive feedback on my Chandler’s Ford Today posts as that shows the piece has engaged with readers well.

So over to you then. What are some of your favourite writing moments?

 

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Well, the weather certainly lived up to “from light to dark and back again” yesterday! There was one storm but it was cleared by about 6 pm with drizzle for the evening. Having said that, it has been a lot cooler today for which I am most thankful (as is the dog).

LOVED meeting via Facetime some of my Swanwick pals yesterday evening. Great fun. Better still will be when we can meet in person at Swanwick, God willing, next year. (I’ve never been one to take things for granted anyway, life can have a habit of getting in the way at times, but if there is one HUGE life lesson to come out of 2020, that is it I think).

One thing I did forget to do yesterday, but which gives me great pleasure to do now, is to share my latest flash fiction story, Sweet Dreams. This appeared on Cafelit yesterday afternoon but I hope you enjoy! A story to finish the working week with is always a good idea, is it not?!

I loved writing this. It was a result of a prompt idea in the Prompts book by Gill James with the prompt itself coming from #GailAldwin.

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I’ve found a new random generator! I’ve sometimes used random word, phrase, question, and even number generators to trigger story ideas. And now I’ve found a random noun generator which could be fun. Let’s see what can be done.

I set the generator to trigger two random nouns for me. Nouns generated were “foundation” and “actor”. (Incidentally as well as choosing how many to generate, you can set the first and last letter of each noun as well if you wanted to but I like to keep things simple).

Now the nice thing with the generators is you can use what comes up as the theme of your story, the title, or ensure you use the words that are triggered in that story at some point. Or you can combine any/all of that. The important thing is to have fun with this!

So what can I do with foundation and actor then?

MISUNDERSTOOD
The actor frowned as he dug out the foundation for the new amateur theatre building. He’d been promised an audience. Sure he had one. They were all yelling unspeakable things along the lines of this being the hardest they’d ever seen HIM work. Not what he’d expected at all.

He expected the finest foundation all right. He expected it to be applied to his face as he gave the starring performance of his life, which naturally would then receive glowing reviews all over the country, and lead to bigger, better roles.

He guessed it served him right for daring to mention Macbeth on stage last week. HIs fellow actors told him it would bring him bad luck.

He’d laughed then. They laughed now.

Allison Symes – 15th August 2020

Hope you enjoyed that. I loved writing it.

 

Really loved using the random noun generator yesterday. Will definitely add that to my list of story prompt generators. You can never have too many of those! Okay, you need the time to write up all the ideas, I grant you that, but this is a dilemma every writer faces and has to find their own way of tackling.

Flash is an ideal vehicle for those lovely story ideas that are best shown quickly. My story yesterday, Misunderstood, worked best as a quick tale only. I often find my humorous tales work better that way. If flash has taught me anything (and it has taught me loads!), it is to never, ever pad your story out. If it works better at 100 words, keep it there. If it works best at 1000, keep it there and so on.

Have a good writing week!

 

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You’d think a flash fiction writer would have no problems coming up with the blurb for the cover of their book, wouldn’t you?!

Now, okay, the word count is not an issue for me here. What can be tricky is choosing what HAS to be on the cover and what would be nice to have but is not the end of the world if it doesn’t make it. Inevitably it won’t! Why?

As with the fiction itself, only the crucial details can go on. You want every word to hook in potential readers so there can be no preamble, waffle etc. You have to be realistic with yourself as to what could be seen as waffle and cut, cut, cut.

I change the way I lead into a story as this keeps things interesting for me (and I hope in due time readers as well!).

Sometimes I will use a character’s thoughts. At other times I will show you the character doing something.

I try to get into the scene quickly so a reader picks up where they are nigh on immediately and there must be something about the character to draw their interest to ensure they read on and find out what happens to them.

In She Did It Her Way, Kind Of, I start with the line “Jane Westbrook knew it was too late to do anything.” Now that sounds like it might kill a story right from the start but what I planned here was that readers would want to find out why she thought this and whether she was right or wrong.

Curiosity about a character is a really good hook and one I enjoy using.

 

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Goodreads Author Blog –Reading Acrostics

R = Riveting
E = Entertaining
A = Alternative Worlds
D = Drama and Dialogue
I = Imagination
N = Narrative
G = Genre Fulfilling/Crossing

All of the above are what I look for in a good read.

Regardless of genre (and I have a soft spot for those books which cross genres), I want the book to be riveting, entertaining, and for the drama and dialogue to keep me gripped until I reach The End.

I want to be amazed (in a good way!) by the author’s imagination. There can’t be a dull moment in the narrative either.

And yet some people still think writing is easy!!

G = Gripping
E = Educational
N = Nuanced
R = Readability
E = Enchanting

And again, regardless of genres, I want whatever I read to be capable of the above. Yes, fiction can be educational. You can learn from the mistakes the characters make for a start!

For me, nuanced means the characters have to be balanced. Nobody is all evil or all good. The only over the top characters I accept are Mr Toad in The Wind of The Willows and Cruella de Ville in 101 Dalmatians but they are written specifically that way and their characters wouldn’t work any other way. But those are rare exceptions to the general rule. Characters should be balanced.

At the end of a book I want to have experienced an enchanting time reading said book. I want something about it to transport me to its setting and to regret leaving it at the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Why

Image Credit:  Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated. A huge thank you to Wendy H Jones for supplying images for this week’s Chandler’s Ford Today post.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

It is a real pleasure to welcome Scottish crime writer, Wendy H. Jones, back to Chandler’s Ford Today and for something very special indeed.

Wendy is the only UK author involved with The Power of Why, an inspirational book featuring 23 women who started their own businesses.

G capital

Wendy shares why the question of why matters. Below is a short extract from the blurb for The Power of Why.

The Power of Why

If you are not starting your business by asking yourself “Why?”, then you are starting in the wrong place.

Five main questions should be answered when contemplating starting a business – What, Why, How, When and Where? Often women entrepreneurs do not give thought to the order of these, yet research by top universities shows the most important is Why?

Compiled by Purvi Tantia, this book tells the stories of 23 powerful women from around the world, who share the fears and aspirations which led to their Why. This book should be the starting point for any woman wanting to understand the Power of Why in her life.

Wow! Now that is quite a statement but check out the interview for much, much more. You won’t look at “Why” in quite the same way again, I think.

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Despite not being at Swanwick as I should’ve been, today has been nice.

Firstly, I had my first swim since the lockdown. It was lovely and, yes, I was slow! Second question – correct, I don’t care! I will improve…! But it was so nice to be back and the centre I go to had laid everything out perfectly and the one-way system was easy to use.

Secondly, I was delighted at #PaulaReadman‘s post earlier about her excitement at discovering her single author collection, Days Pass Like a Shadow, is on Waterstones website. Huge congratulations to her. I thought I’d put my own name in the search bar and see below for what emerged!

SCREENSHOT - Allison Books on Waterstones online

Absolutely thrilled at this. Many thanks to Paula as, without her post, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to look. So this came as a nice surprise. Alternative Renditions, the other book shown, is where I had my first story in print published – A Helping Hand. I will always have a very soft spot for that particular tale!

I know that Paula and I would want to give a huge shout-out to our fantastic publisher, #GillJames, for all of her support at Bridge House Publishing, Cafelit, and Chapeltown Books.

Oh and finally the temperature has come down a bit in Hampshire. Thunder and rain this afternoon though it looks like there is more to come.

And I’ll be meeting up with some fab Swanwick ladies online shortly so, all in all, a great Thursday! Hope yours was a good one too. (It was so good to chat online with #ValPenny, #BeatriceFishback, #JenWilson,#JuneWebber, and #PennyBlackburn. See you good ladies another time!).

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My CFT post this week will be a wonderful interview with Scottish crime writer, #WendyHJones. She’ll be talking about a very special anthology called The Power of Why and showing why matters, especially to women. Very much looking forward to sharing the link for that on Friday.

(Oh and kudos alert: Wendy is the ONLY UK author featured in this book. Find out more about her involvement with this later in the week).

One of the joys of interviews is being able to set questions in such a way they encourage a discussion. The best author interviews I love reading always do that. What you want to avoid are the straight Yes/No answers so I try to never ask questions where that could be given as a response.

Now here’s a thought for the fiction writers. I outline my characters and work out what I need to know about them before I write “their” story.

So when quizzing your characters to find out more about them and what drives them, use some techniques from non-fiction interviews here.

Again avoid having a character be able to tell you a simple yes/no answer. You want to know why! The answer to why is where you’ll get the “gold” to work with in your story. That is what will show you what makes your characters “tick”.

I said why was important. And Wendy will confirm this on Friday! (Images of The Power of Why and Wendy H Jones kindly supplied by Wendy, all others from Pixabay).

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Publication News – Cafelit – Flash Fiction

Well, the weather certainly lived up to “from light to dark and back again” yesterday! There was one storm but it was cleared by about 6 pm with drizzle for the evening. Having said that, it has been a lot cooler today for which I am most thankful (as is the dog).

LOVED meeting via Facetime some of my Swanwick pals yesterday evening. Great fun. Better still will be when we can meet in person at Swanwick, God willing, next year. (I’ve never been one to take things for granted anyway, life can have a habit of getting in the way at times, but if there is one HUGE life lesson to come out of 2020, that is it I think).

One thing I did forget to do yesterday, but which gives me great pleasure to do now, is to share my latest flash fiction story, Sweet Dreams. This appeared on Cafelit yesterday afternoon but I hope you enjoy! A story to finish the working week with is always a good idea, is it not?!

I loved writing this. It was a result of a prompt idea in the Prompts book by Gill James with the prompt itself coming from #GailAldwin.

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An appropriate image to go with my flash fiction tale, Sweet Dreams, on Cafelit. Pixabay image.

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Delighted to discover FLTDBA is on the Waterstones website. See the link. Nice to say you can get my book at Waterstones. Most authors dream of being able to say that… I know I have.

I found this out thanks to #PaulaReadman spotting her single author collection, Days Pass Like a Shadow (Chapeltown Books), was on there and I thought I’d just put my name in the search bar and see what happened. So glad I did.

I guess it shows another aspect to making writing friends. They can and do show you aspects to this business you might not have thought of. No one author can know it all after all. And that is something I learned a long time ago!

Mind you, the upside to that and it is a HUGE upside, is that there is always something to learn in writing, whether it is on the creative and/or marketing sides. This in turn keeps you on your toes and that is good.

Well, you wouldn’t want to become stale now, would you?

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Delighted to see this on the Waterstones site. Looking forward to seeing Tripping the Flash Fantastic on there too!

Alternative Renditions Small

A very special book in my memory! My first printed story, A Helping Hand, was in here!

Allison Symes - Published Works

Yours truly and some of my collected works! Image by Adrian Symes

What I love to see in flash fiction:-

1. Characters that intrigue me.

2. Characters I could see working well in other flash tales.

3. A punchy funny ending which makes me laugh (where appropriate of course).

4. A “killer” finishing line which wraps up the story and you just know it was the perfect ending for that tale.

5. An equally “killer” opening line which means you just HAVE to read on and until you’ve finished the story (which at least with flash is not going to take too long!).

6. A fabulous twist which I can either see coming (but I am looking for it to be delivered WELL here) OR one where I am wrongfooted by the author. (Always a good hat tip to anyone who can do that to me!).

7. A moment of illumination and reflection in quieter stories which have an impact long after that initial first reading. It is often this type of story I come back to again later when I want reading to soothe or reassure me.

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Fairytales With Bite – Fantastic Settings

No matter where your story is set, or how outlandish your fictional world is, it still has to be populated by characters whom we can understand and either root for, or love to hate. They must generate an emotional reaction in us. Their motives must be ones we can understand.

The setting should also be one we can get behind. After all, we know how our planet works/is run. How is this done in your fictional setting? Are there corrupt politicians for example? (I refuse to believe that could just be on Earth!).

Especially in a fantasy world, some ideas of what it looks like, how the species live, what kind of wildlife is there etc deepen your characterisation of the setting itself. (Setting can often be a character in its own right and I don’t think it’s a bad idea to treat it as one. It means you think it out for a start!).

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This World and Others – 

What Matters to Your Character(s) and Why

Answering that one phrase gives you THE reason for writing the character’s story! From a world building viewpoint, what matters to your character is not the same as what the reader needs to know.

For example, if your character lives on a world where they don’t breathe oxygen but something else entirely, early on in the story the reader will need to know that.

The trick here is not to “tell” the reader this but to show them so they draw their own conclusions.

Yes, you can use description to show the point but an even better way is to have someone else observe it. The main character will not mention they’re breathing Gas X because they do it all the time, obviously, and so why would they draw attention to it?

An outside observer could do so. Say your character is being visited by someone who lives on a different part of the planet. Maybe the quality of their Gas X at home is not as good as it is here. They could comment on that to your main character. Job done. You can also show something of your character’s attitude by how they respond to their visitor.

Regardless of how strange the created world is, what matters to your character is something we should all be able to identify with and sympathise over. All species will need the basics – food, shelter, etc – but think beyond that too.

What is driving your character? Why does their story matter? Why should a reader want to find out? Don’t be afraid to dig deep. Your character has to be emotionally invested in the outcome of the story for your reader to care.

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Hot Weather, Reading, and Missing Swanwick

Image Credit:  All images via Pixabay and/or Pexels unless stated otherwise.

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Today has felt odd. Why? It’s because I should’ve been at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School for the next few days, catching up with old friends, learning so much from the talks and after dinner speakers etc. Am missing everyone but can’t wait to be back there next year. It really can’t come around quickly enough!

Meanwhile, back in very, very hot Hampshire, I am cracking on with editing work and CFT interviews. I’m also working on my long term non-fiction project. Though I have the nasty feeling my laptop with its wonderful fan is probably feeling cooler than I am right now!😀😀

 

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Another night where my laptop (with its fab stand and inbuilt fan) is far cooler than I am. Mind you, not that I have ever had any claims to be cool!

I was chatting earlier with a writing chum via email about backing up your work at regular intervals. I lost an evening’s work once thanks to a power cut! I was about to back everything up and shut the PC down for the night when the cut happened and I just wanted to scream.

Fortunately, with power back on, I could recall a lot of what I’d written and typed up as much as I could remember as quickly as possible. I took the view that whatever I could not recall, I would at least get the gist of from what I had typed up and so it proved.

Lesson learned! I now back up every 20/25 minutes or so to memory stick, hard disk, and cloud. I’m not getting caught that way again.

Worth the hassle of backing up nigh on continuously? Oh yes! For the peace of mind alone, it’s worth it.

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Still sweltering in sunny Hampshire. Am grateful Lady is not frightened of thunder. That may come in useful later in the week. Dilemmas of a middle-aged woman Part 1: am I having a hot flush or is it just the ruddy temperature outside? Hmm…

Hope you had a fab weekend. Saw family which was lovely. Glad to be at my desk after a hectic Monday. Now have second fan in the office going at full tilt so, what with my laptop having its own (via its stand), and my other one, some fresh air is being generated. But will be very grateful when the weather cools down (as will Lady). Can’t say the hot weather does much for my productivity though I do find myself singing “Just One Cornetto” to the tune of O Sole Mio when the latter is played on Classic FM! Those of you of a certain age will know why!

Looking forward to sharing a very special interview on Friday. Will have a humorous piece up on Cafelit later in the week too. Flash fiction is great to read at Open Prose Mic Nights as I did last year at Swanwick. Doesn’t take long and a punchline ending usually goes down well at events like that. Hope to do this again next year. (Many thanks to #PennyBlackburn for taking the pic of me reading at last year’s Swanwick. The others were taken by me last year).

Many congratulations to #PaulaReadman on her launch of her debut novel, Stone Angels, today.

Publication day is always a very special moment. It’s just a pity you can’t bottle up the way it makes you feel so you can uncork it again at times when you need a bit of a boost!

Behind the scenes of any publication, there is a lot of hard work. There is a quote about swans which says they look serene but underneath the water their legs are paddling hard to keep them going. Well, pretty much the same is true for writers!

We paddle hard when we write our first drafts, edit them, send those stories out in to the big, bad world, and then cope with rejections. Does it end there? No! You look at your story again, improve what can be improved and submit to more publishers. You always seek to improve what you do. You keep on writing. You keep on editing.

So yes there’s an awful lot of paddling going on!

But publication day? That’s the well earned serene bit (and so richly deserved by the author too!). (The first two images below are of Paula and her debut novel and kindly supplied by Paula for my recent CFT series on The Writing Game – and What to Watch For).

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Phew, it’s hot! I don’t use the weather much in any of my stories, partly because I would find it hard to avoid cliche. (It was a dark and stormy night, anyone? Mind you, I do love the Peanuts cartoons that have Snoopy writing and using that as one of “his” lines!).

In my flash fiction, with the limited word count, I have to work out what is vital for readers to know. The weather is rarely amongst vital details! I can imply it though. If I get a character to wear a raincoat, that would be enough for a reader to realise the weather was likely to be wet without me spelling it out further.

And this is one of the things I love about flash. It encourages the writer to use implication and I know as a reader I love being able to work things out for myself.

 

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I hope to share a cover reveal for Tripping the Flash Fantastic in due course. Will keep you posted.

As with From Light to Dark and Back Again, I hope to have a cyberlaunch and again will flag up details. I’ve “been” to a few cyberlaunches now and they are all great fun. You do feel drained afterwards but in a good way!

Best ways to support author friends then – no real surprises here but all of these things ARE appreciated!

1. Pop along to their cyber (or other kinds) of book launch and be the friendly face offering support.

2. If you’ve read the book concerned, please, please, please review it on Amazon and Goodreads. It doesn’t have to be a long review either.

3. For a cyberlaunch, someone asking useful questions helps get the discussions going. and encourages others to join in. Think along the lines of helping the author to talk about what made them write the book, what inspired their characters etc. Writers love talking about that kind of thing.

4. Share their posts/tweets etc.

And when launches are possible again in book shops etc., standing your author friend a cup of tea after the event will always go down well!😊

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When I’m reading stories, what am I looking for first and foremost? Well no surprises here when I say the character has got to grip me. If they don’t, I’m unlikely to be reading their story to its conclusion.

But how can you make a character grip an unknown reader? There is no single answer to that but what helps is:-

1. Ensuring your character has an absolute right to have their story told. What do I mean by that? From a reading viewpoint, a reader shouldn’t be able to imagine the story WITHOUT your character.

2. As well as having a reason for being, the character has to have an understandable and strong enough motivation to see the challenges of the story through to a satisfactory conclusion. (Doesn’t necessarily have to be a happy one. The character’s motivation doesn’t necessarily need to be entirely virtuous either. I can understand a character who steals to provide for someone else, say. It doesn’t mean I approve of stealing – I don’t! – but you get the gist).

3. There has to be a point of change. Something has GOT to happen and it has to be vitally important to the character.

4. There have to be obstacles in the character’s way, including other characters who have got good reasons of their own to block Character A.

Getting that right takes time and practice but makes for cracking stories!

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The fan in the office is probably working harder than I am right now… I may’ve mentioned I don’t like the heat much!😀😀

(Lady is fine and keeping cool. For a young dog, who is generally as daft as the proverbial brush, she’s sensible on this which has come as a relief to us and fortunately we are surrounded by trees so lots of shade).

One thing I like about flash is I can draft a story (100 to 250 words, my favourite) in about 15 minutes. It will need a lot of editing to get it into shape, but that’s okay. What’s nice about this is on those days when I know I haven’t got a lot of time, I know exactly how I’ll be spending those pockets of time which might otherwise go to waste.

Yep, drafting flash fiction stories ready for submission later on. And knowing I’ve got a story down ready for working on later always makes me feel better. (Unlike this wretched heat…!).

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Goodreads Author Blog – Reading In Hot Weather

Currently in the UK as I write this (8th August 2020), most of the country is experiencing a heatwave (30+degrees C).

Yes, yes, I know! I can think of several places where that would be considered to be on the cold side!).

But give me the fact most of us here are finding it hot!

So do you find it easier to read in hot weather, given most of us are not going to feel like doing that much?

Or do you find it harder to read because what you really want is to cool off and reading in itself isn’t going to do that?

Or do you welcome reading because it’s a great distraction from feeling too hot?

I find it easier to read magazines and the shorter form of fiction when I’m finding the weather a bit much. Now is not the time to tackle War and Peace I think!

So over to you then! What do you prefer to read when the thermometer is on the crazy side? What would you recommend?

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Cyberlaunches, The End, and Flash Fiction

Image Credit:  As ever, Pixabay, unless otherwise stated. (Images of The Hayes, Swanwick were taken by Allison Symes)

It has been a fun few days as I was one of the co-hosts for Patricia M Osborne’s cyberlaunch of her second novel, The Coal Miner’s Son. What follows is a kind of a report on that. Many thanks to Patricia for inviting me to take part. It was great fun – as a good launch should be!

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I’m looking forward to taking part in #PatriciaMOsborne‘s cyberlaunch for her second novel, The Coal Miner’s Son, tomorrow evening. (I interviewed Patricia as part of my CFT series on What Books Mean To Me a while back and I have guested on her website as part of her blog and her 100 word challenge. We are both also huge fans of Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, not least because we met there).

This is the follow up to her debut book, House of Grace. Obviously more on that tomorrow but very best of luck, Patricia, and hope you have an absolute ball with your launch.

I had a great deal of fun with mine for From Light to Dark and Back Again. Cyberlaunches are a fab opportunity to celebrate books and support writer friends. Always worth dropping by!

One of the loveliest things about the writing community is it is so supportive and launches, cyber or otherwise, bring that out. And best of all they are fun!

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Many thanks to #PatriciaMOsborne for inviting me to take part in her launch of her second novel, The Coal Miner’s Son. This follows her debut novel, The House of Grace.

A very good time was had by all at the launch and the lovely thing about online launches is that the calories in the cakes and drinks provided simply don’t count!😆

I am planning to hold a cyberlaunch for my second flash fiction collection, Tripping the Flash Fantastic, when that is out later this year. Preparation is crucial for you as the writer to get the most out of it I think. It helped me to relax into the event and get a real party feel going.

(And it WAS a wonderful party at Patricia’s launch tonight too!).

Launches are important for the obvious reason of getting the news of our books out there, but they also help a writer to have fun with their book after all their hard work in writing and editing it.

Cheers to that!

And congratulations, #PatriciaMOsborne, for a wonderful launch for The Coal Miner’s Son. (I love that cover! Do check out the link to Patricia’s Amazon page, given above, to find out why I love it!).

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I always feel a sense of relief when I write The End for a flash fiction or short story. (I should imagine the sense of relief for a novelist is proportionately larger depending on their text length!).

I do know the hard work is shortly going to begin with the editing but there is that moment when you know you’ve got something to work with and that’s nice. It shouldn’t be unappreciated either. You have finished the first draft.

The great thing is nobody but you has to ever see that first draft. I know from mine what a good thing that is!

For competition entries, I always take at least a week (and usually a fortnight) off the official deadline to ensure I have time for any final tweaks and still get the piece off in good time.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Hope to draft some flash pieces on my train trip to Birmingham today for an Association of Christian Writers’ event. It is a great form to draft on a smartphone!

The only thing I make sure of is to put plenty of story prompts on Evernote before I travel so I have more than enough to write up.

If I ever forget to do that, I brainstorm opening lines and then write them up. Of course sometimes what I think will be opening lines make far better closing ones, but it’s fun to find that out!

When I started writing short stories, I nearly always used the third person. For flash fiction, I still use that, but I’ve developed a great love for using first person. I love its immediacy. I can tak you right into a character’s head and I have my narrator for the story literally to hand.

Flash, due to its brevity, means you can’t have too many characters as you’d quickly fall foul of word count requirements.

For example, if you want three characters in the story, you’ve got to have at least one good reason for all three to be in there. How many words will you use to get those good reasons in?! And even if you manage that well enough, what room have you got left for the actual story after all of that?

So using the first person is a handy technique but that is all it should be. I make myself mix up first and third person usage to avoid falling into the trap of all of my stories sounding the same.

Good reasons to get a writing event if you can and that includes online events (so travel is not a problem!):-

1. You will make writing friends who will totally understand your addiction to writing (and it IS an addiction). They also celebrate your successes and commiserate with your woes and that is vital. The writing community is precisely that, a community. We take the “no man is an island” bit seriously!

2. Said writing pals will tell you about competitions and markets you had not heard of as no one person can know everything that’s out there. You will also share useful news on similar lines to them.

3. You will get a lot from the courses and talks you go to as well!

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Book trailers were completely new to me until Chapeltown Books produced the excellent one for From Light to Dark and Back Again. Yes, I know I’m biased… (am not sorry, so there!).

Flash is a great vehicle for book trailers since as a form it can fit into a trailer beautifully and give a useful free sample to potential readers. I prefer using the 100 words or under for this.

A sample of my flash fiction work. Job Satisfaction was first published in From Light to Dark and Back Again by Chapeltown Books in 2017.

 

Goodreads Author Blog – Book Stalls at Writing Events

I love writing events anyway but I particularly enjoy having a good nose around book stalls/book rooms at these things. Wild horses wouldn’t keep me away and all that…

It’s always a joy to see works by friends, as well as my own, on these stalls too. But they also prove to be good opportunities to have a look at works and authors new to you.

So go on, at the next event you go to as a writer, put your reader’s hat on too and see what you can find. Explore reading avenues new to you as well as enjoying favourite genres.

And for non-writers, one of the best ways to support author friends is to go to their events. The great thing is you are likely to come back with your next good read too! And that is always a good thing!😊

 

Storms, Flashes, and Podcast News

Image Credit:  As ever, unless otherwise stated, all images come from the magnificent Pixabay.

Podcast News

I’m delighted to say I am the guest on Wendy H. JonesThe Writing and Marketing Show talking about flash fiction tomorrow, Wednesday, 12th February. Wendy is a Scottish crime writer of the DI Shona McKenzie series and also writes about Bertie the Buffalo for children. Do check her website out for more information.

The podcast was a wonderful opportunity to chat about why all writers should write flash fiction, even if is not their main work. More on the show and I look forward to sharing the link on the next post on Friday.

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And In Other News…

Am very pleased to say my website links are now included on:-

  1.  Swanwick Writers’ Summer School Swanwick Connections page.
  2.  The Association of Christian Writers’ Members’ Website page.

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I’ve set up a page on my website where from time to time I share some flash fiction stories and look at how I wrote them. I hope this will be useful for other flash fiction writers and entertaining anyway!

I had great fun yesterday evening putting together a simple video for Putting My Face On and think it works well. (See below and on the link too).

Hope you enjoy!

 

Horrible day weather wise with the storm (Sunday, 9th February in the UK – Storm Ciara). Hope and trust everyone is okay. Did like seeing the full moon rising tonight and the way it lights up the clouds though. The clouds DID have a silver lining tonight! (One sign to confirm the weather is truly awful is when Lady wants to finish her walkies quickly and she did today).

Good day today. I’ve finished drafting a standard length short story which gave ME the creeps (and yes it is meant to!) and I’m looking forward to polishing that and submitting it later this week. Will have more news on the publication front fairly soon too.

Have a good week and I hope the weather soon calms down.

 

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I can hardly believe it is the 80th anniversary of the first Tom and Jerry cartoon. Always loved those two (but then I’ve always been a fan of the kind of story where the underdog clearly has the upper hand of the “master”. The Jeeves and Wooster stories by P.G. Wodehouse are the sublime prose example of those).

Never despise “light” entertainment whether it is in the form of a cartoon or book. Escapism is invaluable and something I think most of us need, for one thing. For another, this kind of thing is harder than it looks to write. If anyone makes anything look easy, you can bet they’ve been working quietly away for years to get to that point.

I do take some comfort in knowing there are no shortcuts in writing (it means it’s not just me taking the scenic route!), but I take even more from knowing very little is ever wasted. Even rejections can teach you something you can use to improve your writing. And I’ve lost count of how many stories of mine didn’t get placed somewhere, I’ve looked at them again, reworked them, submitted them elsewhere and, as a result, got them into print/on to screen (sometimes both).

Persistence is a virtue when it comes to writing but a better one is being open to looking at your writing and thinking well, I could do this bit better… Time away from the piece is crucial here for being able to give yourself distance but it does pay off.

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I was delighted to find this picture on Pixabay (and you wonder why I like them so much!). Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

What is your inner vision and are you making progress towards it

What is your reaction when you come across a book you don’t like? Do you carry on reading? Do you abandon it and maybe try it again at a later date?

In my time, I’ve done both. The latter has been more successful. For example, I tried reading The Hobbit when I was at junior school but I just couldn’t get into it. Now, of course, I have no problems with it. Sometimes it is a case of timing. YOU sometimes have to be “ready” for a book.

Very rarely do I abandon a book altogether. Even then I feel a sense of failure. I do wonder if it’s just me. What is useful though is to analyse what it is was you didn’t like and make sure nobody can say the same of your books and stories! So even a book that, for whatever reason you couldn’t get on with, has its uses for a writer!

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When do I know a flash fiction piece is going to work?

When the story makes me feel the way I want it to make a reader feel, whether it is to make them laugh, cry, or, on occasion, scream!

One of the joys of flash is its almost instant impact but there definitely has to BE an impact! Incidentally slice of life studies can work well here too because the impact there is to make you care for the character you’ve just read about.

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Today was the perfect day, weather wise, to stay in and write and/or read! It’s about the only good thing to say about the horrible weather… I trust things are calming down where you are. Trees down here but it looks like damage is limited.

I don’t use the weather a lot in any of my stories partly because, with flash, there is limited room for description, and I always think the character is far more important anyway. I would rather show you a character battling through the elements than focus on the elements themselves. I’m also determined not to be caught out by the “dark and stormy night” cliche!

 

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How to spot a writer Part 1:-

1. They mutter and probably swear at spotting yet another typo in whatever it is they’re reading. (Guilty here: last one that really annoyed me was the ITV news report online which had Isle of White instead of Isle of Wight. Someone didn’t check the place names there…).

2. Their other half has to drag them out of bookshops OR plot a route around any area that is lucky enough to still have said bookshops. This is particularly important if they have an appointment in two hours time or less as it will be the only way to ensure that appointment isn’t missed. If you tell me you couldn’t possibly spend two hours in a bookshop, then I’ll know you’re not a writer!

3. Flash fiction writers are easy to spot. They will get their smartphone out at every opportunity and will tap away on it. Some of them might even use a stylus (Guilty as charged). If desperate, they will grab a napkin and draft something on the back of that. (Before you ask, not yet, but I suspect I will do this at some point!).

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How to spot a writer Part 2:-

1. You can’t move for them in stationery shops. (We are all suckers for lovely pens, notebooks etc). Guilty as charged on this one.

2. In coffee shops, they are likely to be in a corner, phone or laptop plugged in, and they’ve made one drink last at least an hour so they can get some writing done. (Not quite guilty on this one. I always buy a hot drink and at least one other cold drink if I know I’m going to be there for a while).

3. The flash fiction writer will be keen to explain what their genre is to anyone who will listen so it is more of a case of them spotting you. On the plus side they will know the importance of Less is More for their genre and will keep their talk short and to the point. (Another clue as to who the flash writers are is in their speech. If they seem to cut out all adverbs even when talking, you know you’ve found one). Ahem…

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Goodreads Author Blog – Why Read Then?

Strange question to put on Goodreads, isn’t it? We all love books and stories. Reading is a way of life.

Celebrating books at literary festivals and/or writing conferences is a lovely part of life too!

But it is easy to forget reading isn’t a way of life for everyone. Books have to compete with other forms of entertainment for people’s attention. Sadly, books don’t always win.

I was deeply saddened once, when on a book stall with some other local authors, I heard someone walk by and loudly exclaim “I don’t do books”. Hmm… I wonder why that is? Nervousness about reading? Too many associations with bad experiences at school? I thought the comment was so sad, and I still think that.

I read to:-

1. Escape the world for a bit. (It is beyond me people don’t latch on to this more. The great thing books are legal, they won’t make you put on weight, or give you a hangover).

2. Be entertained in a way that suits me. I don’t have to commit to reading for three hours at a time (though chance would be a fine thing!). If you’re in the cinema and it’s a long film, you really do have to love it otherwise you’re in for a dull evening.

3. Discover different worlds in a way that I choose. I vary my reading. I’ll read crime books for a while, then historical fiction, then short story collections etc. But I choose which worlds to explore and when and I like that.

What I don’t want to see is books being seen as “elitist” or anything like that.

Happy reading, everyone!

 

 

Writing – and Multiple Projects

Image Credit:  As ever, unless otherwise stated, the images are from the marvellous Pixabay

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Full of cold at the moment. Not a happy bunny though booking my place for this year’s Swanwick Writers’ Summer School HAS cheered me up no end!

Also looking forward to the next edition of Writing Magazine because I love turning to the letters page, the subscribers’ news etc and see how many friends have got a mention in there! It’s nice to see the numbers going up!

Writing wise, I’m focusing on non-fiction at the moment though I have got short stories “brewing” ready for me to look at them again with a fresh eye. I find the time away from stories really useful, as when I do go back to them, I will see their strengths and weaknesses with an unjaundiced eye, but I hope to get back to these sometime next week. One I want to submit within the next couple of weeks.

Writing takes you away from the world for a bit. Just a pity it can’t get rid of the sniffles as well…

 

The advantages of having more than one project on the go:-

1. You never get bored.
2. If you get stuck on one thing, work on the other. Ideas for resolving the problem(s) on the first will come to you while you work on something else. One of the chief Murphy’s Laws for Writers, I think. I do know that this has always been the case for me.
3. You can work on smaller projects and see (hopefully) submission successes while still working away on a longer project you know will take longer to place even when you’ve finished writing and editing it.
4. You can try different kinds of writing and see what you like best.
5. When work has been submitted, you’ve always got something else to work on.

I’ll look at the disadvantages tomorrow.

 

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Following on from yesterday’s post, now it’s time to look at the disadvantages of having more than one project on the go.

1. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed. (My advice here is to plan things out as much as you can. When you know you haven’t got much writing time, use what you’ve got to get little pieces done. It makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something – you have! – and the great thing is you can polish these pieces up and submit them later. Also remember if you only have time for say a writing exercise or two, do them because you will get some useful material from them for later, which could feed directly into the projects you’re working on. Likewise, if you can only write a page or two for one of your projects, get it done. Those pages or two mount up over time.).

2. You can feel torn as to which project you should be working on. (It can help to set yourself deadlines here but be realistic. If you’re working on a novel, and say a collection of short stories or flash fiction, it simply IS going to take you longer to complete both but that’s okay. Work out when you would like to get these projects done by in an ideal world, then add time on given it isn’t an ideal world (!), and work to that timetable. Also accept life will get in the way sometimes so don’t beat yourself up if that happens. It does happen to everybody including those who do only work on one project at a time).

3. I can’t help but sneak in another advantage here in that I’m working on big projects which I know will take ages to complete but that’s okay. Meanwhile I’m getting short pieces written and out and building up publication credits etc. All of that will add to my writing CV when I am ready to submit the big projects later.

But deciding what works for you writing wise, and what YOU feel you can sustain long term, whether you work on one or more projects at a time, is key here. Key to getting things done. Key to you being happy with your output. Good luck!

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W = When you get to invent worlds and people for fiction or present interesting information for non-fiction.
R = Really get to understand why characters are the way they are and, for non-fiction, discovering more about your topic.
I = Imagination fires up and triggers more story ideas and, for non-fiction, imagination helps you see connections that can trigger further blog posts, articles etc.
T = Time – there’s never enough!
I = Insist on carving out writing time for yourself, whether it’s for a short period or longer; you will feel better in yourself for having that time and others will benefit from your having the benefit of the writing buzz for a while too.
N = Never running out of ideas to work up as stories or blogs or articles.
G = Genre – plenty to choose from; there’s bound to be at least one to suit you.

Just some of the many things I love about writing!

 

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

My two favourite kinds of flash fiction stories are those which end on a punchline and make me laugh, or where the twist is so good, the ending take my breath away. Neither are easy to write but are so worthwhile to do. They’re the stories you remember the longest.

I’ve found when writing funny tales, it pays to start with the punchline and then work out what could lead to that coming out “naturally” from the character. It is far more convincing doing it that way. You don’t want the punchline to seem like it is a set-up.

 

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One of the joys of flash fiction is the word count limit means having to leave the reader to infer things.

Now I have always loved “filling in the gaps” in novels and the longer short stories where I’ve become attached to the characters. You know the kind of thing – wondering what other adventures they might have had after the main story is over. On those grounds, I understand fan fiction, though I don’t write it. Nor have any plans to do so.

But where a story has real emotional impact, I find that impact is stronger precisely because the writer has not had the space to spell it all out. I can and do work that out for myself – and love doing so. The challenge for me as the writer is working out what a reader must know to be able to fill in the gaps successfully for themselves.

 

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One of the things I love best about flash fiction is creating characters. I always like to look at what a character’s main trait is as that can be very useful for dropping them right in the mire from a great height should I wish to do so!

For example, if I have a character who believes they are brave, I could then put them in a situation where they have to prove they are (or discover they really are not! The latter especially could have comic potential).

It is when I nail down the main trait(s), I start to have a feel for the character’s voice. Someone who thinks they’re brave is likely to be boastful (well, they’ve got to tell someone else haven’t they? It”s no good thinking you’re brave if you can’t show off about it!). That in turn gives me ideas on how they are likely to speak and the kind of language they are likely to use.

There are many different ways in to character creation but I do like this one.

Creating a Flash Fiction Story

INGREDIENTS

A strong character you can identify with and want to write about (readers will identify with them and will want to read their tale).

An idea as to what impact you want your story to have on a reader. This will affect the story mood and how you craft it.

Simmering in the back of your mind, an idea of which competition/publisher you will submit the work to and, of course, already know what their submission requirements/deadlines are.

METHOD

1. Get the story drafted. (To paraphrase P.G. Wodehouse, it’s time to apply seat of pants to seat of chair).

2. Put aside a for a while and start drafting another!

3. Come back to your original story, read it through (and where possible out loud too so you can literally hear how dialogue etc sounds), and then edit.

4. When you’re happy with the story THEN worry about the word count. Check to ensure there are no wasted words in your tale (cut out things like very, actually etc).

5. Once done, if your story has a strong impact at 250 words but it would be weakened if you tried to get it down to 100, then leave it at 250 and submit it to a suitable competition/market.

6. Apply steps 2 to 6 to the second story!

Have fun!

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Goodreads Author Programme – First Books

Do you remember the first books you read or had read to you?

I can’t honestly say I do though the Reader’s Digest Collection of Classic Fairytales does rank very highly in this list. I still have this two volume set, though the spines are “taped up” thanks to years of use!

The illustrations in these books are lovely and I spent many a happy hour poring over them as a kid. The stories are the originals from Grimm, Perrault, Andersen etc.

I do remember collecting the Famous Five series. Southern TV, as it was then in our ITV region, had adapted the series and paperbacks were reissued to link in with this. Have no idea what happened to those books. Do know they’re not with me now. I recall going to our local newsagent to buy the paperbacks (in the days when you did have independent newsagents!).

The first books I chose for my home after getting married came to me via the old Odhams collections. You paid a subscription and received one new book every month. I collected Agatha Christie novels (and collections of short stories), which I still have.

What is important though is those first books were never last books!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to Earth, Special Moments for Writers, and Publication News

Publication News

My story, The Delivery, is now up on Cafelit. It looks at what can happen when you fall foul of the old boss and not just any old boss, come to that. Hope you enjoy. It was good fun to write!

brown envelopes in mail box

The Delivery! Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My CFT post this week was a real labour of love. (They all are but this one is particularly so). I get to talk about Swanwick Writers’ Summer School! I also look at why seeking to develop and feeding your mind is so important to a writer.

The lovely thing is you feed your mind through fabulous things like reading and interacting with your fellow writers! The best forms of development should be fun (otherwise you won’t stick with them, will you?).

Image Credit:  All Swanwick images taken by Allison Symes, except those of me reading at the Prose Open Mic Night. A huge thank you to Penny Blackburn for those. Captions as ever on the CFT post. (Also it was great to include here a photo of Jennifer C Wilson of the Kindred Spirits series at her Social Media for Writers talk at Swanwick, which rightly was very well received).

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Tough questions to answer:-

1. Why does time drag when doing anything boring yet flies by when you’re enjoying your writing and/or reading? The latter is when I want time to slow down, thank you. I wish there was a way we could control these things.

2. Why do you run out of paper and/or printer ink half way through printing a MSS you want to work on? Why can it never be at a convenient moment? I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to re-run a significant portion of a MSS because I went and did something else during the printing, only to come back and go “argh” (or swear, much depends on my mood!), as I discover the last 30% or so is not readable.

3. Why are there either loads of writing competitions you want to go in for because you know you can meet the brief or none at all when you could do with them? You either have the dilemma of working out what you can do in the time and miss out on entering some because you know you can’t do them all, or have nothing to submit to, and neither is good!

Special moments for writers:-

1. Finishing first story/article/book. Just getting to the end is a huge achievement. Well done! (Many say they will write, many will start, not all will see it through and complete the work).

2. First rejection. I know it sounds odd but it is proof you are getting work out there. Also, all writers get them. You’re not going to avoid this (so it’s best to face up to this and remember it is never, ever personal). This is where it can be helpful to have a couple of pieces of work out there at any one time. There is always something then that might do better.

3. First publication.

4. First writing conference (and knowing you fit right in!).

5. First acceptance of a previously rejected piece of work. You’ve looked at the piece again, edited it again, and send it to another competition or market. They take it. I believe no writing is ever wasted. So what might be rejected now might, with more work, be accepted somewhere else later.

6. Discovering new competitions/markets to submit to – this is fun!

7. First review of something you’ve written (on the assumption it is a good one).

8. First shortlisting in a competition.

9. First book signing.

10. First taking part in a book fair etc with other writers. (Okay, getting sales is another matter but it is good experience and usually fun too. They can be great opportunities to engage with readers. I’ve nearly always found, after an event, my Kindle sales have gone up even if I didn’t sell many paperbacks).

Can you think of others to add to this list? I’ve treasured all of the above (and still do).

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Delighted to have my story, The Delivery, up on Cafelit today. Hope you enjoy.

Will be out and about over the weekend so hope to get more work drafted while travelling. It’s a great use of time!

 

red mail box

See the link to post in The Delivery. Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

 

Which writing exercise do you find the most difficult?

For me, I think it is where you have to put a certain line in the middle of a story. I have written these but not often as I much prefer an opening line or a closing one.

With closing lines, I will “outline backwards” before writing the story up to make sure I get to the required line in a way that makes sense. Once I’ve got my outline I will look to see if I can improve on my initial thoughts. I nearly always can and then when happy with the outline, I write the story up.

But with a middle line, I’ve found the temptation is to cut the story into two halves. The problem with that is it may well come across to the reader as a story of two halves, which is not what you really want. So the trick there is to ensure you can’t see the join, as the wonderful Eric Morecambe so often said to the equally wonderful Ernie Wise!

What is your favourite writing exercise?

I love them all but I think for me it has to be the opening line. Why? Because a promising opening line can take you in all kinds of directions and that’s very addictive!

Usually with this I jot down a few thoughts as to where the story could go and then pick the one I like most and away I write. I do look at the ones I discarded again later and occasionally pick up on another one or two on the list. Why only occasionally?

Because inevitably those at the top of my list are the “obvious” ideas and while there is nothing wrong with them, a competition judge will have seen them all before. You want your own take on the theme that has been set which still meets that theme. You have to dig deep to find the gold.

One wonderful idea that came from Swanwick was to write down your first ten ideas. Having to come up with ten forces you to think more deeply (and laterally) about the topic and that is never a bad thing. And this can be applied to whatever kind of writing exercise or prompt you use too.

Fairytales with Bite –

Top Tips for the Aspiring Character

You are a character who wants to come to life on your creator’s page but they’re umming and ahhing about whether you are really the character they want to lead what they laughingly call their story. It is your story, naturally. They just haven’t realised it yet. So what can be done to make your writer give you your proper place in the tale?  Top tips include:-

1.  Ensure your personality is strong enough. Don’t be a doormat. Doormats not only get trodden on but, far worse, they’re forgotten. That must not happen to you.

2.  You must have good turns of phrase so your conversation is unforgettable too. If you can be witty and come out with appropriate one-liners, so much the better. Readers remember those. Your writer should remember that.

3.  Are you prepared for adventure? Are you happy for your writer to drop you right in it, several times if need be and usually from a great height? Yes? Good! They can do what they like with you then and they will like that.

Good luck! (And tell your writer to get a move on and get you in the story).

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This World and Others – Back to Earth

I had a wonderful week at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School and now it is back down to earth once more. I share a little of what it is like at Swanwick on my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week. I do think you need at least a week to get over a holiday, wonderful writing school or what have you.

How do your characters react when they have to come back to reality after their adventures? Most of the time we don’t find out of course because the story stops when the adventure does. One thing I love about The Lord of the Rings is it does show that things are never the same again, particularly for Frodo, when he finally returns to Middle Earth. I won’t say more than that but I thought this part of the story is realistically done. Frodo would be affected by all that he has gone through.

All stories should show that your characters (especially your main one) have changed in some way, otherwise there is no story. Changes can be positive or negative. Now I must admit I generally prefer positive changes but there is a place for the opposite. What would work best for your character and story?

 

 

Post-Swanwick and Reading Time

Publication News

Another story, The Delivery, will be on Cafelit very soon. Will share more details and the link next time. One thing I absolutely love about writing is the thrill of being published never diminishes.

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I expect the post-Swanwick blues to hit me on Monday when up to neck in the daily chores once again. What will keep me going is (a) looking forward to next year’s event (can’t start that too early, can you?) and (b) cracking on with my writing goals.

There was a four letter acronym at one of the courses which I’m not going to forget in a hurry and which I won’t repeat on here. (Get On With It is a politer version!). Let’s just say it’s all the motivation I need when the blues strike!

And one of the things I love about writing is the fact it DOES take you away from the world for a bit. I always feel better after writing, whether it is a short session or longer one, and that, for me, will always be reason enough to write at all.

 

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Catching up with some reading now I’m back home again. It does seem odd NOT to be talking writing and books all the time (but for the sake of my family and friends, it is just as well!).

Have written down some goals and a rough timescale in which to achieve them. When outlining my stories, I do actually then get on and write them so am hoping the same will happen with the goals I’ve set myself. (It does seem more real putting them down on paper, which is vital).

Have some blog posts to prepare so time to get on but I’ll leave some mottoes for genre writers to consider!

Fantasy Writers – Off In a World of Our Own

Crime Writers – Desperately Seeking Someone Annoying to Kill for Next Book

Horror Writers – It is Always Fright Night

Historical Fiction – The Past IS my present (career!).