Balancing Fiction and Non-Fiction

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated. Some images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Screenshots taken by me, Allison Symes.

More publication news this week and Scottish crime writer, Val Penny, chats to me on her blog. More below.

Storytelling shows us so much about ourselves

Facebook – General

Looking forward to sharing my Chandler’s Ford Today post on Friday where I’ll be chatting about Youtube for Authors. I’ll share how I use Youtube and why I am finding it useful, creative, and great fun. Going down this route was not something I anticipated doing even three years ago.

Don’t forget my author newsletter goes out on the first of the month so if would like to sign up please head over to my website at https://allisonsymescollectedworks.com (landing page) – and a big welcome to those already aboard. You receive a welcome email on sign-up along with a link to a giveaway where I share flash fiction stories, a brief piece about flash fiction, amongst other things.

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Hope you have had a good day. Thunder coming in here. Lady okay with it, especially now we’re back at home, but I cannot think of an odder July, weather wise. Glad the weather is supposed to get better from tomorrow but I am not holding my breath!

Glad to say I will be giving a couple of Zoom talks later on in the month so am getting ready for those.

Looking forward to going back to the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in August. Will be wonderful to catch up in person with lovely friends I’ve not seen for two years, though am deeply saddened by news of those Swanwickers lost since we last met. The support from other writers here is amazing. It will be nice to be out and about on the train again too (and yes, I have renewed my railcard. I renewed it last year not long before the first lockdown…oops!).

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Many thanks for the lovely comments coming in on my No More Miss Mousy story which is up on #FridayFlashFiction. Great feedback – much appreciated.

Looking forward to sharing my Chandler’s Ford Today post on Friday. I’ll be talking about YouTube for Authors and the idea came from Part 2 of my interview with #HelenMatthews shared here on Friday.

Do you schedule your writing over the course of a week? I have a rough outline of what I want to see done by the end of the week but I can adjust this (and do) as and when the need arises. Friday of course is always CFT day, Sundays are usually when I prepare a flash tale to put up on YouTube and submit something to #FridayFlashFiction. For the rest of the week, I like to write a mixture of fiction and non-fiction and if I manage to do that, I feel it has been a week well spent.

Screenshot 2021-07-09 at 18-40-02 No More Miss Mousy, by Allison Symes


Two posts today as lots to share. I’ll start by saying a huge thanks to the lovely #ValPenny for hosting me once again on her website. Back in March I was talking about my writing journey and today’s post is an update. A lot has happened since March, mainly involving Zoom.

Am also looking forward to catching up with Val in person when we get back to the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School later on in the summer. (I know – summer, she says laughingly but officially it is summer anyway). Will there be enough prosecco to go around I wonder… I’m sure we’ll manage!

Screenshot 2021-07-13 at 20-12-36 Zooming Around by Allison Symes


Secondly, I am delighted to say the July 2021 edition of Mom’s Favorite Reads is now up on Amazon. I talk about Patience in Flash Fiction Writing. I am their flasher queen after all! Hope you enjoy the magazine. It has a lovely combination of features. Best of all it is free – what’s not to like about that?

Screenshot 2021-07-10 at 16-53-46 Mom’s Favorite Reads eMagazine July 2021 eBook Publishing, Goylake, Howe, Hannah , Smith,[...]

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I cover a wide range of emotions in my flash tales and I hope that range shows the depths flash can reach, even with its limited word count. I believe the limitation on word count encourages creativity rather than stifles it because I have to think of better ways of getting something across to a reader to make the most of whatever word count I have chosen to write to for that story. My usual word count range is between 100 and 500 for the shorter pieces and 500 to about 750 for the longer ones. I do write right up to the 1000 words maximum allowed but don’t do this often. The fun for me with flash is keeping the story as short as I can while still having the maximum impact on a reader.


I always enjoy preparing my videos on YouTube but this one gave me extra enjoyment and I hope it does for you too. My favourite form of writing is what I call fairytales with bite which are often humorous and/or come with a twist in the tale.

Hope you enjoy Getting The Workmen In.


E = Editing is something writing flash fiction has taught me not to fear.
D = Driving me on to make my flash story as perfect as I can make it at the time.
I = Imagination comes into play even here as I work out how to show a reader what they need to see in as few words as possible.
T = Time – allow plenty of it for this, a good edit is not something to be rushed even in a 100-word story.
I = Instincts will kick in as you realise over time what your wasted words are and you start spotting your repetitions quicker – you know to cut these immediately and will get better at doing so.
N = Naming your weaknesses helps you to spot them and overcome them – I have to watch myself for my wasted words and unnecessary punctuation (am a sucker for brackets – see!).
G = Great editing will strengthen your story and help your flash writing have more “oomph” to it which will go down well with readers.


It is a joy to be talking about flash again in the July 2021 edition of Mom’s Favorite Reads. I set the theme for flash stories for them and write a post around the topic I’ve chosen. Do check the magazine out. It is free and there is a wide range of lovely articles in there.

This time I’m talking about patience. It has taken me time to learn different techniques for writing flash. Also I can get my characters to show just how patient or otherwise they are so it is a good open topic. And I like those – it means stories can be taken in any one of several different directions and I love the freedom of choice there.

And I’m getting to wave the flag for flash fiction. Am always glad to do that!

 

Goodreads Author Blog – Balancing Fiction and Non-Fiction

I like to read a mixture of fiction and non-fiction though I suspect my reading “see-saw” is tilted more to the fiction side of things. I am reading more non-fiction than I ever have and hope to keep doing this, especially as I am now writing more non-fiction than before too.

My non-fiction reading side is tilted towards history where I’ve always had an interest and I’ve loved many of the Ben Macintyre books. I love the development where non-fiction is using some of the techinques used in fiction writing to grab the reader.

Gone are the days are boring old big reference books. In are non-fiction books which have speed and pace and make you wonder what will happen next. I hope that development encourages more people to read more non-fiction. I know it has worked for me!

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Judging Book Covers Part 2, Planning, and Openings

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Some images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos. 

Many thanks to Val Penny, Jennifer C Wilson, and Teresa Bassett for their author and book images for this week’s Chandler’s Ford Today post.

Many thanks to Penny Blackburn for her image of me reading at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. I adore Swanwick and am always happy to sneak in extra pictures if I get the chance and given Val and Jennifer are both Swanwick friends, I thought it was a good opportunity to do that again!

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Later on in this post, I’ll be looking at openings for magical stories but you still can’t beat the one below!

Facebook – and Chandler’s Ford Today


Pleased to share Part 2 of my Judging a Book By Its Cover series for Chandler’s Ford Today. This week I chat about book covers with guests from the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, Val Penny and Jennifer C Wilson, and from Authors Reach, Teresa Bassett.

Between them my guests have written crime mysteries, romantic historical fiction, ghostly historical fiction, non-fiction, and YA books! Not a bad checklist that!  And a wide range of cover experience to discuss and share with us. Hope you enjoy. I share the final part of this series next week and hope the entire series proves especially useful to those considering their cover designs now.

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Lovely day, despite a chilly breeze, and Lady had a smashing time playing with her friend, Coco.

Looking forward to sharing Part 2 of my new Chandler’s Ford Today series, Judging a Book by Its Cover. This week I chat to guests from the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School and Authors Reach about their most recent covers. They share their thoughts on what makes for a good cover. Link up tomorrow.

I don’t know about you but you do know a good cover when you see one. It can be hard to define exactly what it is that has drawn you in. What matters is that the cover has drawn you in to want to find out more. And once you’re drawn in, off you go for hopefully another wonderful read! No pressure then…!!


Lady had a smashing play time with her best buddie, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, and her “gentleman friend”, Bear, who is a lovely tri-coloured Aussie Shepherd. Lady generally prefers playing with her girlfriends but Bear is one of the exceptions and he is a gent of a dog, which is probably why Lady likes him. And she can play with his Chuckit ball while he plays with her Chuckit ball etc. Three tired but happy dogs went home again… Delightful to hear a lot of thundering galloping going on here. Three reasonably big dogs at full pelt is a sight to be seen and heard.

Talking of being heard, how well do your character voices come across? Can you picture your people (or other beings) when you read their stories? When you have more than one character in a story, can you tell them apart by the way they speak? This is where pet phrases or certain words used by certain characters can help. I’ve written stories in the past where one snobby character did not use contractions at all. Good way of telling them apart from everyone else.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again


I’ve mentioned the need to really know your characters before but how does that work for flash fiction with its word count restrictions? Simple! You have a simpler set of questions to ask your characters!

You’re not going to need to go into as much back story as you would if you were writing a novel but what I have found useful to know before writing that first draft of a flash tale can be summed up below.

 

Character Type – Not does not have to be human.
Character Mood – Doesn’t have to be a positive one!
Major Trait – Again doesn’t have to be a positive one.
Theme – And sometimes the theme can make a useful title as well.

I’ve outlined an idea for a mini-flash tale (50 words or under generally) as a quick line or two on a piece of paper as I realised I had two ways of taking that particular story and I needed to know which would work best.

Jotting things down on a piece of paper or in an Evernote file on the old phone still has much to commend it. I’ve always found an outline, no matter what its length, keeps me on track for my story and saves time and heartache later on.

The heartache can come if you find out no matter what you do the story isn’t going to work and you’ve written a load of it already and can’t see ways of salvaging it. That has only happened to me twice and for the same reason – I didn’t know my character well enough.

Lesson learned. A little forward planning pays dividends and if you’re not really a planner just jotting a note to yourself of where you think your character may take you is still useful.

Am currently preparing something to submit to The Bridport Prize in their flash category. (Wish me luck. I would love to be longlisted here!). Hope to sort out the final polish and submit over the weekend.

What is encouraging though is that flash, while now a regular part of this competition and many others, wasn’t always recognized. It is great to see opportunities like this and yes you do have to be in it to have any chance of winning it.
Incidentally my final polish will be to make sure I have followed the entry rules to the letter. I can’t stress how important that is.

I have judged competitions and you don’t want to have to disqualify entries because of that but it is unfair on those who have followed the rules to allow any to go through that have not done so. So don’t make the judge’s life easy. Follow everything to the letter so the judge doesn’t have “easy” reasons to turn your entry down. Much the same applies for submitting work to a publisher and/or agent of course.


There are many things I love about flash fiction but the chief one, I think, is being able to set my characters wherever and whenever I want. So I do! I’ve written historical flash, ghost mini-tales, crime ones, acrostics, and my trademark fairytales with bite (aka fantasy with a twist, often an ironic one).

But I also love using the first person for flash tales as I get to take you straight into the head of my lead character. You see what they do. You see why they think as they do. The immediacy of flash is what gives it its emotional impact I think.


Fairytales With Bite – Once Upon a Time – Opening a Magical Story

Once upon a time is the classic way to open a magical story, of course. Those four words immediately conjure up a world far, far away (in both distance and time) and encourage me to settle down for a good read. It also immediately sets up the magical environment in which the story is going to be set.

Those words are a good example of repetition (in so many stories) setting up a link that goes deep into our subconscious. Everyone who has read or heard a fairytale will know those words and have a good idea of what is come.

Anticipation of having a story delivered is also an important part of reading. After all, what draws you to a book? The thought of a good read? But that good read can only come from you taking in the opening and deciding you would like to buy or borrow said book.

So how to open a magical story? With my flash fiction, I often set a clue in the opening line or two that magic is likely to appear. For example, in my Seeing Is Believing from Tripping the Flash Fantastic, I open with “When Ben was unwell, strange signs appeared in the sky above his house.”.

So I am upfront right at the start of the story magic has to turn up in this tale somewhere – what else could explain the strange signs? Doing this again gives readers a sense of what this story is likely to be and hopefully be intrigued enough to read on to find out whether or not they were right.

For flash fiction, I keep the level of details down to a minimum (as I need to due to the restricted word count of 1000 words maximum. The advantage of that restriction though is it makes you keep in the story only what really matters to the story. For an opening, it means I have to draw a reader in quickly so I want to make the most powerful impact I can with my opening lines).

For any kind of story, magical or otherwise, those opening lines are vital to the success of your story. I’ve found it helps to put myself in the reader’s shoes and ask myself what would I want to read here? What do I absolutely have to know? And those are good questions to ask yourself as you edit your story. They will help you make your opening lines as strong as possible.

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This World and Others – World History

Does your created world have much of a back story in its own right? If you needed to write a history of it could you do so and which aspect would you look at?

History covers a huge field from the traditional wars and battles that changed history to changing cultural history and so on. Most of this would not be directly relevant to your story but is phenomenally useful for you to know. Why? You need to be able to give your characters a sense of the world they belong to – they should know where they come from and that in turn will influence their attitudes and decisions. That will affect your story and rightly so!

So work out what you think you will need to know. If one of your characters is an artist, what kind are they? Does their culture encourage creativity or stifle it? If, say, they’re a painter in a world where only sculptures count for anything, how do they handle that?

History feeds into the lives we lead now and this is just as true for our fictional creations.

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Titles,Writing Magazine, Publication News, and Part 3 of Launches in Lockdown (and Lady news update!)

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

A huge thank you to Val Penny and Jen Wilson for their author pics and book cover images for this week’s Chandler’s Ford Today post.

This post title should indicate what kind of week I’ve had – good but busy! Am just hoping the drink in the Pixabay picture below is a nice hot chocolate… I’m not a coffee fan. (I know, I know, writers are supposed to be but there you go).

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Facebook – General and Chandler’s Ford Today

Delighted to share Part 3 of my Launches in Lockdown series on Chandler’s Ford Today. The advice and tips given in this series so far has been top-notch, not to be missed etc., (and the good news is there is more to come!). A huge thank you to #JenWilson and #ValPenny for their contributions this week.

Jen, Val, and I are huge fans of the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School which is where we met and we are all hoping to meet up again there this year after last year’s event sadly had to be cancelled due to You Know What. We are also part of a team there called the Prosecco Queens (anyone fancy a guess at why we went for that name? Anybody? Anybody at all?!).

Last week’s post was from writers from the Association of Christian Writers. Now I mentioned earlier this week one of the joys of reading Writing Magazine is spotting how many of your writing pals you spot in between the covers, so to speak. I have to say it is usually a fairly even split between people I know from Swanwick and people I know from ACW. Keep going, folks!

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Hope Thursday has worked out okay for you. Glad to report Lady is now running again (and is very happy to be doing so, I can tell you). Mind you, it does look like she’s had a mud bath by the time I get her home. Thank goodness for my late mum’s old towels… perfect for dog cleaning duty! Also thanks goodness for an excellent washing machine!

Writing wise, I am looking forward to sharing part 3 of my Launches in Lockdown series for Chandler’s Ford Today. Link up for that tomorrow.

This week I feature two fabulous guests and writing friends I’ve come to know thanks to the marvellous Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. (So not only have I learned from the wonderful courses there, I’ve made fantastic friends and they are the best support any writer can have. Who else but another writer knows the elation when things are going well and you have work out there? Equally who better to sympathise with when rejections are all that seem to appear in your inbox?).

Further news. I had a fab time appearing on Wendy H Jones’ The Writing and Marketing Show last week. I’ll be writing a CFT piece about that and resharing the link once the Launches series has finished so that is my CFT diary full for February!

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One of joys of subscribing to Writing Magazine is opening it up and spotting your writer friends in there. This month it’s my turn! My February edition has just come in and I’m on the Subscribers’ News page, talking about my happy writing accident in discovering the joys of flash fiction writing. Naturally my website and Tripping the Flash Fantastic get a mention! (And It was fab my publishers Chapeltown Books had a good write-up last time).

Also delighted to see another 5 star rating come in for From Light to Dark and Back Again. A good day then!

Lady had her first proper but limited run today and loved it. Her paw is fine. The only thing we could have wished for was better weather but it is supposed to improve as the week goes on.

Looking forward to my first blog appearing on Authors Electric on the 18th. Meanwhile do check the excellent posts out there at https://authorselectric.blogspot.com/

Towards the end of this month is going to be a bit busy as I’ve lined an interview up amongst other things and I’m looking forward to all of that (and to being able to say more about the other things too).

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I’ve discussed titles before here but it is an important topic and they carry more weight in flash fiction stories than in other types of fiction. Why?

Firstly, the right title will set the mood and tone of the story in and of itself and that will save you on the word count for the tale itself.

Secondly, some websites and competitions do include the title as part of the word count (so always watch for that) so you want the title to do some of the “heavy lifting” for you.

Some other thoughts:-

  • Keep your title short. It makes it more memorable and saves on word count.
  • Impact of title is more important than word count (but that’s true for the story too!).
  • Does your title idea reflect the mood of the story or can it be open to interpretation? I am fond of the latter as it gives so much flexibility but there are times I want to set the mood so I choose an appropriate title accordingly.
  • Alliteration Always An Idea but Don’t Overuse It!
  • Never be afraid to change a title if the one you first came up with isn’t working for you. I find I need a title to work “to” when drafting but have changed it when a better idea comes up.

I’ve had the privilege of judging a flash fiction competition, which was interesting to do, but I was surprised to find some stories didn’t have titles with them. The really important thing to remember about a title is it is your story’s first “advert” to hook the reader in with and you want to make the most of that.

Remember only the Ten Commandments were set in stone so my advice would be to go with a working title and then change it later if you think of better (and that often does happen as you write the story. A better idea will “just come to you”. Note it and then examine it later in the cold light of day to see if it is as good as you thought and/or better than your initial idea. If it is, go for it!).

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I’ve often discussed, especially on my author FB page, the joy of outlining. I find it helpful to outline my characters. Now can you do all of that for a 50 or 100 word piece of flash fiction? Of course you can!

Like the story itself, the outline won’t be a long one, that is all. Less than a short paragraph like this usually does the job nicely – and I then get straight into writing the tale. Prep helps a lot! I’ve found it saves me a lot of time later as the outline has stopped me from going off at a tangent etc. Tangents are fun but are often not relevant to the character or plot so they shouldn’t go in. Everything has to be relevant!

So for a flash fiction outline (and especially for those tales which will be under 500 words), I ask myself a couple of questions.

  • Why do I want to write about this character? (In many ways it is for this character, it is their story I’m telling).
  • What mood is the story going to be? (This does affect the type of character I’m going to produce for the tale. If I want a funny tale, you don’t necessarily need a funny character to service it. What you do want are characters full of their own importance who need taking down a peg or several. That’s where the humour is, not necessarily directly in the character. Often a character who thinks they are funny are not and can often be tragic.).

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Publication News

Many thanks for the great response yesterday to my plug for CafeLit now the list of those appearing in The Best of CafeLit 10 is now known. (And yes this is another crafty way of getting another mention in for CafeLit and the book!). Yes, it does include me – see next post down. Sometimes a date order blog round up goes against you!!

For me the success of any story, regardless of its length, depends on the character(s). If they grip me, I’m reading the rest of the story, book or what you. If they don’t…. Well, life is just too short to perservere with something that just isn’t engaging me.

And that is the continuing challenge for me as a writer. Just how can I make my characters appeal to a reader (and especially one who may well not have come across my work before. There is a certain truth in the saying you only have the one chance to make a first impression and with my stories, I want my characters to hook readers in right from the start. You have got to have that “must find out what happens next” moment and to keep that going until you do reach the end).

One way I try to achieve this is to come up with characters readers can understand. They don’t have to like them but they do have to get where the character is from (and ideally ask themselves if I was this character, would I be doing this? If not, what would I be doing instead? If a reader is asking questions like that from a character, you know what character has intrigued them to keep on reading).

This is where outlining the character helps. And the great thing is you can pick the kind of outline that suits you. I don’t particularly need to know what my character looks like (that can come later) but I do need to know what their major traits are and what their flaws are. Think about what you would want to know from your character if you could interview them “for real” and use that as a basis for a useful outline template you can use over and over again.


Fairytales With Bite – When the Wand Isn’t Enough….

Okay, we’re in a magical world in our stories. How can a wand ever not be enough?

Well, firstly, if a wave of the old wand solves every problem, you haven’t got any stories to write. Where is the conflict in that? Problem A arises. Problem A gets resolved with said wave of magic wand. There’s no character development. And just reading problems being resolved like that will become boring so quickly! Readers want to find out what the characters do and how they react and it takes more than a wave of the magic wand to really show readers what the characters are truly made of. Are they sterling stuff or treacherous rats etc?

Also when everyone has a reasonable amount of magical power, there has to be a way of distinguishing between them (and it helps your readers to tell them apart too).

It is also a reasonable assumption to work on that some species will have more powers than others either by learning or by inheritance or both so what do the weaker species do to ensure they can survive? They’ve got to find ways of beating “their betters” without the use of magic (and that’s when stories can become really interesting. Characters are having to think on their feet here though of course you as the writer have planned this all out!).

So just as writers we shouldn’t rely on magic or coincidences getting our characters out of trouble, the characters themselves need more than the old magic wand waving too.

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This World and Others – What do Characters think of their Environment?

The answer to this question will also tell readers a fair bit about what your characters are like.

Do they care about the environment or are they oblivious to it?

If your created world has different climates and regions, are the characters you’re writing about aware of all of this or is there a certain amount of Here Be Dragons about their attitudes?

Here Be Dragons was something written on old maps where a map maker had literally got to the limits of where they were prepared to go to make their maps so anything unknown had this slogan added to it! They could get away with it because it was highly unlikely anyone was going to challenge them (and I’m sure they worked on the theory, well there could be dragons!). (Never get away with it now due to Google etc!).

How characters treat the world around them is likely to flag up to readers how they are likely to treat other characters. One of my own favourite characters in Losing Myself from Tripping The Flash Fantastic appears to be one who cares much more about the environment and natural world than any other of her own kind. That was an interesting story to write because it made me think deeply about what would make a character be or become that way.

And then there will the opposite – those who do not see or care about the environment around them. How did they get to be that way? And is there a point where they have to change their attitude?

So my lead question here can be a great way into some interesting story ideas.

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Twitter Corner



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THE PHONE CONVERSATION

Image Credit:

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.


Facebook – General and Chandler’s Ford Today
Double post from me tonight. A busy end to a busy week!

First up tonight is the link to my Chandler’s Ford Today post for this week. The Phone Conversation is a bit different from the kind of post I usually write here as (a) I set a writing challenge in it and (b) I include a new piece of flash fiction too.

My challenge is where I invite you to name one person (existing forwards or backwards in time) who you would love to speak to by phone. You only get the ONE phone call. Remember the old cop shows that always had that as a plot device? Well, I’ve taken the idea and run with it here.

Whichever direction in time you choose, the recipient would be enabled to use the phone. (Nor, if you go back in time, would they be burnt for witchcraft in being able to use such a strange device!).

Rules: Keep it short, keep it funny (and that rules out politics given that is anything BUT funny).

Now naturally I answered my own challenge and came up with a new flash fiction story as it was the best way for me to answer it! See The Biter Bit which I hope both amuses you and acts as a kind of heads-up to be wary of the scammers out there.

I look forward to seeing what you come up with – comments over on the CFT page please. (Oh and I had great fun with the captions for some of the images below but do check these out over on the CFT page! You can probably guess which ones I had the fun with!).

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SECOND POST!
A big thank you to #BarryLillie for hosting me on his blog today. The questions were challenging but great fun to answer! Hope you enjoy.

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Delighted to share another lovely review for Tripping The Flash Fantastic. Many thanks!

Screenshot_2020-10-15 Truly delightful
Now as we head rapidly towards the end of the year, and with book events mainly going to online versions only, writers, I know, are going to be even more appreciative of support than we normally are. (And generally we ARE an appreciative lot, honest!).

The nice thing is there are two big things you can do to support the writer friends in your life and they cost nothing, merely take a little time.

These are:-
1. Support their event by “going” to it even if only for a short while.
2. Give an honest review of their book on Amazon and Goodreads in particular.

Many thanks, folks, on behalf of EVERY writer!😊😍

thank you signage

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cup of aromatic cappuccino with thank you words on foam

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Many thanks to #ValPenny for hosting me on her blog today. This is the final part of my mini blog tour, all involving splendid people from Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. (Last week I was guest on #PatriciaMOsborne‘s and #JenWilson‘s blogs – thank you, ladies!).

Tonight’s post with Val is an in-depth article. Naturally I talk about Tripping The Flash Fantastic, what I love about flash fiction writing, and discuss what I can of my internet search history! 😂😂😂 Best leave it there I think.

I also share a little about my writing routine and what I think is the best thing about being a writer.

Thanks again, Val. It was fab to chat!

From Light to Dark and Back Again

I’ve written a new flash story, The Biter Bit, as part of my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week (and that’s a first). Hope you enjoy!

I found writing a story was the best way to answer the challenge I set in this post (and naturally I was going to meet said challenge myself). Stories are fabulous vehicles for getting points across without preaching or switching people off.

(Oh and a quick update on Tripping The Flash Fantastic. It is available on the Waterstones website too).

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Hope the week has been a good one. Now I usually share news about my Chandler’s Ford Today post over on my Facebook Author page. But this week’s post is different!

Called The Phone Conversation, I issue a fun challenge and share a new flash fiction story in my response to the challenge I set! Can’t really say more than that without giving the game away but link up tomorrow. (See above!).

I don’t usually combine my fiction with non-fiction writing but for the challenge I set, I realised using a flash story was the best way to meet it! More tomorrow. It is the first flash tale I’ve written for a couple of weeks given the cyberlaunch for TTFF etc and it was good to get back to that again.


A huge thanks to #ValPenny for hosting me on her blog today. It’s always a joy to chat about flash fiction. Naturally, Tripping The Flash Fantastic was mentioned too!

(Link to go on my website shortly on my interviews page and later in the week on my next blog post. I have shared this on my author page on Facebook tonight though so do pop across to that if you would like to read this now. Val knows how to set good questions!).

I do have an interview page on my website (which I will be updating shortly to include the mini blog tour I’ve been on with Val today, and #PatriciaMOsborne and #JenWilson last week). If you want to know more about my work and/or flash fiction, the interview page is a good place to start.

(And I will be updating the page again probably over the weekend to include my appearance on #BarryLillie’s blog this week too).


Fairytales With Bite – Is Magic All That Wonderful in Stories?

One thing I don’t think is stressed enough is that magic is not the be all and end all in a story. Nor should it be. If a character can just solve all of their problems with the wave of the old magic wand, well that’s going to make for a very boring story. Wave wand, conflict and story over. Hmm.,, I don’t know about you but I would feel a bit cheated with that.

There should be limitations as to how magic can be used (and I also believe it would have to drain the user of it physically and mentally too). I felt the Harry Potter series covered this aspect well.

Also Lord Vetinari in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series also makes pointed comments about how dangerous magic is especially when countering Moist Von Lipwig’s plea to use the stuff in Raising Steam and call the wizards in to help with a major and urgent problem he’s facing.

So, for me, a good story does show the down side of magic. I also like to see characters call on their own non-magical resources to solve problems. I also like to seem them overcome issues which are caused by magic. And when magic is used, it should be where there is no other option and should be for the good of more than one character.

Also there’s the whole aspect of abuse of magical power to be explored too. How that is tackled or not is to me far more interesting than the magical element itself.

 

This World and Others – What Readers Need to Know

The writer will always need to know far more about their fictional world than the reader does. You will need to know what drives your characters and some of their back story but that doesn’t mean it has to appear on the page the reader enjoys.

What should come through is a sense that the writer really knows their characters and it is that I think readers pick up on.

I love discovering more about the fictional world as the story goes along. I don’t need to know it all at once. And having characters reveal things is also intriguing. What is obvious to one character isn’t to another and that character discovers something new at the same time as the reader does. Always like that.

So it is a question then of working out what it is your reader does need to know and how best to “plant it” in the story. You don’t want a huge block of info all in one hit as that risks sending the reader to sleep (especially if their reading is done at bedtime as mine is!).

But by drip feeding information, that goes a long way to keeping the reader turning the pages to find out more.

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Character Conversations

Image Credit: All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Pictures of Lady are by me, Allison Symes.

Image of Val Penny was kindly supplied by her.

Image of me signing a copy of From Light to Dark and Back Again taken by Jennifer C Wilson.

Image of me reading at a Bridge House event was taken by Dawn Knox.

Image of me with Tripping The Flash Fantastic was taken by Adrian Symes (Lady would’ve helped but she has not yet managed cameras!).

And after all that, down to business!


Facebook – General – and Association of Christian Writers – More Than Writers blog – Character Conversations

My turn on the ACW blog today. I talk the talk and ask if you know when your characters SHOULD shut up! See link above for my Character Conversations.

I must admit conversational ping-pong with your characters can be great fun but behind dialogue in fiction, there should be a purpose. There should be a sense of moving the story on.

So I say again, do your characters know when to shut up and talking of which….

Many thanks, everyone, for the great comments on my ACW blog post today about Character Conversations. It is always nice when positive tips are shared in the comments box too!

Am thrilled to say my copies of The Best of Cafelit 9 arrived today. I have two stories in there. Humourless is a flash piece and Green Door is a standard length short story. So good to be between the covers with friends old and new in this one.

Not a bad start to the week then and it is only Tuesday!

 

Appearing on the Christmas Book Hub Facebook Page

Note: I take part in a few selected Facebook groups. A time limited one is the Christmas Book Hub and I have posted about Tripping The Flash Fantastic on there. I thought I’d flag this particular post up for the obvious marketing reasons (!) and to share a little of what I love about writing flash fiction.

Hello, everyone. One thing I love about writing flash fiction is it has to be character led. That in turn means I can set my characters wherever and whenever I want and I do!

Are there Christmas stories in Tripping The Flash Fantastic, my new collection? Oh yes. Re-living The Past and Good To Go are two stories from Santa’s point of view and were great fun to write.

And one of my poetic stories, The Working Man, looks at the Christmas tableau from the viewpoint of a carpenter. Strangely appropriate that!

Tripping the Flash Fantastic Medium


Hope your Monday went well. It was full on puppy party at the park today with Lady having a riotous time with her best buddie, a lovely Rhodesian Ridgeback, and other pals. All went home shattered. Job done!

I’ve written the odd flash tale around dogs (most notably The Magician in Tripping The Flash Fantastic) but mainly getting out and about with Lady is a chance for fresh air and exercise, rather than story inspiration. And that’s fine.

The break away from the desk in itself can help your imagination. Why? Because you are giving yourself time to recharge and that’s important.

Hope you have had a good weekend. As well as the Zoom event yesterday, which was great fun, my box of goodies from a well known print company arrived on the same day.

Now I must admit to still being a big kid when it comes to opening a parcel with my name on it. So what with my copies of Tripping the Flash Fantastic arriving and this box of goodies, I have had a very good week. Whether the postie is pleased about it is another matter!

I’ve also been blogging away (as you do – 😊) and hope to share links to these in due course. Many thanks to all those who will be hosting me and those who’ve hosted me recently. I love hosting people on CFT via various mini-series I’ve written and will continue to write but it is also lovely being the guest. It’s good to be put on the spot with questions!

My main writing tasks for the next few days will be my CFT post, more blogs, and preparing for my cyberlaunch. Am so looking forward to that.
I try, with these things, to ensure they’re the kind of event I would want to go to if I was the guest.

Putting yourself in your readers’/potential readers’ shoes is always a good idea. That tip also helps me with my stories directly as I’m always thinking about what impact I want my characters to have on those who read about them and I write accordingly.

Write with your Ideal Reader in mind is always a good idea. Why? Because one of those Ideal Readers WILL be YOU. You have to like what you write. If you do, others will like it too. By also looking at what other Ideal Readers might like with your writing, it helps you to focus on what matters in your story and cuts the temptation to waffle. And that is always a good thing.

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Had a fabulous afternoon at the Zoom event with #GillJames and #DawnKnox. We talked about our work and shared stories. I read Enough is Enough and The Pink Rose from Tripping the Flash Fantastic.

I also talked about my love of flash fiction, how it can benefit all writers regardless of what they mainly write, and shared a Powerpoint presentation. All good fun!

And it was great to see friends, old and new, here too.

In other news, and thanks to a shared tip earlier today from #PatriciaMOsborne, I’ve now used Booklinker net to create shorter links for my two books, From Light to Dark and Back Again, and Tripping the Flash Fantastic. Mind you, I think for my next book, I will have to come up with a shorter book title given only 22 characters are allowed! 😆😆

Still this gives me a chance to show my nice new short link for TTFF off! See http://mybook.to/TrippingFlashFantastic

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again


Hope your Tuesday went okay. Not bad here. Am busy prepping for blogs I’ll be appearing on fairly soon and also for the launch of course. Plenty to do on my To Do list but am working my way through.

The positive thing about marketing is that it is ongoing and not everything has to be done at once. Not everything can be done at once anyway, which is why working out what you want to do here and “making a plan” so you get it done is a good idea. (Well, it works for me, and naturally I’ve learned from the launch of From Light to Dark and Back Again).

I know marketing does not come naturally to many writers, including me, but working out what you would enjoy doing helps. I love blogging so that is a natural route for me to go. (And material you prep for these things, if it is not all used in the blogs, can always be recycled for use on your website etc).

Delighted to have my copies of The Best of Cafelit 9 reach me today. I have two stories in there. Humourless is a flash piece but Green Door is a standard length short story.

My longer term projects are on the back burner for the moment but I will return to those in due course. And I do have plans for further flash collections as well so plenty to keep the old imagination going for some time to come!

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Delighted to share part of a review for Tripping The Flash Fantastic from Scottish crime writer, Val Penny.

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The Review

Tripping the Light Fantastic is a special little book, the right size to keep in a pocket or a hand bag with stories and poems to entertain while on a bus trip, train journey or just relaxing with a cup of tea.

There are various examples of flash fiction. I had not realised that poems could be considered to be flash fiction until I read this book. The book contains some very short stories with good twists in the tales, longer pieces (still under 1000 words) including Symes’ trademark fairy tales and several neat poems. Tripping the Light Fantastic is varied, clever and entertaining. I highly recommend it to readers of all age groups.

See the full post at https://bookreviewstoday.info/2020/09/24/tripping-the-light-fantastic-by-allison-symes/ and many thanks, Val!


How do I flesh out a character for my flash fiction? Physical appearance doesn’t usually matter for me (though there is an exception in Tripping the Flash Fantastic where one of my characters can change into something very unusual indeed).

I’ve mentioned before that I look for the major traits. I should add I look for the positive and negative ones of these. I look at what these traits could lead to and often by the time I’ve finished doing that, story ideas are coming to me and it is then a question of working out which would be the strongest and most likely to work.

I then write the story! I guess I like a framework in place. I know that doesn’t work for everyone but when you find something that works for you, then play to the strengths of that.

 

It was great to see everyone at this afternoon’s Zoom author event with #GillJames and #dawnkentishknox. It was lovely reading stories from Tripping The Flash Fantastic for the first time too. I read The Pink Rose, also talking a little about how I came to write this one, and Enough is Enough (which I think anyone who has ever dieted would sympathise with!). All great fun.

I think the most important thing to remember when you’re reading work aloud is to slow yourself down. You’re less likely to trip over your own words doing that. (Oh and if you ever needed a reason not to give your characters complicated names, let the thought of reading them out loud be the reason! It is reason enough!).😆😆

Picture below of me reading at the Bridge House event late last year was taken by Dawn Knox and it was great to hear a story from her collection Extraordinary today too. I love being read to just as much as I love reading my own work! And that’s how it should be. The pleasure from stories is very much a two-way thing.

me-reading-from-fltdba-at-the-bridge-house-event-pic-by-dawn-kentish-knox

Dawn Knox

Dawn Kentish Knox. Image kindly supplied by Dawn.

Goodreads Author Blog Reading Aloud –

I had the great joy of reading two stories from my new book, Tripping the Flash Fantastic, today. I chose The Pink Rose and Enough Is Enough. One is a moving tribute to someone special to me and the other is a wry tale about someone who changes her life and gets her own back on those who humilated her.

I love listening to stories and it was great to hear stories from Dawn Knox and Gill James too at this online event.

There is something so soothing, I think, in being read to like this. And, of course, from a writer’s viewpoint, you get to hear the rhythm of dialogue from other people’s stories and you can of course learn from that for your own work.

I loved being read to when I was a kid and later, on becoming a mum, loved reading to my son. The first novel I read to him was Kenneth Graeme’s The Wind in the Willows. Yes, it went down very well with all of us!

Do you remember which book you cherished having read to you when you were a kid? Equally, what was your favourite book to read out loud to your children?

I see storytime like this (and this afternoon’s event was kind of like a storytime for adults I thought) as so important. In our current situation with the pandemic, the joy of stories and books and being read to cannot be lauded loud enough I feel.

Walkies and Interviews!

Image Credit:  As ever Pixabay or Pexels unless otherwise stated. The ones of Hiltingbury Flower Meadow were taken by me!

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest CFT post is called Walkies and I look at the joys of local walking and living with collies. I am also pleased to share pictures taken by me this week of our beautiful wildflower meadow at the Hiltingbury Recreation Ground. It is absolutely stunning and it always cheers me to see such brightness. See if you can spot the poppy by the way!

I also look at how walking dogs has helped me. I did think I would get loads of ideas for stories and blog posts when I was out walking a dog. My sum total of ideas that have come to me doing this is precisely zero!

I’m too busy keeping an eye on the dog, particularly my young mischief, Lady, but walking her (and my previous two) relaxes me, gets me out into the fresh air, and I come back, refreshed, having had a break from the writing desk. That is important. Tiredness is the biggest factor, I think, in stifling any kind of creativity.

Hope you enjoy the post.

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Many thanks to fellow Swanwicker, Val Penny, for hosting me on her blog today (9th July 2020). It was great fun to take part! Hope you enjoy.

Amongst other topics, I talk about my writing routine and share some tips I’ve found useful over the years. I also talk about how I got into flash fiction writing. It wasn’t something I anticipated when I first started out but it is easily my happiest “writing accident”!’

I also talk about what I like and dislike about marketing. See what you think – do you agree with my choices?

Transforming Communities Full

My CFT post this week will be called Walkies! I share the joys of walking with Lady during lockdown, the latest pics of our beautiful wildflower meadow, which is looking stunning right now, and share how walking has helped me. Link up on Friday.

I did think when I first became a dog owner 15 years ago, I would be able to think up ideas for stories while out walking Gracie, then Mabel, and now Lady. Not a bit of it! Haven’t thought of one story idea at all walking them!

Mind you, I have made many wonderful dog owner pals and Lady especially has made a few four-legged friends too.

What walking the dog does do though is enable me to unwind. Ideas for stories are far more likely to come to me when I’m in a relaxed state after getting back home again. And of course there are plenty of opportunities for practising observational skills. A particular colour of a front door might strike me as nice for Character A’s cloak in a flash fiction story – that kind of thing.

Never despise the little details! They may come in handy in a story one day.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

It has been a good week with another flash piece up on Cafelit (Rotten Day) and my interview on Val Penny’s blog post (see next piece down for the link to this).

Oh and a bit of promotional news – From Light to Dark and Back Again is currently on offer on Amazon. So if you fancy quirky fiction at a discounted price, do check the link out. Reviews are always welcome too.

My favourite story in FLTDBA? Hmm… tricky one though I do have a very soft spot for Calling the Doctor which you can check out for free on the book trailer. (See below!).

Whatever you read or write this weekend, have a good one!


A big thanks to Val Penny for interviewing me on her blog today. (9th July 2020). See link for more but one of the topics I discuss here is how I got into flash fiction writing at all.

Let’s just say it wasn’t planned! Let’s also say I am very pleased with how it has turned out and hope to keep going with it for as long as possible!

On a side note, interviews like this really make you think about what you’re doing and why and where your writing journey has brought you to date. That’s no bad thing. And interviewing your characters can make you as their creator think about what they’re doing in your story and why. It’s a good way to see who is really necessary to your tale and who isn’t.


Much as I love listening to classical music when writing, I haven’t used it in my stories. The only time I use it is when trying to pick something what would work well in book trailers or when I am creating videos of flash tales to put on my website.

Music can set mood of course and I think I would rather my characters did that directly through what they say and do. (And isn’t it always more interesting when what they do goes against what they say?! Hypocrites are always good fun to write stories for!).

 

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytale Acrostic

F = Fantastic has to come into it somewhere, usually in the form of magic being performed, usually to help the deserving.
A = Animals often play a crucial role and sometimes at least prove to be more intelligent than the humans in the story.
I = Inventiveness can come into the stories – you wouldn’t usually think of turning a pumpkin into a coach would you?!
R = Realism? Well maybe. Fairytales can show a great deal of truth about human nature, not all of it is pleasant either, but it is accurate.
Y = Your fairy godmother awaIts… hmm… not necessarily. The character often doesn’t know they’ve got one until they show up. Best not to assume here!
T = Tension between the forces of good and evil is a given in this world.
A = Animated versions of the tale are generally good but some of them can’t be as originally written given the latter are often more violent!
L = Love and its importance is a key theme. Not just the romantic kind either. Think of Hansel and Gretel and their care for one another. Also I thought Gerta was a magnificent character in The Snow Queen with her commitment to rescuing Kay. (And I so loved the idea that the girl was rescuing the boy here).
E = Elephants! Have always had a very soft spot for Dumbo. Always will do. I see it as a classic film fairytale.
S = Stories. The classic fairytales have very strong storylines behind them. Wrong is righted. Evil is confronted. Good prevails. Not always a happy ending though. And I love fairytales for all of those reasons.

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This World and Others –

Questions to Ask Your Characters

One great thing about this topic is that it is a timeless one! (Bear in mind also if you’re writing non-fiction, if you are using a narrative voice, you can treat that voice as a character, so some of these questions at least may also be worth trying). So what to ask then as part of your outline?

What do you really want and why?

What stops you getting what you really want?

Why would your life be complete if you achieve what you want?

How are you going to achieve your objectives?

Have you got other characters to support you and, if so, how reliable are they?

Are you making your life unnecessarily complicated? (Worth asking this one – any complications getting in the way of your character achieving what they want should be those that arise naturally out of the plot. There should be nothing that seems “faked” to increase the tension in the story. The tension should be genuine, the obstacles real and so on. For a non-fictional narrator, a good question to ask instead of this one is are you communicating as clearly as possible (i.e. go for clarity, not gobbledegook, don’t make your narration unnecessarily complicated? Are you conveying the facts reasonably? Are you backing the facts up with evidence? What are your sources?).

What has driven you to decide this is what you really want?

What if you’re wrong? (How would your character handle that? That could make for a really interesting story).

Are there limits you won’t cross (and if so what are these? What is your thinking behind this?).

Are there rules you are prepared to break? What would the consequences be? How are you going to limit your risk (or are you not worried about that? Some characters aren’t!).

Now if answering those questions doesn’t generate story ideas, I’d be very surprised!

 

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Non-Fiction Journey and Author Interviews

Image Credit:  Pixabay/Pexels, unless otherwise stated.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

It is always a huge pleasure to chat with fellow authors on Chandler’s Ford Today. There is always something interesting to learn. Every author’s writing journey is unique and I find that endlessly fascinating. Hope you do too.

This week I chat with Scottish crime writer, Val Penny, about her venture into non-fiction publishing with her recently released Let’s Get Published. Not that she has left her (writing) life of crime behind, I’m glad to say.

I love reading as well as writing author interviews. Every writer has their own insights into the business of writing, as well as thoughts on the ups and downs we all face, whether published or not. It is also good to know you are not alone on those ups and downs. (It is also reassuring to know that is normal!).

Hope you enjoy!

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The current hot weather is one of the few times I bless living in a north facing bungalow. It is relatively cool in here. The heat doesn’t affect my writing much in that I still get on and do it but I tend to finish earlier than normal knowing I’ll feel tired earlier than normal. Still I compensate by starting my writing session earlier so that’s okay.

Looking forward to sharing my interview with Val Penny on Chandler’s Ford Today tomorrow. She talks about her venture into non-fiction with her recent publication, Let’s Get Published. I’m always fascinated by other authors’ writing journeys. Each is unique to the writer and you can always learn something useful and interesting.

Am happily editing a short story which I hope will end up being published at some point! As ever, having a bit of time away from it has proved useful. That time away makes it much easier to see where the weaknesses are and therefore do something about them!

Have also been busy drafting flash fiction pieces.

I’ve also recently revised my Linkedin profile.

So not a bad old week so far but I must admit I won’t be that sorry when it cools down a bit. (And neither will Lady!).

Screenshot_2020-06-26 Allison Symes LinkedIn

 

I’ve mentioned before that sometimes I will start a flash fiction story by writing the ending first and work backwards from there. It’s a useful technique but I do sometimes find that by the time I’ve finished, I’ve thought of a better last line. But that’s okay. I just change it.

I remember I used to feel annoyed at that kind of thing. Why couldn’t I have thought of the better last line in the first place etc etc?

Now I know better than to waste time and energy fretting about that. Just change the line and move on. It’s a good sign the story has “go” to it when you can think of things to improve with it.

Yes, it would save a lot of time and effort if you could cut straight to the chase, but writing doesn’t work like that for me. I need to get some ideas down before I can come up with better ones.

What helped me to come to terms with that was on realising other writers find the same thing happens to them. It’s always good to know you’re not alone!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

One thing I’ve learned to watch out for when editing my stories is my pet phrases. Most of the time with my flash fiction, they are amongst the first things to be cut, along with my wasted words of very, actually, and that. (Very few examples of that are actually necessary! If the story works just as well without them, out they come).

Every writer has their pet phrases. Sometimes they’re useful BUT not each and every time! Pet phrases can act as a kind of shorthand for you but if they’re not useful to your readers, it is best said phrases come out. (Another meaning for the phrase “kill your darlings” perhaps).

 

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Finding ideas for flash fiction is generally not an issue for me. It is working out which are the really strong ones and worth pursuing that can be tricky at times.

But I find character outlining helps me with that. By the time I’ve fleshed out what I need to know about my lead character, I can tell whether they’re “up” to being in a story.

I can also tell the kind of trouble they’re likely to land themselves in (with help from yours truly of course as I love landing my people right in it!) and from that the story starts to take shape. Away I go and write it before resting it for a while before editing it.

I also find flash fiction writing to be a useful warm up or warm down writing exercise. From my viewpoint, it’s another piece of work produced which I can polish and hopefully find a home for in due time.

Whatever you’re working on at the moment, I hope the writing is going well and that you’re enjoying it. Enjoying your writing is so important. It helps to motivate you and to keep you going when all you seem to get are rejections or not hearing back from competitions etc.

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I’ve found it helpful to think of flash fiction as it being from the viewpoint of ONE main character getting across ONE vital point and there has to be transformation in it somewhere.

That’s why we read. We want to find out what happens to the character. Do they get their happy ever after ending? Do they muck it up big time but somehow manage to redeem the situation? (I LOVE those stories!).

One of the aspects of flash fiction I love the most and I think is one of the useful as well is that it does make you focus on what really matters to your character. You do have to work out what the story is so you can focus on it properly.

 

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Fairytales With Bite – Murphy’s Law of Fairytales

So how could Murphy’s Law relate to fairytales then? I offer the following thoughts.

1. Never be unkind to the wizened old crone or man etc. They are bound to be a powerful witch/wizard/fairy godmother in disguise. It will be just your luck to cross them and be turned into something unpleasant. These things happen in the fairytale world.

2. Never be rude to passers-by. You might be glad of their help later on, especially if you HAVE crossed the wizened old crone etc. You’ll need someone to tell you what it is you have been turned into. Then and only then can you scream.

3. You know that downtrodden kid everyone ignores or is rude to? Watch them. They’re either going to end up marrying Prince Charming or somehow do something heroic. In the fairytale world, that kind of character is always marked out for great things. They like humility here.

4. It is best to assume the animals you come across can talk, are intelligent etc., and a quick word to the wise – if you do come across bears who live in a house, never ever pinch their breakfast. It won’t end well.

5. Actively be kind. You may be rewarded. You may not. But you won’t end up crossing the aforementioned wizened old crone etc.

6. If you come across a sweet covered house, run the other way as fast you can. (Well, you don’t want to risk a huge weight gain thanks to gobbling all that sugar now, do you?).

7. Don’t try and eat the Gingerbread Man. He resents that kind of thing.

8. If you need to cross a bridge and you are not sure if there are trolls in the area, see if you can get some friendly neighbourhood goats to cross the bridge first. They are excellent at getting rid of unwanted trolls.

9. If you think Grandma has suddenly become very hairy, it is not a trick of the light. She has. Go and get the woodcutter NOW.

10. If something seems too good to be true, it is. Mind you, that applies to all universes so is a good general principle to go by.

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This World and Others – 

Creating Something Out of Nothing

I was listening to Classic FM when it was reported a well known composer still suffered nerves when coming up with a new composition. They were still made nervous by the blank page, despite their many years of successful composition. Ironically, this cheered me up somewhat. It’s the same for any creator and I know it’s true for me. That touch of nerves before you start writing is the worst bit. Once you get going, you’re absolutely okay.

I’ve learned over time to just get the words down any old how. Editing and polishing happen much later. Nobody writes a perfect draft. Shakespeare didn’t. Austen didn’t. Dickens didn’t. I’m certainly not going to but that’s fine! So how can you get over the nervous start bit or, at least, make it not so bad and easier to handle?

I’ve found having a range of ways to get started on stories or blog posts helpful. I also find having brainstorming sessions every so often useful to jot down ideas and when I am struggling, I can turn to these and find something to inspire me there. My range of ways to get started include:-

1. Using a random word generator, pick three, and put them into a story. Using random words like this makes me think deeper and if there is no obvious link between the three words, even better. It makes me think again!

2. Look back over my old blog posts and stories. Often there will a link there I didn’t follow up at the time but might prove useful now.

3. Take a well known saying and use it as a theme or title (sometimes both) for a story or article.

4. Use a spider diagram or flowchart to flesh out basic ideas. That will soon show if ideas in the back of my head do have some “legs” to them or not. Naturally I go with the ones that do! This is especially useful when used in conjunction with a random word generator.

5. Look up writing competitions. Sometimes I’ll enter said competitions. Sometimes I’ll just write up a story to the theme and not submit it deliberately. I will go back to that story at a later date to polish it up further knowing it is not ready for a competition yet but I can still write to the theme. Who knows? The story might end up in an anthology later. Themes come up reasonably often so there will be other competitions the story the might fit.

However you get over the blank page nerves, happy writing and good luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Submissions, Reviews, and Publication News

Image Credit:  Thanks as ever to Pixabay for the images here.

Facebook – General

Good evening so far. Submitted a flash piece, pitched a couple of non-fiction ideas. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that.

Also sorted out my bedside cabinet and organised my reading piles (one for books, one for magazines before you ask!). Feel both productive AND virtuous and, trust me, that doesn’t happen often!

Hope the weather isn’t causing too much havoc where you are. Mainly tree debris where I am. Always sad to see trees down (though Lady will end up having more sticks to play with than she ever thought possible so there is that to it).

The other thing to be said about the weather is if you needed encouragement to stay cosy and warm and get on with writing at your desk, you’ve got it. Well, you’re not going to want to go out now, are you?

It WAS a dark and stormy night – and writers everywhere took one glimpse at the horrible weather, got on with their latest epics, only too glad to do so!😀😀

Happy writing, everyone!❤️⭐️

I’m looking forward to sharing two separate items of publication news later on in the week. It has been a good few days. I wish they were always like that but there you go!

Am almost there on a standard length short story I want to submit for a competition. I hope to get that submitted by the end of this week. And I’ve picked out the next competition I want to have a crack at so need to start thinking out some ideas for that.

I’m also going to be working on the edits for my second flash fiction collection, Tripping the Flash Fantastic, so have plenty in the pipeline.

But that’s how I like it – a nice mix of non-fiction writing (CFT particularly), sending stories out to hopefully good homes (!), and editing.

Reading wise, I’ve recently started London: The Biography. It’s an interesting concept for a historical book – a biography of a city – and I anticipate an enjoyable read. I love history – fiction and non-fiction. I won’t be sorry if story ideas spark from reading this book. (I’d be disappointed if I don’t get something. Non-fiction can be a great source of sparks for stories).

Hope the weather rapidly improves where you are. It is calmer here in Hampshire though there is some flooding. Lady gets a bit skittish in high winds (a bit like some young children can do) so it’ll be fun walking her tomorrow when said high winds are back. Still, at least it’s going to be dry.

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What do you love writing the most? I love getting inside my characters’ heads and sharing their thoughts. Sometimes said thoughts surprise me and I think where did that come from but it’s a wonderful feeling when that happens. It confirms to me the character has backbone, is taking on a life of their own, and is going to resonate with readers. All good things to aim for!

But the danger here is to only focus on the things you like writing most. I do enjoy writing narrative but I’ve come across too many books in the past where the narrative has gone on for too long and is keeping me away from the character whose story I want to follow.

For narrative writing, I’ve learned to focus only on what a reader needs to know for the character and/or story to make sense and there are absolutely no massive descriptions of setting etc. That I feel belonged to a bygone era.

I got into conversation with someone (and I apologise now because I’ve forgotten the name) who felt that the long descriptions of setting particularly in classic novels were necessary then – no TV or film back then. I think that’s a valid point. Now, of course, books are just one form of entertainment amongst many. Everyone knows the kind of setting that would be in, say, an ancestral home thanks to things like Downton Abbey, TV adaptations of stories such as Pride and Prejudice, etc., so do you now need to write every aspect of that down? I think not. You just want enough to conjure up the appropriate images in a reader’s mind and leave it there. Less is more and all that.

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PUBLICATION NEWS

Delighted to share not 1, or 2, but 3 of my linked flash fiction stories called Story by Number published on Cafelit. Many thanks to #DawnKentishKnox for her excellent prompt idea in the Chapeltown Books Prompts Book. My stories here are directly inspired by that.

Prompts 2020 by [James, Gill] Image by Gill James

The titles all reflect the number of words in each story. Hope you enjoy.

Will I write more of this kind of story again? I hope so. It is great for the old imagination muscle to mix up how you write a story. It keeps things fresh for you and will do for a reader too.

(The image I’ve added to the link below comes from a recent Chandler’s Ford Today post of mine called Numbers into Writing Will Go. It seemed appropriate! Link to article below.).

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Firstly, a big thank you to Val Penny for her lovely comment on the book on Twitter earlier today (18th February). Much appreciated, Val!

 https://twitter.com/valeriepenny/status/1229794879544479745

If you’re a reader and know some writers, I bet they’ll have asked for reviews of their books etc in the usual places. (My friends know I’ve asked them!).

If you think well hmm… I wouldn’t know where to start etc., I’ll just add that reviews on Amazon, Goodreads etc., don’t have to be lengthy write-ups. A line or two would do and whatever your tastes in reading, the author will appreciate those reviews. They’ve got to be honest ones though!

(Oh and a good place to start is what YOU liked about the book and yes what you disliked too. Reviews have to be honest to have any meaning and writers will learn a lot from feedback they receive this way).

Making writing friends online is great but meeting them in person is even better

I’ve mentioned before that I like to use character traits to help me “get going” with creating a new person to either write about or to be my narrator for my next flash fiction story.

I also talked about this in my interview with #WendyHJones which went out on Wednesday this week. Naturally that gives me a golden opportunity to share the link again! (Shameless plug and all that….! 😊❤️).

Episode 4 – How To Write Flash Fiction

Feature Image - Local Author News - Allison Symes - Podcast by Wendy H Jones

It was lovely being able to write a bonus CFT post for this. Image by Pixabay

But going on from there, one question could be “could you run out of character traits?”. Surely there are only so many.

Well that’s true but I like to combine them with something else.

For example if I have a character who is feisty, I’ll give them a vice such as greed. There could be a crime story there. There could be a comic story too if their greed dropped them right in it. The reactions from a reader here could range from horror and disgust at my character to laughter as my character makes a complete fool of themselves.

The trick will be making readers care enough to read about a character like that. There will be a certain amount of wanting to see if that character either gets their comeuppance (I love stories like that!) or somehow redeems themselves. Either way there is going to be a significant change in that character or their situation by the end of the tale and I hope I can make a reader curious enough to find out what that is.

Another character who is feisty I may well make charitable but their big mouth lands them in it from time to time. So there I would hope a reader would want to find out if the character can carry on doing their good works and their loudmouth has not ruined things completely. Or perhaps the being outspoken ends up bringing in much needed changes and my character is a catalyst for positive change.

Yes, there’s that word again – change. The single most important thing about any story of any length. There has to be change. Your character has to be different in some way by the end of the story whether it’s 50 words long or 50,000. The challenge is to have a character your reader HAS to follow to find out what happens to them.

Image supplied by Wendy H. Jones

Will have flash fiction publication news to share later in the week so am looking forward to putting the relevant links up.

Will be starting work soon on the edits for Book 2 – Tripping the Flash Fantastic. Looking forward to that. I do enjoy editing. Sure there are some tasks associated with that which ARE less interesting (yet another misplaced comma to remove etc etc!) BUT I keep in mind the overall goal is to improve my work and to get it to the best I can make it. That helps a lot.

I’ll be talking about short and long form fiction in my CFT post later this week and will share more on that on Wednesday. No prizes for guessing which is my big love here!

 

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How do you handle those times when you know your story hasn’t got anywhere with a market or competition?

My practice here is to look at my story again. If I spot anything that could do with strengthening, I do that but I then get the story back out again to another, suitable market or competition.

Another way of using a story that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere is to look at why you wrote it in the first place and analyse it as if it had been written by someone else.

If this story had been in a magazine, would it have appealed to you? If there were bits that didn’t seem to gel with you, ask yourself why?

This is a good editing technique and by putting your reader’s hat on, you might find something about the tale that could do with working on and which, once done, will give it more of a chance in the big, bad world out there.

The one thing I’ve found is you have to be totally honest about what you think works in the story and what doesn’t work so well. The trick of course is to improve those latter sections so there are no bits which don’t work so well!

And be persistent too. One market or competition may feel it is not right for them (they may have taken something similar to your story recently, you will never know), but it doesn’t mean others will feel the same way.

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Just a quick reminder for Writing Magazine subscribers that you can advertise your book on their Subscribers’ Showcase. Proof of the pudding? See this link!

FromLightToDark_medium-2

Image from Chapeltown Books

I hope later in the year when Tripping the Flash Fantastic comes out to put that on here (probably with a link back to From Light to Dark and Back Again).

Meanwhile over on Cafelit, do check out my latest three flash fiction stories. Yes, three of them. They are linked though. Linked flash fiction is relatively new for me and this set was inspired by a prompt in the Chapeltown Books Prompts Book. (Thanks to #DawnKentishKnox for her cracking idea which inspired me here).

 

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Goodreads Author BlogReading Piles

How many reading piles do you have? Mine include:-

1. My book pile.
2. My magazine pile.
3. Everything on my Kindle!

It’s probably enough to be going on with though I suppose I could split my book pile into two categories: novels and short story/flash fiction collections.

Note I said probably just now. I’ve just seen a lovely post on Facebook where someone has come up with a new idea for an escape room – you have an hour to get out of a well stocked book shop!

I don’t know about you but that’s me well and truly stuck then. One hour would just about give me enough time to have a good look around and work out what was where. I might get to decide where I would be starting first if I was efficient with my time!

I’ve mentioned before I like to mix up my reading. There are some evenings where I just HAVE to read magazines, rather than books, and the other way round. I don’t really know why that is but I love reading both overall so that’s okay. So therefore it is absolutely necessary for me to have reading piles that suit all my reading moods.

How do you organise YOUR reading?

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Aspects of the Writing Life

Facebook – General

This post comes almost live from the Winchester Writers’ Festival. What do you mean by almost, I hear you cry? Well I started drafting this on Evernote just after a fab lunch with the lovely Val Penny (writer of the Edinburgh Crime Mysteries starring DI Hunter Wilson). I swear we stuck to orange juice… whether you believe me is another matter!

So what do I find most useful about coming to Winchester? Difficult to know where to start but here goes.

Information from the courses. You find out information you knew you needed and equally things you hadn’t known you needed to know. Both are useful.

Networking with writer friends, old and new.

The opportunity to hear first hand from published authors, agents, editors, and publishers in keynote speeches and the like. These can be real eye openers.

Coming to events like this can be a confidence booster especially when starting your own writing journey. You start to feel as if you are a real writer. Rejections can knock you back. Events like this help pick you up again.

Already looking forward to next year’s Festival.

Val Penny and I having a selfie moment at Winchester last Saturday

Crime writer Val Penny and I having a selfie moment at the Winchester Writers’ Festival

Amongst the Murphy’s Laws that exist purely for writers must be the following:-

1. Time drags until it is time to write, then it flies by, leaving you wondering where on earth it went. Naturally you have not achieved as much as you would have liked either.

Incidentally that is okay. The big thing to ask yourself here is have you made progress on what you’re writing? Progress can include getting a certain number of words down, of course, but equally valid are things like changing scene orders, re-reading through, and being happy with how you’ve changed things. That all takes time but is as much writing as actual writing, if you see my meaning.

Don’t belittle yourself if “all” you managed to get done was some editing. As long as that editing is tightening up your work, improving it etc., it is a valid part of your writing and you are still making progress.

2. You may be a writer but you are still afflicted by the curse that says you can’t find a pen when you need one.

In public, this is embarrassing. Guess who, whenever she is due out at an event, makes absolutely sure she has pens in bags, pockets etc so she knows she has at least TWO on her person. It has to be two to prevent Murphy’s Law kicking in again by ensuring your solitary pen doesn’t work and if you only take one, it WILL fail on you.

3. Your toner cartridge runs out part way through a print run. It is never anywhere useful such as on the test print you do before you run out a lengthy story.

I use a laser jet so I have no indication of when it’s going to run out. Having said that, my lovely printer, which I call Old Faithful because I’ve had it for YEARS, has seen come and go at least three “cleverer” printers my better half has had, which DO say when their cartridges will run out, print in colour etc. On balance, I think I’ll stick with Old Faithful until it finally bites the dust.

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There are similarities to writing and trying to lose weight.

1. You can be guaranteed frustrations along the way but it is best to face up to that from the start so that when they do come, you’re not surprised/thrown by them. It is important to pick yourself up and dust yourself down and then see how far along the road you can get before the next one hits.
2. Success in either never comes as quickly as you’d like.
3. Persistence pays. The determination not to give up is crucial.
4. You can’t know for sure you will get to your end goal. You can only give it your best shot but your end goal may genuinely change. You may discover your writing skills suit short stories rather than novels, for example, and that’s fine.
5. You need to accept the rough with the smooth and take some comfort from the fact everyone has to come to terms with rejections (set backs on the weight loss) and you are definitely not alone on this.
6. When going well, both writing and losing weight sensibly and successfully make you feel good about yourself!
7. Keeping going is the only way to get to the end destination at all.

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Why does any writer need a decent amount of stamina?

1. The determination to keep going will help a lot when the rejections come in – and they will. Okay you may need to look at revamping what you’ve written or try other markets for it etc, but the important thing here is accepting rejections are par for the course. Everyone gets them. It’s how you react to them that matters. Sometimes you have to accept something isn’t working and move on to new work too. It can be tough to move on from a project you’ve loved but which just isn’t working.

2. There will be wonderful high moments such as when you receive your first acceptance, when you see your story or article in print etc., but the lows come too. All that comes into your inbox are rejections or you don’t hear anything at all. Stamina helps you accept all of this is the normal lot of the writer’s life, regardless of what you write.

3. Seeking out the markets and competitions that are right for what you write takes time and effort.

4. Submitting work to the appropriate outlet also takes time and effort.

5. Being aware there are charlatans out there who will happily take your money for precious little in return and researching who you can genuinely turn to for self publishing or other services which are legitimate etc again takes time and effort.

Spot the theme emerging!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

If anyone tells you writing short fiction has to be easier than writing longer works, don’t believe them! Both have their challenges and joys. Both forms should be celebrated and treasured.

What flash fiction writing has taught me is how to pick words and phrases which will have the maximum impact on readers. The great thing with that is it is a transferable skill, useful for any and every form of writing.

 

I’m on a theme tonight – Murphy’s Law for writers (see my Allison Symes author page for more) – but let’s look at some specifically for flash fiction writers.

1. You’ve set your heart on entering a story for a 100-word comp. No matter what you do, your story stubbornly persists in coming in at 101 words.

Take out the additional word, I hear you say? Ha! It’ll either muck up your grammar (so spoiling your chances in the competition anyway) or it takes out something that adds depth to your character and is a crucial point in the story. Yes, one word can make a huge difference here. For example:-

She was dressed in velvet.
She was dressed in moth-eaten velvet.

2. You love writing flash fiction on a particular theme or in a certain genre say. Murphy’s Law will dictate the perfect competition with a short deadline will crop up when you’re away or ill. You will discover this when you are back at your desk. You will also discover you have missed that deadline or have a snowflake’s chances in hell of meeting it. You will not be a happy bunny. You will be a distinctly irritated bunny. No prizes for guessing how I know…

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There is something about writing that transforms writers. You can be the sweetest soul imaginable to all around you, but at the drop of a pen, be utterly ruthless as you dump your characters into absolute hell and see how they get out of it, if they do at all. And that’s how it should be!

Your characters sink or swim and it is the hook of finding out which way your characters go that will keep your readers with you. So go on, you know you want to, drop your characters right in the mire and see what happens!

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Flash fiction writers are living proof that great stories do not have to run to thousands of words and pages. A great story is one that keeps a reader gripped, whether it is a 50-word tale, or an epic saga like The Lord of the Rings.

Short writing takes effort. It is so easy to fill your writing with words you don’t really need – and really is one of those words that usually gets the automatic red pen through it when I write it. I wish I could stop myself writing words I know will only be cut later but the next best thing is to know what your weak words are and DO cut them later.

Can there be a genuine use for words such as really? Yes. The only time I use it is is in dialogue when I might want a character to be sarcastic. You can get a lot of emphasis into “really”!

Really!