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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Podcasting, Flash Fiction, and Spring

Now there’s a right mix for you!

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

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today x 2!

CFT – Part 1 –

The Writing and Marketing Show – Podcast by Wendy H. Jones

The post below is an amalgamation of the FB posts I shared on my author page and book page during the week.

I thought I’d start by sharing the link to my Local Author News page on Chandler’s Ford Today earlier this week where my news is the podcast interview of yours truly by Scottish crime writer, Wendy H Jones, on my favourite topic, flash fiction. I also share the link to the episode I appear in (and I repeat the link below too).

I was delighted to take part in The Writing and Marketing Show, which is Wendy’s new podcast. It does what it says on the tin, folks! I’m on Episode 4 – How to Write Flash Fiction. Well, I wasn’t going to turn down an opportunity to talk about my great writing love now, was I?

As well as discussing flash fiction, I share some tips, particularly on nailing those crucial opening lines. I also discuss what you can do with cliches – now, now… tune in the show and find out exactly what it is I DO do with them!

Every so often CFT puts up Local Author News posts when local writers have book events etc. It is lovely to put such a post up for myself! (And a huge thanks to Janet Williams, CFT’s very supportive editor who is great at encouraging sharing news like this. It is appreciated and not just by me).

I also want to say a big thank you to Wendy H. Jones for inviting me on to her show. It was huge fun to take part – and do check out the other episodes too. Episodes are released on a Wednesday. Well worth making a note in your diary for especially if you are keen to have insights into the wonderful world of writing.

Episode 4 – How to Write Flash Fiction

CFT – Part 2 – Spring Approaches

It’s always a pleasure to write posts like the above which celebrate something positive. Despite Storm Dennis being on its way, there are still signs of spring out there and I’ve already noted the daylight lasting that little bit longer each evening.

I also look at spring in the terms of new life/new developments. What new developments, as a writer, are you hoping for this year? (The podcast with #WendyHJones earlier this week was a new development for me and so much fun to do). Comments as ever welcome over on the CFT page.

Feature Image - Spring Approaches

As part of my Spring Approaches post for Chandler’s Ford Today this week, I look ahead to the Chameleon Theatre Group’s next production. This has the charming name of Spring Quartet. Love the sound of that. I am hoping throughout the next few months to put up additional posts featuring members of the Chameleons. More details as and when.

Do you find writing easier or harder to do when the weather gets better (it will eventually, honestly!)? I have no real preference here though I can understand the lure of getting out and about when perhaps I should be at my desk writing.

Mind you, when I do go out and about, there is always part of me which sees these trips as great opportunities for “research”.

Now that can be anything from picking up inspiration for characters (e.g. overhearing odd snippets of conversation I know I could use in totally different contexts for a tale or two) to going to a specific place and learning from it. What I learn then ends up in a story.

It’s a great excuse and I’m sticking to it!

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Many thanks, everyone, for the lovely feedback on the podcast interview for those of you who tuned in when the link was shared on Wednesday this week. For those of you who haven’t, do check out the episode via the link above. It was a joy to talk flash fiction with #WendyHJones. (And do check out the other episodes too. The link to all episodes is in the top left corner).

My usual CFT post will be up tomorrow and it is called Spring Approaches. Now I know Storm Dennis is due (named after Dennis the Menace, do you think?) but, hang on in there folks, spring really is on its way.

There are already signs of it out there. Tonight I managed to walk the dog with my better half and we only needed a torch for the last 15 minutes. That figure will reduce week on week too and I love that. Two weeks or so ago, we needed the torch for 25 to 30 minutes so those lighter evenings are slowly coming in! (On a personal note, I find the increased light helps with my writing productivity too and I bet I’m not the only one who finds that).

My post celebrates the approach of spring then but also looks at how, given we rightly associate spring with new life, what that can mean for us. A new life can mean new starts or developments. (Being interviewed for a podcast was a new and enjoyable development for me!).

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

F = Fun to write
L = Length of story can vary but should not go over 1000 words.
A = Alliteration can be effective in titles but best to use sparingly (otherwise readers will tire of it. You don’t want anything to seem “faddy”).
S = Story should focus on ONE important point only as you won’t have room for more, particularly in a sub-500 words tale.
H = Have fun mixing up which genres you write your flash fiction in as the good news is you don’t have to stick to one!

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When you want to mix up your flash fiction writing, how do you go about that?

Some of my favourite ways to mix things up include:-

1. Work out an ending to a story and work backwards to the start instead of working linearly. (If you usually start this way, simply reverse the process and start at the beginning!).

2. Try writing a flash fiction story in a genre or format you’ve not tried before. If it doesn’t work out, why worry? You were playing with words. I would suspect also some of what you write you would probably be able to use elsewhere. Equally if you discover a new way of writing flash, even better. This is how I started writing historical flash fiction pieces. Until fairly recently, it wasn’t an area I had explored.

3. Write to different word counts. While my natural home is between the 100 to 250 word count limit, I do write much shorter than that. I also go up to the top end of the scale for flash at 1000 words.

And why mix things up at all?

Firstly it keeps things interesting for you. You really don’t want to become bored with what you do.

Secondly, a variety of stories, whether it’s in genre or word count or both, means you have a wider selection of markets and competitions to aim those tales at! Good luck.

Fairytales With Bite – 

When the Magic Wand Isn’t Enough

One of my favourite things about fantasy fiction is when magic is limited in some way. That is a character can only do so much with their powers and no more. Or if they go beyond that, then there is a dreadful price to pay.

What is fascinating there is finding out how the characters get around this. When you can’t or dare not use your special skills, what do you do?

Likewise if two magical characters have the same kind of powers, then you know they’re going to cancel each other out effectively. What does each of them do to try to get the upper hand on the other?

I believe more of the real personality of the characters comes out when they can’t just rely on magic to get them out of trouble (and even more when they know using it will exacerbate their problems).

I love stories which show the downside of using magic and where characters have to use their wit and intelligence to overcome problems. My favourite of all here has to be Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series given, when in doubt, she goes to the library to look things up! What’s not to like about that?!

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This World and Others – 

What Do Your Characters Make Of Their World?

Asking yourself this as you outline your fictional world is useful as:-

(a) it will show you insights into what your characters really think revealing more of their attitudes which should prove useful later and;

(b) it will show you what your characters think is the most important aspect of their world. It might not be what you originally thought!

I would then probe further as to why that is. If you thought the most important thing was your created world’s fantastic lakes but your character thinks the best thing since sliced bread is the mountain behind their village, look at why. Have they got a fear of water, say? Have they got a famous ancestor who was the first to climb that mountain? Could that come into your story at some point?

How do your characters react to their world during the course of the story? What aspects of it get in their way on whatever their mission is? What aspects help them? Does the transportation make their mission easier to carry out or more difficult? How easy is it for them to get provisions? What do other characters think of their mission? What and/or whom gets in their way?

If your character is trying to save their world, are they doing so out of love for that world or knowing that whatever the world is facing is too dreadful to contemplate allowing to happen so has got to be stopped no matter what else they think? Is the world around them grateful for their efforts?

Above all, what changes have to happen in and to the characters to make them want to carry out their mission? It is not uncommon for the hero/heroine to be reluctant to take on their quest and they have to be persuaded into it. So who does the persuading? What makes the character “bite”?

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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.

Facebook – General

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!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

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!

 

 

Interviews and Characters

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

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

For my CFT post this week, I look at why writer interviews are so useful. I also share news of an interview I’ve taken part in, more details on that next week, and share memories of an interview that went wrong and another that involved an Emu! Anyone growing up in 1970s Britain will remember the latter!

I look at what I think makes for a good interview too and share my thoughts on interview etiquette. I also share a little of how I go about interviewing authors for Chandler’s Ford Today (and I hope there will be many more of those later this year).

I discuss the art of interviews as part of my Interviews post on Chandler’s Ford Today this week. Good preparation for an interview is important for both parties to it, of course. But it is just as important for writers, as well as interviewers and interviewees, to think of good questions. (In the latter’s case, anticipating questions that are likely to come up gives you time to prepare your answers).

For fiction writers, you may well want to interview your characters to find out more about them and what makes them tick before you write their stories. (I do this as part of my outlining process. I have to ask what the character thinks makes them tick. They don’t have to be right! Other characters may have completely different ideas as to how Character A really ticks!).

For non-fiction writers, it’s a question of working out what research you need to do for your project and there you ask yourself what you think you need to know. As you start working on your project, other questions will inevitably crop up but, having already decided where and how you will research and found answers to those initial questions, you will know where to look to deal with the other ones as they come up!

I often find this to be the case for my CFT posts. I know a thread I need to look into initially to help me write on my topic. Inevitably there will be threads from those initial ones I need to check out to see if they are relevant to what I want to write about. Sometimes they are. Not always. It is important not to be sidetracked but this is where asking yourself what you really need to know first can help. It helps to keep you focussed.

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How well do you know your characters before you start writing your stories?

Particularly for flash fiction, I outline what I need to know about my character before I work out what their story is.

A character who is a loud mouth is going to need a tale that will show this trait in action and the resultant consequences. This could easily be a funny story or a tragic one.

A quiet mouse of a character is going to need a tale that will either show when that trait saves the day or they get so fed up of being treated as a doormat, they rebel. Then you can go into the consequences…

I’m a great believer in getting the character right. Then it is a question of deciding what kind of story they WOULD naturally be at home in and whether that shows them at their best or their worst. Either can be a great deal of fun!

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My CFT post this week will be about interviews and what I think constitutes a good one. It’s a timely post for me as you’ll see when I put the link up on Friday! (I also hope to be sharing more interviews later in the year on CFT too).

Moving on, let’s think of a wish list for writers. My top three wishes would be:-

1. Time expands so you can do all the writing you want and the boring things of life (e.g. housework) somehow magically go away. I do see that as one wish, so there!

2. There are never any tech issues. Computer batteries won’t go too flat. You’ll never get a power cut at any awkward moment (if only!). You’ll always be able to connect to the net. I’m sure you can think of loads to add to that one!

3. Never running out of ideas and enthuasism for writing (again I see that as one wish on the grounds the first bit is no good whatsoever without the second part as well).

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I see a novel as akin to seeing a beautiful tapestry on a wall. You step back and literally see the whole thing. You are rightly taken in by its scale and how much it covers. There are so many wonderful threads to follow and your breath is taken away wondering at the mastery in putting such a thing together. You are immersed in the whole world portrayed.

A novella is like seeing one half of the tapestry, complete in and of itself, with plenty of stunning details to take in but simply not as much as the full novel, which is fair enough. But there is more than enough to capture your interest, plenty of threads to follow, again just not so many as the novel, but exactly the right amount for what you want to take in and enjoy. (I’m very pleased to see the form is back. Why? Well, people have all kinds of tastes in reading, not just in genre, but in length of story that they want too. There is plenty of scope for the novella).

A short story is like seeing one quarter of the tapestry. There is still plenty of detail. There are interesting threads to follow but obviously not so many as for a novella or a novel. You are taking in a world in minature and that’s fine. Maybe you want to enjoy some of these before taking in the whole of the tapestry again. (I often read flash fiction and/or short story collections in between reading novels).

Flash fiction is like focusing on one section of that quarter of the tapestry. You can’t see the whole picture. You are literally too close to it. Everything else around that section is blocked from your view. What you DO do is find those wonderful moments of sheer detail that those looking for the bigger picture will overlook as they have so much to take in and follow. They are standing too far back to spot what you are looking at. You are focusing on the ONE most important thing and can tease out every vital detail from that. You will pick up on things missed by the longer forms of creative writing.

And I love them all! (Whatever your preference is here enjoy! Writing and reading are two of the most wonderful things in life).

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Story time again. Hope you enjoy.

Putting My Face On

If I can fake this, I’ve got it made.

I’ve only got to go and meet John at 3. I don’t want to go but it will be the acid test. If I can keep my act together when I meet him, I can keep it together for anyone. Anyone, I tell you.

So if a bit of lippy and rouge are what I need to cover how I feel, so be it.

Well, I say I’ll meet him. It’s really a question of seeing him.

John’s in the Chapel of Rest at the local undertakers.

I put him there.

ENDS

Allison Symes – 6th February 2020

Now this is one of those tales where I knew my lead wasn’t looking forward to meeting John but I then had to work out why. So I did! Could’ve taken this in all sorts of directions but that is the joy of flash. It is open to genre and I fancied this one being a crime tale.

The irony is I can change the mood of the story completely by adding a few words to the ending.

If I added “I put him there – and so wished I hadn’t” – the mood of the story completely changes. Yes, there could still be a crime element but tragedy becomes the lead genre here instead.

So have fun with your flash fiction. Think about what impact you want your character and story to have on a reader.

 

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The story I shared yesterday, Putting My Face On, was something I came up with while out on a walk with my dog, Lady. I mentioned yesterday I could’ve changed the mood of the story by adding a few words. That is one of the arts of flash fiction if you like. You can change mood with a judiciously placed word here and there. The fun bit for you as the writer is working out what mood it is you want to go with!

The story on the book trailer for FLTDBA is one of my favourites. Part of the reason for that is the whole mood of the story turns on the very last word of Calling The Doctor. Do check the trailer out and you’ll see what I mean.

One thing I make sure of is that whenever the twist of moods comes in the story, it IS something that could reasonably be expected from the rest of the tale based on the information given.

Calling The Doctor does this because the conversational style of my narrator here is (a) consistent and (b) ties in with the mental image you will form of the character especially their age and such a conversational style would be appropriate for them and their age. The story leads up to … but that would be telling now, wouldn’t it! But the denouement is appropriate given the facts already stated by my narrator.

And very conveniently here is the book trailer with Calling the Doctor for you to check out!

Fairytales with Bite – Favourite Character Types

We all have our favourite kinds of characters, the ones we instantly gel with when we come across them on the page/on audio/on video etc. Some of mine include:-

  1.  The underdog. I always look out for the character who is bullied, despised, overlooked etc. I am never surprised when this character beats all the odds and has transformed their life by the end of the story. I adore stories like that.
  2. The fairy godmother. I love these. They are the agents through which cruelty and neglect will be put right. (Think Cinderella especially). Sadly we only know cruelty and neglect are so often not put right and even as a kid I remember being aware of that. Fairytales are comforting in that in those you know things will be rectified. I think we all need that comfort sometimes.
  3. The one who sees the error of their ways. Firstly, they too can be used to transform the story. Secondly, I like anyone who can see the error of their ways in life as well as in fiction! I am also very fond of redemption stories. I like to see characters being redeemed (it gives hope for us all!) but it has to be done in a way that makes sense. This is why I think gradual realisation of said errors is far more realistic.

Whatever your favourite kinds of characters, happy reading!

This World and Others – 

What I Like to See in Created Worlds

  1. I like to get a picture of the overall world. This is partly because I’m nosey (!) and partly because I like to be convinced the writer really has thought it through.
  2. I like to see a system of government, even if it is a basic one. A world does have to have someone leading it after all. (Best one here: Terry Pratchett’s wonderful Lord Vetinari from the Discworld series).
  3. I like to know how people live. I love the Middle Earth/Shire scenes in The Lord of the Rings. Okay, I could probably make myself very cosy and comfortable living in a hobbit hole as I’m not tall (that’s my example of understatement for this week!). More importantly, again it convinces me the author has thought this through and recognised different species will have different kinds of home and so on.
  4. A sense of how the different species get on, assuming they do. Where there are conflicts, and I would expect some, I want to see how these originated. Both sides in the conflict should have good reasons for holding the views they do, even if they are only good to them and their people. It should be something a reader can understand.

Music and Stories

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

One of the joys of writing my Chandler’s Ford Today posts is when I have a topic where I can go to town on finding music clips! The topic of books is one of them.

Many thanks to my wonderful panel – #JenniferCWilson, #ValPenny, #AnneWan, #WendyHJones, and #RichardHardie – for taking part in my mini-series The Joys and Challenges of Writing Series Novels. Hope you enjoy their fantastic insights AND the music I’ve used to go with these!

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Had a great night out watching the Chameleon Theatre Group perform three episodes from Blackadder Goes Forth, including Goodbyeee. Review to follow on Chandler’s Ford Today in due course but I will say now it was superbly done and the set, made by the company themselves, was brilliant. Looking forward to sharing more on that.

Adaptations I’m generally happy with if they are faithful to the book/series etc. This is why I loved the Miss Marple series with Joan Hickson – they were faithful to the Christie canon – but the Marple series. No. Didn’t watch it. Just couldn’t bring myself to do so when it emerged they were altering the stories and bringing in characters that didn’t belong in the originals. Really don’t like that.

My CFT post this week will be the final part of my series on the joys and challenges of writing the series novel. As ever, my thanks to to #JenniferCWilson, #ValPenny, #AnneWan, #WendyHJones, and #RichardHardie. Nice range of genres between them too – from children’s to crime (and Wendy writes both!) to fantasy to historical crossed with ghost stories. Link up on Friday.

Glad to report I’ll be having more work on Cafelit later this week and again in November. Will share links as and when.

From what I’ve seen of the set the Chameleons have produced for the stage version of Blackadder Goes Forth, I anticipate a packed house and a wonderful and thoughtful evening of entertainment. Will review for CFT in due course. Do check their FB page out.

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Pexels image.  There are times when words are inadequate.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

So more on my alphabetical list then.

J = Juicy Storylines! Not just for soap operas, honestly, but something every character wants. Now “juicy” can be taken literally of course, but I see it as the storyline being appropriate for the character and taking them and stretching them to see what they are really made of. There’s nothing like a crisis for bringing out the best or worst in someone and that applies just as well to fiction!

K = Kicker. Must admit I needed to look this one up. (It’ll be interesting to find out what I can research for Q!). In journalism it apparently means a sudden unexpected change of events. In fiction we’d usually refer to it as a twist in the tale. I like kicker though. Has bite. And your stories must too, whether they have a twist/kicker in them or not.

L = Lines. Who is getting the best lines in your story? Your hero or your villain? A great story will have this split between the two to prevent either becoming a stereotype or, worse still, boring! Also a villain capable of humour etc means while your reader will not want them to win (possibly SHOULD not!), they will sympathise and identify with the villain to a certain extent. There should be something about each character a reader can identify with. (My inspiration here is Alan Rickman’s masterly portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves!).

About halfway through the alphabetical listing now. So then:-

M = Muse. The best way to feed said muse is to read widely and often (and do include non-fiction and poetry in this too. Different sources of writing are good for you and inspire your own thoughts and ideas in various ways). I’ve also found writing regularly feeds it too. Never worry about what you come out with at first being awful and needing work. That would’ve happened to Shakespeare too! It can and will be put right in the edits!

N = Narrative. Whose story is it? Whose viewpoint is going to dominate? What can that character see and know that the others cannot? Why have you chosen that character to lead the narrative? Answer those questions and your story will be off to a good start!

O = Originality. Reading widely feeds your originality. Partly this is due to what you read, but sometimes it can be because you read something you really don’t like or feel you can do better and that can be the trigger point for your own writing. Also, your voice is unique to you and will come through in your writing, especially if you write often. Regular writing (even if it is short bouts at a time) really does encourage your imaginative “muscle” to start working.

Pressing on with my alphabet topic then, we reach P, Q and R. (Great letters if you can get them out in Scrabble incidentally!).

P = Performance. Do your characters perform well in your stories? Do they live up to what you outlined them to be or have they gone beyond that? Read your stories out loud. Perhaps record them and play them back. Hear how your characters perform. Are they having the impact on you that you want them to have on your reader?

Q = Quizzing. I’ve found quizzing my characters to be a very useful part of my outlining. I don’t need to know the minute details. Nor do I put everything I outline in a story. However, I take my character’s basic traits and quiz them from there. If I decide a character is going to be brave, I will quiz them to find out if there are limits to that courage. I try to find out where that courage comes from. Does their “tribe” prize bravery? Or is it noticeably absent and your character is rebelling against that? What are the outcomes? (There WILL be some and that’s where the drama and your stories are to be found!).

R = Right Word Count for your Flash Fiction. I sometimes write a piece deliberately to a word count and that’s it. Sometimes I think a story will come to 100 words but discover it can be done in 75 or needs to run to 250, say. Be flexible on this. The story is the right length when the lead character has done and said all they have to do/say for the situation you’ve put them in. The great thing with flash fiction is there are so many different categories, that even if your treasured 100 word piece comes in at 500 words, there will be markets and competitions for that out there.

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Goodreads Author Programme – Blog –

After the End, What’s Next?

If you’ve enjoyed a really good book, what do you do when you finish it? Go on to read more books by the same author, or read more in the same genre, or do you go for something that is completely different in mood and style?

I have done all three of these (though obviously not at the same time!) and it very much depends on my mood at the end of the story. If I’ve loved a gory crime thriller, I may well want something humorous to show the lighter side of life, albeit a fictional one!

With short stories especially, I tend to read a few by the same author before moving on. With novels, if the book has really gripped me, I’ve got to check out what else the author has done, even if I decide I’ll come back to those later.

The important thing though is that whatever you read, you enjoy it so much, you keep on reading, no matter what author, genre, style etc you choose next. Happy reading!

Image Credit:  many thanks to the Hampshire Writers’ Society for taking the photo of me reading as guest speaker and for kind permission to use the photo.  Both much appreciated!

Fairytales with Bite – Signs of a Fairytale World

What are the signs of a fairytale world?  How can you know quite quickly you ARE in one (via fiction I’m presuming for the purposes of this post!  If you do find a portal to another world, however, be sure to report back with plenty of details, pictures if at all possible.  We will all want to know!!).

1.  Magic.  The biggest giveaway of course is the use of magic.  The interesting thing to work out when planning your stories though is whether everyone can use magic or just a select few.  If everyone can use it, what are the rules so anarchy doesn’t break out?  Boundaries increase the drama in your story.  If everyone can zap everyone else, that doesn’t make for much of a story.  If only a few can do that but the price they pay is their own lives are forfeit, now there’s a potential story.

2.  Inanimate Objects – The Use Of.  We all know from Disney (see Beauty and the Beast) a teapot, to name one example, is rarely just a teapot!  Sometimes they’re an enchanted victim.  Sometimes these things are portals (also see Harry Potter).  So what uses are the inanimate objects put to in your setting?  Does a particular object convey a particular meaning or power and, if so, what and why?  What are the limits to the use of objects?

3.  Creatures.  Ranging from domestic animals that can talk (hello, Puss in Boots!  Loved Puss in Shrek.  Thought they had the portrayal spot on) to odd creatures that are the stuff of legends to monsters of course.   Basically what you wouldn’t see here!  And there’s nothing to stop you inventing your own.  This is where some knowledge of natural history is invaluable.  Knowing what animals need to survive and how their bodies are designed to handle that should inspire some ideas for how the creatures in your stories will do this kind of thing.

Happy writing!

This World and Others – Music and Stories

In my latest CFT post, the final part of my mini-series on The Joys and Challenges of Writing Series Novels, I get to have some fun choosing music tracks to go with my fantastic panel’s insights.  Many thanks again to Jennifer C Wilson, Val Penny, Anne Wan, Wendy H Jones, and Richard Hardie for taking part in this three part series.  Hope you enjoy the insights and the music!

Music and stories have long been intertwined of course.  So many wonderful songs are stories set to music effectively.  Music can and does play a part in stories.  It can be used to show character.  Movies, of course, rely on music to help set mood.  Think of the Jaws theme by John Williams.  Every note of that puts pictures and therefore stories in your head (and possibly might put you off swimming in the open sea but that’s another matter!  There are advantages to just swimming in the local public baths!!).

I write with classical music playing.  (I often listen to Classic FM).  Unlike other styles of music, it hasn’t affected my mood (and therefore what I write!).  It does help me relax and I write more (and I hope better) when relaxed.  I’ve also found it helpful to think of the kind of music my characters would be fans of when I’m creating them.  It almost certainly won’t come into the story I write but it fills out my knowledge of the character I’m about to place before a reader.  That has to be a good thing.

And I must admit I loved choosing the music for my book trailer for From Light to Dark and Back Again.   The track used is an adaptation of Camille Saint Saens Danse Macabre (used as the theme tune for the BBC detective series Jonathan Creek).

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Stand Alones, Flash Fiction and Fairytales

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Many thanks again to Jennifer C Wilson, Val Penny, #AnneWan, Wendy Jones, and Richard Hardie for their further insights into the joys and challenges of writing series fiction. Amongst tonight’s topics is how to ensure each book in a series works as a stand-alone, given our series writers can never know which book a reader will actually start with. It isn’t necessarily book 1!

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What five things do I like to see in a character? Ideally they have all of the traits I list below but as long as a character has the majority of them, I’m likely to enjoy spending time in the company of that character as I read their story.

1. Courage.
2. Sense of Humour.
3. Loyalty.
4. They, at the very least, respect books; at best they have their own library!
5. Kindness.

Does that rule out the villains? No! Even villains can be kind to their pet cat, have a decent library etc.

Looking at that list, it’s what I like to see in myself and, before you ask, I’m working on the personal library bit! (It’s nowhere near as grand as the one in the pictures below though!).

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One of the things I love about going to writing conferences is that I always learn something pertinent to what I write. And it is not always an obvious link.

I’m off to the Association of Christian Writers’ Day on Saturday, the topic is Writing for Children and Young Adults, which is not directly what I do, but I just know I will pick up useful tips that I can apply directly.

And you never know – looking at what other writers do can help you re-examine whether you are working in the best way you can. It may also inspire a new direction of writing too! What I do know is it will be fun finding out if it does or not and what useful tips I’ll bring home with me.

The great thing with writing is you never stop learning how to improve what you do and that is so good for your brain!

(And networking is always fun!).

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

A = Alliteration. Can be useful for titles in flash fiction (though I don’t use it much) but as with any story, it can grab the attention and help set the mood. Best not overused I think. You want each title to set the tone for what it is to come and a variety of methods for doing that is best. Keeps it fresh for you as the writer too.

B = Backstory. Not a lot of room for that in flash fiction! Best to hint at it through one or two vital details the reader has to know and leave it at that.

C = Character. The kingpin of fiction I think. Get the character right and the plot will come from them. Know your character inside and out – I find it useful to know their chief trait (and I piece together a mental picture of what they are like from there). Find the appropriate starting point for you but it is worth taking the time to know your character well before you start. Your writing will flow better because you write with that knowledge. It does come through in what you write.

As ever, am planning to write flash fiction on the train journey to and from London on Saturday as I head off to a writing day run by the Association of Christian Writers. It’s amazing what you can get done on a smartphone with no interruptions! (Daren’t do this on the Tube though. Always worried I’ll miss my stop! I do think the Tube is a wonderful invention and you never get cold down there either…).

I also sometimes draft non-fiction articles and future blog posts when out and about. I just need a long enough train journey to draft a novel now. 😉😁Hmm….

 

When planning your story (you do, yes?), I find it useful to work out what the obvious ideas might be from a title I’ve thought of, and then work out what could come from those. I don’t plump for the first ideas that come to me. I try to make myself dig that bit deeper to come up with something that fits the theme, makes sense, but is also different precisely because I haven’t gone for the obvious ideas!

Spider diagrams or flowcharts can be useful here. I find I must have a title to kick start the process with, even if I do end up changing it for something better later. It is always a tad annoying that a better title idea crops up when you are writing the story and NOT before you get started, but that is one of those quirks of writing!

Picture of me reading was taken by the lovely #DawnKentishKnox at last year’s Bridge House event. Am very much looking forward to this year’s one too!

 

Gill talks with Dawn and I at the BH event, image taken by Paula Readman

Gill James talks with Dawn Knox and I at a networking event held by Bridge House Publishing last December. Am glad to report Dawn will also be in the Waterloo Festival Anthology. Image from Paula Readman and thanks to her for permission to use it.

Paula Readman, Dawn Kentish Knox and Allison Symes and books - with kind permission from Paula Readman - Copy

Paula Readman, Dawn Knox and I at the recent Bridge House celebration event. Many thanks to Paula for the image. Also Paula is another winning entry for the Waterloo Festival.

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Dawn Kentish Knox, fellow flash fiction writer, reads some work from her excellent book, The Great War. Image by Allison Symes

Lovely having an appreciative audience, pic taken by Dawn Kentish Knox

I read three stories from From Light to Dark and Back Again. Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for the picture!

Book Buying News!

From Light to Dark and Back Again is available from The Book DepositoryDelivery time on the paperback is 1 to 3 business days.  As ever, reviews are always welcome in the usual places.  The great thing is reviews do not need to be long but they all help the writer, even the indifferent ones!

Fairytales with Bite – Flash Fiction and Fairytales

Flash fiction is an ideal vehicle for fairytales.  Why?  Because the best fairytales set up their world quickly, have a definite conclusion, and often pack a powerful punch.  Flash fiction does this too so to my mind flash and fairytales are a match made in writing heaven.

Flash fiction has to be character led due to its limited word count but you can set that character wherever and whenever you wish.  A few telling details can set up a magical world quickly.  For example from my George Changes His Mind (in From Light to Dark and Back Again), I set up a magical world with the opening line “He refused to kill the dragon.”  The telling detail there is in one word – dragon! The story goes on to show what happens and that is the important bit of the story after all.  I don’t need to use thousands of words setting up the magical world in which this is set.  This is not crucial to this story.  What matters is it IS in a magical world and what George goes on to do or not do.

A lot of my stories are either reflections of a fairytale world or set in it and they are great fun to write but I always focus on what the lead character is like.  That is the crucial point of any story I think but in flash where every word must work hard to earn its place to stay there, it is even more so.

This World and Others – Stand Alone

Part 2 of my CFT mini series on The Joys and Challenges of Writing Series Novels looks at, amongst other topics, how to ensure a book stands alone given no series novelist can know at which point a reader will discover their writing.  It is highly unlikely to be book 1.  Indeed I’ve discovered series at the mid point! Many thanks again to my marvellous panellists – Jennifer C Wilson, Val Penny, Anne Wan, Wendy H Jones, and Richard Hardie – for some great insights.  Very happy to recommend their books to you too.  Great reads one and all albeit for different audiences!

It is true that every writer stands alone, even those that collaborate as they have to go off to write “their bits” before coming back and swapping notes with the other one(s) in the project.  We have to judge whether our work is strong enough to submit and, if there is a choice of places to submit to, which is the best one.  We have to judge whether we have edited a piece enough or if it still needs work.  The call is with us and we are going to get it wrong.  The joy, of course, is when we get it right and a piece is published.

This is where meeting other writers, whether at conferences, online, at courses etc., is invaluable.  There is nobody like another writer to know exactly how it feels when you’re struggling to get the words out or who knows the joy of the words pouring out and work going well.  You do have to share this sometimes for the sake of your own sanity!

I learned a long time ago no writer is a competitor to me.  I write as I write.  I cannot write as you would.  We all bring our unique perspectives to what we write – and that is the great thing about it!

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