Back From Brechin

Image Credit:-
All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated. Some images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos. Screenshots taken by me, Allison Symes.
Many thanks to Sarah Archibald for Brechin/Angus Book Festival related material. Also a huge thanks to Wendy H Jones, Caroline Johnston, Tony Collins, Maressa Mortimer, Ruth Leigh, and Sarah Grace for their fab author and book cover photos for my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week.  My book cover images are from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

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Am pleased to share Back from Brechin, my latest post on Chandler’s Ford Today. I look at how the event went, the benefits of events like this, discuss my talk and workshop here, and give a shout-out to the contingent from the Association of Christian Writers who went, especially Wendy H Jones, who hosted us and ferried us around. (A huge thanks also to Maressa Mortimer for her valuable taxi services too!).

There were eight of us all including me and we covered a wide range of writing between us – literally everything from children’s fiction to crime to flash fiction to memoir and narrative non-fiction and YA stories to historical novels and Christian chicklit.

The event was great fun and useful experience, as well as it being the first major book event I’ve taken part in since before lockdown. What with this, and the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School back in August, it is good to be out and about again. I love Zoom but getting together with people at in-person events has been something I’ve missed over the last year or so and it is good these are coming back.

Back From Brechin

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Brrr… back to the biting cold again. Not that Lady worried as she was too busy playing with Coco and Katima, two of her pals today. Mind you, Lady might have wondered why her owner insisted we kept walking around the park instead of staying still to watch her and her pals play. I was trying to get some life back into my feet!

Will be sharing my Back From Brechin post for Chandler’s Ford Today tomorrow. It was such useful experience and good fun taking part in the Brechin/Angus Book Festival. Link above.

Now I’ve talked before about using a variety of methods to trigger ideas for my short stories and flash fiction pieces. I do much the same for my blog posts. Events I go to are obvious topics to write up but I also look at aspects of writing which intrigue me (and I won’t be the only one to be intrigued – what fascinates one writer will fascinate others) and I adore interviewing other writers. I always learn something interesting and interviews make a great way about sharing who you are and what you do in an entertaining way without being too “in your face” with the old “buy my book” routine.

I’ve learned over time to keep a watching brief out for topics I think might be of interest to others. And that is the point – it is vital to think of your audience, always, regardless of what you write. It is also vital that you enjoy what you write as that comes through. It also makes it easier for you to sustain your writing over time.

 

Today has been one of those days though the highlights were seeing Lady play with her best buddy, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, and Coco, the lovely Labradoodle. Even better their mutual pal, a very smiley Hungarian Vizler, came and joined in the fun. The other highlight was getting my hair done. But other than that…!

Sent my author newsletter out earlier. See link. Always good fun to put these together.

Looking forward to going to the Bridge House Publishing celebration event on Saturday. Will be lovely to catch up with friends. (Zoom and Facebook have been a lifeline but you can’t beat getting together in person where possible).

As you know I blog for a number of places and I can’t recommend drafting posts for future use highly enough. It has often proved a lifeline for me as it means I know I always have something which will be “good to go” as and when I need them. It pays to have a “stock” in of these and whenever I go out by train, I always draft blog posts like this once I’ve finished drafting some flash fiction of course!

Screenshot 2021-12-03 at 19-45-49 Allison Symes - December 2021 - Festive Flash and More

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My latest story on Friday Flash Fiction is called Specialist Subject where my heroine, Doreen, finds a way of dealing with the local bore. Find out how via the link. My sympathies are entirely with Doreen incidentally!


Screenshot 2021-12-03 at 17-08-27 Specialist Subject, by Allison Symes

Unless I am writing for a specific website such as Paragraph Planet or Friday Flash Fiction or Mom’s Favorite Reads, I don’t worry about the word count until I’ve got the story down. With the three sites I’ve mentioned, I know their word count, what it looks like on a page, and know what to aim for so away I go.

But if I’m not writing for a specific market, I want to write without having to worry about the word count too much. Once I’ve edited the story so I know it is as good as I can make it, I then think either where can I send this piece (and I will know of a few places, I can also research some) OR I save these for open competitions.

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Amongst the many random generators out there is a random object one. Having a quick look tonight, I set two items as my parameters and came up with the words balloon and box.

Now you could just find a way of getting these words into a story. You could get your character(s) to love or loathe these things and your story is about why they feel this way and what led them to that. In the case of loathing, you could also examine what happens if the character is forced to deal with these items again. They’re in a situation where they can’t avoid the things. How do they handle that?

And you could find a way of framing your title around the items too. Plus you could have two characters with opposing views on these objects. How do they resolve their differences? For the above example, what if one character wants their kid to have loads of balloons and boxes at their party, it’s what they always had, while the other believes these are wasteful and doesn’t want any of them?

I’ve found using the different generators enormously useful in (a) coming up with ideas and (b) making me think differently about how I approach writing a story. They’re fun too!

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Fairytales With Bite – Fairytales in the Christmas Season

Fairytales are a popular feature at Christmas of course thanks to pantomime in particular. (Think Cinderella, Babes in the Wood, Sleeping Beauty etc). I enjoy a pantomime where it is clear cast and audience are having lots of fun but overall I prefer reading the original stories.

What I hope the pantomime season does is encourage people to check out the original stories (even if the younger fans might be better off leaving that until they are a little older. Many of the original tales could not be staged as they were originally written).

Where I do enjoy my fairytales at Christmas even more is in certain films. I adore The Polar Express and consider that to be a fairytale (and one with an edge to it too). The same goes for Shrek where I love the way the ogre is the hero here. Fairytales have often been “subverted” and the Shrek films are great examples of that.

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This World and Others – Communal Celebrations

Does your fictional world have communal celebrations? If so, are they based on religion, on seasons of the year, or both? Does everyone take part in these? Are any celebrations from the past now banned and, if so, why was that done? How tolerant are your differing peoples of the celebrations of others?

Communal celebrations serve to bring people together and to lift the spirit (especially winter based events as these are often connected with celebrating light and foreshadowing the return of spring). Are these aims achieved in your fictional festivals? Do your characters join in with the events or choose to abstain? Is joining in compulsory?

What foods and drinks are served and who prepares these? Is magic involved in the celebrations? Answering questions like these will help you to picture what your fictional world would do. If that makes things clearer for you, it will do the same for your readers.

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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

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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,[...]

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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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Post-Swanwick and Reading Time

Publication News

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Fantasy Writers – Off In a World of Our Own

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

Horror Writers – It is Always Fright Night

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

Delighted to say another story of mine will be up on Cafelit soon. More details later in the week.

I’ll also be sharing a few thoughts on why I love Swanwick Writers’ Summer School for CFT on Friday. I will also be looking at why writers should keep developing and honing their craft (which is only one good reason to love Swanwick as you have plenty of opportunities to do this there!).

Whether you go to conferences or not, getting out and about every now and then is a good thing for a writer. Trips out are splendid opportunities for people watching and you never know what you will come across on a visit.

One of the issues I have, given I write fairytales with bite, is it does make it difficult to find a place of direct relevance to my storytelling! I’ve yet to come across Fairyland…!😀😀 (And I am NOT the right age for Disney!).

But what I do is look for points of interest that may help feed the background of my stories later.

I went to Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight a couple of years ago and came across a psaltery there. You were allowed to play its strings and the sound was beautiful. Have not used this recollection in a story yet (note the yet!). It is funny what images and sounds stick in the memory though. What I do know is those images and sounds will come in useful for stories at some point.

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Well I’ve had my Slimming World weigh in. Only half a pound on, which is my best ever result after a week at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School! Now if I could only manage that at Christmas…

One downside to writing is it that it is not conducive to exercise! Exercising the little grey cells to come up with the next blog post or story doesn’t exactly shed the calories. My main exercise is walking Lady at least three times a day (though one of those walks is her sprinting after her ball. She’s been playing lately with an 8.5 year old collie called Mobi and it has been great hearing a thundering collie gallop in perfect stereo!).

My other exercise is swimming. I did thnk when I first started swimming, I would be bound to come up with story ideas etc during it. Not a bean! Aside from ensuring I’m not in anyone’s way and getting round those who may be in mine (!), I tend not to think of much at all. But that I guess is where the relaxing side to swimming comes in. Freeing the mind for a while frees it up later to be creative again.

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I was “mugged” by the dog on my return from Swanwick so I was in no doubt she WAS pleased to see me back!😃😃 Dogs are very in your face about how they feel – literally so at times. There is no pretence about them, which is one of their great strengths.

Humans… well that’s another story. We have to work out how people are feeling (or guess at it) when there are no obvious clues to work with.

How do your characters show emotion? (Not in quite the same way as my dog I presume!). Are they “open” emotionally or is it hard work to get any reaction out of them?

In a flash story, there isn’t much room for detailed emotional relationships. I tend to focus on one main character and love to show what their emotional state is via their thoughts. It is direct, saves a lot on the word count, and you as a reader see what the character really thinks (even if the character is kidding themselves).

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F = Fun to write
L = Lively character(s)
A = Action immediately
S = Stories great for ending with a twist
H = Heroes/heroines are dropped right in it from the start

F = Finite story length but you do have some choice
I = Imagination intense to make an intense story work
C = Character(s) has/have to grip you immediately.
T = Tension, yes there’s plenty of that and not a lot of space to resolve it.
I = Intensity can vary. Reflective pieces can work well but the character has to be compelling to make that successful.
O = Oh my… what is your flash tale’s “oh my” moment?
N = Narrative take? I often favour first person.

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Sparks for flash fiction ideas have come to me from:-

1. A scene in classic Ealing comedy, The Ladykillers.
2. Pride and Prejudice.
3. Historical events.
4. Fairytales including narrating from the fairy godmother’s POV
5. Frankenstein
6. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
7. St. George and the Dragon (though my take on this is not the usual one!).
8. Crime stories
9. Nursery rhymes
10. Owning a dog!

The more you can mix up where you get your sparks from, the better. The more you read and take in from different genres including non-fiction, the better. Yes, watching film can help too. (When all is said and done, you are taking in a story this way. It’s just in a visual format).

Happy ideas sparking!

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Unless I’m writing for a specific competition or market, I don’t always know what word count my flash fiction will end up being. I’ve learned not to worry about this.

I write my idea up and then see what I have to work with. I then edit it and polish it, and check the word count then. If it is close to a standard format (e.g. 110, 40, 230 etc), I will edit it to get to that point (e.g. 100, 50, 250). This makes finding a home for the piece easier to do.

If I really can’t polish the story any more, then I submit it to a market or competition which is open on word count. It really is a case of finding the right home for your story and sometimes that takes a little longer than I’d like but it is the only way I know of to increase my chances of story acceptances.

 

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Goodreads Author Blog – Reading Time

I’ve not long got back from the fabulous Swanwick Writers’ Summer School and, naturally, I picked up some wonderful books from the Book Room here.

What I didn’t get while I was there was any time to do any reading! After a full day of courses, workshops, catching up with old friends, and making new ones, I was far too tired to do much in the way of reading.

I managed to read two magazine articles while I was there! Hmm… not much at all in six days.

Of course, this has meant my TBR pile has increased but there are worse problems in life than that one!

Having said all of that, I was taking in plenty of great material via the course presentations etc and that was the important reading I did want to focus on.

Catching up with my reading will cheer me up immensely as the post-Swanwick and back to the real world blues hit home.

There is much to be grateful for when it comes to reading!

My usual routine is to give myself enough time to read before sleeping and I will often dip into a magazine at lunchtime, say. That was out of the question while I was away but being immersed in a world totally dedicated to reading and writing stories, books, scripts, non-fiction etc. was fantastic.

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