The Gift of Reading and Writing

Image Credit: 

As ever, unless otherwise stated, the images are from Pixabay. The stained glass window shot is taken by Allison Symes (at Tewkesbury Abbey).

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Publication News

Am absolutely delighted to announce my short story What Goes Around is now published in Bridge House Publishing’s anthology for 2019 called Nativity.

Many congratulations to all of the other writers who are also included in this eclectic collection. Currently available in Kindle but will also be out in paperback. Naturally I will share those details when available!

(It’s going to be a nice task updating my Goodreads and Amazon Author Central pages again! That’s the kind of task no writer will ever mind!).

 

Nativity Full

Am delighted to share this new three part series by Peter Russell on Chandler’s Ford Today. I acted as editor and it was a pleasure and privilege to do so. The Hutments were a community within a community and are now long gone. For anyone interested in local history, do have a read. Part 2 will go live next Saturday.

Feature Image - Hook Road Hutments and My Family

I cannot tell you how much pleasure writing and reading books has given me over the years. They are gifts that keep on giving.

The more widely you read, in terms of both volume and genre, the more room you give your imagination to fire up. Every writer is inspired, and continues to be inspired, by both what has gone before and what is contemporary and that’s exactly how it should be.

I realised long ago that I will never be in competition with any writer for the simple reason I write in my voice and they write in theirs. What inspires each writer is also unique to that writer.

Sure, there will be themes and books in common BUT there will be differences too. It is what we as individual writers bring to the mix that matters and we will bring something unique because we bring something of ourselves to our stories, consciously or otherwise, and we are all different. None of us brings exactly the same thing as the writer next to us (metaphorically speaking).

What I DO know is I owe a huge debt to my late mum, who I lost four years ago today (9th November 2019) to dementia, who taught me to read before I started school. She got into trouble for that. Apparently, I was taught “the wrong way”. Today, she’d probably be given a medal but things were very different back in the 1970s. Oh they were different! Incidentally, I don’t think I’ve done too badly for having been taught “the wrong way”.

One of my treasured memories is her joy in seeing my first story in print (A Helping Hand in Bridge House Publishing’s Alternative Renditions back in 2009). That memory will always mean so much to me.

Says it all really

I owe a huge debt to my late mother for her encouraging my love of books.  Pixabay image.

 

Thought it was time to update the cover photo (on my Facebook page).  I’m using this image on this website too. As well as being “branding”, it makes it simpler for me to have a common image running through my Facebook page, website etc.

Happily drafting a new story for a competition. Really like the way the character has come to life. That is one of my favourite aspects to creating new stories, regardless of word count. When that character “takes off” for me, they will do for a reader too. It is then a question of finding the right competition or market to reach the kind of reader I think will enjoy the story the most.

Biggest writing issue for me? Finding enough time to do all the things I would like to do, writing wise, but that’s a nice problem to have. What I loathe is having additional time but not knowing what to do with it – what a waste that is! – so I make sure I always have competitions to draft for etc.

Allison Symes and published works

Image taken by Adrian Symes

Great to hear I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue is back on Radio 4. The word play on this is sublime (as it is on Just a Minute too).

Have completed the draft of a short story. Time to rest it for a bit and work on something else. I’ll probably look at the story again in a couple of weeks’ time. It will only be at that point I can re-read the tale and look at it as a reader would.

I also ask myself questions as to what I think a reader would make of the story and why. I also look for anything that might be considered weak from a reader’s viewpoint – and then either eliminate it or strengthen it.

But the crucial thing is having enough time away from the story before I look at it again. You really do have to distance yourself.

Also looking forward to going to YA writer Richard Hardie’s and Cold Case Jury writer, Antony M Brown’s, author talk and signing session at the Hiltonbury Farmhouse tomorrow from 7.30 pm. Should be fun.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Publication News

Many congratulations to all of the writers in Bridge House Publishing’s Nativity anthology. I have a standard length short story in here called What Goes Around.

I often use well known phrases and proverbs as titles for my flash pieces too. They can make a very useful short cut as they spell out the theme too without me having to repeat it! They’re also open to interpretation too. For a story like What Goes Around that could be humorous or serious. I love the flexibility of that.

Looking forward to the Bridge House celebration event in December. It will be the first time I’ve had a story in the BHP anthology AND two in the Cafelit collection for the year, The Best of Cafelit 8 (The Art Critic and Dignity and Injustice).

I just love that the buzz of being published online or in print or both never goes away. And does it encourage me to keep writing? Of course!

 

I’d not heard of flash fiction when I began writing seriously. I was sticking to the standard length short story (which I still love writing) and drafting a novel. It was when Cafelit issued their 100 word challenge, I thought I would try the form and quickly became hooked. So beware of what you get into then!!!

Having said that, I adore flash. Sometimes when writing a longer story (or more accurately what is MEANT to be a longer story), I realise the material is strong enough for something around the 750 word mark but to get it to, say, magazine requirement, I would have to add at least 250 and probably 500 words to it.

If there is one thing I have learned over the years it is NEVER pad a story. It never works. It comes across, I think, that the good ideas were in the first half of the story and the rest was to get it to the required word count length. I know I’ve read stories where I’ve had the impression and I also think you, as the writer, just know this isn’t really working. So stick with a shorter piece you know DOES work and find an alternative home for it instead.

The lovely thing with flash fiction is there is now a very welcome home for those shorter, strong pieces. So win-win then!

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How do I create a new flash fiction story?

It depends! I know, I know – not particularly helpful is it, but it really does depend on:-

1. Am I writing for a competition with a set theme?

Here I need to focus on the kind of character who would suit that theme best. Once I’ve got them pictured and outlined, away I go. You can tell when you’ve got the character right because it can feel as if they are telling you the story!

2. Am I writing for a competition with an open theme?
I start by thinking about what theme I would like to tackle. I like to give myself room for manoeuvre here so I tend to go for a simple but open theme such as love, justice etc. You can do so much with themes like that. I then look at the kind of character who would suit the theme I’ve chosen.

I sometimes deliberately set myself a word count target even if I haven’t got a competition in mind. This is partly to keep me on my toes and also because I know I’ll find a potential market for it later on.

Again, I outline the character I want to write about and then think about what kind of trouble I can stir up for them. That is the fun bit, always! I also look at what it is about my character that will either get them out of that trouble or land themselves further in it.

For a very short flash (under 250 words), I go for one lightning quick problem the character has got to resolve quickly. They really have to get on with it but there has to be strength in that character so I know they are capable of doing it.

 

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When do I know a flash fiction story is complete?

I put the piece aside for a while, re-read it and then work out what impact the story had on me. I’m usually looking for a strong response whether it is to laugh, scream or what have you.

Sometimes I write more thoughtful flash tales and there I’m looking for impact in terms of just how thought provoking was the story? When it is a character study, did the story leave me with insights as to why that character is as how they have been portrayed? Do I get a sense this character is realistic? Am I glad to have spent time in their company?

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Goodreads Author Blog – Living in a Fictional World

I’ve never really wanted to live in a fictional world.

I wouldn’t mind a guided tour of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld (as long as it wasn’t by Rincewind and Twoflower. See The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic for more on why!).

I’d love to visit Middle Earth from Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, though I would give Mordor a miss.

And I never had the slightest inclination to follow Alice down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, Even as a kid, I thought that was a daft idea, though I loved the story itself.

Incidentally is this just me or was Alice either incredibly gullible or greedy? Whenever she saw signs saying Eat Me or Drink Me, she’d just do so. Never thought to question it and then wondered why she suddenly shot up in height etc. (I refuse to believe saying that is a plot spoiler, not after this length of time). Oh well…

I loved the Famous Five by Enid Blyton so a good nose around Kirrin Island would suit me. (I always thought of Kirrin Island whenever I’ve visited Brownsea Island, just off Poole Harbour. It’s the sort of place the Five would visit).

So if there was a fictional world you would visit, which would it be and why?

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When a Story Has “Got You”

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Thinking about picture books with regard to my most recent CFT post, Picture Books and Other Hooks, made me also think about what my reading journey has been.

Every reader of fiction owes a huge debt to children’s writers as the vast majority of readers have grown up loving and reading books, moving from stage to stage and genre to genre as they grow. You get to experiment with the genres you love most (and ideally end up loving loads!).

Writing for children then underpins books overall, I think.

We almost all start with rhymes and fairytales (the latter is somewhat ironic given so many fairytales can be grim!). Picture books play a vital role bridging the gap between “baby” books and the first books we read for ourselves.

So let’s hear it for children’s fiction, especially as it is notoriously difficult to get right.

 

I’ve listed below books that have either made me change my opinion about something or I’ve had to re-read several times. (Usually the book concerned falls into both categories). They’re not in any particular order of importance.

1. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
3. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein
4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
5. Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett.
6. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
7. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.
8. Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse
9. Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
10. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

For many of the authors, I could’ve listed more than one of their books. The lovely thing with books is discovering the joys of new ones and, when re-reading, catching up with “old friends”.

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Book Offer News

Quick heads up! Amazon have currently got From Light to Dark and Back Again on offer at:-

£2.99 – Kindle edition
£4.04 – for the paperback.

Link takes you to the Kindle edition.

 

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When do you know a story has “got you”? When you are so gripped by the characters, you have to keep reading no matter what, and you get distinctly irritable when anything minor, like life, gets in the way of you reading! Confession time: have been distinctly irritable many a time due to this.

Of course the challenge for writers is to come up with a story that will make readers feel like that! Whoever said writing was easy has never actually done any. The great thing is nobody has to see your first draft, your sixth or what have you, until you are ready to let them see it! Nobody but nobody creates a perfect story first go. I do take a lot of comfort from that thought.

The great thing with writing is you have two interests in one here, the other being reading of course.

To feed your own writing “muscle”, you need to read widely in and out of your genre. I recommend reading widely in non-fiction too. Your creative spark will come from ideas that occur to you as you read other stories and non-fiction.

This author did this in this way. How would I do it? I’d have written this character this way because… etc etc. All sorts of great story ideas can come from asking yourself questions like that and then seeing what you do come up with.

Re non-fiction: I’ve found the creative spark ignites when I discover something interesting I hadn’t known and realise I can use it in a story setting.

It always pays to cast your imaginative net wide!

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Far Flung Book News!

Many thanks to Raewyn Berry for supplying these pictures of From Light to Dark and Back Again in New Zealand!

My book in NZ 1

FLTDBA in NZ. Image kindly supplied by Raewyn Berry

My Book in NZ 2

Always good to see books about and it’s very special if one of them is yours! Many thanks to Raewyn Berry for the picture.

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Have drafted a piece from the viewpoint of a groundhog which is this week’s prompt in my writing diary. Good fun to do but needs work but then the great thing with a first draft is only you need ever see it. Also I never envisaged starting a FB post with that opening line!

I often use sayings as titles for my flash fiction and generally that sets the theme and mood too. But a good title is always capable of having a twist put to it, so work out what would suit your character best. They’ll be “carrying” the story so if they are of a quirky nature, the story should reflect that.

 

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I do love poetic justice stories and flash fiction is a great vehicle for them. You have to set things up immediately and deliver on the pay-off quickly too! My A Kind of Hell and The Circle of Life are examples of this.

Poetic justice stories work well within a short time frame, which is why they suit flash fiction. I don’t like to spin poetic justice stories out for too long a time span. My worry is a reader could get bored waiting to find out if there is ever going to be a pay-off. No danger of that in 100 words or so!

You haven’t got a lot of room in flash fiction to go into characterisation deeply. So what I do is pick the major trait/flaw/virtue of the character I’ve got in mind for a story and weave the tale around that.

The good thing with this approach is you can imply a lot (and flash fiction is brilliant for implying things!).

For example, if you decide your main character is going to be cowardly, all sorts of things are going to come out of that. How does the cowardice manifest itself? Do they know they’re cowardly? (Often a character will not think they’ve got the faults others think they have!).

Equally, are they prepared to lie to defend their position? Almost certainly yes to that one, I would have thought. Okay then, if they’re prepared to lie, what else would they do? You can already see how things could escalate (as will the tension in the story which is exactly what you want).

So pick a good place to start and away you go!

Time for some one-liners then.

1. Nobody saw the aliens leave with as many minerals as their spaceships would carry.

2. “I’m an endangered species, I’m allowed”, cried the dragon, after flaming the farmer’s field to get barbecued sheep for a mid-morning snack.

3. When even the rats run away, you know you’ve got problems.

4. I usually have no problems with pest extermination but you humans are beyond a joke.

5. It was funny how the beef always vanished whenever Joey the border collie was in the room.

Hope you enjoy.

Allison Symes – 12th February 2019

Goodreads Author Blog – Picture Books and Other Hooks

I don’t believe in wasting a good title! I used this for my Chandler’s Ford Today post recently when I interviewed a local author and her illustrator about a children’s picture book they had brought out. This in turn made me think about my own reading journey and what a debt we all owe to children’s writers.

Most readers have grown up loving books. Someone encouraged that love of story, bought them books, and in time they had the great joy of buying their own stories. I always remember one of my great wishes was to have a library of my own with books I’d chosen to be on the shelves.

Wish fulfilled there I’m glad to say! I’m also glad that there’s a special space on my shelves for books written by friends of mine. And of course my From Light to Dark and Back Again is on display too!

I was trying to think back to what was the first book I could read all by myself. Got stumped there but the Reader’s Digest Collection of Fairytales is a well read and taped up book (the spine needs support!) that would have been amongst the first of my “proper” reads. Has gorgeous pictures too. Never underestimate the power of good pictures to encourage reading and the development of imagination.

Someone “sees” the story and they “get” it. They can go on at a later date to read stories without pictures but there is still something of that hankering for images for most of us I think. Why else do we really love a great book cover?

And I’ve still got a good spot for books with good maps in them – The Lord of the Rings is superb here.

My favourite reads when growing up was Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Little Women (I always have loved Jo March as a character). I liked Heidi and Black Beauty too. I went on to discover Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, P.G. Wodehouse, and Terry Pratchett. I do believe in a good mix!

So what were your favourite childhood books? What did you “graduate” to?

And let’s hear it for the children’s fiction writers too!