Getting Out and About

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Had a wonderful time at the ACW Writers’ Day in Bath (on 9th March 2019). It is lovely meeting many writers I normally only “talk to” via the ACW Facebook Group or email! Hope everyone had a safe journey home.

Am not planning to do much writing tonight as feeling “buzzed out” (and I didn’t!), but yes, I did use my time on the train trips productively. Managed to write two new flash fiction stories and some notes for a CFT post I’m currently working on so am pleased with that.

There are so many benefits in going to a good writing conference, whether it is for a day, a weekend, or a week.

As well as learning from the courses and talks, you get to meet with other writers. There is nobody but nobody like another writer who will fully understand the joys and heartaches of the writing journey.

Also it is the most natural thing to discuss with each other what you are writing (which ends up being a great way to practice your pitch for your book with nobody minding! The golden rule is never ever just talk about your own work. The idea is to engage with others so being a good listener comes into its own here! The great irony is that being a good listener encourages others to find out what YOU write and so a good conversation gets going).

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One nice thing I have found about having more than one project on the go is, if I’m struggling with a section, say, on some fiction, I don’t struggle with the non-fiction post I’m also working on.

And inevitably ideas to sort out the problem I’m having with my fiction work crop up as I’m drafting the non-fiction. Naturally I pause, write down some notes, carry on with what I’m working on and then happily get back to the fiction afterwards. And it works the other way round of course.

I’m not convinced about writer’s block. I DO believe any creative type is going to have days where the words, the music or what have you, do not flow as well as said creative type would like them to do. I also see that as being perfectly normal! We are human after all… bound to get days like that. What matters is not giving up.

The joys of writing include:-

1. Coming up with a story that is uniquely yours.

2. Having a ball coming up with that story! The fun of inventing your own world and characters can’t be overstated.

3. Managing to sell that story and seeing it published.

4. Doing steps 1 to 3 all over again and again etc.

The woes of writing include:-

1. Rejections (but take some comfort from the fact everyone gets them and, if turned down in one place, go on and try another suitable market!).

2. Those days when it is a struggle to get the words out. (I find having more than one project on the go helps here. I’ve never struggled on everything I’m working on and often when working on something else, an idea to resolve my problem on Project A occurs, as mentioned earlier this week.).

3. Critics.

4. Steps 1 to 3 will happen more than once!

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Two new flash fiction stories produced by yours truly while travelling by train today. (Also wrote some notes for my CFT post on both legs of the journey too, so well pleased). I found myself smiling at some of what I’d written and had to repress the urge to laugh.

I think it can be forgotten the first reader of a writer’s work is you, the writer. If the story doesn’t impact on you, you can forget it doing so for anyone else! That doesn’t mean the piece is perfect. It WILL need editing as sure as day follows night but if the overall impact of the story is entertainment, then great. It’s a question of polishing that story to as good a standard as you can get it (and then test the market with it. Good luck!).

All stories should reveal something about character and what can make someone change (for better or worse. A character’s journey doesn’t necessarily have to be a good one!).

What flash fiction does is show a much shorter journey for that character and so the pivotal change is more intense.

So the best kind of flash fiction story then is where you want to highlight one particular point of change in a character. It is all about the focus!

BOOK NEWS:

Amazon have a special offer on FLTDBA at the moment. The Kindle version is on offer at £2.33 and the paperback at £2.10. I don’t know how long they’ll have this offer on for but thought I would flag it up!  NB:  The link takes you to the paperback offer and it is cheaper than when I first put this up on FB.  Grab a bargain, go on, you know you want to!

Can I also put in a gentle plea for reviews on the usual sites if you have read FLTDBA? Reviews help authors and the nice thing is it doesn’t have to be a long review either. A one-liner is absolutely fine. I DO read reviews when I’m thinking of trying a new product (or one that’s new to me anyway) and generally find them helpful. This is so true for books too.

On to other things…

One of the issues I have with a flash fiction idea is deciding which word count to go for. It isn’t always clear cut. Some ideas are tailor-made to be 50 or 100 words or what have you.

Others I could write up as a very short piece or extend. For those I often draft both versions and then go with the one I like best. It isn’t always the short version. Sometimes I am after a greater depth of characterisation so the longer version wins out.

But flash fiction is wonderful for allowing you to experiment like that. And you could use it to work out what it is you do want to write as your main interest. If the very short form grabs you, great. If it doesn’t and you find you work better consistently at the 1500+ word mark, then equally fine.

And good luck!

Goodreads Author Blog – When Do You Read?

Apologies for being a day late. Had a wonderful time at the Association of Christian Writers’ Day in Bath yesterday. I was too “buzzed out” to write much yesterday though I did write flash fiction and some notes for a blog post on a phone app while on the train!

I did, however, give myself plenty of time to read in bed last night. I indulged in magazines, books, and the Kindle. It was the perfect way to wind down after a busy but most enjoyable day.

I never feel as if the day has ended properly without my bedtime read. The only time I really get to read outside of that time is usually when I’m on holiday. Even on train trips I want to spend that time writing though it was good to see there were books in evidence on the train. Let nobody tell you the paperback is dead! It isn’t!

I would love to find a way of being able to read more in the day but I just know I’d be too conscious of all the other things I should be doing to allow myself to enjoy that read properly. So maybe at the end of the day is the best time to read after all.

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Stand Alones, Flash Fiction and Fairytales

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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!).

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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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Being Creative

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I think most of us need to find some form of being creative – whether that’s using a pen to write or gardening tools to make the “perfect plot” (pun intentional, no apologies!).

I suppose it is because creativity gives us an outlet, especially if most of the time we are doing something far more humdrum. (I love that word humdrum, just sounds good, and conjures up the exact image of what it means).

Creativity is good for mental and physical health so why does it seem sometimes as if it is something that is “indulged in”? (I don’t have that problem, my family are very supportive of my writing, for which I am enormously grateful as I know not every writer can say that).

 

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Pleased with writing achievements on the train yesterday. A whole CFT post written for next week and a flash fiction story (though one at the higher word count end for me). Hope to have a good look and edit of the latter during the week and submit it somewhere.

Looking forward to taking part in the inaugural Hursley Park Book Fair in June. Over 40 authors are taking part and I will have more details nearer the time via a CFT post about it.

Reading, for me at the moment, is pretty much split 50/50 between paper and Kindle. That is a change for me as it used to be 80/20 paper to Kindle. (But you can’t beat the convenience of slipping your Kindle into a bag with loads of books to choose from over having to limit yourself to one or two paperbacks, depending on the size of one’s bag of course. Goodness knows how men manage here. Is that a paperback in your pocket or…. well you can fill in the rest!😁).

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I’ll be resuming my 101 Things to Put into Room 101 series for CFT this week. Up to No. 76 already! Drafted this on the train at the weekend. Had no problem thinking of things to shove (hard) into the vault of doom.

Am hoping to get a couple of flash fiction stories off for competition later this week. I am pleased (and frankly relieved) so many competitions now accept online submissions. I used to spend a small fortune in postage when I first started writing – and yes, the dinosaurs did still walk the earth then. I was one of them – easily spotted. I was part of that sad group forever in a Post Office queue! (I could almost guarantee I’d be out of stamps when I needed them for a competition. I guess the online equivalent would be finding out your server is down just as you’re trying to send your story in. Murphy’s Law does get everywhere).

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Glad to say I’ve had to order more copies of From Light to Dark and Back Again ready for book events coming up over the summer months. Will post more about those nearer to the time of each though I am glad that at one of them in particular, I should have the chance to catch up with friends, which is always a lovely bonus.

I did manage to write some flash fiction on my train journey today – one of my longer pieces. (I also wrote an entire CFT post too so a productive day!)

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I am definitely going to have to go on more train journeys as all of the ones I’ve taken so far this year have meant I’ve drafted LOADS of flash fiction stories, which I hope will end up in a third collection eventually. Just a pity my Swanwick trip in August is going to involve a replacement bus service due to major works happening at Derby Station over the summer. Will be interesting to see how I write while on a bus – assuming I can of course.

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The nature of flash fiction in that it gives only a glimpse into the world of its story makes it useful for when you want to imply your character is a time travelling alien or what have you but don’t need to set up a lot of details as to the world they’ve come from.

I’ve found the odd line showing the character’s reaction to the world they’ve left can be telling. It can be a case of what they don’t say that will imply to the reader the world they left was horrendous. Equally a comment, a throwaway line from the character will show their attitude and from that a lot can be deduced.

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Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Broadening the Mind

The old saying goes that travel broadens the mind and, of course, it can do. But so can reading widely across genres and non-fiction.

Also reading contemporary AND classic fiction is useful here as the former keeps you in touch with what is out there now, and the other keeps you in touch with where writing has come from.

Also I’d argue that writers such as Wodehouse, Austen, Dickens etc have all stood the test of time and will continue to do so. What is fun is to watch out for those contemporary (or near contemporary) authors who will go on to stand the test of time. (I’d have the late, great Terry Pratchett as a certainty here. Also J.K. Rowling for Harry Potter.).

Writing, especially when it involves any kind of research, also encourages mind broadening. (The great thing with this is most of us don’t want our waists to broaden, but you can broaden the mind as much as you like! No calories involved whatsoever…!).

So read and write away!