Back to Earth after Swanwick

Image Credits:-

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

Book cover images from Bridge House Publishing, CafeLit, and Chapeltown Books.

Had a fab time at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School (and a huge thanks to Fiona Park for the image of me signing books there recently), but also glad to be back home and at the old writing desk once again. (Lady went bananas on my return and in such a sweet way!). Image below taken by Adrian Symes.

LADY DISCUSSES TTFF WITH ME

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Have started work on my next author newsletter (to go out on 1st September – to sign up for this just head over to my website – landing page – at https://allisonsymescollectedworks.com). I share news, tips, exclusive stories etc here. I hope later that some of those stories will make it into future flash collections but newsletter readers get “first dibs” on reading these.

Am pleased to say most of my slots for Chandler’s Ford Today are full until towards the end of next month and that’s always a good sign. Plenty of fantastic interviews to come and I will be sharing Part 2 of Writing Humour with Fran Hill and Ruth Leigh this coming week. Link up on Friday.

I will also be looking back at a wonderful week at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School for CFT soon too. (It’s a good way to celebrate the fact Swanwick happened at all and gives me a chance to share some of the benefits of going to it).

Writing Tip Time: One writing tip that has always stood me in good stead is to read work out loud, especially dialogue. What looks good on the page or screen does not always read well. If you stumble on something, your readers will too. I’ve made many an amendment to a story due to that alone. It is worth the time. That extra polishing up can make all the difference to whether a story is accepted or not.


Back to the usual writing week after a fab week at Swanwick. I’ll be drafting blogs later this evening but since coming home I have submitted a flash fiction piece for #FridayFlashFiction and I will be sharing a YouTube video of mine over on my From Light to Dark and Back Again Facebook page shortly.  See further down for the video. (I wrote the story for that video yesterday).

I like to have a good balance of non-fiction and fiction achieved over the course of a week and as long as I manage that, which I normally do, I’m happy. I am also carrying out editing work at the moment which is always interesting.

Funny day with the weather today. Think it’s still trying to make up its mind whether it’s summer or not…

I’ve mentioned before I sometimes use random word generators (nouns, adjectives, questions, numbers even) to trigger story ideas but another way to use them is simply to come up with say half a dozen words and ensure they are somewhere in your tale.

I tend to use the generators to trigger themes and/or title ideas, but the “have to use the words somewhere in the story” ploy is one I need to do more often. I’ve always had fun with this when doing these in the past. So I think it pays every now and then to look at prompt types you used to use and perhaps don’t write to so often now and have a creative trip down Memory Lane and revisit these.


Hope you have had a good Sunday. I know every day this week I’ll be thinking back to what I was doing at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School this day last week! Swanwick gets to you like that but it is in a lovely way.

Just a quick heads up to say my debut flash fiction collection, From Light to Dark and Back Again – the paperback – is currently on offer at Amazon. (Sounds a bit like a film franchise, you know the kind of thing, when I put it like that. I promise not to name my eventual third collection XXX – This Time It’s Personal!).

Looking ahead this week, Part 2 of a fabulous interview with #FranHill and #RuthLeigh will be on Chandler’s Ford Today on Friday. Have blogs to put up and schedule too and there is always flash fiction to work on. I drafted some while at Swanwick and I need to give some thought as to where I’ll submit those. I have ideas for both. I have the nice task of deciding which I like best. And I am working on workshop material ready for events later in the year. I’m looking forward to sharing details nearer the time.

Learning to plan out what I write when has been a useful tip I have made good use of over the years and it is coming into its own for me now.

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Had a lovely afternoon and evening with family members I’ve not seen for months. Today was the first time in so long that we could have a proper chat and Lady was besides herself with excitement. She loves visitors. She thinks they all come to see her of course. (Oh and she did go bonkers on seeing Mum had returned from Swanwick yesterday. Naturally Lady had to make sure Mum really was back by giving big cuddles to said Mum. Mum did not mind in the slightest!).

Have plenty of blogs and stories to get on with but I will resume my usual writing routine from tomorrow. I always find I need a little bit of “come back to earth” time after Swanwick. Am also looking forward to reading the books I brought back with me though I have already made a start on those. One of my great “home treasures” are my book shelves, packed with signed books by writer pals.

Many thanks for the comments in on my It’s an Ill Wind (up on #FridayFlashFiction yesterday). That was lovely to come home to!

Screenshot 2021-08-13 at 19-12-37 It's an Ill Wind, by Allison Symes

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Alliteration Always Advantageous – In titles for flash stories or collections? Not necessarily. (There’s some more alliteration for you!).

I am wary of anything that might come across as gimmicky so I use alliteration sparingly. It can work well but I think as something different to the overall “mix” in a collection. I also want to keep titles open to interpretation and/or mood so trying to dream up something with alliteration can mean I restrict myself unnecessarily here. You wouldn’t want a whole book of alliterative titles. I could see that becoming boring.

As with the stories themselves, your titles should have an interesting hook to them. I’ve used random generators (especially the question one) to come up with ideas for titles I can use directly or adapt. Often changing one word makes all the difference. And I want my titles to have impact. So anything gimmicky could reduce that impact.

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16th August
Pleased to share my latest YouTube video based on a story I wrote yesterday. Hope you enjoy Knowing the Basics though I am glad I do not have Sandra’s attitude to flying. I am even more glad pilots don’t have Sandra’s attitude. See the video for why!


I mix up the kind of prompts I use to produce flash fiction. I will often start with my favourite, an opening line, but have worked to a closing line. I like picture prompts too and random words (either to get into the story somewhere or to use as a title and/or theme) also work well for me.

Stories from viewpoints of alternative characters got me into print in the first place with my A Helping Hand in Alternative Renditions (Bridge House Publishing) but are great fun to do. You do have to put considerable thought into which character you will use for this and why you have picked them.

On switching to Scrivener, I was delighted to discover it comes with character and setting templates in the short story format. I just adjust these to my own use as I don’t need all of the pre-set information given. But it makes a great starting point and thinking about your story before you write it works well for me.

I like to know I have got tracks to follow before getting on with the story. I guess it’s a reassurance to me I have got something to work up into a story in the first place.

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I was glad to take part in the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School Open Prose Mic night again. I chose two stories from From Light to Dark and Back Again (Serving Up a Treat and Calling the Doctor). From Tripping the Flash Fantastic, I chose Judgement Day. See book trailer below for Calling the Doctor. I’ve always been proud of this one – I change the mood of the story with the very last word. Great fun to do.

You have a maximum of five minutes to read (and it is always better to come in a little under that time if possible) and the joy of flash here is you can easily do that with one longer piece or a couple of shorter ones.

It does pay to read your stories out loud and/or record yourself reading them and playing them back. I’ve found dialogue I think looks okay on the paper does not necessarily read well and if you trip over something, your reader will too. At least with flash this does not take long and it is a good thing to hear how your story comes across as that is how your reader will take it in.


Goodreads Author Blog – Book Events and Paperbacks

I’ve just come back from the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School which has been my first live book and writing related event for well over a year. (It was fantastic catching up with old friends again and the array of courses and workshops was as amazing as ever).

Swanwick has its own Book Room for the duration of the school and it was lovely being able to put my two flash fiction collections in there and pick up books written by friends. (Naturally I got them to sign them during Swanwick week and it is always a thrill to be asked by others to sign your own books).

Is the paperback alive and well? They certainly went down well at the Swanwick Book Room! I think the paperback is still relevant as a format. After all, you can’t exactly put a Kindle out on a table for a book event! Nor can the writer be asked to sign a Kindle (well, I’m not aware of any way of doing this anyway).

From the writer’s viewpoint, paperbacks are relatively easy to transport to an event (note I only say relatively as it does depend on the size. Thankfully I am not writing a three volume epic so that helps a lot!). But people do still like physical books and I think it is healthy to have a wide range of formats as not one size suits all.

When I’m away I do take my Kindle to save luggage space but I would never want to be without physical books. There is something about the texture and feel of them too (and I still love that new book “smell”). And long may that continue!

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Writing Tips

Facebook – and Chandler’s Ford Today

One of the problems I had in writing this week’s CFT post about Writing Tips was picking the those tips that have not only BEEN useful but mostly still ARE and then whittling those down to what I think are the most useful.

One of the great things about going to conferences etc is picking up all sorts of useful advice on the way. Some tips you’ll use immediately, others you will come back to later and I’ll often find, even in advice for say scriptwriting, there are often general pointers useful in other forms of writing. So I’ve learned then it pays to pay attention!

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Other than your PC or laptop, what is the most useful thing on your desk?

For me it is the humble notebook and pen (I count these as one item given they’re not that great without each other!).

I don’t always want to stop what I’m working on in Scrivener to open up a new folder to jot down the latest good idea I’ve had (well I hope it will be a good one!).

But a quick note with paper and pen and I can open up a new file and start researching when I’m ready to do so. I’ve long thought pen and paper really should come into the writing process somewhere, it seems right somehow, and that is despite my writing to screen most of the time.

These days odd notes here and there are generally what I use “old technology” for. And neither the notebook or pen need batteries, charging, discharging, or are at the mercies of power cuts etc etc…. Still I’m not sorry I no longer have to literally cut and paste or have to change typewriter ribbons or faff about with carbon paper…

My CFT post this week will be a a round up of writing tips I have found useful over the years (and still do). Hope it will prove useful. Link to go up on Friday.

One great thing about going to conferences like Swanwick Writers’ Summer School and the Winchester Writers’ Festival is you do get to pick up so many useful hints and tips, some of which are not always useful immediately, but you will come back to them later. And they come not just from the courses but when you get together with fellow writers over tea, coffee, dinner etc. So added reason to (a) go to good conferences and (b) get chatting with your fellow writers.

Like we needed an excuse or something…

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More six-word stories for you. They should conjure up images and you can see a definite start, middle, and end.

1. The lion ran straight at you.
2. The dentist will see you now.

(Own up, which one scares you the most out of those two? The one that is just about possible or the one where you know you WILLhear those words at some point?!).

3. The fairy godmother trashed her wand.
4. Prince Charming wed an ugly sister.

(Probably as a direct result of story line 3 here!).

5. What was this world, she mused.
6. It really is hell in here.

Hope you enjoy!

Not a new topic I know, but one that is always pertinent: can I put the word out about reviews being really appreciated by authors? The obvious places are Amazon and Goodreads but links to other places so authors can share good reviews on their websites etc are also welcome.

Doesn’t have to be a long review either. I liked or loathed Book X because….. is fine. The crucial point is the review has to be an honest one so if you dislike a book, say why. With my consumer hat on, I do read reviews when I do my online food shop or am buying books myself and I like to see a variety of reviews. I am always suspicious of anything getting ALL 5 or 1 star reviews. I do read the positive and negative reviews and then make my own mind up! But the author is still helped as review numbers make a big difference, especially with Amazon.

Oh and don’t forget reviews are just as welcome for ebooks as they are for paperbacks.

Where do you find your inspiration? I find mine from films, odd sayings I’ve overheard or had said directly to me (so do watch what you tell me incidentally!), proverbs, advertising slogans, the classic fairytales, timeless themes such as love and revenge (and sometimes love and revenge together!), etc etc. The key to being inspired is keeping your mind open to the fact that ideas can be found all around you. It is then up to you to develop that initial spark further.

My Learning the Trade is inspired by the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and naturally my character blames the boss for basically not having an “undo” spell to hand! The Haunting is inspired by the Ladykillers (and if you ever get the chance to see the stage show of this, do. It’s fab in its own right though nothing will top the Ealing comedy with Alec Guinness).

Getting that initial idea is fabulous but what I really love is taking that and seeing what I can do with it. I like to have fun with my words and writing should be fun, most of the time anyway.

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytale A to Z Part 6

On to the next section tonight then and I get to do one of the difficult letters – Q!

P = Princes/Princesses are often the heroes/heroines in fairytales of course but I love the heroines that prove themselves every bit as capable and intelligent as any hero (and are often better!  Think Fiona in the Shrek series basically!). I also like those stories where the characters here have to prove themselves worthy of their calling – i.e.  it doesn’t just all fall into their laps because they are royal.  A character who has to work for something, regardless of their background, is a character that will face conflict, dilemmas, enemies, and will make mistakes and basically give the reader lots of lovely action and drama to follow – and they will.

Q = Questions.  Not such a tricky letter to find an answer for here though as I write this I don’t know yet what I will be coming up with for X!  All characters should ask questions and make your readers question them.  The situations you put your characters in should test them (and make them query whether they are doing the right thing or not – internal conflicts like this add depth to your stories and make your characters seem more real.  We all have internal conflicts to deal with so why shouldn’t fictional characters do too?).  Your readers should be engrossed with what your characters do and their attitudes and perhaps question themselves as to whether they’d act that way or not.  A reader that is asking questions like that is one who is engaged with your characters and stories.  You want lots of those!

R = Reading.  It goes without saying we need to read widely to know what it is we like and what we would like to write as a result.  But what would your characters read and how can you use that to show something of their personality?  What are their world’s myths and legends?

This World and Others – World Building Tips

Whether you write flash fiction or novels (or both!), world building tips should prove useful.  With my flash fiction, when I write in the fantasy genre, I just give enough details to confirm it is a magical setting for my story.  With my novel, I’ve got room to share more but things to consider when creating your world for your characters should include:-

  1. How your characters eat and drink (and what!).  Is the society a hunter-gatherer one? Meat eaters or vegetarians?
  2. How sanitation is dealt with.  If your characters are eating and drinking, they will need to excrete!  Okay this may not be a crucial part of your story, but there should be a general sense of how characters keep clean, and how disease is avoided (or not) due to good sanitation measures (or in the case of not due to the lack of them!).
  3. How their society is organised.  Is it class based?
  4. What their society expects of them especially if it is class based.  What happens to anyone defying expectations?
  5. Is their world a developed or developing one?
  6. If magical, are there limits to what people can do with their powers?  How is anarchy or dictatorship prevented (assuming it is!)?

Food for thought there I hope.

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WRITING TIPS AND CHARACTER CREATION

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My latest CFT post is Part 2 of my interview with fellow Chapeltown Books author, Gail Aldwin. We discuss writing tips and character creation amongst other topics. Gail also shares her thoughts on “real” books and ebooks. Do you agree with her? Comments welcome in the Chandler’s Ford Today box at the end of the post.

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When is a character “faulty”? When it takes a convoluted plot to make the character work.

Characters, no matter how bizarre they are or how weird their world is, still have to be believable. There has to be something about them that catches the reader’s attention and then holds it until the end of the story. So a strong character is a must, even if that strength is in being a weak person who will do anything to save their own skin. (Some great stories to come from that, I would have thought!).

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The most difficult thing about flash is having to cut lines you know are good ones, and usually add depth to the story, BUT don’t in themselves move the tale forward. There simply isn’t the word count room to indulge in that so out they come. Occasionally I’ve been able to use a suitable line elsewhere but not as often as I’d like!

Electronically or by print, both face publishing frustrations - image via Pixabay

Ebooks and print – both have their own frustrations when it comes to publishing. Image via Pixabay

Books can be one major key to knowledge - image via Pixabay

Books are the keys to knowledge. Image via Pixabay

Let creativity spill out - image via Pixabay

Let the creative process flow! Image via Pixabay

Writing, whether it is fiction or otherwise, is a wonderful way to create something new - image via Pixabay

You can’t beat notebooks for jotting down ideas. Image via Pixabay.

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What is the purpose of a story?

To entertain – definitely.
To sometimes convey truths in a more palatable way – yes.
To get a message across – yes.

To set puzzles for readers to solve – think Agatha Christie here especially.

To warn – yes (particularly true for horror I would have thought. If you decide you’re going to tackle Dracula, you’ve got to be prepared for the consequences!).

Flash fiction does all of this but concisely!

Fairytales with Bite – Story Generating Ideas

In my Chandler’s Ford Today post for this week, I discuss with Gail Aldwin writing tips, character creation and “real” books amongst other topics.

One common question put to writers is where do you get your ideas.  Well, the answer can be all over the place, which is not what most people want to hear.  What they want, a quick pat answer, is simply not possible becauset he great thing about generating ideas for stories is that there are several methods to do this. One at least is bound to suit you.  I use:-

1.  Well known sayings (and sometimes I twist these too).

2.  Proverbs

3.  Think of a subject and a problem in one sentence and then see where it takes you.  For example, “He refused to cry again”.  Who is he?  What made him cry in the first place?  What has led to his change of attitude here (and it is clear there has been a change)?  What has been his problem that has led him to this point?

4.  Think of an ending in one sentence and work backwards.  For example, “At last, the dragon was killed”.  Okay, so why wasn’t it killed earlier?  What was the problem here?

5.  Sometimes in conversations or even TV/radio programmes, you will pick up on something that can be useful – an odd phrase can give a good indication of character.  Then it is up to you what you do with that character on the page!

This World and Others – Dreams and Reality

Writers learn early on to separate out dreams from reality.  The big dream of being published never goes away until fulfilled (and then you want to keep on being published).  The reality is knowing the writing journey is a tough one, that you’ve got to expect rejections but also knowing there are other options out there such as self publishing or seeking publication through the small independent press.

The latter is the route I, and fellow Chapeltown Books author, Gail Aldwin took.  Part 2 of my interview with her is up on Chandler’s Ford Today for this week’s post and we discuss writing tips and character creation amongst other things.

You need the dreams to keep you going. You need hard headed reality to be able to cope with the rejections, competition disappointments and so on.  It does help to know this is all part of the process.  The one good thing about it is that it does toughen you up so you face later rejections better than you might otherwise have done.

The world of the imagination should play a role in your stories. I can't imagine any world without some form of the arts. Image via Pixabay.

THE POINT OF CHANGE

FAIRYTALES WITH BITE

The Point of Change talks about that pivotal moment when the story is “on”.  It is at that point your main character realises their life is going to change and they either can’t fight this further or accept that the need for change is there and “go with it”.  So how do they handle it?  Do they have help?  Is your point of change strong enough to be the story (because effectively that is the story.  Something happens to Character A and the ramifications are X, Y and Z, but without that something, there is no story).

THIS WORLD AND OTHERS

Character Spotting refers to spotting those characters whose story is worth telling (who are literally strong enough to carry the tale) and to picking up on those attributes/attitudes the character has, which will confirm they are strong enough to carry said story.  I list three major qualities I look for in a character which confirm to me this character is the one to write about/for.

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I talk about how music conveys mood and how writers must do this by carefully selecting which words they use.  Obvious perhaps but this is also where double meanings are so useful for a writer.  They can convey so much without upsetting your word count limitations!

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I write fairytales with bite as flash fiction and short stories in particular. Image via Pixabay.

Your characters step out of the page and seem real to your reader when the point of change for them is strong enough to keep your reader wanting to know what happens next. Image via Pixabay.

 

The perfect way to unwind. Image via Pixabay.

Career Prospects for a Fairytale Witch

FAIRYTALES WITH BITE

Career Prospects for a Fairytale Witch is full of advice for those interested in pursuing this path.  Of course a lot depends on whether you are happy to accept always being the bad guy, knowing  you are likely to die before your time and often horribly, and that you’ll never be able to trust any dwarf ever again (especially if there are seven of them confronting you).  However if this is not a problem, this post shares what you could do (and even shares some hints as to what you could do to increase your chances of living longer too).

THIS WORLD AND OTHERS

Firstly may I apologise on this one.  I’ve actually named the piece Writing Tips I Continue to Find Helpful but you will see the link says What Writers would do well to Remember.  The latter was the original title I’d chosen but I wasn’t happy with it so changed it.  I don’t know why but the change of title has not been picked by the website so is still showing the old one.  I’ve not had this as an issue before and if it happens again (hopefully not), I’ll query Weebly over it.  Having said that, the post does contain writing tips I continue to find helpful and hope you find them helpful too.

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Tonight I share last night’s This World and Others post about Why It Is Not a Good Idea to Annoy a Writer.  I love writing (and reading) humorous lists and hope this one amuses you!

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Magical lands. Image via Pixabay.

Magical lands. Image via Pixabay.

 

 

Part of the Reception Area at the Roman Baths, Bath. Image taken by me. Easily the most beautiful place I've ever queued!

AWAY DAYS AND TECHNICAL ISSUES

FAIRYTALES WITH BITE

In Away Days, I link to my latest Chandler’s Ford Today post (more below), but also ask what magical beings would do and where would they go when they fancied a jolly outing.  This post was particularly fun to write and I hope you like it.

THIS WORLD AND OTHERS

Aptly, as I have had technical issues tonight sharing my website posts on Facebook (Weebly are looking into it), tonight’s post is on Technical IssuesI focus on what these are for writers – spelling, grammar, presentation of work and so on – and give one or two tips.  I like the technical side of writing.  While the creative side, that imaginative spark that gets you going with a story or whatever, is obviously more fun, I love having a piece to work with that I know a good edit will improve.  (I’ve yet to come across any work of mine that isn’t vastly improved by a darned good edit!).

ASSOCIATION OF CHRISTIAN WRITERS – MORE THAN WRITERS

I write a post for ACW once a month now.  For my fellow Christians who are part of this, my latest post (which appeared yesterday) is on The Joy of Hymns and I share some thoughts about my favourites and why I love them.  It is generally down to the imagery the words create (much the same would go for poetry in general I should imagine).

CHANDLER’S FORD TODAY

My latest post is another in my Away Day series and looks at lovely Bath, once home to Jane Austen, one of my favourite writers.  I focus on the Roman Baths here.  Those Romans were amazing engineers.  The connection with Chandler’s Ford?  Chandler’s Ford has good train links and you can get to a wide range of destinations by rail in a day from the local station, hence my Away Days series.

Beautiful Bath. Image taken by me.

Beautiful Bath. Image taken by me.

 

 

Heavenly books. Image via Pixabay

MIXING IT UP

FAIRYTALES WITH BITE

Tonight’s post is called Mixing It Up where I discuss variety in writing in terms of what you write and also in terms of short stories. After all there are markets and competitions now for the very short story and the much longer one so have a go at both!   I also share news of a flash fiction piece of mine, Telling the Time, which first appeared on the Cafelit website now being available in their annual anthology, The Best of Cafelit 5

THIS WORLD AND OTHERS

Not the most imaginative title I know but my post tonight called Ten Writing Tips I’ve Found Useful sums up this blog nicely!  Hope you find at least some of the tips useful.

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Again I share news of The Best of Cafelit 5 on my Facebook Author page tonight but I also refer to Baubles, the upcoming Bridge House Publishing annual anthology, where I’ll also have a story appearing.  More details on that when that book comes out.

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A world of technologies means more places for stories to appear! Image via Pixabay

A world of technologies means more places for stories to appear! Image via Pixabay