READING AND WRITING PREFERENCES

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What do I like to write best – my flash fiction or non-fiction such as my Chandler’s Ford Today posts? No contest. Love them both. Wish I had more time for both. Also means I never, ever get bored.

I find it helpful to spend some time writing, say, flash fiction and then I switch over to CFT posts. It is just great to be inspired by writing something different to what I had just been working on. I have to take different approaches to what I write and going from one to the other and back again keeps me on my toes.

I am going to try this year to prepare more of my CFT posts (the non-time dependent ones) in advance as I have done this before and find it a great way to free up time overall for other writing work. Didn’t get to do much of this in 2017. I like being able to schedule posts in advance and it is a facility I could do with making more use of.

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Am having a lot of fun writing my 101 Things to be put into Room 101 mini-series for Chandler’s Ford Today. Part 1 went up on Friday and I’ve already drafted Part 2. Am not having any trouble at all coming up with things for this! Grumpy old woman, moi? Surely not!

The joy of writing non-fiction like this is I can have fun with my writing in a different way to my fiction. With that, I love inventing my characters and the situations I put them in but with articles like this, I put my imagination to work and bring facts in to back it up! Well, sometimes anyway. Features like this one are, of course, opinion pieces but it is great to have fun coming up with something you hope will entertain others as well as being able to express views.

And I still want wasps booted into Room 101!

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An interesting point came up in the comments box on my latest CFT post which referred to characters “knowing” they were about to die and later it turned out they hadn’t!

My response was that stories, of whatever length, do have to be logical and make sense. In this case, I would have written the character as genuinely believing they were about to die (and I would also have shown some of her bodily reactions to this – shaking, racing heart etc).

Equally later in the story, if the character had just been plain grateful to have been wrong about her earlier assumption, that would have modified things. But this comment reminded me my characters can only believe things. Their knowledge has to be based on what they CAN know or honestly believe to be true.

This comment also acts as a reminder when editing a story to go back and check that everything does make sense. Otherwise, you will lose your readers as they will see straight through anything illogical like this.

Let creativity spill out - image via Pixabay

Let the creative process flow! Image via Pixabay

The fantastic world of books must include non-fiction too - image via Pixabay

The wonderful world of stories. Image via Pixabay

Books illuminate and fiction is made stronger by using non-fiction to support it - image via Pixabay

Fiction is strengthened when backed by fact. Image via Pixabay

Historical records can be an invaluable source of inspiration - image via Pixabay

Historical records can be an invaluable source of inspiration. Image via Pixabay,

Good books should bring illumination to a situation, make you see things as you haven't before - image via Pixabay

Aiming for more “magic” from my stories this year! Image via Pixabay.

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What is your preferred form of reading? The paper/hardback or Kindle?

I love both but must admit the Kindle is a boon for when I’m away and has saved so much room in my suitcase! It is also nice to know I will definitely not run out of things to read. Also, I find the battery life is reasonable and I do like being able to go to weblinks etc from within an ebook.

However, you can’t beat a good browse in a bookshop and a leisurely half hour with a paperback and a cup of tea, My only complaint here? I wish I could do it more often!

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Benefits of writing flash fiction:-

1. You really do learn to write to a tight word count!

2. Your editing skills improve as you use the more powerful words to conjure up images in your reader’s minds. No room for waffle here!

3. It can act as really good practice for writing a blurb etc.

4. You focus on what is the nub of the story and get to the point quicker.

5. You can now enter all the flash fiction competitions!

 

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Am enjoying drafting some opening lines I plan to write up as flash fiction stories.

I like coming up with the bizarre, the other-worldly and the simple statement which I sometimes twist into something less simple!

For example, in from Light to Dark and Back Again in Health and Safety, the story starts with my character wondering why people are moaning. The tale then reveals the character is Goldilocks and she is sharing her version of events, but that opening line could have been ANY character in ANY setting at ANY time. It did not have to necessarily be a fairytale character.

I do like lines like that which offer so many possibilities.

I write batches of flash fiction at a time, polish them, submit them (and hopefully they then end up in a collection!).

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What is the special something about your characters that mean you absolutely HAVE to write their stories?

I often use the major trait of a character as a starting point (and find it easier to write characters whose traits I like. With the ones where I hate the traits, I have to get inside the head of the character to see how they justify their attitude. That can be disturbing at times when you realise how easily they can justify their stance!).

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Part of the role of fiction is to show up truths that can’t necessarily be proven by pure fact. Truths about the human condition, truths about what love is and so on.

Flash fiction does this too but in fewer words! I like to think of flash fiction as shining a spotlight on a theme and, of course, the shorter the piece, the greater the intensity of that spotlight!

The challenge can be where you direct that beam or sometimes even knowing where you’ve aimed it! Sometimes you write a piece and the theme can take even you by surprise.

I always write to a character. I know who my leading people are and why they are in that role. I don’t always write to a specific theme and sometimes the theme just leaps out at me AFTER I’ve drafted the story.

When I was editing From Light to Dark and Back Again, it struck me then just how many of my stories dealt with some kind of poetic justice. I never set out to write to that theme (though I guess the things you feel strongly about are bound to come out in your writing somewhere along the line!).

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What I Like in a Book Review

This applies to reviews for my From Light to Dark and Back Again as well as those I give for other books!

A good review has:-

1. No spoilers but enough information so the reader knows what they will be reading in terms of genre etc.

2. What the reviewer likes – good characterisation, twist in the tale endings etc.

3. No waffle.

4. No negativity. (The way to criticize a book is to say what you liked, what you thought didn’t work so well etc as the writer will be expecting this. Your thoughts on what didn’t work so well can be very useful to them. What you don’t write is a “hatchet job” on the book or the author).

5. A rough idea of book length and time taken to read it (though I must admit I don’t always remember this one! I DO stress when reviewing flash fiction collections the great thing about this genre is you can read it one sitting but it is also great for dipping in and out of).

6. What you would like to see from the author next time (i.e. next book in the series, continued great characterisation, less of the blood and gore, if appropriate etc).

7. Total honesty from the reviewer.

What would you add to this list?

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LIKES, DISLIKES AND SIGNS OF SUCCESS

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My latest Chandler’s Ford Today post is the first part in a new mini-series by me called 101 Things to Put into Room 101. I cover 15 items in this post. See what you think – do you agree? What would you put into the dreaded vault of doom? Funny answers particularly appreciated!

The post was great fun to write and I’m looking forward to writing the rest of the series.

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We all have our likes and dislikes but what are your characters’ choices here? What is behind their likes and dislikes? Were they forced to accept (for example) a food choice and then the moment they were “free” rejected it? Have they taken a like or dislike to something because their people expect them to or, again, are they rebelling against that expectation?

All characters need to have strong motivations for their actions but this can also apply to their likes and dislikes too. After all, it will be those traits that will directly influence their action. Most people loathe injustice, for example, but that loathing will be intensified if they have ever been the victims of it, or know others who have been. Their dislike has been “focused” by what they have experienced.

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Many thanks to Gill James for sharing this post on Facebook!

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

Paula Readman, Dawn Kentish Knox and I celebrate where our stories have appeared! Many thanks to Paula Readman for the picture.!

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!

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Gill reads from January Stones. Image by Allison Symes

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

Gill talks with Dawn Kentish Knox and me. Image thanks to Paula Readman.

Fairytales With Bite – Character Likes and Dislikes

What are your characters’ likes and dislikes?  This topic has come up as I’ve started a new series for Chandler’s Ford Today called 101 Things to Put into Room 101 (the latter is, of course, based on George Orwell’s 1984).  Now I know the reasons behind my 101 things (which I’ll share over about 6 to 7 weeks) but what are the reasons behind your characters’ choices here?

Also listing said likes and dislikes can help enormously when outlining.  You should get a much clearer picture of who your characters are and what really drives them in just listing these things.  In the magical world, there is generally a massive dislike of human interference (which is understandable.  What we would do with such powers, given what we have done to our own planet and indeed to each other especially in times of war, is something that could be the stuff of nightmares).  In your created worlds, what are the common things most people/alien beings/even dodgy wizards like/dislike?  How was this consensus reached or was it forced on people?

Even relatively trivial likes and dislikes can tell you something about a character.  A character who loathes broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage but can eat sweetcorn all day long if allowed to do so shows someone who can be picky (and who clearly has a problem with members of the brassica family!).  This could be exploited for comic effect or be used against them.  (An enemy poisons the sweetcorn supply possibly!).

This World and Others – Signs of Success?

One obvious sign of success for a writer is when their words pass into the language and become well known sayings.  Shakespeare is the obvious candidate for highest success rate here, though George Orwell must be unusual in that his Big Brother and Room 101 have been used to form the basis of TV shows here in the UK! How many writers can claim that achievement?  (Mind, what he would make of it is quite another matter, especially for Big Brother.  Room 101 has the saving grace of being funny).

I’ve started a new mini-series for Chandler’s Ford Today called 101 Things to Put Into Room 101 and I’m looking forward to writing the other posts to complete this over the next few weeks or so.  But it led me to think about what success would mean for a writer.

I think for Orwell it would be a question of getting his message about the evils of totalitarianism across well (as he does in Animal Farm as well as 1984).  I also think for most writers it would be a question of writing to the best of your ability and being published.  (Anything after that is a bonus!).

But what would your characters say were the important signs of success as far as they were concerned?  What is getting in their way of achieving that success?  Will they strive for that success at no matter what cost to themselves or to others?  What is the price they pay should they manage to achieve their goals?

Plenty of food for thought for story ideas there, I think.  Happy writing!

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Plans and Mini-Series

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Happily enjoying some of the latest Chapeltown publications on Kindle. That is the great thing with flash fiction – it is so easy to read on a screen (no matter the size of the screen!).

Am also drafting some challenging opening lines that I hope to create stories from soon. Sometimes this challenge leads to a longer story than expected (but that can always go to a short story – 1500 words+ – collection in due course).

I’d like to enter more competitions this year too as doing that is always good practice for writing to a deadline and if you are lucky enough to be shortlisted or win, then that does look so good on the old writing CV. You feel pretty good about it too!

One of the nicest things about writing is when you are well “into” it and enjoying what you are coming up with. You are your own first audience. If you don’t enjoy what you write, why should anyone else? Later, trusted readers who can tell you what does and doesn’t work are invaluable.

Happy writing!

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One great thing about writing is it does give you a much deeper appreciation for the works of other writers, especially the classics. For a work to stand the test of time, it really does have to have something special about it, but it is highly unlikely the author concerned set out to achieve that. They would’ve wanted to write a good, entertaining story, for it to be published (and ideally sell in vast quantities too!).

I think you gain a deeper appreciation of the work that went into creating the story in question. I know I’ve learned that if someone makes something look easy (and that includes writing which is easy to read), I can bet that same someone has worked very hard for years to get to that point.

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I’m starting a new mini-series on Chandler’s Ford Today this week. Friday’s post will be part 1 of my 101 Things to Put in Room 101 so this new series will keep me out of mischief for a bit then…

Link to go up tomorrow. Had great fun writing Part 1 so am really looking forward to getting on with Part 2!

I don’t know how many writers manage to achieve the accolade of having parts of their best-known work turned into TV programmes but Orwell is one of the few. What he would have made of Room 101 I don’t know (it can be very funny, sometimes thought provoking) but I suspect there might have been some scathing comments about Big Brother! (And I could always add some of my own there!).

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How easy is it to find the right title for your book? Answer: not very!

I used the mood of the stories to get to the title for mine but the title for the one I’ve not long submitted was more difficult to reach. In the end, I picked the title from one of the stories that I liked best and went with that. Am I expecting changes to my MSS? You bet!

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I know “luvvies” get their fair share of being mocked but the famous question attributed to them, “what is my motivation in this, darling?” is a great one for writers to ask of their characters.

Any character without a suitably strong motivation should be cut out. The good thing on that is their role might be a minor one but if it is pivotal to the outcome of a sub-plot, which in turn affects the way the main plot turns out, then that is good enough to justify that character and minor role remaining.

Motivations should be something the reader can understand, if not necessarily agree with. The main characters should, of course, have the most powerful motivations of all given they have the most to lose or gain.

 

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I often use proverbs or well-known sayings and then see what I can do with them to create my stories. Flash fiction in itself is the very definition of “less is more” after all!

Sayings are a useful source of themes and can sometimes give you ideas for character motivation. (For example, revenge is sweet could lead you to work out why your characters would want to make that saying come true for them. You’d need to work out backstory here – who they want revenge against and why? How do they make revenge sweet? Does it work or backfire spectacularly?).

What sayings would you choose to use for a theme? (The great thing is you could base an entire collection around a well-chosen theme. We’re never going to run out of love stories in the grand scheme of things but there is always room for the well-written one that takes a different slant on it. Okay the problem after that is finding the right home for it but at least you know every writer faces that dilemma and it definitely isn’t anything personal).

Creative writing takes many forms, including blogging. Image via Pixabay.

Creative writing takes many forms, including blogging. Image via Pixabay.

What a library! Image via Pixabay.

What a library! Image via Pixabay.

I could spend many a happy hour here - the library at Prague. Image via Pixabay.

I could spend many a happy hour here – the library at Prague. Image via Pixabay.

The magical world of the imagination. Image via Pixabay

The magical world of the imagination. Image via Pixabay

A way into the magical realm, perhaps? Image via Pixabay.

The way to the magical realm perhaps? Image via Pixabay.

The perfect way to unwind. Image via Pixabay.

The perfect way to unwind. Image via Pixabay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BRAINSTORMING AND IDEAS

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How do you know your ideas are strong enough for a story?

1. When the ideas haunt you and you are almost literally itching to get back to your desk to get on with the writing. (These days I use Evernote on my phone so I can at least make a head start! Great way to make the most of “dead” time. Last time I had to wait while my car was being serviced, I’d drafted three pieces of flash fiction on my phone!).

2. When you can’t wait to find out how the story ends!

3. When the characters seem so real to you, you feel a bit disappointed you know you can’t meet them in “life”.

4. When that initial idea, the spark, triggers other ideas and you can suddenly see the story opening up before you.

Of course, you can’t beat the nitty-gritty of getting on with the writing itself. If the ideas are really strong, the writing will flow. It has been my experience that when I’ve not thought out the ideas enough, that is when I can get stuck. I’ve only ever abandoned two stories in my time due to that (which I don’t think is a bad return rate) but I want to make sure there are no other incidents of that!

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Am happily brainstorming opening lines I hope to use for flash fiction pieces. I love doing that and then I love the challenge of writing to that line. Am also getting back into writing standard length short stories. (Have just submitted one and am outlining another). I would like to write more flash and more short stories than I did last year so I think that would be my goal for 2018.

I’d also like to try to write more of my blog posts ahead of time and schedule them as appropriate. I do this sometimes but last year for some reason didn’t. I wrote the blog post in the week that I knew it would appear. So I am planning to block time out more to do specific tasks and see if, overall, I achieve more. I think I will.

Meantime, back to the stories!

 

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When does a character really catch my attention?

When I find I’m looking forward to the next scene they’re in and am rooting for them to succeed. (This is awkward if the one you’re rooting for is the villain! Go on, who half wanted Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham to somehow get away with it in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves simply because the portrayal was so good? It wasn’t just me, was it?).

So when I am developing my characters, I am looking for that special something about them, which will catch my readers’ attention. The real trick is to then ensure your characters HOLD your readers’ attention! So your characters have plenty of work to do then (as indeed do you!).

I have found a trait that most people will sympathise with or at least understand is a good way in to developing that special something in a character. Courage, for example, is a good trait to use as you can ask where did that come from in your character? Has it ever been tested etc? You’ll get some great stories out of answering those two questions alone on that one trait.

 

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What would you like your stories to achieve?

I’d like mine to entertain, whether it is to make people laugh or shudder (so much depends on the mood of the tale here!). I’d like books to be seen as valid forms of entertainment (I think it would help encourage people to read more, which is never a bad thing). I want people to remember my characters.

One sign of a great story is when it is easy to recall your favourite line(s) from it. Another is when you look forward to re-reading it, perhaps for the umpteenth time, but you still have as much joy in this reading of it as you did on the second or third, say.

There are certain stories I do re-read at specific times of the year. I try to re-read Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather in the run-up to Christmas and usually Reaper Man in the run-up to Harvest. Sometimes I don’t get to read the books but listen to the audio versions instead but that’s okay. I get to spend time with some wonderful tales again.

So what do you re-read during the year and why?

 

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I do like my opening lines in a flash fiction piece to tell you as much as possible in as few words as possible. For example, from You Never Know, I start with “So you think I live a luxurious life as a tour guide?”

So what does that tell you? I’ve established the character is employed and in what capacity. They are clearly at odds with someone – the tone of the line tells you that. It is also clear the character is about to try and justify themselves. But why does that matter and to whom? Of course, reading the story tells you that but in 12 words, I’ve managed to convey quite a bit of information.

I like to think of this kind of opening to a story as “hitting the ground running”. The trick then is to keep running so the story fulfils its opening promise. Game on, then!

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What aspect of book promoting have you liked the most? I’ve enjoyed going to book fairs and having my own signing events (but one thing I learned is I needed to do more of them! Having said that, personal circumstances at the time last year did get in the way somewhat. However, this is something to correct for future occasions!).

The main thing I’ve disliked has been getting the balance between promoting the current book and writing the next one right. I didn’t manage that as well as I could have done with the result being the second book was submitted later than I would’ve liked. Lesson learned: block out time for specific writing tasks and stick to those. That will increase the amount of actual writing achieved. (One thing about writing for Chandler’s Ford Today is it means I have a deadline to work to on that so blocking out time to work on my pieces there is easier to do. I need to set myself deadlines for my fiction and block out time to make sure I meet them).

I have, however, learned to use “dead” time better (especially when on train journeys) thanks to finally getting a smartphone and using Evernote to write and save my drafts. That has helped a lot and I’m sure will continue to do so.

From diving board to keyboard via Pixabay

The keyboard beckons…

Writing first, editing later but both needed - image via Pixabay

Preparing a talk or a flash fiction story perhaps. Image via Pixabay.

Classic Books - image via Pixabay

Classic Books. New Books. Love them all!

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Grow as a writer? Grow your reading! Image via Pixabay

Stunning place in which to read and review - image via Pixabay

Simply stunning… image via Pixabay

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog

What makes you recommend a book to a friend?

For me, it has to be the great characters in the book. If I think they’re great, my writing and other friends are likely to think so too.

I’ve never understood the character -v- plot debate. Characters drive the plot. Their actions and reactions are pivotal to the entire story.

Characters have to be well enough portrayed to make the plot work. A plot will fail if the characters are not up to it. A strong character can and does make all the difference to whether a story succeeds or not.

So I’ll happily recommend books with great characters. I won’t recommend books with convoluted plots but where the characters, for whatever reason, don’t make me sit up and take notice.

How about you? What are your thoughts here?

 

 

 

 

 

TRUTH OR NONSENSE

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My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week is Writing Sayings – Truth or Nonsense? I share my thoughts about “never judge a book by its cover” and “write what you know” amongst others. I also share a couple of sayings I’d like to see added to the canon of useful writing “proverbs”. See what you think! Comments welcome in the CFT comments box.

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How do your characters handle crises in their lives? Brilliantly, badly, or do they somehow just muddle through? How does handling such events change them and does it do so for better or for worse? Do they have coping “aids” (e.g. chocolate, wine etc) and do they really help the characters cope?

If they were rich, how would they handle losing their wealth? If always enjoying good health, how would illness affect them after they’ve got over it? Would it dent their confidence, changing their behaviour and relationships in other ways? How do other characters handle the change in them?

Change is crucial to any story. Something changes, conflict arises (there’s always someone who will resist change), and lo and behold you have your story, but that is thanks to how your characters deal with this event.

My favourite characters are those who battle against the odds and win. They don’t necessarily have to be charismatic, but they do need grit and determination. This is kind of appropriate given every writer needs tonnes of grit and determination to cope with rejections etc!

Fairytales With Bite – When The Truth Costs Dearly

My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week is called Writing Sayings – Truth or Nonsense? and I think some of the well-known sayings relating to writing really are nonsensical! See the post if you want to find out which I debunk!

It is a sad fact of life that truth so often is not welcome and that many people pay a very heavy price for it. Does this mean we shouldn’t portray this in fiction?  I think not.  Where it is appropriate to the story to do so, I think you should portray it.  Indeed, it would be difficult not to given every hero has to have something to be a hero about and so often it usually is fighting for the truth about something to come out etc.

So the story here then is what is the truth as it relates to your characters and their world?  Why is it being suppressed and by whom?  How does your hero/heroine ensure the truth does come out?  What price do they pay for doing this (and there is bound to be one, probably a very heavy one at that.  I always liked the ending of The Lord of the Rings where it is made very clear Frodo has been changed so much by his adventures, that more change, another journey, is necessary for him.  I don’t really want to say more than that in case you haven’t read it or seen the films).

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This World and Others – Truth or Nonsense?

My latest post for Chandler’s Ford Today is Writing Sayings – Truth or Nonsense? and it was great fun to write.  I discuss well known writing sayings and debunk a couple of them!  But the “truth or nonsense” bit of the title made me wonder about how this can be shown in our fiction.

What would be considered to be truth in your fictional world?  Does everyone have to subscribe to one faith or one political view?  What happens to the outspoken?

Is there “room” for nonsense in your world?  Is humour encouraged?  Or is it clamped down on because it can be subversive (and great satire is, of course.  It has never gone down well with everyone!)?

Are your characters truthful?  How do they handle having to lie if it is vital they do so?  What nonsense does the government come up with (and every regime from time immemorial has come up with nonsense in its time!)?  Do the people “buy it” or have they seen through it ages ago?  Who controls the media and is it responsible, giving good investigative journalism (to name one example), or does it rely on the government telling it what to say?

Food for thought there I think.

 

LOVING WHAT YOU DO AS A WRITER

I can’t over-emphasize the importance of loving what you do as a writer.  It can help keep you going when all you get in your inbox (or even still these days your letterbox) are the inevitable rejections all writers get.  Treasure any specific comments you receive on rejections as these can be invaluable for showing up weaknesses etc.

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One thing I love about writing for Chandler’s Ford Today is it has helped me work to a deadline (and a relatively short one at that). Most story competitions give you a reasonable amount of time in which to submit your tales. CFT is weekly.

I have brainstorming sessions every so often for ideas for my flash fiction but I also have some for potential articles for CFT. It takes me a while to work through them too, which is good.

There has to be a link to the local area but that link sometimes is me, especially when I’m interviewing other authors from outside the area.

Writing articles for your local online magazine could be a good place to start and it can lead to you having a track record (always handy for publishers, if you’re submitting work to magazines etc). Okay so you don’t get paid but you do learn a lot from it. I know I have.

 

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One of the lovely moments in story writing is when you discover you really like your characters and find yourself rooting for them. And you know how the story ends too!

I’m currently editing a story about two ladies of a certain age and love the pair of them! Mind, it probably helps no end I’d probably be in that “certain age” bracket now…

What appeals to you about your own characters? What drove you to write them in the first place? There has to be something special to get you to do so (and that includes villains too. Many a writer has fallen for their own evildoers!).

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My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week is called Writing Sayings – Truth or Nonsense? I look at old favourites like never judge a book by its cover and write what you know amongst others. Link to go up tomorrow.

I did find some lovely and useful sayings relating to writing I hadn’t come across before and I share those too (from Mark Twain and Margaret Attwood amongst others). I also share a couple of sayings I’d like added to the canon of wise thoughts.

I enjoy writing all of my posts for CFT but this one was great fun and I hope there will be some good comments after the piece goes live tomorrow.

 

Books invite you into their world - image via Pixabay

Books invite you into their world. Image via Pixabay.

What new scenes will a book show you - image via Pixabay

What new worlds and scenes will books show you? Image via Pixabay

Some very strange characters can be found inside a book - image via Pixabay

Some very strange creatures are in books. Image via Pixabay

Good advice here - all writers need to fail better - image via Pixabay

Good advice. Image via Pixabay.

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What would I like flash fiction to achieve?

I would love it to tempt reluctant readers into developing a lifelong love of stories and books.

I would love it to tempt the “gadget freaks” into reading it on Kindle (and even via something that needs no batteries at all – the good old paperback!).

I would love it to show those who claim they have no time to read, well actually you do. Flash fiction really does not take that long! (They’d have to think of another excuse not to read then, wouldn’t they?).

I would love it to show that great characterisation does not mean having to use hundreds of words.

Flash fiction is, I think, the ultimate proof that less is more!

 

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Do you have a favourite writer and, if so, who and why? I’m torn on this. I love P.G. Wodehouse and Terry Pratchett for their humour and ways with words yet their story worlds are so very different! (And that’s another reason I love them both. It’s always good to visit more than one fictional world!).

Whoever your nominee would be, I strongly suspect it is something special about the characters produced by that writer, which would be your deciding factor. (And if that doesn’t settle the argument over character -v- plot, I don’t know what will! Without well drawn characters, any plot falls down badly).

I don’t know about you but I find when recalling a story I’ve not read for a while, I may not remember every single detail about the plot, but I do recall what I loved about the characters.

 

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The dash to write a piece of flash
May result in a wonderful tale
But you need the edit to slash
At your draft so your work may not fail.
Cut the rough and know after all
No great work is achieved overnight
Every word must seek to enthral
Out comes anything that might well blight
You find the real tale from that first draft
This is where you develop your craft.

Allison Symes – 15th February 2018

Not arguing with this saying - image via Pixabay

Not arguing with this! Image via Pixabay

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Well, would you? Image via Pixabay

Too late for me but a saying worth considering - image via Pixabay

Alas, too late for me! Image via Pixabay

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Reading, of course, educates, informs and entertains us. I think all three aspects are vital and should feed off each other.

This is where things like the Horrible Histories series have done so well – information presented with humour goes down better, especially with youngsters, than straight facts presented in a more traditional way.

I read chiefly for pleasure but I also read to research and to expand my knowledge on things I may well write about, either in fiction or for Chandler’s Ford Today at a later date.

Things I know I will want to read later I will either download straight to my Kindle or send to it (and this is so useful. I often catch up with reading here when on train journeys).

So does literacy and the love of books still matter? Of course, it does. It always will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHORT STORIES

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When editing a story, I tend to check if my main characters are coming “through” well enough. I love using thoughts as a way of showing what my “people” are really made of (and it’s even more fun when they’re deliberately hiding this from the other characters in the story. You’re left wondering whether the others will find out the truth or not and this can be a great source of conflict if they do!).

If, by the end of the tale, I’ve got a clear picture of who my characters are, what drives them, and they engage me, then hopefully other readers will feel the same way and like them too. (Or in the case of villains love to hate them, which is also good).

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A great short story has to have:-

Strong, memorable characters

An intriguing start

A middle that wants to make you keep reading to see what
happens next (definitely no saggy middles)

A powerful and appropriate ending (and I do love twist endings as they end the story with a “punch”. Sometimes I’m pleased when I see the ending coming and basically, my guess turned out to be right, but I’m even more pleased when the writer wrongfoots me).

The right word count for the type of story it is. I like short stories to be 1500 words or so. Flash fiction is 1000 or under but I must admit I feel a bit short-changed if a short story comes in at 1200 words or so. It feels to me like the story hasn’t quite got the “legs” to go the proper distance.

(Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for the picture of me reading from From Light to Dark and Back Again at the Bridge House event in December. Huge fun!).

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Some more Murphy’s Laws for writers:-

1. Your old PC will always play up when you’re trying to save the latest version of your MSS, especially something of novel length – and you have to save several times to make sure you HAVE saved it. (No longer the case for me I’m glad to say!).

2. You’re waiting eagerly for news of how you did in a writing competition. You check your inbox as often as possible at the relevant time. Nothing. You leave the PC for two minutes to go to to the loo, hear the unmistakable sound of more email coming in, get back to your desk as quickly as possible, only to find the new mail is selling you something you didn’t want, or offering you a date with a “hot” babe, which you also don’t want. The latter offers incidentally don’t seem to mind which gender they target.

3. You’re waiting for the author copy of your book to arrive. The days you stay in – guess what? Nothing turns up even though you know it is due. You pop round to see a neighbour or go to the local shops and come back to find… the “Sorry we missed you card” on your mat. Your vocabulary tends to veer into the brusque at this point!

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About a week ago, I set up a quick poll as to what was the most important part of a story, regardless of word count. Many thanks to all who voted.

I asked whether an intriguing start or a twist ending was the most important component. And the results are:- (Ta da… imaginary drum roll here!)

83% An intriguing start
17% A twist ending

I’m not surprised by that. After all, if the start of a story doesn’t grip you, the chances of you getting to the twist ending are slim indeed!

Having said that, an intriguing start still has to be well supported by what follows. There has to be “follow through”. If the ending disappoints, would someone read another story from that author even though the start seems very promising? I think there could be a case of “once bitten, twice shy” here.

So my view? I am a little torn on this one as I sometimes write the ending to a piece of flash fiction first and then work backwards. One great thing about doing things that way is you definitely have the twist ending and you can then work out the intriguing start that led to it.

Overall though, I would go for the intriguing start (as I also love coming up with a strong opening line and seeing where it takes me).

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Am glad that flash fiction has really taken off as a format and that Chapeltown Books now has a good range of publications to its name.

I love the “frame” around the powerful central images (see link) and think this is a great form of branding. The stories are pretty good too… Now I know I’m bound to say that but I wasn’t just referring to From Light and Dark and Back Again, honestly. Go on, check them out. Available in paperback and Kindle.

The small independent presses are a lifeline for authors and Chapeltown has particularly encouraged quirky fiction. Fine by me! I am a quirky writer…

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When is a tale a piece of flash fiction as opposed to a shortened story? When it has a “proper” beginning, middle and end and doesn’t feel as if more could be added to it.

I try to leave my stories on either a twist or punch ending (they’re not quite the same thing) so there really is nothing left to be said. I like people to be able to feel that the ending was an appropriate one (which, of course, is not the same thing as a happy one necessarily!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TALKING CRIME, RESEARCH IN FICTION AND NETWORKING

A good mix tonight, I think!

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I talk crime and research, amongst other things, in Part 2 of a fab interview with crime writer, the lovely Val Penny.  Val is the author of Hunter’s Chase, which is the first book in her Edinburgh Crime series. We also talk about writing conferences and I know both of us are looking forward to networking in person later in the year at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School!

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Also a big thanks to Gail Aldwin for sharing details about other Chapeltown books including Badlands by Alyson Faye and my own From Light to Dark and Back Again. Much appreciated.

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How do you feel when you reach the end of writing a story or, even more, a book?

A little bereft perhaps but at the same time eager to get on with the next one. That’s my position at the moment.

Have got a few competitions I’d like to have a go at so those will be my next goal. I deliberately want to get work off to these before I start outlining my thoughts for my next book (and I’ve ideas I want to explore there). I think a break between books is a good idea. By the time you come back to writing a book again, you’ll be keen to get on with it!

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Where do I get ideas for my stories? From all over the place! When I was starting out as a writer, that kind of answer used to annoy me. My thoughts tended to be along the lines of “well, it’s all right for them to say that but I’m struggling, thank you”. Well, words to that effect anyway.

What I have learned over the years (lots of years too!) is you do learn to develop more of an open mind as to what could make a good story idea. What is useful is having a starting point to trigger ideas that can be developed further. Some of my starting points include:-

1. Proverbs/famous sayings to use as a theme.
2. Picture prompts (not necessarily taken by me). For example, landscapes can offer ideas as to where your setting is or if you are writing fantasy or sci-fi, is your world the complete opposite to the picture? Sometimes that can be useful in getting started.
3. Competition themes can be great as you can then enter the competition too!
4. Snippets of conversation can get you thinking about how a character of yours might get to say something similar.
5. I sometimes have a brainstorming session and write down what could be an opening line to a story. I don’t plan these sessions and try to just write freely for a set time. The lines can be as bizarre or as ordinary as I want but the ones I like the most of later are the ones I write up.

I think the most important thing is to have fun with your writing. If you don’t enjoy it, nobody else will!

 

Honest feedback is the only kind worth having - image via Pixabay

Honest feedback is the only kind worth having. Image via Pixabay.

Good historical fiction will make it seem as if you had stepped back in time - image via Pixabay

Could this picture inspire stories? Good fiction will take you out of the world for a while. Image via Pixabay.

The best advice for any writer - image via Pixabay

Sound advice.

Feature Image - Flash Fiction - Books are Gateway - image via Pixabay

Says it all really and applies to non-fiction equally as fiction. Image via Pixabay.

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Planning your work. Image via Pixabay.

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Looking forward to starting work on a third flash fiction collection after a pause to enter some competitions etc. I find a break between books useful.

Indeed, when I write batches of short stories, I like to have a break and switch to writing flash for a while and vice versa. In between all of this I’m writing posts for Chandler’s Ford Today and More Than Writers (the ACW blog though the lovely thing with writing on the 29th of the month is I have most Februarys off!!).

There are other things I’d like to do at some point (including seeing if I could write a radio play) but those will be projects that I might refer to as my “bits on the side”. I do think it is vital writers have fun with whatever it is they write and also to set themselves fresh challenges now and again.

 

Fairytales with Bite – Do You Need Research to Write Fiction?

One of the topics I discuss with crime writer, Val Penny, in Part 2 of my interview with her for Chandler’s Ford Today this week is research. We talk about the resources that are available for crime writers and I go on to mention that even for writing fantasy as I do, some research is useful.

Strictly speaking, for any fiction, of course you don’t have to carry out research.  You make it all up!  However, I’ve found that to root my characters so readers can identify with them, I need to know how we react as people and why (so a basic knowledge of how humans “work” is useful).  Also when it comes to world building, knowing how we work is a building block for making up your own  universe.  After all if you decide your world is going to be nothing like this one, you’ve got to work out in exactly which ways it will differ.  So you do have to bring some knowledge to the writing desk to be able to write effectively.

I’ve also found that researching (whether I do so via the internet, a book or what have you) helps me extend my knowledge (obviously!) but the knock-on benefit of that for my fiction writing is it also expands what I can write about.  Write about what you know is good advice so expand what you know and you can expand what you can write.

This World and Others – Networking

I discuss the value of networking in my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week, which is Part 2 of a great interview with crime writer, Val Penny.   Amongst other topics, we share our thoughts on two conferences we’ve been to – Winchester Writers’ Festival and the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School (and indeed are looking forward to networking in person again then!).

How does networking happen on the world you’ve created for your fiction though?  What is it used for?  Can only certain people/beings/robots/strange creatures etc do this?  Is corruption an issue and does anyone try to fight it, if so?  Which of the creative arts is known on your world and are there conferences/classes for them?  How is successful networking “rewarded”?

Have any of your characters formed friendships, which later they depend on in life threatening situations?  How does networking earlier in their life benefit them now?  (Or does it endanger them because the friends they thought they’d made turn out not to be friends at all?!).

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STORIES – AND A WRITER’S THREE WISHES

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My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week will be Part 2 of my interview with crime writer, Val Penny. She discusses how much research she does and why networking is invaluable for all writers, amongst other topics. Will put the link up on Friday.

I was thinking, for my new Goodreads blog post, which went up earlier this evening, about why I love short stories and flash fiction so much. I think it may be because I’m impatient! With a novel, you have to wait for the tension to build and build… With a short story (and even more so for flash fiction), you get the impact nigh on immediately. That probably says a fair bit about me!

Let creativity spill out - image via Pixabay

Let the creative process flow! Image via Pixabay

Hunter's Chase book cover

Val’s latest crime novel. Image supplied by Val Penny.

The fantastic world of books must include non-fiction too - image via Pixabay

The wonderful world of writing should include non-fiction, which benefits from creative techniques too. Image via Pixabay.

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What writing triggers will help you create your new worlds? Image via Pixabay

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What do you find most difficult to do – start a story or finish it?

For me, it’s finding the right starting point. Once I’ve got that, I’m up and running, I know I will generally end a story on a “punch” ending (and often a twist in the tale at that). As the story progresses I can sense myself getting to that bit, so finishing a tale is usually okay. I’m the same with blog posts. Get me started and I’m away!

I try to start anything I write with a “hit the ground running” approach. I often will go straight into the main character’s head so “they” can show a potential reader what state/mood they’re in, what crisis they’re facing etc. I find that really useful.

Other opening lines can include a brief indication as to the setting, but I keep that as short as I can. Later, if I need to go back and fill in more details, I do but I am wary of too much description. In flash fiction, there’s no room for it anyway!

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I created a poll a few days ago about whether an intriguing start or a twist ending was the best for a story. Please do vote if you haven’t already. I’ll discuss results in a few days’ time.

Have submitted my follow-up book to From Light and Dark and Back Again. Really glad to have that done. Would like to focus on my third book and getting more stories out there. Would like to do something with my non-fiction articles too at some point. Always good to have plenty to be getting on with!

Only wish? As ever, that I had more time. Now, this is where I could do with arranging for one of my fairy godmothers to become real and grant all writers three wishes. What would those wishes be?

1. Whatever time you need to write with NO interruptions or disruptions.

2. You will never suffer a dodgy internet connection again.

3. You will also be given as much time as you want to read whenever you want again with NO interruptions or disruptions.

Sounds good to me!

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What do you think is the most important part of a story, whether it is standard length or flash fiction?

I’ll leave this poll up for a few days and report back later in the week. I’ll give my view as part of that.

An intriguing start
A twist ending
This poll ends in 2 days

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog

I’ve loved short stories for years. Flash fiction has been a fairly recent innovation and I quickly became addicted to both reading and writing it.

As you can imagine, I was thrilled to be published for the first time last year with Chapeltown Books for a flash fiction collection (From Light to Dark and Back Again).

Now I have nothing against the novel. You can’t beat the novel for a satisfying, longer story when all is said and done.

But sometimes you just want a glimpse into a character’s life (rather than have the whole “spiel”) and this is where short stories, and especially flash fiction, come into their own.

They really do pack a punch when you consider their limited word count. (Even the longer short story is still short when compared to your average novel).

I love to write my stories knowing they will have an impact, whether it is to hopefully make readers laugh or, if the tales are darker, to make them shudder!

The big problem with a novel is keeping impact going without it seeming artificial and ensuring the final impact happens at the right moment. It is possible to write a final scene for a book and then decide you’ve just got to add this, or that, and thaen the final impact is diluted.

You can’t really do that with short stories (and you certainly can’t for flash). You have the big, final moment and that’s it. But to me that is a huge advantage as a writer. I know when to stop then!

The images below were taken at the Bridge House celebration event last December.  We all know the value of stories!

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Crime Fiction and Writing Triggers

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My latest Chandler’s Ford Today post is Part 1 of a great interview with crime writer, Val Penny. Her new book, Hunter’s Chase, is now out in paperback and ebook and is the first of her Edinburgh Crime Series. We discuss what drove Val to crime (!) and why she thinks crime fiction is so popular. She also shares some top tips for writers. Part 2 next week.

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I have a very soft spot for stories told from alternative viewpoints, especially fairy tales. My first published story was A Helping Hand in Bridge House Publishing’s Alternative Renditions anthology (many moons ago now) and tells the Cinderella tale from the viewpoint of the youngest stepsister.

In From Light to Dark and Back Again, I take Goldilocks’ viewpoint as my angle in the tale, Health and Safety, (though between you and me, I still think she comes across as the kind of character you wouldn’t want to take into a posh giftware shop given the chaos she caused with one chair and one bed in the Three Bears’ house!).

One great thing about using alternative viewpoints like this is you can explore why that character has behaved the way they have. You can explore their justifications for their actions. The great thing is they don’t have to be right! (It can be even more fun when they’re not but they really think they are. You really get to know what they are made of exploring this kind of avenue).

Fairytales with Bite – Writing Triggers

I mention this topic as part of my interview with crime writer, Val Penny, on Chandler’s Ford Today this week looked at what triggered her wish to write.  It is one of those questions I often ask writers I interview and the results are always fascinating.

Also, it is interesting to note that, while there can be similarities, I believe most writers have triggers to begin writing that are unique to them.  Mine were turning 30 and having given birth to my son, two major life changes that made me face up to the fact if I wanted to be a writer, I had better get on and write then!

I also love writing triggers in the form of opening lines, photos, closing lines etc that encourage you to write something around them.  They can make you really work your imagination.  The theme for competitions can also act as good triggers (and can be useful for writing practice even if you don’t enter the contest.  If you do and win it or are shortlisted, even better though!).

I find the ideal opening line writing trigger is one that can give you all kinds of possibilities to work with.  For example, I would find the line “He refused to cry again” a lot more interesting to work with than “The starship crashed into a crater”.  I could write stories on both and have fun doing so but the first one you could set in any time, any world come to that.  The second is an immediate sci-fi or fantasy story, which is fine, but you are getting your genre and setting in one go here.  (That can be useful when I want triggers for my flash fiction though and that is when I will want a line that does a lot of work for me!).

Let creativity spill out - image via Pixabay

Let the creative process flow! Image via Pixabay

The fantastic world of books must include non-fiction too - image via Pixabay

The wonderful world of writing should include non-fiction, which benefits from creative techniques too. Image via Pixabay.

Feature Image - Facts and Fiction - image via Pixabay

What writing triggers will help you create your new worlds? Image via Pixabay

The old fashioned notebook and pen still have major roles to play in interviewing - image via Pixabay

Can’t beat the notebook and pen for quick notes. Image via Pixabay,

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Some of the books I’ve appeared in and FLTDBA of course. Image by Allison Symes

This World and Others – Popular Fiction – Do You Just Write What You Know Will Sell?

The short answer is “no”!  This topic came about thanks to this week’s Chandler’s Ford Today post.  This is Part 1 of my interview with crime writer, Val Penny, and one thing we discussed was why crime fiction is so popular and what drove her to crime (!).

I think crime and horror are probably the two most popular genres in fiction.  There can be crossover and within each genre there is a wide range of sub-categories.  But does this mean you should just write to these two genres, say, because you know there is a proven market for them?  Absolutely not!

You have got to believe in what you write.  You have got to love what you write (at least most of the time!  I appreciate when you’ve been through the sixth rewrite, you may feel a tad tired about the whole thing!  We all do!).

You have got to love your characters, and love those you love to hate. I also believe that if you don’t write what is your “driving fictional instinct”, what you do come out with will be just a poor imitation of the markets you are trying go get into and that will show.  Whereas if you love what you write, that will also show.  It is where your writing voice will come through loud and clear.  Good luck!

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My Goodreads blog post this time is an expanded version of my Facebook post for From Light to Dark and Back Again.

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog

I have a very soft spot for stories told from alternative viewpoints, especially fairy tales. My first published story was A Helping Hand in Bridge House Publishing’s Alternative Renditions anthology (many moons ago now) and tells the Cinderella tale from the viewpoint of the youngest stepsister. It was great fun to write and, due it being the first thing I’d written that was accepted for publication (thank you, Bridge House!), it will always have a special place in my heart.

In my flash fiction collection, From Light to Dark and Back Again, I take Goldilocks’ viewpoint as my angle in the tale, Health and Safety, (though between you and me, I still think she comes across as the kind of character you wouldn’t want to take into a posh giftware shop given the chaos she caused with one chair and one bed in the Three Bears’ house!).

One great thing about using alternative viewpoints like this is you can explore why that character has behaved the way they have. You can explore their justifications for their actions.

The great thing is they don’t have to be right! (It can be even more fun when they’re not but they really think they are. You really get to know what they are made of exploring this kind of avenue).

You can also prove the truth of the old saying “there are two sides to every story” by exploring what the other characters think! They just have to be strong enough to carry their own story.