Christmas and Stories

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

A night early due to having lovely family commitments to look forward to tomorrow and Saturday! I take a look back at my highlights of 2018 which includes everything from a wonderful wildlflower meadow to my writing high points. I hope you had a lovely Christmas and wish you all the best for 2019!

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Watched The Muppets Christmas Carol. Fab film. I love the “Marley and Marley” sequence (it’s only in the last year or so I got the gag about Jacob and ROBERT Marley – yes?! Reggae fans catered for here!) and Gonzo recommending reading the book itself at the end of the film. Don’t ask why I didn’t get the gag before. Couldn’t believe I hadn’t spotted it before but there you go.

Also watched the film version of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather a few days ago. Loved that too. Thought Michelle Dockery was a superb Susan. Next thing to watch will be the Patrick Stewart version of Dickens’ classic and at some point over the festivities I will try and rewatch The Ladykillers with Alec Guinness. I catch up with old favourites on film as well as in book form at this time of year!

What makes for a good adaptation? It should stick reasonably faithfully to the book. (I say reasonably as I accept some things would have to be cut). It’s more important to stick to the spirit of the book, I think. Whoever is cast should be utterly believable in the role. Michael Caine is as Scrooge with the Muppets. Reminds me of the classic Eric and Ernie “Andrew Preview” sketch – it had to be played seriously by all parties for the humour to work – and yes I’ll be watching that again too. All time favourite comic sketch for me.

Whatever you watch, listen to, or read this Christmas, have a wonderful time doing it!!

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Just after Christmas, I do an annual “stock take” of where I am writing wise, what I’ve achieved this year, and what I’d like to achieve during the next 12 months. Naturally, the latter list is always longer than the first one! But I find it helpful to look back and make myself take some time out to think about specific writing hopes and then get on and try and fulfil them, of course.

Just about ready for Christmas now. Had a lovely Carols by Candlelight service tonight. Some lovely poems in amongst the singing fest and Nativity readings.

Another aspect to the season is that having a dog in the house means there is no such thing as leftover turkey ever again! Lady loved her first Christmas with us last year, she has left the trees alone (much to our relief! Our vets have a tree in their surgery which looks lovely but I do wonder about this. It’s a matter of time before the lights on it fuse because every dog that goes in HAS to go over and at best sniff it and… well you get the picture).

Am winding down on writing for the next few days but will relish it the more when I do get back into my usual routine.

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I’m not surprised the Christmas cracker joke writers prefer to remain anonymous. For example, these were taken from our recent informal carols night.

Why did the scarecrow get a payrise?  Because he was outstanding in his field.

What do you get if you cross a vampire with a snowman?  Frostbite

How many letters are there in the alphabet at Christmas time?
25 – there is No L at this time of year.

Is there such a thing as a bad pun? Of course. Still make me groan and smile in equal measure though. And to finish for a few days break I leave you with:

There was once a cracker joke writer
Whose puns made people curse the blighter
So when his pen was taken
He felt forlorn, forsaken
But the world felt much brighter!

Allison Symes – 24th December 2018

Merry Christmas! Back in a few days…

Hope you had a lovely Christmas and that you received all the books you wanted to have as presents. Well, you did ask for some, yes? Am pleased to report my To Be Read pile has gone up again – no surprises there!

Won’t be back completely to my usual writing routine until Sunday as will have having a lovely time with family tomorrow and Saturday. Glad to grab chance to write now though!

I enjoyed the break away from the PC but must admit am raring to go again properly from Sunday. It is great to be eagerly looking forward to writing again though. It is a good feeling.

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Do you like your own characters? I think like many writers, I love some of them, loathe others, and the rest I definitely wouldn’t want to meet in an alley in broad daylight, yet alone at any other time. Good thing? Yes, it means I’ve created characters I believe in and react to – so readers should believe in and react to them too. In many ways, the first person you’ve got to convince about the veracity/worthiness of your story IS YOU!

This is why it pays to put work aside for a while after first writing it because I’ve found there are two reactions to a piece you’ve just finished. You either think it is a work of genius (the Move Over Shakespeare school of thought) or, even more likely, it is total rubbish (the Why Did I Think I Could Write school of thought).

Neither is true! What you will have written is something that has promise but needs a decent edit (and ideally more than one) before the work gets submitted anywhere. I’ve also found coming back to a piece after a break means I will look at it with fresh eyes. You do spot the mistakes better. You also spot the things that work (which cheers you up a lot!). So literally give yourself time here.

AN UNEXPECTED STOP
‘You do know at what speed you were travelling, sir?’
‘Er… no… officer, I’m afraid I was concentrating on getting to my next destination. I have to cover everyone on my list, you see, and I don’t have much time. Was it important?’
‘I’ll say so, sir. You will cause chaos flying at that speed. If everyone did that there’d be accidents galore.’
‘But, officer, it’s Christmas Eve, I’m Santa Claus, there’s nobody up here except us and I’d love to know how YOU got here.’

Allison Symes – 23rd December

Hope you enjoy. This was inspired by a Pixabay picture I recently used where Santa is on the ground but his sleigh is parked in the sky with reindeer on standby! See below!

There's a story here not least in how Santa got down from his sleigh, see where he has parked it - Pixabay

HOW did Santa get down from his sleigh? Look at where he’s parked it! Pixabay image.

Flash fiction lives up to its name both in its brevity and the way it illuminates one moment in time for a character. It is like shining a spotlight on one particular aspect and there should be a sense of the resulting intensity coming from that. There should also be a sense that the story is the correct length and would be spoiled somehow if a word was taken away or added to. Tough order but writing flash will improve your editing skills.

UP TO SCRATCH
‘Have I passed the MOT then, young man?’ The elderly gent peered at the guy, who could easily have been his grandson. ‘Can I resume my duties now?’
‘Oh yes, Grand…er… sir. And you are getting the correct CPM out of your chosen fuel source too.’
‘CPM?’
‘Carrots Per Mile, sir. You must be feeding your reindeer well.’
The elderly gent smiled. ‘Quality will tell, it always does. I don’t suppose there is anything you can do about the lead one’s red nose is there? I swear it stands out even in the thickest fog and I know Rudolph is embarrassed by it.’
‘Sorry, sir, you will have to go back to the manufacturer on that one.’
The elderly gent sighed. ‘That will have to wait. I’ve got places to go, people to see, and the big boss will want me to get that done first.’
And with that Santa and his reindeer took off as Christmas Eve broke. It would be a busy night.

ENDS

Allison Symes – 24th December 2018

Merry Christmas! Back in a few days…

Hope you had a great Christmas and got to enjoy lots of stories, whether in book, audio, or film formats! I was given 365 Stories which is a wonderful book where for each day of the year there is one story at 365 words exactly. I have already demolished January!! (There is no way I am reading ONE story per day. It’s like trying to stop yourself taking a second Quality Street. You’ve got to have a backbone of steel for that and, frankly, I haven’t!).

And yes flash is great for this time of year. Too busy with all the festivities? Too tired to read much afterwards? Then just dip into a flash fiction collection and enjoy. A brief dip into the world of fiction is particularly refreshing when you know you haven’t time for a “full immersion” (i.e. a novel!).

Goodreads Author Blog – Merry Christmas!

Hope you have a wonderful time at Christmas and all the best for 2019. I hope you have many fantastic book-related presents under the tree this year. One of my favourite times of Christmas Day is that lovely period when I curl up on the sofa and start “tucking into” my festive reading material!

Have recently enjoyed film versions of some of my favourite stories. Don’t think you can beat the Muppets’ Christmas Carol. What’s not to like about Gonzo recommending reading the book itself right at the end of the film?! I’m not surprised A Christmas Carol has never been out of print since it was first published and it must be Dickens’ biggest earner even now.

Have also watched the film version of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather. These are two must sees in the countdown to Christmas.

Aim for next year is to try to read more (and to review more too). There’s a lot on my Kindle I haven’t updated as finished here! (Bet I’m not the only Goodreads fan guilty of that though).

So whether you take in your stories in book form, audio format, film or what have you, enjoy. And here’s to looking forward to more reading in 2019.

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Fairytales with Bite – Tis The Season for Fairytales?

I love fairytales no matter what the time of year is, but the Christmas season I think makes those who don’t usually read the genre more open to it.  I think a lot of this is due to the influence of pantomime (at least in the UK it is.  Several of the best known pantomimes are fairytale based – The Babes in the Woods, Aladdin, Cinderella, Puss in Boots etc).

Also it is the perfect time of year in the UK when it is cold and gets dark early to curl up with favourite stories and books and again fairytales play a huge role here.

The one thing I wish I could wish away is the image of fairytales being twee.  They are  NOT.  Just look at what Hans Christen Andersen wrote!  Also I’d like to get rid of the “it’s just a fairytale” statement that people come up with sometimes.  There’s nothing “just” about being a fairytale.

Fairytales contain truths, show up humanity for what it can be like, and can be scathing about greed and unkindness.  Justice can be on the rough side too!  So no unfair dismissal of fairytales then?  I think that’s a good wish for 2019!

Happy New Year!

This World and Others Christmas Stories

Due to (lovely) family commitments, this post is going up a day early.  Christmas Stories ties in with a recent CFT post though naturally this week’s one, as we rapidly approach 2019, is my usual end of year/highlights of year post.

What are your favourite Christmas stories?  Mine are:-

1.  The Nativity
2.  A Christmas Carol
3.  Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
4.  Twas the Night before Christmas – it IS a story, albeit one told in poetic form!

I hope you had lots of lovely books as presents and whether you enjoy stories in book form, audio, or as film, I hope you managed to find time to relish your favourites again here.

Of course the dark and cold (at least in the UK!) encourages you to stay in and curl up with a good book, though I could be living in sunnier climes and still want to curl up with said good book!

The great thing about reading is it encourages your own writing (ideas spark from other ideas) and you learn so much about story by indulging in your love of reading them.  So read on!

 

 

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Christmas Stories

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My last CFT post before Christmas is all about Christmas stories. I look at the Nativity, Hogfather, and A Christmas Carol amongst others. I also discuss the role of books and stories. I hope you find many a book related present under your Christmas tree this year!

Also in the post are links to some of my Christmas related Cafelit stories. Hope you enjoy.

And however you celebrate the festivities, I do hope you have a lovely Christmas.

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My last CFT post before Christmas looks at Christmas stories appropriately enough. I look at some of my favourites, share a few of my Cafelit pieces with a Christmas theme, and look at why we need stories. Link up tomorrow.

Hope there are plenty of books on your Christmas wish list and that you get them!

Very pleased to say my first non-fiction piece was published in Christian Writer today. It is a 500-word piece about the telling details which help bring stories to life (though there is no reason why this can’t apply to articles as well).

What is lovely about writing is the joy of being published never diminishes. Yes, the first time you hear someone else loves your work enough to print it or put it online is very special but so are the others that follow! It also encourages you to keep going.

Am working away on my novel plus what I plan to be my third flash fiction collection in due course. Would like to write more non-fiction too. Now if only there was a way to stretch time… Still there is no chance whatsoever of boredeom setting in and that has to be a good thing.

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Flash fiction is the ideal vehicle for capturing those story thoughts that are illuminating in themselves but would not stretch to a standard length short story. I find this makes the focus sharper and sometimes for a tale that’s what you need. Short, sharp focus and then that’s it.

Flash fiction is also a great vehicle for showing the thoughts and actions of a character in detail. You are focusing on this one character alone. What drives them? What are they hoping to achieve? What do their thoughts and actions reveal about them? (The great thing here is the character does NOT have to be aware that they are showing themselves up as, say, greedy, when they think they’re not).

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What is the important thing about any story? Figuring out what makes it work as a story and that is usually down to outstanding characterisation.

So how can you make characters count especially when you’ve got a limited word count as you have with flash fiction?

1. Show the character’s attitude. This can be done in thoughts, actions, or direct speech. Attitude reveals a lot about a character. A character that is sarcastic will show that in what they say without you needing to spell it out. In the case of actions, if we see a character setting something out “just so”, you can imply this character is fussy (and I’d want to know the reasons behind that). A character that moves a doily half a centimetre to the left is going to be far more fussy than someone who slaps said doily down on the arm of a chair!

2. Show how others react to the character. This can be very revealing. Do they all react in the same way or is there an awkward one who treats the lead character differently to everyone else? What are the reasons behind that? Is the awkward one justified in their stance?

3. Focus on the MOST important aspect of your character as that will determine how your story will go. If your character is stubborn, show how that plays out and the consequences (there will be some!).

Names are important of course and the more often they are used in a story, the more important the character is (even if they never appear in the tale itself).

My They Don’t Understand has my narrator refer to his wife, Joan, throughout. That will give some indication in itself of how important she is to him as well as what he actually tells you as the tale goes on. He only names his carer the once!

So how can you make names work for you in a story? Well, the name itself can give a good indication of the age of the person. How many people are called Gertrude these days? If the name can be abbreviated, IS it or does your character insist on the name being used in full? Equally are they known by one name in one situation and by something else in another? (Good potential for double life stories there).

Fairytales With Bite – Stories, Lovely Stories!

My Chandler’s Ford Today post talks about Christmas Stories (and I share some links to some of mine on this too).    One of the great things about this time of year, when the nights draw in so early, is that it is a fantastic time for reading more!

One of my highlights at Christmas is at the end of Christmas Day itself when I’ve put my feet up on the sofa and I’m curled up with a book given to me as a present.  It is very easy to please the writer in your life by the way – just ask them what books they’d like and Christmas present shopping problems are resolved!

So what stories do you hope to enjoy over the Christmas period?  I like a mix of fiction and non-fiction books plus, of course, there is the chance to enjoy stories as films.  (Watched The Muppet Christmas Carol earlier tonight, which is one of my favourites).

As for writing stories, I tend to take a short break over Christmas and then resume but I come back eager to write again and find the respite incredibly useful for recharging the imaginative batteries.

However you spend Christmas, do have a lovely time, and I hope you get to enjoy stories old and new!

This World and Others – What Defines a Good Story

What defines a good story for you?  What I look for in a good story includes:-

1.  Strong, memorable characters.
2.  An intriguing plot.
3.  The story makes me laugh, or think, or react in some way.  (That’s how you know a story has had impact).
4.  An ending that delivers on the promise of the opening lines.
5.  Where there is a twist ending, for this to genuinely take me by surprise.  I like to look back at a story and then spot the clues I missed first time around! (The great thing about doing that is you can learn so much from doing this and, of course, apply it to your own writing).
6.  It is a story you are keen to read again and again and again. A Christmas Carol is a classic example of this for me.
7.  It is a story you remember well.  This doesn’t stop you wanting to read it again because you will not recall all the details but you DO recall the pleasure this tale gave you and THAT is what you want to experience again.
8.  You can easily envisage the story being a film.  (This is a great test of how memorable the characters are and how strong the plot is).
9.  It is a story that adds something to the language.  Shakespeare takes top honours here.
10.  It is a story that defines its genre or expands it.  I’m thinking of Hans Christen Andersen here who added so many wonderful fairytales to that genre.

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Christmas

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.  My next post would usually be due on Tuesday but, surprise, surprise, not next week!  I will resume here on Friday, 28th December.  See you then!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Wish List, Why Write Flash Fiction, and Special Offers

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If you could make a writing related list for Santa, what would be on it? I’d ask for:-

1. The ability to stretch time so I can get all the writing I’d like to do in and done! Naturally I would not feel any side effects from this.

2. The ability to spot ALL typos etc before submitting work anywhere ALL the time. (If it is any comfort, most writers spot errors in work later on. We just don’t admit to it! We do feel annoyed at ourselves over them though – very much the “why didn’t I spot that one?” school of thought.

3. To never run out of pens, notebooks, ink cartridges, paper etc and also to arrange for the printer toner NOT to run out half way through a print run ever again. (You do get sick of this happening when it occurs more than once. Trust me on this).

4. To never miss a writing competition that might suit you ever again. (It is difficult to keep on top of them all so help from Santa here would be useful).

5. To never run out of inspiration and ideas and to always follow them through thoroughly.

6. Extra stamina would also come in handy. You need it when the umpteenth rejection comes in during the week.

7. More reviews of my book!

8. For the charlatans in the publishing industry to disappear from it for good so nobody is ever taken in by false promises again. Meanwhile, do check out the Society of Authors and/or ALLI, the Alliance of Independent Authors websites for sound advice on what to look for in publishing contracts, self publishing services etc.

9. To never run out of bookmarks. When I don’t need them I seem to have loads. When I do, can I find any? What do you think?

10. For more independent book shops and for them to thrive and do well.

I’m not putting these in any order of importance though 10 should be very high up on any list to Santa, I think.

Am glad to share, via the link, details of some special offers on Chapeltown Books’ flash fiction collections, including From Light to Dark and Back Again by yours truly.

The offers are open until the end of the week. There are currently 8 books in the Chapeltown series and there is an offer on for all of those. Equally you can buy three or four of them and still have a special offer! This offer is on until 21st December.

Some last minute Christmas present ideas, everyone?

Hope that whatever else is amongst your presents this Christmas, some good books are amongst them!

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The YouTube below shows the books produced by Cafelit/Chapeltown/Bridge House during the year. A lovely selection.

I was in the To Be…To Become ebook produced by Bridge House. This contains the 16 winning entries to the Waterloo Arts Festival’s first writing competition. I hope they go on to have others!

What can be confirmed is there is a lovely variety of books and stories to suit all tastes here.

When do you know a story is really special? When you can’t forget the characters.

For me, story has always been about finding out what happens to the characters. I don’t necessarily need to like them (though most of the time I do) but I do need to be intrigued enough to find out what happens to them. So then there has to be something about the characters I can either identify with or which hits my “curiosity switch” and keeps that pressed down so I have to keep reading!

A good plot can be let down by characters that aren’t strong enough for it (and this means the writer hasn’t got to know his people well enough before writing about them). Great characters will lift any story they’re in. Great characters will generate plot. Imagine the chaos a devious character can cause when they set out to cause mischief deliberately. All sorts of stories can come from that, humorous and otherwise, but the character has to be well portrayed for that to work.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Time for some micro Christmas stories then:-

1. The innkeeper smiled, having seen his guests to the last available room. Nobody else would be disturbing his sleep tonight then.

2. Scrooge grimaced as he walked home, having heard some youngster tell a snippet of a ghost story. Ghosts! Whatever next?

3. In the bleak midwinter, they could have done with a snow plough.4. Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer found that telling everyone he was suffering from a nasty cold stopped the awkward jokes about what he was adding to his water trough to generate said red nose.

5. Frosty the Snowman was the first to admit he really could not appreciate the benefits of central heating.

Allison Symes – 15th December 2018

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Never worry about overwriting a story. That overwriting can and should be cut later. Usually this is a case of sharpening up phrases etc. I like the creative aspect of that side of editing where you are happy with your characters and story but know you can express things better than you have done with your first draft.

For me, it is far more of a problem when, on odd occasions, my story is too short. Not a problem for my flash fiction but it can be for standard length short stories (usually 1500 words or so). This always means one thing in my book, pun intended (!), and that is my idea simply wasn’t strong enough. I needed to do far more outlining to see where the idea could take me before I committed to writing it and that process would have shown up inherent weaknesses in it.

So do outline. It can save you a lot of grief later.

Reasons to write flash fiction:-

1. You learn how to edit well.

2. You learn to be ruthless when cutting out anything that is not moving the story forward.

3. You really do watch your word count. (This pays off for other forms of writing competitions too).

4. Given flash fiction markets and competitions have different requirements (for example some include the title as part of the word count, others specificially do not), you learn to make sure you ARE following the right rules for the competitions you’re interested in.

5. It is a great way to get work out there while you are working on a longer project.

6. There ARE more competitions and markets out there now so there should be at least one to suit your style of writing.

7. You have to write character driven stories but there’s nothing to stop you setting that character in any time, genre, or setting of your choosing. You are definitely NOT stuck to one genre here.

8. Flash fiction can make a great warm up writing exercise ahead of a longer project. The great thing is you can now do something with what your produce from those writing exercises!

9. You learn to write precisely because you are looking for the maximum impact on your readers for the minimum word count . This is a fantastic discipline which can be transferred across to other forms of writing you enjoy.

10. It’s fun! I’ve loved the challenge of writing to 100 words, to 75, to 50 etc. Flash fiction can be addictive!

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F = Fantastic Fiction
L = Lines that Hit Home
A = Amazing Characters
S = Stories with Impact
H = Humour and sometimes with a twist too.

F = Fairytales with Bite
I = Imagination is fired up!
C = Can cross genres
T = The word count is the main thing to watch
I = Insist on ruthless editing to cut all that is unnecessary
O = On the look out for markets and competitions
N = Never underestimate the time taken to craft your tales!

Allison Symes – 18th December 2018

Goodreads Author Programme Blog – Christmas Wish List

Naturally I’m assuming books are high up on your Christmas wish list. I would like to add to that though the following:-

1. More time to read!

2. More time to re-read old favourites. Does anyone else feel a pang of guilt sometimes when you really want to go back to a novel you’ve read a few times when you know there are so many other books you really should be getting on with and reading? That you actually want to read but the “clarion call” of the old favourite just can’t be resisted.

3. Being able to read “children’s” books without feeling guilty or embarrassed. Incidentally I understand the point of more grown up covers for certain books to get around this issue but for me this doesn’t really work. I like the original covers far better in the majority of cases and want to stick with those!

4. That all adaptations of stories and books do justice to their source materials. Too many don’t!

5. That I can always find a bookmark when I want one. (I either have LOADS when I don’t need them or none at all. Don’t ask… it is the way it is!).

Hope you have a book and story filled Christmas. The joy of the winter months is WANTING to stay indoors and curl up with a good book!

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Celebrations, Reading Work Out, and Framing Stories

A nice mixed bag tonight I think!

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My CFT post this week is the review of the recent Bridge House event, Celebrations, Crackers, Chapeltown, and Cafelit, though I’m quite pleased I managed to come up with an alliterative title! I also look at how reading work out is useful to writers, as is listening to others reading their work out. For one thing, you literally hear a story’s rhythm and can apply that to your own stories.

Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for kind permission to use some of the images in this piece. I’ve yet to find a way of reading work out and taking my own pictures of me doing this at the same time! (Oh and before you ask, I am really not keen on selfies!).

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My CFT post this week will be a look back at the Bridge House celebration event held on 1st December. I’ll also share some thoughts on the benefits of reading work out loud and on being read to, both of which are lovely!

One of the nicest things about this time of year is that it is very much a time for stories, which is a theme I will be looking at for CFT before too long. Naturally, I love the Christian Nativity story but I also love those wonderful tales associated with it. For example, how did the robin get his red breast? By burning himself on a fire he was fanning to keep a fire going to keep the Holy Family warm.

I also like to have a general review of the year (and also a specific writing review. How did things go? Did I achieve all the goals I set myself? What goals would I like to set for 2019 etc?). So that’s my CFT posts sorted until the year end! Just have to finish writing them now…

One of the great joys of stories (both writing and reading them) is their escapism value, especially if the news is particularly grim. That shouldn’t be underrated.

Whether you read or write humour, horror, sci-fi, or what have you, a story, of whatever length, should transport you into its world. You should be happy to stay there for the duration too! That, ultimately, I think is the biggest challenge to a writer. But it’s a great challenge to have a crack at!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I like to choose themes which can be open ended. Love, for example, can obviously provide happy stories. It can also provide tragedies, something Shakespeare took good advantage of in Romeo and Juliet.

I’ve found that picking the theme I would like to use and then deciding on the mood of the story is so helpful in giving me a “frame” for my story. Then the title comes into play and again I try to choose one which is open, unless I specifically want to put a twist into the tale right at the beginning (my Punish the Innocent is a good example of that).

I find it useful to have my “frame” and then write. It helps me focus.

When drafting a story, what is the first thing you are keen to get right?

For me, it’s ensuring I know my character well enough to know how they would react/act regardless of what situation I drop them right in! (Dropping your characters right in it can be a great way of finding out just what they’re made of). I also like to know what would shake my character out of their sang-froid and what their general beliefs are. Naturally, there should then be something to challenge all of that!

I like to use things that inspire me as a source of story ideas. The great thing with this method is what inspires me and how I combine these to create a new tale will help my writer’s voice to come through. Nobody’s tastes and inspirations are exactly the same. The way these are combined will also differ from writer to writer. So list what your inspirations are. Think about how you can use these. At the very least, you should find some great themes emerging. Good luck!

Fairytales With Bite – Why Fairytales with Bite?

It occurs to me I should have written this post long ago but never mind!

I use the phrase “fairytales with bite” as a lot of my flash fiction work, in particular, is set in a fantasy world and I use a lot of irony. There really is a bite to a lot of what I write. I like quirky writing – my own and that of others! I also use twist endings a lot and there can be a great deal of bite behind those. I am, after all, looking to make an impact with my stories.

My catchphrase is also a reaction against those who think fairytales are twee. I know I’ve touched on this topic before, here and on other blogs I’m involved in, but fairytales can show up human nature for what it is and are anything but twee as a result. Think of all the tales where kindness is rewarded and/or greed is punished. What happens to the villains in lot of fairytales is anything but twee!

Of course, with the Big Bad Wolf, you could argue the fairytale with bite is literal here!

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This World and Others – Reading Work Out Loud

This theme ties in with some thoughts I share on this as part of my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week called Celebrations, Crackers, Chapeltown, and Cafelit.  The latter is a look back at my publisher’s annual celebration event but one part of this is where some of the writers, including me, read some of our stories out to our audience.  Good fun whether you’re taking part or not, but for a writer it’s incredibly useful and here are some reasons why.

1.  You quickly realise if you stumble over words, so will your readers, so out comes the editing pen again.  Always better though that this happens before you submit the story anywhere.  By reading the work out to yourself before submission, this acts as another editing layer and can save your blushes!

2.  You literally hear the rhythm of the story.  There should be a natural ebb and flow to it.

3.  Especially if you write in a genre where you’re inventing names/place names etc, you can literally hear if what you’ve come up with is pronounceable!!  So no more Xxxrbtrzog (try saying that sober yet alone if you have had alcohol!) but something like Xerstone is “do-able” and still conveys to a reader they are in a setting NOT of this world.

4.  As you listen to someone else’s work, take note of what makes a real impact on you.  Is it the power of the dialogue?  Is the sentence structure hitting home well?  I usually find short, simple, and to the point works best.

5.  As you listen, watch out for where you are anticipating what comes next.  What MAKES you wonder what comes next?  Can you apply those thoughts to your own writing?

6.  We all love a story, it’s why we’re writers, and the oral tradition of storytelling is fantastic.  Without it we would have no stories at all so it is a joy to take part in and kind of “support it” ourselves.

Love your reading!

 

 

 

Time To Read and Heroes and Villains

Image Credit:  Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for taking the picture of me reading at the recent Bridge House event and for kind permission to use it.

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My To Be Read pile is increasing again! Do you find you have moods where you just want to read books and, at other times, you just want to read magazines? I do. I used to ride an exercise bike and read while on that but frankly it is a very boring form of exercise. I prefer to walk the dog and swim, both of which exclude reading!

Am planning to have Christmas reading time as a treat to me. I do read something each day but I’d like solid periods of reading time. I don’t want it to be a choice between writing time and reading time. I want both! Thoughts on how to get a good balance here would be welcome.

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I looked at finding time to read in my latest Goodreads blog the other day. It is just as important as finding time to write given we have to feed our own imaginations and by far the best way of doing that is to read widely ourselves. It also supports the industry we want to be part of!

So whether you borrow from the library (always a fab idea, that!), buy books, stick to reading on the Kindle, the important thing is to read, read, and read. A tip often passed on to new writers is to write what you want to read. How can you know what that is unless you read widely and discover what that is? (Sometimes you can discover what you don’t want to write as well!).

Naturally I’m going to put in a plug for the small indie presses such as Bridge House Publishing and Chapeltown Books since this is very much book buying season.

Can I also put a shout out for reviews for books you’ve read? Reviews don’t have to be long – one or two lines is enough. People do read them. (I always read product reviews whether it is on my online shopping or what have you!).

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Which night of the week, if any, do you find it the hardest to write anything? For me, it is always a Monday. Yes, I write, but I write more on every other day of the week! Maybe I need a “slow day” to make me get a move on for the rest of the week. Maybe it’s just a Monday thing…

The good thing is I’ve learned over time not to worry about this. The important thing is I am writing and loving it. I’ve learned to focus on that. I am also convinced a writer’s love of writing will show through in what they actually produce.

And the “little” bits of writing mount up over time so I’ve learned never to underestimate only having small pockets of time to write in at times (whether it is due to it being a Monday or not!).

It is often said you can tell much about a person by how they treat others who can do nothing for them. This is true but it should also be true for your characters. How do they react to those they would consider weak? (Incidentally, are they right on that or are THEY themselves the weak ones but just don’t know it?).

In the setting of your story, what are the rules? Are older people treated with respect (perhaps even venerated) or are they considered of little worth and belittled? Does your character go along with what is the status quo here or do they rebel against it? If they rebel, what are the consequences? Are they the catalyst for positive change here?

Plenty of food for thought and story ideas there, I hope!

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Great article on flash fiction in Writing Magazine. It is good to see the form get more publicity. I still find the question I’m asked most frequently is just what is flash fiction? While technically it is any story under 1000 words, I must admit I prefer flash to be 500 or under, though From Light to Dark and Back Again contains a good mix from across the word count spectrum here.

Also good to see more competitions for flash and having it added as a category to festival competitions. Sure signs flash is in a very healthy state and long may that continue!

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Whether I read novels, short stories, plays etc, I nearly always find a few stand out moments that stay with me long after I’ve finishing reading. I suppose that looking out for specific moments in fiction that stand out might have subconciously drawn me to flash fiction given you have to make an impact quickly there.

Some of my favourite stand out moments include:-

Frodo offering to take the Ring to Mordor. You know everything changes from that point.

The fairy godmother turning up at Cinderella’s. Again you know everything will change then.

The Little Mermaid realising the Prince is not going to fall for her. Just such powerful stuff, given all she has gone through and you must read the original Hans Christen Andersen story to get the full impact of that.

Inspector Alan Grant in The Daughter of Time discovering the picture he has been given is that of Richard III and wondering what mystery he will find in the king’s story. You just know he’ll find something otherwise there is no story here. Again a major change point.

 

Sometimes selecting the right “moment in time” to be your flash fiction story can be tricky. My guiding rule is to go for whichever of the choices I have which makes the most impact on an impartial reader.

Incidentally I don’t “tug on the heartstrings” here. Any impact has to arise naturally out of the situation I’ve put my characters in and therefore any reaction is genuine. No matter how fantastical your setting, you have to keep it real!

And there must be something about your character that fascinates your reader in some way. It will be that which makes them read on.

What is the appeal of a well written villain? They’ve got to have good reasons for being as they are (and even elicit some sympathy from the readers for them). They’ve got to challenge the hero/heroine and make them work for their achievements. Hey, nothing worthwhile ever comes easy, does it? The villain should be reasonably likeable (it gives the reader the lovely dilemma of knowing they really shouldn’t want the villain to win BUT secretly they wouldn’t mind THAT much).

What is the appeal of a well written hero/heroine? Funnily enough there are a lot of parallels with the well written villain. Your hero/heroine should also have good reasons for being as they are (and should elicit FAR MORE sympathy from the readers for them). They should challenge, and ultimately defeat, the villain, no matter what is thrown their way. They WILL work for their achievements. They’ve got to be reasonably likeable (though no character is without flaws) for any reader to engage with them. They shouldn’t be “goody two shoes” as that will just annoy most readers.

Goodreads Author Programme Blog –

Finding the Time to Read

Finding the time to read is one of the most important things any would-be writer should do. We need to read widely and well to feed our own imaginations, to work out how we would portray characters and so on.

Like, I suspect, the majority of people, I save my reading time for when I’m in bed, which works fine. It took me a while to figure out that if I do actually want to read, I need to go to bed before my system tells me it wants to get on and sleep, thank you very much! But now I’ve finally figured that out, I relish my quality reading time.

I am planning additional periods of Christmas reading time though. I want to block out times when I do nothing but read. The thought of that is bliss! After all I carve out times for creative writing and stick to those and lo and behold I get creative writing done! The same principle must apply to carving out reading time. I’ll give it a go anyway.

I do find I have moods where I just want to read books. Other times I just want to read magazines. But I think the best gift anyone can give a reader is the time in which to indulge their love of books!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crucial Characterisation and a Charity Cookbook

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My latest CFT post shares news of a very special cookbook written by Barbara Large MBE. Barbara was the founder of the Winchester Writers’ Festival (as it is now known) and her book is raising funds for the Nick Jonas Ward at the Royal County Hospital, Winchester.

Barbara shares her thoughts on the joys and challenges of writing this book, as does Anne Wan, who through imprint North Oak Press, published the book. There is also a delicious recipe to try!

 

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Shooting Star - Barbara and Anne 1

Barbara Large and Anne Wan at the launch of Anne’s book.  Image kindly supplied by Anne Wan

Anne Wan and Allison Symes at Bay Leaves Larder

Anne Wan and I enjoying a cup of tea as I interview her for Chandler’s Ford Today a while ago.  Image taken on Anne’s phone by the cafe staff!

When Writing Magazine comes in, I flick through and see if I know anyone who has written in to the letters page or the Members’ News section. I’m glad to say there usually is someone I know in either section in most editions!

Going to writing courses, conferences etc., is the best way I know of for networking with other writers and connections build up over time. Though a week at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School speeds that process up a LOT!

Talking of connections, how do your characters build up their relationships with other characters? What kind of networking exists in the world you’ve created? Often it is a case of showing Character A has this relationship (of whatever nature) with Character B but can you hint at how it all kicked off? Is there a solid basis to how your characters interact with each other? There should be…!

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My CFT post this week will share news of a charity cookbook called Scrumptious Recipes Shared with a Pampered Patient, written by Barbara Large, MBE, who founded the Winchester Writers’ Festival (formerly the Winchester Writing Conference). More details and the link on Friday.

I look forward to sharing thoughts on the recent Bridge House/Chapeltown/Cafelit celebrations the week after. As ever, can hardly believe how the year has raced by. Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for the pic of me reading some of my more recent stories from Cafelit and also from From Light to Dark and Back Again.

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Have fun mixing up the settings you use for your stories too. Some of mine are set in a magical or fantasy world but others are very much here on Earth.

My Time for Tea is set with the opening showing an old man arranging the tea things as he is expecting his adult children to visit. But this is no ordinary tea party.

And I guess that is the point of this post. The setting may be ordinary but it is what you do with it that will turn your story into something special.

A random word generator can be fun to play around with sometimes. Having a look at one tonight, and having set the first and last letters I wanted, my haul was “bloody”, “biography”, “biology”, and “beneficiary”. Hmm… definite possibilities there.

DANGEROUS WORDS
The biography of my long dead great-aunt whom I cared for, well it was well over a decade in the end, was a revelation, a bloody one at that. No wonder she didn’t want this coming out during her lifetime and I’m heartily wishing I hadn’t been sent this book. Someone wanted me to have it but who and why? And why send it now?

Frankly, I’m not sure what I want to do with this. The logical thing would be to burn the wretched book but how many copies were produced? How could I find out without revealing what I know? And whoever sent this to me is expecting some sort of reaction I guess. There’s nothing to stop them sending me other copies either is there? Have they gone to the police? Well let them… I’ve done nothing wrong except be a beneficiary to a sick old lady whose family abandoned her. Except I now know why they dumped her. Has one of them finally decided I ought to know? Or are they going to try to take my inheritance from me?

What did I find out? That my aunt knew quite a bit about biology as it turns out and where exactly to stick the knife. She wasn’t always crippled with arthritis! Said knife ended up right in the backs of anyone to whom she was a beneficiary. Collected quite a sum in the end – well over £500 K. People have been killed for less than that. What I can’t figure is how she got away with it. All I know is I’m keeping that money and I am getting out of here NOW.

Ends.

Allison Symes – 6th December 2018

See a random word generator as another way to conjure up ideas for you to play with. You don’t have to use all the words that come up – a lot will depend on how much of a challenge you feel up to tackling! But have fun with this and hopefully you’ll get some stories down as a result.

 

Ideas for flash fiction stories can come from many sources (and I’ve used advertising slogans, scenes from films, well known phrases, and sometimes puns – e.g. my Raising the Stakes. Yes it IS a vampire story but told from the viewpoint of…. well no spoilers here!).

Mix up your sources of ideas from time to time. Never use just one source. You want to have a nice wide “net” to scour for story ideas. Don’t forget pictures either. They can be a great starting point for a story. What could you do with the images below for instance?

Above all have fun with your writing. It does show through!