A good mix of topics for tonight I think!

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So a good interview then should encourage the interviewee to talk. What would be the equivalent for fiction writers? I think a character outline that helps you realise there is more to your creation than you first thought of! I love that moment when characters almost come to life before your eyes. You know then you definitely have someone worth writing about!

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Can’t remember the last time we had snow this late in the UK. Lady had a fantastic time in it again (though I also think she was trying to set some kind of record for how much of it she could (a) roll in and (b) eat! They say border collies are intelligent…ūüėĀ).

Am pleased that I’ve submitted a short story and a flash piece this weekend. Good to get the ball rolling with both formats (though I am busy drafting ideas for a third flash fiction collection and am enjoying that). Plenty coming up with CFT over the next few weeks too.

What do I like best about writing overall? Tough one to call but I think it is the variety of what I do. The challenges for crafting a CFT post are different from those I face with writing a short story or a piece of flash fiction but I love it all. Absolutely no chance to get bored but would love more time to write… (says she, strongly suspecting that all writers have said this at some point!).

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Do you find yourself writing and/or reading in one particular format for a while before you switch to another? I do with fiction.

I’m just getting back into some short story writing after a gap (though during that time I’ve been drafting ideas for a third flash fiction collection, have been promoting From Light to Dark and Back Again, and finally submitted the second book to the publisher. Not necessarily in that order incidentally!). (Medium-term goal is to get a standard length short story collection out there).

With reading, I seem to need to read all I can in a genre before switching to another. Well, I guess I could call it immersing myself properly in a genre! (Before anyone claims it’s being obsessed in one genre, then being obsessed in another, guilty as charged so to speak, but I think most writers could identify with that. There has to be a certain amount of obsession with characters to be able to write about them properly I think).

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I’ve always been fond of animal characters in stories. I’m thinking of stories from Watership Down to Timmy the dog in the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton. Loved them all. (And The Wind in the Willows is one of the all-time classics!).

Not sure they’re the kind of story I could write but that is the great thing about fiction. What you don’t write yourself, you can love reading in tales by another writer. (It also helps with the old adage about reading widely outside of your own genre, as well as inside it).

So what do you love reading that you don’t feel you could write yourself?

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My CFT post later this week will be Part 2 of my interview with fellow flash fiction writer, Gail Aldwin. She shares her thoughts on “real” and ebooks, writing tips and talks about character creation amongst many other topics. Link to go up on Friday.

What I find particularly interesting about interviews like this (and many others I’ve read elsewhere) is finding out which writing tips writers list as the most important. There will always be overlap (we’re all going to encourage reading for one thing) but the order in which a writer lists these things can be revealing.

It is also interesting to find out what are the joys and woes of writing in a particular genre, especially if it is not one I write in. Good writing is good writing, no matter what the format, but the challenges of that cross the divides. It is the technical challenge of individual genres that fascinate me as there is a wide variety here. But the one single challenge that faces us all is making our stories believable.


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The important thing to remember with flash fiction is, despite its very short form, it still needs crafting and editing, as much as any other kind of story would. I find it can sometimes take longer to edit a flash piece over a standard length short story because of the conflict between getting your word count down and still having a decent tale to submit.

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A perfect story is one in which every word is needed to complete it. This shows up sharply with flash fiction, of course, and one huge advantage to writing it is it does sharpen your editing skills. It also makes you choose stronger image creating words given you are using fewer words to begin with!

You also learn to imply a lot of the story given you haven’t got the room to spell it out in detail. I’ve always loved stories which allow me to fill in the gaps or work things out for myself so I guess flash fiction is a natural choice for me.

I am glad to see more flash collections coming out as hopefully this will encourage people to read and write it. I would love flash fiction to be shown as a great way of getting reluctant readers hooked on books given you’re not asking them to commit to too much in one go.


Even in the heart of a big city, books are a great form of escape - image via Pixabay

Books are a fantasic form of escapism. Image via Pixabay

A great way to relax - with a book and a cuppa - image via Pixabay

Great way to relax. Now where are those biscuits? Image via Pixabay

The basic kit for a writer - image via Pixabay

The writers’ basic kit. Image via Pixabay

What a fantastic home for books - image via Pixabay

What a beautiful home for books. Image via Pixabay

Another lovely library, this one is in Canada - image via Pixabay

Another beautiful library (this one is in Canada). Image via Pixabay

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What has happened as a writer that you did not anticipate when you first started out? For me, I never expected to write non-fiction (Chandler’s Ford Today) or flash fiction (From Light to Dark and Back again).

In the former case, it was a writer friend who told me about CFT and encouraged me to send something in (NEVER underestimate the importance of networking, you never know where it may lead!). In the latter case, I saw Cafelit had issued a 100-word challenge and I thought I’d give it a go. Not looked back since, as they say.

So I suppose I have learned to be open to trying new forms of writing and see where it takes me. It’s a fun journey too!

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With flash fiction, you have little room for world building. (Little room for anything, actually!). So you have to convey an impression of a world with a few well-chosen words and leave your readers to fill in the gaps.

I think this is probably my favourite thing about this genre as I love being able to envisage what characters get up to once the “official” story is finished. (I understand fan fiction, wouldn’t write it myself, but do “get it”). I like being made to fill in the gaps and work things out. The challenge for the flash fiction writer is to give the right information so that readers can do this without giving too much away or slowing their story down.

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Pleased to share the link with National Flash-Fiction Day tonight. The Day itself is not until 16th June but I love the idea of a whole day devoted to this form of fiction.

Okay, I’m not unbiased but I’ve always loved stories where I’ve had to work things out as a reader. As so much has to be implied in flash, I guess I should’ve realised sooner than I did that this was going to be a major format of writing for me. Still better late than not at all!

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Are you someone who only reads “proper” paperback books or are you a full convert to e-books?

I cross the divide. I love paperbacks, they’re a great format, but I have found e-books to be brilliant too. They’ve also saved me a major packing dilemma for when I’m away at writing conferences or on holiday. No more worrying about how many books I can take. Thanks to the Kindle, I can take as many as I like! I only wish it could give me more reading time but devices have their limitations!

But there are certain books I can only envisage reading in paperback – Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series with their wonderful covers for a start.

My main reading session is just before I sleep and I read paperbacks and from the Kindle then. I relish both! I do like the bookmark function and find that useful. I am forever losing “real” bookmarks from my paperbacks. Mind you, I often lose pens too. Hmm… doesn’t sound fab from a writer, does it?

I’ve not really tried e-magazines yet though I suspect that will be the next big area I’ll explore.

So what do you prefer? Do you think one genre works better in one format and, if so, which and why?

In the meantime, happy reading, no matter what format you’re using!






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My latest Chandler’s Ford Today post is part 1 of my interview with fellow Chapeltown Books author, Gail Aldwin. She shares how her around the world bus journey inspired her flash fiction, especially her story, Paisley Shirt, which is the title for her new collection. Part 2 next week will see Gail sharing writing tips and her thoughts on “real” books and ebooks amongst other things. Plenty of insights for writers and readers to come.

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My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week will be Part 1 of an interview with fellow Chapeltown Books author, Gail Aldwin, whose flash fiction collection, Paisley Shirt, is now out. She shares travel tales from around the globe and looks at where paisley comes from. It is not often the East India Company gets a mention in my posts but it does here!

Part 2 will feature writing tips, a discussion on characters etc. Link to Part 1 will go up tomorrow.

There are so many things I love about interviewing other writers. Some of these things include finding out what inspires them, how links form between something they may have read years ago and a story they’ve written now (it can be amazing what conscious and sub-conscious influences come out when you’re writing), and the tips they’ve found most useful.

I also really love the way Chapeltown Books have such a distinctive image for their flash fiction collections. Okay, so my From Light to Dark and Back Again is one of them. Okay, so I AM biased (!) but if you wanted to see an example of effective branding, I would say this is a good one.

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What do you like most about interviews (regardless of format)?

I like those questions that draw the interviewee out and interviews that really do seem like it is a conversation written down or broadcast or what have you.

One great thing about writer interviews is that, regardless of the genre being covered, we all face the same challenges of getting the story down, editing it well, hopefully getting it published and then marketing it. That does give a lot of ground in which to find lots of lovely questions to ask!

Sometimes you can strike gold when your interviewee reveals something that you instantly recognize you’ve got to ask them more about. It is often about the most unexpected things too. My CFT post later this week contains such a gold nugget! Link to go up on Friday. All I’ll say now is it involves transport!


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The joy of flash fiction is its brevity. No words wasted. A powerful impact on the reader made very quickly. But, as with the standard short story, all moods and emotional reactions can be covered in the form (which is why I called my book what I have!). Indeed, I think it a good thing that there is variety here. I like to see my flash collection as a “selection box” of moods and stories.

I suppose it’s indicative of human nature that no one person likes the same thing all the time. I love humorous fiction but also appreciate crime stories, historical tales and so on and I like to mix up what I read too. I wouldn’t want to just read (or indeed write) one thing all the time. Another joy of flash is that you can sample different styles of writing and moods very quickly. You could even use a flash collection to try out stories in genres you’ve not read before.

Happy reading and writing!


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Write what you know, so they say.
But influences come out in your every word.
Sometimes they’re buried away
For years but they will find a way of being heard.
Time means nothing there, you’ll find.
So read widely, both non-fiction or a tall tale.
You’ll feed your creative mind.
Ensure the whole story does not stumble or pale.
Strong “people” reflect our best
While the weak characters will reflect our worst side
Write, rewrite, then let it rest
Every writer has to have a skin made of hide.
Some will not get what you do.
But it’s true you won’t like everything they invent
Rejections can make you blue.
It’s all part of the process you can’t circumvent.
Ask where your story would fit.
Target well, it improves your chances of a hit!

Allison Symes – 15th March 2018

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I have a framed poster above my desk which says “Don’t ever give up on your dreams”. (Good advice. Okay, sometimes the dreams have to change for myriads of reasons. Just because you can’t be a novelist that doesn’t stop you from becoming a short story writer etc). But it also struck me this line could be a great motivator for a character.

What are the character’s dreams? Just what are they prepared to do to achieve them? What obstacles are in the way? Is he/she/it encouraged or are others holding them back? (You could also look into what their agenda was).

Feature Image - Facts and Fiction - image via Pixabay

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

Time to find a new place to call home perhaps - what stories could that lead to - image via Pixabay

Time to have another home perhaps? Good stories to be had here! Image via Pixabay

Note taking is an invaluable aid to retaining what you learn at conferences, image via Pixabay

Write, edit, write, edit… image via Pixabay

Nobody gets their ideas spot on immediately, image via Pixabay

Nobody gets their ideas right first go. Image via Pixabay.

Escape with a good book via Pixabay

Escape with a good book, it’s good for you! Image via Pixabay

Fairytales with Bite – What is Behind Your Stories?

In my interview with fellow Chapeltown Books author, Gail Aldwin, for Chandler’s Ford Today this week, she shares with me how her round the world bus trip influenced her flash fiction.¬† She also shares some of the research she carried out into where paisley comes from given the title of her flash fiction collection is Paisley Shirt.¬† One of the things I love about these kind of interviews is discovering what has influenced a writer to come up with what they have!¬† There are so many influences…

This is also why every writer, regardless of genre, should read widely and well in non-fiction and fiction, classic and contemporary works.¬† You are literally feeding your mind.¬† You can’t know in advance what book it is you read that will spark off ideas of your own.¬† You will just know it when you come to it.¬† So have plenty of fun reading lots of lovely books!¬† It is good for your own writing.

I used to worry about picking up other writers’ styles doing this but have found it not to be the case.¬† I read something that sparks off an idea in me and I then write that idea down in my style only because, well, it is the only style I have.¬† After all, doesn’t every author want their work to be uniquely something from them?¬† That’s where the joy of writing is – in creating something that is unique to you.

A lot of the fairytales are retelling of stories passed down orally over many generations.  Sometimes there can be agendas behind stories.  Hans Christen Andersen must have had concern for the poor as his agenda behind The Little Match Girl (and probably the hypocrisy of people being horrified at what happened to his character yet doing nothing to allievate suffering themselves).

So what is behind your stories?¬† Why have you created your characters as you have?¬† I was surprised when I was looking back at my draft of From Light to Dark and Back Again how often the theme of poetic justice came up.¬† That wasn’t planned (well not consciously anyway).¬† I also hadn’t planned the variation in moods of the stories that formed the book (though it did help inspire the book’s title!).¬† Look back at what you have written and see if you can spot what is really behind it.¬† It may well inspire other stories!

This World and Others – Character Journeys

My latest Chandler’s Ford Today post features fellow Chapeltown Books author, Gail Aldwin, and how her round the world bus journey influenced her flash fiction.

The obvious character journey (well for me it is!) is that of Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings.  Everything about this story is epic!  However, character journeys can be much smaller than that.  Scrooge went on a journey of sorts as he transformed from a miserable miser to a generous (and much happier) man in A Christmas Carol.

So what journeys are your characters going on? If it is a physical journey, why are they making it?¬† Do they like travelling or is is something where they have no choice?¬† What obstacles must they overcome?¬† What is the landscape like?¬† Are they from a background where travelling is normal?¬† (It generally wasn’t for hobbits so Frodo’s journey was unusual from that angle).

If the journey is more of a character development one, is the journey a good one or a bad?  (People can go from being good to bad, so why not characters?).  Is it a successful journey?  What is the impact of the character change on them and those around them?  Change can threaten others so how is this dealt with?




Conferences, Dead Time and Reading

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Thoroughly enjoyed the Association of Christian Writers’ day in Derby on journalism on Saturday. Love learning from writer events like this. Have found before that, even though I might not use some information now, I do end up using it later! Brought home some ideas I hope to investigate further and am not saying more than that for now.

On the fiction side, I am finalising a short story for a competition. I am also looking forward to sharing a two-part interview with a fellow Chapeltown Books author on Chandler’s Ford Today. Part 1 will be up on Friday.

Am getting better at using “dead” time. I spent my train journeys to and from Derby using the fabulous Evernote to draft a blog post for ACW, a future CFT one and some ideas for what I hope will end up being my third flash fiction collection. I also got to talk to a children’s writer on the train home. One of the lovely things about writing is, when you do meet up with fellow writers, you’ve got an instant topic of conversation!

Oh and you never get bored!


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The only problem with going to writing conferences is catching up with things again on getting home! Still, I can think of worst problems.

Sorry to hear about Ken Dodd. Never got to see him live but enjoyed his TV and radio shows. (Radio 4 Extra sometimes repeats the latter, expect they will soon. Worth a listen).

Priorities this week are to finish editing a short story and, as always, CFT. Why does editing always take longer than you think it will, no matter what your level of experience is?! Or is this just me? Answers on a postcard….

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Do you like short, sharp paragraphs or longer, more detailed ones? For me, it depends on the kind of story I’m reading or writing. I would expect a thriller to have the first kind of paragraph with a family saga having more of the second kind.

Overall, what matters is that each word, each paragraph etc moves the story on and genuinely can’t be cut from the tale without wrecking it. You know you’ve carried out a good editing job when you reach that point in a story!

Sometimes a more detailed paragraph can be used to indicate the time period a story is set in, given you would expect more “wordy” paragraphs in a tale set long before social media came in. Choice of words must be appropriate to the character, the time period and the setting.

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I’ve spent a lot of the weekend in Derby at an Association of Christian Writers’ Day on journalism (it was fab) so used a lot of the time on the train journeys scribbling away via the wonderful Evernote on my phone. Jotted down ideas for several flash fiction pieces and am really looking forward to writing them up.

I am getting better at using “dead” time like this and when I had to take my car in for service, while I was waiting, I wrote three flash pieces (which are part of my second collection now submitted to Chapeltown Books). I felt distinctly miffed when they told me my car was ready as I had settled down quite well, thank you. There was a tea and coffee machine, loos, and I was all set for further writing! The really great thing here? No distractions… ah well.


Most of us struggle to have as much time to read as we'd like - image via Pixabay

I think most of us struggle to find as much time to write as we’d like.¬† Image via Pixabay

Publishing has to start with a blank page - image via Pixabay

From start to finish here perhaps?  The blank to the printed page.  Image via Pixabay


The To Be Read pile - image via Pixabay

The to be read pile! Image via Pixabay

A few books to choose to read from here - image via Pixabay

Plenty to enjoy here! Image via Pixabay

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Do you start your story with a title in mind or do you write the tale and then the title comes to you as a result?

I find I must have a title to “peg” my ideas to but often have to change the title to a more suitable one, once I’ve got the story down. I have, on occasion, tried to work without a title but soon found myself feeling “lost” without one! So I take the attitude now it is all in draft anyway so it doesn’t matter if I change the title half a dozen times until I’ve got it right for the piece.

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I have spent many a fine evening re-reading favourite novels and short stories. For me, there is no such thing as a book beyond its “read by”date.

It has been my experience even books written in styles we wouldn’t use now have some entertainment value and I can usually learn something from the way the author has written their characters. I usually pick up something on each reading.

As for contemporary reading, I am reading a fair number of flash fiction collections, I love reading history (and historical fiction), as well as crime. I am reading far more non-fiction than I used to but I think this may be a reflection of the fact I’m writing non-fiction now as well.

Having a Kindle has increased the amount of reading I do too. I do like the “Look Inside” feature and have often used this. I was glad it was available on my own flash fiction collection. This has given me many chances to try books I wouldn’t have necessarily thought of trying.




The Frustrations of Publishing

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Am a night early with my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week. Am away at an ACW conference so thought it best to schedule for this evening!

In writing my 101 Things to Put into Room 101, I came to a topic that deserves its own vault all by itself – the frustrations of publishing. There are few authors who can’t sympathise with this topic, though it has been great to share links to both the Society of Authors and the Alliance of Independent Authors in this post. Writers need all the support they can get!

Will be back to the Room 101 series in a couple of weeks or so, as this post leads into a two-part interview with fellow Chapeltown author, Gail Aldwin, who will be talking about her own route to publication.

I have yet to interview a writer whose route to publication was straight forward or easy! Nature of the beast I suspect!

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When stuck for an idea or two
Have a go at something brand new
Don’t say this is me being rash.
Doing this got me into flash!

Allison Symes 8th March 2019

I accept I’m never going to be offered the Poet Laureate’s post based on my doggerel above. Just as well too, I think. However, the verse is true! It really was my being open to the idea of having a go at Cafelit’s100-word challenge that meant I discovered the joys of flash fiction. Had it not been for that, I wouldn’t have a book to my name now.

One of the great joys of creative writing is to have fun with it and one great way of doing that is to mix up what you write. So go ahead, give flash fiction a go!

Fairytales with Bite – The Frustrations of Publishing

My Chandler’s Ford Today post looks at the frustrations of publishing.¬† I expect you may have experienced most of them! However, there are two classic ways out of at least some of these.¬† One is to self publish and the other is to seek publication via the small, independent press.¬† I chose the latter route!¬† More in the post…

The main frustration I feel is the Catch 22 one of people wanting you to have a track record before they will take you on, yet the only way to get that track record is to be published!¬† It is also highly appropriate to use the phrase Catch 22 too given we’re talking about getting books out there…

Back to our fictional worlds though – what role does literature play in it?¬† Who “controls” literature?¬† Could your characters be published writers?¬† What form of writing do they use?¬† Do they have stories as we understand them?¬† Who are the publishers¬† in your setting(s)?¬† Does the government exercise any control over what the public can read?

(I like the thought of there being an underground library for those not wanting to just read what is on a government’s approved list!).

This World and Others – Overcoming Frustrations

My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week looks at (some of) the frustrations of publishing.

How do your characters overcome the inevitable frustrations they will face?  Do they handle them well or badly?  What are the consequences  of their reactions?  Are there frustrations caused by government (too much bureaucracy etc?

How do your characters face the day to day frustrations and when it comes to being under continuing pressures, how do they handle that?

I'm not arguing with this - image via Pixabay

I’m not arguing with this one! Image via Pixabay.

A familiar desk scene for writers - image via Pixabay

The writer’s desk. What do you hope will emerge from yours this coming year? Image via Pixabay.

The best advice for any writer - image via Pixabay

And prepare well!

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.


Flash – for light or dark fiction! Image via Pixabay


Fantasy may look at other worlds but often reflects on our own. Time is different too. Music can interpret worlds too. Think of classic film scores like that for The Lord of the Rings. Image via Pixabay.

Heaven on earth? Image via Pixabay (of the library at Leeds Castle)

Heaven on earth? Image via Pixabay (of the library at Leeds Castle)

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I’m a great fan of Agatha Christie. The first set of books I collected from Odhams (remember them?) were hers and I proudly own at least 30 red leather-bound hardbacks.

Each hardback contains two novels or a novel and a set of her short stories (such as The Labours of Hercules).

My favourite character is Jane Marple, though I do love Tommy and Tuppence in The Secret Adversary.

My favourite novel, though, is Murder on the Orient Express because it looks at whether murder is ever justified, even when the usual justice system fails.

It’s still a pertinent question. Even more pertinent is the fact the justice system shouldn’t fail but can do. Desperation and anger drive people to do desperate things and this is very much reflected in this book.

I also liked the David Suchet TV version of this. His Poirot was in angry anguish over what happened (and by implication what drove those events in the first place).

So what are your favourite Agatha books?

Character Study

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Do your characters look back at their lives at all? (You should as their creator! Have they developed? If so, positively or negatively? How does this impact on the story?). If the characters do look back at their own lives, why are they doing it? Are they trying to learn from past mistakes and do they actually do so? How does that “look back” change their behaviour (for better or worse) and how does that change the direction in which they go?

Sometimes Character B can look back at Character A’s life and this can be because:-

1. They don’t like the changes in A’s life now (and they may be right to take that view!). By drawing A’s attention to this, B is hoping to get A back to where they used to be.

2. Character B is comparing themselves with A, especially if A has gone on to be really successful. (We all do this for real so why shouldn’t our characters do so?! What is interesting here is how does B respond? Are they jealous? Do they seek to improve themselves or try to “do A down”?).

3. Character B is delighted Character A has changed (and again they may well be right. Equally they may be pleased because A has worsened and it makes B look better! B does not have to have noble motives here!).

All three of these points could generate some fascinating stories.

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One thing to consider when creating your characters is to work out what impact they have on other characters. Naturally, this can be for good or evil. Equally, it can be a happy or sad impact. How would the death of a character affect your story world and its other residents?

There would have to be some impact made, even by a minor character (otherwise why are they in the story at all?). Is a character killed because the assassin(s) know the death will change the political situation in your story world (if so, how?) or it gets a rival out of the way? How did that character become a rival in the first place?

How does personal history impact on the characters themselves? Family background and circumstances usually do impact somewhere. Are they running away from something? Trying to better/prove themselves? Do they succeed?

The history of the story world and the general setting should have an impact on your characters. Someone being brought up in the country will have a different perspective on rural life than someone who has always lived in a town or city and does not know anything about rural life except what they see on the media.

So let your characters have an impact and be impacted upon. Both of these points should generate wonderful tensions within your story and drive the plot along beautifully.

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What do you look for when it comes to the ending of a story?

I don’t necessarily look for a happy ending. What I like to see (and indeed write) is an ending that is appropriate for the characters and the situations they are in. It is so important the ending doesn’t feel forced or “runs out of steam” because you, the writer, were getting to the word count limit!

You also want the ending to wrap up the story with impact. No damp squibs here, thank you!

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I’m taking a shortish break from my 101 Things to Put into Room 101 on Chandler’s Ford Today. This week I’ll be looking at some of the frustrations of publishing and then lead into a two-part feature where I interview a fellow Chapeltown author. More details later.

Some great insights to come from the interview and I suspect most of you will have had direct experience of the frustrations of publishing I will be talking about this week. This aspect of the writing life deserves a whole section in Room 101’s vaults! (It was easier to write about them separately though!).

Will return to the Room 101 series later (and look forward to doing so too. Is there any one of us who doesn’t like a good moan every now and again?!

Books invite you into their world - image via Pixabay

Books invite you into their world. Image via Pixabay

Baubles Medium

My story Helping Out is in Baubles, the Bridge House anthology for 2016

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

Good advice. Image via Pixabay.

Humans are immensely creative - image via Pixabay

Let those ideas flow! Image via Pixabay,


I love walking by water – so calming. Can also inspire how you create your own world. Image by Allison Symes

Use review questions to find out more about your characters, image via Pixabay

Use personal reviews to help you generate characters and story outlines. Image via Pixabay.

I'm not arguing with this - image via Pixabay

I’m not arguing with this one! Image via Pixabay.

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Do you have fun with your characters? There should be the initial fun of creating them, of course, but for me, I think the most fun comes when they develop and mature and truly take on a life of their own. You can look back at the earlier stages of their development and literally see how far they have come.

I also enjoy dropping my characters right in it when appropriate to do so but that probably says more about me than them. I will claim dramatic licence though! So yes you should have fun with your characters, especially for novel writing, you will be living with them for a long time. Even in flash fiction writing, while you will generally go from one character to another for each story, you should still know what makes that character tick and enjoy working out how best to get that across to your readers.

If you become tired of your characters, it does show through in your writing so love them, love to hate them, enjoy writing for them, enjoy putting them through the emotional wringer etc! It will help your writing flow and sparkle. Characters written like this always draw me to a story. I think it is the characters, more than anything, that makes a story unforgettable.

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There are certain ways of knowing your created world works. These are:-

You can picture in your head everything from how the world is run politically to who the beings are the world depends on to get anything done.

You can visualise the societies of your world – there are class systems everywhere – and how they interact or, conversely, why they don’t.

You can plan out what the history of the world was, how that affects the current situation you’re writing about in that world, and whether there’s an official version and/or revisionist one.

You can see how towns, villages etc are run and the life that goes on in them regardless of what your story is actually about. (The life of towns/villages etc is bound to affect at least some of your characters – are they rebelling against it? Does it inspire them? Are they acting heroically to defend it?).

You can ask yourself questions about your world and answer them!

And it doesn’t matter if you are “just” writing flash fiction, you still need to know where your characters come from, what drives them etc. How their world operates and how it affects them will have a direct impact on that so you still need to know enough about your setting so you can write about your characters with conviction. That in depth knowledge does show through in what you write.

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One good thing about flash fiction is that there is nothing to stop you taking characters you enjoyed writing about in this form and then writing longer stories for them. I have done this occasionally (though I find I am so focused on the next idea, the next story, that I don’t do this as often as perhaps I could and should do, but it is something to bear in mind.). Also, a flash piece can be turned into a longer one (so you have two stories on your hands then!).

Another thing you could do is if you have a character in mind for a longer story but are not sure whether they have the capacity to carry the tale, then try them out in a flash piece first. If the character is strong enough to make a good impact in a form that demands a tight word count, no waffle, and getting the story down quickly, then they should have the strength to star in a longer work.

How do you define “good impact”? For me, the characters have to stay with me long after the story has ended. I have to find myself wondering what else they might get up to and so on.

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I wear two writing hats (and often at the same time!). One hat is the flash fiction and the other is my non-fiction work – in particular, my writing for Chandler’s FordToday. But the great thing has been that skills I’ve learned for CFT (especially writing to a deadline and a word count) have been really useful for my fictional side.

So does it pay to expand on what kind of writing you do? I think so!





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My latest Chandler’s Ford Today post is Part 2 of my 101 Things to Put into Room 101. Amongst other things, I consign to eternal doom stilettos, bad grammar, confusing road signs and the 5 pence coin. What would you put in the vault?

As for the image below, are the dogs slow? Are the dogs and children slow? Or could it even be that the dogs’ children are slow?! Or are all the animals on this farm slow? (That is anything going faster than a slow walking pace is not kept on this farm?!).

If you ever doubted that the comma is important, then let this convince you it really is, it SO is!

PART 2 - Some commas here would be good - image via Pixabay

Oh for some commas here! Image via Pixabay

PART 2 - You know what it is meant here - image via Pixabay

Really?! Image via Pixabay

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One thing that is important with flash fiction is you should be reading it as well as writing it (and not stop at just reading your own!). Not only does this give you a greater appreciation of what can be done with the form, you increase your reading of contemporary fiction.

I have no problems at all finding time to read older fiction (Wodehouse, Austen, Dickens etc) but a good reading “diet” must include what is out there now (or has been published fairly recently). Another advantage of reading widely like this is that it will open your eyes to publishers willing to take collections.

Also, I can’t think of any author who wouldn’t appreciate this kind of support. And you would too, wouldn’t you?

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Fairytales With Bite – Biting Comments

My new mini-series on Chandler’s Ford Today is a humorous look at what things I would put into Room 101, that famous creation of George Orwell.¬† Part 2 of 101 Things to Put into Room 101 includes items as diverse as stilettos, bad grammar and confusing road signs.

I think stilettos are one of the most stupid things ever invented because they’re not good for your feet or your spine.¬† When I did wear them, back in the day so to speak, I always dreaded getting them caught in some grating somewhere.¬† Now that comment is not that biting, I feel, but some of my characters do come out with very pointed remarks at time – and rightly so.¬† It is part of their personality to do so and the situations they face also justify pointed criticism.

So what kind of biting comments would your characters make?  What would drive them to be like that, or are they like this all the time anyway?  How do the other characters respond?  What kind of conflicts can you get out of this to drive the story along?

Have fun finding out!!

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This World and Others – Inventions

In my latest Chandler’s Ford Today post, which is Part 2 of 101 Things to Put into Room 101, I list, amongst other things, stilettos.¬† I describe these as one of the most stupid inventions ever.¬† They don’t do your feet or your spine any good and when I did wear them in my younger years, I always dreaded getting them caught in a drain cover etc.¬† There are lots of stupid inventions out there but this is my pet peeve.¬† They are stupid shoes.

In Terry Pratchett’s marvellous Discworld series, I loved his inventor, Bloody Stupid Johnson, whose ideas never seemed to quite work the way the inventor had envisaged!

So in your created world, who are your creative people, your inventors, your engineers etc?  It helps to bring a world to life if we the readers can see at least part of how your world works for those who live in it.  What are the technologies?  Are your societies developed or are people held back by the lack of progress?

Does your world have anyone whose inventions go wrong or whose ideas get pinched by someone else?  (There is a whole raft of stories there about how someone would cope with that/get their ideas back and so on).



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My favourite Christmas carol, based on a poem by Christina Rossetti, is looking more like a cannily accurate weather forecast right now.

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Not sure that Christina meant it to be a weather forecast but this was certainly a case of write what you know given she would have known only too well what a British winter can be like!

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Part 2 of my 101 Things to Put into Room 101 will be my CFT post for this week. Highlights include my thoughts on stilettos (you will guess they’re not good!), to public parking bays, and confusing road signs. Link up tomorrow and, as ever, comments will be welcome.

I won’t be running the series straight through in one “hit” so to speak as I have a lovely author interview coming up soon. Also, it’s probably best not to have all my moans over several consecutive weeks in any case!

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What is encouraging is if you do a quick internet trawl for flash fiction competitions, lots come up! All that is needed then is the time to enter them! It is also encouraging to see big name writing competitions include flash fiction as a new category in its own right. It is amazing to see how far flash has come as a genre over the last 10 years.

I think it will still be a while before people stop asking what flash fiction is thought. (Still, that’s all part of the “mission to explain”, isn’t it? I’ve found to date the best way of explaining flash fiction is to read examples of it – from From Light to Dark and Back Again naturally!).

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What is your favourite kind of flash fiction?

I’m a drabbler, one who generally writes the 100-words stories. The majority of the tales in From Light to Dark and Back Again are of this ilk.

But one nice thing about flash is there is nothing to stop you mixing up the types you write. I’ve written 250, 500, 750 and even the odd 50-words tales. (The latter makes me a dribbler as well. I’d love to know who invented these terms – they make you sound as if you might have an unfortunate complaint!).

So go ahead, mix up your flash fiction and have fun with it! I’ve found my natural default position is the good old drabble but there are some storylines which need to be a bit longer than that, so fine I can do it without straying into short story territory. (Though I must admit I do like doing that too!).




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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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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!” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>http://

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!


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.