Publication News and Starting a Story

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I’m thrilled to say two of my flash stories, Dignity and Injustice, and The Art Critic, will be in the Best of Cafelit 8, which will be launched in December. All of the stories included in this book have been voted on by readers too so that makes it even more special. Thank you, everyone.

And a huge congratulations to all my fellow authors, who are as eager to see their stories in this book as I am with mine!

A special thank you to PaulaReadman for putting up the following list on Facebook earlier today. Am cheerfully swiping it to include here. Well done all!

The Best of CafeLit 8
Salisbury Plain, February 1946 by Laura Gray
No Room for Them by Dawn Knox
She Says We’ll Get There Soon by Hannah Retallick
Jeopardy in Pink,by Penny Rogers
Marking Time by Janet Howson
Rose Tinted Glass by Linda Payne
Remembrance Day by Jim Bates
Yellowjackets by James Bates
God works in mysterious ways especially at Christmas by Robin Wrigley
Goodbye My Lush by Shawn Klimek
Losing Tony by Gill James
Self Assessment by Peppy Barlow
Years & Years by Kim Martins
Airport Sandwiches by Pat Jourdan
Budgies and Bingo by Alyson Faye
Dignity and Injustice by Allison Symes
The Lady in Red by Caroline S Kent
Untrodden Snow by Paula Readman
A Walk in the Woods by Jo Deardon
Father Van Der Bosch’s Last Christmas by Robin Wrigley
Gemini Rising by Paula Readman
The First Time by Patricia Gallagher
Bats Downunder by Mehreen Ahmed
Induction Day by Janet Howson
Life Begins at the 250 Bus Stop by Jacqueline Ewers
On Time by Lisa Williams
Redemption by Richard Hough
The Art Critic by Allison Symes

And in the meantime, if you like an ecletic mix of stories in terms of mood, word count, genre etc., do check out the rest of the Cafelit series.

https://www.bookdepository.com/search…

https://www.amazon.co.uk/…/B01…/ref=as_sl_pc_qf_sp_asin_til…

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How do you start a story? I have to know the voice of my character/narrator. Are they brusque? Are they feisty? Are they hard done by (or feel they are – of course it doesn’t mean they’re right!)?

I also have to know what their main trait is – are they brave? Selfish? Kind to animals but rotten to their fellow man?

With those two things firmly in place, I can then outline more about this character and as they come to life, I can work out the best situations to dump them in to bring out both the best and worst of their personalities.

I find the Scrivener outlining tool on their fiction template really useful for this but you can create your own. Decide on what you need to know about your character before you write them up and turn that into a template. Prep work pays!

Enjoyed the Fryern Funtasia today. Will be writing about that for CFT for Friday. Good to catch up with my lovely CFT editor, Janet Williams, too.

Other events I’m looking forward to are the Winchester Writers’ Festival and Swanwick and I hope to get along to the Waterloo Arts Festival as well. I had a piece in their writing competition ebook To Be…To Become last year.

Right at the end of the year will be the launch of The Best of Cafelit 8 in which I will have two stories. A great time is had by all who go to that!

Whatever writing events you are off to over the next few months, have a fab time!

Image Credit:  Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for the picture of me reading at last year’s Bridge House event.

 

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How do your characters handle disappointment? Are they of the “have it all out in one almighty tantrum” school of thought or do they prefer the quiet sulk? What drives them to react the way they do?

Do they use setbacks to find different ways of overcoming problems or do they give up? (If the latter, they’re not going to be of much interest as a character, unless the giving up is temporary, they start again and go on to find better ways of doing things, which can be a great story in itself).

Give some thought as to what really motivates your characters to react the way they do. Are they reacting the way their families have always done/expect them to or rebel against that?

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Two of my flash stories, The Art Critic, and Dignity and Injustice, will be appearing in The Best of Cafelit 8 in December. Am thrilled, naturally.

Dignity and Injustice is one of my favourite historical pieces. The Art Critic is very different!

Days like this are wonderful for all sorts of reasons, not least in that it encourages you to get back on and write more flash fiction!

Congratulations to all my fellow authors, who will be appearing in the book too. A special well done to those who are appearing in print for the first time. It is such a special moment!

I am looking forward to catching up with as many of my fellow contributors as possible for a very convivial time at the launch of the book in December! As for the second picture below, well I would say that, wouldn’t I?

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The best stories reveal something about ourselves. What flash fiction does is focus on one particular point and leave the reader to draw their own conclusions, both from what has been said, and what is inferred but not spelt out.

This was one thing I loved about the plays staged by the Chameleon Theatre Group I reviewed last week. Each play had plenty of inferences. I love filling in the gaps. I just need enough information to be able to do so.

So how do you decide what IS enough information? Well, this is where the restricted word count of flash fiction can be your friend as it imposes a limit. You really do have to work out what a reader has to know to be able to make inferences and leave anything not achieving that out. Best of all, you get to decide what the reader has to know!

 

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Things flash fiction should not be:-

1. Too long! (You have up to 1K words).
2. Truncated prose. (The story must have a proper beginning, middle and end, same as with any other form of writing).
3. Too many characters. (You really don’t have the word count for them).
4. Sub plots. (As for 3 above!).
5. Too clever! (A story illuminates a moment of change, flash fiction focuses INTENSELY on one specific moment so you have to focus on what achieves that and nothing else).

Repeating a word to start consecutive sentences in story can be a great way to set a rhythm for the tale, as well as provide emphasis. I do this with Watching Myself.

I also like to use a character’s thoughts sometimes as a great way into the story. You get to see something of the character immediately that way. I do this in Rewards.

It is a good idea to mix up how you start your tales as it keeps things interesting for you (and as a result your reader) and you will get different things from varying the way you start.

Beginning with a character’s thoughts takes you right into their mindset and attitudes and a reader can begin to make conclusions from that.

Beginning with the same word in consecutive sentences sets up a “beat” and should trigger anticipation in the reader. What is important about this word? It must have some bearing on the story (and of course it will).

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Goodreads Author Blog – The Dangers of Reading

Reading is wonderful but it can also be dangerous. Why?

1. Reading widely will open your mind and challenge thoughts and ideas. That is why in repressive regimes writers and journalists have been amongst the first to suffer. It’s why I admire George Orwell. He got on the nerves of both the far left and far right! That’s the way to do it…

2. Reading widely is often the trigger for creative writing. Once the bug bites you, it doesn’t let go! The challenge of creating your own stories is a wonderful one. The challenge of trying to write better, whether it is for publication or not, makes you try to up your game. You WILL be stretched mentally and imaginatively. That is how it should be.

3. Reading across the genres will help you discover what you like and dislike or, more accurately, what you THINK you like and dislike. I’d never heard of flash fiction when I first started writing (and it wasn’t around as a form when I started reading independently!). But in coming across the form and trying it in terms of reading it as well as writing it, I’ve discovered a love of the very short story form I never anticipated developing.

Where will your reading journey take you?

How will it surprise you and are you ready to be surprised?

Have fun finding out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Achievements and Descriptions

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When you write descriptions, do you just focus on what a character can see? Do you bring in what they can feel/touch/taste etc? Also an interesting perspective can be to take what is a normal everyday object but show it from the viewpoint of someone who has never seen it before. (The reasons why they haven’t seen it would be interesting too).

In flash fiction, of course, you can’t be overly descriptive. You simply haven’t got the word room. In my Telling the Time I refer to an object as a “beautiful grandfather clock”, leaving it to the reader to imagine what THEY would think such a thing would look like. In my Rewards, I do bring in a thick red carpet but that purpose is to show my character, Becky, pacing around on it!

Description then, like any other element of a story, has to serve a purpose. If it doesn’t, it really shouldn’t be there even if you are writing an epic saga and word count isn’t an issue!

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What do you want to achieve most with your writing?

For me, it is knowing I’ve created a piece of work (of whatever word count) that entertains others. Course I wouldn’t object to being a bestselling author etc but then who would?!

But given there are no guarantees the latter will ever happen, it is far better to focus on writing because you love it and to do so to the best of your abilities. Then put it out into the market and see what happens!

You also have to accept from the outset I think that you are in for the long haul and adapt expectations accordingly. Persistence pays only when you put in the work to get your MSS up to publication standard and that takes time and more effort than non-writers realise.

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What made you decide to write and why? Did you find what you wanted to write immediately or did you have to try short stories/novels etc before finally settling on what you really want to do?

The fascinating thing here is no two writers have exactly the same journey, even if a lot of their paths cross.

I started off with an idea for a novel, wrote that book, it was longlisted for a competition years ago and then I wrote short stories and flash fiction. I am now revisiting that early novel given flash fiction has taught me so much about editing and I know applying that to the book will do it the world of good.

As for why I decided to write at all, it was one of those things I knew I would have to at least try. I’ve always loved working with/playing with words. My only regret here is not starting a lot sooner than I did. But what matters is starting and then keeping going.

Biggest joy of writing? Yes, being published, but making so many writer friends is right up there too.

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I’m looking at the highs and lows of the writing life in this week’s CFT. I hope it’ll be an eyeopener for readers, or indeed anyone who knows a writer, especially on why reviews and supporting writer events matters so much. Link up on Friday.

NB: This post definitely comes into the “write what you know” category!

Also pleased to say I’m in the Spring edition of Christian Writer talking about Making Your Characters Count.

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For the flash fiction collection I’m currently working on, I’ve had a great deal of fun with linked stories. That is I’ve used the same character(s) in a follow up tale.

I’ve also used a viewpoint of a character in one story and then flipped it to show the viewpoint of another character, who isn’t necessarily in agreement with the first one.

Plus there have been the acrostics, the one-line stories and so on. Flash fiction can be amazingly versatile and the fact you have to work to a word count is a good thing. It helps you write (and edit) with precision. You work to find exactly the right words to convey as much meaning as possible in as short a word count as possible. That discipline can and does spill over into other things you write, which is always a good thing.

When do you know if a flash fiction piece has real bite? When you read it again after a break from it (say a few days) and it still hits you hard, as you originally intended the piece should do.

When I’m editing, I’m always asking myself how the reader would see what I’ve written. CAN they fill in the gaps the way I intend they should? HAVE I given them what they need to know to do that (but no more)? IS the impact what I think it will be? Could what I intend be misconstrued? Is the language used appropriate for the piece? Do I still like or loathe my characters (as appropriate)?

I think it is vital to see editing as a totally separate job to the act of creation. Creation is the fun bit. Editing is the bit which makes sure your created work IS as fun as you meant it to be when read by a stranger. Without good editing, your story will not work as nobody can really claim to ever write a perfect first draft. Shakespeare didn’t so I think it’s safe to claim we won’t either. My attitude to editing changed entirely when I saw it as what would make the difference to my being published or not (and it does).

I was wondering when I had my first piece of flash fiction published on Cafelit. It turns out to be A Study in Magic way back in 2013. Wow! That six years has gone quickly. Well here’s to the next six! I still love the very short story form. It has a great deal of potential and can/should make a powerful impact.

When I analyse a flash fiction piece, what am I looking for?

1. Do the characters “grab” me? It doesn’t matter if I love or loathe them. Have they got my attention? Have I GOT to find out what happens to them?

2. Does the story have an impact on me? If it’s funny, did I laugh? If it’s a crime story, did my blood run suitably cold?

3. Are there stand-out lines which, when written by other authors, make me wish I’d written them? (I use that to spur me on incidentally, which is what great writing should do).

4. Is the start intriguing enough?

5. Does the story end with a suitable punch? When it’s twist in the tale, did I see that twist coming? I don’t mind if I do incidentally. Sometimes it’s nice to be right but I adore the ones where the author has wrong-footed me and come up with something really special. Again, I find this encourages me to “up my game”, something all writers should always seek to do.

Goodreads Author Blog – Encouraging Books

Yes, this could mean the self-help books and there is much to be said for those, but for me an encouraging book is one that makes me read further into the subject. This can apply to fiction as well as non-fiction.

For example, Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time is fiction based on Richard III and is one of my all time favourite books. It has also led me to read far more about Richard such as The Maligned King, The Last Days of Richard III and others.

For non-fiction, it is easier to go by topic of course when looking for books to encourage further reading.

For fiction, it is nearly always based on how well the main character comes across and the theme of their story that makes me look for similar themes in other tales.

When the character is based on a real person, and if the story has gripped me enough, I nearly always look up non-fiction material on that character as I did with Richard III.

And there is scope for a lot of crossover – fiction leading into non-fiction and vice versa. Book reading leading into magazine reading etc.

I don’t write historical fiction (though I do read some) but I should imagine one of the great joys of it is the research the writer has to do before starting. I should also imagine the big problem here, and one I know I’d have, is stopping the research and actually getting on with the writing!

So what books have encouraged you to read more on their character/theme etc?

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Gremlins and Hiccups!

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Sorry, can’t share my CFT post for this week as usual. There’s a site issue which is being looked into. Will share the post when I can (I hope at some point over the weekend).

I’ve written about what I think are mankind’s Top 10 achievements and am looking forward to sharing it. It is not a comprehensive list (it can’t be) nor is it in one particular field but I will invite comments once I can share the post!

Meanwhile, a huge thank you to all for the birthday wishes. All very much appreciated.

Pleased I’ve managed to draft flash fiction pieces this week (I like the acrostic form and will use it again). Won’t be around much tomorrow but looking forward to next writing session on Sunday. I like the occasional break but always look forward to writing again and I think that’s a nice position to be in.

 

NB.  Once I can share the CFT post on Facebook, I will prepare a short separate post here to cover it.  I hope this can be sometime over the weekend.  Meanwhile, I’ve managed to write a blog about gremlins, more below!

I often find getting started with writing is the difficult bit but, once away, there’s no stopping me! This is why I will sometimes leave lines for me to finish or an odd note so that when I resume writing the next day I overcome that starting “hiccup” and can get straight on with things.

It is useful to work out what your writing “hiccups” are and then think of strategies to overcome/minimise them.

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My CFT post this week will be looking at what I think are amongst mankind’s top accomplishments. Link up on Friday. I will say now amongst other things the domestication of the dog comes into it.

Talking of dogs and having owned three collies now, I’ve spotted the similarities and differences in the characters of Gracie, Mabel, and Lady. Gracie and Lady are both champion cushion throwers (right off the sofa and into the middle of the carpet. I’m not talking sissy little cushions here either! They go for the big ones and don’t muck about). Mabel couldn’t wait to get her head down ON a cushion for her evening nap and wouldn’t dream of throwing them anywhere. She’d be very disapproving of Gracie and Lady for that!

Dogs come into my stories sometimes as pets of the main character. Sometimes they’re the driving force of a story (as in my She Did It Her Way, Kind Of). I do believe in writing what I know – well some of the time anyway!

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A technical glitch has hit the CFT website tonight so I hope to share my post for this week later on this weekend, all being well.

The nice thing with flash fiction is you can write it regardless of technology. Pen and paper can be ideal for jotting down story ideas for typing up later. (It’s less useful when trying to write a novel – and yes I have written a novel by longhand. Now, I wouldn’t. I’d outline and go straight to screen).

Whatever writing you’re doing over the weekend, enjoy it! Not around much tomorrow but will look forward to my next “proper” session on Sunday. I’m always refreshed by mini breaks but then raring to write again. Never lose the love of writing!

Time for another acrostic flash fiction piece. I’m enjoying these. They’re stretching the imaginative little grey cells, which is always a good thing! Hope you enjoy. I think the mood of this one reflects general moods in the country at the moment, what with the Brexit uncertainty etc.

TRUTH

Truth is what you make it, I was told.
Rubbish, I replied, if you’re right, truth can be manipulated.
Under certain circumstances it’s needed, truth can be sold.
Then I want no part of it, I told the electioneer at my door.
Honestly, he sighed, I was honest then and you still want no part of it!

Allison Symes – 21st March 2019

 

Time for another acrostic piece then.

FICTION

Fabulous in pink, she whirled around,
Irritating her drab neighbours who stuck to their grey.
Carefree, unlike them, she ignored their shouts to stop
Trouble happened to others, never to her.
In a moment that situation changed
Oh my… dancing straight into traffic like that
Now on the national news for all the wrong reasons.

Allison Symes – 20th March 2019

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Publication News:  Cafelit – If It’s Too Good to be True

This was a fun story to write.  Hope you enjoy it.

Fairytales With Bite – Gremlins!

Gremlins have hit the CFT website tonight so I hope to share a double bill of posts with you next week but I thought I’d look at gremlins that can hit a writer.

The Indecision Gremlin
And a right pain this one is too.  You have two good story ideas to work on.  Which to pursue first?  I look at deadlines here and prioritise the one with the closest deadline.  If it’s a choice between a short piece and the novel, I plan out my writing time so I carve out slots specifically for the novel and other time periods I use for shorter pieces.  Over the course of a week, I’ve got done (most of the time) most of the work I’ve wanted to do .  It means I know what I’m doing with each day’s writing session and it kicks the indecision gremlin where it hurts as I don’t give it house room!

The Social Media Gremlin
How much time is the right time to spend on social media?  There’s no definitive answer to that one but I’ve found it has paid me to allow so long on it before I switch it off to write.

The Editing Gremlin
Otherwise known as the “I’ll just edit this one more time” gremlin. Is a very close relative of the indecision gremlin and can be just as much of a pain.  There is no hard and fast rule here but if you find you are just tinkering with a story, stop!  Send it out to the relevant market/competition and see you how do with it.  Remember this gremlin has the power to stop you moving on with new work if you let it.

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This World and Others –

The A to Z of Story Essentials Part 2

Continuing with what I think are the essentials to any story:-

F = Fun.  You should be enjoying what you’re writing even if you’re putting your characters through the grimmest hell imaginable.  Readers should be able to pick up on your enjoyment of putting a story together.  I detect this when I feel the story flows and has good pace.  That makes you want to read on.  There has to be the “I’ve got to find out what happens next” feel to your story.

G = Genre. Write in the genre you love.  Don’t pick a genre just because it’s fashionable as fashions never last long.  You’re in writing for the long haul so write what you love.  You’ll write better because you love it.

H = Humour.  This is tricky.  What is a great one-liner to one reader falls flat with another.  Allowing for humour being subjective then, write naturally.  Humour must come out of the situation or character you’ve created and must never seem forced.  This way the humour will arise naturally and readers will either get it or not but it won’t be out of place or jar your story in any way.

I = Imagination.  Let it run riot especially when outlining your story idea.  Work out possibilities and go for the one you love most.  It’ll be the one you will write with the most conviction.  And that does show through.

J = Jargon.  The best writing is simple writing.  That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy to write.  What you can guarantee is there has been a lot of editing carried out!  Avoid jargon.  Where characters might need to use it, it should be clear from context what the jargon means.  You don’t want to irritate your reader by coming up with something they can’t fathom out the meaning.  I’d also use any such jargon sparingly.

More next week….

Books, Acrostics, and Writing Regrets

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Hope you enjoy If It’s Too Good To Be True, my latest story on Cafelit. Loved writing it. (Oh and spot the typo! Made me laugh – and I hope the story does too…)

IMPACT - What impact does your story have - Pixabay

Do you have any writing regrets?

My main one is not starting to write seriously earlier than I did. Of course, on starting out, you have no idea how long it can take to get to publication standard. Knowing what I do now, I would’ve started at least five years earlier than I did!

My other regret is not discovering the joys of flash fiction sooner but the point is I have discovered them now!

Whatever writing regrets you might have, the important thing is to enjoy what you write. Go for writing opportunities that suit you. (The worst that can happen is your work is turned down. Then you can revise said work and submit it elsewhere).

B = Brilliant covers draw your attention
O = Original storylines
O = Opening lines entice you into the stories.
K = Kindle – so easy to carry – one device to hold them all!
S = Stunning plots keep you enthralled.

A = Action should keep you riveted to the tale.
R = Read, read, read. It’s what they’re there for!
E = Education? Yes, sometimes, but entertainment too.

F = Fiction or non-fiction? A world of choice!
A = Allegories and fantasies take you into other worlds.
B = Borrow from your library and support them too.
U = Underestimate the importance of characters? Never!
L = Live the lives of the characters through the narrative.
O = Oh my moments should keep you hooked.
U = Underneath the surface: how deep are the characters?
S = Story, story, story.

Well, I think that sums up what I love about books.

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When did you decide you had to write?

I can’t say there was one particular moment for me. It was just something I’d been building up to doing for a long time (and my only regret is not plucking up the courage to start sooner. Yes, courage, as there is the tendency to think “who am I to think that I can write?”).

What I would recommend for anyone starting out is give it a go. You’ve nothing to lose. Try flash fiction. Try articles. Try longer stories. Play with words and have fun. It’s really important to have fun!

Later, on finding yes this form is my niche, then develop with practice and time the skills to be as good as you can get in that niche.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong in wanting to just write for your own sake. It’s a great way to start and it was years after I started writing before I decided yes, I would see if I could be published. (Oh and success can take many forms whether it is getting a first publication credit or having a book out).

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I’ve mentioned before I use well known phrases as a theme for a story. I also use them as titles. My latest example is If It’s Too Good to Be True on Cafelit. (I laughed at the typo. Conjures up some odd images but fun nonetheless!).  NB:  See link further up this page.

The great thing with this title is I will use it as a theme for another story at some point. It has a wide range of possibilities!

Playing with words - Pixabay image

Playing with words. Pixabay image.

Many thanks to #AlyRhodes for her six-word challenge earlier. Good fun. I do like these. Good for focusing the mind. And, of course, you can take that initial idea and expand it out to longer flash fiction or a standard short story.  My entry by the way was Tiny Dragon flees murderous girl.  A nice twist on how things usually go in tales involving dragons and young women!

I am very fond of flash fiction collections (not just mine, honestly!) because of the wide mixture of stories you can have in them. You have those collections which focus on theme, those like mine which have stories of differing moods in them, others which stick to a set word count etc. I am currently reading 365 Stories, which was given to me by a friend, and is a flash collection of stories of exactly 365 words with one for every day of the year. Good range of stories in there too.

I sometimes write acrostics (which I guess can be a kind of flash fiction as long as there is a story unfolding line by line). I’ve just written one for Books are Fabulous (and aren’t they just!) on my author page. So how would an acrostic flash fiction piece work then?

I’d keep it simple, short and sweet to maximise its impact. (I think a one word acrostic would be best. More than that I think would seem gimmicky but you can let your imagination run free with a one word acrostic well enough!). For example, what could be done for the word “stories”? Let’s see.

STORIES

S = Sarah knew today would be different.
T = Today she would deal with Bob for good.
O = Organising a hitman proved easier than she thought.
R = Risking everything on a stranger’s act was not something Sarah anticipated she’d ever do.
I = Involuntary shudders ran through Sarah as she recalled Bob’s abuse and violence.
E = Enough was enough.
S = Sentence of death was pronounced and would be carried out at 12.30 precisely.

Allison Symes – 18th March 2019

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Am glad to share here a 100 word flash piece that appeared on the Association of Christian Writers’ Facebook page earlier today. The theme was worship.

Discovery
‘Where the hell is that singing from, Sarge? The only thing for miles is rubble.’
‘It’s not from hell, lad. It’s that hymn my gran sang, How Great Thou Art.’
The sergeant cleared bricks, revealing tiles. ‘We’re on an old church. They were destroyed when religion was banned. Remember?’
‘Yes. What a fuss. The fuddy-duddies had nowhere to go on Sundays.’
‘Rumours say some meet in underground churches.’
The men looked down.The singing was coming up.
‘Nothing to report.’
‘Sarge?’
‘Nothing here, lad. If we’re wrong, so what? Let them worship. They’re harmless. Shame our bosses aren’t.’

Ends.

Allison Symes – 19th March 2019

 

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Goodreads Author Programme Blog –

The Role of Books/Stories

What is the role of books/stories?

For me, the primary role is to entertain and provide some escapism, especially when life is being particularly grim.

A good book will take you into its world and for a while that gives you a breathing space. Somewhere to just be for a bit before facing reality again. The benefits of that can’t be overstated.

I can understand real life stories and misery memoirs. I hope the writers found the writing of these to be enormously beneficial but this material is not something I can read.

I either want to escape into another world completely (via fairytales, The Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Discworld etc) OR, when I want to get my teeth into non-fiction, I want some good solid history. I love history when it is told as a story (which is why I adore Simon Schama’s History of Britain series).

A good story, and this includes non-fiction told as a tale, should have a point to it but I’d like to bang the drum for stories “just” being entertaining. To me there’s no “just” about it. A story doesn’t have to be “worthy” to be of benefit.

A story does just have to live up to the promise of its opening lines. And that’s challenging enough!

 

 

 

 

 

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INFLUENCES – AND A LIFE WELL LIVED

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There are some posts you really don’t want to write but know are coming and you write them as a way of expressing apprecation for a life well lived.

My tribute to Barbara Large, MBE, who founded the Winchester Writers’ Festival and Hampshire Writers’ Society, comes into that category.

I cannot think of anyone else who has done so much to support and encourage so many writers in our area. Barbara will be much missed.

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Glad to say I’ll be having a new story up on Cafelit in a couple of days’ time. Will share the link. Do drop by and visit the site. There’s a wonderful range of stories on there in terms of mood, setting etc.

I must admit one reason I’ve developed a real love for classical music is its breadth of style and mood. Am currently listening to The Planet Suite by Gustav Holst. Bliss! I find classical helps me relax and when I relax I write. I wonder though what inspired him to use the planets as inspiration for his music. What matters in the end though was that he did!

However you get your inspiration for story ideas, keep going! Try to produce something as special as you can. One of the great things about writing and reading is, regardless of anything else, it adds richness to your life.

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My CFT post this week will be an appreciation of Barbara Large, who founded the Winchester Writers’ Festival as it is now known. When I first went, it was under the name of Winchester Writers’ Conference. So many writers have learned so much here (and plenty have been published as a result too) and it is all down to Barbara’s vision and her drive to make that vision happen. Link up on Friday.

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Am currently drafting a 750 word story but also want to have another go at the 75 word ones!

I do love the freedom flash fiction gives you. Yes, there is a strict word count but you can choose what it is to a certain extent. There are markets for 75 words, 25 words, 100 words etc etc.

Have recently discovered a possible one to try which goes for 53 words, yes 53. New one on me but may well give it a go! Mixes things up nicely though. Now to find the time… (There are times I really could use Hermione Granger’s time turner device).

Tips for finding your character’s voice:-

1. Write a short scene and just dump the character in it. What is their FIRST reaction? It can be exactly how you’d react. It could be the exact opposite. But once you know what that reaction is, you will have a good idea of their general attitude and approach. You will have that in mind as you write your story.

2. Ask yourself questions about your character. For example, what are their political beliefs? If they don’t have any, what do they believe in and why? Get your character to explain themselves to you! Interviewing your character can be a great way of producing an outline for the story and helping you discover hidden depths to your people. Most of that may not go into your story but you will write with more conviction because YOU know what your people are really like.

I suspect one of the major reasons for the increasing popularity of flash fiction is due to how easy it is to read on a screen, regardless of the latter’s size. The drive in technology, especially mobiles, tablets etc, has helped flash fiction spread. Naturally I’m all for that.

My hope is reluctant readers will be tempted in by an easy read on a screen and then go on to read longer works later. I was saddened though by a recent FB cartoon showing people poking and prodding at a book, not knowing what it was. I only wish I could be certain that would never happen!

But online markets give writers more opportunities to get their work out there. I would far rather people read online than not read at all.

Talking of online reading, I’ll have a new story up on Cafelit on 16th March. Will share the link once I have it. Keep reading!

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Fairytales With Bite – Influences and a Life Well Lived

My CFT post this week pays tribute to the late Barbara Large, MBE, who founded the Winchester Writers’ Festival (as it is now known) and the Hampshire Writers’ Society. I cannot think of anyone else who has done so much to help so many writers over so many years.  She will be much missed.  I first met Barbara many years ago and her encouragement made a huge difference.  So many writers will say the same (including the children’s author, Anne Wan, whom I’ve also interviewed for CFT).

Influences matter to a writer and can make all the difference to whether someone keeps going or gives up.  This applies to our characters too.  What influences are your characters under or swayed by?  Are they positive ones?  If there are negative influences about, what do your characters do to fight that?

Barbara’s life was very much a life well lived and that is something we should all aspire to do.

As for our characters, what do you want your people to aspire to be?  What drives them?  What gets in their way?  Answer those questions and you have the very essence of a good, drama driven story.  And isn’t that what we all want for our books and stories?

Image Credit:  A big thank you to children’s author, Anne Wan, for supplying the images of Barbara Large.  It has been a real pleasure to interview both ladies for CFT at varying points.

This World and Others – The A to Z of Story Essentials

The great thing with an A to Z post is it gives you an instant framework! So my A to Z of story essentials (to be shared over the next couple of weeks or so) includes the following.

A = Action – without this there is no story.  Something has to happen!

B = Belief – this can be the belief of the character, the beliefs held by the world in which they’re set or both of course.  The lead character has to have belief in what they are doing to be able to follow it through.

C = Credible Characters – there has to be characters a reader can get behind, whether it is to cheer them on, or hope said characters fail.  (It is cathartic to boo on the villain!).  We should be able to understand why your characters are the way they are/acting the way they are even if we don’t necessarily agree with them.

D = Dialogue – also has to be convincing.  Accents and dialects are best used sparingly.  The odd word will give enough of a flavour of the relevant accent/dialect without overdoing it.  Dialogue in characters should sound natural (read it out loud to see if it does flow well.  If not, edit!)

E = Editing – this is the writer’s friend, honestly.  Nobody produces a perfect draft first go.  Shakespeare didn’t.  Dickens didn’t.  We’re not going to either.  But put work aside for a while so you can come back to it and look at it with a fresh eye.  Remember editing is not just about spotting the typos and grammatical errors.  There should be structural and story edits to ensure the structure and the story holds together and works the way they should.

More next time…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dangerous Words and What Flash Fiction Isn’t

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My flash fiction story, Dangerous Words, is now up on Cafelit. Hope you enjoy it. There’ll be another from me here on 16th March.

I love getting straight into the heads of my characters and letting them get on with it! The writing seems to flow better when I do this.  And here is the link to my page on Cafelit.  Hope you enjoy the stories!

When you think about who your favourite authors are, do you stop and think about why they’ve made it on to your list of favourites?

No reader or writer worth their salt ever has one favourite author only! You are reading widely across genres to help inspire your own creativity, aren’t you?!

Besides, with such a wonderful wealth of books out there, why stick to just one genre? (I’m the same about chocolate – yes I will always prefer milk, but there’s no way I’m missing out on dark and white!).

I strongly suspect the big draw will be the characters your favourite author(s) created. A well drawn character will have you sympathising with their predicament, their hopes, the obstacles they’ve got to overcome to have any chance of realising those hopes etc.

So turn this around then and ask yourself what you can do with your characters to make readers feel all that about them. Readers should be able to identify with said predicaments and hopes (though not necessarily agree with them or the way your characters handle matters).

I’ve been sharing on Twitter some of my favourite books, the kind you have to take to the mythical desert island with you. Amongst the list are Men at Arms (Terry Pratchett), Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen), Murder on the Orient Express (Agatha Christie), and The Daughter of Time (Josephine Tey). A nice mixed bunch so far but then I’ve never seen the point of limiting your reading to just one genre.

What do I look for from a good book? An entertaining story, characters that make me want to root for them, for good to prevail over evil, and where the story can make me think as well, even better. The Daughter of Time remains, to date, the only novel to make me change my mind over something (Richard III and whether he was innocent or guilty of the murder of the Princes in the Tower).

The challenge as a writer is to create your stories in such a way they resonate with your readers long after they’ve read them. I’ve only ever read To Kill a Mockingbird once (at secondary school) but certain images and the way it made me feel against injustice remain with me to this day. I’ve not read the follow-up and I don’t know if I will but to be able to haunt your readers long after they’ve finished your book is something to aspire to, I think.

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I love getting right inside the heads of my characters when writing stories and often use that as a way to get started on a piece.

I like to think of it as hitting the ground running, because a brief incursion into the character’s mind will reveal (a) what they’re facing and (b) their attitude to it. That’s when the sparks fly!

It also means I’m showing you the story from the viewpoint of that lead character. No telling here! It does mean you’ve got to know your character well enough from the outset so you can write them convincingly but this is where outlining a few thoughts comes into its own. That outline can be as detailed or not as you want, but as long as YOU know enough to write the character, that is what matters. How to tell?

Ask yourself how your character would react to a situation you are not actually writing about for this story. Do you instantly know how they would react? If so, good. If not, you need to flesh your character out more to yourself so you can turn that no into a yes.

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Delighted Dangerous Words is now up on Cafelit. I’m very fond of stories where the main character reveals a lot of what appears to be backstory but is very relevant to what they are facing at the time! I’m also very fond of stories about little old ladies who aren’t quite as innocent as they might seem to be.

How easy do I find writing flash fiction?

The simple answer is I never know when I write flash how it is going to turn out until I do it so I take an idea and run with it and see what happens.

Sometimes that idea will work better as a longer standard length short story (and that’s okay because there will be markets and competitions for it). At other times, something I thought would make a great flash fiction idea really isn’t strong enough.

Flash fiction ISN’T a diluted short story. It has to be a complete story in and of itself. It captures a moment in time (a short story can capture more than one) but it has to be a moment worth sharing! One moment finely honed. And it takes practice too. But that’s true of any form of writing.

Learning to write short will help with creating blurbs for a novel amongst other things so practising writing flash fiction I think is great for all writers to do. The editing and polishing skils you pick up over time will pay off in other writing work you do.

The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings – the ultimate in dangerous words is on this ring!. Pixabay image.

The writing prompt in my diary for this week was of a bird watching its potential mate carrying out a ritual wing display. (The mischievious side of me would have loved the picture to have shown the female holding up a score card – you know the marks out of 10 kind of thing – but then that’s my quirky sense of humour).

The prompt was to tie in with Valentine’s Day and I’ve drafted a flash story (in poetic form) where the female wishes she could have the special treatment more often during the rest of the year, that it wasn’t all down to mating etc, that there could be something special during the day to day effort to survive. My draft needs a lot of work (as all drafts do) but I sympathise with my character’s viewpoint here.

For all writers, the heady moments are (a) when you know you’ve created something good, (b) when you hear you’re going to be published, and (c) when the book contract (a good one obviously) turns up for you to sign! The nature of things means those heady moments are “spaced out” and we have to cope with the daily nitty gritty, which is far less “glamorous”.

The nitty gritty then for all writers is to get the writing done, get it out there, cope with the rejections that will come in, and so on.

And on that note I must get on!

Does flash fiction have its limitations?

Well, there is the word count of course, but I suppose the main one would be is it is not the vehicle for an in depth character study! What it can and should do is show a reader enough about a character so they fill in the gaps themselves. It is like shining a torch and you pick up ONE thing to focus more attention on.

I’ve always loved it when writers don’t tell me every last detail. I want to be able to work things out myself and flash fiction IS the perfect vehicle for that!

I really enjoy reading and writing flash fiction stories which end with a punch. Sometimes that can be literal (!) and is most satisfying when the character has deserved it (and that will be the view your readers will take too). One huge advantage of fiction is wrongs can be righted in a way they’re so often not in real life. I believe that is one reason why fairytales are always popular!

I also love the witty one-liners that can close a story. It’s good to finish a story on an “uplift” where that is appropriate. Of course the set up for that finish happens much earlier in the story and it can be as simple as showing your character has the type of attitude which will make a witty one-line retort likely. (It usually is a retort!).

Above all, it is fun, which is what writing should be after all.

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Goodreads Author Blog Hooks into Books

I seem to have a “thing” for rhyming titles at the moment. Sure it will be a passing fad…!

What attracts you to a book? Is it the title, the blurb, the cover, or a combination of the lot?

For me, the cover draws me in but the blurb is what clinches a sale for me, whether I’m reading on Kindle or a paperback. If I like the premise of the blurb, I will “look inside” a Kindle book or look at the opening page of a paperback. If it seems to deliver, I’ll go ahead and buy.

There is no such thing as a foolproof system but this works for me!

Of course, another great hook is reading a book by an author whose works you know you like. I love series novels and my favourite of these has to be Discworld. Each book original and entertaining but there’s enough familiarity with the world to make you feel right at home as you continue to enjoy the series.

Whatever you read, enjoy!

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Stories, Persistence, and Progress

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Making good progress on the novel. Really enjoying finding out what my heroine is getting up to again! My third volume of flash fiction is coming along nicely as well, though I need to group the stories better. I’ve found grouping flash fiction really well helps add to the pace of the book as you read through so it is worth getting right.

Not impressed with the snow and ice. Okay they’re hardly a surprise in the UK in February but I’ve got to watch it when I take the dog out as she doesn’t seem to understand Mum really doesn’t want to go downhill skiing so Lady can get to the park that bit quicker! Lady is generally pretty good on the lead unless she knows we’re near the park! Pleased to make the acquaintance of a 12 week old Labrador puppy this week who wanted to use Lady’s ball chucker as an outsized teething ring…

One huge advantage of being a dog owner is you get to meet all sorts of interesting characters…. four legged and otherwise!

Now how can I put them into a story I wonder…!

There is an advert about great characters making great drama doing the rounds at the moment. And it is true but it is also true the characters don’t think they ARE great. They’re just getting on with the job or situation they’re in. What makes them great is how they handle things and their persistence. They almost always need that to keep going.

So what drives that persistence? Look deep into what really motivates your characters. What will they absolutely NOT stand? Then make them face it!

You’ll have fun writing that and readers will love reading it!

Submitted flash fiction pieces over the weekend so pleased about that. I often end up submitting flash stories in batches. Mind, I often write them in batches too.

One of the pieces was based on a character study writing prompt in my writing diary for this year (which is proving to be worth its weight in ink just on the challenges from the prompts alone. I do love the way the prompts are varied. Keeps me on my toes).

Editing of novel going well and, looking ahead a little, am investigating publishers to approach with it when ready. Some publishers accept submissions from unagented writers so that’s almost certainly the route I’ll have a crack at. I’ve got a couple of non-fiction ideas ticking away in the back of my mind too so definitely no chance of boredom setting in!

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Glad to report there’ll be a couple of stories of mine on Cafelit over the next month. Will flag up more details nearer to the time of each. Have also submitted an entry for the Waterloo Festival writing competition, which Bridge House Publishing sponsors. Am also drafting a story for Bridge House’s own annual anthology.

I strongly suspect the writing prompts in my diary are going to generate stories for submission as well. I used to have the Mslexia diary but the new one I’m using has regular spots for To Do lists, Monthly Achievements, as well as the different writing prompts. There are plenty of pages at the back for notes too. It’s almost like a writing scrapbook but I like the format and will almost certainly go for it again. I find a writing diary helpful for keeping track of submissions but this one is helping me to produce more work, thanks to those excellent prompts. I just HAVE to do them (which of course is the idea!).

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Which characters do you like writing about/for the most?

I adore writing characters who I know will make me smile.

I also have a very soft spot for characters with hidden depths whether they use those depths for good or ill.

That element of surprise is wonderful to write and I know when reading that kind of thing by other authors, those are always the most memorable parts of the stories.

Sometimes you can guess at the surprise to come, you pick up on the early hints; at other times you don’t guess, but in both cases, the story has you gripped. Job done on the part of the writer there!

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Stories are ultimately problem solvers. Your characters must have something they wish to achieve and there must be obstacles in their way. Often those obstacles are other characters of course who either want the desired “object” themselves or simply don’t want your hero having it!

The great thing though is the way the character solves the problem can be so varied and that will affect the tone of the story. A wisecracking character is going to tip the story into humour, a sour one into a crime one (another character will be totally fed up with them and bump them off by Chapter 5 – well, you now know what I’d do!).

The problem has to be sufficiently important for the character (and ultimately your reader) to care about the outcome. The character needs to be appealing to readers (though bear in mind there’s a reason the charming villain as a character works. Readers love them. There has to be a wish to find out what really makes the character tick).

And flash fiction? You do all that in as few words as possible of course!

Flash fiction can encourage word play especially where it can convey more than one meaning. That in turn saves a lot on the word count!

Below is a story of mine called Test Pilot. I appear to use the same word twice in the same sentence (that’s a sin for a start, isn’t it?!) but the meanings are very different.

TEST PILOT
The crash landings were becoming embarrassing. Nobody minded the odd accident. That happened to everyone but this one was going to mean the test pilot, if unlucky enough to survive, would be hauled before the Board of Inquiry.
Like all such Boards, there was a hell of a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork. Unlike most Boards, said bureaucracy was to minute in minute detail what happened to the late specimens who’d faced them.
And this latest Inquiry was going to play to a packed house.
The crash had been spotted by those pests of the universe – humans.
Nobody was going to forget the Board of Inquiry for Roswell.

ENDS

Allison Symes – 4th February 2019

Hope you enjoy!

 

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Glad to say a couple of my flash fiction pieces will be appearing on Cafelit over the next few weeks. Hope to get more out to them in due course, naturally.

When writing a story, of whatever length, I have to be able to hear the voice of the main character and know what is their chief attribute. From that I can gauge what mood would suit the character best and I write the story accordingly.

Of course, the great thing with, say, a pompous character is that gives great possibilities for humourous tales. Equally a pompous character could work in a tragedy (either by being the character that causes the tragedy for others or by being the victim because their pomposity blinded them to things that others could see all too clearly).

 

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