Co-Operative Marketing and What Defines a Good Book

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My CFT post shares an update from Richard Hardie with regard to his Authors Reach group. More writers than ever are banding up together to hold events they would not go to alone or to assist in marketing.

A great example of this is last year’s Book Fair where a number of local writers got together to sell our books in the area. (We succeeded too!). A good group will cross-pollinate each others’ works. Sometimes it can be easier to promote others’s works than your own. But in this day of print on demand, smartphone, and other technologies, offering to assist can be crucial. It is appreciated by readers too. Having an event with a wider range of authors taking part gives readers more choice (and makes it more likely they’ll turn up to the event!).

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I’m glad to share the first part of a series for Chandler’s Ford Today on which I am series editor. Graham MacLean on Art will run for the next three weeks. Tonight’s article features Graham discussing the purpose of art.

Next week Graham will talk about the different media used in painting and share some of his fantastic artworks using the different forms. He’ll finish the series with a look at his favourite artists.

It was a real pleasure to help Graham put this series together. His paintings are wonderful. Hope you enjoy.  The images below are just three of Graham’s wonderful pictures.  Many thanks, Graham, for these.  There are more in all three articles.  The other two parts to this will appear on 14th and 21st June respectively.

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One great thing about writing is that each writer brings their own perspective to a story. So even if several writers had the same theme, word count etc, our stories would be different. (Yes, there would be bound to be some writers coming out with similar ideas as to how to treat the topic but even there, the way characters are portrayed, the use of language, style etc all show the individual author’s voice).

This is why reading work by other writers is such a pleasure as I love seeing how others treat a theme etc, especially when it is a world away from the way I’d treat it. I like the contrast. I like other writers surprising me with what they come up (and hope sometimes at least I can return the compliment with my writing!).

Got plenty of reading to catch up on when I’m on holiday before long. Very much looking forward to it!

(Am glad to say the books in the slideshow below are some of those I’ve read as a result of interviewing the authors! Am more than happy to recommend them all – and naturally I’m starting with mine!!).

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Good luck to all of the authors taking part in the Waterloo Arts Festival next week. A special hello goes to my fellow Bridge House and Cafelit authors, Paula Readman, Christopher Bowles, Gail Aldwin, and Dawn Knox, who, like me, have work included in the anthology that ties in with the Festival.

I’m only sorry I can’t be there but hope the readings go well and that the ebook sells really well! (Not that I’m biased or anything… much!).

The stories in this anthology are all flash ones so if you are looking to add to your flash fiction collection, do look out for the release of this ebook from 14th June. I will share more details towards the end of next week.

It is heartening to see flash fiction in such fine form!

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – What Defines a Good Book?

A good book, as far as I’m concerned, has to:-

1. Have characters I care about (though I don’t mind if some are “slow burn” characters so I grow to care about them. I am prepared to give them time but I feel cheated if by the end of the book, I haven’t been made to care about the characters.).

2. Have characters I can get behind and either “root” for their success or, usually if a villain, hope they get their comeuppance. (I do love finding out how they do!).

3. Give you a sense that the author has said all that has needed to be said but oh how you wish there was more of the story because you enjoyed it so much.

4. Give you a sense of a wonderfully created world, leaving the way for prequels or sequels, whether or not the writer actually does write these.

5. Have a gripping plot, obviously.

6. Have an easy to remember blurb. It makes it easier to recommend the book to others because it gives you the main point, which drew you to reading the book in the first place.

7. Have a title that intrigues or you can see a few different directions in which the title could take you. That opens up all sorts of possibilities for the story itself and makes me want to crack on and read it!

8. If within a really popular genre, such as crime or fantasy, being able to offer something different to the “mix” so the book stands out.

9. You could see a decent film being made out of the plot as long as the movie people stick to the plot of the book, given it is so good.

10. You want to re-read it at least once a year. Always a good sign that.

Fairytales With Bite – Time to Wonder, Time to Reflect

Do your characters ever wonder or take some time out to reflect? Wonder can be at the physical beauty of the world they’re on, of course, (or if in a really bad place at just how ugly it is!), or they are aware of just how small they are in comparison to their surroundings.

Characters, like us, need periods of reflection, especially if they are on any kind of quest. So how do they find the time to reflect or is it forced upon them? (They’ve got to hide out for a while, so have got plenty of time to do some thinking etc).

What do your characters make of the world you’ve put them in? Are they observant? Do they treat their natural world with contempt or are they conservationists? Do they ever reflect on their own behaviour and attitudes?

Are your characters thoughtful or thoughtless ones? If you have characters where one is a reflective type and the other would far rather watch paint dry, (a) you can see the potential for clashes here (though they could be humorous ones) and (b) how do you resolve matters if the two absolutely have to work together? (Again potential for comedy or tragedy here).

I’ll leave you to wonder how to write that! Good luck!

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This World and Others – Purposes

I’ve recently been the series editor for a series on art by Graham MacLean on Chandler’s Ford Today.  (The other two parts of this series will be going live on 14th and 21st June.  I’d highly recommend having a look – Graham is a superb artist).  Part 1 of this series talks about the purpose of art.  (We could have gone on at length about that rather than just write and edit one post about it!).  Part 2 will see Graham discussing the different media used in painting and he shares some fantastic examples of his own work in most of the forms discussed.  Part 3 will be his thoughts on his favourite artists.

So this led me to think about what purposes your characters (a) have, (b) consider worthy, (c) would not go a million miles near no matter how much you paid them, or (d) intend to carry out, no matter how or of who tries to get in their way.  How did they discover these purposes?  What is behind their attitude towards them?  Are societal/tribal pressures influencing them on how they should react/which purposes they should carry out or avoid?

A purpose will have a clearly stated aim so will automatically give your character something to either strive for or get away from, as the case may be.  It will be the conflicts caused by that striving or avoiding which give you your story.  The purpose has to be strong enough and definite.  So a purpose of, say, killing the dragon terrifying the village is fine.  A purpose of sitting down to think about what should be done about the dragon is not – far too wishy washy!

And talking of dragons, I’m glad to share a recently published flash fiction piece, Time for a Change, which has recently appeared on Cafelit.  Hope you enjoy.

And now I’m off for a few days break.  I will be back on here during the week beginning Monday 18th June.  Hope you all have wonderful holidays this summer.  I have, meantime, scheduled short Facebook posts on my author page and also on my From Light to Dark and Back Again page for the next few days.  I will be back here with a big round-up of those on my return.  Happy summer, everyone!

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Writing Likes – and a Dragon Story

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Who do you like to write about most – the heroes or the villains?

I think there is some truth in the saying that villains are more fun to write (and indeed act out) but the challenge for writing for the “good guys” is to ensure they’re not worthy but boring.

This is where the device of the character flaw(s) for the heroes and where the villain(s) being shown to have understandable reasons for being the way they are comes in.

However, this can become cliched in itself so the challenge then is to create characters, bad or good, where the reader can “root for them”. They’ve got to grab the reader’s attention and hold it (even if it is a case of the reader really wanting the character to get their comeuppance).

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My latest flash fiction story, Time For A Change, is now up on Cafelit. If you like dragons, you’ll like this one.

Also pleased to say another flash fiction story, Progressing, will soon be part of the Waterloo Arts Festival Writing Competition anthology. This will be an ebook. I’ll share further details when I have them.


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My CFT post for this week features an update from Richard Hardie, author of YA novels, Leap of Faith and Trouble With Swords, regarding his Authors Reach group.

I’ve discussed the importance of networking in previous CFT posts. Groups like Authors Reach will become increasingly important given writers are banding together more to support one another in marketing, holding events no one author could do alone and so on.

The post also shows you shouldn’t underestimate the time and effort needed to get your work “out there” regardless of whether you are in a group or are on your own. Writing the book really is the beginning…

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I’ve talked before about having to have a title to work to when I’m writing a story. However, this doesn’t mean the title I initially come up with is set in stone.

Quite often a better title becomes apparent as I’m drafting the tale so I change things to suit. I don’t know quite what it is about having “something” to start with – perhaps it it is the literary equivalent of giving myself a head start!

All I know is it works!

 

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I love story titles which can take you in all sorts of directions. My latest story on Cafelit, Time For A Change, is a good example of that. A title like that can mean your setting is on Earth, in any time or place, or out there in the depths of the known and unknown universes. The only limit is your imagination.

I love this Pixabay image of a dragon. There’s something about those eyes… (mind if you did get so close to such a magnificent beast, I doubt if you’d have chance to study the eyes much!).

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Well, I hope you might look at dragons in a different light if you read my Time for a Change story on Cafelit yesterday! (Will share the link again shortly).

One thing I love writing is taking an often maligned character – say a dragon! – and show a story from their angle. I like to look in general terms as to why a character might act the way they are and, a lot of the time, you can end up feeling some sympathy towards a kind of character you might otherwise have felt nothing but antipathy towards!

I also believe knights in shining armour aren’t necessarily all they’re cracked up to be either! Some knights don’t need armour in which to shine either..

 

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – What Defines a Good Book for You?

A good book, as far as I’m concerned, has to:-

1. Have characters I care about (though I don’t mind if some are “slow burn” characters so I grow to care about them. I am prepared to give them time but I feel cheated if by the end of the book, I haven’t been made to care about the characters.).

2. Have characters I can get behind and either “root” for their success or, usually if a villain, hope they get their comeuppance. (I do love finding out how they do!).

3. Give you a sense that the author has said all that has needed to be said but oh how you wish there was more of the story because you enjoyed it so much.

4. Give you a sense of a wonderfully created world, leaving the way for prequels or sequels, whether or not the writer actually does write these.

5. Have a gripping plot, obviously.

6. Have an easy to remember blurb. It makes it easier to recommend the book to others because it gives you the main point, which drew you to reading the book in the first place.

7. Have a title that intrigues or you can see a few different directions in which the title could take you. That opens up all sorts of possibilities for the story itself and makes me want to crack on and read it!

8. If within a really popular genre, such as crime or fantasy, being able to offer something different to the “mix” so the book stands out.

9. You could see a decent film being made out of the plot as long as the movie people stick to the plot of the book, given it is so good.

10. You want to re-read it at least once a year. Always a good sign that.

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KNOWING WHAT I DO NOW…

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Are there things connected with writing that you are glad you know now? This is definitely the case for me and my list would be:-

1. When offered a contract, get it checked out by the Society of Authors. I did and it stopped me entering into something that would’ve been a vanity publishing contract. I’ve never regretted not going for that (though at the time I wasn’t published elsewhere nor was there anything in the pipeline). Talking of which:-

2. Don’t be afraid to turn things down. You have got to be happy with what you are doing writing wise. And, as with so much in life, if it seems too good to be true, it is. There’s no shame in walking away from such a thing.

3. You really do need to edit on paper and not on screen. You WILL miss typos, grammatical errors etc on screen. I’m sure there must be a logical reason to this, probably based on how the brain interprets things on screen as opposed to paper. All I know for sure is when I edit on paper, I pick up far more that needs correcting (and so save myself a great deal of embarrassment in NOT submitting something with errors because I’ve not seen the wretched things and dealt with them!). It IS worth taking the time here.

What would you list here?

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New story from me coming up on Cafelit on Tuesday (5th June), will share the link then. If you like dragons, it will be for you!

Am sorry to be missing the Winchester Writers’ Festival this year. Hope all who go have a wonderful time. Likewise all going to the Waterloo Arts Festival and to all of the winning authors who will be reading their stories out here, have a great time and good luck!

Am looking forward to the Hursley Park Book Fair later in June and Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in August. Much later in the year will be the annual Bridge House Publishing/Cafelit/Chapeltown Books get-together in London.

Immediate writing plans are to get more stories out to Cafelit and press on with my third flash fiction book (though I am happy with how that is going). I would like to write more non-fiction and a long term goal is to do something more with that.

Am also pleased to say a new mini-series will be coming up on Chandler’s Ford Today shortly which is about art by Graham MacLean. I was the series editor on it and it was lovely to work on. Some wonderful pictures by Graham illustrate the three part series. These will be appearing on 7th, 14th and 21st June.

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Does the mood of your characters match your mood as you’re writing their stories?

Definitely not in my case and this is just as well given a lot of my flash fiction has themes of murder, revenge, poetic justice and so on! When I’m not writing on those topics, I often write about magical beings you would not want to meet, yet alone cross, or I’m writing about poignant situations.

So is all human life then in From Light to Dark and Back Again? Quite a bit of it is, yes – and a fair amount of non-human life too!

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One of the most difficult things about writing flash is ensuring that it is a “proper” story and not just a piece of prose cut abruptly short. The need for a beginning, middle and end applies to whatever length of fiction you’re writing, though I suppose it is more obvious for things like novels and short stories.

This is where twist endings help a lot as you can’t go beyond that without spoiling the effect. I’ve occasionally written a flash piece as a letter (Punish the Innocent is a good example of this) and the great thing with that as a device it it has GOT to end with the sign-off (or possibly a PS at most!).

I think of the middle of the story as the “pivot point”. It is where the problem in the tale has been set out, it has got to be resolved, and your reader can see that being done in at least two different ways. (You’ve got to keep them guessing!).

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Holiday Reading

I’ve recently picked up three lovely paperbacks which will be part of my holiday reading. Many thanks to generous friends and family for the book shop gift cards. I’ve finally had a chance to go and use them on:-

1. Double Cross by Ben McIntyre
2. London by Peter Ackroyd
3. View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

I love history of all sorts (and am intrigued by the idea of having a biography of a city!). The Neil Gaiman book is a collection of his non-fiction pieces and I’m really looking forward to reading that.

As ever, my trusty Kindle will also be with me on my holidays this year. I love both ebooks and paperbacks and switching between the two formats is another joy to reading as far as I’m concerned.

Now all I need to do is catch up on my reviewing!

 

 

 

 

HOW TO HELP THE WRITER IN YOUR LIFE – AND A NEW FLASH STORY

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Glad to say my latest flash fiction piece, Getting Lost, is now up on Cafelit. Hope you enjoy.  If you’ve ever had a sat nav give you “strange” directions, this is a story for you!

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If you want to help the writer in your life, please do review their books on Amazon, Goodreads etc. The lovely thing with this is that the review doesn’t have to be a long one – the crucial thing is it has to be honest! The numbers of reviews build up over time and really do help an author’s profile.

One great thing a writer can do is review other books and across a wide range of writing tastes. I must admit I tend to have a “glut” of reviewing and then write none for a while. Not deliberate on my part. I just need to be a bit better organised on that front! The reason why this is so useful is by bringing a book into the publishing world you are joining the industry and it makes so much sense to support that industry by buying other books and reviewing them!

Present buying for writers? Well, you can never go wrong with nice notebooks and pens or book tokens/gift cards. Getting that one in a tad early for Christmas I know, but hey writers have birthdays too!

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There will be a new flash fiction piece from me up on Cafelit tomorrow (sometime during the early evening onwards) called Getting Lost. Must try and enter more flash fiction competitions this year too.

I tend to draft promising first lines and then draft stories to fit them (often when on train journeys). It definitely beats doing the crossword by a very long margin! Often that promising first line sparks ideas for the title of the piece too.

How do I decide whether a story will be a drabble at 100 words or a longer one? Basically when I know I cannot edit the piece any more without it losing something that contributes to the characters or the overall story. I then leave the piece be and whatever the word count is remains the word count! Often this will be at 100 words or under but sometimes a piece really does work better as a 250-300 worder. This is where reading a piece out loud can show you how well the whole thing “flows” and if it “flows” well, that is when it is time to drop the editing pen.

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One of the great joys of reading flash fiction is picking up on the clues the writer gives you. I normally have to read a story twice to pick up everything (I was like this when watching things like Columbo too – this DOES say something about me!).

You can learn a lot about story construction when reading a piece through more than once. This, of course, is one great joy about writing flash fiction. You pick up things like story construction to help inspire and improve your own work and are looking for things a reader simply wouldn’t.

One difficulty with flash can be working out where to end it. It must not seem like a big bit of prose cut abruptly short. This is where I love the twist ending as it overcomes that. The twist clearly is the ending with no room for anything else afterwards. Problem solved!

 

 

Reviews and Characterisation

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My post for Chandler’s Ford Today this week is a review of three different plays staged in one production by The Chameleon Theatre Group. There was Oh What a Lovers’ War (set against the background of August 1914), The Dreaming (a surreal play), and Pina Coladas (a mystery). All were very good and I loved the mixture of plays. More details and pics in the post. Well done to the Chameleons for a great evening.

Image Credit:  Many thanks to the Chameleons, especially Lionel Elliott, for kind permission to use the images, which were taken by them.

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There will be a new flash fiction piece from me up on Cafelit tomorrow (sometime during the early evening onwards) called Getting Lost. Must try and enter more flash fiction competitions this year too.

I tend to draft promising first lines and then draft stories to fit them (often when on train journeys). It definitely beats doing the crossword by a very long margin! Often that promising first line sparks ideas for the title of the piece too.

How do I decide whether a story will be a drabble at 100 words or a longer one? Basically when I know I cannot edit the piece any more without it losing something that contributes to the characters or the overall story. I then leave the piece be and whatever the word count is remains the word count! Often this will be at 100 words or under but sometimes a piece really does work better as a 250-300 worder. This is where reading a piece out loud can show you how well the whole thing “flows” and if it “flows” well, that is when it is time to drop the editing pen.

 

Fairytales with Bite – Describing Your Characters

If you were asked to talk about your characters, how would you describe them (and without sending whoever questioned you to sleep!)?

I like to start with traits – for example, Eileen is brave, resourceful, and rebellious.  Those three words alone give you a good starting point for portraying Eileen.  Getting your characterisation right is everything in getting the story right (and therefore give it much more chance of being accepted somewhere).  A good plot needs great characters to make it work.

It is useful to outline a character whether you put all you detail into a story or not.  (The likelihood is you wouldn’t.  I know I need to know this and that about a character, your readers might only to know “this”).  However, outlining a character gives you all the information you need to work out what kind of story they would be in, how they would handle a situation (or mishandle it), and what their “happy ever after” ending is likely to be.  It is then up to you if they achieve it!  (Great stories can be found in a character attempting to get to this point but never quite making it so they have to adjust their “happy ever after” for something more sustainable over the long term.  I guess this is where the “happy for now” endings, especially in romance novels, comes from).

I’ve found it does pay to take time outlining.  I find when ready to write the story itself, I write it quicker because I’ve already got the “building blocks” in place ready to go with my tale.

 

This World and Others – Ten Things a Great Character Must Have

1.  A sense of purpose – whether they’re the hero or villain.
2.  Determination (without it, there’s no chance of fulfilling their purpose).
3.  A worthy opponent.  (Sherlock Holmes is wonderful but Moriarty challenged him and Holmes needed that challenge.  Your leads need those who will get in their way, try to thwart their plans etc.  That’s where the story comes alive).
4.  A cause worth supporting (even if they are the only ones supporting it!  Not quite the same as 1 above as a character can have a sense of purpose even without a cause.  The great sidekicks in literature are often like this.  Sam Gamgee in Lord of the Rings saw his cause as being supporting Frodo.  It was Frodo who really had the sense of purpose and Sam didn’t always understand Frodo’s “intensity”,  Frodo had both the sense of purpose in that he had a job to do no matter what, which was at one and the same time also a cause worth supporting).
5.  Courage.  This comes into it somewhere in the story.  It has to.  The kind of courage can vary from the obvious courage in battle to the quieter kind where someone will keep going to support someone no matter what the hellish circumstances.
6.  The ability to ask for help.  Not every character has this.  Recognising you need help and the best people to give it shows humility and pragmatism (as the character comes to terms with knowing they need help if they are going to fulfil their objective at all).
7.  A mentor/adviserThis ties in with 6.  A great character is going to need guidance to help them meet their goal and knows who to get that guidance from.
8.  The ability to get on with most characters.  This ties in with 6 and 7.  Nobody is going to want to guide or assist a character who is arrogant or overbearing.
9.  Planning. The character must work out how they’re going to meet their commitments and then just get on with it.
10 .  A cool head.  Given the undoubtedly hellish situations, you are going to put your character through, they will still need a cool head to face down those challenges and press on towards their goal.

HOW STORIES SOUND, DESCRIPTIONS AND CLARITY

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I’ve read my stories aloud at times to literally hear how they sound (and have sometimes recorded them so I can play them back too. This is particularly useful if you need to time a story). If you trip over your dialogue, your readers will too so definitely time to get the editing pen out again.

It is an oddity that what looks okay written down suddenly isn’t okay when you read it out loud. You can hear where the text sounds awkward. My More than Writers post, due up on the Association of Christian Writers blog tomorrow, talks about clarity. (Link to come tomorrow). One thing I discovered a while ago is that simple, clear writing is a joy to read and it can take several rewrites for an author to get it to that stage. It is worth the effort though.

I’ve forgotten who said that the professional writer is the amateur who didn’t quit, but there is a lot of truth in that.

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I don’t necessarily choose the mood of the story (or the main character) before I start writing. Often the theme can mean the mood of the story can go in a couple of different directions and my job then is to pick the outline that seems to have the most promising characters that I can do something with!

I like it when one character clearly stands out. You find yourself rooting for that character to succeed (usually). It is their story so it’s my job to let “them” tell their story their way. That disguises a lot of editing and ensuring that all the information you’ve given the reader marries up, is only what they absolutely need to know etc.

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Am glad to share the link to my monthly spot on the Association of Christian Writers’ More Than Writers blog. I talk about clarity this time.

I discovered the Plain English campaign have a gobbledygook generator. Yes, really! Had lots of fun clicking the box and seeing what garbage emerged… all based on real examples too. It’s a great example of how NOT to write!

CLARITY POST - Clarity - image via Pixabay

Should clarity, rather than cleanliness, be next to godliness?  I think so!  Image via Pixabay.

CLARITY POST - Clarity of thought should lead to clarity of expression - image via Pixabay - Copy

Clarity of thought should lead to clarity of expression.  Image via Pixabay

Feature Image - Part 5 101Things to Put into Room 101

A recent CFT post of mine but the questions can help you ensure your writing is beautifully clear.  Image via Pixabay.

The basic kit for a writer - image via Pixabay

The writer’s basic toolkit – image via Pixabay

Some of the tools of the scrivener's trade here - image via Pixabay

The tools of the scrivener’s trade. We’ve come on a bit since then! Image via Pixabay

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

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

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

Books are the keys to knowledge. Image via Pixabay

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News just in, as they say! Two of my stories will be on Cafelit – one on 5th May and the other on 5th June. Will share links on the days. Very pleased. Don’t think I’ll ever tire of hearing something I’ve written has been accepted!

Having acceptances is obviously one of the highlights of writing, but what about the downside? Yes, the rejections would come into that category but, for me, I’m more despondent when the writing simply isn’t going as well as I’d like. Rejections I see as par for the course and I try to learn from them and see where it is where I may have gone wrong. If it is just down to editorial taste, then I can submit the story elsewhere. So generally I can get something positive out of this.

But when you are keen to write and it seems like a struggle (and it happens to us all), that is more of a challenge to deal with. I tend to have a break away from whatever it was I was working on to write something else or brainstorm ideas for future projects. I’m not sure why it is but whenever I write something else, ideas come to me for the original thing I was struggling with. Distraction therapy perhaps? All I know is that it works.

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I’ve been enjoying the different flash fiction collections put out by Chapeltown Books and this has proved to be a great way of ensuring I read plenty of contemporary fiction. (Reading enough classic fiction is never an issue!).

A good reading “diet” should include contemporary and classic works and non-fiction. I see all of this as feeding the mind as you never know when reading something triggers ideas for your own stories. The more you read, the more you cast your “net”, and the more likely it is you will have those “sparks”.

So happy writing – and happy reading!

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My flash fiction collection from Chapeltown Books!

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Mandy’s flash fiction collection from Chapeltown Books. Image kindly supplied by her.

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Gail’s flash fiction collection from Chapeltown Books. Image supplied by Gail Aldwin. Also note the Chapeltown Books branding of a frame around an image. Simple but effective

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Gill James reading from her January Stones collection. Image by Allison Symes

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.!

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

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Given flash fiction makes its readers fill in the gaps due to the word count restrictions, it is also a great way to conjure up other worlds which reflect on our own.

A reference here, a name of a character there etc will carry weight based on what we know of that reference and name. The world might be strange but the reference or name are not and it makes filling in the gaps easier. What is really nice is when you know that reference or name will make the reader smile because you know what they will associate it with.

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Descriptions can be tricky. Too much information and you switch the reader off. Too little and you can’t conjure up enough of an image for your reader to “hook into” so they can get right into your story’s world.

Flash fiction, of course, by its nature means you have to be sparing with the details so the trick is to find the most powerful image in the shortest number of words. (Well, it IS meant to be a challenge!).

I ask myself what are the images I want my reader to definitely pick up from my story. This is where outlining your thoughts before writing the story is so helpful. It makes it easier to select the telling details that absolutely have to be in the tale.

You can also mark those others that would be useful to have in if you have sufficient word count spare but would not spoil the story if they weren’t included. It has been my experience there usually isn’t the word count spare (unless I am writing right at the upper range for flash). Focusing on what HAS to be in is, I find, the best place to start. Anything after that is a bonus but should still only be included if it does something useful such as giving depth to your tale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REAL WRITING = REAL CHARACTERS

A busy few days and I also have a new flash fiction story to share with you.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest Chandler’s Ford Today post sees me resuming my series on 101 Things to Put into Room 101. This week’s post sees me reach No. 45! Do you agree with my choices? Comments welcome in the CFT comments box.

Feature Image - Part 3 Room 101 Post

My latest CFT post. Image via Pixabay.

Decisions, decisions

Decisions, decisions and a not terribly helpful signpost. Image via Pixabay.

Still this kind of board might raise a smile

This notice may make you smile though. Image via Pixabay.

Could Room 101 be behind here - image via Pixabay

The vault of doom aka Room 101. Image via Pixabay

Facebook – General and More Than Writers Blog (Association of Christian Writers)

Busy, busy. I have a short post up on Chandler’s Ford Today regarding Richard Hardie’s author events at the Winchester Discovery Centre on 3rd April. If you like YA fantasy and are in the area, why not pop along? Entry is free (though there are books to buy!). See http://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/local-author-news-richard-…/

My usual Friday slot tomorrow sees me resuming my 101 Things to Put into Room 101 series. I incorporate everything from snow to shoes that pinch your feet (though if they pinch anything else, you’re doing something very odd with your shoes!).

My monthly post for the Association of Christian Writers is online tonight. My spot is the 29th of each month. This means I get every three Februaries off!

My post is Real Writing = Real Characters and talks about the importance of honest portrayal of characters. If they’re right so-and-sos, then you portray them as such. (How you do that is up to you but there must be no doubt in the readers’ minds that the character IS a right so-and-so!).

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What are your characters’ favourite memories and why? How do they influence their actions in your story? Can showing some of their memories help you create a richer, more fully rounded character? I think so.

Now with flash fiction, there isn’t the room for a lot here so you have to pick the most important memory and focus sharply on that. Or you tell the story where the character is looking back on something.

For example, in my flash tales, My Life and Changing My Mind, I have my take on Pride and Prejudice told from the viewpoints of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy, each with their own story. To combine them in one tale would have made the stories lose impact (though it would still have been well within the flash fiction word count limit). Mind, it did make it easy working out where they had to be in From Light to Dark and Back Again – right next to each other!

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What is the purpose of flash fiction? To create a miniature world a reader can literally dive in and out of in moments yet still leave an impact on them. To say in a few words (and with greater impact) something that would lose its power if put into a longer story.

I suppose one thing that really has drawn me to the form is the fact I’ve always loved working things out from clues the author gives and you do that a lot with flash fiction. I don’t want the writer telling me everything!

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I think humour lends itself well to flash fiction because the best gags (or at least the ones I remember best) are short and to the point. (Mind you, the Two Ronnies’ Four Candles is an honourable exception to this and such a fabulous play on words too. Should imagine that was a delight to write. Likewise Morecambe and Wise with Andre Preview in their Christmas special – sheer joy from beginning to end.).

The nice thing about flash fiction is I’ve found it opens up the genres you write in. After all in From Light to Dark and Back Again, I have crime stories, relationship stories, light horror stories and so on. A lot of my lighter tales play with humour too – I’ve used a lot of irony. So mix up your humour styles and see what flash fiction you can generate. Above all, have fun doing this!

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Why should any writer read well and widely in AND outside of their own genre?

The simple answer is you are feeding your imagination by reading. I’ve had ideas for stories by reading works by others, especially in non-fiction. Something I’ve read has just triggered that spark and away I go! So the more you read, the more likely you are to get that spark and you are “fishing from a bigger pool” too. You expand your own knowledge and therefore you can expand what you write about too.

With non-fiction, a story can emerge from reading, say, a historical fact, and wondering how that would affect characters from differing backgrounds.

So never feel guilty about “just” reading. It is the flip side of writing and a highly enjoyable one at that. After all, if you don’t want to read, why would you want to write? There has to be that love of books and stories inside you to trigger that desire to write. That love can only come through reading – whether your preferred format is Kindle, paperback or audio doesn’t matter. All that matters is you read!

Cafelit – The Art Critic

Am pleased to share my latest piece of flash fiction, The Art Critic.  Do check out Cafelit.  There is a wealth of fabulous stories on there and I am so pleased to be part of it.

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

Fairytales with Bite – Publicity IN your stories

On my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week, I resume my series on 101 Things to Put into Room 101One of the things I mention is annoying adverts.  This led me to wonder how advertising, business, publicity etc could work in a fictional world.

How do your characters survive?  Presumably by working so what do they do?  What products are made in your world?  How are others persuaded to buy them?  Are there things your world does not allow to be made or sold and if so what and why?  Is there a black market (there usually is!)?

Also how do your characters find out what is going on?  Can they tell what is truth and what is propaganda?  Are adverts truthful?  Are there governing bodies regulating these things?  Or is your society a simpler, barter based one?

Talking of adverts, I will just share a flash fiction story of mine, The Art Critic, which is now up on Cafelit.  Do check out the website for some fabulous stories by a whole range of authors.  I’m delighted to have work on here.  Hope you like the story.

This World and Others – Your Character Likes and Dislikes

My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week sees me resume my series on 101 Things to be Put Into Room 101So far I’m up to number 45!  I’ll have no trouble finding 101 things to banish…

What are your character likes and dislikes and why?  if your character loathes the colour brown, to name one example, what is the reason for it and does that loathing make them change their behaviour in any way?  Could that loathing change the way the story ends because the character’s actions change (and not necessarily for the better either)?

You almost certainly wouldn’t use all of this in one story but listing what your character likes and loathes is a great way of finding out all about them before you write the story properly.  You will write with a deeper knowledge of that character (and it does show through).

From the writers’ viewpoint, I dislike characters who have no reason to be in the story but are clearly making up the numbers and  I have come across this.  (Earlier in my writing life, I’ve been guilty of it but I think many of us have been.  The important thing is to realise the characters don’t have a role to play and cut them out). Each and every character has to have a very good reason to be in your story.  Each and every character has to be distinctive (even if it is, say, Character A loves flowers and Character B hates them because they have chronic hayfever.  Easy to tell those two apart!).

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Flash Fiction, Top Five Favourite Books, and Guest Blogging

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Good news – another of my flash fiction tales, The Art Critic, is now up on the Cafelit website. Anyone who has had a bad review or hated a piece of artwork will sympathize with my heroine in this one. Good fun to write. Hope you enjoy reading it.

I’m outlining ideas for another collection of flash fiction tales and I hope some of these will also end up on Cafelit in the meantime. Many of my stories in From Light to Dark and Back Again started life on Cafelit. A number of Chapeltown Books authors can say the same about their flash stories – and I’m willing to bet we’re all pleased about this!

I loved the old James Garner films, Support Your Local Gunfighter/Sheriff etc. Maybe we should have something called Support Your Cafelit! In all seriousness, online sites like this are an immense help to writers including me. They give us somewhere to put our work, it can (and in this case has) led to publication opportunities, and feedback is also possible via the comments section under each story put on the site.

So give online story websites like Cafelit a try. You may well come across a form of fiction you might like to try writing. Certainly, you’ll like the stories already up there. Happy reading and writing!

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Facebook – General

Firstly, as mentioned above, my latest flash fiction piece, The Art Critic, is now up on Cafelit. See http://cafelitcreativecafe.blogspot.co.uk/ but do check out the other wonderful stories on site.

Secondly, I am guest blogging on Amanda Huggins’s Troutie McFish Tales blog tonight. I talk about why I love writing flash fiction and for Chandler’s Ford Today and share some writing tips that have stood me in very good stead.

Thirdly, I’ll be appearing at the Hursley Park Book Fair due to take place in June. I’ll share more details nearer the time but author pics and bios are now up on their website, including for yours truly. See http://www.hursleyparkbookfair.com/authors

 

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My CFT post this week will be the resumption of my 101 Things to Put into Room 101 series. Yes, I can find 101 things!

I’m using my diary more to plan out what writing work I do when and am finding that useful. It reminds me to block out time for specific tasks for one thing so I am hoping by the year’s end, I will have been more productive than I was in 2017. Not that I was lazy last year, far from it (!), but I’ve been aware for a while I could probably do more than I am and that will need scheduling if I’m going to make it (a) happen and (b) work!

I am making better use of dead time thanks to Evernote and a smartphone. I use time like this to draft out ideas for flash fiction stories and CFT posts. All useful stuff. It’s amazing (though not in a good way) just how easily time slips away and you find you haven’t achieved as much as you thought or would like.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

How can you tell if you have written flash fiction and not just a short story chopped down? Well, like any short story, a flash fiction tale must have a beginning, a middle and an end. Okay, a lot is implied, especially backstory, but everything in your flash tale must move the story onwards to what will seem like the inevitable conclusion (even if is a twist one).  If your story does that, then fine!

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What is the purpose of a story?

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

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

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

Flash fiction does all of this but concisely!

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Glad to report The Art Critic, my latest flash fiction piece, is now up on Cafelit. See http://cafelitcreativecafe.blogspot.co.uk/

It was great fun appearing on Amanda Huggins’ Troutie McFish Tales blog. See https://troutiemcfishtales.blogspot.co.uk/…/guest-post-alli… Many thanks, Mandy!

I share why I love writing (and indeed reading) flash fiction and also what I love about writing for Chandler’s Ford Today.

Printers would have fun trying to print this - image via Pixabay

Let the ideas flow and let journeys encourage that! Image via Pixabay

Printing Press - image via Pixabay

The old method of printing. Image via Pixabay

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

Books are the keys to knowledge. Image via Pixabay

The To Be Read pile - image via Pixabay

The To Be Read pile. Image via Pixabay

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

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

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

What is the best thing about writing flash fiction? I always love that moment when I’ve come up with the “killer” last line that completes the story in such a way I know there couldn’t be an alternative ending.

Sometimes I do come up with a line I think will make a great ending and plot the story back from that. It’s an interesting challenge (and Agatha Christie was known to do it too).

Do last lines sometimes surprise me? Yes. I hope they surprise you too! I will think of a line I realize is better than the one I originally had in mind. For example, with Serving Up a Treat, the last line “He never got to take a second mouthful” not only sums up the story, (and you can get the genre from that line alone), but, taken with the rest of the tale, I realised later there was more than one way of this character meeting their fate. I had not originally plotted that but was glad it came about. (Yes, you will need to rest of the tale to find out!).

Maybe the art of being a better writer is in getting better at recognizing what works well and being open to changing your initial thoughts and ideas for better ones.

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog

What are your top five favourite books? They can be any genre, non-fiction or otherwise etc.

So often my favourite books do depend on my mood. If I want humorous fiction, I will read that. If I want crime, I will turn to that genre.

But I think for me the five that stand out overall are:-

1. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. This book is one of the few novels to ever change my mind about a historical character, in this case Richard III.

2. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein. The sheer scale of Tolkein’s imagination is amazing and you won’t get a better good-v-evil battle in fiction, I think. Loved the film version too.

3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. This was my first introduction to the use of irony in fiction and Elizabeth Bennett has long been one of my favourite heroines.

4. Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett. It was hard to pick just one Discworld novel but I plumped for this one as, for me, it is where Sam Vimes really takes off as a character.

5. The Best of P.G. Wodehouse Am I cheating here by going for a best of collection? Maybe! But I’m not sorry. This wonderful book shows off PGW’s fabulous array of characters.

So what would your choices be? Do you think they would change, say, annually, or be permanent selections?

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIKES, DISLIKES AND SIGNS OF SUCCESS

Facebook – General and Chandler’s Ford Today

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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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

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.

Facebook – Cafelit and Chapeltown

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

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

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

Lovely having an appreciative audience, pic taken by Dawn Kentish Knox

I read three stories from From Light to Dark and Back Again. Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for the picture!

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Gill reads from January Stones. Image by Allison Symes

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

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

Fairytales With Bite – Character Likes and Dislikes

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

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

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

This World and Others – Signs of Success?

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

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

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

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

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

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REVIEWS – BY WRITER AND CHARACTERS!

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest CFT post takes a look back at my writing year and I also share some recently published stories of mine on Cafelit. All have a Christmas theme. I hope you enjoy them and that you have a lovely Christmas.

I must admit I think the picture I found on Pixabay to use as my feature image for this week’s post is probably the loveliest I’ve used ever. I just love the colours in this one.

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A little Christmas scene…

In the middle of the Christmas rush
There was an old man carving a brush
He was clearly an expert in wood
He could make any timber look good
Right by the old High Street church he was
He so wanted to be there because
The God he loved was a carpenter
A worker should be at the centre
Of the scene, as the shepherds had been
There long before the wise men were seen.
The man liked a God who worked with His hands
In the tableau He was in swaddling bands.

Allison Symes – 22nd December 2017

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. (Oh and I’ve nothing against the wise men incidentally. They would have been highly educated men. It is interesting to see the wide variety of people who were at that first Christmas).

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Fairytales With Bite – Looking Back

Looking back/reviews is my theme for tonight as I cover this in my This World and Others post where I talk about the usefulness of reviews and for my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week where I look back at my writing year.  (I also share some recently published stories of mine from Cafelit, all on a Christmas theme.  Hope you like them).

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.  Happy writing – and I hope you receive plenty of books, in whichever format, over Christmas.  Stories are wonderful and Christmas is a great time to celebrate them.  As a Christian, I celebrate what, for me, is the greatest story – that of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, but whether you share my beliefs or not, I hope you have a lovely Christmas season and New Year.

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This World and Others – Reviews

My latest Chandler’s Ford Today post reviews my writing year and, while on topic, I thought I’d look at how useful reviews can be whatever you write.

Obviously anyone with a book out there, including me, appreciates reviews on various websites as they do help.  An honest one or two line review is enormously helpful so do please put them up.  (And yes, do say what you dislike about a book as well as what you like about it.  Honesty is vital.  Amazon have, understandably, clamped down on reviews they think were written by the writer’s granny or by rival writers who are wielding a hatchet!).

I always carry out an end of year review and tick off the things achieved, carry certain things over (I will always want to have flash fiction work and short stories out there so this is ongoing) and perhaps look at why other things I hoped to achieve didn’t happen.  I then look at whether I can do better on these ideas in the coming year or whether it was the ideas themselves that weren’t strong enough etc.

There will always be things I’m disappointed I didn’t achieve, that’s life, but that’s no reason to NOT have another go in the year to come!