COMING BACK TO EARTH

Just returned from the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, after a fabulous week of excellent courses and getting to catch up with writer friends, with whom, for the rest of the year, I stay in contact with via social media.  Lovely as that is, you can’t beat getting together face to face!

So tonight’s post is all on the theme of coming back to earth and I also look at Books That Should Have Been Written as a lighthearted CFT post.  There is nothing anywhere that says you HAVE to come back to earth with a bump or several!

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My CFT post this week is called Books That Should Have Been Written and, if you like puns, this is definitely for you!  I also take a peek at irony.

Back from a wonderful week at #Swanwick70. The highlight of my writing year is the week at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. Why?

I meet up with writer friends that for the rest of the year, I keep in contact with by social media. I make new friends. I learn loads from the courses, which is never a bad thing. Oh and I sold a few books in the Book Room too!

Back down to earth then but with perhaps a more gentle bump! My CFT post this week is a lighthearted one called Books That Should Have Been Written. Contributions welcome in the CFT comments box!

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Had a lovely time at #Swanwick70. Really enjoyed reading three of my 100-word stories from From Light to Dark and Back Again at the Prose Open Mic hosted by #JenniferCWilson. Flash fiction works really well at these things (as indeed does poetry – I missed the Poetry Open MIc night as it clashed with the Literary Quiz and I do love a good quiz but I hope all who took part in the Open Mic slots had a fab time).

Images of Swanwick were taken by me at last year’s event. Such a lovely place to be!

Fairytales with Bite – A toZ of Fairytales Part 2

So on to the second part of this series…

D = Determination.  The best fairytale characters I know have this trait in buckets (other suitably large utensils are available, as they say…!).  They can vary from determination not to be ground down (Cinderella) to determination to survive (Hansel and Gretel).  Determination can keep a character going when the world and its dog/unicorn/dragon seem to be out to “get them”.  Determination separates the wolf (big, bad or otherwise) from the sheep.

E = Energy. Can be topped up by determination but your characters are going to need plenty of energy to get them through whatever frightful horrors you’re putting them through.  Not only are there the obvious physical needs to think about, but bring in how your characters top up their mental strength.  They will need plenty of that too.

F = Fairies/Fantastic Creatures.  The great irony with fairytales is you can have them without fairies in (Little Red Riding Hood), but when you do use them in your stories, give them plenty to do and ensure not everything is solved with a wave of the magic wand.  Your fairy character still has to work for/struggle to get success, even if that is only implied in your story.  A wave of the wand may be what they do to remedy a situation or modify it (Sleeping Beauty) but there should still be issues for the characters in your story to overcome.    Otherwise there is no conflict and without that, the story vanishes.  Fantastic creatures can vary from animals to other magical beings (including your own invented ones) but we still need to have some sense of what they are like and where they fit in to the world you’ve created.

More next time…

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This World and Others – Coming Back to Earth

Coming Back to Earthis the title of my latest Goodreads blog (where I do suggest a cure!).  I wrote a lighthearted post for CFT this week, Books That Should Have Been Written,partly as a “gentle” way of coming back to earth after my return from the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School.

But how do your characters come back to earth?  They’ve experienced perhaps great adventures, now there’s a lull in the action as they come to terms with what they’ve just gone through.  How do they handle that?  I love The Lord of the Rings  for many reasons but the portrayal of Frodo becoming more and more tired as the stress of what he has to do becomes more and more of a burden is realistically shown.  On the assumption your characters are not super heroes who never get tired or out of sorts, how do your characters handle setbacks, tiredness, illness etc?

How do they pick themselves up from “earth” to get back to their “mission”?  Who helps them and how?  Plenty to think about there!

Goodreads Blog – Coming Back to Earth

Have just got back from my annual highlight – the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School.

Had a wonderful time discussing and learning about all things connected to the worlds of books and stories. What’s not to like about that?

But, as ever with these things, you come back home again and you feel shattered and a bit flat. (You take in far more than you know you are when you are there and then I think the physical/mental tiredness of that hits you later).

So what can help you perk up again?

Why, nothing but a good book of course!

And the lovely thing about being a writer? You need to read widely, in and out of genre, to help feed your own imagination in any case, but you also get to write the books and with a lot of hard work, and some luck, get them out there.

So happy reading and writing!

 

 

 

 

 

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Getting Away From It All and the Fairytale A to Z (Part 1!)

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My latest CFT post is Getting Away From It All. Appropriate as I am about to swan off to Swanwick! I share some thoughts on the importance of relaxing and how just writing something for the sheer fun of it can be a marvellous way to unwind for writers.

The great thing too is you can always work the piece up “properly” later on and submit it but to just write something for fun is wonderful. Possibly something we don’t do enough of? I’ve found doing this useful (a) to take a break from my main writing work and (b) to remind myself during tough patches just what it is I really love about writing – the creativity of it. I think you can lose sight of that at times.

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More on the ABC of Flash Fiction…

D = Drive. Not only do you need that as the writer, but your characters do as well. Something has to happen in your narrative for it to be a story at all so your characters must be ready to “act” and for that to wrap up quickly. They must be ready to “hit the ground running”. They do something, there is a reaction, there is a conclusion (and of course it doesn’t necessarily have to be a happy one).

E = Entertainment. Whatever your genre, your flash fiction should entertain (even if that entertainment is simply to make your reader think about the theme of your story and whether they would do the same as your character has). Every word has to make your reader want to read on, every line has to move the story on, and at the end you want your reader to feel as if they have had a good read, even if it is only in 500 words, 100 words, 75 words or what have you.

F = Fairytales. I’ve found flash fiction to be a good vehicle for fairytales (albeit of the short and sharp variety. Not necessarily sweet as well though. Many of my fairy characters do have a penchant for justice, the rough kind where they feel it is necessary at that!).

 

Association of Christian Writers – More than Writers – On Criticism

Confession time:  Am certain I didn’t put this up when I was supposed to so will share now.  It IS better late than never and I hope my post for July on On Criticism will prove helpful.

What good judging should be and that includes for reviews etc

What every review should be. Pixabay image,

Fairytales With Bite – the Fairytale A to Z Part 1

I love a list – whether it’s a numerical one or an A to Z format.  So for fairytales and the magical world, what would my A to Z be?  Part 1 then would be:-

A = Anthropomorphism 

Not my favourite word to spell, I must admit!  However, for me, a classic tale will have this as one of its elements.  Think Puss in Boots, Shrek, The Chronicles of Narnia etc etc.  What matters is the traits shown or speech given to an animal character to have/speak must make sense for the way that character has been portrayed.  We see Puss in Boots is a character who would be smarter than his master so the speech given to Puss must reflect that.

B = Beauty
One thing I love about fairytales is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and is not always the classical definition either.  I love the stories of The Ugly Duckling and Beauty and the Beast. Is it just me but I didn’t think the Beast was that ugly incidentally (especially as Disney portrayed him?  Huge, yes, but that’s not the same thing!  That aside, there is a strong emphasis that it is a beautiful heart/character that matters most, which I fervently believe.  I can’t say what single thing makes me love fairytales but this is a very high contender for being the top one.

C = Characters
There isn’t one dull character in fairytales, is there, when you come to think about it.  There shouldn’t be in your stories either.  (And even when a character is meant to be “dull”, there still has to be something about them that will make your reader want to find out if they stay that way or change or if there is a point to the dullness.  Maybe the lead character needs a duller one’s sensible comments to point them in the right direction?).

More next time….

This World and Others – Getting Away From It All

Getting Away from it All is my title for this week’s Chandler’s Ford Today post and my latest Goodreads blog.

What do your characters do to unwind?  Where would they go to get away from it all?  If your fictional world has a hierarchy (and frankly most will have something), are there places where the “commoners” can’t go?  How is that enforced?

I am about to head off to the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School for a wonderful week of courses, catching up with writer friends, and making new ones.  A marvellous time is had by all.  For your longer stories, where would your characters go to catch up with friends and family they can’t see often (and how did that situation happen)?

In my Goodreads blog, I talk about my holiday reading.  What would your characters read?  Does your fictional world have a good literacy rate?  If not, is anything being done about it?  I’ve mentioned in previous posts that a totalitarian world will seek to restrict/ban books (as sadly is seen too often in this world!) but is there an underground system that bypasses/overcomes those restrictions?

Plenty of story ideas there!

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Swanwick, Scheduling and the Book Cover Challenge

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Am busily preparing CFT posts for the next couple of weeks. I’d like to get both of the following Fridays done because I know when I come back from Swanwick, I will be happy but shattered so doubt if I’ll be writing too much later that evening! So easier to write and schedule such posts now.

I need to get back to blocking out time for specific things I’d like to do (which is where Swanwick will be particularly helpful to me this year).

Once the CFT posts are done (which I hope to have up and scheduled by Wednesday). I can focus on some fiction. The great thing with flash is I can happily spend an evening writing that and have several stories by the end of it to work on further. Okay, they WILL need working on further but the joy of the first draft is worrying about editing much later on!

I love taking my Kindle away with me as it (a) saves a lot of packing and (b) saves a lot of heartache working out which books to take and which to leave behind. Also for some reason my case is always a lot lighter than it used to be! Biggest issue for me though is to remember to pack the charger!

Talking of recharging the old batteries, my CFT post this week takes a look at that and I will be sharing a few things I find really helpful for unwinding (and I don’t even mention wine, chocolate etc., so you have still those as options too!). Link up on Friday.

I’ve been enjoying taking part in a book cover challenge this week. Has made me really think about the novels I couldn’t be without. What are the ones that have influenced you in some way?

So far I’ve included The Lord of the Rings, Pride and Prejudice, The Daughter of Time, Raising Steam, and Murder on the Orient Express. A nice mixed bag there! And all great in very different ways.

Am doing my packing for Swanwick tomorrow. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if other writing friends have done theirs already but the Thursday before is soon enough for me and my books and notebooks go in first! (Did put my rail tickets in my railcard holder today – I suppose that counts!).

The case is packed ready for Swanwick. Just the usual odds and sods to add at the last minute. (Disaster for me will be forgetting my phone charger!). And yes I did pack my books, notepads, pens etc first. Got to have your priorities right!

Okay, I’m not sure where I’ll put books I buy from the Book Room but I’ll worry about that later in the week (and I refuse to believe I’m the only Swanwicker taking that view!). Happy, and safe, travelling to all who are going. May you get through the engineering works at Derby without your blood pressure soaring too high!

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I do love writing some one line complete stories from time to time and it makes for a good exercise to get you into your writing session. For example:-

1. The day the clocks stopped the watchmakers were fired.

2. The dragon surveyed the empty street, which had been teeming with life a moment ago.

3. Try as he might, Arthur could not get that wretched sword out of the stone. (N.B. This also counts as a complete story wrecker!).

4. Turn left and he’d face obliteration, turn right he’d have to face the New Year sales – he went left.

5. The gull enjoyed the look of astonishment on the day tripper’s face, almost as much as the bird loved the stolen battered cod.

6. Dessert was sorted – the gull went back and pinched the same tourist’s mint choc chip icecream.

Allison Symes – 6th August 2018

Give this exercise a go! It’s fun and there’s nothing to stop you developing your ideas further. As for me, that’s some ideas drafted for my third flash fiction book!

My favourite forms of flash fiction are the ones I write in the first person. There is an immediacy about those I think and I love being able to get straight into the character’s head.

It is also great letting them “tell you” the story. There is no pretence at being unbiased or anything like that. The character will give you their thoughts with both barrels, so to speak.

Of course, when everything goes horribly wrong with said character, the reader should be able to see the seeds of that happening early on in the story. And often it is the character’s attitude that plays a major part in this. Great fun to bring about!

Looking forward to my train journey on Saturday to Swanwick despite the engineering works at Derby. Why? Aside from loving train travel (usually!), I hope to write quite a bit via Evernote and my phone for my flash fiction and non-fiction posts. Three hours? Can get a fair bit done in that time, thank you.

I’ve been on the train a fair bit this year so that almost certainly helps for my being further on with my third flash fiction collection than I thought I’d be! And I am getting better at using “dead” time more efficiently. The stories soon mount up (and if you’re a crime writer, the bodies do too! 😁).

The ABC etc of Flash Fiction… (will continue this over the next few posts though there may be some gaps in posting due to my being at Swanwick and probably having far too good a time to be posting!).

A = Atmosphere. The story may be short but its atmosphere must come through clearly. You literally have a few words to set the mood and then follow through. On the plus side, if you like writing “from inside the head of the character”, as I do, this really isn’t a problem.

B = Brutality. There is editing and there is editing. You really do have to murder your darlings with flash fiction. Only what is crucial to the story remains. And it can be hard sometimes to cut a really good line but if it really isn’t vital to the tale, it should go out. Save it though. Might be able to use it elsewhere.

C = Characters. Couldn’t really pick anything else for C. Flash fiction has to be all about the characters. They show you their world and their attitudes in a few words and, ta da, from that the story comes. Character attitudes lead to conflicts which in turn lead to stories.

More next time…

Goodreads Author Blog – Getting Away From It All

I shall be getting away from it all shortly at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School once again but will be immersed in a world of stories and books (reading and writing them!). Bliss!

So what books go with you when you get away from it all?

I pack my Kindle and what I read depends on my mood, naturally, though I am currently enjoying Lucy Worsley’s A Very British Murder and hope to finish that by the end of the week. The book is great. It is usually a question of how long can I keep my eyes open at the end of the day! That is the trouble with bedtime reading…

There’s a couple of other crime novels I want to read as well while I’m away. And after that I may well turn back to humour again. I do find I like to read a few stories or books in a genre, then switch to another one and read a few in that for a bit. Still, it all mixes up the reading and then there is always the delight of the wondrous world of non-fiction too!

So whatever your holiday/summer reading is, enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

A BUNCH OF AMATEURS, THE MAGIC OF THEATRE, AND NON-FICTION

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It’s a joy to review the plays performed by The Chameleon Theatre Group as there is always a good mix of shows put on during the course of a year. I’ve watched pantos, tragedies, and comedies. Each review I do for CFT on these means having a look at the background of the play and/or the writers of it and I always learn something.

It’s a great way of taking in stories that are new to you: go and see them acted on stage!

A Bunch of Amateurs is written by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman.  The plot hinges on a local theatre company, the Stratford Players, desperately trying to save their theatre so bringing in a fading American star, Jefferson Steel, to get sponsorship and bring in the punters seems such a good idea….   You know the phrase “famous last words”?  Well, that applies here!

Image Credit:  All images below are kindly supplied by Lionel Elliott and the Chameleon Theatre Group and used with permission.  Many thanks to them.

 

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I was watching a Dr Who episode tonight (Peter Capaldi) and a phrase “stories are where memories go” caught my attention. Mind, it many ways it should do!

What memories of a character could you turn into a flash fiction piece (or longer)? Can you write a story where a character is led astray by mistaken or deliberately falsified memories (and why would someone do that)? Have you got another character who uses memories as weapons against others and how do they do this? What do they gain? How are they stopped, assuming that they are?

There are some good stories to be written out of memories, that’s for sure! (And the great thing is you can create the memories to write about in first place. The lovely thing about fiction is it should be rooted in truth to ring true to your readers, but it doesn’t actually have to be true, otherwise we’d have little in the way of sci-fi or fantasy!).

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Fairytales with Bite – The Magic of the Theatre

My latest CFT post is a review of A Bunch of Amateurs (written by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman), which was recently performed by the Chameleon Theatre Group.  It was a great play, brilliantly performed.  But it led me to thinking:-

1.  Going to the theatre is a great way of taking in stories!

2.  In your fictional world(s), how do your characters take in stories?  Do they read?  Do they have theatres/cinemas etc?  What would they watch/read?

3.  When you go to a performance like this, you go in knowing you are seeing a “pretence” but being willing to suspend disbelief.  You focus on wanting to see how the story ends and enjoy the performances taking you to that point.  The challenge for writers is hooking our readers quickly enough at the start of the story to achieve the same effect for the length of the tale, whether it is a flash piece or a trilogy of novels!  So face the challenge!  The key is in creating characters readers will want to follow through anything.

Happy writing!

This World and Others – Why Non-Fiction Matters to Fiction Writers

I’ve written about this in a post for Chandler’s Ford Today (Fiction -v- Non-Fiction? No Contest!) a while ago, but it is a topic close to my pen so thought I’d bring it up again here.  Why does reading non-fiction matter to fiction writers then?

1.  If you are writing material which means you need to world build, finding out how this world works/has worked/has made blunderingly colossial historical mistakes/created some fascinating engineering etc can directly inspire you for how your fictional world carries out these things.  (Sometimes it can be the direct opposite of how we’ve done it but you need to know how we did it first to be able to do that!).

2.  Ideas spark off other ideas and non-fiction is full of them.  What did make an inventor come up with their revolutionary new designs?  What made them come up with a new system for, say, transport when nobody else had realised a need for it?  There are ideas for characters here too…

3.  When anyone comes up with something new, there will be opposition.  Sometimes it’s justified, sometimes not.  How does your hero/heroine overcome that?  Or if they are the ones behind the opposition, do they achieve their objective?

Plenty of story triggers there!

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Judgement Day

Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest post is called Judgement Day and talks about reviews and critiques.  It is NOT a comment on the blood moon tonight (Friday 27th July 2018)!

Feature Image - Judgement Day.docx

Alwyas a good iea! Pixabay imag.

What good judging should be and that includes for reviews etc

What every review should be. Pixabay image,

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Am looking forward to writing my review of A Bunch of Amateurs, which the local Chameleon Theatre Group performed tonight. Ironically, this week’s CFT post from me talks about reviewing and critiques so will feed beautifully into my play review!

Confession time: these things are NOT always planned! (They mostly are of course but not in this case).

Also delighted the Chameleons have quoted excerpts from some of my reviews (and also those of Ben Williams also of CFT) in their programme. All helps build up the profile.

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Have you ever been to any kind of reunion? Did it work well or were you only too glad to get out of there?! I’m pleased to say the reunions I’ve been too have been jolly affairs but the thought occurred to me that you could use reunions to test your characters’ mettle. What WOULD happen when your characters go to this kind of event?

Their reactions will tell the readers so much more about them (especially if you show, for example, agitation by getting your character to walk around and around his lawn in the middle of the night, something he wouldn’t do normally).

Can reunions have unexpected consequences? Someone hears something they weren’t supposed to and reacts badly to it? Equally the dynamics between relationships resurrected (no matter how briefly) can lead to both comic and tragic writing. What would you plump for?

Had to smile. Facebook, bless them, have just invited me to add myself to the “Allison Symes team”!! Ahem… there is a team of 1 here – me! Not sure how I can join myself (and I’m not after suggestions!). 😁

My CFT post this week is called Judgement Day – no links to the blood moon were intended, honestly! I talk about judgement for writers in terms of reviews and critiques. I also share some hints and tips about what to expect from a critique you send off for, as well as advice on writing reviews.

This will tie in nicely with my post for next week when I’ll be reviewing a local theatre production!

 

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Regardless of your writing format, it is the killer line that stands out. I’ve been watching a play, What a Bunch of Amateurs, tonight at our local theatre group’s hall (more to come on this on CFT in due course) and there were many laugh out loud lines. Enjoyed by all of course.

How can you make your lines stand out?

They have to be something the audience wasn’t expecting. The funny moments often come, in films at least, when the audience is caught off balance.

The lead character has got to have strong appeal to the readers OR have a good reason for acting the way they are. Their dialogue should show something of who they are. A good character grips the reader and won’t let go!

Flash may be this odd fiction’s name
But rushing it is not the game.
You still need to edit and craft
No-one publishes that first draft.
The one comfort I know is true
Is Shakespeare had to rewrite too!

Allison Symes – 26th July 2018

 

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The great thing with using well known sayings for your flash fiction titles is you can “twist these”. For example we all know what is meant by the phrase “pressing the flesh” but I take quite a different approach to it with my story of the same name without losing its appropriateness.

I also love “open” titles such as My Life, The Outcome, and Expecting. There are so many different directions those titles could take the reader – they’re unlikely to guess them all!

I have to have a title to begin writing a story, even if I end up changing it. I don’t change titles that often but sometimes as I write, something better comes to mind. Something that has a stronger twist or can keep the reader guessing in a better way – if that comes up as I write, I switch to it. I want the title to have a strong impact on the reader, as well as the rest of the story.

After all, the title works “harder” in a flash fiction story as due to the limited word count, you can convey a lot of information through that so I’ve found I want to make the most of it.

Goodreads Author Blog – How Influential are Book Titles for You?

When writing my own stories, I must have a title to help me get started, even if I change it later on. I am very fond of “open” titles where I could go in several directions with it. It helps to keep the reader guessing!

With books, I want a title to intrigue me enough to make me want to go on to read the blurb and maybe then the first paragraph or two. I then want to read the book to see if it lives up to the promise given by that title and the blurb.

But I never buy a book on the strength of its title alone. I see the role of a title is to “get me through the door” so I look at the book in more detail in the first place.

Some of my favourite titles include The Lord of the Rings (don’t you just want to know who the Lord is?), The ABC Murders (how can the alphabet be relevant to a crime), and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (got to find out where they all come into a story, yes?).

What are your favourite book titles and why?

Fairytales with Bite – Finding Titles

I’ve got a theme rolling on titles this week, thanks to my latest Goodreads blog, which asks How Influential are Book Titles for You?

My CFT post has one of those titles which tie in with an event!  There is a blood moon tonight and my post is called Judgement Day!  I hadn’t planned that, honestly, but I like the idea of the link!  The actual post is about judging for writers, especially in terms of reviews and critiques.  I also share some hints and tips.

How do you find titles for your stories?  I use a mixture of proverbs, well known sayings, as well as phrases used frequently.  I like open titles where I could go in a number of directions – there are several examples of this in my From Light to Dark and Back Again.  For example:  The Outcome and Expecting.  Expecting what?  The outcome of what?  The whole idea, of course, is that the reader will want to find out so they read the stories.

The rest of the story has got to follow through on the promise an intriguing title gives its reader.  So it’s no good thinking up the best title in the world only for the story itself to let it down.  People remember that!

Also, never be afraid to change the title if you feel it is not quite strong enough or just doesn’t feel right for the story.  I don’t often change mine but when I do, it is always because a better, stronger title has popped into my head.  Sometimes you need to start writing the story to find out what the real title is.

Happy writing!

This World and Others – Titles

It is appropriate that I have a simple title for this post!

My latest Goodreads blog asks How Influential are Book Titles for You? and the idea for this post sprang from that.

Firstly, do books as we know them exist on your fictional world?  If yes, but not as we would recognise them, what form do they take?  Can everyone read or is that the right of a privileged few?  Is reading encouraged or considered dangerous?

Secondly, does your fictional society confer titles on those that have served it well?  Is the system a monarchy or republic and how would that affect titles given?  Again, are titles only given to those from the “right background” (and what would that background be?).

Thirdly, how is land title passed on?  Can anyone own property (and what form does it take)?  How does selling land/property or bequeathing it work in your world?  Do you have a system where the government automatically takes a certain percentage of the value of the property as its “inheritance tax”?

Last but not least, I love titles which are open and give me plenty of possibilities to work with.  This is a good example of that!

Author News

Just to say I now have an author page on Book Bub.  Many thanks to Wendy H Jones for putting me on to this.  You need to sign in to be able to see the page but the site is free and they send you details of books on special offer etc.

Frustrating Things about Writing

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What do you find is the most frustrating thing about writing?

Rejections?

That lovely moment when you think you’ve got a corker of an idea but you go to write it down and it suddenly evaporates?

Being interrupted when you’ve got going nicely and you know you will have to come back later and find you can’t quite get into your rhythm again?

All of them, I hear you cry! I know. It is difficult to choose from this particular shortlist.

Rejections – I take some comfort from the fact EVERY writer has them, it really isn’t just you or me for that matter. But hopefully you can learn and improve on what you do with each one. Also just because a piece is rejected somewhere, it doesn’t mean it can’t be accepted elsewhere. So keep trying, keep going!

Ideas Disappearing – it happens. Write down what you can. Then think laterally. I sometimes use a spider diagram. Sometimes I get the idea I had initially back, other times I think of something better. Win, win there either way!

Interruptions – On the plus side, whoever you are prepared to drop your writing for must be pretty important to you so treasure them! I carve out blocks of time for my writing and, unless there is a dire emergency, I stick to those. I’ve found it helps to be consistent with this. It also helps to show loved ones what I’ve produced in this time, publication credits when I get them etc so they can see the point of what I’m doing that way. It helps lessen the risk of any “non urgent” interruptions!

One of the highlights of my writing year is rapidly approaching – the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. Brochure arrived yesterday.

I think I know what courses I’m going to be doing – I went through the programme when it was put up on the website (I know, I know, girly swot!). Having said that, the brochure gives me the perfect chance to change my mind again and then again and then… well you get the picture!

Looking forward to catching up with old friends and making new ones! Pictures below taken by me – The Hayes is a stunning place to be.

How can you tell when a story idea really is something you should run with?

When the idea haunts you, basically.

When you start writing the idea down and more ideas flood in as you do so.

I’ve only had a couple of ideas where, on outlining, I found I couldn’t expand them further to create a story. All that promise and nothing… bah humbug!

So does it pay to outline? Definitely. Can save a lot of time.

As for outlining flash fiction, I keep this brief, aptly. Character is X, major trait is Y, how is latter going to help or hinder X?

I often find that a flash story can go in a couple of different directions and then it is down to what mood I want to go for. A humorous story is when X’s major trait hinders, causes trouble etc – there is a lot of comic potential there.

A more sombre story shows the major trait hindering X but they are not necessarily aware of it. What X sees as persistence, all those around them see as stubborness and X being an awkward so and so.

But a good idea gives you that potential to go in different directions.

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Looking forward to seeing the latest production by local theatre group, The Chameleons, tomorrow night. Will be writing more about it for CFT later but my lovely editor, Janet Williams, is also going so I think I can classify this as the nearest thing CFT has to a “works’ outing”!

My CFT post this week will be looking at what to look for in a good review/critique. I also share some tips – link to go up on Friday.

The local wildflower meadow I wrote about for last week’s CFT post is still going strong I’m glad to say. This is totally unlike the grass in the park, our lawn, and most of our plants. I’ve also noticed the trees have started to shed leaves. Really wouldn’t mind some rain now… and talking of the weather, it has been mad here today. It was hotter at 8 am than it was at lunchtime and hotter still at about 5/6 pm!

This is not in my genre at all but I guess there is room for climate change fiction!! (And practically all of it will be based on facts…).

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I don’t set out to write fiction with a “purpose” other than hopefully to be entertaining. I’m all for books that can educate, open readers’ eyes to new worlds etc etc. but there is absolutely nothing wrong in wanting to write stories which make people smile/laugh/scream as appropriate and be for sheer entertainment only.

I’ve never understood why some can look down on genre fiction due to its easy accessibility to readers. You want people to read, yes? Fine, let them get on with that. Maybe people will move on to “more worthy” books later when they are ready but if not, they will still be reading, which is always a good thing.

(And writing to entertain can be easier said than done anyway! Now back to the writing… oh and the first one you have to entertain IS you. If you don’t like it, why should anyone else?}

When is the right time to start a new flash fiction book? Directly after you’ve finished the last one and sent it off to the publisher!

Am making good progress on my third collection. Am planning to make even more progress on it while I’m at Swanwick. I also plan to revisit my unpublished novel (as I would like to change the status on that one!!).

So plenty to do and no chance of getting bored – good, bring in on, say I!

Should you be able to guess the ending of a story, regardless of length?

I must admit one of the joys of reading for me is to try to work out where the story will head. It is great when I’m right. It is even better when I’m not! I like a really good story twist that takes me by surprise yet when I go back through the tale find that the clues to it were there all along.

When I write my twist endings, I nearly always reject the first idea that comes to me. Why? Because inevitably the first idea that occurs is the same one that will occur to most other people too! There is no fun to be had in guessing the ending there!

I do write that first idea down though, despite knowing I inevitably won’t use it. Why? I’ve found the very act of writing it down helps generate other, better, stronger ideas. I find it easier to come up with something when paper and ink are involved somewhere in the process rather than just think it all up. I suppose in a way in drafting ideas like that I am kind of giving myself permission to “play about” with the thoughts that have occurred to me. Whatever the deep down reason, all I know is that it works!

In flash fiction you don’t have room for many characters but you can “infer” some to compensate for that. I do this by revealing what my lead character thinks of X even if X never makes it into the story itself. This also reveals my lead character’s attitude to X and can show how likely it is my lead gets on with others (or not. I can think of quite a few of my “people” I wouldn’t get on with but the great thing is I don’t have to like them to write about them!!).

Another way of showing another character yet without them taking up precious word count room is to have the story written as a letter, diary etc. I use the letter format in my You Never Know where my lead character’s attitude to who they’re writing to is all too apparent! It is also clear they are irked by the attitude of the unseen character.

I love being able to imply things with stories like this. I’ve never been that keen on stories where the author spells everything out. I like putting two and two together for myself and if the writer can send me up a false trail, well done them!

 

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Book Covers

I think everyone does judge a book by its cover. How else can you do so? You need something to draw you in initially and that is the cover’s job.

I like a cover to be appropriate for whatever it is I’m reading and, ironically for a writer, I want the picture to do most of the work.

I’ve sometimes given opinions on book covers before the books concerned are published and the ones with lots of text merely look cluttered. Far from giving me more to read on the cover, too much text here switches me off.

Where I do want the text is on the back for the blurb. Have you ever read a book, enticed by the blurb and cover, but the story fails to deliver on its promise? I think most of us have and you just feel let down. (All writers beware here!)

The great thing here though is that despite the cover and blurb being really important, it is STILL the story that matters most of all. And what we are all after is a story that entertains, educates, keeps us gripped to the final page and so on.

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Finding Story Ideas, Getting Out and About, and Myths and Legends

Another nice mixed bag!

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It is nice with my CFT posts to take a little time out now and again to write a more reflective article. I do so this week with my Out and About – Summer 2018 article. And getting out and about with the dog gives me not only the fresh air and exercise but a chat to talk with other dog owners.

From a writing viewpoint, the break is good for the little grey cells and that, I think, is the main benefit. The nice thing is the break you take doesn’t have to be expensive and can be right on your doorstep. But refreshing yourself in this kind of way is of value to your physical and mental health and that has to feed into your writing in a positive way.

You can also think about things like: how would your characters take a much needed break? Where would they go? What would they do? How does it help them face up to their “quest”? All good details, which even if you don’t put them directly in your story, will help you know more about your people and, as a result, write about them much more effectively.

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Flash fiction stories can be great for those moments in a character’s life which are defining but which in themselves are not enough to make a full length 2000-word story.

You can also use punchlines for an effective ending. My The Mint with a Hole and Little Packages are examples of this (and the first one uses a well known advertising slogan from many moons ago as its title as well).

But as with any kind of story, you have to hook your readers and reel them in! Happy writing!

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Fairytales with Bite – Finding Story Ideas

I know I’ve talked about this topic before but it is one of those timeless ones and always useful.  I was looking through my From Light to Dark and Back Again and I would list the inspiration/themes for the stories in here as coming from:-

1. Fantasia by Walt Disney
2. My loathing of hunting increasingly rare animals for “sport”.  There’s a strong poetic justice theme here!
3. The Tooth Fairy not being as nice as perhaps traditionally thought.  (An idea to take and run with, possibly run away from if you are likely to require her services!).
4. Revenge.
5. The Sword in the Stone/King Arthur
6. Transformation/the idea someone could be a magical being and we’d never know.
7. Santa Claus and the idea that government inspectorates get everywhere!

And that’s just the first few stories in the book!

So you can use your favourite films/music etc as ideas to get you started.  With regard to bringing in your personal dislikes, don’t rant!  My story here, A Kind of Hell, shows my not so nice character getting their comeuppance but there’s no anti-hunting rare animals rant here.  It is all implied.  Less is definitely more.

As for my fairytale inspirations, it has long been established that fairy folk are not always that nice, a theme so many writers have used, but it is a rich seam for stories and highly unlikely to run dry any time soon!  Happy writing!

This World and Others – Myths and Legends

One aspect of world building to consider is to work out what your world would have for its cherished myths and legends. Who are its heroes/heroines? How did they earn this honour? Does everyone respect them or is their reputation controversial? Are the stories written down or is your world based on an oral tradition of story telling (and how accurate is that)?

Are the heroes/heroines from centuries before your story starts or are they in your current tale and you hint at their back story? How are myths and legends reported by your world’s media/historical societies/officialdom (which can also include religious officialdom)?

How does your hero/heroine cope with being a living legend? (Would make it awkward to go to the shops at times I would have thought! Now I’m being a little flippant here but you get the point. Your characters would have difficulties most would never face to enjoy any semblance of a normal life at all so how do they overcome all that or come to terms with it?).

Hope you find some wonderful story ideas here.

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Guest Blogging and Facebook Author Page Likes

Many thanks to Val Penny for hosting a spot from me on her book reviews site.  More in a moment on that…

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Many thanks to Val Penny for hosting me on her book reviews site. It was huge fun to write! Hope you enjoy reading. I chat about my flash fiction (and what I love about flash fiction in general) and Chandler’s Ford Today

Looking forward to catching up with Val at Swanwick next month!

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My CFT post is very close to home this week. There are some lovely places to walk in my area, whether I’m with the dog or not, and I share some of those, along with some gorgeous pics of a wildflower meadow. Link up tomorrow.

I don’t tend to think about stories etc while out and about. I’m too busy (a) watching out for what Lady is doing or sniffing (!) and (b) appreciating the local fauna and flora.

The benefit from the writing point of view is having that break away from the desk or household chores (or both) and coming back tired but refreshed. (Lady sees to the tired bit, she comes home and sleeps during the afternoon, lucky girl!).

Many thanks to all who have liked my author page. It is lovely to have 50 of you on board now, thanks to you all!

thank you text on black and brown board

Indeed! Image via Pexels

beautiful beautiful flowers bouquet color

And you can also say it with flowers! No hayfever either! Image via Pexels

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Always nice to guest blog so many thanks to Val Penny for hosting me today.

I suppose in a way flash fiction and blogging are good “bedfellows” since you’ve got to watch the word count with both of them! For flash, you’ve got room for usually one character. For blogging, it pays to stick to one topic per post. (Ironically with my Word Press site, I can’t really do that as it is meant to be a round up of what I write where, but for things like this post, it pays to stick to one theme).

Have you got a favourite theme for your stories? Was it one that emerged naturally as you wrote or did you plan it from the start? There are a lot of poetic justice stories in From Light to Dark and Back Again. In my case, the theme emerged.

How about you? Comments welcome.

I love the flexibility of flash fiction. There is some flexibility with word count, ironically. I’ve often found what I thought might be a 100-word story works better as a 500-word one, but that’s fine.

You can be flexible with genre of the specific tale. I’ve written historical fiction as flash fiction, likewise fantasy, crime, light horror, ghost stories etc.

You can also go back or forward in time. Your characters can be human or other worldly. You can write in first or third person. (I do both, though not in the same story!). You can write dialogue alone, though I think all stories, regardless of type, work best with a mixture of narrative and conversation/thoughts.

Flash fiction is a style of writing to have a lot of fun with!

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WRITING NIGGLES, CONFERENCES AND A REVIEW OF THE FAIR

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I take a look back at the recent Hursley Park Book Fair for this week’s CFT post.

There are many things non-writer friends/family can do to support the writer in their life and one is to go to their events and show some moral support. Trust me, it is appreciated!

The biggest nightmare for all writers is being at an event where nobody turns up.

Helping to distribute flyers etc is also something that will go down well with your writer. (And plentiful supplies of tea/coffee/chocolate etc though in fairness those go down well with practically everyone!).

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Managed to get caught in some rain while walking the dog this evening. Came home to find it hadn’t rained here at all. Better half and I had only gone a couple of miles up the road to one of our favourite walks! Talk about localised weather… (it was also ironic that, for once, I had hoped for more rain).

On to writing niggles then….

How to Irritate a Writer Part 10001….. (I may be exaggerating)

1. Tell them you like books but much prefer films. (Grrrr….)

2. Tell them you think books are expensive. (Double Grrrr… – books are relatively cheap when you consider you can read them over and over. A really good book will make you want to have repeat reads. It’s exactly like revisiting an old friend).

3. Tell them you think the paperback is on its way out. (If by this time the writer has refrained from throwing something at you, count your blessings for you have done very well).

4. Ask the writer of How to Irritate a Writer Part 10001 where the other 10000 posts are on the topic!😉

5. Tell them you’ll wait until they hit bestseller status and then you might get a copy of their book. They want to know it is really popular first. The writer by this time is using every inch of self control they’ve got not to grab the nearest bit of 4 x 2 and hit you with it….

6. Tell them you can’t possibly leave a review for them, they’re not well known enough. It is almost certainly a waste of breath telling such like that everyone has to start somewhere and reviews help everybody, no matter where they are on their writing journey.

7. Tell them you think notebooks and pens are outdated. Surely everyone writes to screen these days. The writer by this time is already thinking of the perfect crime story where an irritating “friend” is done to death by an angry author and have already made plans for dumping the body. There may be wistful thoughts as to why they can’t do this for real….

My fellow writers, feel free to add your own thoughts here!

 

My CFT post this week will be a review of the Hursley Park Book Fair from a couple of weeks ago. Link to go up on Friday.

And to all my fellow authors taking part in festivals etc, hope they all go well.

Am looking forward to Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in mid-August. Always good fun. Lovely to catch up with friends who for the rest of the year I’m in contact with via Facebook etc.

I remember being dreadfully nervous going to my first writing conference years ago (and set on the lovely Isle of Wight – and run by Felicity Fair Thompson.  It was great to catch up with her again at the recent Hursley Park Book Fair.). The nerves went when I realised networking was talking about something I absolutely love (writing and, associated with it, reading).

Also it is easy to get a conversation going with a writer – ask them what they’re writing! They in turn should ask you and before you know it, you are chatting away as if you’ve known each other all your lives. And that is how it should be.

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What do you like to see in a good flash fiction story? Some of my thoughts include:-

1. The story has to be the right length. Whether that’s 100, 250, or 500 words, it has got to be appropriate and right to that particular story. You want the reader to feel that nothing else could be added to the story, nor could there be anything taken away.

2. A strong lead character. Without that any flash fiction piece falls flat. The great thing is that strength can come in different forms – physical strength, mental strength etc. How your character shows their inner strength is up to you but it has to be there somewhere. Else why are they the lead?

3. There has to be a good ending (though not necessarily a happy one). The story has to “follow through”. Okay, sometimes that will be a twist ending, sometimes it can be a character coming to a conclusion about what they’ve just done or have been through. But the ending has to be right for all that has come before it.

The big challenge of flash is not so much the word count but having a complete story which has a proper beginning, middle and end in that word count limit. It is too easy to just write “truncated prose” but that does not come across as a proper story and rightly so. It can leave your reader feeling cheated.

At the end of a flash piece, your reader must not be left wondering where the rest of the story is! You want them thinking the story could not have ended any other way. I see flash as short, sharp looks into a character’s life. Look, write down what you see, and stop there.

What do I look for in flash fiction, whether I’m reading or writing it?

I look for a strong character and an ending I don’t see coming but which is entirely appropriate for the story.

I do enjoy playing “guess the ending”, sometimes I’m right, more often I’m not, and I always like that.

This is where I find writing the ending first can be helpful. If I’ve got something that makes a powerful impact which is what I want my readers to finish with, then I’ll work backwards from that point to see how the story could start. I find it a useful technique.

When I brainstorm ideas for new flash fiction, I’ll sometimes come up with something that will make the perfect ending, so leave it at that. I will be looking for what “threads” could come from what I’ve written and if it seems to be linear, then I’ll write the story in the traditional way from start to end.

But it doesn’t always work like that. The threads can sometimes lead away from what I’ve written back to a start point and that’s generally when I know I’ve got something that will make a wonderful ending to the story. I know enough now to NOT force something to be a start when it really isn’t suitable for that.

I also think it a good thing to mix up how I write here. It helps keep things “fresh” for me as a writer, and that will hopefully show through in the stories.

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytale Themes

If you’re looking for themes for your stories, analyse some fairytales and ideas will leap out at you!

After all, what is the theme of Cinderella?  Never giving up?  Justice will “out” in the end?  Whatever you think the theme is, you can use that for your stories.

Themes such as anti-bullying emerge from stories like The Ugly Duckling.  (Also beauty is only skin deep and transformation is always possible!  Lots of themes from this one).

The lovely thing is that the themes from fairytales are timeless.  It is one major reason we still love these old stories.  They still resonate.  I think they always will.  They reflect on our nature.  There will always be jealousy (Snow White), a need for sensible building materials (The Three Little Pigs!), and  greed (Goldilocks – I always have sympathised with the three bears here). That is to name just a few examples.

And there’s nothing to stop you combining themes either.  After all your lead character may have the virtues of, say, Puss in Boots and the villain the qualities of The Big Bad Wolf.  Set up the conflict and away you go!

Generating the writing ideas maybe - image via Pixabay

Generating the writing ideas. Image via Pixabay.

Lost in a good book - image via Pixabay

Lost in a good book. Image via Pixabay.

Books create their own sense of space - image via Pixabay

Books have their own sense of time and space. Image via Pixabay.

Books are wonderful whatever their format - image via Pixabay

Books are fabulous, whatever the format. Image via Pixabay.

CLARITY POST - Editing is vital to help you be as clear as possible - image via Pixabay - Copy

Editing – the crucial part to getting a story right. Image via Pixabay.

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

Books are the keys to knowledge. Image via Pixabay

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

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

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

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

Creation is good for us, image via Pixabay

Well, let’s do so by writing lots of stories! Image via Pixabay.

This World and Others – Character Virtues -v- Vices

I thought I’d list a few character virtues and vices to look at how these can be used in storytelling.

Patience/Impatience
Patience doesn’t always come across well in fiction. Much as I love Little Women, I did find the very patient Beth to be a little too much of a goody goody for my tastes.  I think patience translates better when it is shown as a character actively trying to seek a goal, is at a point where they need to wait for a very good reason before taking further action, and that they do so.  There is a point to the patience then.  It is also an “active patience”, an act of will.  I find I want to read to find out if they CAN see that patience out and have the reward for doing so.

Impatience, of course, can be shown as a character’s weak point, causing them more problems than they needed to have (which adds to the conflicts and drama of the story).  Sometimes impatience can be used more positively in that it can be the trigger for change.  Someone is impatient with the lack of education, say, in their village and actively seeks to change that.  Again, the impatience at the status quo here can be a good catalyst for the story.  There are bound to be those who want the status quo continued.  Is there a reason why they don’t want the villagers to be educated?

Calmness/Anger
Calmness I think is easier to show in a story as there are always characters who are needed to calm other characters down and make them see sense.  What effect would that have on the tale?  If they failed to calm the other one down, what would the consequences be?  Keeping calm can be a crucial need in a thriller where that virtue gives the character time to think, time to work out a way of escape etc.  (Less likely to think of this if the character is panicking, getting worked up etc).

Anger can be shown as a character’s downfall – their temper alienates anyone who might help them.  It can be used to show a character’s sense of justice.  (You’ve got to question why anyone wouldn’t be angry at abuse, violence etc).  It can also be shown as part of a character’s development.  At the start of the story they’re hotheaded, at the end they’ve learned to temper their temper, so to speak.

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Getting Into Character

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I’ve been catching up with some concerts recorded a while back and I finished watching the John Williams Prom today.

Fab music and what is so telling is that in everything he has ever composed, it is clear he has entered the head of the character he has chosen to focus on and come up with the music that would suit them. This is especially true for Indiana Jones and Jaws!

Much as I adore the music, story wise, I’m very fond of only one of those… I leave it to you to guess which one!

But there is an object lesson here: know your characters, REALLY know your characters, if you want to write “for” them well.

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Many thanks, once again, to all the fab writers who shared their thoughts on my recent Why I Blog posts for Chandler’s Ford Today. I find blogging, including on posts like this, wonderful for getting me “into” my writing sessions.

I love the freedom blogging gives but have found it helps to have one major topic. In my case that’s writing of course, but all sorts of things can come off that – such as the importance of reading, editing tips and so on.

The rules I generally follow for blogging include:-

1. Keep it simple. Not in terms of content but in terms of expression. Bullet points for headlines, expand later in the text.

2. Stick to a word count. For CFT I stick to 1500 words absolute max (and it’s usually nearer 1200). More than that, such as the Why I Blog pieces, I split into two or more parts. For the monthly ACW blog, it’s up to 500 words. (I love the discipline of writing to different word counts like this. It makes me “up my game”. It is far easier to write “long” than short).

3. Think of who you are writing for and go for topics which people will find useful, interesting, or would be happy to comment on. The best topics of course combine all of those!

And now on to my other blogs before I turn to fiction for this evening…

The start of another sweltering week in deepest, darkest Hampshire sees me cracking on with more flash fiction for my current WIP. Am happy with how that is going but would like to submit more work as well, so that’s my next mini target.

I’m a little ahead of the game when it comes to my CFT posts (and would like that happy state of affairs to continue). My next post will be a review of the recent Hursley Park Book Fair. More details later in the week.

I’m also drafting some non-time dependent blog posts that I can slot into different places as and when I need them. I must do this more often as it’s useful having material to hand for those on holiday times, down with the dreaded lurgy times, having too good a time at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School time etc etc. I love being able to schedule!