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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YOUR FIRST WRITING – AND SWANWICK!

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What was the first piece of writing you remember? I can’t recall mine but do know when it was “composition” time at school, I was in my element. The whole idea of making up your own story back then was marvellous (and frankly still is!).

I couldn’t tell you either the moment I decided I would be a writer I just know the nagging feeling of wanting to write and, backing it up more importantly with actually doing the writing, has been with me for far longer than I can recall. The best thing to do is follow that writing urge but be open to trying new forms of writing. It is the way, I think, to find out what it is you really want to spend your time doing!

 

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Have prepared what I hope to be working on during Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, which starts on Saturday. This is a longer term project I want to read through and edit. I’ve also got a few ideas on where to submit this once done so want to check those out too while I’m away. Hope to submit said project by the end of the year (the idea being once back from Swanwick I’ll be ready to sort out my amendments and get the project out there).

Am continuing to work on my third flash fiction book. Have got ideas for non-fiction too which I hope to flesh out more so in between the courses at Swanwick, and catching up with friends there, I shall have plenty to do! But that is always a good thing…

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What do your characters like to eat/drink? Are they good cooks or do they live on their world’s equivalent of take out? What do they like to wear (and does it fit in with their world’s idea of what is suitable)?

Ask yourself questions about your characters. Not only will you get a better picture of who they are and what they’re like, the crucial points about your fictional world will develop too. For example, if you know your character is a freedom fighter, what are they fighting against? It also shows your world is probably a dictatorial one. (If it wasn’t, why are there any freedom fighters at all?).

Am hoping to submit some more flash fiction stories before long (but probably after I’m back from Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. This week will be spent in preparing posts to schedule for while I’m away I expect).

My third flash fiction book is coming along but I hope to do a lot more on that while away. And as I mentioned on my author page that will be alongside a longer term project I want to read through and edit and, hopefully, be submiting by the end of the year. It is great having a mixture of different writing projects – I never get bored (!), I love the challenges each one presents (and those differ naturally). and, if things go as I hope, I should have a variety of work “out there”, hopefully to find a good home!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Ideas

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The challenge of finding new ideas for stories, is, of course, ongoing but the great thing is there are so many avenues to explore.

Proverbs and sayings can give themes for stories. Someone coming out with a strange way of expressing something can be an inspiration. (I was on the receiving end of one of these this week. Am certain I can get a flash fiction story out of it – will keep you posted!).

How about taking advertising slogans and changing a word or two to get your own theme? Instead of the old egg advert which said “Go to Work on an Egg”, how about “Go to Work on a Unicorn”. Now there’s a fantasy story or several behind that. Have fun (I intend to with that one as well).

Items of clothing (for example an odd shaped hat) can lead you wondering about the kind of character who would wear such a thing and what they might get up to while wearing it!

Keep your eyes and ears open. I’ve found, over time, when I hear or see something that could be useful for a story, I tend to hone in on it. It’s almost as if you develop a kind of antenna for this so be open to it. If the ideas don’t work out, well you’ve lost nothing but time trying them. (And I would be surprised if you didn’t get something out of them, if only the core for a stronger story you write up later).

I love stories that mirror others as long as it is done well. The play I saw on Wednesday was a great example of that. More details in my CFT post on Friday. The play was influenced heavily by one of Shakespeare’s finest which confirms something I’ve believed for a long time.

Reading widely is so important for anyone wanting to write. Indeed, it is more than that. It is NECESSARY.

Not only can you see how writers set things out, you DO learn by reading what others have done. You take in things like ratio of dialogue to narrative, where passive tense IS used appropriately, and how the writer you’re reading uses drama and cliffhangers in chapters to make you keep on reading so you have to find out how the story ends. That’s just a few things you take in when reading.

Also, by reading widely you are supporting the industry you want to join so it makes sense on so many levels. Ideas for your own stories come from all over the place and the theme of a novel you love may well be one you’d like to also write about, albeit in a totally different way.

Reading non-fiction can open your mind to ideas that you would want to bring into your fictional world. For example you read about how the phone came into being. Okay, how would that happen on the world you’re creating? What is their equivalent of the phone? Reading history (fictional and otherwise) can not only give you a sense of the past so much so you will want to set your own stories there, but there’s absolutely nothing to stop you writing about a minor character in the court of a monarch. Equally you could take your knowledge of how the court of Elizabeth 1 operated and set up a similar style of government in the world you’re creating.

Happy reading and writing!

 

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Flash fiction, because it has to be character led, can deal with “issues” but, obviously, briefly. That can often work better than a longer story where the writer can feed more into the tale. Short and to the point is what flash fiction does and, with stories that pack a punch like this, I believe brevity is best. No danger of repeating yourself either!

Flash fiction can take you anywhere
You like in terms of worlds, time or space.
Readers find out how your people fare
In whatever word count fits the case.
As long as it is under one K,
You and your story will be okay!

Allison Symes – 29th July 2018

COMING UP NEXT TIME…

Guest Post from crime writer, Val Penny

I’m looking forward to sharing with you on Tuesday, 31st July a guest post from friend and crime writer, Val Penny.  She is behind the Hunter Wilson/Edinburgh Mysteries series and shares with us an extract from her forthcoming novel, Hunter’s Revenge.  It is very good but don’t just take my word for it.  See what you think from the extract on Tuesday!

 

 

 

 

 

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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WHY I BLOG (PART 2) AND WHAT YOUR FICTIONAL WORLD NEEDS

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Many thanks to all of my guest writers for sharing their thoughts on my CFT Why I Blog two part series. Part 2 is up on site now – do see the link. It has been fascinating from my viewpoint to read the different takes on this. Comments, as ever, are very welcome in the CFT comments box.

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Am planning to catch up on my flash fiction writing this weekend. Most of the week has been a non-fiction “fest” for me (not that I’m complaining. I’ve come to love non-fiction in a way I never anticipated. For one thing, I’d never anticipated writing it at all when I started out as a writer!).

For my current WIP, I’ve been trying out historical flash fiction – i.e. stories told from the viewpoint of a certain historical character. Good fun to do and another way of getting into the heads of characters, which is something I love doing.

I love finding out what makes my characters tick and to do this to someone who lived and died centuries before makes me look at why they acted the way they are known to have done. It also gives me a very good excuse to read my history books again – I really can call it research here. Not that I really need an excuse to read such books.

In cases where there is speculation as to what happened because nobody really knows, then I can have some fun suggesting what might have occurred or coming up with a viewpoint the character might have held.

Fairytales With Bite – What Fairytales Reveal

One reason I love fairytales is for their honesty.  They call evil exactly that and have done with it.  Fairytales are very revealing about human nature (and the pictures they portray via words are not always flattering).

For example, Cinderella is realistic in the portrayal of the stepmother and her daughters and their ill treatment of Cinders.  Resentment, dislike, hatred even of anything not connected to blood kin does happen and more often than perhaps we would care to admit.

Then there’s the topic of pride and what that can lead to when unchecked.  Go to Snow White’s stepmother for the tips there!  Pride/vanity can and has led to people trying to destroy those better than themselves (and sometimes succeeding, sadly).

As for unrequited love, The Little Mermaid could tell you all about that.  Anyone who has ever been a victim of bullying because they look different would sympathise with The Ugly Duckling. 

A thought occurred to me recently as a result of a discussion I was having on Facebook about the left behind disabled child in The Pied Piper of Hamelin.  It was asked whether we felt the child felt left out or had had a lucky escape.  Opinion was pretty much split down the middle, I fall into the child feeling left out camp, but it occurred to me that Hans Christen Andersen was ahead of his time here in recognising the disabled can and do often feel left out and was highlighting that.  Sadly, still relevant.  I would like to think one day it wouldn’t be because we leave that “leaving out” state behind us.

In the meantime, I think we need, and will always need, the blunt honesty of fairytales showing up what we can be like.

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This World and Others – What Your Fictional World Needs

A lot will depend on the scale of your story obviously.  (One advantage of flash fiction is you need less!  One advantage of novels is you can build your own world in a reasonable amount of detail).  But I think for most situations your fictional world will need:-

1.  A sense of what the world is like.  In my flash fiction stories in From Light to Dark and Back Again, I only have the word count to give a fleeting impression, which is fine.  It is just that the fleeting impression has to be strong enough to register with your reader.  With a longer story, of course, you can show more but do beware of showing anything that is not absolutely critical to your tale.  You don’t want to “info dump”.  Just show your readers what they need to make sense of your story, whether that is one line, one page or what have you.

2.  What your character is like.  This is best shown in their actions, reactions, dialogue and thoughts.  In my flash tale, The Outcome, I don’t go into a physical description of Becram, my alien lead, but I do show you his attitude!  And for this 100-word story, that is enough.

3.  A sense of how the world is run.  For my unpublished novel (hope to be working to change that soon, watch this space!), I do show how the government is run.  Terry Pratchett in his Discworld series worked out how Ankh-Morpork could operate based on how people got rid of their waste and then how the city was governed grew out of that.  You need to pick a place to start to work out to yourself first and foremost how things would work.  Then it is a question of working out just what your reader needs to know and which is just for you to enable you to write the story.

4.  How needs are met.  This can be done lightly.  Again in my The Outcome, a few words indicate Becram comes from a highly technological society (so you can imply from that the basics such as food and drink supplies really are not a problem!).

5.  Problems!  It may sound ironic, but there is no such thing as a perfect world for real, yet alone in fiction, so give it problems it has to try to resolve.  For example, does your world get on well with its neighbours?  If not, why not?  Is it your world’s fault or theirs?  Have there been attempts to resolve the issues here?

 

 

 

 

 

Finding a Fresh Angle, Blogging and Adjusting Your Reading

Well, there’s a nice mixed bag of topics for you.  Plus I will share my top 10 tips for helping the writer in your life.  (Fellow writers, you can always drop a lot of hints to non-writing friends based on my list!).

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When you’ve had a website or a blog for a while, it pays from time to time to go back into your older posts and have another look. I do this a few times a year and inevitably I can think of a fresh angle on the topic I’ve pulled out of the archives to have a look at. Hey presto – a new post!

Some other ways to generate ideas for fresh posts include:-

1. Think about what irks you most about writing and why. Share! You won’t be alone. (My biggest bug bear? Never having as much time to write as I’d like. Answer: Just make the most of the time I do have!). You can share tips about how you overcome these bugbears or how to minimise their impact.

2. Think about why you started writing in the first place. Think about where you are now with your writing. Be encouraged by how far you’ve come but again this topic is great for being able to share what you’ve learned on your own writing journey.

3. Think about your favourite writers and stories and why you love these. Share your thoughts and invite comments. Briefly, I love the works of Terry Pratchett, Jane Austen, and P.G. Wodehouse (now there’s a combo if ever there was one!).

4. Share writing advice that you’ve found helpful and equally that which has not been relevant for you. Other writers will find this really useful.

5. What would you have found most helpful to know when you were starting out as a writer that you only found out much later on? Share!

Above all, have fun writing your posts. My CFT post this week will be Part 2 of Why I Blog. I’ll share the links later in the week but finding out what other writers have to say on a topic is (a) fascinating and (b) you learn so much yourself.

My CFT post this week will be Part 2 of Why I Blog. Many thanks again to all the fab writers for taking part in both parts of this. Lots of interesting insights and proof people really do blog for all kinds of reasons. More on Friday when I’ll put the link up.

Will be reviewing the recent Hursley Park Book Fair soon too. Good fun, lots of footfall, a very promising start to what I hope will be an annual event.

And Swanwick Writers’ Summer School draws ever closer too!

 

Do you adjust your reading according to the seasons?

The nearest I get to it is that I make sure I read or listen to Terry Pratchett’s Reaper Man around September time and his Hogfather in the run up to Christmas. (I also sneak in either reading or watching A Christmas Carol during December – the Muppet version is my favourite!).

I suppose summer is associated with “light” reading to match the longer, lighter days, but I don’t change my reading much here. I am still reading history (and historical fiction), flash fiction, short stories, novels across the genres etc. What affects my reading choice more is mood.

As for writing, well it’s always a case of “game on” for my flash fiction and blog posts!

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I think every flash story has to contain an element of surprise for it to engage the reader. Okay, you may well see where the author is going but isn’t the fun to be had there in finding out whether you are right or not?

That is what keeps me reading when I think I’ve guessed ahead correctly (and sometimes I’m right, sometimes the author twists the tale again and fools me. I like both of those options!).

Having said all that, it doesn’t mean the surprise has to be a nice one, far from it!

What should come through in your flash fiction pieces above all else is what makes your character tick. There is usually room for 1, maybe 2 characters, at most and their attitude should come through clearly. The attitude doesn’t need to be a “nice” one but it should be one readers can understand and, as they read on, see why the character has developed this.

As ever, it is the telling detail that matters here. For example, in The Outcome, the opening line is “I’m pleased to be wrong about my misgivings”. The attitude here is of a character who is open to the possibility of being wrong and being willing to admit it. Of course you then hopefully want to find out what they were wrong about! But it is that hook, the attitude of the character, which draws you in, I think.

Top ten tips to help the writer in your life:-

1. Buy their books!

2. Review said books. Doesn’t have to be a long review but must be honest.

3. Go to their book events to show support. Trust me, it is appreciated and, as a certain supermarket would say, every little bit helps.

4. Always get them nice notebooks and pens. The idea that any writer could ever have enough of these is just plain wrong! From your point of view, you’ll never be stuck for present ideas for your writer friend ever again. Win, win here.

5. If you are a computer whizz and can act as technical support, fantastic! You’ll save them a small fortune. No doubt your grateful friend will put you in their next book and not as a character to be killed off horribly either.

6. Plentiful supplies of tea/coffee/chocolate/other treats generally go down well with said writer. If it lifts their mood because they’ve got bogged down in Chapter 8, it benefits you. Do away with moody-writer-syndrome. Feed them their favourite treats. You know it makes sense.

7. If you really do feel you can’t get your writer friend any more notebooks and YOU feel like getting them something different, go for book vouchers or vouchers towards a writing course/retreat. Will go down well.

8. Accept said friend will often seem to be in a world of their own. That is because they are! Give them time to come back to earth before engaging in conversation. You’ll get more sense out of them for one thing doing that.

9.Never ask where they get their ideas from. You want to stay friends with them, yes? Just trust me on this one. If you insist on asking, don’t blame me if your friend gives you a long lecture on well this idea led to that one, I was inspired by one paragraph in A Christmas Carol, I thought I’d add a twist here and there, etc etc. Your friend should be able to go on at length as to where they get their ideas from. If you get bored, (and you almost certainly will), you only have yourself to blame here.

10. And last but not least, do spread the word about their books. It all helps.

 Goodreads Author Programme – Blog

What do you have in the way of book accessories?

I love bookmarks and those clear plastic stands for displaying books at signings etc. They make such a difference to your presentation.

I also like nice pens with a book logo on them and had some produced to go with my flash fiction collection when that came out. Likewise, a nice spiral notebook with the cover of the book on also went down well as prizes for my launch.

But the ultimate book accessory for me I think is the hardback and jacket! While nothing will diminish my love of the paperback, I do have some wonderful hardbacks, including a Sherlock Holmes collection, where the book itself is simply beautiful (and the contents brilliant! Got to hand it to Conan Doyle…).

I must admit when I do choose a hardback, I tend to have a quick peep to see if the cover has been reproduced on the book or if it is just on the jacket. A lot of the time it is the latter, all to keep costs down, but I have some where the cover has been reproduced on the book itself. Always looks great.

Even with a “plain” cover, a hardback book can be lovely in the way it has been bound etc.

So while the contents of the book are always the most important thing for me, I do enjoy the aesthetics of a lovely tome as well.

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WEATHER, PLANS, AND THE WRITING JOURNEY

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Must admit I struggle a bit in the heat, due to being asthmatic (much easier to breathe in cooler air). But then I still don’t really associate Britain with heatwaves, really. It just doesn’t feel right for this country.

And yes I do remember the summer of 1976. Government appointed a Minister for Drought and within about a week the heavens opened. Someone liked a laugh there!

I don’t tend to use the weather in my stories but how your characters react to (a) standard and (b) unusual conditions can help your readers find out more about them. I wilt in the heat. Others get edgy. How do your characters react? Does their behaviour and attitudes change notably?

Food for thought when outlining your characters as, even if you don’t use this in a story directly, just knowing how they would react helps you as a writer to show something of that in the situations you do put them in.

Time really does fly – hard to believe it’s July already. Still, on the plus side, it’s just over a month to the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. Really looking forward to that.

Need to get some more submissions out so will try and focus on that. (Third flash fiction book coming along nicely though). Am also beginning to look at some non-fiction work I’d like to do. Would like to make good progress on that by the end of the year.

Am reading well, which is great. I see reading as the fuel to writing. How can you know what you like to write unless you know what you like to read? Deliberately mixing up my reading formats. Sometimes I focus on the Kindle, other times good old fashioned paperbacks, still other times catching up with magazine reading. All wonderful material.

When you first start out as a writer, you look to improve what you do (and this is something you continue to keep on trying to do). Then you aim for publication. Then you see if you can be published again and again and again etc.

All the time you are trying to improve what you do in terms of output and quality. You are also getting to grips (or trying to!) with marketing and promotion, arranging book events, using social media effectively to attract a readership and so on.

So at no point in the writing journey are you standing still and that is a good thing.

But it does pay every so often to stop and look at where you are and what you would like to do next (and then go for it!). Focus on enjoying what you write – that enjoyment will help you keep going through the tougher times.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Flash fiction is a good outlet for one liners which sum up a character.

One of my favourites comes from Making the Grade: “Still, as I told Mother, if this is what I can do when I’m honest, just think of the possibilities when I’m not!” Attitude to life, feisty character all in one line!

Flash fiction is the epitome of economical writing! This is another reason why I love it. It challenges me to convey as much information as possible in as few words as possible. All good fun!

I love an intriguing first line
Be it in flash or short story.
But what is wonderful and fine
Is the ending in its glory.

Allison Symes – 1st July 2018

I’m partial to some doggerel too! Having said that, intriguing first lines are fabulous but the story has to follow through on them. The story must never peter out. The ending must back up all that has come before. You want your reader to feel they’ve had a satisfying read, whether it is a funny tale or a grim one.

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Flash is a great vehicle for sci-fi and fantasy, even though both are known for (a) epic novels and (b) world building (which leads to the size of said epic novels!). Why?

Because you can conjure up a world with a few well chosen words and leave the rest to your reader’s imagination. In my The Truth, I refer to a Mark 3 Intergalatic Spacecraft with the latest time warp technology. I haven’t room in this 100-word story to tell you more than that, but the great thing is YOUR vision of what such a spacecraft would be like is as valid as mine would be. And you can picture the kind of world that would have such a thing in the first place.

I like to have fun with my flash stories in giving the one telling detail a reader would need to know and leaving it at that! I’m not being rotten, honest. I think a reader engages much more with any story if they have gaps to fill in. I know I love this when I have to fill in gaps on stories I read.

N.B. Do you think they have trouble changing head light bulbs on your average UFO given the trouble most of us have trying to do the same task on our cars? Just a thought…!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Blog (and some stories in a sentence!)

An apt title as my main focus in the last few days has been blogging on different sites.  All good fun, hope you enjoy.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest CFT post is Part 1 of a 2 part series called Why I Blog. Many thanks to my guest writers for sharing their thoughts too.

I blog for a variety of reasons – from marketing to self expression to the fact it is simple and fun to do! Who says you have to have one reason?!

See what you think and do post your comments in the CFT comments box.

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Looking forward to sharing the Why I Blog post on CFT tomorrow (with part 2 next week). Many thanks to my fellow writers for their thoughts on the topic.

I often use blogging as a warm up “writing exercise” before I tackle my fiction. I suppose I find that useful because blogging is immediate, I can get a few hundred words under my belt fairly quickly, and then I am right into the “zone” so to speak.

My ACW post is due up on site tomorrow as well as the CFT one. Another Goodreads one is due from me soon too. Writing for the different audiences is also useful – it makes you think about your material more and that is never a bad thing.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

My favourite way of getting started on a new piece of flash fiction is to take a well known saying and see what I can do with it. Sometimes the results are funny, other times the results are much darker, but I find it a great way to start.

I find I need something to “peg” my idea to so must have a title. It also challenges me to ensure my story fits that title but not in a blatantly obvious way, there still has to be room to surprise the reader, and the first reader I have to surprise is me! What I always love is when, as I am writing the story, I can kind of “feel” the tale coming together and I know then that the piece will work. It is then a question of finding the right home for it but that’s another story, so to speak.

I sometimes have fun writing stories in one sentence. Usually I go on to expand these a bit so they become either flash fiction pieces circa the 100 words mark or standard length short stories. However, occasionally, it is fun to leave them as they are. After all, Ernest Hemingway did this with his For Sale: one pair baby shoes.

1. After the latest foul-tasing meat scandal, the dragon decided it was time to go veggie.

2. Jemma knew monsters existed, the monsters knew they existed, so why did everyone else scoff at the idea and then end up eaten by the things?

3. Just for once, the fairy was going to grant her own wish and the authorities could go hang.

Allison Symes – 29th June 2018

 

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – What Does Reading Do For You?

Well, what DOES reading do for you?

In my case, it depends on the book. I read for:-

1. Entertainment – whether it makes me laugh, cry or scream.

2. Escapism – nearly always fantasy/fairytales for grown-ups so I enter another world for a while as I read.

3. To learn (especially from non-fiction) – I read a fair amount of history and am currently enjoying London by Peter Ackroyd and Double Cross by Ben Macintyre. Different “storytelling” techniques used here but both brilliant.

4. To relish what I know from past experience is masterly prose – Terry Pratchett, Jane Austen, P.G. Wodehouse for me here.

5. To experience something different from what I usually read and/or write. I like to read in my genre, flash fiction, but it is refreshing to read longer short stories, novels etc.

Reading takes me out of myself and into other places for a while. You see things from other perspectives. You identify with characters, whether you like them or not. Reading makes you think. (No wonder one of the first actions of any dictatorship is to try to limit or ban books and/or journalism).

Reading, like the arts, is good for the soul. It feeds the mind, even if the fare you prefer is lighthearted, humorous, not intended to be taken seriously etc. I do know I feel much poorer in myself during those times when things get in the way of my reading time. When life is stressful, turning to a good book won’t resolve the crisis, but gives you time out from it for a while. Sometimes that is all that is needed. At other times, the break is useful for you.

So happy reading!

More than Writers – Association of Christian Writers blog – Should You Resemble your Characters?

I can think of several colleagues who would take one glance at that question and say “no way”. Some may express that more forcibly!

I can think of several of my own characters whom I would never want to meet in life, yet alone resemble, and for all sorts of reasons.

So why ask? Well, so much depends on the character, doesn’t it? If a character shows grit, determination, honour etc, we probably wouldn’t mind emulating them. If a character shows horrible traits, we’d pass, thank you. How many of us want to be a coward for example?

In outlining our stories, we have to create our “people” based on what we know about human nature and behaviour. We know we need our characters to be believable so that means no goody-goody heroes of whatever gender. It also means no cardboard cut out villains. They’ve got to have some redeeming quality or a motive which is understandable. Often writers do both of course.

Redemption, of course, is possible, as is a good character going astray. What makes us choose which way they go? A wish to show that if this character was us, this is how we’d be? Or do we opt for the choice of this is how the character would be and I wouldn’t be like this in a zillion years?

In creating our characters, we have to be honest in their portrayal (or readers will see straight through it and switch off). So maybe I should have rephrased the question to read do we resemble our characters? I suspect there would be some interesting answers to that!

Truth is stranger than fiction but good fiction can reveal something of what humans are capable of, even if we use fantastical creatures to represent us in some way. Sometimes good fiction can be  prophetic and I am thinking of George Orwell’s 1984 here especially.  Whatever would he have made of social media? I can imagine his harsh criticism of it.

And what is the great thing about honest character portrayal? Simply, I’ve found both as a reader and writer, that honesty comes through, and I am engaged with those characters and their stories as a result. It is, for me, honestly portrayed characters, whether they’re goodies or baddies, that grip me and keep me reading.  I identify with the truth behind their portrayal.

Even in flash fiction, my genre, the moment I have what my character is like outlined, I am away, happily scribbling the story down. After all, if I’m not engaged with my people, why should anyone else be?

So it’s off to write characters that intrigue me then. The great thing is I don’t have to like them, yet alone resemble them. Just as well really. Fiction would suffer without the characters we dislike. Story is conflict and it is the dubious characters that get that conflict going. We need to see the Ebenezer Scrooges before their transformation to be able to appreciate that transformation when it happens. Now just how human is that?!

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Fairytales with Bite – What Makes a Great Fairytale Character?

A great fairytale character will:-

1.  Be easy to identify with.  I love Tinkerbell in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan for “wanting to get at those who didn’t clap” when the children had been told clapping would restore her.  You can just imagine the annoyness and irritation there, can’t you?

2.  Sometimes arouse your pity, other times your anger.  Fairytales are strong on right and wrong (which I think is why kids love them so much.  I remember at a very young age already knowing the world wasn’t fair so stories which put “things to rights” very much appealed).  The Little Mermaid always generates pity in me.  The vileness of the cruel characters in fairytales riles me but all of the characters make you feel something.

3.  Be on some journey or quest and you just HAVE to find out how it goes.  This can be anything from finding out whether Cinderella will go to the ball or not to discovering if Frodo will complete his mission in the right way in The Lord of the Rings.

This World and Others – Populating Your World

How do you populate your fictional worlds?

A lot will depend on genre, of course. (One great reason for loving fantasy and sci-fi is the huge scope for creating your own peoples and civilisations).

However, one fundamental here is that there will be a major people/alien being group and minorities around it. Of course there are a lot of stories to be had in showing how the major group treats the minorities and do they rebel against ill treatment etc? But even where there are no direct clashes on the grounds of racism etc, what do your peoples need to survive and how do they get this? Is there a have and have-not society going on?

You will need the suppliers and the supplied-to. You will need the ruled and the rulers. Different peoples will have specific needs so how does your world cater to those needs? What are the belief systems? Do the peoples share common values/faith etc or not?

And, to add spice to the mix, there will always be those characters who defy their society’s expectations of/for them.

So have fun creating your peoples!

 

 

 

 

 

HOT AND BOTHERED AND BLOGGING!

Facebook – General

Does the hot weather affect your writing? In my case, not directly. I’m at my desk, everything is as comfortable as possible, and off I go.

What I do dislike is the lethargy that can set in so I find it harder to stay up and write, write, write. So, accepting that is how it is is, I just squeeze more writing into the time I know I can work with before I simply HAVE to go to sleep. Must admit this is where I loved the weather in Scotland – generally good, but a few degrees cooler. Lady loved that too.

I’ll be looking at blogging in my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week and next. I’ll look at some of the joys of blogging and share some fantastic contributions from fellow writers and bloggers. Looking forward to that.

Hope to get some more flash fiction out to Cafelit before too long. Plus I hope to put more stories up on Scriggler, the US based site as well. I’ve got longer term plans for non-fiction writing, revamping my novel, as well as more flash fiction books so will be busy, busy, busy. All in a good way.

Must admit I am finding the heat a bit much (Lady is being pretty sensible about it to her credit for such a young dog). So the idea of sitting in the garden to write does not appeal. I’m definitely one for the shade!

What is the best thing about a story, regardless of genre? Is it the tale being written well enough to make you forget your cares for while?

Or is it that the characters are so well drawn you sympathise with them and can see why they are acting the way they are? The best stories contain elements of both, of course, but I don’t think it is something the writer can set out to do deliberately.

What we can do deliberately is give the most honest portrayal of our characters as we can and then it is up to the reader whether they identify with them or not. A really good story will leave you with no choice but to do so!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

One thing I mentioned in my talk on flash fiction on Saturday at Hursley Park was the fact I love the way flash forces you to fill in the gaps. For example, if I give you a story about a time travelling alien, you fill in how/what it looks like as I get on with the important bit of showing you what happens to said alien in the story. There is no room for anything else.

The great thing here is your experience of time travelling aliens will be down to how much sci-fi you read or watch, whether you’re a fan of Doctor Who or not, and so on. You will fill in the gaps in description based on what YOU think a time travelling alien should look like. My interpretation will be different (even allowing for some overlaps). And that is where flash can be such fun.

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My favourite ending for a flash fiction story, whether I write them or read them, is easily the twist one.

This is partly because I like to guess ahead and then see if I guessed correctly (and all kudos where it is due to flash fiction writers who wrongfoot me!).

I also like to see a twist that really works well and makes me go back into the story to look for the clues I know the writer will have planted there. There is always lots to learn from reading other fiction, whether it is in your own genre or not. If you needed an excuse to read more, please use that one!

Flash fiction encourages readers to fill in the gaps, given there isn’t room for much in the way of world building. I love that, both as a reader and writer.

You can infer so much more with flash too, indeed inference is a major tool in the “kit” to write it. It is true that with any story, you have to give the reader what they need to know to make sense of it, but with flash, that is fine tuned to the nth degree.

Write what you need to write and then get out is a useful guiding principle. Another is to check each line and ask myself, well why do I need this? The answer has got to be strong enough to justify that line’s inclusion in the story. Any hesitation on your part and at best you need to rewrite that line, at worst cut it.