Books, Books, Books!

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I suspect I’m preaching to the converted with the title for this post but never mind!

Books have been a vital part of my life since goodness knows when but I’ve only been writing since I turned 30…. X number of years ago!! Quite a considerable number of years in fact but not so many as when I first discovered the joys of reading and would spend many a happy hour in the local library.

Why did it take me so long to make the connection between “you really love books and stories” and “you really like writing your own stories” so you should become a writer? Goodness knows. Looking back on it, it is daft I didn’t start writing sooner but the main thing is I am writing now!

My advice to anyone pondering if they should write or not is to give it a go and have fun creating characters and stories. Whether you then try to get published is up to you. There’s nothing wrong with just writing for your own satisfaction. What matters is you’re writing and loving it.

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I loved watching the TV series of Black Beauty when I was a kid. That encouraged me to read the book by Anna Sewell. Southern TV, as it was back then, adapted some of the Enid Blyton Famous Five books and I loved those too. Pity they lost the franchise because that ended the series pronto!

So a good TV adaptation can encourage people to get back to the books, which is very much A Good Thing! This also happened with me with Oliver Twist. Alec Guinness and Oliver Reed were superb as Fagin and Bill Sykes. Had to read the book after watching the film.

With The Lord of the Rings, I had read the trilogy first. The magic of those films was bringing to life the images I had conjured up in my head of what Middle Earth looked like. (I still like the look of the hobbit holes. I’m about the right height to live in one too!).

I love it when creative media feeds off AND benefits other creativity like this.

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So terribly sad to see the news about Notre Dame. I hope the damage is as limited as possible. Also that restoration can take place as soon as possible too.

On to other things…

The only time I specifically write to a theme is when entering competitions. I’ve usually got a character in mind when I’m thinking about a new flash fiction story and work out, from their main characteristics, what theme would best suit them. I can’t say whether this is the right or wrong way to do things but I do know it works for me.

My other use of themes is to trigger ideas for a new story and then I spend some time working out which kind of character would best suit it. If I can’t work out a suitable character I don’t write the story.

For me it is all about the characters, always.

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I suppose my first introduction to short stories must have been the Reader’s Digest Collections of Fairytales, which I still have.

I was never conscious of this when reading these books (over and over and over and over again etc!) though I do recall being stunned at how long The Little Mermaid was and that it really didn’t have a happy ending. That was an eye opener for me. I didn’t know stories could be like that!

I also loved The Snow Queen with Gerda being the “action lead”. That was an eye opener too. Here was a girl off having all kinds of adventures to rescue her neighbour from said Snow Queen (and the splinter of the evil mirror in his heart). Loved that on first reading.

Here is where you meet ideas for future characters of your own – by reading widely and discovering them in other stories, then wondering what YOU could do with a character like that. You then wonder what setting YOU would put them in and what adventures/problems YOU set them. YOU wonder how your characters would sound and act and react and all of this comes together, creating a story that is uniquely yours. Writing and reading are truly wonderful things.

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The Book Depository UK has FLTDBA listed as available within 2-3 business days. Amazon currently has it available as one month plus! I don’t know why this happens but it does pay to check out online retailers for availability, whether it is in books or anything else!

And I will put in another word about reviews. They really do help authors. Amazon sit up and take notice if you have 50 reviews. If you’re not sure what to write, one line saying what you liked (or loathed) about the book is sufficient. It is a great irony that even a review where someone didn’t like s book still helps the author of that book when it comes to the “numbers game”.

My own policy for reviews, whether it is for groceries or books, is to have a good look through what people have said. Usually there is a consensus and I can then go with that or not as I see fit but I find reviews a useful guide when I’m on the other side of the fence. So please do review! Thanks!

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I sometimes use alliteration in my flash fiction titles (Pen Portrait, Telling The Time etc) but I haven’t deliberately done this. In each case the title has been the right one for the story and the alliteration is a nice side effect!

I also think it is better to have things that way round rather than try to think of a clever title and try to make the story fit it. I can never see how that would work. Something would feel artificial about it.

I have to have a title to work to when writing a story (of any length) but I will change it if something better pops into my head as I’m working on the first draft. I use my titles to help me set the mood for a story. I sometimes use titles which can have a secondary meaning that the story makes clear.

The important thing is that the title suits the story.

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Once I’ve got a flash fiction collection written and edited, I spend some time working out what would be the best “running order” for the stories. This can take some time but it’s worth it.

From Light to Dark and Back Again lives up to its name (!) but the big plus with that was it helped me group stories beautifully!

The reason for all of this? I don’t just want my individual stories to make an impact on a reader. I want the book as a whole to do so too so taking a step back and planning what stories goes where helps enormously with that.

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What is the worst aspect of writing flash fiction?

For me, it’s coming up with a character with a strong enough voice. Once I’ve got that (after some outlining), I can set that character wherever I want and away they go!

It’s not enough for a character to be pushy or what have you. There has got be strong enough reason for them to be like that. Give them this and you will take the reader with you even though the reading journey for flash fiction is necessarily a short one!

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Goodreads Author Blog – Playing with Genre

With my flash fiction, I like to play with genre a lot. As flash fiction has to be character led due to the strict word count, I can have great fun putting that character wherever and whenever I want. I’ve written fantasy flash fiction, historical flash fiction, crime flash fiction etc as a result.

I’ve read excellent collections by other authors too. Some focus on one genre. The Great War by Dawn Kentish Knox is a great example of a themed historical flash fiction collection. Do check it out. The characterisation is very moving.

But it is not just in the flash and short story form that genre can be played with, far from it.

I love the crossover novel. It blends the best of the two (usually) genres it is mixing and gives something unique to the reader as a result. A good example to check out here is Jennifer C Wilson’s Kindred Spirits series which crosses ghost stories with historical fiction. Great mix!

I think readers are much more flexible over this than writers/publishers realise at times. I know what I like when I read it even if I can’t categorise it! And while categories ARE important, I don’t think they’re meant to be straitjackets either.

Have fun with your reading/writing and mix those genres!

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When a Story Has “Got You”

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Thinking about picture books with regard to my most recent CFT post, Picture Books and Other Hooks, made me also think about what my reading journey has been.

Every reader of fiction owes a huge debt to children’s writers as the vast majority of readers have grown up loving and reading books, moving from stage to stage and genre to genre as they grow. You get to experiment with the genres you love most (and ideally end up loving loads!).

Writing for children then underpins books overall, I think.

We almost all start with rhymes and fairytales (the latter is somewhat ironic given so many fairytales can be grim!). Picture books play a vital role bridging the gap between “baby” books and the first books we read for ourselves.

So let’s hear it for children’s fiction, especially as it is notoriously difficult to get right.

 

I’ve listed below books that have either made me change my opinion about something or I’ve had to re-read several times. (Usually the book concerned falls into both categories). They’re not in any particular order of importance.

1. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
3. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein
4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
5. Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett.
6. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
7. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.
8. Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse
9. Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
10. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

For many of the authors, I could’ve listed more than one of their books. The lovely thing with books is discovering the joys of new ones and, when re-reading, catching up with “old friends”.

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Book Offer News

Quick heads up! Amazon have currently got From Light to Dark and Back Again on offer at:-

£2.99 – Kindle edition
£4.04 – for the paperback.

Link takes you to the Kindle edition.

 

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When do you know a story has “got you”? When you are so gripped by the characters, you have to keep reading no matter what, and you get distinctly irritable when anything minor, like life, gets in the way of you reading! Confession time: have been distinctly irritable many a time due to this.

Of course the challenge for writers is to come up with a story that will make readers feel like that! Whoever said writing was easy has never actually done any. The great thing is nobody has to see your first draft, your sixth or what have you, until you are ready to let them see it! Nobody but nobody creates a perfect story first go. I do take a lot of comfort from that thought.

The great thing with writing is you have two interests in one here, the other being reading of course.

To feed your own writing “muscle”, you need to read widely in and out of your genre. I recommend reading widely in non-fiction too. Your creative spark will come from ideas that occur to you as you read other stories and non-fiction.

This author did this in this way. How would I do it? I’d have written this character this way because… etc etc. All sorts of great story ideas can come from asking yourself questions like that and then seeing what you do come up with.

Re non-fiction: I’ve found the creative spark ignites when I discover something interesting I hadn’t known and realise I can use it in a story setting.

It always pays to cast your imaginative net wide!

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Far Flung Book News!

Many thanks to Raewyn Berry for supplying these pictures of From Light to Dark and Back Again in New Zealand!

My book in NZ 1

FLTDBA in NZ. Image kindly supplied by Raewyn Berry

My Book in NZ 2

Always good to see books about and it’s very special if one of them is yours! Many thanks to Raewyn Berry for the picture.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Have drafted a piece from the viewpoint of a groundhog which is this week’s prompt in my writing diary. Good fun to do but needs work but then the great thing with a first draft is only you need ever see it. Also I never envisaged starting a FB post with that opening line!

I often use sayings as titles for my flash fiction and generally that sets the theme and mood too. But a good title is always capable of having a twist put to it, so work out what would suit your character best. They’ll be “carrying” the story so if they are of a quirky nature, the story should reflect that.

 

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I do love poetic justice stories and flash fiction is a great vehicle for them. You have to set things up immediately and deliver on the pay-off quickly too! My A Kind of Hell and The Circle of Life are examples of this.

Poetic justice stories work well within a short time frame, which is why they suit flash fiction. I don’t like to spin poetic justice stories out for too long a time span. My worry is a reader could get bored waiting to find out if there is ever going to be a pay-off. No danger of that in 100 words or so!

You haven’t got a lot of room in flash fiction to go into characterisation deeply. So what I do is pick the major trait/flaw/virtue of the character I’ve got in mind for a story and weave the tale around that.

The good thing with this approach is you can imply a lot (and flash fiction is brilliant for implying things!).

For example, if you decide your main character is going to be cowardly, all sorts of things are going to come out of that. How does the cowardice manifest itself? Do they know they’re cowardly? (Often a character will not think they’ve got the faults others think they have!).

Equally, are they prepared to lie to defend their position? Almost certainly yes to that one, I would have thought. Okay then, if they’re prepared to lie, what else would they do? You can already see how things could escalate (as will the tension in the story which is exactly what you want).

So pick a good place to start and away you go!

Time for some one-liners then.

1. Nobody saw the aliens leave with as many minerals as their spaceships would carry.

2. “I’m an endangered species, I’m allowed”, cried the dragon, after flaming the farmer’s field to get barbecued sheep for a mid-morning snack.

3. When even the rats run away, you know you’ve got problems.

4. I usually have no problems with pest extermination but you humans are beyond a joke.

5. It was funny how the beef always vanished whenever Joey the border collie was in the room.

Hope you enjoy.

Allison Symes – 12th February 2019

Goodreads Author Blog – Picture Books and Other Hooks

I don’t believe in wasting a good title! I used this for my Chandler’s Ford Today post recently when I interviewed a local author and her illustrator about a children’s picture book they had brought out. This in turn made me think about my own reading journey and what a debt we all owe to children’s writers.

Most readers have grown up loving books. Someone encouraged that love of story, bought them books, and in time they had the great joy of buying their own stories. I always remember one of my great wishes was to have a library of my own with books I’d chosen to be on the shelves.

Wish fulfilled there I’m glad to say! I’m also glad that there’s a special space on my shelves for books written by friends of mine. And of course my From Light to Dark and Back Again is on display too!

I was trying to think back to what was the first book I could read all by myself. Got stumped there but the Reader’s Digest Collection of Fairytales is a well read and taped up book (the spine needs support!) that would have been amongst the first of my “proper” reads. Has gorgeous pictures too. Never underestimate the power of good pictures to encourage reading and the development of imagination.

Someone “sees” the story and they “get” it. They can go on at a later date to read stories without pictures but there is still something of that hankering for images for most of us I think. Why else do we really love a great book cover?

And I’ve still got a good spot for books with good maps in them – The Lord of the Rings is superb here.

My favourite reads when growing up was Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Little Women (I always have loved Jo March as a character). I liked Heidi and Black Beauty too. I went on to discover Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, P.G. Wodehouse, and Terry Pratchett. I do believe in a good mix!

So what were your favourite childhood books? What did you “graduate” to?

And let’s hear it for the children’s fiction writers too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Impact, Pantomime, and Character Portrayal

Quite a mix tonight I think!  Hope you enjoy!

Facebook – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My CFT post is a review of the Chameleons’ recent panto production of Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves.

The show was wonderful and this particular post was great fun to write. I’ve written it in a different format to the way I usually write reviews and think this worked well on a fun topic. Loved writing it. Hope you enjoy reading it. It gives a good flavour! (Oh and the dame’s hair really does have to be seen to be believed but that’s the way it’s meant to be with panto – oh yes it is!).

Images Credit:  A very big thank you to Stuart Wineberg, Lionel Elliott and the Chameleons for  kind permission to use the photos below and in my CFT post.  I have a lot of fun writing captions for these but see the CFT post for these!

 

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Looking forward to sharing my review of the Chameleons’ production of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves tomorrow. Does panto bring out my inner kid? You bet it does!

What can be interesting on productions like this is seeing how true the script stays to the original story – or not as the case may be. Most adaptations are understandable. Many of the fairytales are too grim (pun intended!) to put on as originally written.

Am delighted to share a bonus CFT post tonight. Children’s writer, Anne Wan, and illustrator, Sally Goodden, are holding a story and crafts event at Chandler’s Ford Library this Saturday.

The theme is based on Anne’s latest book, Manners Fit For the Queen.

I’ve talked about the importance of children’s fiction on CFT before but picture books, such as Manners Fit For the Queen, play such a crucial role in encouraging youngster to read.

Hope everyone has a fab time at the event on Saturday.

Book cover image kindly supplied by Anne but drawn by Sally!

BOOK EVENT - Anne Wan and Sally Goodden

 

Well, one good thing about the cold weather is it encourages staying in and reading/writing a good book!

I don’t use the weather as a setting in stories (as it reminds me too much of the infamous opening “It was a dark and stormy night”, which has become a parody). I think you could use weather as a way of showing/reflecting your character’s mood though. For example, “Despite the warm temperatures and clear skies, Herbert’s mood was anything but sunny”. That could make a good opening to a story.

Also, I guess I want to be getting on with finding out what the characters are doing and saying. Weather? I don’t think I really need to know that unless it IS going to affect the story in some way. By that point, I want to be so gripped by the characters, that I pick up the detail about the weather without being irritated by it.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Plan to catch up with some flash fiction writing over the weekend. Hard to believe it’s two years since FLTDBA came out. Where has the time gone?!

What I love about flash fiction is when I am particularly busy I can jot down some one-liners that can stand alone or that I can work on later and develop into longer pieces.

A good challenge can be to write yourself a line and then use it for one story as the opening line and for another as the closing one. Give it a go and see what you come up with. Ideally pick different moods for these pieces as well. Above all, have fun with your writing. I fervently believe that when a writer is enjoying what they’re writing, some of that sense of enjoyment comes through and the reader picks up on it. Also if you don’t enjoy what you write, why would anyone else?!

 

I’ve experimented with linked flash fiction in the book I’m currently writing. I hope to write more too. The main criteria is that the character and situation has to be strong enough to sustain two or more stories.

The first set I wrote came about due to the way I’d ended a story and I realised from that ending, there was potential to exploit in a second tale, so I duly did!

Also there should be a natural sense of following on for all of the stories in the link to work. You’ve set the characters and setting up so well, your readers feel at home dipping into that world again.

 

Image Credit:  Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for the picture of me reading at the December 2018 Bridge House Publishing celebration event.  Huge fun!

I talked on my author FB page about using weather in stories. Tying in with that, with flash fiction and the limited word count, weather is best used as a kind of code to represent something or as a metaphor. You don’t have the room to do much else but the great thing with that is you can’t give lots of description that people skim over.

What do I mean by code/metaphor? Best thing I think here are some examples.

1. Heather’s mind was as clear as a pea-souper.
2. Alan didn’t need the downpour to make him feel miserable.
3. Kathy’s hair shone as if she’d washed it in liquid sunshine.

All three of those should conjure up images in your mind as to what mood the characters are likely to be in and what kind of people they’re likely to be. I think it fair to say that Heather is unlikely to win Mastermind with a foggy brain! Kathy – well, she could be vain and, even if not, is her attitude to life as sunny as her hair? As for Alan, you get a real sense of the type of character he is – he can clearly feel miserable all by himself.

Happy writing!

Association of Christian Writers – More than Writers – Impact

Do you wonder what impact your writing has on others?

I mostly consider impact from the other side. That is I know my theme, what impact I’d like my piece to have and focus on selecting words I think will best achieve that.

What is lovely is when readers give you feedback and you can judge if the impact you thought your piece would have did so. If you wonder about commenting on a post but don’t, think again! Comments are noted.

Even negative feedback can be useful if you use it to gauge whether your critic missed the point of what you were trying to say or you didn’t make the impact you thought.

How do you create impact? Look for the strongest words for description. No “he wore grey” here. Go for “his suit was the same colour as my cheapest cutlery”. You use a few more words but the imagery, and resulting impact, is more powerful. I don’t need to say the guy here is unlikely to be getting his suits from Savile Row. That is implied by “cheapest”.

In thinking about impact ahead of writing a piece, you’re also trying to engage with potential readers from the outset. This is great because you’ll be less likely to go off at tangents which add nothing to your piece. (It is easily done!). That saves editing time! I must always cut so anything helping me edit more efficiently is welcomed!

For bloggers, feedback doesn’t always come when you think it will. Sometimes it won’t come at all! But that doesn’t mean your words lack impact. All it means is you don’t know about it. Frustrating though that is, if you enjoy blogging, carry on for that reason alone. I’ve also found as I blog, ideas for posts (and sometimes stories) pop into mind. By writing you are feeding your creative spirit.

Look at why you want your piece to have the impact you’ve chosen. Are those reasons good enough? Do they match the brief of your story competition or article theme the editor has called for?

Naturally we want the impact of our work on an editor to be “Wow! Got to take that.”. It is a question of accepting the need to polish your work and knowing sometimes the piece will make the cut. Sometimes it won’t but there’s nothing to stop you revisiting that piece and submitting it elsewhere assuming your topic or story is relevant to the market in mind.

Think about impact on you as a writer. If rejections are getting you down (and they do for everyone), harness the support of writer friends. This is where they come into their own. In time, they’ll appreciate your support during their difficult periods.

Every writer has their share of turn downs. They don’t necessarily stop when you are published.

We rightly talk about the writing life as a journey. Let’s make its impact on us and those around us as positive as possible.

IMPACT - Blogging. PixabayIMPACT - Feedback doesn't always come when you think it will. PixabayIMPACT - Feedback isn't always positive but look for what you can learn from it - PixabayIMPACT - Look for positive impact wherever possible - PixabayIMPACT - Use strong words for descriptions. Strong questions can help you get there. PixabayIMPACT - What impact does your story have - PixabayIMPACT - What impact will your work have on readers - Pixabay

Fairytales with Bite – The Right Ingredients

The theme of the right ingredients ties up with my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week about Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, my review of the Chameleon Theatre Group’s recent panto production.  Why?  Because I talk about what ingredients are needed for a successful pantomime and I’m glad to say this show had them all and in great quantities!

What are the right ingredients for a fairytale?

  1. There must be a magical element.
  2. There must be a wrong to put right.  (See Cinderella/Snow White etc for the way they’re treated initially and how their stories end).
  3. There must be plenty of drama.  (You know from the outset that Cinderella is never going to keep to the midnight deadline set by her fairy godmother.  The drama here is in finding out what will happen when the girl is inevitably late!).
  4. The ending must be appropriate for the story.  That doesn’t necessarily mean a happy one – see The Little Mermaid as Hans Christen Andersen wrote it!  Also while Snow White had a happy ending, her stepmother rightly didn’t!  (Perspective is important too).


What are the right ingredients for a writer?

  1. A willingness to put in the work – to write, rewrite, rewrite again etc until the story is right.
  2. Accepting the fact rejections happen and trying to learn from them and then move on.
  3. Always seeking to improve what you do.
  4. Reading widely and across genres to feed your own imagination.  It does need feeding.  Often and lots!

This World and Others – Knowing When Your Character Portrayal Is Right

Can you ever know for sure when the character portrayal is right for your story?  I think so!

Firstly, your characters need to ring true to themselves.  If they’re greedy, are you showing them being that in different ways?  They need to be characters that could be people we know.

Secondly, your characters should have flaws and virtues and good reasons for acting the way they are.  Do they try to hide their faults or are they unremittingly unashamed of them (the I Am What I Am syndrome!).  However you portray your characters here, be consistent unless redemption/change is the point of story as it is in A Christmas Carol.  You still need to show your character “waking up” to the need to change.  One sudden change of heart will not convince readers.  Scrooge needed to be visited by all three ghosts to realise the error of his ways after all.

Thirdly, if your characters have different educational standards (and this is highly likely), are you showing the right level of education for the characters?  This will show through in how they speak, the kind of vocabulary they use and so on.

Fourthly, can you hear your characters speaking?  Do they seem real to you?  The first reader you have to convince is you!

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Why Write and Using Writing Prompts

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Scribblers Books also shared details of the special offers on my writing available for this week only, folks!  A reminder about these offers follows shortly.

One of the nicest things a writer can experience is signing one of your books for a reader! Congratulations to Jim Bates who will be receiving a signed copy of my From Light to Dark and Back Again in due course. (You don’t tire of signing books for things like this!).

And a huge thank you to everyone who has supported my being author of the week for Bridge House by sharing posts, sending congratulations etc. Much appreciated!🙂💐💐♥️

BOOK OFFER REMINDER

Book news! I’m Bridge House Publishing/Chapeltown’s author of the week and there are free books up for grabs AND special offers on others. What’s not to like?

I’ve had the great pleasure of being published by BHP/CB in various anthologies as well as with From Light To Dark and Back Again. These form the basis of the package below.

BOOK PACKAGE: There are SIX, count them SIX, publications where I have work on offer for £4.00, all as mobi-files. This includes To Be…To Become (the Waterloo Festival competition, anthology), Baubles (BH anthology), The Best of Cafelit 4, 5 AND 6 and From Light to Dark and Back Again, my first flash fiction collection.

And for those of you who would like print paperbacks there’s an offer for you too.

PAPERBACK OFFER: My first published story was A Helping Hand in Bridge House Publishing’s Alternative Renditions. That isn’t available on Kindle BUT is in paperback and that along with From Light to Dark and Back Again is on offer at a mere £7.00 for the two!

GIVEAWAY:  Still available,  I’m giving away one signed copy of:-

Alternative Renditions OR
Baubles OR
One of the Best of Cafelit books I’m in.

 

If you’re interested email my lovely editor, Gill James, at editor@bridgehousepublishing.co.uk with your contact details. Also let her know which of the books you would like and Gill and I will take things from there.

All of the above books are available on Amazon.

And if you would like to try some of my work out first, head over to Cafelit at http://cafelitcreativecafe.blogspot.com/…/l…/Allison%20Symes

 

Scribbler also shared the links to my Chandler’s Ford Today author page where I often write on topics of interest to the writing community (such as The Benefits of a Good Writing Conference, Creativity is Good For You, Fiction -v- Non-Fiction etc etc)

Next challenge? Get more out there! Pic below is of my flash fiction collection on sale at last year’s Swanwick Writers’ Summer School Bookshop. Always a thrill to know your book is in there!

Oh and the offer ends this Friday, 18th January.

What Barbara Large's writing classes will help writers discover - what is their story - image via Pixabay

A good writing group will help you discover this. Pixabay image.

Loving the writing prompts in my diary. (Pictures like the woodland and other landscape ones below are great for suggesting atmosphere and therefore what type of story I’m likely to come up with). Looking ahead a little, there is a nice mixture of picture prompts, suggestions of words to use to create an opening for a story or poem (flash fiction in my case), and pieces asking you to describe something in a setting (for example a journey in winter, which is the one for this week). These are going to make a nice challenge for me. 52 new flash fiction stories at least then this year!

I like coming up with title ideas every so often and will come up with a dozen or so. Then I write the stories to suit. I deliberately choose “open” titles, open in terms of what the mood/setting of the story could be. I like to have plenty of possibilities to play with and then I go with the one I like best. The other ideas I will revisit at a later date. They may suit another story.

Why write?

1. Because you have to. There is just something hardwired into your brain driving you to write.

2. To give something back to the wonderful world of stories you’ve enjoyed (and still enjoy) being part of.

3. Because there are characters and stories you simply have to develop. (Ties in with 1 above though 1 can apply to non-fiction writers just as much).

4. Because you read something awful and know you can do better. So you rise to the challenge and do it!

5. Because it’s a joy to do, whether you seek publication or not.

6. You always loved inventing stories at school so why stop there?

7. To see if you CAN do it and then see if you can improve on what you do.

8. To explore what it is you actually want to write and maybe discover areas of writing you had not known about before.

9. You come across a writing competition you really like the sound of and you think it may have your name on it. There’s only one way to find out if that’s right!

10. You believe most people have some sort of creative/artistic “bent” to them and writing is the most natural for you.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Is it harder to write a book or promote one? Answers on a…well I don’t think a postcard would be big enough.

Both have their challenges and rewards of course. Getting the balance right between doing both is tricky. Always has been, always will be, and I think every writer has to work out what works for them.

It is one of those things that when I first started writing seriously for publication, everything was still sent by snail mail. These days practically every story I submit anywhere is by email.

And to not be involved with social media in some way (even if you focus on one, say) is a serious disadvantage. What I like best about social media is the way it can help you to engage with other people and ultimately isn’t that what we’re trying to do through our writing, whether it is for educational or good old sheer entertainment purposes?

(No time for trolls though – the only place for those is in a fairytale!).

When writing light stories, what are you looking to achieve? I want to write stories that make people smile (I’m not necessarily aiming for the laugh out loud moment). The impact I want to leave on a reader is one of them having had a hugely enjoyable read. I know I’m always cheered up no end reading stories like that.

As for the dark stories, I sometimes want to make the reader shudder, I want to make them see how and why my character would act the way they are, and then be glad they’re not in the situation I’ve put the characters in!

I like a balance of both types of story in my books and I also like reflective character study pieces too. I find, when reading this kind of story by other writers, they’re the stories that make me think the most. The “would I have done that in those circumstances?” kind of story has a quieter impact than the funny or scary tales, but the impact is there all the same.

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When writing a story in flash
Don’t decide you’ll be oh so rash.
By just writing everything down.
Tangents occur to make you frown!
Plan your ideas, a note will do,
Sketchy, detailed, it’s up to you.
Stories are stronger if they’re planned.
Saves many a tale being panned!

Allison Symes – 14th January 2019

This one comes from direct experience! Sometimes my outlines are as little as a sentence. For longer stories, I go into more detail. I deliberately don’t plan everything out. I want to encourage the imagination to “fire up” and not stifle it but a plan sends me in the right general direction.

I love the Scrivener templates for character and setting outlines. I draft those and they get me into the world of my story idea so quickly. But there is no reason why, if you don’t use that kind of software, you can’t think of a useful template of your own. Think about what you need to know about your characters before you start writing about them. Base a template on that. It will come in handy many times.

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Echoes can be useful in flash fiction. In my Pen Portrait I refer to a character that follows the “Shirley Williams school of thought rather than Margaret Thatcher’s” when it comes to caring for hair!

If you recall both of those politicians, you will remember they had very differing hair styles. I’m sure the latter’s would not have moved an inch even in a hurricane. (Also for those who don’t recall but wish to do so, it’s easy enough to look up pictures of these two. Indeed you only need to look up one of them to get some idea of what the other would be like here).

What’s useful is the mention of these two politicians will give a reader an idea of the age of the character without me spelling it out, as well as what their approach is to brushing their hair!

Think about what you could use to convey information across to readers like this. Echoes are a great word count saver!

Goodreads Author Blog – Good Books

What defines a good book for you?

For me a good book is one that fulfils its purpose, whether that is to make me laugh, show me a world I did not know previously, or help me improve my history knowledge etc.

It has to keep me gripped to The End. I have to be eagerly looking forward to reading the next chapter when I read in bed. (And be mightily miffed if the Sandman comes along a bit early and I don’t get to read for as long as I’d like).

A good book will have writing that takes my breath away with the joy of how it is put together. P.G. Wodehouse is the master there as far as I’m concerned.

Humorous books have to not only make me laugh out loud, but to keep me smiling until The End. I love books which are obviously funny but which raise smiles by their subtle use of language, puns etc. Again Wodehouse is brilliant here and so was Terry Pratchett.

Crime fiction has to bring out the “I’ve got to find out what happens next” feeling. And it must deliver on its promise. Historical fiction has to make me feel “yes, it could have been that way” and so on.

Good books I always re-read. Maybe that is the true test of a great read.

Says it all really and both must balance out Pixabay image

So true. Pixabay image.

 

Tried and Tested – and Book Offers!

A very busy night tonight and a special post about book offers too and I will start with those I think!  Also included this week is a link to my guest spot on crime writer Val Penny’s wonderful Book Review blog.  Many thanks to her for hosting me.

BOOK OFFERS!  ONE WEEK ONLY.  ENDS 18TH JANUARY 2019

Book news! I’m Bridge House Publishing/Chapeltown’s author of the week and there are free books up for grabs AND special offers on others. What’s not to like?

I’ve had the great pleasure of being published by BHP/CB in various anthologies as well as with From Light To Dark and Back Again. These form the basis of the package below.

BOOK PACKAGE: There are SIX, count them SIX, publications where I have work on offer for £4.00, all as mobi-files. This includes To Be…To Become (the Waterloo Festival competition, anthology), Baubles (BH anthology), The Best of Cafelit 4, 5 AND 6 and From Light to Dark and Back Again, my first flash fiction collection.

And for those of you who would like print paperbacks there’s an offer for you too.

PAPERBACK OFFER: My first published story was A Helping Hand in Bridge House Publishing’s Alternative Renditions. That isn’t available on Kindle BUT is in paperback and that along with From Light to Dark and Back Again is on offer at a mere £7.00 for the two!

FREE BOOKS! BUT YOU HAVE TO BE QUICK.

I’m giving away one signed copy of:-

From Light to Dark and Back Again AND
Alternative Renditions OR
Baubles OR
One of the Best of Cafelit books I’m in.

First come, first served, naturally. Also one book per customer.

If you’re interested email my lovely editor, Gill James, at editor@bridgehousepublishing.co.uk with your contact details. Also let her know which of the books you would like and Gill and I will take things from there. I’m looking forward to getting some books off in the post next week!

So two lucky people can be in for a free read! What are you waiting for? Gill is waiting to hear from you!

All of the above books are available on Amazon.

And if you would like to try some of my work out first, head over to Cafelit at http://cafelitcreativecafe.blogspot.com/…/l…/Allison%20Symes

Do check out the other wonderful stories here. You’re in for a great read, I promise.

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Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Busy night tonight but fun! Hope you saw the book offer posts earlier. Meanwhile back to CFT and I’m glad to share my Tried and Tested Writing Tips this week. Hope you find it useful.

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Will be a busy day tomorrow. As well as my usual CFT post (all about tried and tested writing tips), I’m Bridge House Publishing/Chapeltown Books author of the week and will have news of book offers so stay tuned.

Re my CFT post: I’ve picked those tips I use most often and go into detail as to why they are useful.

Absolutely delighted to have been guest blogger on Val Penny‘s Book Reviews blog. Many thanks to her – it’s been a good week writing wise when it comes to getting the word out there!

And talking of words, the ones I’ve found most helpful are the ones that encourage when all that seem to come in are rejections etc. This is why you need writing friends. We know what it is like – both the joys and the down sides. It is a roller coaster ride but nobody says you have to be alone on the thing!

Am delighted to share the link to the great blog from crime writer Val Penny. The fact that I am her guest on it tonight is not at all coincidental!

Many thanks, Val, for the invite. The questions were great fun to answer. Val and I met at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School (or more accurately just outside Derby Railway Station just ahead of us both going to Swanwick!) and we’ve been great friends ever since.

It is also lovely being on the receiving end of questions too!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I’m due to be Bridge House Publishing/Chapeltown Books author of the week. News of book offers tomorrow.

Getting the balance right between writing new material, revising and improving material that has not yet found a home, and marketing has never been easy to get right. Has there ever been a writer who doesn’t feel there is always something they could be doing better in any of these departments? I don’t think so!

One advantage to flash fiction of course is it can be a great way of getting work done and “out there” while working on longer projects. (And if said work is published, you’re building up your writing CV too).

What questions would you put to your characters to get the best out of them before you write their story?

One of my favourites here is “what drives you?” I use it to dig deep into a character because there will be an answer that is something nobody would mind revealing – the public face, if you like.

However, it is the answer the character (and we as individuals) try to keep to ourselves that is the really interesting one to work with! It can also reveal things about our characters that make us realise we can do so much more with them. It IS worth digging that bit deeper to get to these points.

Your stories will be deeper and have more impact as a result – even the shortest of flash fiction stories will benefit. If I know my character thinks they’re capable of, say, robbery, but I dig deeper and find in certain situations, they could kill, guess which story I’m going with!

You DO want to dump your characters right in the mire and put them under as much stress as possible and really see what they’re made of. Let the drama play out. Have fun with this, I do! (Oh and nobody said writers have to be nice to their characters, often it’s the opposite in fact!).

 

Many thanks to #ValPenny for hosting me on her Book Reviews blog. It was great fun answering the questions.

Questions like these are really useful for making you evaluate why you write and whether the “how” could be improved. (The answer is almost certainly “yes” to that by the way!).

Fairytales with Bite – Storytelling

Storytelling is one of our oldest traditions of course. You can understand the appeal of fairytales especially when it comes to the oral storytelling tradition. A simple plot, a structure that works, a clear goodie and baddie, and a happy ever after ending. Perfect way to end the day!

Now, of course, we expect our characters to be more nuanced. There is no such thing as the perfect hero. Villains have to have good (and understandable) reasons for acting the way they are (and that can include the fact they simply enjoy being evil. To them, that is reason enough!).

What I love about stories is that there is no one perfect format. I love books in all their forms but totally understand why audiobooks work for some, whereas the print format doesn’t. Our focus as writers is to come up with stories that can work in several formats. Our focus is to entertain. I’ve never understood why some look down on escapism. The world is sad and bad enough to make a wish to escape understandable. After all why did our cavemen ancestors tell stories? To remember what was important. To bring the community closer together. To escape the cares of their day and the ones to come for a while.

So as a writer then I want my characters to appeal to readers. I also want to drop my characters right in it whenever I can. I want my books to engage people. It’s a good thing to aim for: to improve your storytelling as much as possible. You discover better ways of expressing things, learn what works and what doesn’t. Enjoy your storytelling and relish every moment of it.

 

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This World and Others – Tried and Tested

My latest CFT post is Tried and Tested Writing Tips, which I hope you find useful.

How are your characters tried and tested?  Do they pass the tests you set them?  In almost any story you can think of, it is only when the characters are put right through the emotional wringer, do you see what they are capable of and where their limits are.  That is also where sidekick characters are useful – to help see your leads through to the bitter end and to get them through that “about to give it all up” moment.

Testing doesn’t need to to be overly dramatic either.  It can be as simple as a character having their patience tested by a relative who is trying to goad them (deliberately or otherwise, it’s not always consciously done).  Your character is very patient to begin with, then they become slightly less patient as time and the goading continues, and so on before they snap or do something they would not ordinarily have done.  Your character may be aware of this process so what do they do to try and fight it?  To not give in to that urge to snap no matter what the provocation?

Think about what would stress your characters out.  Think about their coping mechanisms.  What would happen if they failed or weren’t available when needed?

Have fun finding out!

Music and Stories

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

One of the joys of writing my Chandler’s Ford Today posts is when I have a topic where I can go to town on finding music clips! The topic of books is one of them.

Many thanks to my wonderful panel – #JenniferCWilson, #ValPenny, #AnneWan, #WendyHJones, and #RichardHardie – for taking part in my mini-series The Joys and Challenges of Writing Series Novels. Hope you enjoy their fantastic insights AND the music I’ve used to go with these!

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Had a great night out watching the Chameleon Theatre Group perform three episodes from Blackadder Goes Forth, including Goodbyeee. Review to follow on Chandler’s Ford Today in due course but I will say now it was superbly done and the set, made by the company themselves, was brilliant. Looking forward to sharing more on that.

Adaptations I’m generally happy with if they are faithful to the book/series etc. This is why I loved the Miss Marple series with Joan Hickson – they were faithful to the Christie canon – but the Marple series. No. Didn’t watch it. Just couldn’t bring myself to do so when it emerged they were altering the stories and bringing in characters that didn’t belong in the originals. Really don’t like that.

My CFT post this week will be the final part of my series on the joys and challenges of writing the series novel. As ever, my thanks to to #JenniferCWilson, #ValPenny, #AnneWan, #WendyHJones, and #RichardHardie. Nice range of genres between them too – from children’s to crime (and Wendy writes both!) to fantasy to historical crossed with ghost stories. Link up on Friday.

Glad to report I’ll be having more work on Cafelit later this week and again in November. Will share links as and when.

From what I’ve seen of the set the Chameleons have produced for the stage version of Blackadder Goes Forth, I anticipate a packed house and a wonderful and thoughtful evening of entertainment. Will review for CFT in due course. Do check their FB page out.

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thank you text on black and brown board

Pexels image.  There are times when words are inadequate.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

So more on my alphabetical list then.

J = Juicy Storylines! Not just for soap operas, honestly, but something every character wants. Now “juicy” can be taken literally of course, but I see it as the storyline being appropriate for the character and taking them and stretching them to see what they are really made of. There’s nothing like a crisis for bringing out the best or worst in someone and that applies just as well to fiction!

K = Kicker. Must admit I needed to look this one up. (It’ll be interesting to find out what I can research for Q!). In journalism it apparently means a sudden unexpected change of events. In fiction we’d usually refer to it as a twist in the tale. I like kicker though. Has bite. And your stories must too, whether they have a twist/kicker in them or not.

L = Lines. Who is getting the best lines in your story? Your hero or your villain? A great story will have this split between the two to prevent either becoming a stereotype or, worse still, boring! Also a villain capable of humour etc means while your reader will not want them to win (possibly SHOULD not!), they will sympathise and identify with the villain to a certain extent. There should be something about each character a reader can identify with. (My inspiration here is Alan Rickman’s masterly portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves!).

About halfway through the alphabetical listing now. So then:-

M = Muse. The best way to feed said muse is to read widely and often (and do include non-fiction and poetry in this too. Different sources of writing are good for you and inspire your own thoughts and ideas in various ways). I’ve also found writing regularly feeds it too. Never worry about what you come out with at first being awful and needing work. That would’ve happened to Shakespeare too! It can and will be put right in the edits!

N = Narrative. Whose story is it? Whose viewpoint is going to dominate? What can that character see and know that the others cannot? Why have you chosen that character to lead the narrative? Answer those questions and your story will be off to a good start!

O = Originality. Reading widely feeds your originality. Partly this is due to what you read, but sometimes it can be because you read something you really don’t like or feel you can do better and that can be the trigger point for your own writing. Also, your voice is unique to you and will come through in your writing, especially if you write often. Regular writing (even if it is short bouts at a time) really does encourage your imaginative “muscle” to start working.

Pressing on with my alphabet topic then, we reach P, Q and R. (Great letters if you can get them out in Scrabble incidentally!).

P = Performance. Do your characters perform well in your stories? Do they live up to what you outlined them to be or have they gone beyond that? Read your stories out loud. Perhaps record them and play them back. Hear how your characters perform. Are they having the impact on you that you want them to have on your reader?

Q = Quizzing. I’ve found quizzing my characters to be a very useful part of my outlining. I don’t need to know the minute details. Nor do I put everything I outline in a story. However, I take my character’s basic traits and quiz them from there. If I decide a character is going to be brave, I will quiz them to find out if there are limits to that courage. I try to find out where that courage comes from. Does their “tribe” prize bravery? Or is it noticeably absent and your character is rebelling against that? What are the outcomes? (There WILL be some and that’s where the drama and your stories are to be found!).

R = Right Word Count for your Flash Fiction. I sometimes write a piece deliberately to a word count and that’s it. Sometimes I think a story will come to 100 words but discover it can be done in 75 or needs to run to 250, say. Be flexible on this. The story is the right length when the lead character has done and said all they have to do/say for the situation you’ve put them in. The great thing with flash fiction is there are so many different categories, that even if your treasured 100 word piece comes in at 500 words, there will be markets and competitions for that out there.

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Goodreads Author Programme – Blog –

After the End, What’s Next?

If you’ve enjoyed a really good book, what do you do when you finish it? Go on to read more books by the same author, or read more in the same genre, or do you go for something that is completely different in mood and style?

I have done all three of these (though obviously not at the same time!) and it very much depends on my mood at the end of the story. If I’ve loved a gory crime thriller, I may well want something humorous to show the lighter side of life, albeit a fictional one!

With short stories especially, I tend to read a few by the same author before moving on. With novels, if the book has really gripped me, I’ve got to check out what else the author has done, even if I decide I’ll come back to those later.

The important thing though is that whatever you read, you enjoy it so much, you keep on reading, no matter what author, genre, style etc you choose next. Happy reading!

Image Credit:  many thanks to the Hampshire Writers’ Society for taking the photo of me reading as guest speaker and for kind permission to use the photo.  Both much appreciated!

Fairytales with Bite – Signs of a Fairytale World

What are the signs of a fairytale world?  How can you know quite quickly you ARE in one (via fiction I’m presuming for the purposes of this post!  If you do find a portal to another world, however, be sure to report back with plenty of details, pictures if at all possible.  We will all want to know!!).

1.  Magic.  The biggest giveaway of course is the use of magic.  The interesting thing to work out when planning your stories though is whether everyone can use magic or just a select few.  If everyone can use it, what are the rules so anarchy doesn’t break out?  Boundaries increase the drama in your story.  If everyone can zap everyone else, that doesn’t make for much of a story.  If only a few can do that but the price they pay is their own lives are forfeit, now there’s a potential story.

2.  Inanimate Objects – The Use Of.  We all know from Disney (see Beauty and the Beast) a teapot, to name one example, is rarely just a teapot!  Sometimes they’re an enchanted victim.  Sometimes these things are portals (also see Harry Potter).  So what uses are the inanimate objects put to in your setting?  Does a particular object convey a particular meaning or power and, if so, what and why?  What are the limits to the use of objects?

3.  Creatures.  Ranging from domestic animals that can talk (hello, Puss in Boots!  Loved Puss in Shrek.  Thought they had the portrayal spot on) to odd creatures that are the stuff of legends to monsters of course.   Basically what you wouldn’t see here!  And there’s nothing to stop you inventing your own.  This is where some knowledge of natural history is invaluable.  Knowing what animals need to survive and how their bodies are designed to handle that should inspire some ideas for how the creatures in your stories will do this kind of thing.

Happy writing!

This World and Others – Music and Stories

In my latest CFT post, the final part of my mini-series on The Joys and Challenges of Writing Series Novels, I get to have some fun choosing music tracks to go with my fantastic panel’s insights.  Many thanks again to Jennifer C Wilson, Val Penny, Anne Wan, Wendy H Jones, and Richard Hardie for taking part in this three part series.  Hope you enjoy the insights and the music!

Music and stories have long been intertwined of course.  So many wonderful songs are stories set to music effectively.  Music can and does play a part in stories.  It can be used to show character.  Movies, of course, rely on music to help set mood.  Think of the Jaws theme by John Williams.  Every note of that puts pictures and therefore stories in your head (and possibly might put you off swimming in the open sea but that’s another matter!  There are advantages to just swimming in the local public baths!!).

I write with classical music playing.  (I often listen to Classic FM).  Unlike other styles of music, it hasn’t affected my mood (and therefore what I write!).  It does help me relax and I write more (and I hope better) when relaxed.  I’ve also found it helpful to think of the kind of music my characters would be fans of when I’m creating them.  It almost certainly won’t come into the story I write but it fills out my knowledge of the character I’m about to place before a reader.  That has to be a good thing.

And I must admit I loved choosing the music for my book trailer for From Light to Dark and Back Again.   The track used is an adaptation of Camille Saint Saens Danse Macabre (used as the theme tune for the BBC detective series Jonathan Creek).

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FAllison.Symes.FairytaleLady%2Fvideos%2F954726234630356%2F&show_text=0&width=560

FANTASICAL AND REALITY WRITING

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My CFT post this week looks at how “fantastic” and “reality” writing feed off each other. No matter how fantastic the world setting, there still have to be elements about it and the characters that readers can identify with. So there has to be some system of government, some rulers and some ruled, some system of food gathering etc etc to help make the story itself believable.

In a well written fantasy story, these elements are hardly noticeable. They are what I call the necessary background structure to make the whole story work. Not only that, literature would be much the poorer without fantasy stories. It would also be much the poorer without good quality non-fiction. And that’s the way it should be.

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What slogan would sum up your writing style? I think mine would be something like “quirky, sometimes twisted, and often humorous”. Before anyone says that sums ME up quite well, I know!!

Questions never to ask a writer (unless you want to run the risk of having something thrown at you) include:-

1. How IS the writing going? (We want to give you chapter and verse, literally. You want a quick one line answer. No winners here).

2. But editing is the easy bit, surely? After all, you’ve got the writing done. Tidying it up a bit can’t take long, can it?

3. Have you given up the day job yet? (Is there any way of answering this politely and still remain friends with whoever dared ask this? Answers on a postcard….).

4. You don’t mind if I borrow your book from the library, do you? (Actually, no. We want to support the libraries. However, we would prefer it if you bought the book – bills to pay and all that).

5. It can’t take you long to write flash fiction/short stories/novellas (delete as appropriate) as they’re all much shorter than a novel. That’s where the hard work is, isn’t it?

(Many thanks to all who sent in wonderful comments on my Facebook page and to those pages where I shared this.  Glad to know I’m not alone on this topic!).

 

Delighted to say I will be a guest speaker at the Hampshire Writers’ Society meeting at the University of Winchester next Tuesday, 9th October. It will be nice to be back at Winchester again as I’m normally there for the Winchester Writers’ Festival and it is a long time until next June when it is on again!

I’ll be speaking about flash fiction (and why I think every writer should try it).

(I know I put up this post last time but can’t resist doing so again!  Am looking forward to next Tuesday’s event.  Am nervous and excited about it all at the same time!).

POSTER SHOWING ALLISON AS GUEST SPEAKER AT HWS OCTOBER 2018

Many thanks to Maggie Farran for the poster

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Flash fiction writing has taught me so much about editing, but it has also shown me the joy of choosing the right word to make maximum impact. I’ve found that spills over into other writing I do (especially my Chandler’s Ford Today posts), which is no bad thing.

We all know we should put work aside for a bit before coming back to re-read it with fresh eyes but I have found that doing so means you also look at a story and think “I could have expressed that better”. I then go on and do so!

It is true your best ideas and expressions sometimes have to be “teased” out of you. But the great thing is that the more writing you do, the more you’ll be ready for the “well actually this works better than what I had done originally” moment and won’t think twice about changing something.

The latter I think can be a confidence thing sometimes. You do have to have confidence in your own writing ability but also to trust the process – that as you work, better thoughts will come, all of which will help you improve your story and increase its chances of being published.

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It’s important to mix up the moods in a flash fiction collection. I love volumes of stories to dip into as and when I fancy and what I like to find are tales for all occasions. I will always have a very soft spot for the humorous tale but a well written tragic flash story will move me in a way a funny one can’t (and perhaps shouldn’t).

Also given flash fiction has to be character led, and characters all face different challenges, it is not unreasonable to portray said characters in very different moods, which will also affect how you write their stories.

Even in a book which is meant to be sombre, there can be different shades of sombreness in the tales within it. You don’t want to come across in a monotone style. Nor is levity appropriate but I want to see Character A handling a bad situation in this way, Character B reacting differently etc. I will then be intrigued by what makes A and B tick.

As well as mixing the moods of my stories for a flash fiction collection, I like to vary the word counts I use. The majority will be at about the 100 word mark as it is my favourite and the one I seem to gravitate to, but I like to ensure there are some 250, 500 and 750 word stories in there too. For the book I’m currently writing I am also including one line stories.

I love flash fiction collections (not just mine, honestly!), because of their variety. There are wonderful collections out there based on a specific type of flash fiction (usually the 100 or 140 word stories). There are collections with a mixture of length of stories, like mine, but focussed on one theme.

When you’ve not got as much time for reading as you’d like, these books are perfect to dip into. If you like your books electronically, I think flash fiction is wonderful for that. So very easy to read on a screen. And easy to slip into a stocking for that well known festival coming up in December….! (Get the word in early, that’s what I say!!).

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – The TBR Pile

Confession time. I have a large TBR pile in paperbacks AND on the Kindle. There really isn’t enough time in the day, though it is nice to know I won’t be running out of good reading material any time soon.

Does that mean I won’t want any books bought for me for Christmas or book tokens/cards? Don’t be silly, of course I will!

Okay, I may need to figure out a way of making sure my TBR pile (paperbacks) doesn’t topple over and crush someone (probably me). Or that my Kindle doesn’t explode with the effort of containing all those ebooks for me. But I’ll manage those!

The lovely thing about being a reader and a writer is you’re never stuck for gift ideas, whether you’re dropping hints to your nearest and dearest, or buying for other readers and writers.

As for my TBR pile, back to reducing it a bit at a time (before I inevitably top it up again!).

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Fairytales with Bite – A Good Fairytale…

A good fairytale should have:-

1.  Believable characters (no matter how magical they are.  There should be something about them that resonates with a reader, which is why magic is NOT the be all and end all situation to your characters’ problems.  There should be things for them to work out without magic.  There should be things about their character which engage the reader so if the old fairy godmother turns up and does work magic for them, your readers are going to be pleased for them rather than see it as a plot device to get your character out of trouble!).

2.  Emotional impact.  Whether this is where your reader ends up screaming at your character to stop being so stupid or laughs with them or cheers when they get their happy ever after, as long as there is some emotional impact, your story is “getting through”.  People will want to read more.

3.  Justice will out somehow.  This is true most of the time.  Stories where the villains win always make me feel uncomfortable.  It just doesn’t seem right.  This is why I love the cliffhanger ending in The Italian Job with Michael Caine.  Even where the villain does seem to get away with it, I like to see some hint that in the future their success may come back to haunt them or they would have done even better had they acted better.  I suppose one reason why I like to see justice of some sort being done is because in life, it so often isn’t like that.  One appeal of stories overall is that they can reflect life as it should be at times – the underdog does win out, wrongs are put right etc etc.  (The other thought here is that perhaps the villain does have cause so are they so much of a villain after all?  Food for thought here I think).

This World and Others – Things You Need to Know about World Building

This is definitely not a comprehensive guide but I list below some useful pointers for you to consider when building your fictional world.

1.  Identifiable Elements
There has to be something about the world you create your readers will identify with, no matter how fantastical the setting.  Worlds have to be governed.  How is that done?  Every living creature needs to eat so how do the characters in your world do this and what is their food?  How are their societies organised?  (There must be some sort of organisation – could anyone survive sustained anarchy?).  These things are what I like to refer to as necessary background structure.  They may not be the main point of your stories but you need to know this information so you can write with confidence about your setting (it is a character in many ways) and that confidence will come through in your writing to your reader.

2.  How things change
A living world adapts and changes due to new technologies, diseases forcing change on society, wars changing the political landscape and so on.  Again these things may not be the main point of your stories but there should be a sense of your world changing and developing as your characters do within it.  It gives the sense that your world really is a live one and therefore infinitely more believable.

3.  Roles
What are the major roles in your world?  How are genders dealt with (and is there any difference in the roles each play?).  What happens to those who won’t accept the roles they’ve been assigned?  (There is always at least one who does this and some fantastic stories emerge from that).

It would pay to outline your thoughts on these three points before committing to major writing (especially if it’s a novel you’ve got in mind).  Work things out early.  It will save you a lot of time later on.  Good luck!