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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Music and Characters

Facebook – General

Loved listening to a wonderful hour of Dr Who music on Classic FM tonight. Each piece brought back many happy memories of wonderful editions of the show. I suppose that is one reason why I love music – it can be so evocative – and for films/TV etc, it can really help set the tone for what is to come.

With stories, of course, there is no background music usually! We have to set the mood through what we reveal about our characters in what they say, think, and do. But the great thing about being the writer of the stories is you get to make the characters dance to YOUR tune! The really fun bit is making that tune varied – no monotones here, thank you.

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It was great fun earlier today taking part in #ValPenny‘s book launch for her second novel in the Edinburgh Crime Series, Hunter’s Revenge. Many thanks, Val!

The great thing about things like this is it makes you think about what you are reading and what you particularly enjoy.

The big thing for me with series novels is discovering how the characters change and develop from one book to another. Great fun. I also see it as getting more than one story for your money.

Not only is there the individual story of each book to follow, you get to see how your favourite (and least favourite) characters move on or not, as the case may be.

My overall favourite for character development is Terry Pratchett’s Sam Vimes. Compare him with how he appears in Guards, Guards to how he is in Raising Steam. Literally a character that comes a long way!

Good luck to Val and I hope everyone has a fabulous time with their reading and writing. It should be fun.

 

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How often do you review where you are with your writing? I tend to do this at the end of each year. What I’m looking for here is where I’ve been published during the last 12 months and whether I’ve achieved something I’ve not done before. I also set myself a couple of goals that I’d like to achieve in the next 12 months.

With regard to my CFT posts, I tend to look back at my topics every time I write a new article. This is partly because I’m looking for links to go with the current post. Often one writing related topic will kick off ideas for others. I love that when this happens.

In fiction, what I really love is getting ideas for other characters from the characters in the story I’m currently writing. Say Character A acts in a certain way due to pressure being put on them, I come up with a Character B who faces different pressures but reacts differently.

I love the creative buzz you get. It is always a good sign when you are buzzing with ideas to write up at some point.

Other than people giving plot endings away, what is the one thing you loathe most which is writing connected? (I take loathing the giving the plot endings away thing as read by the way!).

I suppose mine is when someone believes short stories (including flash fiction) must be easier to write than a novel. What is forgotten here is, no matter the length of story, all tales have to be edited and polished well ahead of submitting them anywhere.

Sure, a novel is going to take longer. Of course it is but it doesn’t mean short stories (including flash fiction) are any less worthwhile. Far from it. And, of course, many novelists write shorter pieces too!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Managed to write some flash fiction on the way to and from an Association of Christian Writers Committee meeting today. I do love using train journeys for this! I find it liberating to be writing but away from my desk.

I drafted a nice mix too – one story was a very short piece, the other I think is going to come in at about 200 words, but both can be submitted somewhere later once I’ve had the chance to polish them.

Looking forward to giving a brief talk on flash fiction at the Hampshire Writers’ Society in October. Will post more details nearer the time.

I like story collections which offer a variety of moods of story. I see it as dipping into a “selection box” of story treats (and a lot less fattening than dipping into an actual selection box!). This is why I wanted From Light to Dark and Back Again to be like this and that mood selection inspired the title too.

As for flash fiction collections on single themes, I like those too. (Dawn Knox’s The Great War is a fabulous example of this). Don’t know if I’ll go that route myself but it’ll be posted here first if I do! It’s fantastic having so much choice with flash fiction.

I like being able to come up with different settings for my flash fiction stories. Though my rule here is one setting for one story and generally one character too. (Sometimes I’ll use two but if I’m keeping to the 100-word limit especially it is nearly always one character only and often I’m telling the story in the first person for a more immediate impact).

The great thing is the character or the setting can dictate the story genre being used. If I mention a character is a fairy godmother, well you’ve got the fantasy genre there in a nutshell. What images you have of what a fantasy world with fairy godmothers in it looks like will almost certainly differ from the images I conjure up here (pun intended!), but that’s good. We bring our differing experiences and thoughts when we read a story. How much more when we write them too!

I find it hard to say whether I prefer writing the lighter or darker stories in From Light to Dark and Back Again (and indeed the book I’m currently working on).

I love coming up with something humorous but with the darker pieces, I often feel there is more character development in those.

Certainly whenever I read darker flash fiction whether it is written by myself or others, I am always wondering what led to that character being like this and thinking about what their back story could have been. This is a good sign as it shows that character has really come to life in your imagination.

With humorous pieces, I am kind of working to the “punchline” though this must wrap the story up beautifully, make sense, and be funny.

Goodreads Author Blog – Read the Book First or Watch the Film?

When it comes to adaptations, do you read the original book first or watch the film and then decide to go and read the book?

I must admit I’ve done both. I read The Lord of the Rings before seeing the films. I read Oliver Twist after seeing Alec Guinness play Fagin on TV all those years ago. (Mesmerising performance in evil manipulation there!).

I must admit one thing I love about the Muppets’ version of A Christmas Carol is they plug reading the original book right at the end of the film. (And they’re right – you should read it!).

A good adaptation will bring a story to life and help draw people into reading the original book. A bad one will do the exact opposite!

So where DO you turn first – the book or the film? Why do you think you’ve chosen as you have?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memories and Collections

Facebook – General

What memories are special for your characters and why? Are they shared memories with other family/tribe members or individual ones or both? Does your created world have special events where certain memories are officially recalled? Is the past a good place for your characters to visit or do they block out all memories to avoid inflicting more pain on themselves?

This post came about because I was showing some lovely photos of my maternal grandparents’ wedding (set in the grounds of Chiswick House) to other members of my family today. I only came across these photos after I cleared out my late parents’ house. My only regret is had I known of their existence before, I would have quizzed my mother in particular over one photo where she and her younger sister were bridesmaids. There were people in this photo I didn’t know and the family and I took intelligent guesses at who they were.

I guess this shows the importance of maintaining memories and cherishing what is vital from the past, your past. So how do your characters do that?

When you read a book outside of the genre you write in, what are you looking for?

I’m looking for a world I can identify with (though almost inevitably I wouldn’t want to live there!) and characters whose motivations I understand (and usually sympathise with).

I like a fast pace to the story and other background information to help me make sense of the setting. I also want there to be gaps that I have to fill in with my imagination. I want the dialogue to hook me so that I have to read on and not notice the “he said/she said” tags. Well written dialogue does make me skip over these tags as if they weren’t there.

And when I’ve finished the story, I want to feel as if not one word could be added. I also want to regret coming to the end of the story because I enjoyed it so much.

And the challenge here is to write this way myself so hopefully people will feel the same way about MY stories!

I have collections by several of my favourite authors on my shelves – Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse, Terry Pratchett to name a few. Love all that they wrote. Tremendously difficult to pick a favourite book by any of them.

What I especially adore though is when they take their major characters and put them into situations they would never have anticipated encountering. For example, Murder on the Orient Express gives Poirot a moral dilemma (and I won’t say more than that – no spoilers here). It’s not the kind of moral dilemma he would have anticipated facing. And it is how he handles that which, for me, makes this story fascinating. (The TV version with David Suchet is particularly good on this aspect).

So can you take the usual situations your lead characters would reasonably expect to face and subvert them? That what has worked for your lead characters before cannot possibly work in this new situation so they are forced to come out of their comfort zone and “go for broke” because they have to solve this new condundrum, no matter what?

One thing is for sure: do this and there will be no lack of drama/conflict in your story!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

One of the biggest issues facing writers is getting their book out there and, once that has been achieved, how to market it without annoying everyone! One simple thing is just to let people know where it can be found and leave it at that. So taking my own advice then…!

FLTDBA in the Swanwick Book Room

FLTDBA for sale in the Swanwick Book Room. Image by Allison Symes

cropped-cropped-version-of-my-reading-at-railway-station

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Chapeltown Books have a distinctive central image in a frame such as with mine. Image by Allison Symes

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Back cover of FLTDBA. Image by Allison Symes

I was enjoying an old Doctor Who episode earlier this evening when Catherine Tate came in as companion, Donna Noble, to David Tennant’s Doctor. Great episode. What I liked about the character of Donna was her feistiness, her abilty to think on her feet, and the fact she wasn’t letting the Doctor get away with ANYTHING. Her character claimed that the Doctor needed someone to stop him sometimes. I think it’s a fair assessment too.

But this highlighted for me the fact well written characters shine through whatever story they’re in and make themselves and the tale memorable. Something to always aspire to when writing my own characters I think.

The joy of coming up with one line stories is you can either leave them like that and perhaps enter them into 25-word flash fiction competitions OR you can expand them.

From there of course, you can either have a longer flash fiction story or go to 1500-2000 words (standard short story competition word count). I think if you were to go much beyond that, you would be changing your initial idea as you would need more characters, at least one decent subplot and so on for the story to be able to “stand up” over that greater “distance” and still make sense.

I don’t revisit my one-liners that often but it did occur to me perhaps I should do so more regularly! A case of double whammy for the writer here I think!

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Reflections

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest CFT post is an alliterative one! As Autumn Approaches is a reflective look at the season, I share some thoughts about how the season is for writers.

I also discuss the importance of taking time out to look back, as my church has recently done for its 200th anniversary, but equally how vital it is to move on from periods of reflection, given what stays static dies eventually.

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My CFT post this week is a reflective one on autumn. I share what I like about it, why it is an interesting season for writers, and also discuss my church’s recent exhibition to celebrate its 200th anniversary where we took stock of our history and recalled friends past, present, and no longer with us. Oral storytelling and local history are so important.

Facebook – General – and Association of Christian Writers’ More than Writers – The Highs and the Lows

Many thanks to all who commented on my More Than Writers blog earlier. You really can’t underestimate how much persistence, determination, and ability to work hard you will need as a writer. The great comfort is ups and downs are a normal part of the writing life so you’re definitely not alone here.

The Highs and the Lows – Allison Symes

What would you say were the writing highs? 

Your first piece of writing (aka “the I did it” moment!)?

Your first publication credit (the “family start to take you seriously” moment!)?

Your first book acceptance (the “some of the rest of the world start to take you seriously” moment!)?  Sadly, it always is some of the rest of the world…

What would you say were your writing lows? 

That first rejection?
Having your novel come back for the umpteenth time?
Countless short stories turned down?

The great irony, of course, is, with the right spirit and attitude, a writer can use those rejections and set backs to (a) fill them with determination to keep going, (b) to improve on what they do so the turn downs don’t arrive so often as they once did, and (c) recognise all writers go through this.

There are no shortcuts to publication.  Also, even when published, the learning curve goes on and you have to be open to it.  The writer that doesn’t learn is the one who remains static.  What is static dies, eventually.

So then it is a question of relishing the highs and getting through the lows, which is where the support of understanding writing friends is crucial.  One of the things I love about social media is the fact it makes it easier to stay in contact with said writing friends, especially when you can only meet up face to face once or twice a year.Writing forums such as the one we have on the ACW website are also useful for this kind of contact (and for sharing helpful advice and tips too).  Going to a good writing conference is invaluable too given that for most of the year we are at our desks, working alone.

Peter, of course, literally had his mountain top experience but his low was clearly his denial of Christ.  (What I love about Peter’s story is his redemption – it offers hope for us all).  So this pattern of highs and lows then is a reflection of life as it is lived and not just the writing life.

Our characters must have their highs and lows.  Without them, there is no conflict yet alone a story.  The highs and lows are not just the story events but what is in those characters.  No villain should be all evil (there must be a decent reason for them acting the way they are, decent to them at least).  No hero should be a goody two shoes.  Much as I loved Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, I found it easier to identify with Amy or Jo rather than the saintly Beth.  Identifying with your characters is the goal.  The moment a reader does that, the more likely it is they will read on and find out what happens.

Show the flaws.  Show the vulnerabilities.  Show the things the character does well.  Enjoy the process.  And good luck.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Don’t forget if you subscribe to Writing Magazine, you can put your book on their Subscribers’ Showcase. It’s free for a while but after that you pay a small amount per month to have it on there. My own plans later, once hopefully I have more books out, is to switch which ones I put up there to keep things fresh.

n a novel, you would have the space for different moods. Moods in the story itself. Moods of the characters. In flash fiction, you have to focus on one mood (and often on one character). But the advantage of putting a collection together is over the space of the entire book, you can have a range of moods and therefore of stories.

This was one aspect of putting From Light to Dark and Back Again together that I really enjoyed. Themes and moods became apparent and it was so easy to group these together.

Time for some more one-line stories, though one I admit is also useful wildlife advice!

1. The dragon, determined not to be fobbed off with false gold coinage, destroyed the Royal Mint with two blasts of flame.

2. Glass slippers, how the hell did that happen, thought the fairy godmother as she hung up her wand in disgust.

3. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog only to find the canine could bite in places no male animal would ever wish bitten.

4. When the red, red robin comes bob bob bobbing along, it’s looking for food in the winter months, not the chance to be the star of a song.

5. The girl in the red hooded coat took one look at the Big Bad Wolf in her granny’s bed and said, “That gingham really doesn’t suit you, try silk next time.”

Any story, no matter what its length, should create an impact on a reader, whether it is to make them laugh or cry. I concede though No. 3 will probably make a few of you wince!

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog Where Do You Turn First?

So you have limited time to read (it is ever so!) and you can choose between reading one hardback, one paperback, or pick one option from your Kindle? Which would you automatically plump for over the others?

I’d go for the paperback every time (partly because while I have some hardbacks, my paperback collection is far greater). There is still the element of the “go for the real book” here, much as I love the Kindle.

Where the Kindle does come into its own is when I’m away anywhere and the last thing I want to do is lug a lot of books along with me (unless they’re by me and I’m trying to sell them of course!).

The other reason I’d go for the paperback first is I’d want the experience of the “whole book”. You can’t smell a Kindle’s “pages” but you can do it with a paper book – and I have and will continue to do so.

I do like the smell of a book. I like the look of a well designed cover. I like the feel of a paperback in my hands. So there is the whole tactile experience going on here.

I do know I’m not the only reader/writer to feel that way so if I’m weird, I know I’ve got company. Very well read company, I should add!

So what would you pick then and why? Comments welcome.

Fairytales with Bite Fairytales A to Z Part 4

J = Jealousy.  Such a powerful emotion and an excellent trait to exploit in your characters given it is understandable as a motivation for action. People do strange things, motivated by this, in real life.  Your characters can do so too in fiction.  You don’t have to like jealousy as a trait or the character to be able to identify with where the character is coming from here.  It can also act as a kind of shorthand.  If you say someone is the jealous type, it conjures up an immediate image of what that person is likely to be like, doesn’t it?

K = Killer Instinct.  Do your characters have this?  Do you?!  Firstly your characters, particularly your villains, need this (and often in the literal sense), but even the “goodies” need this to keep them going in the face of opposition etc.  They need to know when to “go” for a course of action and it will be their instinct here that will ignite the spark which drives them on.  As for you as a writer, do you have the killer instinct when it comes to editing your work?  Will you take out anything that is really not working (and be open to the idea it isn’t)?  You need to learn to be ruthless about taking out anything that is not pushing your story on.  The “kill your darlings” expression has a lot of truth behind it.

L = Learning and Laughter.  Do your characters learn from their mistakes?  A good story and great characters will have that as a major factor.  Some of my favourite series novels have shown the lead character developing over time and I love that.  It makes the character far more real to me.  As for laughter, even in darker stories, there can be room for this.  In the classic fairytales, for me, the Emperor’s New Clothes is a great example of laughing at those who supposedly are superior but are taken in by conmen (and you do have to hand it to those tailors for sheer nerve).  So where can laughter fit into your stories?

This World and Others Reflections

Reflection is a major theme of my latest Chandler’s Ford Today post called As Autumn Approaches.  (Well, this is true for the UK and Europe anyway!).

What would make your characters reflect on their actions to date/their attitudes to life?  Being made to confront the consequences of what you are doing would be one major reason to take time out to reflect, especially if there was time to reverse matters or limit any damage done.  Love, as they say, changes everything and can be a major influence in making people change their behaviour (usually for the better, but this isn’t always the case).

Sometimes a character will take time out to reflect before heading out on their adventure/quest etc.  What is interesting here is how that period of reflection influences what the character then does.  If your characters do this, how do they reflect?  On their own or do they have a mentor?  Do they look up books (especially history) to find out how others in their world’s past handled certain situations?  If the characters themselves will be setting a precedent, are there general guidelines to give them pointers as to what they should be doing?

Last but not least, are the characters themselves willing to learn from the reflections of others?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FAIR REPORT AND READING OUT LOUD

Facebook – General

Had a great time at the Hursley Park Book Fair today. Good number of visitors, chatted to people, sold some books, and my talk on flash fiction went well (albeit to a small audience). All positives to build on, I’m glad to say, and that’s also true for the Book Fair itself. I very much hope it becomes a regular event in the calendar.

It was lovely catching up with some writer friends too. I’ll be writing a fuller review for Chandler’s Ford Today later. Pics are from the sports hall at the venue, and the theatre where people gave talks etc. Nice place.

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Many thanks to all who came and checked out the Hursley Park Book Fair. It was great fun and it was lovely to chat to people about the joys of flash fiction. It was also lovely to meet fellow authors.

I will be posting a review of the Fair up in a couple of weeks’ time on Chandler’s Ford Today but I want a little time to elapse before I do this. Exactly as I do with writing a story in fact – write it, leave it for a bit, edit it looking at the piece with a fresh pair of eyes and post/submit it!

Favourite moment from the Fair? To the lovely lady who bought a copy of From Light to Dark and Back Again and then came back to me later in the afternoon. She wanted to show me one of my 100-worders that had made her laugh out loud (and yes it was meant to!). Now that IS a review!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Introduced a few people to the delights of flash fiction at the Hursley Park Book Fair today. What was lovely was when one person came back to me, having had time to dip into From Light to Dark and Back Again, and wanting to tell me she’d laughed out loud at one particular story! Now isn’t that the kind of feedback most of us writers want?!

One of the nice things about giving a talk on flash fiction, as I did yesterday at the Hursley Park Book Fair, is that reading some is often the best way to show what it is. And you get to choose what to read out! The 100-worders tend to work best.

One question I was asked was about the different forms of flash and whether the crafting was the same. Yes, it is, whether you write a 50-word or 500-word flash fiction story.

While you have more room for manoeuvre in the latter obviously, you still have to make every word count. Every word must serve a purpose in being in the story. (One of my guiding principles is write what I need to write and then get out! Anything you can cut without losing the story should be cut as it clearly isn’t necessary).

And yes you can have flash fiction written as a poem, I’ve written some of these myself, but you still need to put in the time on the editing. I find I tend to write my stories quickly, which is great, but it is the editing and the looking at how I can phrase things better to have a more powerful impact on the reader is where the time really gets eaten up.

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Reading Out Loud

Do you ever read stories out loud when you are on your own? (I accept if you do this on the Tube, the bus, or what have you, you WILL get some funny looks, so probably best not go there! If you’re driving, stick to audio books for your sake and everyone else’s!).

I’m thinking of those times when you’re curled up at home with a cup or glass of something nice and have got a lovely book on the go.

I’m also not talking about reading to children (though this is one of the best things you can ever do as a parent. I cherish my love of books and stories, thanks to my mother doing this for me when I was a child. It was a great joy to share the joy of this with my son as he was growing up. Guess what, he loves books, though in totally different areas to me, which is fab.).

I sometimes read my own work out loud, record it, and play it back on something like Audacity to hear how my dialogue sounds. Does it sound natural? Am I tripping over something etc?

But why not read out loud with books you are reading for pleasure when you’re on your own? Why? I think you pick up nuances as you hear how the prose sounds. I think it can give you a deeper appreciation of how well the words have been put together. And there is something about reading out loud that calls to mind where we get our storytelling from – the oral tradition – so very much a case of revisiting our roots here.

Chandler’s Ford Today – Graham MacLean Art Series

I acted as series editor on this.  Am glad to share the links to all three parts of the series now.  If you would like to know a bit more about art, the media used, and some of the most well known artists, do have a look at these.  Graham’s own artwork is used throughout the series and is stunning.  See what you think.

http://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/graham-maclean-on-art-part-1-why-i-love-art/

http://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/graham-maclean-on-art-part-2-media-used-in-painting/

http://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/graham-maclean-on-art-part-3-my-favourite-artists/

The Mekong River At Phnom Penh , Cambodia Oil painting.

The Mekong River At Phnom Penh , Cambodia Oil painting. Just one of Graham MacLean’s fantastic artworks. Look at that light! Image kindly supplied by Graham MacLean

The Thames at Mortlake

Pi Toi O Fishing Village NT Hong Kong – image and original painting by Graham MacLean

The wild Croatian coastline outside Dubrovnik. The brilliant blue of the Adriatic Sea contrasted with the rocks and dark green foliage

The wild Croatian coastline outside Dubrovnik. Painting and image by Graham MacLean

These are just some of my favourite paintings by Graham.  There are many more fabulous pictures in the three part series.

 

WRITING, EDITING, AND WORLD BUILDING ISSUES

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Looking forward to the Hursley Park Book Fair over the weekend (though sadly I can only be there on the Saturday). I hope I can get to listen to a couple of the other talks during the day too.

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I plan to read a few of my stories as part of my talk on flash fiction at the Hursley Park Book Fair tomorrow, 23rd June. (The event is on 24th as well but sadly I can’t make it for both days). Good opportunity to spread the word about what flash fiction is all about.

As with my longer fiction, I draft a flash piece first, give it an initial edit, and then leave it for a while before looking at it again. In the meantime, of course, I am writing more flash fiction and non-fiction posts. This generally means I always have something to write or to edit.

When I use Evernote, I tend to just write and have fun being creative. I tend to edit this work once I’m back at my desk again. I’ve found this method works best for me but the most important thing, I think, is to see the creative writing and editing of same as two separate tasks. I never try to write and edit at the same time, else I hamper myself. I need a bit of gap to be able to judge objectively if something is working or not.

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Fairytales with Bite – What Classifies a Fairytale as a Fairytale?

This is not a definitive list but what I think classifies a fairytale to be called a fairytale.  Comments welcome!

1.  Magic is involved.  This can be at a high level (Cinderella’s transformation – clothes, coach etc) to low level (a little magic is used to help a character succeed at something.  This is taken to its logical conclusion in Fantasia though there the character also needed to know how to stop but that’s another story!).

2.  There has to be a transformation of fortune.  Usually from being downtrodden to the happy ever after, but sometimes, such as in The Little Mermaid, the transformation can be seen not to have been what the character really wanted.  Or it failed to achieve what it is was meant to achieve.  However, the transformation of fortune has still happened.

3.  Generally, the good guys either win or fail heroically but leave the banner to someone else.  Always true.  I would describe a story where the villain won as a a nightmare, rather than  a fairytale.  Why?  Because with the villain winning, you can kiss goodbye to hope.  That villain will impose their will on their subjects say with nothing and nobody to stop them.  I fail to see the story in that.  Re the latter, remember in The Lord of the Rings, there had been a previous attempt to defeat Sauron once and for all.  That failed but it paved the way for the story to follow.

4.  Inanimate objects should be treated with caution.  This can include things like the Portals in the Harry Potter series, any shiny red apple, talking mirrors, and swords/rings etc that seem keen to be reunited with their former owners.  These always cause trouble but it is a major element of a fairytale.

5.  Expect the unexpected and/or what is unknown in our world to be known here.  This is especially true for the existence of magical creatures, universes far far away, and so on.

This World and Others – World Building Issues

Some issues relating to world building can include:-

1.  Not giving enough information for your reader to be able to picture the world in their own minds.  As with flash fiction, it is the telling detail that matters here.  Your story should ensure it has everything in it the reader will need to know.

2.  Not making the world attractive enough for the reader to care what happens to it.  The details you give them have to matter.  The readers need to see what is appealing about World X always doing this or that on their equivalent of a Tuesday, to name one example.  They also need to see why it matters.  In this case, would the world collapse if the tradition changed?

3.  Not having the right balance of character types.  You do need a decent villain.  You also need a hero/heroine with the right “can do it” attitude.  Yet if you just have the good guys, there is literally nothing for the good guys to fight.

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View from near where I was staying in Scotland. You wouldn't want to rush away from this. Image by Allison Symes

WHAT I’VE LEARNED SO FAR AS A WRITER

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Back to the A-Z of characters and I’m at L.

L = Love. Okay there’s the obvious romantic leads, and as long as they’re interesting characters, fine, but I love (aptly!) those characters who show love beyond that. For example, the love of someone caring for a parent or spouse with dementia etc. That kind of love, for me, is deeper and more meaningful. The stresses and tensions in that kind of character should make for a great story.

M = Mentors. Do you have any in your stories? If so, do they accept being a mentor or has that, like greatness, been thrust upon them? How do they manage?

N = Nobility. Again, as with love, you can have the obvious and direct noble characters. I prefer characters like Sam Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings who are truly noble (and brave with it) in character. Are your characters truly noble like that? What brought this about?

All ideas worth exploring as you develop your characters.

 

If there is anything I have learned as a writer, it is to be open to (a) opportunities and (b) not to be afraid to try something different. That was how I discovered the joys of flash fiction after all. It is also how I got into blogging.

I’m currently preparing a post about Why I Blog for Chandler’s Ford Today with contributions from many writer friends. Blogging is really the modern equivalent of journal keeping – at least that is how I see it – but it is fun to do and I find it useful as a way into writing before I get on to further fiction work.

Looking forward to the Hursley Park Book Fair at the weekend. Am giving a talk on flash fiction at 10.55. Am nervous and excited about it all at the same time but I guess a lot of writers feel that way!

I will be posting a shorter reminder post on Friday night on CFT about it but it is a pleasure to (a) share news about a book event, especially one I’m taking part in and (b) share news about an event which is FREE and has FREE PARKING! How often can you say that these days?

One great thing is there are lots of authors taking part across a wide range of genres so there is bound to be something to suit you. Come along and see! We’d all be pleased to see you.

Reasons to go?

 

1. Wide range of books to choose from.
2. Plenty of author talks.
3. There’s a book quiz (who doesn’t like a good quiz?).
4. The event is free and has free parking.
5. There are competitions aimed at adults and children.
6. There are also workshops.
7. You can meet the authors.
8. There will be readings.
9. There is a restaurant and bar on site.
10. Plenty of opportunities to discover writers new to you.

(Oh and if you do want to escape a certain sporting event, that’s point 11!).

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Really looking forward to Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in August. Always learn a lot and come away inspired and reinvigorated. I find by the late summer, I need inspiring and reinvigorating!

Wrote several new flash fiction stories while travelling to and from Scotland last week. I really do bless Evernote and my smartphone. One lovely thing about being a writer is boredom is a thing of the past. There is always something to write – whether it is flash fiction, ideas for future blog and CFT posts etc. Know it will come in handy later.

Am planning to write a lot while travelling to Swanwick too! (Images below by Allison Symes). The tent image is from a Medieval Weekend I went to and is the scrivener’s tent. They used to have some of the best accommodation, something I’ll bear in mind the next time I check in anywhere!

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I like to experiment a little with flash fiction. I have written some in poem format and, in the book I’m currently putting together, have written a few stories, told from the viewpoints of members of the same family. This is a first for me but it has proved great fun to do.

Given flash fiction really does have to be character led as there’s not much room for world building, the more interesting the character, the better the story.

Am putting finishing touches to my talk on flash fiction which I will be giving at the weekend at the Hursley Park Book Fair. I’m “on” at 10.55 am on Saturday 23rd June. I prepared a draft a while ago, but as with my fiction writing, I like to come back and look at my text with fresh eyes. There is always something to pick up and tweak so it comes across better etc. You really do need a gap between first preparing something and then editing it.

A sign of a good story, from the writer’s viewpoint, is when you can’t wait to write it. You get this with flash fiction too, but of course you don’t have so long to wait until you get to “the end”! 😁

Here, the trick is to look forward to writing the next one, the one after that, and so on. Manage that and you know you are on to something!

books tunnel school endless

The ultimate book tunnel? Image via Pexels

read under a tree signage hanging on branch tree

Unless in a thunder storm or high winds, this is a good idea! Image via Pexels

woman wearing grey spaghetti strap top

See! It is a good idea, weather permitting! Image via Pexels

brown clay pot on black and blue laptop

A nice clear desk (not mine!). Image via Pexels

Let creativity spill out - image via Pixabay

Let the creative process flow! Image via Pixabay

Writing directly to screen

What are the changes your characters seek to make? Are you showing your characters doing this rather than telling us? Image via Pixabay.

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – The Joy of Paperbacks

I’ve not long got back from a wonderful break in the Far North of Scotland and I caught up with a lot of reading on my Kindle during this.

However, I also treated myself to three new paperbacks just before my break and I’m really enjoying those too, having deliberated “saved” them to start reading during my break. Why choose over an ebook or a “real” book? Be greedy, have both!

Am currently reading Peter Ackroyd’s Biography of London (fascinating way of showing a history of a city), Neil Gaiman’s View from the Cheap Seats (a collection of his non-fiction articles), and Ben Macintyres’ Double Cross. Good sized tomes all of them and a lovely read. Hope to review at a later date.

I like a good mix of things to read and am developing a real taste for well written non-fiction. Books can take you into other worlds. Sometimes the world they show you is this one but from an angle you’ve not considered before. For me, this is an acid test of a good read. A good read will enlighten you.

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Fairytales and “Planned” Writing

Have had a lot of fun with slideshows on my Facebook author page this week!

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Loved the Royal Wedding. Loved the music and the sermon especially. A modern fairytale? Absolutely fine by me.

Ironically, I think one thing that can be overlooked about fairytales by some is the fact that they are based on a sound knowledge of human nature. The classic fairytales call a spade a spade when it comes to jealousy, cruelty etc. There is no pretence about the fate Snow White faced at the hands of the Wicked Queen, or that Cinderella really loved being treated the way she was by her stepmother and stepsisters.

Fairytales, I think, can be amongst some of the most honest fiction there is when it comes to holding a mirror up and reflecting what humanity can be like.

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Looking forward to taking part in the Hursley Park Book Fair next month. I’ll also be giving a talk on flash fiction as part of this. Will be posting more details a little nearer the time (here and via Chandler’s Ford Today).

Pleased I’ve sent off two flash fiction stories for the Bridport Prize. (Nothing ventured, nothing gained). Getting quite a few stories together now for a future third collection, which is great. I also hope to spend some time on non-fiction later this year too. Always good to have plenty to be getting on with writing wise!

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I like a mixture of planned writing to a topic and “free” writing. These posts are always in the latter category as, with the exception of flagging up my CFT posts, I never know quite what I’ll be writing until a few minutes before I get started. It keeps it fresh!

For CFT and other blogs, I do have to think well ahead for topics. How far ahead depends on how much research I need to do and things like the date the post will go out. For example, I know when the Fryern Funtasia will be each year so that tells me what my post for that week will be.

I like the mixture of planning and NOT planning – it keeps me on my toes! As for my flash fiction, I brainstorm opening lines every so often but deliberately don’t write the stories up until later. I want to give myself some thinking time here. I then set aside time (often on a train journey!) to get on and write those stories down. I know the theme, how I’m starting and likely possibilities of where that opening line can take me but that’s all. And away I go!

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My CFT post later this week will be the last in my series 101 Things to Put Into Room 101. I’ve had no trouble whatsoever coming up with 101 things… that DOES say a lot about me/human nature in general I think.

Will be talking about flash fiction at the Hursley Park Book Fair in June. Hursley Park is the home of IBM and is a well known landmark between Hursley and Winchester. Looking forward to this a lot. A number of local writers will be taking part – and the event is free and there is parking! More details a bit nearer the time. (Will be the biggest event I’ve taken part in to date).

Writing wise, do you find it easiest to have a good opening line to “peg” your story to or have a cracking ending that you work backwards from to get to the start point? I use both methods and like them both, though numerically I’ve written more from the starting point of a good opening line. I suppose it does feel more natural to write a story that way.

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Busy preparing a couple of flash fiction pieces for a competition. Been a while since I submitted competition entries (not deliberately, you know how it is. You become engrossed with other writing work etc). Want to do better on this front so am starting to make diary notes to remind me to do it.

Really pleased that my last competition entry, for the Waterloo Festival anthology, did well and will be included in that ebook when it comes out. Naturally I shall post about it nearer the time!

I’ve been making greater use of my writing diary since earlier this year for sending in work to Cafelit and that has worked well. Why is it that almost making an appointment with yourself to do something like this can and does make all the difference to whether you actually do it or not?

I suppose it is because seeing it in the diary makes me block out time to actually get the job done. I need to block out more time!

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What do you like most about flash fiction? I love being able to suggest a whole world in a few words and leave readers to fill in the gaps. I really enjoy having the boot on the other foot as well and filling in the gaps my fellow flash authors leave in their stories. I don’t want the writer doing all the work for me and so I try in my writing to make sure I’m not doing that.

Having the reader fill in the gaps keeps them hooked and reading your stories! The main thing to remember is to make sure they have the crucial points they will need to know to able to fill in those gaps.

Use what you know of our natural world and blend it with some imagination to create your own fictional one - image via Pixabay

Use what you know of our world and your imagination to create something really special. Image via Pixabay

Humans are immensely creative - image via Pixabay

Let those ideas flow! Image via Pixabay,

The fantastic world of books must include non-fiction too - image via Pixabay

The wonderful world of writing should include non-fiction, which benefits from creative techniques too. Image via Pixabay.

A wonderful palette of colours - image via Pixabay

A wonderful palette of colours. Image via Pixabay.

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Grow as a writer? Grow your reading! Image via Pixabay

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What impact do your stories have on your readers? Image via Pixabay

Themes pour out of good books - image via Pixabay

Let the writing flow and if music can help it along even better! Image via Pixabay

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There can be reality behind fairytales. Image via Pixabay (and image used as part of book trailer for From Light to Dark and Back Again)

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Flash fiction for impact. Image via Pixabay

 

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Need to send more material off for flash fiction competitions. Have just sent off two new stories for the Bridport Prize. Would love to have a shortlisting there. I know, who wouldn’t?!😀

Am pleased with the stage I’m at for a potential third flash fiction book. Going on all those train journeys has helped no end! Alas, I’m not due on a train again for a while…

I find when I’m writing the stories, I tend to write a “batch”, then have to switch back to non-fiction for while, before getting on with the next “batch”. Not sure why that is but I have found switching like this keeps me alert to the challenges of both forms of writing. The other advantage, of course, is there is zero chance of becoming bored!

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What is your favourite way of opening a flash fiction story? I am very fond of using the first person and taking you straight into the character’s head. In the space of a few words, you will know what that character is like and what dilemma they’re facing. I like efficiency (and you have to be spot on here when writing flash).

The other major way I use to start a story is to set the scene quickly. For example, from Pressing the Flesh, I start with “It was 3 am. The neighbours were sleeping”. (I would hope they were incidentally but this tells you that the character has somehow made sure of this point. That should immediately make you want to know why they would do that and what on earth they’re up to!).

 

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Do you set out to write a collection of stories based on a specific theme or wait and see what emerges from the stories you have written? FLTDBA was really a case of the latter, though I did surprise myself a bit at how many of my stories involved rough/poetic justice of some kind!

I don’t think there is a right or wrong way here incidentally. It’s just I can’t see myself writing to a specific mood of story. You do have to write with conviction, whether you are writing funny tales or deeply serious ones. I suppose the answer if you prefer to write to a theme is to set one which is fairly broad and can be interpreted in different ways/moods/settings to give yourself as much flexibility as possible. I do know you’d need that! Writing can be hard enough without putting too narrow a restriction on yourself.

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Goodreads Author Programme – Blog

This post has been inspired by the Royal Wedding (which I loved). I suspect there will be a book about it before long! There was a lot of talk during the commentaries about modern fairytales, which is fine with me. I’m all for fairytales, ancient and modern. My first reading love was the classic fairytales.

Thinking about it further, maybe children are drawn to the classic fairytales because they know they are honestly written?

Your average fairytale does not pull any punches about exposing what is wrong. There is no pretence Snow White didn’t face an awful fate at the hands of the Wicked Queen. There is no “acceptance of her situation” by Cinderella! Change has to happen, injustices need to be righted, but in this world some magic is needed to make that happen.

Now if we could only make it happen in this one! Mind, if I could bring my fictional fairy godmothers and the like to life, they’d have a huge shopping list of things to put right, so it is probably just as well I can’t.

Back to the reading and writing of books then!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being Creative

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I think most of us need to find some form of being creative – whether that’s using a pen to write or gardening tools to make the “perfect plot” (pun intentional, no apologies!).

I suppose it is because creativity gives us an outlet, especially if most of the time we are doing something far more humdrum. (I love that word humdrum, just sounds good, and conjures up the exact image of what it means).

Creativity is good for mental and physical health so why does it seem sometimes as if it is something that is “indulged in”? (I don’t have that problem, my family are very supportive of my writing, for which I am enormously grateful as I know not every writer can say that).

 

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Pleased with writing achievements on the train yesterday. A whole CFT post written for next week and a flash fiction story (though one at the higher word count end for me). Hope to have a good look and edit of the latter during the week and submit it somewhere.

Looking forward to taking part in the inaugural Hursley Park Book Fair in June. Over 40 authors are taking part and I will have more details nearer the time via a CFT post about it.

Reading, for me at the moment, is pretty much split 50/50 between paper and Kindle. That is a change for me as it used to be 80/20 paper to Kindle. (But you can’t beat the convenience of slipping your Kindle into a bag with loads of books to choose from over having to limit yourself to one or two paperbacks, depending on the size of one’s bag of course. Goodness knows how men manage here. Is that a paperback in your pocket or…. well you can fill in the rest!😁).

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I’ll be resuming my 101 Things to Put into Room 101 series for CFT this week. Up to No. 76 already! Drafted this on the train at the weekend. Had no problem thinking of things to shove (hard) into the vault of doom.

Am hoping to get a couple of flash fiction stories off for competition later this week. I am pleased (and frankly relieved) so many competitions now accept online submissions. I used to spend a small fortune in postage when I first started writing – and yes, the dinosaurs did still walk the earth then. I was one of them – easily spotted. I was part of that sad group forever in a Post Office queue! (I could almost guarantee I’d be out of stamps when I needed them for a competition. I guess the online equivalent would be finding out your server is down just as you’re trying to send your story in. Murphy’s Law does get everywhere).