Co-Operative Marketing and What Defines a Good Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Have a gripping plot, obviously.

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

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

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

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

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

Fairytales With Bite – Time to Wonder, Time to Reflect

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

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

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

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

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

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This World and Others – Purposes

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

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

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

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

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

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EVENTS, PUBLICATION NEWS AND ONLINE WRITING

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On my CFT post this week, I discuss online writing and ask whether it will finish print publication (eventually).

I also summarise what I think are the major changes in writing over the centuries (e.g. the methods used to write. The biro IS one of the world’s greatest inventions in terms of usefulness and the creativity it is used for!).

So is there a place for online writing and on A line writing (i.e. using the biro!)? See what you think and comments, as ever, are welcome in the CFT comments box.

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Glad to report the banners are now out at Hursley advertising the Hursley Park Book Fair taking place on 23rd and 24th June. They look great. I’m giving a talk on flash fiction on the 23rd. Parking is free, there are at least 40 authors taking part, and a wide range of genres are represented, so there is bound to be something to suit you! So do come if you can.

I’m talking about online writing and whether it will spell the end of traditional print publishing in my CFT post this week. Link to go up tomorrow.

Loved shopping for books in Winchester today. I really must do that kind of shopping much more often!

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I use titles in my flash fiction to indicate the mood of the story (They Don’t Understand is a poignant piece and the title I think reflects that). Sometimes I use titles as a play on words (Collector’s Piece tells you the story is going to be about an object. However, it is an odd one and only reading the story is going to tell you what it is, no spoilers here!).

I must admit I particularly enjoy those competitions or websites where the title is NOT included as part of the word count. It gives you a few more words to “play with” and the title can act literally as the opening scene. So it does pay to put a lot of thought into the title. It can do a lot of work for you – from setting the mood to setting an opening scene.

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I am delighted to say that my flash fiction story, Progressing, is one of those that will be in the Waterloo Arts Festival Anthology, along with the work of 15 other writers, including some good friends from Bridge House Publishing and Cafelit. Well done to all!

Am only sorry I can’t be at the event but I hope a great time is had by all. Incidentally while the Arts Festival has been ongoing for some time, it is the first year there has been a writing competition with it. I very much hope that proves to be ongoing too!

Fairytales With Bite – What Is So Special about your Favourite Characters?

This is a useful question to ask from a reader’s and writer’s viewpoint, as it will help you work out which books you want to read, and inspire you, I hope, in the stories you want to write!

So what makes you decide a character is your favourite?  What are the special qualities that attract you?  Can your own characters share at least some of these traits and what is it about your people that makes them unique as your creation?

I suppose some of the qualities I love to see in a character can be summarised as follows:-

1.  Stickability.  They don’t quit when the going gets tough. They may struggle, they may want to give up, it would be understandable if they did give up, but they don’t!
2.  Loyalty.  This can be to a cause or another quality but great characters are usually driven by something.  This can apply to villains too.  They may be loyal to a cause (so often it is their own!) but they will have really good reasons for this that you could identify with, maybe even sympathise with a little.
3.  Dependability.  They don’t betray.  They will do what they set out to do.  They are reliable. I can see the point of an unreliable narrator but have never been that fond of them.  I prefer characters who are what they appear to be, even if that isn’t nice!  (Be fair, you knew where you stood with Hannibal Lecter or Dracula or any of the “great” villains). I suppose it’s because there is honesty about the portrayal.  Also I worry a little in that as writers we are meant to come up with stories where readers willingly suspend disbelief and could an unreliable narrator break the trust we build up with those who read our work?  Hmm…

This World and Others – Technology in Created Worlds

In my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week, I talk about online writing and whether it would, eventually, kill of print publishing.  It made me wonder what impact technological change would have on the fictional worlds we creat as writers.

The one thing you can guarantee is nothing stands still forever so there would have to be developments of some sort, for good or ill. You can also guarantee changes would bring about different reactions in characters.  There are always some who welcome change and others who fear it (and may try to stop it by force).

So who are your inventors?  What changes have been welcome (possibly even cried out for!)?  What changes have been unwelcome?  What has been the impact of this on your characters and their setting?

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IDEAS, ROOM 101, AND SPECIAL CHARACTERS

Another mixed bag plus a link to my page on US based site, Scriggler, where a new story of mine is now up.

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My CFT post this week is the final installment of my 101 Things to Put into Room 101 series. Good fun to write and therapeutic too! Amongst tonight’s items are debt, fake sincerity and all calories in a 99 icecream. (You can guess where I put that in my list numerically speaking!).

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When is the best time to write? When you can! I write mainly in the evenings but if I can sneak in some writing during the day, I do so. What matters more, I think, here is being consistent with your writing. You know you will always sit down at roughly the same time and you will always write X number of words or accomplish this task or that one.

I keep a list of writing tasks I want to achieve and find it helpful as, whenever I tick off one, there is a sense of achievement. Given rejections happen to everyone, that sense of achievement is very welcome.

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Little things reveal a great deal about people. Anyone who always says “please” and “thank you” was brought up to be polite (and not take anything for granted usually too!). Likewise, those who hold doors open for others (regardless of gender), you can reasonably assume at least try to be considerate in other ways.

So little things should give away clues as to what your characters are really like deep down. I think of this as the kind of trait that a character can’t completely hide/suppress.

For example, a character is shown to be a “loudmouth”. Fine but every so often during the story, we also spot the said character lighting a candle as a prayer for someone else. That tells me well hang on, this character has another side to them. A deep, spiritual side they are either not comfortable showing more openly (they’re wary of showing off their piety perhaps) or they somehow feel the need to cover that aspect of themselves up by being “loud”.

So think about what little things will give away what your character is really like. These little things can also back up the main portrayal (and help make it more convincing).

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One thing that can be overlooked in flash fiction is, as with any story, the character still has to be at a point of change in their lives and the tale shows the results of that. The difference, of course, is that in flash, you have much less room to complete that “task”.

But a good flash fiction story will show you a character changing (for good or ill), or resolving a problem. It really is a question of cutting to the chase with flash fiction. There has to be a resolution to the conflict your character is facing, whether that is an internal or external one. Everything that is most important to the character and the resolution has to be in the story and not a word more.

This is why I think it is a good idea for most writers to have a go at writing flash fiction, even if you don’t use it as your main fiction form. Why? The skills you learn in writing to a tight word count will spill over into other things you write. As I’ve mentioned before, you soon find out what your wasted words are, you discover you don’t need many adjectives and adverbs, you do learn to say in one word what you might have taken three words to do etc.

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Flash fiction is great for giving insights into a character which wouldn’t be enough in themselves for a standard length short story (usually 1500 to 2000 words).

With a novel you get to see the whole “tapestry” of the story with all the different threads coming together. With a novella you would see about half of that. With a short story you would see say part of the left or right hand side. With a flash fiction piece, you are picking one spot on the whole “tapestry” to study – and, despite the limited word count, can still produce an “intense” story. Flash fiction can have layers – it just can’t have too many of them!

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Ideas, I think, are all over the place waiting to be picked up and used by writers who can recognize them for what they are and, more importantly, which ones are the “goers” and worth running with.

I don’t write character biographies (though I understand the point of them) but I do jot down ideas based on themes and then work out “What if?” scenarios. I think it important to recognize that ideas need development time.

Yes, a brilliant idea can occur and you write away but in my experience at least it has been ideas coming together to form a powerful whole that has inspired my stories. The advantage of this is that the ideas are layered and means I am building in depth to my stories. (Yes, you could and should have depth to flash fiction. There should be nuances the reader ponders on later).

But it is theme, motivation, and character types that interest me the most. Again looking at the news you can pick up thoughts as to what motivated someone to do this or that and then apply that motivation to your characters. For example, we all understand jealousy and how that can arise. So why would your characters be jealous and what would they do as a result?

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Scriggler – My page

I have put a new story on this called Night Fright but am including the link to the whole of my page here.  Am hoping to add more to this later in the year.

Fairytales with Bite – Five Signs of a Great Character

I do like a list (!) and it has been a little while since my last one on here so time for another!  I would list the following as my five signs of a great character (fairytale or otherwise).

1Being Memorable.  Sounds easy but can be easier said than done.  The advantage is a character can be memorable for good or villainous reasons but there has to be something about them that sticks in your readers’ minds long after they’ve finished reading about them.  Can you say something about your character that would instantly bring them to mind without you having to refer to the story?  (This can be a useful test!)

2.  Having a Life.  Your characters have a life of their own, which may not necessarily be directly relevant to the story you’re telling about them but which feed into it.  For example, a character may be known for usually being a stay at home and then they suddenly go on a quest and they wonder how those who know them will react to this.  The quest is the story but the fact the character has friends and neighbours who will gossip about what they’re up to brings that character to life.  The obvious examples here are Frodo and Bilbo Baggins from Tolkein.

3.  They would be capable of further adventures.  The great characters have traits and skills that would be easily transferrable to other stories about them.  Your readers should be able to picture your characters going off on other adventures.

4.  The characters are willing to be challenged or overcome initial reluctance to face challenges.  I love stories with characters like these, partly because I think about what I (or my characters) would do if facing the same fictional challenges.  This feeds into 3 above, of course.  It is my experience characters like this always do more than their author originally thought them capable of and that is a very good sign.

5.  Their enemies fear them with good cause.  The irony here is that this can apply to the enemies fearing the hero, but also the hero fearing the enemy.  A worthy hero deserves a decent villain to test them.  You can also see why the fear is justified.

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Creating great characters. Image via Pexels.

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Outlining your characters, perhaps. Image via Pexel

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All good aids to writing, though the chocolate is not a great diet aid. Image via Pexels

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Always good advice this. Image via Pexels

This World and Others – What is Special about your Characters?

I think this question is the first thing you must ask yourself before writing your story. What is so special about your characters readers have to keep on reading to find out what happens to them?

The basic answer, of course, is that it has to be a mixture of character traits and personality to make a fully rounded “person” to be the star of your story.  So think about where your characters get their traits from and why they have the personality that they do.  What would happen to this personality if they were put under stress (especially the ongoing for some time kind of stress)?  Would your character still be special or crack under the strain and, if the latter, how can they come back from that?  There are stories to be had there!

Also, what is special to your character?  What do they consider to be the most important things about themselves and why?  Who are their heroes and villains, and why?  What possessions do they have that they value the most (and these don’t have to be priceless antiques.  it could be, say, a battered old teddy bear they’ve had since very young etc)?

Happy writing!

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REVIEWS, FAIRYTALE RELATIONSHIPS, AND STORY IDEAS

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My CFT post tonight is the penultimate one in my 101 Things to Put into Room 101 series. I have had no trouble whatsoever in coming up with 101 things! This probably says a lot about me but never mind…

As well as the horror of ripped jeans, I consign “easy to open packets” and the ability to lose scissors into the vault of doom. The latter of course is a real pain when wanting something to cut open the supposedly easy to open packets…

Part 6 - How many of the packets in a supermarket are that easy to open

How many easy to open packets are here, I wonder, and how many REALLY are easy to open? Image via Pixabay.

Part 6 - We'll be with you between 9 am and 6 pm with your parcel, argh

“We’ll be with you between 9 am and 6 pm”. Hmm… not exactly helpful is it? Image via Pixabay.

Part 6 - A ban on trumpet playing wasn't my first thought on bad manners but here things are different

A ban on trumpet playing? Image via Pixabay

Part 6 - End of the world predicted

I can predict there will be more end of the world predictions! Image via Pixabay

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What are the signs of a really good story for you? My top five would be:-

1. Not wanting the story to end.
2. Wondering how the characters would have carried on with their lives after the story ended.
3. Re-reading the story several times. (In flash especially a second or third reading will often reveal meanings and inferences you didn’t pick up the first time. You then really get to appreciate the depth of the story in such a tight word count).
4. Wishing you had written it!
5. The ending is so apt for the story, you can’t imagine it ending in any other way.

Comments welcome!

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Where do story ideas come from? Mine come from a wide range of sources including proverbs and other sayings, books or films that I’ve loved, to objects on my desk that have particular meaning for me.

I’ve learned, over time, to be “open” to ideas and not instantly dismiss them as being “too silly” or what have you. I will explore the idea to see if I can do anything with it and nine times out of ten I can.

I’ve only abandoned an idea once or twice in all my years of writing and I know now that was due to my not having outlined enough. By outlining (and spider diagrams can be useful here), you can work out whether an idea has “legs” or not or whether it needs something else to bring it to life.

 

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It’s funny how often in writing we remember the bad reviews but not the good ones etc. However, there is a flip side to this. I remember my first acceptance (hello, Bridge House Publishing, for my A Helping Hand in their Alternative Renditions anthology). That will always be a special writing moment.

I can’t recall my first rejection though. Nor do I wish to! I do wish I could recall my LAST rejection but that would mean stopping writing and I’m one of those people where the pen would have to be wrested away from me. And that is the way it should be!

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Does mood affect what you write? The jury is out on this one as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve written funny stories when feeling sad (it was therapeutic doing that). I’ve written dark stories when feeling cheerful. (Not entirely sure what to make of that one).

What matters most, I think, is you have to decide what is going to be the mood of your story and then write accordingly. Deciding on the mood will then lead you to think about why you’ve chosen that and what character or type of character would be best for your tale. Sometimes I think putting a story together is exactly like putting a jigsaw together. The pieces are interconnected but you need a starting point and using mood of story can be a useful way to “kick off”.

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What influences your writing? Books and stories you’ve admired by other authors? A cracking film that kept you on the edge of your seat for over two hours? A special symphony?

I expect that your influences come from all over the place. What is lovely is when a couple of them combine and you can create a new story from that combination. For example, your lead character loves gothic novels and classic railway engines. How could you use that in a story? (Could be fun finding out. Indeed, SHOULD be fun finding out!).

What is great here is that by reading/watching films/listening to music etc, you can ensure you never get stuck for an idea again. The “trick” is to read widely/watch films across many genres/listen to several types of music etc. Think of it as casting your net really widely!

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It is only when you are putting a collection together, you realise sometimes just (a) how much you have written and (b) that more work is going to be needed to get that volume right.

Where themes emerge, you will want to group them together (so you’ll need to get your contents page right for one thing and that will keep changing as you move things around).

The importance of VERY accurate proof reading will dawn on you in a way it may not have done before! (You want “your baby” to be perfect, yes?). Also, you will soon realise you cannot rush the proof reading stage to be sure of accuracy.

But enjoy the process. This is a very special part of the writing life – you are that bit nearer to publication.

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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!

Fairytales with Bite – Relationships in the Fairytale World

I write this post on the eve of the Royal Wedding in the UK between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.  So there will be a lot of talk about “fairytales” as in “fairytale weddings” tomorrow.  And yes, the happy ever after fairytale ending is a classic one.  But if you take a deeper look into fairytales as a whole, you will find that most relationships in a fairytale world are fraught ones!

1.  Cinderella.  Didn’t exactly have the happiest relationships with her stepmother and stepsisters.

2.  Snow White.  Having a stepmother actively trying to kill you puts Cinderella’s woes in the shade!

3.  Hansel and Gretel.  Could sympathise with Snow White.  Would feel, at best, disappointed their father ever agreed to the stepmother’s scheming at all, even if it was reluctantly.

4.  The Emperor in the Emperor’s New Clothes.  Couldn’t rely on his courtiers to be honest with him.  Quite sad really.  Makes me wonder if his vanity was an insecurity issue. How did he react, later, after his foolishness was soundly mocked?  He really needed someone to tell him he was being an idiot (and be honest enough to admit he needed that, as I think we all do).

So jealousy, hatred, and insecurity are huge themes here.  Hmm… fairytale relationships?  Perhaps not quite so happy ever after then!

This World and Others – Advice to My Much Younger Self

I wrote a Chandler’s Ford Today piece on this a while ago where I discussed what I’d tell my 20-year-old self.  I thoYouught I’d revisit the theme and list some things I would tell myself when I was starting out as a writer that I know now but didn’t then.

1.  Expect rejection but don’t be fazed by it.  Use it to improve what you do.

2.  Submit to honest competitions as often as you can.  It is all useful experience in submitting work for outside criticism and in meeting deadlines.  If you do well and win or are shortlisted, you can add that to your writing CV.  And always check out the background of the competition so you know you are submitting work to a reputable one.  It’s not you, there ARE charlatans out there.

3.  Be open to trying different forms of writing.  Had I done this when younger, I would’ve discovered the joys of flash fiction that much sooner!

4.  You can never have too much A4 printer paper or toner cartridges or pens.  Stock up.  Take advantage of special offers when possible.

5.  Submit work to honourable online sites as well as for print anthologies etc.  Your body of work will soon build up doing this and you cover both audiences – those who only read online, those who read “proper” books and most people go for both anyway.

6.  Don’t underestimate how long it will take you to be published.  It always does take far longer than you dream of!

7.  Before entering any contract, get it checked by the Society of Authors (UK) or other reputable equivalent body.  You can save yourself a lot of heartache and money doing this.

8.  Expect to be addicted to (a) notebooks, (b) nice pens, (c) going to good writing conferences, and (d) tea/coffee etc to keep you going as you write.  Save up accordingly!  Start now…

9.  Read as much as you can, contemporary and classic, fiction and non-fiction.  You may think you’re already doing this but writing has made me read much more than I ever did before, sometimes for review purposes, sometimes not.  You need to know what’s out there now.  It can help you find your own niche for one thing.  You can then play to your strengths here which will give you a greater chance of success when approaching publishers.

10.  Remember practically everybody struggles to find an agent, it isn’t just you.  Rejection is never personal either.  It can be easy to forget these things.  Keep going.  There is a lot of truth in the saying the professional writer is the amateur who didn’t give up.

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FAVOURITE TRAITS AND WHY FAIRYTALES WITH BITE?

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My CFT post is a review of the Fryern Funtasia held on Bank Holiday Monday. It is just one of those things I know but there is either heavy rain or baking heat when the FF is held! No happy medium. It’s either a big coat or the sun cream!

Having said that, the Funtasia WAS great fun and it was good to catch up with friends at Bettermaths and the Three Rivers Rail Community Partnership especially.

It was also good to see the Fair Oak dog display team, though none of the dogs were running around the agility course. They were trotting – quite rightly too – and there were several huge buckets of water for them around their arena. As for human refreshments, you should’ve seen the queues for the icecream and cold drinks!

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Have got my schedule of writing for my train journeys all lined up for tomorrow. I’d like to come back home again with at least three new flash stories and an article drafted. Will report back on how I did but I am pleased to be able to make more use of travelling time like this, especially as by the time I get back home again, I usually just want to crash out. Should do even better when I go to Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in August. The journey is longer!

I need to get back to entering more flash competitions so, depending on how well I actually do on the train tomorrow, I may well have some stories to submit. Hope so anyway.

Fairytales With Bite – Why Fairytales with Bite?

The reason I refer to what I write as fairytales with bite (and so giving this website its name) is (a) it is a very accurate description of what I do and (b) I was fed up with fairytales being dismissed as “twee” or “just for kids”.  I’ve written posts on this topic before but I thought I’d add here those elements I think make for a good fairytale.

1.  Magic.   There has to be magic somewhere but it is not the be all and end all in a fairytale either.  See below.  Also it is usually acknowledged there are limits to what magic can do.

2.  Characters have to make choices.  This is generally true of all fiction but in fairytales, the characters still have to decide something has to change.  Cinderella wanted to escape her horrible life but still needed to be willing to do what the fairy godmother told her.  (Couldn’t you just see the ugly sisters arguing with the godmother?  I could!).

3.  An appropriate ending.  Most of the time in fairytales this is the traditional happy one, but not always, as Hans Christen Andersen proved with The Little Mermaid amongst others.  Having said that, his ending to that story was apt for the way he’d written all that came before.

4.  There has to be some hope.  There has to be hope for the characters to achieve their happy ever after ending or, if they know this is not going to be the case, what can they salvage to make things as good as they can be?  If you have to settle for second best, you are still going to want that second best to be as good as possible.

There are other elements of course but these strike me as being amongst the most important ones.  Comments welcome!

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This World and Others – Favourite Traits in Characters

What are your favourite traits in characters (your own or those from other writers)?  I think mine would have to include:-

1.  The ability to prove the doubters wrong.  I love it when the underdog wins the day. Whenever I read of a character being “written off”, I am on the look out for that character turning out to be the hero (usually) or the villain (sometimes, and inevitably reacting against being written off!  I do have some sneaking sympathy here.  You can see why they would react that way at least.).

2.  The ability to stick with the right path, no matter what.  The ultimate example of this for me is both Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings.  (Sam was just as determined to do right as Frodo was, even though Sam was doing this for his friend, rather than for the “cause” directly).

3.  Being the best friend/sidekick the hero didn’t know they needed until undergoing the quest.  If awards were being given out for this, it would have to go to Sam Gamgee.  Never ever overlook the sidekick.  They’re in the story for a good reason and it is almost always a pivotal moment the hero needs.

4.  Honest characters.  I love those moments when, usually the sidekick, gives the hero/heroine a verbal bashing for missing something important or taking others for granted or for becoming arrogant etc.  The lead characters do need others who can rein them in – nobody gets it right in life all the time so why should they in fiction?  Just as we need others to tell us “hang on a moment there”, so do characters need other characters to tell them when they’re at risk of going off track.

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Reviews and Characterisation

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fairytales with Bite – Describing Your Characters

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

ODD COMBINATIONS AND FLASH FICTION TERMS

Again, a mixed bag for you!

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My latest CFT post combines two things in a review, which I never anticipated I would ever combine – the Famous Five and William Shakespeare! Yes, really.

I review Five Go Mad for Shakespeare staged by the MDG Players at the Dovetail Centre in Chandler’s Ford last Thursday. They were ably assisted by the Romsey Players with their “play within a play”, which is another nod to the Bard!

The evening was a mixture of spoofs, well known scenes from Hamlet and Macbeth, and songs. It was good fun and very well put together.

MDG NOTICEBOARD

The MDG Players cast and notice board. Image by Allison Symes

MDG NOTICEBOARD PART 2

All the seats were taken at the show. Image by Allison Symes

Programme Front

The front cover of the programme. Image by Allison Symes.

Programme - What is on offer during the show

A mixed menu of delights in the show are listed here. Image by Allison Symes

THE GAME CARDS FOR WOULD WE LIE TO YOU

The green and red cards were used for a game during the show, Image by Allison Symes.

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Went to see an April Trio of Plays by the Chameleon Theatre Company tonight. Review on CFT next week. This week will be a review of Five Go Mad For Shakespeare put on by the MDG Players last week. So yes, I’ve been out and about and seeing some wonderful plays! I like this. I like it a lot! (Hope it won’t be too long before I get to see some National Theatre Live productions again too).

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One of the problems I face with writing is prioritising! Writing for Chandler’s Ford Today helps as I know I’m posting on Friday so I plan my posts so usually I’m carrying out final checks on Wednesday.

However, it is fitting everything else in that I’d like to do, both for fiction and non-fiction, that is the problem. The one comfort? I know I’m not alone in this. (And things like using Evernote on a phone on a train does help me get a lot more done with time that would otherwise be wasted. Just how much staring out of the window can you do?!!).

The one good thing is I am well ahead on coming up with ideas for stories for what I hope will end up being my third flash fiction collection. I’ve also drafted some of the stories out. (I hope some of them will appear online at some point).

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There are times I wish there were better terms for flash fiction writers. We’re flashers for a start! Anyone writing 100-word stories is a drabbler and I have occasionally written at the 50-word mark too (though this has been more for my second collection which is under submission).

Therefore, this makes me a flasher, a drabbler and an occasional dribbler. Doesn’t sound good, does it?😀 Does anyone know who came up with these terms in the first place?!

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I’ve talked before about one benefit of writing flash fiction being that it shows up your wasted words. This carries over into any other creative writing you do as you learn to look out for these wasted words and they’re the first to be cut out.

However, another huge benefit to writing flash fiction is having to write with absolute clarity. As your word count is limited, you want every word to carry its weight so your readers pick up the meaning you intended.

That clarity can (and I think should) carry over into other writing too. Also, because flash fiction really does have to be character led, it beefs up your ability to create convincing characters! They have to “lead” the story, there simply isn’t the room for an elaborate plot. But the great thing is genre isn’t an issue. I’ve written flash fiction pieces in fantasy, fairytale, crime, horror, and so on.

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Managed to draft another flash fiction piece while waiting to give blood this afternoon. Best thing to come out of the afternoon too given there was trouble with my veins and I had to come home without donating. Ah well… try again. (I cherish the thought if the National Blood Service had trouble with my veins, so would your average vampire! You have got to find the things to use them!).

That aside, I’m pleased with the progress I’m making on this batch of stories and hope to submit some more to Cafelit before long.

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Childhood Books

I sometimes review local theatre productions and a recent one was called Five Go Mad for Shakespeare. Good fun, and I enjoyed the references to Enid Blyton’s adventure series, and to the Bard too.

I used to collect the Famous Five series as the local newsagent stocked them. (Those really were the days… the newsagent’s shop was big compared to the ones I come across now. Its book section was reasonably generous in size).

I loved reading the Five’s adventures and I think those books, plus the fairytale collections I had (and still have!), are the fiction volumes that have had the most affect on me. Of course, the moment I’d got my hands on the latest Five adventure, I had to read it as soon as possible. I don’t remember reading them in one sitting but I know I would’ve been ready for when the next book was due in the newsagent’s!

So what childhood books have had the most impact on you? Have you re-read them since then?

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Fairytales With Bite – Why Children’s Fiction Matters Even When You Do Not Write It

My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week is a review of a show called Five Go Mad for Shakespeare and it was good fun.  I never expected to review something that combined Enid Blyton’s Famous Five with the Bard of Avon but there you go…

This led me on to thinking about the importance of children’s fiction, even for those who do not write it.  My first loves in terms of children’s books were the classic fairytales and the Famous Five series.  I also liked Heidi, Black Beauty, and other classic children’s books.

I think it can be forgotten sometimes that anyone who, like me, writes for adults, “owes” our audience to children’s writers.  Why?  Because most people who read regularly have always read since they were children and all that changes as they become older is their tastes in books!

While I’m sure it does happen, the majority of readers don’t suddenly go into a bookshop and pick out a book to read.  They are going into stores or ordering books online because they already have a love of reading they are developing further.  That love of books nearly always starts in childhood with the classic children’s stories.

This World and Others – What Makes a “Fully Rounded Character”?

You hear the phrase “fully rounded characters” a lot, well I have (!), but what does it actually mean? My take on this is:-

1. You can identify with the character.
2. The character has clear virtues and flaws. (This is usually why you can identify with them!).
3. The character makes mistakes and, usually, learns from them. Often they make the same mistakes more than once before they learn from them, but then so do real people!
4. Their behaviour and attitudes make sense, given the way the writer has portrayed them.
5. You can imagine how this character would live outside of the constraints of the story.
6. They interact with other characters in a way that makes sense, even if the interaction itself isn’t good. (This could be because the character really does not get on well with others or the other characters aren’t great at “people skills”).
7. The character has feelings, tastes in music, food etc so you would feel they “could be” a real person if somehow characters could come to life.
8. The character has emotional depth. Basically this means the reader can see if the character is shallow or is capable of more complex emotions and attitudes. Shallow characters can be appropriate to a story. It’s just their emotional depth isn’t very deep!
9. You can’t imagine the story without them. (Always a good sign).
10. The character has real struggles and difficulties to overcome and finds different ways of overcoming them. (Unless they are a shallow creation, they don’t give up at the first hurdle).

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LIFE’S LITTLE IRRITATIONS AND TEN FAVOURITE THINGS

A nice mixture of moods this time I think!

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What do cooking chocolate, zips that break too easily and roundabouts that are too small for purpose have in common? Easy peasy. They’re some of the items I’ve consigned to Room 101 in the latest part of this series. (I’m now up to No. 75!). I also share my thoughts on product name changes and fake news. So a nice mixed bag here tonight!

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What aspect of writing do you like the least? I suppose for me it would be the line by line edit for typos, grammatical errors etc, anything that I would call the technical side of writing.

Yet without that side, the chances of work being accepted do decrease given you have to present your work as professionally as possible. Anything that reduces a professional impression, such as weak spelling etc, will impact on your story.

The nice thing, though, is that if spelling, grammar etc are weak points, ideas like a writing buddy can be a real boon. (Going to good creative writing classes can help you make friends, get feedback on your work, including on this kind of thing, and help you find someone who might end up being your writing buddy!).

I also think there isn’t a writer anywhere without blind spots as to certain words/grammatical issues. My blind spots are “effect” and “affect” (I always have to double check them against the dictionary definitions to make sure I’m using the right one).

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Do you prefer alien settings in your flash fiction or tales that are firmly rooted on to this planet? I like both, no real surprises there, but here are some advantages to consider.

The biggest advantage to having an alien world as a setting is you get to choose what that world looks like, how it is run etc. Only drawback would be is it is too easy to just keep on creating your world and never getting on with the story. So just stick to the bare bones of what your reader really does need to know.

The biggest advantage to setting a world here is that the background information we know already. You really do just to fill in relatively minor details such as what part of the world they’re in (can give your readers ideas about likely weather patterns and so on).

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Although flash fiction by its nature might seem quick to write, it still needs careful crafting to ensure every word carries its weight and justifies its place in the story.

Yes, obviously, novels do take far longer and the joy of those is having the room for sub-plots and being able to characterise more deeply. Having said that, one of the great joys of flash fiction for me is being able to shine a sharp light on say one aspect of a particular character. That IS the story. Nothing more to be said. Nothing more needs to be said.

 

Writing first, editing later but both needed - image via Pixabay

Preparing a talk or a flash fiction story perhaps. Image via Pixabay.

Stories can be created and read on just about any modern device - image via Pixabay

Big screen, little screen, LOTS of stories on either! Image via Pixabay

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Let your stories have impact. 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

Fill that blank sheet with ideas from non-fiction as well as other fiction works - image via Pixabay

The basic necessities of the writer’s life!

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Flash – for light or dark fiction! 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)

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog

1. Books can take you into worlds beyond anything we know here. This is especially true for science fiction and fantasy.

2. Books can shed light on history both in non-fiction accounts and historical novels. The latter also has the advantage of being able to show what a historical figure could’ve been like as an individual, based on what is known about them. The author is not saying they are definitely like this, just that they could’ve been.

3. Reading a book encourages you to keep reading others. Not only is this relaxing, this improves your own appreciation of the written word by reading different authors and types of book.

4. You learn so much about characterisation by reading widely, in and out of your own genre.

5. Reading across non-fiction and fiction will help feed your own imagination. What can you do in your stories the authors you’ve read have not etc? (Also different writers have sparks for story ideas from varying sources. Where you get your sparks from will almost inevitably not be the same as where I get mine. At best there MIGHT be some overlap but we are all inspired by different genres and styles, What we do with what inspires us is unique to us too).

6. If you want to try out an author new to you, but are not sure about committing to the cost of a hardback etc, you can always borrow from the libraries and support them while you indulge in a good read!

7. Short story collections, including flash fiction, are increasingly popular so if the thought of a full length novel is not for you at this stage, why not try shorter fiction? There is something out there that will suit you! I love the fact there is a book out (and usually several) for anyone and everyone.

8. I suppose I am particularly conscious of this being a woman, but literacy is not something that has always been available to so many of us. So therefore I want to make the most of being able to read and write. There is a whole world of stories out there to explore.

9. Especially reading non-fiction, you can increase your own education significantly. Above all, it should be fun to find out things you didn’t know.

10. Last but not least, as a writer, by reading as well you are supporting the industry you hope to join or have become part of. Whether you are self or traditionally published, I can’t help but feel this is a good thing to do. I also can’t see how you can write without reading well. You have to know what you like and dislike to come up with your own stories and how can you do that, other than by reading?

Comments welcome!

Fairytales with Bite – Life’s Little Irritations

My current series on Chandler’s Ford Today is all about life’s little irritations (and is called 101 Things to Put into Room 101)From a fictional viewpoint, it doesn’t matter whether you write short or long fiction or, indeed, what genre you write in, but you can guarantee your characters will have more than their fair share of life’s “little irritations”.

So what are these and why do they rile your characters so much?  Do some of your characters handle the trials of life better than others and, if so, why and how?  What would count as an irritation in your fictional world that here on our own planet might be seen as a catastrophe or something your characters shouldn’t be wound up about at all?

Are the irritations you portray shared by other characters in your stories?  Is there anything that the society/world you’ve created considers an irritation and how did it come to be seen this way?  (There is always a reason for these things!).  Answering all of these will help you flesh out your world and your characters better and that is always worth doing.

This World and Others – Ten Favourite Things about Characters

I do love a list!  Ten favourite things I like about well portrayed characters include:-

1.  Such characters show me something about my own nature (for good or bad!).
2.  I can identify with the characters, sympathise even.
3.  I will “root for” characters and “feel” their struggles, which is not quite the same as 2 above.  For this, I have to really like the characters concerned.  With 2, I can identify with say what a villain is up to (they’ve been crossed once too often and are now out for revenge), but I’m not going to root for them to succeed in their aims.  I often hope ambiguous characters will not turn out to be villainous in the end or at least have motivations that are understandable.  The best of these will do both.
4.  You can “see” exactly where a character is coming from.  That leads to empathy (which I believe can encourage empathy generally and that is no bad thing).
5. Characters will show you the world they live in and how they handle it.  Is there something I can learn here?  (That includes what not to do!).
6.  For a character that’s set in a historical period, you can compare how they handle their situation and ponder how you would do so.  (I love Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice but can see her situation as almost being prison like.  For her not to marry Mr Collins, when it would have meant helping her family, was a brave thing to do.  It would also be seen as selfish, especially by her mother.  Here, I am so glad I have never faced something like that).
7.  As a writer, you can put your characters through the emotional wringer!  Heartless though that may sound, it is also huge fun – and it will be where your story really is.  It is all in the conflicts.
8.  Sometimes a historical character can change your mind about a period in time or a well known historical figure.  The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey did this for me with regard to Richard III and Henry VII.
9.  Characters can show up injustice clearly.  Think To Kill a Mockingbird here or something like Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
10. Characters can say things you would love to say to others but for whatever reason rightly decide it’s best not to!  And I’m not saying more than that….!

 

FAIRYTALES, TRUTH, AND NETWORKING

Now there’s a combination!

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My latest Chandler’s Ford Today post is called Networking Tips. Fellow Chapeltown Books author, Mandy Huggins, and I both share our thoughts on networking here and we hope you find the post useful. Many thanks to her for her pictures. Also a big thank you to Paula Readman for kind permission to use the picture of Dawn Knox, Paula and I which was taken at the Bridge House celebration event last December.

I remember being so scared of the thought of having to network when I was first starting out as a writer. It was really only when I realised networking meant talking about something I love – books, stories etc (generally, as well as my own) – that I relaxed. Can I talk about these things? Yes! The problem can be stopping me! (But that is how it should be. I don’t see how you can commit to writing as a long term love unless you are enthuasiastic about stories. Given the ups and downs of a writer’s life, writing has to be thought of as a series of hopefully achievable goals over a reasonable period of time. There are no shortcuts).

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Questions I like to ask of my characters from time to time include:-

What would you say was your best trait?
What would you say was your worst one?
What drives you and why?

I inevitably don’t use all of what I come up with here in the stories themselves but have found having a good working knowledge of what my characters are really like makes it so much easier to write convincingly about/for them.

It is worth taking the time out to flesh out your thoughts here before you write your story. (Scrivener is great here with its character and setting outlines in its short story “mode” but you can create your own template of things you should know about your “people” before you write their stories down).

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What are your writing “likes”? Some of mine include:-

Decent one-liners that make me laugh.

A story that shows me motivations or stresses characters are under that I might not have considered before. For example murders are committed for serious reasons and to what appears to others to be trivial ones. Yet a good story will take you into the mind of that murderer and show why the trivial reason isn’t trivial to them.

Good, sharp pace with quiet bits in between giving me good background on the setting and characters, knowing said quiet bits are gearing the reader up for the next big scene.

A satisfactory ending, which is not the same as a happy one necessarily. The ending has to be right for the story and the main character. It won’t feel right if the match isn’t there.

Characters I can rally behind (or metaphorically boo for) but either reaction has to be genuine. I don’t want to see the author’s hand making their characters act in a certain way. The characters’ acting has to be realistic for those characters.

I love getting to the end of a story or novel and in a sense wishing neither had ended. Always a sign of a well told tale! Going back over a story/novel and picking up the bits I missed first go around. This is particularly true for a detective novel. I always miss some of the clues on the first read!

I like a happy ending where the hero/heroine has “earned” it. I also like to see villains get their comeuppance but again in a realistic manner. Villains generally are not going to fall apart. They can be caught out.

Every word to count… Funnily enough that doesn’t necessarily mean everything has to be short but that each word is appropriate for the story being told. In P.G. Wodehouse’s stories so often he uses very long sentences (he’d never get away with it now!) but not a word is out of place and indeed especially when Wooster’s narrating the long-windedness is part of (a) the character’s charm and (b) the character’s characteristics!

Positive developments in characters, especially a character that goes on to make something good out of themselves.

I like pinpointing moments of change in a story and watching the drama unfold.

Feeling a slight sense of envy I didn’t write the story/novel I’ve enjoyed is a good sign – and nothing but a compliment to the actual author!

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It is only in looking back at stories that make up a collection, you really get to see what influences came out. FLTDBA has a nice mixture of influences – fairytales, nods to films, Frankenstein, poetic justice, and Pride and Prejudice to name just some.

I guess this shows why you should read widely (in whatever format and including non-fiction) because you are feeding your imagination. What drives you to write the stories you do? Your own influences/thoughts. Why have you got those influences and thoughts? Almost certainly thanks to things you have read that rang true for something deep inside your creative self.

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The right ending for a story is the one that is most appropriate for it. It doesn’t need to be happy necessarily. Indeed, quite a few of mine in From Light to Dark and Back Again are definitely not of the traditional happy ever after variety!

I remember being stunned when I first read Hans Christen Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. You expect everything to work out okay (after all, isn’t that how fairytales are supposed to turn out?) and then it doesn’t! And I won’t say more than that. No spoilers here. It does pay to read the fairytales. They’re often darker than people think and have more layers. The Little Mermaid is a tale of sacrifice when all is said and done.

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What do I most like about writing? Well, here’s a few thoughts.

Coming up with characters who spring to life and develop in front of your “eyes”.

Coming up with world(s) that fascinate you.

Coming up with villain(s) that fascinate you!

Coming up with hero(ines) that also fascinate but show why they are the good guys. They’ve got to have a good cause, literally.

Being able to write short length stories from flash to standard length (up to 2000 words) to novels to plays… the only limit is your imagination.

You can explore ideas.

You can discover ideas from the characters you develop, not just in terms of new story ideas, but you get to learn how your “people” think and why. Could it change how you feel about issues? Can be fun finding out!

Receiving feedback which helps you improve your work (this is not necessarily complimentary, though nice responses are obviously nice, but so you can see how well you “got through” to your reader).

Winning or being shortlisted for competitions is a huge morale boost.

Getting to talk about your work at writing festivals and enjoying hearing about others’ work. I love both aspects here. I think it’s like a kind of celebration of the work of the imagination.

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytales and Truth

I’m sure you must have come across at some point someone saying something like “it’s just a fairytale”.  That phrase has always annoyed me.  There is nothing “just” about a fairytale.

When examined closely, the vast majority of fairytales contain at least one element of truth in them (and often much more).  Yes, fairytales do tend to follow character type but there is a lot of truth in those.  What does the wicked witch represent?  Those who are prepared to use the power they’ve got to control others or who are prepared to do anything to gain power.  Who does the good fairy represent?  Those who use their powers for the good of others.  And that’s just to name two examples. We can all think of real life people who can fit into those categories so fairytales do reflect humanity as we know it.

Hans Christen Andersen showed that fairytales do not always have happy ever after endings.  (While it surprised me the first time I read his The Little Mermaid here, I have a greater appreciation now of the truthfulness of his characterisation and the way the story does end).  Fairytales can sometimes get across a certain amount of social commentary (again see Hans Christen Andersen’s The Little Match Girl here).

So I do wish some people would stop being dismissive of fairytales.  There is a lot more to them than may at first be apparent.

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This World and Others – Networking In Your Stories

My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week is all about networking.  Fellow Chapeltown Books author, Mandy Huggins, and I share our thoughts on this and I hope you find it useful. But it led me to wonder what kind of networking goes on inside the world of our stories.

How do our characters meet each other?  Have they known each other for years?  What are the social networks in the worlds you’ve created?  What happens to those who defy convention here?

Our stories won’t necessarily spell out all of that but readers should know why the characters are interacting the way they do.  If they hate each other, that is bound to be a major factor in how your story develops and the reason for the hate should be shown.  (I don’t think you can ignore the fact they hate each other, it must be what is driving your story.  I can’t see how it would be otherwise).

Is there such a thing as an old boys’ network in your world?  Who benefits or suffers because of it?  Is there a class system and can people/beings cross the divides?  If your world just has one major species, there should be some sort of hierarchy within it.  How does this work?

Feature Image - Networking Tips

My latest CFT post. Mandy Huggins and I discuss networking. Image via Pixabay

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My flash fiction collection from Chapeltown Books!

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

Amanda Huggins reading from the Ink Tears showcase anthology Death of a Superhero at the launch party in London December 2017

Mandy Huggins – reading is a great way to network with your readers. Image kindly supplied by Mandy Huggins.

It is always good to meet readers and even better when they read you - image via JW

Networking with readers at the Chandler’s Ford Book Fair in 2017. Image from Janet Williams, CFT’s amazing editor.

Setting the mood classically perhaps - image via Pixabay

Setting the mood with music. Image via Pixabay

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Humans are immensely creative - image via Pixabay

Let those ideas flow! Image via Pixabay,

A familiar desk scene for writers - image via Pixabay

The familiar sight of the writing desk, regardless of genre! Image via Pixabay.

The best advice for any writer - image via Pixabay

Sound advice. Image via Pixabay

From diving board to keyboard via Pixabay

The keyboard beckons…

 

 

 

 

REAL WRITING = REAL CHARACTERS

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

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

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

Feature Image - Part 3 Room 101 Post

My latest CFT post. Image via Pixabay.

Decisions, decisions

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

Still this kind of board might raise a smile

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

Could Room 101 be behind here - image via Pixabay

The vault of doom aka Room 101. Image via Pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook – General

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

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

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

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

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

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

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

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

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

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

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

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

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

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