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

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

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

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

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

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

Fairytales With Bite – What Fairytales Reveal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This World and Others – What Your Fictional World Needs

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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WEATHER, PLANS, AND THE WRITING JOURNEY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allison Symes – 1st July 2018

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOT AND BOTHERED AND BLOGGING!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

KNOWING WHAT I DO NOW…

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Are there things connected with writing that you are glad you know now? This is definitely the case for me and my list would be:-

1. When offered a contract, get it checked out by the Society of Authors. I did and it stopped me entering into something that would’ve been a vanity publishing contract. I’ve never regretted not going for that (though at the time I wasn’t published elsewhere nor was there anything in the pipeline). Talking of which:-

2. Don’t be afraid to turn things down. You have got to be happy with what you are doing writing wise. And, as with so much in life, if it seems too good to be true, it is. There’s no shame in walking away from such a thing.

3. You really do need to edit on paper and not on screen. You WILL miss typos, grammatical errors etc on screen. I’m sure there must be a logical reason to this, probably based on how the brain interprets things on screen as opposed to paper. All I know for sure is when I edit on paper, I pick up far more that needs correcting (and so save myself a great deal of embarrassment in NOT submitting something with errors because I’ve not seen the wretched things and dealt with them!). It IS worth taking the time here.

What would you list here?

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New story from me coming up on Cafelit on Tuesday (5th June), will share the link then. If you like dragons, it will be for you!

Am sorry to be missing the Winchester Writers’ Festival this year. Hope all who go have a wonderful time. Likewise all going to the Waterloo Arts Festival and to all of the winning authors who will be reading their stories out here, have a great time and good luck!

Am looking forward to the Hursley Park Book Fair later in June and Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in August. Much later in the year will be the annual Bridge House Publishing/Cafelit/Chapeltown Books get-together in London.

Immediate writing plans are to get more stories out to Cafelit and press on with my third flash fiction book (though I am happy with how that is going). I would like to write more non-fiction and a long term goal is to do something more with that.

Am also pleased to say a new mini-series will be coming up on Chandler’s Ford Today shortly which is about art by Graham MacLean. I was the series editor on it and it was lovely to work on. Some wonderful pictures by Graham illustrate the three part series. These will be appearing on 7th, 14th and 21st June.

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Does the mood of your characters match your mood as you’re writing their stories?

Definitely not in my case and this is just as well given a lot of my flash fiction has themes of murder, revenge, poetic justice and so on! When I’m not writing on those topics, I often write about magical beings you would not want to meet, yet alone cross, or I’m writing about poignant situations.

So is all human life then in From Light to Dark and Back Again? Quite a bit of it is, yes – and a fair amount of non-human life too!

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One of the most difficult things about writing flash is ensuring that it is a “proper” story and not just a piece of prose cut abruptly short. The need for a beginning, middle and end applies to whatever length of fiction you’re writing, though I suppose it is more obvious for things like novels and short stories.

This is where twist endings help a lot as you can’t go beyond that without spoiling the effect. I’ve occasionally written a flash piece as a letter (Punish the Innocent is a good example of this) and the great thing with that as a device it it has GOT to end with the sign-off (or possibly a PS at most!).

I think of the middle of the story as the “pivot point”. It is where the problem in the tale has been set out, it has got to be resolved, and your reader can see that being done in at least two different ways. (You’ve got to keep them guessing!).

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Holiday Reading

I’ve recently picked up three lovely paperbacks which will be part of my holiday reading. Many thanks to generous friends and family for the book shop gift cards. I’ve finally had a chance to go and use them on:-

1. Double Cross by Ben McIntyre
2. London by Peter Ackroyd
3. View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

I love history of all sorts (and am intrigued by the idea of having a biography of a city!). The Neil Gaiman book is a collection of his non-fiction pieces and I’m really looking forward to reading that.

As ever, my trusty Kindle will also be with me on my holidays this year. I love both ebooks and paperbacks and switching between the two formats is another joy to reading as far as I’m concerned.

Now all I need to do is catch up on my reviewing!

 

 

 

 

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).

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Glad to say I’ve had to order more copies of From Light to Dark and Back Again ready for book events coming up over the summer months. Will post more about those nearer to the time of each though I am glad that at one of them in particular, I should have the chance to catch up with friends, which is always a lovely bonus.

I did manage to write some flash fiction on my train journey today – one of my longer pieces. (I also wrote an entire CFT post too so a productive day!)

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I am definitely going to have to go on more train journeys as all of the ones I’ve taken so far this year have meant I’ve drafted LOADS of flash fiction stories, which I hope will end up in a third collection eventually. Just a pity my Swanwick trip in August is going to involve a replacement bus service due to major works happening at Derby Station over the summer. Will be interesting to see how I write while on a bus – assuming I can of course.

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The nature of flash fiction in that it gives only a glimpse into the world of its story makes it useful for when you want to imply your character is a time travelling alien or what have you but don’t need to set up a lot of details as to the world they’ve come from.

I’ve found the odd line showing the character’s reaction to the world they’ve left can be telling. It can be a case of what they don’t say that will imply to the reader the world they left was horrendous. Equally a comment, a throwaway line from the character will show their attitude and from that a lot can be deduced.

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Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Broadening the Mind

The old saying goes that travel broadens the mind and, of course, it can do. But so can reading widely across genres and non-fiction.

Also reading contemporary AND classic fiction is useful here as the former keeps you in touch with what is out there now, and the other keeps you in touch with where writing has come from.

Also I’d argue that writers such as Wodehouse, Austen, Dickens etc have all stood the test of time and will continue to do so. What is fun is to watch out for those contemporary (or near contemporary) authors who will go on to stand the test of time. (I’d have the late, great Terry Pratchett as a certainty here. Also J.K. Rowling for Harry Potter.).

Writing, especially when it involves any kind of research, also encourages mind broadening. (The great thing with this is most of us don’t want our waists to broaden, but you can broaden the mind as much as you like! No calories involved whatsoever…!).

So read and write away!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plans and Mini-Series

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Happily enjoying some of the latest Chapeltown publications on Kindle. That is the great thing with flash fiction – it is so easy to read on a screen (no matter the size of the screen!).

Am also drafting some challenging opening lines that I hope to create stories from soon. Sometimes this challenge leads to a longer story than expected (but that can always go to a short story – 1500 words+ – collection in due course).

I’d like to enter more competitions this year too as doing that is always good practice for writing to a deadline and if you are lucky enough to be shortlisted or win, then that does look so good on the old writing CV. You feel pretty good about it too!

One of the nicest things about writing is when you are well “into” it and enjoying what you are coming up with. You are your own first audience. If you don’t enjoy what you write, why should anyone else? Later, trusted readers who can tell you what does and doesn’t work are invaluable.

Happy writing!

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One great thing about writing is it does give you a much deeper appreciation for the works of other writers, especially the classics. For a work to stand the test of time, it really does have to have something special about it, but it is highly unlikely the author concerned set out to achieve that. They would’ve wanted to write a good, entertaining story, for it to be published (and ideally sell in vast quantities too!).

I think you gain a deeper appreciation of the work that went into creating the story in question. I know I’ve learned that if someone makes something look easy (and that includes writing which is easy to read), I can bet that same someone has worked very hard for years to get to that point.

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I’m starting a new mini-series on Chandler’s Ford Today this week. Friday’s post will be part 1 of my 101 Things to Put in Room 101 so this new series will keep me out of mischief for a bit then…

Link to go up tomorrow. Had great fun writing Part 1 so am really looking forward to getting on with Part 2!

I don’t know how many writers manage to achieve the accolade of having parts of their best-known work turned into TV programmes but Orwell is one of the few. What he would have made of Room 101 I don’t know (it can be very funny, sometimes thought provoking) but I suspect there might have been some scathing comments about Big Brother! (And I could always add some of my own there!).

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How easy is it to find the right title for your book? Answer: not very!

I used the mood of the stories to get to the title for mine but the title for the one I’ve not long submitted was more difficult to reach. In the end, I picked the title from one of the stories that I liked best and went with that. Am I expecting changes to my MSS? You bet!

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I know “luvvies” get their fair share of being mocked but the famous question attributed to them, “what is my motivation in this, darling?” is a great one for writers to ask of their characters.

Any character without a suitably strong motivation should be cut out. The good thing on that is their role might be a minor one but if it is pivotal to the outcome of a sub-plot, which in turn affects the way the main plot turns out, then that is good enough to justify that character and minor role remaining.

Motivations should be something the reader can understand, if not necessarily agree with. The main characters should, of course, have the most powerful motivations of all given they have the most to lose or gain.

 

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I often use proverbs or well-known sayings and then see what I can do with them to create my stories. Flash fiction in itself is the very definition of “less is more” after all!

Sayings are a useful source of themes and can sometimes give you ideas for character motivation. (For example, revenge is sweet could lead you to work out why your characters would want to make that saying come true for them. You’d need to work out backstory here – who they want revenge against and why? How do they make revenge sweet? Does it work or backfire spectacularly?).

What sayings would you choose to use for a theme? (The great thing is you could base an entire collection around a well-chosen theme. We’re never going to run out of love stories in the grand scheme of things but there is always room for the well-written one that takes a different slant on it. Okay the problem after that is finding the right home for it but at least you know every writer faces that dilemma and it definitely isn’t anything personal).

Creative writing takes many forms, including blogging. Image via Pixabay.

Creative writing takes many forms, including blogging. Image via Pixabay.

What a library! Image via Pixabay.

What a library! Image via Pixabay.

I could spend many a happy hour here - the library at Prague. Image via Pixabay.

I could spend many a happy hour here – the library at Prague. Image via Pixabay.

The magical world of the imagination. Image via Pixabay

The magical world of the imagination. Image via Pixabay

A way into the magical realm, perhaps? Image via Pixabay.

The way to the magical realm perhaps? Image via Pixabay.

The perfect way to unwind. Image via Pixabay.

The perfect way to unwind. Image via Pixabay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images from the magical world... Image via Pixabay

ONE LINE FAIRYTALES

FAIRYTALES WITH BITE

One Line Fairytales is my variant on the Ernest Hemingway six words short story exercise.  I share three ideas, all of which could be written up as flash fiction or standard length short stories.  May well give them a go myself at some point!

THIS WORLD AND OTHERS

What a Good Book Can Do lists ten benefits of reading a good book (and that doesn’t include the sheer pleasure gained from a marvellous read).  Can you add to my list?

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I discuss some of what I’ve been listening to, my favourite “in the run up to Christmas” reads and continue to update on Mabel’s progress.  I also talk about my writing (a brief look back at progress over the year and hopes for the future) and my reading (what I have done, what I would like to do etc).

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A truly beautiful library but do the books in it meet my criteria for what makes a good story. I would hope so! Image via Pixabay.

A truly beautiful library but do the books in it meet my criteria for what makes a good story. I would hope so! Image via Pixabay.