Image Credits: All images, unless otherwise stated, were taken by Allison Symes
Towards the end of each year, I make a note in my new writing diary as to what I’d like to achieve in the next twelve months. I also review what I’d written for the current year and tick off achievements. Many things are long-term goals so carry over. I’m always going to want to have short stories and flash fiction “out there” no matter what the year is!
This year has seen the achievement of one major goal: the publication, by a traditional publisher, Chapeltown Books, of my first flash fiction collection, From Light to Dark and Back Again. As a result, I have gone on to do things I had not written down in my diary, such as joining Chandler’s Ford Authors, going to the Book Fair and Winchester Discovery Centre, being part of the Writers’ Stand at the Hiltingbury Extravaganza, and having my own book signings.
Also there was the fun experience of a cyberlaunch for From Light to Dark and Back Again.
Towards the end of 2016, I submitted my book to Chapeltown Books and circa New Year heard they were going to take it. Right now I’m editing my follow-up book. One thing I have found difficult is getting the balance between promoting the book and writing the next one right. The one comfort is I know every published writer has that dilemma. One year I will get the balance right. It just hasn’t been this year! Something to go in the diary perhaps…
This year, for the first time, I’ve carried out public readings (at the signings, at the recent Bridge House/Cafelit/Chapeltown event) and it has been lovely having positive responses to this. My favourite comment has to be from the Winchester Discovery Centre when one lady told me it was lovely being read to – just how often do we adults have that joy? (This aspect must be one reason why audio books are so popular).
I will say a big thanks to Hiltingbury Post Office, Andersons, MIBI Gift Shop and Bay Leaves Larder for stocking my book. I hoped to have a book signing at Bay Leaves this year but have run out of time so hope to make up for that next year. A big thank you also to the Three Rivers Rail Community Partnership for enabling me to have my railway signing. That was fun. It was good to pop in to our station to see Three Rivers recently as they were offering mulled wine and mince pies to weary Christmas shoppers/commuters.
One annual highlight is the Bridge House/Cafelit/Chapeltown Books celebration event in London. I’ve been published by all three (online and in print) so there’s no way I’m staying away! It means I’m getting to know the Tube network well whenever I go to these things, especially the Northern line! I am a big fan of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue on Radio 4 and the sign below of Mornington Crescent will have significance for other fans of the show.
The Bridge House event is also fantastic as I meet writer friends that, for the rest of the year, I’m in contact with via Facebook etc. As ever at this event, attendees “speed dated”. We had three minutes with each person we talked to before having to move on to someone else. You talked about what they wrote or read, and they did the same with you, and it is amazing just how much you can find out in such a short time!
The publishers also bring us up to date with plans for the coming year, including the theme for their annual competition. (The best stories go into the anthology based on the theme. I was in their Baubles anthology last year. Have already got ideas for their next one.).
There was a book stand with selections from Bridge House/Cafelit/Chapeltown and Red Telephone authors. Naturally I am biased here but the world of books would be poorer without the independent press (including independent self publishers). Why? There is a wider variety of books out there thanks to them giving more authors a voice.
The major publishers look to maintain their income and though that is understandable, they are becoming less open to taking a chance on an unknown author. This never used to be the case because they’ve always looked to maintain their income (!) but the doors are or have shut for new writers. The amalgamation of several smaller publishers into bigger publishing houses produces economies of scale but, I guess (and I stress it is a guess), the downside of this is the bigger you are, the more you have to service in terms of cost. Less is more perhaps?
The Bridge House event was held at the Princess of Wales pub in Chalk Farm and I must admit I’ve rarely been in a more appropriately decorated pub room. The Ladies too had a chandelier and open fireplace in it. I’m not sure what either of those are doing in a pub but the standard of decor was lovely! (The pub lunch wasn’t bad either!).
Some of the regular writers for Bridge House etc read works out and the standard was very high. The other readers were Gill James, Margaret Bulleyment, Penny Dale, Shanta Everington, Lauren Hopes, Dawn Knox, Paula Readman, and Robin Wrigley.
I chose three stories from my book – Serving Up a Treat (crime), Pressing the Flesh (horror) and Making the Grade (humorous fantasy). Other stories read out included some powerful poetic justice ones and some great character studies. Reading material included extracts from novels and flash fiction as well as complete short stories so there was a good mix of length of story read as well as of genre and mood.
Lauren Hopes talked to me about her current work in progress and showed me a beautiful book she created where she keeps notes for the building up of her fictional world. She made the cover herself. Fantastic thing to do.
It was lovely to catch up with Bridge House authors from last year including Clare Weze Easterby who was in the Cloudscapes over the Lune anthology. This book has been raising money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants magical wishes to children and young people fighting life-threatening illnesses, and the Rainbow Trust, which provides emotional and practical support to families who have a child with a life-threatening or terminal illness, both very worthy causes.
I particularly enjoyed catching up with Dawn and Paula as I’m Facebook friends with them and it is so nice to get to meet in person once again.
Shanta Everington talked to me about her YA novel shortly before she read an extract from it. Her dystopian world came across well in the extract she read (though you wouldn’t want to live there!).
Gill James, just before she read from her Chapeltown book January Stones, told us all about her audiobook project.
One thing that comes out from events like this is you make connections and they can take you almost anywhere. I met Paula at a previous Bridge House event and she is the founder of the For Writers Only Who Want to Write without Fear of Rejection page on Facebook (which gives details of where to submit work etc and has proved useful to many writers including me).
So what would I like to achieve in 2018 then? My main focus will be to have my second book out. I would like to enter more competitions this year and I would like to start selling my non-fiction articles. I hope to go to more events and to hold more of my own. What would I really like in 2018? More time and a decent amount of stamina, please! Does Santa cover that kind of thing, I wonder?
And to finish… here are some recently published stories on Cafelit by yours truly. If you’re wondering about the “drinks”, Cafelit ask writers to assign a drink that you would find in most cafes to your story as they seek to promote their work in cafes and the like. Hope you enjoy these and do have a very happy Christmas and New Year.
The Guilty Secret
Drink: Hot chocolate with cream, flakes and marshmallows (to be drunk when all those who know you’re on a diet can’t see you!)
I stumbled through the woods.
Not sure what was following me.
I knew I had to dump the goods
No other eye should ever see.
Drink: Earl Grey Tea
I ran till I could run no more
I dropped to the thick forest floor.
The sounds behind me had now gone
But I knew it was a big con.
They weren’t fooling me anymore.
I guess it would’ve helped if I had
Chosen not to go to the bad,
But when a girl’s luck is so down
And she can nick a pretty crown
To not do so would just seem mad.
Who would miss that one little piece?
Not the king. Not even his niece
And she was the one who wore it!
No, I thought, I do need a bit
Of luck my way, the bad to cease.
I’d sell this lovely work of art
I knew I must make myself part
With it so I could try to use
The money to feed my own muse.
Well, all writers need a good start!
‘Can Jim do this? He stares into space.’
‘Have you shown him what to do?’
‘A million times, boss.’
‘Really? You know my powers mean I detect exaggerations a mile off?’
The elf bowed. ‘Sorry, Santa, but we’re rushed off our feet, we need workers but if Jim can’t…’
‘Perhaps he’s scared. You remember your first Christmas here?’
The elf blushed. ‘Breaking the tree baubles was an accident, sir.’
‘Quite. He didn’t mean to knock that wretched tree over. We must move it. See to it, then send Jim to me. It’s time for an encouraging word. You improved no end after you had yours!’
TIME TO BE OFF
Drink: Sparkling Water
‘We don’t usually leave the sheep, boss. You say it’s dangerous.’
‘Yes, lad, but this is different.’ The head shepherd gazed at the youngest herdsman.
‘The wolves and other predators are still out there, boss.’
‘Our visitors will make sure our animals are all right while we visit Bethlehem, lad.’
‘They didn’t say so, boss. They just talked and sang about “glory to God”.’
‘True, lad, but they know we need our sheep. Come on, let’s go. Are you nervous? Is that why you’re dilly dallying?’
The young herdsman gulped. ‘Be fair, boss, it’s not everyday you meet the Son of God.’
And, last but not least, I hope you all have a lovely Christmas.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.