My speaking at Swanwick 2019 was taken by Penny Blackburn.
Many thanks to Lynn Clement for supplying her author photo and book cover pic.
Other images created in Book Brush using Pixabay images or were direct from Pixabay.
Book cover pics from Chapeltown Books.
This is a lovely post to write as it is a Local Author News one for debut flash fiction author, Lynn Clement, and me. Why? Because I’ve recently had the joy of editing Lynn’s first flash fiction collection, The City of Stories, which is published through Chapeltown Books. And Lynn is from Hampshire. Definitely local enough!
How did Lynn find out about Chapeltown Books and CafeLit? Quite right – through yours truly.
Introducing Lynn Clement
I met Lynn when I was a guest speaker at the Hampshire Writers’ Society. I discussed how I found my way into flash fiction by writing standard length short stories for CafeLit, who then issued the 100-word challenge which drew me in to the format. That in turn led to my first flash fiction collection, From Light to Dark and Back Again, being published by Chapeltown Books (and in 2020 Tripping the Flash Fantastic coming out with them too).
As well as giving my talk, I chatted with many of the attendees before and after the talk. One of them was Lynn.
Wind the clock forward a bit. Lynn has stories published on CafeLit. She submits a single author collection to Chapeltown Books as a result, she knows other authors have gone this route (yes, me), and is thrilled to be offered a contract. She is then told who her editor will be – one Allison Symes. Cue a lot of “small world syndrome” (and not just on Lynn’s part I should add!)
Naturally I was thrilled to be offered the chance to edit Lynn but equally delighted the word about flash fiction is spreading and another author has discovered the joy of the form.
I learned a long time ago every writer has their unique voice. I cannot write as Lynn does. Only Lynn can do that. Likewise Lynn can’t write as me. Only I can do that. Every writer I know has a sense of wanting to “give back” in some way for the joy stories have given them over the years. All of us can contribute to the “story pool” in some way (and non-fiction writers can do likewise with books, articles etc).
Over this two-part interview, I’ll chat to Lynn about how she found writing flash fiction, the process of putting a book together for submission, how she felt on acceptance, and how she found the editing process. I’ll also look at why it is not a good idea to use song lyrics in your fiction, which came up as The City of Stories was coming together. This week Lynn and I will focus on the creative side of producing a book and the joys of flash fiction.
1. It was a joy to meet you at the HWS, Lynn. Had you given any thought to writing flash fiction before then? Having discovered flash fiction, what has been its appeal? How have you found writing it? What is your favourite aspect? Do you have a preferred word count limit? (Mine is anything under 500 words).
Allison, thank you. I am so glad I went to that Hampshire Writers’ meeting and heard you speak. I think you were teamed up with a person presenting on ‘video game writing’, which I was not interested in but I saw you were speaking about flash fiction so went along. I had already been writing flash fiction in response to writing group tasks and college assignments. (I have attended a Peter Symonds creative writing class on and off for years.)
I had also been submitting to Hampshire Writers’ competitions and been doing well, which was spurring me on. I enjoy writing flash fiction as it is such a challenge. To get a story arc, conflict and resolution, develop characters, maybe a setting and leave readers wanting more in under 500 words is a tough ask.
I also have a mind that flits. I’m not sure I could sustain a novel. I like change. I also have plenty of ideas and a vivid imagination which works well with flash fiction. I like to write to a theme or given title, so Hampshire Writers’ competitions were good for me. I enjoy putting a twist in my stories where I can. Some of my stories are futuristic. I relish working sci-fi aspects into my stories. Other stories are character based and come from observations of people.
Pre-pandemic, I was becoming adept at the 300-word shorts. Sometimes I would pare down a longer story, say 800 words to 300. A good exercise I find. I probably prefer 500, as there is a little more scope for character development.
2. Now I know you are part of Basingstoke Writers. How did you find out about them? What do you find invaluable about belonging to a writing group? What is your favourite writing exercise? Which is the one you secretly dread? (We all have those – mine is where the middle line has been set for you. Difficult to do!). Also has your group put together an anthology? If so, please tell CFT readers about it.
I love my writing groups.I have been a member of Writers’ Inc for years. We are a group that initially met in the local library. Some of us were on a course run by Angela Street (a writer from Salisbury). I was invited to join the newly formed group from there. We’ve met on Zoom during the pandemic but hope to meet in person soon. Its not the same as meeting face to face. We share our writing pre-meeting and then constructively critique each other’s work.
We’re ‘firm but fair.’ Some members of the group are brilliant at punctuation conventions and grammar, (which I need as I’m not!). Others are good at plot, characterisation, settings etc. My contribution tends to be the creative element of ideas and themes. It is the sharing of this expertise and trust in their honesty that is the most valuable.
I also belong to the Basingstoke U3A writing group, newly formed, and which is beginning to take off.
My favourite writing exercise is ‘writing cricket.’ As part of sustained writing for five minutes, the lead says an opening sentence and we all write to it, then drops in another sentence after say one minute and another and another etc. The skill is to keep writing and hopefully work all the sentences into the writing and make it make sense.
Allison: Sounds fun!
I’m not sure which exercise I find most difficult, but know I don’t like Haiku poetry. My group, Writers’ Inc, have begun to build their own website. A lot of the IT work falls to one member which is tricky, but we’ve all contributed. If it were to properly take off it would show-case the group.
Our U3A group did produce an anthology this year. We are a small group, but we all contributed a few pieces of writing we like, or that have won local competitions (several members have achieved this.) One of our group formatted and produced it. It was on display at the meet and greet for new U3A members this September.
3. When did you decide to submit a collection to Chapeltown Books and how did you feel on hearing it had been accepted? Do you have other work published – online or in print? Have you ever won or been listed for a story competition? Does having your own book out now give you more confidence to try things like this?
After I heard Allison talk about CafeLit, I thought I would give it a go. Easy submission guidelines, free and simple to follow. I had my first piece accepted and was delighted. I submitted several others which were also accepted. I began to research Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing and found Gill James (publisher) was teaching Creative Writing in Salford (then). I thought this was just as serendipitous as meeting Allison, as I too am from Salford! I attended a course run by Gill and Debs and that gave me the confidence to get a collection together to submit to Chapeltown Books.
I received a favourable response and then just had to wait until my submission got to the top of the pile. Gill, after some time, then contacted me and offered me a contract, which was fantastic. It came not long after the pandemic hit, and it was an uplifting piece of news. I couldn’t believe it really. It was then the hard work started.
CafeLit has been my main platform for publication, as has been the Hampshire Writers’ website. I have had pieces in the Midhants Observer, via Peter Symonds College. I have had a story published in Aftermath, which is a creative responses to the pandemic, edited by Gill James.
As mentioned, I have won or been placed in Hampshire Writers’ competitions and won or been placed in the Basingstoke Music and Arts Festival competitions for a few years. I have not entered any ‘big’ competitions but now I might, (she says nervously biting her nails!)
4. What was the most difficult aspect of putting together a book for submission? I found arranging my stories in a sensible order took longer than I anticipated.
Choosing the stories was tricky. What stories were suitable? Can I throw some poetry in there? Shall I add some short stories to the flash fiction? I decided I should, and then the order of the stories became easier. I enjoyed this aspect of the compilation, which started at 15000 words and ended up around 17000 words.
5. One of the great joys of writing for Chapeltown Books is you do have some input over book cover design. In the middle of their standard frame there must go a picture which a writer can choose from Pixabay (because most images there are free to use, including for commercial purposes). I loved choosing my picture for both of my books. How long did it take you to find a suitable image, Lynn? Your cover is stunning.
I was guided in choosing my picture by Allison. Using Pixabay was easy. I knew what I wanted. As my book was to be called The City of Stories, (one of the stories in the book) again advised by Allison, I wanted the picture to reflect that. But I also wanted the concept of what happens behind closed doors to be evident too, as referenced in all the other stories.
The woman sitting on a wall looking over a city was ideal, as those things are referenced in the title story. I also liked the photo because it is wistful and does she/doesn’t she comes to mind. Martin James has done a great job with the cover. I love the purple background which goes so well with the blues in the central photo. The surround also looks like a door. The idea of putting the tag line – What happens behind closed doors? – on the front cover is fantastic.
6. Are you planning to have a book launch? If so, please share details. Lynn, if not, can I suggest you share here a little about how you plan to market your book and aspects of that you are looking forward to and/or dreading.
I decided against having a book launch as a matter of confidence really. I do however have several avenues open where I can market my book. I have carried out presentations to both of my groups, where of course they dutifully bought my book (thanks guys). I am carrying out three presentations to Peter Symonds College.
I have a table booked at the Hampshire Writers’ Book Fair and I am attending Gill James’ annual event in London in December, where I will be reading some pieces from the book, and hopefully selling some copies.
Allison: Good – will see you there then, Lynn!
I am waiting on a date to speak to a local writers’ group in the Basingstoke Library and I am investigating running a writers’ workshop, with an addition of ‘take the book home with you’ aspect.
I have been interviewed on Gill James’ blog and have got five more page likes on my Facebook page.
I am now being interviewed by Allison!
I have some contacts through authors who have kept in touch with me, after judging my stories winners, at The Hampshire Writers’ Society meetings. They have kindly said they will endorse the book for me!
I think breaking things down into smaller chunks than a book launch will be easier for my confidence.
Allison: It’s not a bad way to get into things here, Lynn. No author can do all the marketing at once in any case and it is a question of building up what you do marketing wise and being consistent with it after that.
7. What aspect of writing do you love? Which aspect do you loathe?
I mostly enjoy letting my imagination run wild. I like writing to a title and putting a secret spin on things. I like to leave little clues before a twist reveal. Even if readers don’t get them beforehand, they can then look back and think ah, I see! I don’t like editing. I’m not good at it. I struggle with noticing improper punctuation in my own writing. I do like it when an editor or writing friend makes suggestions, though I may not always follow them!
8. How did you discover a love of creative writing? What would you like to achieve with your writing? Do you write longer works or is the short form of writing the one to draw you? (I have written longer works but find myself increasingly at home at 500 words or under).
I fell into writing after I retired from work, although I always enjoyed writing at school and wanted to be a journalist, which never happened. I saw a course at my local tech college in Basingstoke and went along and soon fell in love with it, but the course folded! I was dismayed. I searched and then found a course at Peter Symonds in Winchester. The tutor, Nicky Morris, was an inspiration. Many of my stories have been inspired by her lessons.
I am enjoying selling the book. It is giving me a challenge in how to get the book ‘out there.’ So many people have been kind. I am wondering if this might lead me into running my own creative writing workshop? And I must admit I love the feedback I am receiving on the book. Here is a quote from Claire Dyer, author and poet. She judged one of the book’s stories, Special Knight, winner at a Hampshire Writers’ Society meeting. I sent her the book and she really enjoyed it.
“’The City of Stories’ is a kaleidoscope of the things of life, both the everyday and the surreal. Clement has a real talent for flash fiction which wrongfoots and surprises and is both thought provoking and entertaining. This is a rich, varied collection from a consummate storyteller.’”
I am trying to compile another collection Gill James has shown an interest in. One with longer stories and 50,000 words! Interestingly, I am enjoying lengthening some of my flash fiction, but I am happy to stop at around the 2500 mark. Although one story has taken 6000! It’s a murder mystery, working title, Slaughter in the Slaughters! I quite like it but its currently ‘in the drawer’ until I revisit it.
Many thanks for a wonderful look into the creative process as you prepared The City of Stories, Lynn. Next week, we’ll discuss the editing process as there is so much any writer can learn from this, including from how other writers approached this. And we’ll look at why keeping song lyrics out of fiction is a great idea¬
Lynn Clement – Social Media and Other Links
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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