I’m delighted to welcome back a good friend of mine, Dawn Knox, to Chandler’s Ford Today. Dawn and I are both published by Cafelit and Bridge House Publishing. Both of us are flash fiction and short story writers but Dawn is also a playwright and has recently released her second hilarious set of “chronicles” stories called The Macaroon Chronicles. This is the follow up to her debut set of chronicles called The Basilwade Chronicles. If you like a good, funny read, do check these out.
And back to where we left off from last time and I’ll ask the one question I was bound to ask a fellow flash fiction writer.
What drew you into flash fiction writing and what led you to writing The Great War?
I can’t remember where I first saw the call for submissions for CafeLit but once I realised there was such a thing as flash fiction and more intriguing to me, stories written in exactly one hundred words (drabbles), I wanted to write something and have it accepted. My first few stories published by Gill James for CafeLit were all drabbles.
I became involved in a World War One commemoration project in 2014 and I was asked to write a play. With all the newly acquired research filling my thoughts, I decided to write a WWI drabble. I intended to print it out as a poster for the people who’d invited me to become involved in the project but I had so many ideas, I kept writing and decided to pick the best.
When I’d got to about fifty, I wondered if I could possibly write one hundred, and whether it might be worth compiling into a book although I didn’t believe I would be able to achieve that. To my amazement, I eventually wrote one hundred and in fact have written more since. But the first one hundred went into my book The Great War – 100 Stories of 100 Words Honouring Those Who Lived And Died 100 Years Ago.
I always think to myself that is the book which has my heart and soul inside it.
What would you like to achieve with your writing?
Two things, I suppose. Firstly, I’d like to entertain people and conjure up a world which takes them out of the humdrum. If I put a smile on someone’s face or make them forget real life for a while, I’d be happy. But also, I’d like to make people think. There are some serious points in my Great War book and I’d like people to consider those, such as the pitfalls of making distinctions between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ and the strife that generally follows that kind of mentality.
Can you tell us something about your link with your local radio station – how it came about, what it feels like to hear your stories being read by someone else?
My friend and fellow author, Sylvia Kent introduced me to Jacqui James, the chairman of Basildon Hospital Radio (BHR 87.7FM), and I was invited on to several shows to talk about my books. Jacqui subsequently presented a show on Wednesday afternoon on Basildon’s Community Radio Station, Gateway 97.8FM and she set up a slot for the Basildon Writers’ Group, of which I am a member.
When I launched The Basilwade Chronicles, she said she knew of someone who was interested in narrating stories and introduced me to John Guest. It was agreed that John would read a story from Basilwade each Wednesday live on Jacqui’s show, and he did such an excellent job that he eventually recorded the whole book and is the narrator for the Basilwade audio book.
He will once again read a story each week from The Macaroon Chronicles starting in November. Initially, I think John was anxious the characters might not sound like I’d expected but in fact, I had no preconceptions of their voices at all, although I could ‘see’ them clearly in my head and could ‘hear’ their conversations.
However, after I’d listened to the recordings for a while, John’s versions of their voices actually became the characters voices. Now, I’m writing a short Christmas story involving some of the Basilwade characters and I ‘hear’ them in John’s voices!
The Basildon Writers’ Group has a wonderful relationship with Jacqui and BHR and Gateway and I’m very excited because recently, we’ve published a book entitled It Happened in Essex which is raising much needed funds for BHR.
What are you currently working on?
Well, this is top secret, so keep this to yourself (Allison: we will!) but I have in mind a third book in what I’ve come to call The Chronicles Chronicles!
The first story for what I’d like to be called The Crispin Chronicles started in the same way as the first one for Basilwade and Macaroon in that it was written for my writers’ group.
The first Crispin story came about as a result of a writing prompt which involved a list of disparate items, such as a wheel barrow, a sombrero, flip flops etc. and we had to include a certain number of those items in the story. I’m currently revamping the entire manuscript and tidying it up. Other than that, my lips are sealed!
2020 has been a strange year for everyone yet the use of technology, especially Zoom has helped by making online events a possibility. How have you adapted to this? What have you found the most useful thing here?
I’m lucky in that I don’t mind being alone and not going out and also that I have my own office in the attic. This means that I haven’t been too disturbed by lockdown or the restraints. I’m reasonably comfortable with technology, having been an IT technician before I retired, so Zoom didn’t frighten me at all. Although I must admit, I’m not keen on staring at myself on screen during a video call!
I think one of the best things about the current conditions is that many people have reached out and made an effort to contact those they may not have seen for some time. Another good thing is that new opportunities have arisen.
For example, I’ve been emailing a writer in Hawaii for many years and when he chose The Basilwade Chronicles as his pick for the book club he belongs to, he had the idea that since all the members were meeting online on Zoom because of lockdown, I could be invited too. So, I met them all! And as a result, I was invited to join them! So now, despite living in the UK, I belong to a book club in Hawaii! That wouldn’t have happened pre-pandemic!
And, through that, I’ve made another Hawaiian friend and was invited to submit a short, fractured fairy tale to his writers’ group anthology which is on sale to raise money for their library in Oahu. Consequently, I will have two short stories published in a Hawaiian, Fractured Fairy Tale Anthology later this year, entitled Kissing Frogs and Other Fractured Fairy Tales!
Toughie but I am going to ask it anyway! Name a favourite character created by (a) yourself and (b) someone else and why are these your favourites?
Oh, goodness, yes, that is hard! It’s like a teacher trying to pick one pupil for a treat. Every hand in the class will go up and each child will be saying, “Me! Me!”. In my head, that’s what all the characters I’ve written are doing now!
However, if I have to choose one, I think I’m going to choose a character in my book Extraordinary, published by Bridge House Publishing, in the story The Four Riders of the
The character is a naïve angel called Fritz on whom one of the more senior angels plays a practical joke. Poor Fritz is oblivious to the trick and he displays enormous ingenuity trying to carry out his impossible orders!
I liked his innocence and his tenacity! Terry Pratchett’s Rincewind who appears in several of the Discworld novels is a failed student at the Unseen University for wizards in Ankh-Morpork and I love him too! I think I must have a lot of sympathy for under dogs!
Do you have a writing routine as such? I mainly write in the evenings and find a routine useful for helping me to get things done but not every writer does.
No, not really. I try to get to my computer as often as I can during the day and I like writing first thing in the morning. But in the evening, I am also usually to be found typing! I just can’t stop! I don’t set particular hours like one would do for a job but when I’m writing, I work for half an hour and then take a break or my eyes get really tired. Well, that’s the plan but I often find I’m so engrossed, I turn my alarm off and carry on typing, only to realise that an hour has passed – or even longer!
What has been the most fulfilling aspect of your writing career to date?
Definitely, it was writing the two WWI plays for the WWI commemoration, Forget Never Project. I’d never written a play before and had only ever produced some short sketches which were performed in a church I used to attend. However, the churchwarden, who was also a member of the Forget Never Project must have enjoyed the sketches, as he asked me if I’d write a play about the beginning of the war. I had no idea when he asked me, how much work it would involve, nor how many wonderful people I’d meet nor the places I’d go to watch it performed!
The project incorporated the Town Twinning Association and the twin towns in Germany and France where the play was subsequently performed. After that, I was asked to write another play for the project about the end of the war. I called it The Other Side of Peace and it considered the world the soldiers returned to as well as exploring their state of mind.
All the performances involved DOT Productions, directed by actor, Andie Lindfield, who, despite being a professional dealing with me – a complete novice – was so enthusiastic, encouraging and absolutely unflappable! The first time I was called up on to the stage and presented with a bouquet at the end of a performance, was amazing and one of the most surprising evenings of my life! An absolute highlight.
Where can people find your work online?
I have lots of stories on the CafeLit site here and all my books and stories in anthologies can be found on my Amazon Author page. If you’d like to know a bit more about my books, you can find out here on my blog.
How do you balance writing and marketing? What tips have you found most useful here? (Always a timeless topic this one!).
Yes, that is a tricky one! I’m not sure I get the balance right as I find marketing rather uncomfortable. I try to be entertaining and hope people appreciate that and consider taking a chance on one of my books. But I tend to switch off when people repeatedly ask me to buy something, so I assume other people do too. That may result in me being a bit too subtle at times! Oh well, it seems to be a balancing act! But, sadly, not one that I’ve mastered.
You’ve written plays as well, Dawn. What did you find most challenging about that?
Well, as I said in a previous answer, I wasn’t very experienced in writing plays, so the first thing I had to learn was actually how to set out a script!
The first play was about three real men – one from each of the twin towns and I was sent their biographies but I had to carry out a lot of research about World War One. Obviously, I knew the basic facts but I’d deliberately never delved into details because I found it too upsetting to learn about the conditions and the suffering. However, I had to immerse myself so I could get an idea of how the men might have felt. It was quite an experience.
There were two other problems in that the three men were unlikely to have ever met, so it was going to be difficult for me to write dialogue if the men never actually talked to each other! I got around this in the first scene by having them all on the stage, with the spotlight on each in turn. Each man talked about his thoughts about going off to war the following day, to a reporter.
That actually sorted out my other problem which was that the audience was going to consist of British, French and Germans and to begin with, I couldn’t imagine how I was going to please everyone. Each nationality would surely have preconceptions and I wanted to avoid triumphalism and finger-pointing.
However, when I tried to put myself into the minds of the three men as they prepared to leave their homes, I was astounded to find that in all likelihood, they were having the same thoughts – excitement, apprehension, sadness for their families and the realisation they were putting their plans for their future on hold. It was quite a revelation and for the first time, I saw the similarities between the ordinary men rather than the differences.
Yes, they might have been born in different parts of the world, speak different languages and wear a different uniform but beneath that, they were all human – and all believed they were fighting ultimately, to protect their families. So, in the play, I concentrated on the similarities and I think that may be the reason it was so well-received in all three countries.
Allison: Dawn, many thanks for joining us at Chandler’s Ford Today and for a fascinating two-part interview. I hope it is not too long before we can meet up at Bridge House events again. I think that kind of writer event is the thing most authors have missed the most this year.
But if 2020 has proven anything, it has proven books and stories are as important as writers have always said they are. And stories come in all sorts of formats from plays to flash fiction to epic sagas.
Whatever you write and read or watch or listen to, enjoy the stories!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
Never miss out on another blog post. Subscribe here:
Subscribe to Blog via Email