Guest’s Book Tour: Allison Symes

Welcome to my guest page. Here, every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation, over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, if they are not driving, with a friend about their work in progress, or latest book release. I’ll be talking to all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers.

How lovely to see you again, Allison. Please sit down. Oh, here comes our order. You arrived just at the right time. Let’s start by asking you when you first begun your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre?

I fell into flash fiction writing and blogging by accident, Paula. I’d been writing short stories (1500 words +) for Cafelit for a while when they issued a 100-word challenge. My first thought was you have got to be kidding me, how can anyone tell a proper story in that word count? My second thought was go on, see if you can do it. So I did and have not looked back. Flash fiction is addictive! I’ve always loved creating characters and flash has to be character led so it is an ideal format for me.

A writing friend told me about online magazine Chandler’s Ford Today and suggested I send in a piece. It was the first piece of non-fiction I’d written. The editor liked it, I sent in more pieces, and then set myself the target of whether I could write a weekly column. I could and I’ve found it is excellent for making me stick to deadlines. It also always means I have to produce some writing in a week!

What writing elements do you think are your strongest points, and what would you like to do better?

I love inventing characters. I can create a character and know how they will speak and think, what kind of language they would use, and what their weak points are. Weak points are interesting because other characters can exploit those. Also a character can go to a great deal of trouble in trying to cover those weak points up.

As for what I’d like to do better, I want to keep on improving on what I do for fiction and non-fiction. I can look back at pieces I wrote five years ago and understand why I wrote them the way I did back then but also can see how I’d do it now and again why. That’s fine. It shows I am making progress.

More importantly, it shows I am learning all the time about what works and what doesn’t in writing and I want to always be learning. I don’t think there is ever a point where you can afford to think “I’ve cracked this”. Writing is meant to keep you on your toes I think!

Tell us a little about latest writing project.  Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?

My latest writing project is coming soon, as they say! Tripping the Flash Fantastic, due out shortly,is my follow up flash fiction collection to From Light to Dark and Back Again. Both collections took longer than I anticipated to get together. In both cases, some of the stories appeared on Cafelit, others I wrote specifically for the books, and it took a good 18 months to ensure I had enough material to submit the collections to Chapeltown Books. I am working away at a third flash fiction collection but, as with the others, it will take a while to see the light of day!

This is why I like writing a weekly column for Chandler’s Ford Today. I know my stories take time to produce and get into a book but the column is something I do weekly, almost instantly appearing writing if you like.

I’m also working on a much longer term non-fiction project and am making good progress on a first draft of it. I suspect that will probably take me another six months to complete. Do I worry about that? No. Projects take time to develop and you have to allow that time.

How many unfinished projects do you have on your computer?

Currently two – the non-fiction project and my third flash collection – but this is a tricky question  to answer. Well done, Paula! Why? I’m always fleshing out ideas for future stories for Cafelit, researching possible topics for CFT, drafting competition entries etc., so at any one time I will have something in draft, something “out there”, and something I’m editing. You could argue I have more than two unfinished projects on the go! Finished is finished either when something has been published or I’ve accepted I can’t do any more with the piece and it’s time to move on. Glad to say the latter doesn’t happen often but it does and you get better at accepting it. I have found some of the ideas I might come back to in a different way later on so nothing is wasted if you take the long term view.

Do you write a synopsis first or write the first chapter? (If you only write short stories, or play do you plan your story, or let the characters lead you.)

I outline my characters. I have to know what their major traits are, what their biggest failing is etc. The latter is interesting as I then look at why the character has that failing. That usually tells me a great deal about them and enough to get on and draft their story.

Choosing only five of your favourite authors, can you list them in order 1 begin the top of your list and say how have they influenced your writing?

1. Terry Pratchett – for showing humorous fantasy IS a thing and a wonderful one at that.

2. P.G. Wodehouse – for showing that humorous prose, when done well, is sublime. Also it is clear the funny situations he created for his characters were not funny to the characters themselves. That’s important. It means his characters react to the situations as “real people” would.

3. Jane Austen – for introducing me to irony in fiction. Fell in love with that at once and am still in love with it.

4.  J.R.R. Tolkein – for the sheer scope of The Lord of the Rings which for me is the ultimate evil -v- good story.

5.  C.S. Lewis – for his Chronicles of Narnia series. Wonderfully written and entertaining. The killing of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe scared me when I was a kid (and the film adaptation did the same). Lewis brought the dark into a story and called it out for what it was or so it has always seemed to me.

When reading your work through do you ever find that your daily mood swings are reflected in your writing?

Not really. I’ve often written humorous pieces when I’ve had a rotten day! The writing of those pieces does much to lift my spirits. Sometimes I’ve written sad stories when I’ve had a really good day. I always stay true to my characters. If their mood in the story is black, then that is what I write.

Were any of your characters inspired by real people?

Hmm…! Directly no but I do base my characters on people types that most of us will have come across at some point. Even my fantasy characters will have traits readers will love or loathe but the important thing is they will understand where those characters are coming from.

What did you learn when writing your book (story, play)? In writing it, how much research did you do?

I do more research for non-fiction, especially my Chandler’s Ford Today posts. How  much does depend on the topic I’m writing about. Sometimes I write opinion pieces so no research needed there! Having said that, I did have to check out poisonous flowers you might find in a garden for a story I recently wrote for a competition – as you do!

Is there anything about you your readers might be surprised to find out?

I sometimes write what I call “light” horror. It is about as dark as I go with my writing. Given a lot of my material is on the lighter, more humorous side, that might be a surprise.

Did you uncover things about yourself while writing your books (or stories, play) whether that be a long forgotten memory, a positive experience etc.

In my new book, Tripping The Flash Fantastic, one of the stories is about as personal a story as I think I’ll ever write and it was based entirely on memory. The Pink Rose was a tale I felt I had to write and so I did but it is different from what I usually do. I also think it’ll be a one-off. And, yes, the story brought back memories and emotions but the type of tale it is meant that was unavoidable. I did have to stop for a while after I’d got the first draft down and again after the editing. What I hope is if it moved me, it will move others.

The Wonderful Allison Symes

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

My main writing session is in the late afternoon/evening. I start by posting on my Facebook pages. The work then varies from writing/editing/scheduling my Chandler’s Ford Today post for the week to writing some flash fiction or short stories (to be submitted for competition or for Cafelit/Bridge House Publishing), and some work on my longer projects.

What work I do each night depends on what day of the week it is. For example, on a Friday, my CFT post appears so I will focus on spreading the word about that and updating my blog on my website and sharing that. On a Saturday, I will focus on drafting blog posts for future use and fiction writing. The rest of the week flies by in a haze of working on longer term projects, my CFT post for the following week, the next competition, the next Cafelit submission etc.

When writing stories for a competition, I always take 10 days off the official deadline and submit by that date. It ensures I never miss a deadline and gives me time to do all the editing I need to do. It also means I can plan out when I am going to have my story written by and when the editing must be done by. I love having a varied writing workload. It’s fun and keeps me on my toes. I never get bored!

Do you set yourself a daily word count?

No. I know what I want to achieve by the end of each day and go for that. For example, I start writing my next CFT post over the weekend. I will have that written, edited, and scheduled usually by the Tuesday. I then check it one more time, often on the Thursday night ahead of its appearance on a Friday. I ask myself at the end of each writing session if I’ve achieved what I want to or have made progress so I will complete a task by the day I’ve set myself as a target.

How many hours in a day do you write?

It varies. On a very busy day it can be as little as an hour. But most days it is 3 to 4 spread into two sessions, the main one in the evening is usually the longer one.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

No. I wouldn’t rule it out if I write in a different genre though. I can understand why a writer might want to then.

How do you select the names of your characters? & do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?

Fab question, Paula. I outline my characters so I work out what their major traits are (good and bad) and often the names will come about as a result of what I discover here. Sometimes I know I’ll be writing about an older character so will pick a name suitable for that generation. When writing fairytales/fantasy, I make the names up but I ensure they are easily pronounceable for a reader. No Mffllbbbxxx the Second of the Planet Zarggoracious here! I do make sure if I have more than one character in a story (I don’t always for flash fiction) that their names start with different letters.  I don’t know everything about a character to start with but I do know what drives them and why.

What was your hardest flash fiction story to write?

Probably The Pink Rose which will be out in Tripping the Flash Fantastic. I don’t usually write “emotional” stories and think this will be the nearest I get to that. This story is also a tribute to someone special.

How long on average does it take you to write a book (story or play)?

Difficult to work this one out as it takes a while to build enough material for a collection. I would say a year to 18 months in getting the material together and editing it ready for submission.

Paula, many thanks for such wonderful questions and for having me as your guest.

You’re very welcome, Allison. You’re welcome back anytime.

You can find Allison at these links:


Chandlersford Today:


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