Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit it is via membership or an invite to the tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation with all sorts of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers. Over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, I shall be chatting with my guest about their work in progress, or latest book release.
Cafelit is an online magazine which posts a new story every day. To find out more click here CafeLit books are published by Chapel Town Books to find out more about the publisher click here. Today in the tearoom, I’m chatting to Cafelit writer, Allison Symes about her entries in The Best of CafeLit 10.
Welcome to the tearoom, Allison. Please tell us something about your stories in Cafelit 10
Thank you for the invite, Paula. I was thrilled to have two stories voted in for CafeLit 10 – Breaking Out and Taking Time Out From The Day Job. Many thanks to all who voted.
What made you write the story you decided to submit to Cafelit? Was it as seasonal call-out .i.e. Christmas, summer holidays, autumn, Halloween etc or just something you needed to get off your chest?
Definitely not a seasonal call out for Breaking Out.This was inspired by, sadly, knowing more than I’d like to about dementia (having lost family members to it) and the fact I was that kid growing up in the 1970s and who my main character is based on.
For Taking Time Out of the Day Job, again not a seasonal call out. I just loved the idea of the Tooth Fairy, who should know all there is to know about healthy eating (to help the teeth), having a secret vice.
Did you use a writing prompt for your story?
I use writing prompts a lot but ironically didn’t use any for these two!
Did you write an outline first, or follow where the characters led you?
I’m a great fan of the outline but I outline the character I want to write about rather than the story. I am convinced without a character that grips the reader, you have no story so it makes sense to me to outline the character so I know them well enough to write them up. (The story then usually comes from that).
For flash pieces the outline isn’t long. I usually ask myself a few questions about the character and, with those answered, get on with the story. Sometimes I use a spider diagram to work out possibilities from my character and then go with the one I like best. That is always the one I think has the strongest possibilities of drawing in readers. How to tell? I am thinking of the impact the story is likely to have on someone else reading it so if I think there is potential for a strong impact, I go with that.
I don’t outline to the “nth” degree. I just need enough to get me started and I have a rough idea of the ending. Between those two points, the characters can and do lead me, but because I have already got to know them, where they lead me makes sense. I know it’s the sort of thing they could do. On the odd occasion where I’ve been wildly off beam, I look again at my character outline. It nearly always means I didn’t know my character as well as I thought I did. I’ve only abandoned a couple of stories in my time and it was due to that. I boxed myself in with these and that was my fault. Lesson learned!
How do you create your characters? Do you start with a name first?
I don’t always name a character. I don’t in either Breaking Out or Taking Time Out of the Day Job. I do use the first person a lot as I can take you right into the character’s head and you can see things through their “I” (pun intended!). I need to work out a character’s major trait.
For Breaking Out, I knew I had a character who came across their old PE teacher where they were the one in charge so I had to think about what situation could lead to this. I do use the “what if” question a lot as I put a story together. Here it was a case of what if my character faced this situation and how would they handle it. What would their attitude be?
For Taking Time Out I knew the fairy had a secret vice. This was a story where I did know the ending first and then worked backwards to get to a logical starting point. For this story, I needed a quirky character and I just loved the idea of someone hooked on something who should not be. Here I knew the story and therefore the kind of character to “service” that story.
Was your story told in your normal genre or did you try something different?
Yes as I use a lot of first person narrative in my flash fiction and often write about quirky magical beings. I like to see those as fairytales with bite. Breaking Out is a character study dealing mainly with my narrator but it also shows a lot about his former PE teacher. I have written character studies before and feel these work best when kept short which is why I think flash is a great vehicle for them.
Humorous fantasy, which is what Taking Time Out From The Day Job is, I’d say is one of my great loves, for reading and writing. It is always a huge pleasure to write stories like this and I hope I make people smile with them.
What do you enjoy most about being part of the Cafelit community?
I love the mixture of story genres and lengths and that you never know what you’re going to get for the next day’s post. It is also lovely coming across familiar names (including you, Paula!) and discovering stories from authors new to me. (That is how you expand your reading list and make new writing friends!).
I also like the idea of “giving something back” via CafeLit in that we are sharing examples of our work. It is a great way in to being published and learning to network with other CafeLit writers.
How long have you been writing and what got you started?
I’ve been writing for over 20 years but didn’t seek publication for about the first five years or so. Then it took me another five years to improve enough to get to publication standard with short stories. From there I discovered the CafeLit 100 word challenge and became a flash fiction writer too, with two flash collections to my name (From Light to Dark and Back Again and Tripping The Flash Fantastic, both with Chapeltown Books).
I have always loved stories and books and have my late mum to thank for encouraging that love so early. I loved inventing stories when we were set that as work to do in English but I didn’t seriously write until I hit a major birthday and, later that same year, gave birth to my son. It took two major life events to wake me up to the fact if I wanted to write, I ought to get on with it then!
What’s the one thing you would give up to become a better writer?
Housework, Paula, so I had even more time to write and read, but I guess that’s no sacrifice! If I had to choose something I would normally loathe to give up, it would have to be, with great reluctance, Green and Blacks chocolate, especially the mini bars, but that would be tough, I admit. I’d want to sneak the chocolate in and still be a better writer! I would end up asking my family to sneak me in furtive supplies for my birthday etc.
Thank you so much for taking time out from your housework to join us, Allison. 😉 To find out more about Allison and her work click on the links below:
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