An Interview with Allison Symes

It is always a joy to have flash fiction author Allison Symes to visit my blog. Today, she is going to chat about her writing journey and her new book, Tripping the Light Fantastic. Thank you for stopping by, Allison.

1 Please tell my readers a little about yourself?

Hello I’m Allison Symes, multi-published flash fiction/short story writer, blogger and editor.

I blog weekly for an online magazine, Chandler’s Ford Today, and often on topics of interest to writers. I sometimes interview authors too.

I’ve been one of the winners of the Waterloo Arts Festival writing competition three years in a row and am a regular at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, which is where I met Val.

Well, strictly speaking, I met Val at Derby Railway Station on my first visit to Swanwick. I emerged from the station looking lost and Val kindly took me under her wing. We’ve been good friends since!

2 What inspired you to become a writer/author?

I owe a huge debt to my late mother, who taught me to read before I went to school. I grew up in the 1970s and Mum was told off for doing this as apparently she taught me the “wrong way”! (I swear she’d get a medal for doing this now!).

Mum didn’t much care for that. Neither did I. I certainly haven’t felt the lack! I do know the love of stories and books has been with me for such a long time thanks to her and that did eventually lead me to write my own tales.

It took my reaching a milestone birthday and the birth of my son to make me realise if I was going to write, I ought to get on with it! And I did but my only regret with writing is not starting a lot sooner than I did. Hey hum…

3 What is the best thing about being a writer/author? Can you tell us something about flash fiction writing?

Getting to make up your own people, drop them in situations they must overcome, and invent wonderful ways for them to do precisely that. All good fun! Yes, it is playing God to an extent.

Flash fiction is any story not exceeding 1000 words. I prefer to write under 500 words. Think of a flash story as an intense look at THE most important moment in a character’s life. Flash is a challenging form but hugely enjoyable.

As there is no room for lots of description, the stories have to be character led. I’ve always enjoyed inventing people so have to do this all the time for flash and love doing it. And the great thing with character led fiction is you can put said characters wherever and whenever you want – and I do!

Despite the word count restriction, there is more flexibility than you might think with flash. Just focus on the characters. They really are the be all and end all. They are what the readers remember!

4 What is your writing routine like?

I mainly write in the evening. I start by blogging on my Facebook author and book pages, then go on to write or edit my Chandler’s Ford Today post for the week.

After that I am usually working on flash fiction or short stories for submission to markets and competitions. Right now with my new book, Tripping the Flash Fantastic, out, I am obviously doing a fair bit of marketing and will be for some time.

By the time this appears on site, I would have just had my cyberlaunch and I was very busy preparing for that. I learned a lot from my first cyberlaunch for From Light to Dark and Back Again.

The chief thing I learned was that it always pays to prep plenty of material. You may well use it all, and even if not, you can put interesting things you’ve prepared on your website etc., and that can be part of your longer term marketing focus in drawing people in to visit regularly.

I also have a couple of longer term projects on the go which are on the back burner for the moment but I hope to return to them later in the year.

I am also a freelance editor. I carry out some work for an indie publisher and am branching out as a freelancer too. So my writing routine also includes the work I do here. I do see editing as a creative art. It is, honest!

5 How much time is spent on research?

It depends. For my blogging, I do a reasonable amount for my posts unless they’re opinion pieces, which I do write sometimes, though so much does depend on the topic. Some need little research, others lots so it averages out.

For my guest author interviews, I send them a list of questions but I also look into their books and websites and I use that kind of research to frame questions to them. That can take some time. I like to ask plenty of questions which draw my guests out. No Yes/No answers for me!!

For my fiction, I did recently have to research what poisonous plants you might reasonably expect to find in a garden for a story I was entering for a competition – as you do!

Am I glad my internet history is not public knowledge? Oh yes! But then I feel for my colleagues writing crime here. Their internet history must be fascinating, as I’m sure you could testify to, Val!

6 How much of the book is planned out before you start writing it?

I like to have at least 50 stories in my books (Tripping the Flash Fantastic has 57!) and it is really a question of grouping my tales into suitable themes for the collection. I am not writing to a pre-set theme from my publisher (Chapeltown Books) so I have a great deal of freedom here, which is lovely.

 I know I am going to be writing plenty of flash fiction throughout the year and from that a collection will come. I have got the draft of a third collection down now though it will take a lot of polishing before I’m ready to submit that one. The planning comes when I am at this stage. What will work best in my latest collection, what theme do I want to stress etc.

7 What do you think is most important when writing a book? Characters, plot, setting, etc

It is always about the characters for me. They must hook my interest. You can have a terrific plot let down by weak characters.

A character that is a loud mouth is always going to land themselves right in it and that can make for wonderful humorous writing or tragic. The choice is yours! You can have a lot of fun working out what they do and what the consequences are.

You couldn’t do that in the same way with a reserved character. The problems they face are going to be different. So I think you’ve got to know “your people” before you can write their stories.

8 What is your latest book about?

For Tripping The Flash Fantastic,I take you back in time, into some truly criminal minds, into fantasy worlds, and show you how motherhood looks from the viewpoint of a dragon. I have had a lot of fun with form for this book too. For example, I’ve shared flash stories told in poetic form. I’ve also written historical flash fiction for the first time for Tripping the Flash Fantastic and that was great fun to do.

9 What inspired it?

I love reading fairytales, crime fiction, historical works (fact and fiction) and all that I read and love reading inspires the stories I write.

10 Why did you pick the genre or genres that you write in?

I didn’t start out as a flash fiction writer. I hadn’t even heard of it. I’d been writing stories (1500 words or so) for Cafelit for a while when I spotted their 100-word challenge.

My first thought here was you’ve got to be kidding me, there’s no way you can tell a complete story in such a small word count.

My second thought was hang on, Allison, they wouldn’t have issued the challenge if it really was impossible so give it a go, why don’t you? I did! I quickly became addicted to the form and have not looked back since.

What I love about flash is you can turn the whole mood of a story on one word and where you place it in the story. 

11 How did you go about getting a publishing deal? Or how did you become self-published?

Chapeltown Books are linked with Cafelit and they issued a call for single author collections. I collected the flash tales I’d written, added more material, and sent it in. To my great delight they accepted it and From Light to Dark and Back Again was published by Chapeltown in 2017. The follow-up book, Tripping the Flash Fantastic, is now out through them too,

12 Any new books or plans for the future?

Yes! I’ve got a third flash collection on the go as mentioned above. I would like to revamp a novel I wrote some time back and see what I can do with that. I’ve also got ideas for other works I’d like to follow through on. I have started work on these but for the moment these are going on the back burner. I hope to return to them later in the year/early in 2021 and see what I can do. I also wouldn’t rule out self-publishing and I do have one work in mind particularly for that.

I also hope to develop my editing career too of course.

For the first time this year, I’ve been on the radio a couple of times and would love to do more of that.

13 What authors have been an influence on your writing?

Jane Austen (for her irony). Terry Pratchett (for fantasy and wonderful humour). P.G.Wodehouse (for his humour and wonderful prose – it is such a joy to read). I’m also influenced by the classic fairytales and stories such as Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

14 What writing advice would you have given yourself when you started?

I shared these tips the last time you kindly hosted me, Val, but I do think they bear repeating.

My tips are:-

Be open to trying new forms of writing. You may well find something you love. That happened to me with flash fiction and blogging (for Chandler’s Ford Today).

Always edit on paper. You miss things on screen.

If something seems too good to be true, it is! Always check things out. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from the Society of Authors or the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Network with other authors. You’ll be glad of their support in the rough times. You’ll have people to celebrate with in the good times! And it is so much fun!

Accept you will be in for the long haul and that rejections happen to everyone. It is never personal.

Always write for the love of writing. That will help when all that seems to come in are those rejections!

Read, read, read across genres and include non-fiction. You do pick up how things work when reading what is already out there. DO include contemporary works as well as classic ones. Styles change over time.  Another advantage to networking is it does help with your contemporary reading. Why? Because when your writing pals bring books out, you will want to check them out! I like to think of that as a win-win for the writer and for me!

15 What writing advice would you give to an aspiring writer or a new author to the block?

See above but I can’t stress enough the importance of making writer friends and never being afraid to ask awkward questions. Always check things out.

16. Other information to share.

Tripping The Flash Fantastic is available at Amazon in Kindle and paperback – see http://mybook.to/TrippingFlashFantastic

And there’s my Author Central page at http://author.to/AllisonSymesAuthorCent

WHERE TO FIND ALLISON SYMES ONLINE

https://allisonsymescollectedworks.com/  – website

https://www.facebook.com/allison.symes.50 – Facebook author page

https://www.facebook.com/fairytaleladyallisonsymes – Facebook book page (where I share advice on flash fiction in particular)

https://www.linkedin.com/in/allison-symes-43922075/

http://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/author/allison-symes/ – I blog weekly for Chandler’s Ford Today, often on topics of interest to writers.

http://cafelitcreativecafe.blogspot.com/search/label/Allison%20Symes – My Cafelit page.

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