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An Interview with Allison Symes

(Image provided by Allison Symes)

Allison Symes is a published flash fiction and short story writer, as well as a blogger. She is also an editor. Her fiction work has appeared in anthologies from CafeLit and Bridge House Publishing.

Allison blogs for Chandler’s Ford Today, an online magazine, every Friday and usually writes on topics of interest to writers.

Three facts about Allison, in her own words, are as follows: "I rescue border collies (okay, not every single one!), I didn’t learn to drive until I was well into my thirties, and discovered the form of writing I’m best known for - flash fiction - by accident!"

1. When did you first start writing?

I started writing when I turned 30. I do wish I’d started a lot sooner. (This is where I envy you for doing so, Francesca! It takes you longer than you think to find your writing voice, learn your craft, come to terms with rejections being par for the course and then start getting acceptances. So the sooner you start the better!).

2. Why do you write? What drives you to do it?

I’ve loved writing stories since I was at school. I used to have composition in English lessons and I never understood why my classmates groaned. I always thought inventing your own stories on whatever topic you liked was great fun. Now that really should have told me the writing life beckoned but it took me many years later to wake up to this!

I just love the whole process of inventing people, coming up with problems for them to resolve and so on. I even enjoy editing and polishing and re-editing the stories later. I guess I do just have to write. It is a kind of compulsion (and the same goes for my blogging).

There is also a kind of “I’ve been published here once, can I do it again, and again, and again?” going on with me. I am always trying to improve on what I do and to find new markets as well as continuing to submit work to those markets I already know well and who like what I do.

I also like to find out what kind of character I’m going to come up with next. I love the whole challenge of writing and continuing to write. I also think everyone has some kind of artistic skill in them. It’s a question of finding your one. In my case, I’ve always loved playing with words so writing it is then!

3. What inspired your decision to write short stories and flash fiction? Why not novels?

I think I’ll surprise you here, Francesca. I did start my writing life with a couple of novels. One of them was longlisted in a Debut Novel Competition (coming in at number 13 out of 77 entries, which I was very pleased about). I am hoping to revisit this novel, possibly later this year after two projects I’ve currently got on the go, because I know, thanks to learning to edit due to flash fiction writing, I can sharpen this book and that will increase its chances “out there”.

I developed a career in short story and flash fiction writing because I did want to be able to

write the short form as well and it took me a while to find my feet here. Short story writing is an art form in and of itself and you do have to learn skills for it. That took me a while to do but I then started getting acceptances from Bridge House Publishing and CafeLit (online and in print) so that told me I was on the right lines.

CafeLit then issued their flash fiction 100-word challenge and I couldn’t resist having a go and finding out for myself whether it was possible to tell a true story in such a low word count. Yes, it is! And the form is addictive. And, of course, it is where I have two books published with Chapeltown Books - From Light to Dark and Back Again and the recent Tripping The Flash Fantastic.

I hadn’t even heard of flash fiction when I started writing seriously so to end up with two books to my name in that form was not something I anticipated. It was a lovely thing to happen though and I adore the sharpness of flash and the way it makes you focus. That is where the addictive nature of it comes in I suspect!

(Image provided by Allison Symes)

4. What are the main differences between your nonfiction and fiction writing processes?

For my non-fiction writing, I research more. This can be anything from looking up websites and following a topic through to referring to my reference books to interviewing other authors. (For the latter, I ensure I know something of who they are and what they write so I can tailor my questions appropriately).

So all of that takes time and I factor that into my writing schedule. I base my writing week around my weekly Chandler’s Ford Today column on a Friday. I usually have that written and scheduled much earlier in the week, then focus more on my fiction writing, before working on the next CFT post again. It works!

For fiction, it depends! If I’m writing for a competition, I always take off 10 days from the official deadline. Why? Because it makes me focus on getting the material ready in good time and I have time in hand for final checks and amendments. There are always some to be done! It also means I never miss a deadline.

I have two long-term projects on the go at the moment - one is non-fiction, the other will become what I hope will be my third flash fiction collection. I work on those at different points throughout the week. What I want to do is on a Sunday is be able to look back and see that I have made progress. If I’ve done that, I’m happy.

I do carry out some research for my fiction writing. I’ve written historical flash pieces for Tripping the Flash Fantastic and so I have to have a reasonable working knowledge of the era those stories are set in. But the best thing about research of any kind? You get to read to do it! Telling a writer they’ve got to read… well it’s not a hardship, is it?!

5. Which three words would you use to describe your writing style?

Direct. Twists. Quirky.

These are not in any particular order but I love reading as well as writing quirky fiction. Flash means having to tell a story succinctly so directness is an asset for that. And twist in the tale endings also work well for flash and I write a fair few of these.

6. What do you enjoy most about writing and why?

I think it’s the fact all writing takes you out of yourself. You are creating a piece of work, whether fictional or otherwise, so you have to focus on the need to get that written, edited and then submitted somewhere.

The cares of the world can look after themselves when I’m writing. I really am oblivious to anything else. This is why I think I am most relaxed when I’m at my desk. There’s always a sense of achievement in creating something you’ve written. These are your characters, your plot line etc. Of course that sense of achievement is heightened a lot if the story is then accepted by a publisher!

(Image provided by Allison Symes)

7. What do you do when you’re not writing?

When not writing (though ironically I am most relaxed when I am writing listening to classical

music), I love to swim. Though sadly I can’t do that for the moment. I also enjoy walking my highly active border collie, Lady, and enjoy taking her to play with her dog pals over at the local park. A riotous time is usually had by them all!

8. What are you currently writing if anything?

I’m currently resting my non-fiction project. I’m planning to edit this from mid-February with a

view to submitting to publishers later in the year. I’m shortly going to start getting my third flash fiction collection together, though I have prepared some of this already.

I am always writing something, whether it’s my Chandler’s Ford Today post, a blog piece like this one, or stories for future use on my Youtube channel or to be put aside for competition use. I also try to submit stories regularly to CafeLit as, not only are these published regularly, I can easily share them on social media as part of my overall marketing campaign. By directing you to a free story on CafeLit, I can also direct you to my website, Amazon Author Central page etc.

9. What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned as a writer?

That it is possible to write proper stories in 100 words or less! I am glad I found that one out! The most important thing I’ve learned as a writer though is the value of persistence and being open to trying new forms of writing. Oops, that’s two further things!

10. What advice would you give to aspiring writers (of either fiction or nonfiction)?

Accept you are in for the long haul. It is rare for acceptances to happen immediately. Expect

rejections but if you are lucky enough to get comments from a publisher or agent on the rejection slip, take note of these.

One of mine for my novel just said, “not to my taste” which was fine. It told me the book was okay. I’d just submitted it to the wrong place and that happens. It was after that the book was listed for a Debut Novel competition!

Accept you need to find your writing voice and that takes time. Do read recommended writing guides to help you improve your craft. Every industry has training manuals of some sort and writing isn’t exempt. I’d recommend Stephen King’s On Writing every time as it is full of fab advice and is also a memoir.

(Image provided by Allison Symes)

More about Allison Symes

In her flash stories, Allison will 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 amongst other delights.

Allison’s first flash fiction collection, From Light to Dark and Back Again, was published by

Chapeltown Books in 2017. The follow-up, Tripping the Flash Fantastic, was published by

Chapeltown Books in 2020.

Allison loves reading and writing quirky fiction. She discovered flash fiction thanks to a CaféLit challenge and has been hooked on the form ever since.

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