ALLISON SYMES - Q&A
What writing conferences do you go to?
My main one is the Winchester Writers’ Conference, my “local”. I find the lectures interesting, there’s always some fascinating read to pick up at the Book fair, I meet other writers and sometimes when I contribute I get feedback, including some praise, on my work. That latter feedback and praise goes a very long way when most of the time you’re writing on your own. I think it does a writer good to get out and about like this. I was thrilled to be Commended in their Short Story Competition in 2011. I hope to repeat the feat!
Do you find how-to-write books helpful?
Yes, though some are more helpful than others. Stephen King’s On Writing is invaluable. I also love writing books where published writers are talking about their particular experiences. I’m currently reading The Writers’ Ideas Book which seems to be full of writing prompts which I hope I will find helpful. I’m also reading Creative Writing by Graeme Harper, another book of interviews but I do find insights from other writers inspiring. I love the author interview pages in Writing Magazine too.
What do you listen to whilst writing? Some authors like silence, others have music on so what is your choice?
Ironically it’s neither. I like listening to radio dramas and comedies from Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra. I use these as an acid test for whatever I’m writing. If I hear most of the programme, my scene is not gripping enough. If I barely hear the programme, I’ve probably written a winner. Usually it’s half and half, meaning I’ve got a promising scene but it needs a darned good edit before it goes anywhere! Not that I’m worried about this as practically any piece of writing is improved by said darned good edit! I’ve found listening to music of any kind influences my mood and therefore what I write. Very occasionally I have used a certain piece of music to put me into the mood I want to be in to write a certain scene but I consider music to be a kind of performance changing drug for writers so I avoid listening to it while I work.
What is the first thing you had published?
In print this was my short story, A Helping Hand, which was part of Bridge House Publishing’s Alternative Renditions anthology. The book is a retelling of renowned fairy tales from the viewpoints of other characters in the stories. Mine was told from Cinderella’s youngest ugly sister’s viewpoint and let’s just say she’s not flattering about dear old Cinders! On the web, it would be my stories and poems on the Shortbread Short Stories website. Some of the pieces I’ve put on here started life as competition entries for things like the Winchester Writers’ Conference. Waste not, want not!
Do you find writing therapeutic? Has it changed your life at all?
Definitely and I think it encourages empathy as you have to be able to identify with your characters and their motivations to be able to write convincingly about them. Writing can be a great way of exploring themes that intrigue or anger you and getting those feelings out on paper can be amazingly healing. The clever bit is to do that via characters without making it seem like a rant and that it’s all part of a story. Writing has meant I’ve gone to conferences and met friends, taken part in writing exercises where you produce work on the spot and then read it out, been shortlisted in a national award so I attended the Gala evening (it was nice to put on some glitz!) so yes I think it’s safe to say writing’s changed my life – for the better. And I’ve seen my name in print once and have stories and poems on the web which I would not have done otherwise. Whilst I would like the novels published, I still feel as if I’m achieving something in getting work out there. That feeling of achievement is so helpful because I try to use it to spur me on to better writing. I enjoy having work out in the post or en route to online competitions – it’s always good to be in with a chance and when anything is shortlisted it can go on my writing CV.
If writing was banned on pain of death for one month, what else would you do?
Scream?! No, seriously, I’d be working out ideas in my mind so when the ban was lifted I could get straight on with the next writing piece. Thinking time is always good. (I’d probably cheat and make discreet notes while preparing something else but so once the ban was lifted I’d be straight back on to my writing projects again). If I was allowed to take notes I’d have jotted down some of my thoughts. I’d catch up on my reading as that’s the very enjoyable flipside to wanting to write. To want to write means having to read and you can figure out what works in a book and what doesn’t so you can “copy” the good bits and ignore the weaker elements. Also you need to know what you like and dislike to know what you want to write (or not write as the case may be).