- When you want to write loads, you'll be too tired to do so, not have enough time or both.
- You worry about a piece of work sent out. You honestly think it's okay and wonder if that's enough and/of if you're being arrogant and you have now somehow jinxed the piece.
- You're really pleased with meeting a deadline for a short story you were keen to enter for a competition only to find you've missed another one for an equally good competition.
Just a quick post tonight.
The Queen and her Council will be notified a month in advance of any gatherings where there will be fireworks. There have been too many instances in the past where fireworks displays have been used as a cover to hide some of the nastier spells being unleashed against the innocent. Those organizing such gatherings will be vetted so if any witch thinks they can disguise themselves to get round this, think again as the Queen and her Council will put all the detect/reveal charms on any candidates and there are hundreds of such spells. The same applies to wizards. The Queen and her Council expect high standards for magically produced fireworks. The Queen especially likes artistry and magic can be used to produce something special here.
The Queen herself sometimes produces fireworks, mainly to amuse herself and to show those hoity-toity wizards she can do it too and better. There have been a few incidents of sprites overdoing their own skills trying to produce fireworks rather than wait for their betters to do better. It's easy to tell when this happens. Half a village usually gets burned down and those villagers made homeless tend to take out their own punishment on passing sprites if government officials can't get there first and make the right promises. (The government officials get put in the stocks if they're late with delivering said promises. There are many who feel this system should come to Earth).
Eileen likes producing fireworks and does so when on her own at home. She likes to see it as keeping her hands in. She also relishes taking those too noisy fireworks someone sets up to go off at awkward moments and then fire them at the offender to see how they like being startled. They generally don't. She rarely has to repeat her actions here.
In any magical contest cheating is expected but never condoned. Those caught out will be obliterated by one of the Queen’s specialist spells. This is given as fair and proper warning. The Queen does not expect any whinging over this (thought she would point out that anyone obliterated is going to have a hard time whinging about anything). This law is devised on the SYR principle (Serve You Right) and there are no exceptions. Remember that everybody will be looking out for cheats so it is best to assume you will be caught out by one of the Queen’s Council and/or Eileen. If caught by the latter, you will never hear the end of it before you then face obliteration. Indeed it’s quite likely you’ll be pleading for the end to come. Eileen can go on at some length and does.
All magical groups are expected to vote regularly on their leader. Elections should be held every two years. All voting is to be seen to be fair and free. No magic will be allowed to be used in these elections. Any candidate using magic to aid their cause will be disqualified at once. Given there are 22 differing magical species, the elections will be split equally so that 11 groups vote at a time. FNN is not allowed to interfere in the elections though they can report the results. Nobody in the Kingdom is going to be bored out of their skulls with endless political programming. Other worlds would do well to take the same tack.
All magical groups will follow best magical practice. Guidelines will be issued regularly by the Queen and her Council. Whilst the Queen and her Council expect the witches, wizards of an evil disposition and sprites to totally ignore this ruling, these groups should bear in mind that gives the fairy government the perfect excuse to take action against them. The government would also point out that in the event of the Kingdom being attacked by outside forces yet again all species are expected to come to the realm’s defence on the basis of “better the devil you know”. Those who wish to steal the Kingdom’s powers will take them from everybody.
Always Use Quality Ingredients
Regardless of what species you are, those of you that need ingredients for your spells will always use the best quality available and make sure they are responsibly sourced. Shabby ingredients equals shabby results. Kill all the sources of ingredients and you have a long term problem. Those of an evil disposition will be aware that the Queen and her Council can have a good guess at what spells you will use given there are only so many magical ingredients available to anyone. The Queen and her Council reserve the right to magical self defence. Those of an evil disposition would be better off changing their opinion.
Keeping Specialist Skills updated
Those in direct service to the Queen and her Council will keep their specialist skills up to date at all times. They will prove their prowess with these skills at times to suit the Queen and her Council. It is expected that time to practice these skills will be taken outside of any Council or other official duties due to be carried out by those affected by this ruling. In other words, no skiving off to get your practice in! If the Queen and her Council feel more practice sessions are needed, this will be accepted without argument but you can be assured they will not ask for these without due cause. They are not in the business of winding people up. That gets left to the sprites.
Magical creatures are not to be harmed. They each come with their own curse and the Queen has no wish to spend the rest of her reign trying to restore those foolish folk who ignored this advice (well those where there’s enough left to attempt to restore them anyway). Those of an evil disposition who use these creatures for their foul purposes are unlikely to read these rules yet alone obey them. They deserve everything they’ve got coming. The Queen and her Council hope they get a decent ringside seat to watch poetic justice being handed out. The Queen is always keen to pick up hints on how to improve her own magical skills.
Survival of the Fittest
The humans have a phrase “survival of the fittest”. Not only is that true in the magical realm, it is equally valid to say the fastest will survive. So therefore all magical beings in the direct service of the Queen and her Council will practice firing spells at targets, drawing wands (or staffs) at speed and be ready at any time to demonstrate that practice has been carried out. The Queen and her Council are experienced enough to be able to tell when “revision” of this nature has been carried out. Also all magical beings will be responsible to their species’ leader and be able to demonstate regular practice is being carried out to them too.
When it comes to magical practice, it usually is a question of do or die. Well you can't say you weren't told...
All inhabitants of the Fairy Kingdom know these rules. The in house competitions are used by the villages to settle local scores and a good time is generally had by all. Oh and the bit about those capable of the greatest magic being made to face up to magical crimes they commit... well they generally don't care and the likes of Eileen are sent after them. That never goes down well - Eileen generally does get her man, man-eating monster, bad fairy, dodgy witch etc.
You will service all magical equipment at least once a week. This includes keeping your spell books in tip top condition. In this modern age there is no excuse for getting candlewax on your precious manuscripts. Use a torch!
Each species group will have its own in house competitions so it can practice its skills and “let off steam” in a way that must be harmless to all in the vicinity including the environment. The Queen and her Council take a very dim view on anyone harming the environment. Though sprites are welcome to blast each other to the next world should they insist and make sure they don’t take anyone else out with them.
Those superior species capable of taking the sprites out in one go should be aware they will be watched by the Queen and her Council. It should be stressed this will not be for tips as to how such a removal task should be undertaken. Even though the Queen and her Council gladly acknowledge what pests the sprites can be, it should be stressed that everyone including the sprites has a right to live and that right will be upheld. Those capable of the greatest magic, and therefore the greatest magical crimes, will be held to a tougher accounting of themselves than the lower ranks. You cannot say you were not warned.
I love Eileen for her honour, honesty and courage. Her spiky awkward attitude is the flip side. She’s utterly committed to Derek, Jennifer, Edward and, for Jennifer’s sake, Paul too. She sees magic’s disadvantages and is not afraid to criticize her own side. She sees her royal status as something to be used to help people rather than to advance herself. She loathes evil. She is incorruptible. She sees through flim-flam, which is why she never got on with Brankaresh. The fact she is prepared to follow her heart and principles by going to earth and turning her back on all she’s known takes great courage. It would’ve been easier to dump Derek and stay in the magical realm.
I love Jenny for being prepared to stand up to her mother, which many in the magical world would not do. Jenny doesn’t abandon Eileen after the latter’s devastating revelation as to what she is despite the girl realizing immediately the fallout from this story is going to hit her hard. Jenny knows her own mind (can’t think where she gets that from!, well actually I can!) and marries a man she loves, like her mother did, despite Eileen taking an instant dislike to Paul. Later as Jenny comes to terms with her new status as a half fairy, she finds her own way of using the magic she’s inherited in her blood from Eileen and that she was given by the dying fairy, Rose. Jenny certainly does not do anything simply because her mother says she should
The Fairy Queen - Roxannadrell
The Fairy Queen is devoted to her realm, though devastated at coming to the throne thanks to the assassination of her mother. The Queen feels duty is all and wants nothing to wreck the realm again, understandable given the Fairy Kingdom has been beset by wars. The Queen feels calm is crucial especially after her mother’s death. The Queen does have courage and honour, recognizes people’s true abilities but cannot understand why all are not as committed to the cause as she herself is. She sees Eileen as a loose cannon to be controlled, which is true to a certain extent, though she would’ve been better off dealing with Eileen’s discontent. The Queen also recognizes L’Evallier’s character for what it is and knows she needs him to tell her true, especiallly when she hates it.
The Chief Witch
The Chief Witch has grievances and good reason to hold them. She has more honesty and honour than most of her ancestors holding the hereditary title. She blames the fairy royals for losses to her family but is less keen to admit some relatives brought their misfortunes on themselves. She has a soft spot for Eileen, though the godmother is her chief rival. The Witch is intelligent, determined not to make the mistakes her ancestors did, but is blinded by her wish to take the throne and wield the ultimate magical power. She genuinely feels she has a better claim to the throne. Her one big mistake was not to take Eileen’s offer of an olive branch. That mistake ultimately kills the Witch…
My love of fantasy comes directly from my love of fairytales. Dad bought me the Readers’ Digest series of original fairytales, two huge volumes, which I’ve still got and which have had to be kept together with gaffer tape! I spent many a happy hour reading these. I must have had them since I was about 7 or so. The books contain the tales of Perrault, Anderson and Grimm. There are also wonderful illustrations. I understand only too well why Disney produced the version of The Little Mermaid the way they did. The original version does not end nearly so well... would probably have been a hard sell.
My parents also have a leather bound edition of The Pilgrim's Progress which is told in caption/cartoon style with fantastic (in every sense) drawings of the main characters. The hobgoblins are convincing (and I'm sure gave me more than one nightmare when I was a kid, but then that would fall within their job remit). So since I was very young I've been immersed in fantastic stories and they, to me, just seem the right thing to write.
I think the reason I love fairytales so much is they are honest, often funny stories dealing with what comes up in the battle between good and evil (and I adore the fact the villains nearly always get their comeuppance). Like most kids, gruesome ends for those who deserved it always went down well, as that genius, Roald Dahl, knew.
I thought I'd post one of my favourite flash fiction pieces. Hope you like it. Even a fairytale stepmother has her version of events...
I was told years ago signs heralded new starts, to remember there was no such thing as coincidence and I’d do well to heed these things. Much good that advice has done for me.
At last I stop running. At last I rest under this ancient fruit tree for a while and remember the idiocy that forced me to run for my life, pursued by angry dwarves at that – oh the humiliation. They came close to catching me too. If there was a species you’d think could be easily outrun, it’d be the dwarves but not for me it seems. I only escaped thanks to the underground river I knew about and they didn’t.
It is so galling to know I did have the luxurious life I’d always wanted. One stupid mistake and I threw it away. Mother warned me about my pride decades ago. A little humility and I wouldn’t be in this mess now. That hurts… But I’ve got to face it. There is nobody else to blame. I got my new start by marrying well, then one little problem rears her ugly face and I think get rid of her and all would be well. I was wrong. I shouldn’t have been.
The red apple was my big mistake. Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? How could one measly piece of fruit bring me down? But it did. Thinking back as I rest, wishing I had the usual dozen servants to attend to my wants, I know now the apple smacked of not thinking things through, which is unlike me, and of meanness, which is my besetting sin. I’ve been poor. I’ve known what it’s like to struggle. I never wanted to be that way again so I’ve always thought twice about unnecessary expenditure.
I should’ve realised extra expense would’ve been worth it to stop being saddled with a Goody Two Shoes of a stepdaughter. After all she is of marriageable age. There must have been a Kingdom and prince suitably far away we could’ve sent her to, happily married and all that. But, oh no, she was determined to cling to Daddy, wasn’t she? Nor did she make any attempt to get along with yours truly. All I ever heard from the whinging, spoilt little madam was how saintly her late mother was. Trust me, you get sick of hearing that quickly. But I admit I overreacted. I know that now – when it’s too late to do anything about it.
If I had been more thoughtful to the King’s wretched brat, just the once, I wouldn't be here now. I was Queen. I should still be Queen. And for some reason he doesn’t want to know me now because I refused to kow-tow to his kid. Yes she may be a princess born but I am a Queen. If Her Nibs had been prepared to kow-tow just a little, I would’ve reconsidered my attitude. But Madam would give nothing - why the hell should I be expected to do all of the running? Ironic, isn’t it, I’m running for real now. I never liked cross-country at school. I loathe it now!
I shake myself. I’m rambling, which I hate in others and dislike in myself. I should've remembered success happens when one undertakes a task properly. Knowing Snow White's fondness for desserts, (not publicized, she jealously guards her image, that girl is so vain and you should’ve seen how snooty she was when I first moved in, talk about pride), I should've baked a proper apple pudding, the luscious one with the caramel sauce, and poisoned her with that.
The way that girl scoffed puddings there was no way any apple would've been left in her throat for that chinless wonder Charming to get out. Still my one mildly amusing thought is given she likes her image to remain spotless he’s in for a disappointing wedding night! I didn’t disappoint the King. Why doesn’t that mean anything to him? How could anyone like, yet alone love that meek, wildlife-loving idiot of a girl?
Something hard has just hit my head. I’m not moving. I know what the object was. I accept this is no coincidence. Someone somewhere is trying to tell me something. I can see the object where it stopped by my feet. If I need a sign of the way my luck is going, I’ve just received it. I was hit by another bloody red apple! New beginnings, new starts – ha! They’re not for me, I tell you. Once I get away from here, I’m going to become a hermit. Even I can’t get into trouble doing that – can I?
Are there any books you wouldn’t be without?
Yes, the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, anything by Wodehouse, Pride and Prejudice, the latest Discworld novel and I usually find a great writing book at the Winchester Writers’ Conference.
How many drafts do you produce?
Regardless of what I’m writing, at least three. I need to get the story down first, then edit it for sense and structure and make sure I’ve got the story right, before going through it for spelling mistakes, grammar and so on. Novels take more drafts as there’s so much more material to keep on top of so obviously need more work. Editing for story structure and sense is really important here. For scripts, I need to be able to “hear” the voices in my head once I’ve got the script prepared. It has to “feel” real.
When writing, do you “see” images or “hear” voices first?
I hear characters speaking. I heard Eileen’s strident voice before “picturing” her. I think of my creative mind as being like my parents’ old huge television set where the sound came in first, followed by the pictures, you had to give it time to warm up before getting those pictures and sometimes you needed to give the box a clout on the side to make sure the pictures did come through. To date I have not yet had to whack myself around the head to force through my “internal vertical hold” but I suspect that may only be a matter of time! Having said that, I think hearing voices is great for dialogue writing and you can get a good idea (though not always the right idea) of how someone looks from how they sound. Most of the time you’ll be on the right lines but there will be an exception to the rule that stumps you from time to time. Seeing pictures I suppose could give pointers as to how someone is likely to speak but doesn’t allow for people who’ve “bettered” themselves (or are seeming to put on a false front).
Do you have fixed routines for writing?
Generally I write in the evenings (and use odd times during the day to catch up with professional reading, emails and son on). I find I switch into “writing mode” as if I’d never left it. I think it would be easy to let your writing go if you don’t put particular slots of the day aside for writing. And I have found the more I write, it’s easier to get ideas, to trigger other ideas and it is a joy finding potential new markets. Things that would once have taken a few weeks to sort out, I can now do in under a week. Being at the computer promptly is crucial for me – there’s always loads to do.
Do you write directly to screen or does a proper pen and paper have to come into your work somewhere?
It depends on what I’m working on. Short stories do tend to be written directly to screen. For novels, I like using a pen and paper and use this as a chance to just write the story, switching off my internal editor. I use the typing up as my first edit, to delete the unintended repetitions (there are always some!), to start checking that my story structure makes sense. Poems I often draft on a scrap piece of paper. Scripts I tend to do direct to screen. I can see the advantages of direct to screen but wouldn’t want to lose the physical act of writing altogether.
Do you write daily?
Generally, yes. I don’t always do a stint on all the things I work on in one go but I like to make sure I’ve written something. I like to take time off for holidays, certain family birthdays, including mine (!), but at least I can plan my writing around these and I usually end up doing more in the few days before these events and again afterwards so my word count probably averages out to much the same number as if I did write on a strictly daily basis. I also think because I “allow” for holidays like this I find my writing routine easy to stick to.
What part of a story/novel/script do you enjoy writing the most? The first or final drafts?
I must admit I feel a certain amount of relief once I’ve written the first draft as I know I then I have something to work with and knock into shape. I know I overwrite so I know a lot will have to come out but there is satisfaction to be had “feeling” your story tighten up as you get rid of repetitions, tighten up the prose and so on. What can be tough is knowing what is the final draft. There can be a temptation to keep working on something and never let it go out into the big bad world! I love coming up with the idea in the first place and then getting it on to paper, editing is a joy for the reasons given above, but coming to the end is satisfying and sad at the same time as I know I’ve then got to move on. Having said that, it opens up the door to getting on with a new story and enjoying the writing experience all over again!
What type of writing do you like most – short stories, novels or scripts?
I love all of them and for ages I found short stories almost impossible to write given the confinements of word counts (at least with novels you do have some room to expand your characters and plot). It is when I realised, having read this, that a short story is only meant to capture one moment in time I found I could write these and am delighted I’ve had a few published on the web, been shortlisted in Writers’ News for a few and been commended at the Winchester Writers’ Conference. I love reading short stories too – when there isn’t time for a novel but you need a reading fix, these are ideal. I love with novels being able to explore my characters’ motivations and back stories more as long as these propel the plot along. I also enjoy ending chapters on cliffhangers! Scripts I adore as I’ve always enjoyed writing dialogue and I love listening to radio scripts. I love the way radio can take you anywhere and everywhere without having to leave the house and would love to write professionally for it.
How long does a short story take you to write?
It depends on the short story! Some will just flow out, others I need to have several drafts to get right but I aim to get at least one story out a month to meet the deadlines for Writers’ News/Writing Magazine competitions. I usually try to get another story out too if I can either to Shortbread or one of the many festival and other writing competitions. If I wasn’t writing other things, I could get more work out but given I can only write part time I’m relatively happy with this. I would, of course, like to do more but without losing quality.
How long does a novel take you to write?
Ages is the simplest answer! I do several drafts. I think two years is probably a good estimate. As with short stories, I could almost certainly speed this up by not writing so much other material (though I must admit I enjoy writing my blogs and putting in background and other material not in the novels themselves). I think it vitally important not to rush the drafts’ stages. What matters is getting the story right. When you get to the point you really can’t think of anything else to add or take out, then there’s the time to start submitting to the market and test the water.
Do you find writing conferences helpful? If so, why?
Yes! Some are more helpful than others as it all depends on the courses/talks they’re offering but I’ve not been to one yet where I came away feeling it was a waste of time. I’ve always learned something new. It’s also lovely meeting other writers, finding out what they do and talking about what I do. It’s great I suppose to have a truly sympathetic ear. While family and friends are very supportive (and I know I’m lucky there), only another writer will understand the frustrations of having lots to write and not enough time, or having the time and your wonderful ideas suddenly don’t seem so great after all. Also being able to talk about what part of a story you found most difficult or the most enjoyable to write really only means something to those who also write. And given writing conferences also promote books (especially the creative writing ones), there’s much to enjoy there too! Those that run competitions are helpful as if you manage to be Commended or to win it’s not just a boost for the ego, it looks good for the writing CV too.
Who is your favourite character in other authors’ works?
Sam Vimes in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series because the character goes from being a hopeless drunk to a brave, decent commander and married to the lovely, sensible, equally decent Lady Sybil (who is one of my favourite female characters). Also because Sam Vimes has such a clear sense of right and wrong and tries to be a decent copper despite politics trying to get in the way and he is doesn’t fear Vetinari.
What do you listen to whilst writing? Some authors like silence, others have music on so what is your choice?
It’s neither. I like listening to 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 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 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?! Seriously, I’d be working out ideas so when the ban was lifted I could get straight on with the next writing piece. Thinking time is always good. (I’d 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 my thoughts. I’d catch up on my reading as that’s the 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).
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
To accept the need to rewrite, rewrite and rewrite no matter how long it takes. It’s tough sometimes to accept the need to rewrite a novel. But I’ve never regretted editing and inevitably my work is stronger for it. I’ve been told I’m very good at getting into my characters’ heads.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Don’t give up. Read widely and include non-fiction if you write fiction as factual accounts can spark off interesting ideas to help you flesh out your made up worlds. Be professional with spelling, grammar, how you present your work, following competition and/or submission instructions. Be ready for criticism, fair or otherwise. Always be prepared to take a critical look at your own work after giving it a period of “resting”. You then re-read your work with a fresh eye and it is easier to spot weaknesses in story structure, plot, and characters and so on then. Above all, enjoy the whole writing process from thinking of the initial idea to what seems like the umpteenth rewrite. You need to love it to be able to do it and stick with it – as the actress said to the bishop!
What aspect of writing don’t you like?
I always feel a sense of relief when I get the first draft written as I’ve then got something to work with and knock into shape. I’m also relieved to finish a piece of work and then get it out there as that’s what I’m meant to be achieving. I don’t like writing being downgraded or libraries being shut as there will be negative consequences. I love the feeling when the story, the characters and everything is working together to drive a strong plot. I hate badly produced books, vanity publishing and those trying to scam authors. Whilst I’m not totally against Amazon and supermarkets selling books, I don’t want either to destroy bookshops and, ultimately, the publishing industry. I want proper bookshops to survive (and yes I do buy from proper bookshops and Amazon – the great thing with the former is they do pay their taxes in the UK!).
What is your favourite thing to write?
I love writing dialogue regardless of whether I’m writing a script, novel or short story. Dialogue is a wonderful way to move the plot along too and to show aspects of a character’s life (how educated they are for a start, do they use proper grammar when speaking?). I also love reading well-crafted dialogue because it flows, you can hear the character behind it and it brings the story to life.
Do you have a specific writing time?
I tend to write in the evenings and weekends. On the odd days when I’ve a little more time, I will find a piece of work and get on with that. I think it helpful to have a specific time to write on the grounds you’re training your brain to get used to being in full writer mode. It also helps you be more organized and to hopefully help others treat your writing seriously. In putting time aside for writing, you’re taking your writing seriously. You can’t expect anyone else to do so if you won’t.
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 writers and sometimes when I contribute I get feedback, including some praise, on my work. That latter feedback and praise goes a long way when most of the time you’re on your own. 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 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.
Where do you get your ideas?
I’ve read many author interviews where the reply to this one is flippant, which always makes me laugh. In all seriousness, my novels reflect relationships – mother/daughter – which I have direct experience of so to an extent I am writing from life. I combine that with my writing from my favourite genre. It is a case of asking how this relationship would work if one was magical and the other horrified by that. I do a lot of “what if” planning when working out my stories. I outline almost all I write now. I have since found it helpful to stop me going off at a tangent. (Tangents are all very well if you can use them and they strengthen the story but I was finding this wasn’t the case).
Do you ever experience writer’s block?
No. I’m not convinced it exists either. I accept there are days when the words won’t flow so easily but that only proves writers are humans, we’re not machines, and on the plus side you will get days when the work does flow. I think you need to persist. I've also found if I'm finding working on a novel difficult, my work on a short story flows. So I would suggest get in to the habit of writing anything when you feel "stuck". Brainstorm ideas. Describe what you see. What you would like your writing to be. Writing anything helps fire your brain up ready for work - or so I've found.
Do you work with an outline, or just write?
I always outline now. I find them helpful for planning my work, being able to work out where to insert new ideas (and to test if they will fit in). I don’t plan out everything but work out the rough structure of whatever I’m working on. I will add in phrases, sentences that strike me. I’ve even once prepared a brief outline for a piece of flash fiction! That probably makes me a sad muppet.
Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
I love the classic fairy tales, P.G. Wodehouse, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Terry Pratchett. I “got” Austen’s wonderful use of irony thanks to a great English teacher (Miss Mackenzie). Wodehouse’s use of language is sublime, Pratchett is so funny and proves a series can work and Dickens came up with so many great stories. I also liked Enid Blyton, especially her Famous Five series. I admire Agatha Christie too. It’s been said she writes puzzles but there are ethical dilemmas too – Murder on the Orient Express probably being the best example of this.
The big winner is?
Neither of them. Both are great forms. I love flash fiction for its speed, economy and how every word must count. It's a bit like taking a really short refreshing drink. It's to the point. Short stories are more like taking a longer refreshing drink. You get more, you enjoy more. While there is still not the room to do in depth characterisation, you can get more across in 2000 words, enough to add depth to the story as a whole. But for a snapshot of a moment, you can't beat flash fiction.
Easiest to write?
Standard short stories as you have more room. I find it easier to edit down (which I inevitably have to do). Flash fiction - I find I either go too short (for me flash fiction is 250 - 750 words. All credit to those who can go below 250 but for me that's like limbo dancing with words. There are just some places I know I can't go and this is one of them!). Alternatively I go too long and I find it harder to edit a flash piece, knowing every word has to work twice as hard at least in a piece of this kind of length to justify its place in the story. There is no "slack" (and I know there isn't in a 2000 words piece either but you can allow an odd sentence here and there which backs up your characters, can give a little additional information which rounds off the piece. No room for that in flash).
Fairytales are often funny or dark (sometimes both together) and have a strong sense of justice.
I love all these elements in a story. You generally know the villain(ess) is going to get their comeuppance. It's a bit like Columbo - the detail is in finding out how that comeuppance will happen. You also know the undertrodden hero(ine) will also prevail when so much is against them. I do love to root for a decent hero(ine) and fairytales never let me down in that respect.
Fairytales follow a simple but highly effective structure.
Usually the Rule of Three. Repetition works. I like a good narrative link and you know what you're getting with a fairytale. Problem and heroine portrayed. Heroine overcomes problem. You know there will a happy ever after ending (or at least a happy for now one) and given the state of the "real" world fairytales can be perfect escapism.
Fairytales are usually amongst the first pieces of literature anyone is introduced to in their "story career".
So I think it wonderful to keep those fairytales going and to add to the canon some of my own, in the hope someday someone else will love those too.
Has the Fairy Kingdom had many non-conformists in its time?
There are some who would argue every single member of the sprite communities (imps and pixies) are non-conformists given they have a long history of fighting for the sake of fighting and creating havoc as a result amongst their own and those unfortunate enough to live anywhere near by. Wizards, in particular, have been known from time to time to eliminate sprites when they've been aggravating enough in a deliberate bid to bring the remaining into line. In fairness it works but usually only for a few months. Then the wizards eliminate more, the havoc subsides for a bit and so on. The Queen and her ancestors have done what they can to rein the wilder sprite elements in but accept this wildness is part of their characteristics so will not go altogether.
Queen Gwendolyn, mutual great-grandmother to the Queen and Eileen, is the ultimate royal rebel. Gwendolyn married many times, including to humans, whom she brought back to the fairy world, much to the disgust of her subjects. They didn't stay long. Public protests, sustained and turning violent, led to the monarch dumping her human spouses. They weren't that sorry to go home. Her worst marriage was to a powerful wizard, by whom she had a child. She abandoned the pair of them and they both turned to the dark side. The Witch and her family come from that line and continue to cause the Kingdom grief. Eileen has some sympathy with the Witch, knowing the history, but this puts the fairy godmother out on a limb since the rest of the realm only sees the Witch's destructive sprees.
Eileen did manage to achieve a unique rebel feat in that she defected to marry a mere human and go and live on Earth with him though the Queen still plans to get Eileen, and daughter Jenny, back. (The Queen has realized she can used Jenny to blackmail Eileen and that there is no way Eileen will go back to her old world without her child). Eileen has also questioned magical power abuses in a way that would get others killed, relying on her royal status and the fact the Queen has no direct heir to save her. So far that approach has worked.
So the realm has had its fair share of non-conformists with Gwendolyn and Eileen being the most renowned (though whether this was a category you'd want to be renowned in is open to debate).
To sum up the Fairy Kingdom's attitudes towards other worlds... is it an open attitude? A world where it is willing to learn from others?
Er... no but it will nick really good ideas when it comes across them (the jury is still out as to whether television, renamed fairyvision in the Kingdom, counts). The Kingdom's overall attitude is one of superiority when it comes across a non-magical world such as Earth. When it meets another magical world the reactions are either fear (the other world is clearly more powerful and is likely to attack) or contemptuous (the Kingdom is more powerful and it may well attack the new discovery, especially if it has spell books, charms or any kind of magical asset worth having). The Kingdom has more in common with humanity than it cares to admit to when it comes to that.
Eileen has tried to encourage better relationships with other worlds, pointing out long before her defection the Kingdom wastes a hell of a lot of its own magical energy by being hostile. Sadly her message is not a popular one. Most in the Kingdom back the Queen and Council. Eileen thinks it's a case of people going for what they know. Fresdian, with her love for the natural world, has wanted to develop ties so she can investigate flora and fauna on other realms but this has also failed. The only other planet she has been permitted to carry out investigations of this type is Earth.
What training programmes exist in the Fairy Kingdom?
When it comes to magic, there are the schools which give everyone basic magical training only. This includes learning how to read ancient calligraphy (though the Queen wants to get all spells written up in a clear format to reduce the number of magical accidents occuring due to misreading an ingredient) and basic defence measures against the "inevitably evil" that always crop up when there's magic anywhere in the vicinity. The ability to get out of harm's way and the use of invisibillity are major aids here.
Eileen started her own training programme so she would have able bodied assistants in the fights against dragons, ogres etc. She failed to see why she should be on her own with that one. The Queen, on the other hand, wanted her cousin kept really busy so Eileen could ask no more awkward questions about magical power abuses.
Hanastrew has taken over the running of Eileen's programme, appropriately since she was one of the first graduates. The emphasis is on magical defence and any spells which can be used to attack beings that are likely to attack you first if given half a chance. Eileen, and Hanastrew, have always believed there should be no such thing as being given half a chance. There is also a "watching the enemy" element to this programme though on Earth this would be known as how to spy without being caught.
There is some basic journalistic training (overseen by Roherum, much to the despair of the weatherman who envisages generations of avuncular journalists whose idea of an in-depth question is to be up to their knees in mud when asking it). There isn't training as such for those who serve on the Council though there is a lot of protocol Council members are obliged to follow. That was designed centuries ago by the fairy crown to ensure Council members always knew their place. It is less successful in this era given it hasn't stopped L'Evallier asking awkward questions of his boss (though it has made him more sympathetic to Eileen when she asked awkward questions).
There aren't politicial parties as such in the Kingdom... any plans to change that?
At the moment it is appropriate the Queen has a Council system (it's similar to what Queen Elizabeth Tudor had) but political systems evolve and I wouldn't rule out changes here, especially if the Queen continues to act in a way likely to cause continued and sustained criticism. L'Evallier, her Chief Elf and Council Leader, is outspoken in his comments to his monarch at times but she is aware she needs that criticism, which generally is a good thing. The Queen is understandably concerned about her realm's security given it has faced attacks from other worlds in the past and there is the ongoing battles with those who use magic for evil within her own realm. This dual jeopardy adds to the need for a broadly unified government (as we in the UK experienced during World War 2 in particular). I like historical echoes, not just in my work, but in other authors' short stories and novels. I think these echoes give depth and help "anchor" the invented world so as a reader I'm thinking, yes I could see that happening.
There is a basic broadcasting system and some press activity but nothing like the grand inquisitors of journalism who hold politicians to account. It's fair to say Roherum is not the most in depth journalist there has ever been.
True but because of that Roherum gets more interviews from Council members (and even occasionally comments from the Queen) that a more abrasive approach would be inclined to switch off. Not that Roherum's great rival, the weatherman, can see that. Roherum can also come up with the odd in depth question but it's usually as a result of him following a train of thought all the way along the tracks rather than just leaving it on a platform somewhere! It nearly always surprises people when he does do this and, again, it tends to surprise honest replies out of people.
The Fairy Kingdom's take on environmental concerns is... well let's just say it has room for improvement. Significant room.
In this case the Kingdom has an awful lot in common with Earth! Fresdian (who later changes her name to a plant friendly Rose) is the Kingdom's spokeswoman on environmental concerns and almost everyone from the Queen to the lowliest sprite in the realm think the fairy godmother is "bonkers". This is because Fresdian is out in all weathers, can find something nice to say about almost all forms of life (magical, non-magical, plants, animals etc). Fresdian would also like magic used, in sensible amounts, to restore damage done to the realm where possible but knows she's fighting a one-fairy campaign here. Nobody else wants to use magic, especially their own magic, for something that's not going to directly benefit them. Characters like Fresdian are often the "prophet in the wilderness" and I thought it appropriate to have a character like her in the realm. She also makes a nice balance to the fighting-all-evil Eileen and the too-busy-with-the-concerns-of-her-realm Fairy Queen.
Yet the Kingdom condemns humanity for its war like nature and attitude towards our planet.
Hypocrisy is yet to be made a crime anywhere. It certainly hasn't been in my take on the magical world. From my viewpoint, hypocritical characters/situations are huge fun to write for/about. And there is a lot of humbug about when it comes to taking care of our world. Given one of things I love about fantasy and science fiction is the capacity to invent worlds and world systems, well it would be odd to say the least if there wasn't at least one other hypocritical government out there somewhere.
What do I like best about the Fairy Kingdom as I've set it up?
I like the sense of order. In any magical world, there are bound to be species which are more magically talented than others any my Kingdom reflects that. But, and it's a big but, each and every species does have the opportunity to improve their skills with training. The idea behind this government scheme was to try to put a brake on irresponsible sprite behaviour by getting them to learn useful things. Sadly it's only had limited success but it isn't the fault of the government. I can't think of many worlds, including ours, where that could ever be the case! Physically the Kingdom has 7 different regions (1 of which is the worst for areas which have been made barren due to having too much magic going through it at one go thanks to historical battles). Each region has its own special beauty.
Did Eileen struggle to leave her old world or was it an easy thing to do?
Eileen had no problems leaving because of past magical power abuses which she unsuccessfully challenged. She herself did not expect to leave because she fell in love with someone she wasn't meant to, but having fallen for Derek, and already being disillusioned with the magical life and the peril in which it kept putting her,then yes the decision was easy to take. She does miss magical friends, particularly Hanastrew and Melanbury, both of whom underwent some training by her. She also misses certain favourite and very beautiful areas of the Kingdom where she would go to unwind after a hard day's dragon obliteration.
Does the Kingdom have a sense of its own history?
Yes. History is a compulsory subject in its schools and everyone has to be able to take an exam paper to what we could consider A-Level standard. It has had to fight many times to defend itself against those coveting its magical powers and Eileen feels that at least some of the magical power abuses she complained about were a direct result of this, believing that what may have been appropriate in times of war are definitely not so in times of peace and it just a pity the fairy government hadn't realized that.
Why have I set up the Fairy Kingdom the way I have?
I wanted to structure the Fairy Kingdom so it had parallels with Earth and specific historical events/style of doing things and so on. For example the Fairy Queen's Council system with its Chief Leader is loosely based on kind of Council Queen Elizabeth Tudor would have had with William, Lord Burghley as her Chief Leader. I did this as I think "echoes" add depth to characterisation and they can act as a kind of shorthand as well. The way the Fairy Kingdom runs its government, amongst other things, had to be something readers could identify with.
Why did you get the Fairy Kingdom pinching the best of ideas from our world?
I wanted to portray the magical world as snobbish (it condemns humanity for wars and pollution, understandably, but won't acknowledge humanity's good points). I also wanted to portray the Kingdom as hypocritical (on the grounds no matter where we live on this planet our governments are hypocritical somewhere along the line, it is a question of degree). The pinching good ideas scam struck me as both amusing and a rational action for a magical world wanting to save powers (magic is draining so if you can take shortcuts to save energy you would in my Kingdom). Naturally to further confirm the hypocrisy bit, the Fairy Kingdom doesn't acknowledge where it gets its ideas (though the Queen does concede chocolate is one of humanity's better inventions).
And this leads on to why I haven't got my magical characters to use magic to solve all their problems.
If magic could be used to solve everything, there wouldn't be any stories (no conflicts - the one with the most powers would always win, which aside from the fairness issue from my point of view as a writer is just plain boring). It also makes sense to me that magic drains those who use it (there always has to be a price for special gifts). Indeed I can't see how magic wouldn't have that effect so to have to find other ways to resolve things leads to a much more interesting Fairy Kingdom. It has to use its magic wisely. A scattergun approach with a magic wand/staff is never a great idea! (And certainly wouldn't do much for the Kingdom's atmosphere as I also think it would be realistic for magic to leave traces in the air, soil etc so account has to be taken of that too. Indeed in my magical realm, certain areas have been made barren by having too much magic go through it. There has to be a price for magic, always. It encourages more responsible use of the stuff for one thing).
You do come from a noble family of wizards. Do you think that had any bearing on your new appointment?
For that, you ought to ask the Queen, given she was the one who appointed me. My family has no bearing on my work. What matters now is that I carry out the Chief Wizard's role with integrity and honour. If I can do that, I will have bettered my immediate predecessor for one thing. For another, I'm less likely to be blasted away by those outraged by my misuse of magic, because there won't be any!
Yes, it always pays to keep an eye on Eileen, even when she's another world away.
Yes. Eileen is formidable regardless of what world she's on. I must admit I feel pity for that husband of hers. I find it hard to believe she can soften. Still if he did achieve that, it confirms my pet theory that magic is not the most powerful force in the universe.
What do you want to achieve in your first year as Chief Wizard?
To know the Kingdom as a whole is reassured because they can see I'm not misusing magic. To then discipline the sprite communities effectively if they think that first point makes me a soft touch. Some idiot is bound to. That same idiot will quickly find out the hard way just how wrong they are. To develop spells which will help restore those areas of the realm that were devastated by too much magic going through them. It would be nice to rectify some of the more rotten areas of our history and use of magic.
I'm Allison Symes and I write novels, short stories as well as some scripts and poems. I love setting my work in my magical world, the Fairy Kingdom, and my favourite character is Eileen, who believes hypocrisy is something that happens to other people without caring that statement is hypocritical in itself! Eileen is huge fun to write for and about.