Thursday 24 September 2020

An interview with Jeanne Davies


Today I'm talking to Jeanne Davies about her book Drawn from the Sea.  

1.    Tell me about your book.

Drawn by the Sea is an anthology of short stories, including a few one-hundred-word flash fictions, many of which have been included in competition anthologies. Stagnight won first prize in a flash fiction competition and gave me my first financial reward and two of the short stories were taken by an American publisher.

2.    Tell us about your research for this book.

Nearly all the stories required some research or other, some more than others. I delved quite deeply into Buddhism whilst writing Waiting for the Light, looking at the lives and practises of Buddhist monks. The story is set in Tibet and I really enjoyed researching Tibetan landscapes, eagerly visualising being there. I found myself referring to passages in the old testament for The Tinderbox, as well as probing the idiosyncrasies of the Church of England. The Day Sussex Died (which was based on a true story about my Grandfather) required research into World War One and the part played by the Royal Sussex Regiment.

3.    What inspired you to write this?

Inspiration for nearly all these stories came from a love of walking with my Labradors in places of natural beauty that are open to the sky, whether it is sapphire blue or the most miserable grey; exploring magnificent green spaces or wandering along the seashore with the serenity and chaos of the ocean allows the imagination to be free. Stories can also pop out of a conversation …  like my husband and I randomly discussing the prison service one day which inspired one of my favourite stories, Whiteout, which is set in the not too distant future. Waiting for Susan was written after helping a nervous little girl walking home from school for the first time alone and the story still evokes emotion in me when I read it. It is strange how sometimes the stories evolve all on their own and seem to write themselves with the characters taking on their own personas. I often look back and wonder if I have actually written the stories at all, but the journeys were such fun, like living lots of other lives.

What's next after this?

Bridgehouse have been fantastic publishers and Gill has intimated that they may be interested in publishing a further anthology in the future. I will continue to enter competitions as I find the discipline of having a subject to write about often focuses the imagination, especially with writers’ block. I’d love to write a full-length novel someday, but I am still hung up on the excitement of the short story.

4.    Tell us a little about your journey as a writer.

I began scribbling down poetry in junior school and one poem got printed in the local newspaper who also gave me a voucher for WH Smiths! My Aunt, who is sadly died before I had any stories published, encouraged me a great deal throughout my childhood; she was a Head Teacher and author who won many prizes for her work. I struggled to contain and modify my writing at school and my English teacher once said she wished my spelling were as good as my imagination!

5.    Do you have any tips for new writers? 

Finding a place where you can be alone with your thoughts is essential in my case and a voice recorder can be a useful piece of equipment. I have a battery lighted pen in my bedside drawer, so I won’t disturb my husband if I wake in the night and need to make some notes. I have always been an avid reader and am never without a book on the go.

6.    How can we get a copy of the book?

Drawn by the Sea is available on Amazon in Paperback as well as Kindle. (Click on the image above an you'll be taken directly to the book on Amazon)

Waterloo Festival 2020 Writing Competiton - the anthology

I'm pleased to welcome today Hannah Retallick, another of our great writers who   contributed to this lovely anthology.  
What do you write? Why this in particular?  
I write short stories (literary fiction) and blog posts. I used to think of short stories as a ‘means to an end’, an early step before moving on to novels, but then I became hooked. Short forms are fascinating – anything from 5000 words right down to 10!  

      What got you started on writing in the first place? 
Stories. Since being read to as a child, I’ve always loved them and wanted to make up my own. My mum has said that I learnt to write almost before I could read. 

 Do you have a particular routine?  
Erm, yes. It changes quite regularly though – does that count? I most often write in twenty-minute bursts because it tricks me into getting going, without freaking myself out.  

Do you have a dedicated working space? 
Yes. Wherever my laptop finds itself. It’s usually my desk or bed, or sometimes a little coffee shop (pre-Covid), because it makes me feel writerly! 

When did you decide you could call yourself a writer? Do you do that in fact? 
About five years ago, when I’d embarked on a Creative Writing course with the Open University, I realised that if I wanted people to view me as a writer, I had to view myself as a writer. (‘Embrace Your Creative Name’:

What are you most proud of in your writing? 
I’m probably proudest whenever my writing helps someone. Occasionally I get messages from people saying that I’ve managed to express something they’ve always felt and could never put into words. In terms of external achievements, my first competition shortlisting was an amazing moment. 

How do you get on with editing and research? 
We enjoy each other’s company. I don’t like to spend too much time with Research, but I’m in love with Editing, even if he’s not to everyone’s taste.  

 Do you have any goals for the future? 
Hmm, considering I’m a planner by nature, my writing goals are surprisingly hazy. I love the process and mostly take it as it comes. I’m currently putting together a short story collection and a flash fiction collection, which I’m excited about. I’d also love to have a novel published and get into the top three of a short story competition. We’ll see! 

And now about your story in this collection 
  My story, ‘Book Club for the Elderly’, is about a retired lady who finds comfort and companionship in a group of mavericks.   

What inspired you to write this? This year’s competition theme, Transforming Communities. The opening came to me instantly: ‘Some people believe that a community consists of like-minded individuals. That’s what I thought too, until ours changed my mind.’ The whole story flowed out in one go, which is quite rare for me. I had forty minutes until I had to leave the house and desperately wanted to finish and edit it before then! I managed it, although I arrived at my friend’s looking a little flustered!  

How did you hear about the competition? I knew Gill James and Debz Hobbs-Wyatt already, as well as many of the writers, but I probably saw the link to the competition on Paula R C Readman’s Facebook group, ‘For Writers only, who write without Fear of Rejection’. I also had a story, ‘The Word Has It’, included in last year’s anthology, Transforming Being.  

Have you had any other success in short-story writing? I’ve been shortlisted in the Writing Awards at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, the Cambridge Short Story Prize, the Henshaw Short Story Competition June, and the Bedford International Writing Competition. I’ve also been published in paperbacks, in e-books, and online.  

What for you makes a good short story? A good short story lingers in your mind long after you finish reading it. I love the huge impact that can be made on a reader in only a few words.  

Do you have any tips for new writers or writers seeking publication? Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Hone your craft. Follow the publication/competition guidelines. Don’t give up. It’s as simple and as difficult as that. 

An excerpt from Hannah's story:

Book Club for the Elderly
Some people believe that a community consists of likeminded individuals. That’s what I thought too, until ours changed my mind: Book Club for the Elderly. That isn’t the group’s official title, but it might as well be. It’s run by a smug young person for the purpose of staving off the inevitable loneliness and misery of the older generation. Pah!
To be fair, though, I am that person: an old, lonely, misery. I’ve had a run of bad luck this year and it’s not even June – who knows what other traumas await me? Firstly, my dear grump, Robert, died after a long battle with a brain tumour. Secondly, my beloved cocker spaniel, Martin, a disgustingly stinky animal, also popped his clogs. His untimely demise somehow managed to extract more tears from me than my husband’s. Thirdly, my friends disappeared when my time and emotional energy were taken up with Robert’s illness. Tragic, I know.
So, there I was, an old, lonely, misery, with no husband and no dog and nothing to do apart from read.
The book club is advertised for retired people and takes place in a charming corner of Waterstones, a shop in which I spend as much time as possible, because they all know me in there and don’t mind when I treat the place like a library. To clarify, I don’t take the books home with me – I simply find a comfortable corner, read as much as possible before closing time, make a note of the page number on the back of a receipt, and return to it the following day.

Monday 21 September 2020

A Book Club Guide for 140 x 140

I enjoy the challenge of writing with restrictions. The challenge here was to write 140 pieces of short prose each 140 words long. The prompt was the first picture I saw on Twitter each day.


If you have mobile devices with you and Twitter accounts have a look at that now.  What’s the first picture you see? Does that tell a story? 


Various themes emerge in my collection:

  • Anthropomorphism
  • Criminality
  • Finances
  • Loneliness
  • Relationships
  • Sexuality
  • Saving the planet
  • Technology,
  • The writer’s life
  • Weather

And many more.  Can you suggest another couple of themes that are used?  Is there a predominant one in the whole collection? Do you have a favourite theme? 



The collection was started on 13 May 2014 and completed 11 March 2017. Do the pieces change in tone during that that time? In which way?



I always try to give my story shape. Can you pick three stories and find the shape in them.

I start with a hook, then have three or so growing complexities until we reach a crisis point, a point of no return.  The gap between that forms the climax. So we get:


Growing complexities

  • I
  • 2
  • 3

Crisis point




What do you like?

Pick three stories that you like and say why you like them.


Find the story  

Can you find the story?

  1. A romance ends and roses are a comfort.
  2. School doesn’t seem like a good option but there’s a nice surprise waiting for Toby
  3. This item makes some males look like a particular animal
  4. Writing a CV requires a lot of energy
  5. Pink beads and pipes


  1. Homecoming 11 July 2014
  2. Breakfast Club 2 September 2014
  3. Owly Eyes 6 April  2105  
  4. Power Cut 3 December 2015
  5. Colours 23 October 016


What was the picture?

Pick five of the stories and suggest what might have been the picture that prompted them.  Can you draw or paint? Have a go at making a picture to go with one of the stories?


Have a go

Go back to Twitter. Can you write a story prompted by the first picture you see? Try to put a shape into it. Write for ten minutes and polish for ten minutes.  Can you make it exactly 140 words long?


Scavenger hunt

Who will be the first to find stories with the following items in them?

  1. A flat cap
  2. Trees
  3. Spectacles
  4. Time
  5. An inn
  6. Story
  7. Water
  8. Breakfast
  9. A sofa
  10. Cooking

Thursday 17 September 2020

Another inteview with a Waterloo Festival Writing Competition Winner - Allison Symes

 Allison tells us about her life as a writer and her stories in the Waterloo collections. 
1. What do you write? Why this in particular?
I write flash fiction (up to 1000 words) and short stories (1500 +). I’ve always loved reading short fiction so writing it was a natural progression for me. Discovering flash fiction was a happy accident. I’d been writing stories (1500 words or so) for Cafelit when I spotted their 100-word challenge. I thought I’ve got to see if it can be done so I sent material in, they liked and published it, and I’ve been writing flash tales ever since. It is addictive! I love inventing people for stories. With flash you’ve got to do this all the time. So from my point of view win-win!

2. What got you started on writing in the first place?
I’ve loved reading since I was tiny and owe a huge debt to my late mother who taught me to read before I started school. She was told off for it too - not that I minded! So the love of stories has been there for a very long time. I always enjoyed writing stories in English lessons when it was called “composition”. I guess I should have realized writing was in my blood a lot sooner than I did! It took a major birthday and the birth of my son that made me realise if I was going to write, I should get on and do some! I only wish I’d started much sooner than I did.

3. Do you have a particular routine?
Most of my writing is done 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 working on flash fiction or short stories. I also have longer term projects on the go which I focus more on at weekends. I also blog once a month on the Association of Christian Writers’ More Than Writers blog spot. I’ve also co-judged a flash fiction competition they ran and that was good fun and interesting to do. So sometimes things like this come into my “normal” routine and fit in around my other work. Never a dull moment and that’s how I like it! I am now also an editor so find having a routine for that lovely work, as well as my own creative writing, is important. I’m sure I get more done having a routine in place though I appreciate it may not work for everyone. All I know for sure is it does work for me!

4. Do you have a dedicated working space?
Yes. I have a desk with printer and laptop on it. Close by is my writing diary and my dictionary. At the back of my desk is a nice pile of books which includes my flash fiction collection, From Light to Dark and Back Again, and the various anthologies I’ve been in over the years. I am very much looking forward to adding my copy of the Waterloo Arts Festival paperback to that pile!

5. When did you decide you could call yourself a writer? Do you do that in fact?
I think it was when I started receiving acceptances for my stories on a reasonably regular basis. You suddenly wake up to the fact your writing has moved on and it was then I was happy to call myself a writer. I should have done this sooner. I’ve been committed to writing regularly and giving everything I do my best shot for a long time before I was published. I think commitment to writing is the important factor here. If you’ve got that, and you write regularly, you are a writer. Hopefully then it is a matter of time before you make the breakthrough into being a published writer. And having an open mind and always being willing to learn are vital too.

6. How supportive are your friends and family? Do they understand what you're doing?
I am lucky here. My immediate family are supportive though they don’t always understand (a) what I’m doing and (b) how slow the publishing industry can be. That last point does strike people as strange when they work in industries where decisions are acted upon quickly. My family know writing is phenomenally important to me and back me. They are always pleased to hear when a new story or book of mine is out there. I’m fortunate there too. I have heard sad stories of writers whose families don’t support them, resent the time the writer is working, and don’t realise how important the “small steps” are for an author. It’s not all about getting the million dollar deal, which is just as well really!

7. What are you most proud of in your writing?
I will always be proud of my first story to be accepted and published in print - A Helping Hand in Bridge House Publishing’s Alternative Renditions anthology. That first publication acceptance is always special. Likewise, I’m proud of From Light to Dark and Back Again, my first published book (Chapeltown Books). I am most proud of my characters, even the unlikeable ones. I do outline and plan my characters and know where they are coming from, even when I disapprove of what they do. (I can think of a few of my people I would NOT want to meet for real!). So I think I can write for them realistically and that comes across to a reader.

8. How do you get on with editing and research?
I love both, though the amount of research I need to do for fiction varies. A memorable piece of research recently was looking up what poisonous flowers you could reasonably expect to find in a garden. That was for a story I’ve entered for a competition! I adore editing as I always feel relief when I’ve got the first draft written. It means I have something to work with and improve (and it will be improved!). I like knowing the edit strengthens the story by taking out wasted words, spotting plot/character weaknesses and correcting those, and knowing that with all of this work, the chance of the story being published has to increase.

9. Do you have any goals for the future?
I want to continue to improve what I do writing wise, for fiction and for blogging, and on the editorial side. I am working on a third flash fiction collection and hope that sees the light of day at some point. I’m also working on a non-fiction book, which is interesting to do, but is a longer term project. I would like to finish writing that this year/early into 2021 and start submitting it. I know with non-fiction you’re supposed to send in a proposal first but I want to write the book first to prove to myself I can do it! I’ve got the ideas, it is a question of getting them down. I also have an unpublished novel which I would like to sort out and see if I can get published at some point (though I was proud when that was long listed for a Debut Novel competition many moons ago).

10. Which writers have inspired you?
Oh so many! Jane Austen for her irony, P.G. Wodehouse for his sublime humour, and Terry Pratchett for showing me that humorous fantasy WAS and is a wonderful thing indeed. (There are many aspects to human nature which come across better in humorous writing I think). And I love the classic fairytales. Those have inspired my writing. As for Dickens, his A Christmas Carol is for me a strong contender for best fairytale/ghost story of all (and I do see it as a combination of those). I am also inspired by writer friends I know whose books I love and it is thanks to them I am reading more contemporary fiction than I once did and that is great.

 I’m thrilled to be included in all three Waterloo Arts Festival Writing Competition ebooks so will chat a little about what inspired all three stories.

The first one was Progressing in To Be…To Become

 Tell me about your story in the collection.
Progressing is about a trainee tooth fairy on secondment to Earth. She is being supervised by her immediate boss but things go wrong and both are under pressure to stop the wrong things from happening. My trainee fairy faces the prospect of being sent back to her formidable mother if she mucks things up. The boss faces getting the sack from the Fairy Queen.

 What inspired you to write this?
I love humorous fantasy and the theme To Be… To Become struck me as ideal for this. To be gives you the idea of what someone is and to become is whether they get to be what they want to be or not. There is a lot of potential for humour and tragedy there.

 How did you hear about the competition?
I am a Bridge House author and details about the competition were flagged up by them.

 Have you had any other success in short-story writing?
Yes. I’ve had several stories in Bridge House Publishing and Cafelit anthologies, as well as online. I’ve been shortlisted a couple of times in Writing Magazine competitions. And I’ve been one of the winners of the Waterloo Festival Writing Competition three years in a row. I am very proud and pleased about that!

What for you makes a good short story?
It is all about the characters for me. If they grip or intrigue me, I will want to find out what happens to them so will read their story. I like a good pace, dialogue that makes me feel as if I’m listening in on a private conversation, and a punchy ending which is suitable for the tale.

Do you have any tips for new writers or writers seeking publication?
The big tip has to be to read widely and across genres. Read novels. Read novellas. Read short stories. Read flash fiction. Read poetry. (You pick up so many ideas for stories of your own from what you read so it pays to read widely and well. See it as casting your imagination net widely!).
Always check out publishers and competitions carefully. There are charlatans out there. Never be afraid to ask for advice. Good publishers and competitions will spell out the conditions carefully.
Never sign away all of your rights.
Accept that writing takes practice to get right and rejections happen to everyone but the good news there is just because your story gets turned down, it doesn’t have to end there. Have another look at it and see if you can submit it somewhere else where the theme fits etc. I’ve had work turned down which was accepted by someone else later on.
Write, write, write. Accept it takes time.

My second winning story for the Waterloo Arts Festival was The Professional.

Tell me about your story in the collection.
The Professional is about a salesman from a lowly background who has worked his way up the ladder but he sells meat from around the universes to discerning buyers.  And he’s not fussy about who provides the meat! But the salesman has transformed himself and is proud of what he has achieved. He sees what he does as necessary but you might not agree with him!

What inspired you to write this?
The idea of transforming being immediately brought to mind the thought of having someone from a lowly background do so well in their chosen profession that their so-called superiors would have to acknowledge this being has done well. Also I like the idea of a lowly character triumphing over odds and prejudices to get on in life. The twist here is where this salesman work and what he sells.
My most recent winning story for the Waterloo Arts Festival was Books and the Barbarians.

Tell me about your story in the collection.
Books and Barbarians was such fun to write. I do have a soft spot for humorous tales but again here I have a main character who is looked down on for being “weedy” who makes good here.

 What inspired you to write this?
 The theme of Transforming Communities immediately brought to mind books and the way they can impact on individual and community lives so knew I had to write a story with this being the transforming point. And my weedy character who teaches the more macho people of his society how to read amused me. Let’s hear it for the weedy characters!

An excerpt from Books and the Barbarians

“What good will Sparos be coming with us, Derentia? He throws up on every dimension jump trip,” Resmos told his co-pilot.
 Resmos glared at the forlorn seven stones weakling who stood at the time machine’s steps.
“Sparos finds things useful to our tribe,” Derentia beckoned to Sparos to come up. “Discovering how to make fire was useful. We now all enjoy hot food.”
Resmos swore. “Okay but you clear up if he’s sick this time. What the hell is wrong, Sparos? Don’t you know what hoops we’ve had to go through to get the permissions needed for you to come with us? You repay us by vomiting!”
“I don’t know, Resmos, sir. I’ve not been right since I was a kid. You know that.”
Resmos laughed mirthlessly. “Well, you’re honest.”
“I couldn’t help being ill, Resmos, sir. Everyone had that sickness.”
“Only you never went on to grow strong. Picking up sticks would be too much for you.”
Sparos bowed. It was his rotten luck to be born into a species prizing physical strength.
The virulent illness that swept through his tribe, killing many, left him with a physique that was not only undesirable (as the females all made clear), but made him the butt of every weakling joke imaginable.
So, he had to justify his continued existence. By finding things the community found useful, he’d gained the nickname The Scavenger, but there was grudging respect behind it.
Sparos swore Resmos wouldn’t know what might be useful if it hit him. What was it about being muscular that led to not being able to think? Mind, there was nobody else you’d want on your side in a fight with an alien species.

Allison Symes - links

Don't forget the paperback that includes all three e-books will be out on 5 December.