Saturday 18 March 2023

Today I talk to Allison Symes - a self-confessed huge fan of writing prompts


Do you use writing prompts yourself?
Yes. I use these so much it's probably easier to say when I don't for my stories. I do like to mix up the kind of prompt I use though. It keeps things interesting for me and, I would hope, for readers too. They're a great challenge to rise to, which I think is a great discipline for a writer.

What are the advantages of using prompts such as  those included in the books? 
Hmm... where to start here. Firstly, most competitions have a theme attached to them so practicing writing to prompts set by someone else just gets you used to this whole idea. Secondly, at writing conferences, workshops, and other writing events, prompts are often set, either for you to take home with you or work on there or a bit of both. I do this for the workshops I run. The more you write to prompts the less fazed you will be by doing this. Thirdly, you will come up with stories and ideas you would not have thought of yourself, I find this to be the case all the time. Advantage of that? You've stretched your creativity and given  your imagination a good old workout. That benefits your writing overall. Fourthly, you have a useful starting point for a story. The problem with open competitions is they can be too open! I find having a theme set someone else better because it gives me something to work to from the get-go and it's then a question of exploring what take I can make on the set theme. That is fun.
Where else do you find prompts from?
I use online random generators - random adjectives, nouns, words etc. I tend to use these to get the chosen words into a story somehow. I also use random question and theme generators. Sometimes those give me titles immediately. Sometimes they give me the theme directly. Sometimes I can even use this type for ideas for my blogs (particularly for Chandler's Ford Today). I also use story cubes (I was recently given a set and these are fun). I also use books of prompts including the ones brought out by you, Gill. I think it is vital to have a wide source of "idea finders" and this I feel is one of the biggest advantages to using a wide mix of prompts. I do use picture prompts. I've used random object generators and even a random Pictionary one. Great fun.
And where do you get you ideas from  prompts form?
All over the place as mentioned above but I like that a lot because I'm not reliant on one specific type of prompt. I also took part in Flash NANO last year where you've given 30 prompts over the 30 days of November. Never knew what was coming until I got the email on each day to say so. Some kinds of prompts I had written to before but others I hadn't. One of the latter was to write a story in the form of a police report. I came up with a humorous fantasy piece on that which ended up being broadcast on the Three Minutes Santas show on North Manchester FM last December! I wouldn't have thought to have written a story in that way.

Have you a prompt for today?
I've picked one from a random question generator I use. What would you do on a free afternoon in the middle of the week? The " you" here is, of course, your lead character. This is one I've used myself ages ago.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Have fun with prompts. Unless writing to a set theme, say for a competition, where you do have to stick to that, there's nothing to stop you putting your own spin on a prompt idea. I've done this often. Just tweaked an idea to suit my purposes and off I go. (I can then save these for open theme competitions too!).
Fancy trying our Big Book Of Prompts

Friday 17 March 2023

The Big Book of Prompts - Amanda Jones talks to me today about working with prompts


Do you use writing prompts yourself?
Yes, I find them useful. They give me inspiration.
What are the advantages of using prompts such as  those included in the books? 

They are easy to find and don’t require research.

 Where else do you find prompts from? 

Everyday life and things I am actively doing.

 And where do you get you ideas from  prompts form?
At the moment I am doing a Quaker Climate Justice course and key words from my learning are forming prompts for my poetry which I’m sharing online on my social media.
Have you a prompt for today?
 Debt swaps

Anything else you’d like to add?

Writing keeps me thinking and creative. Prompts ensure I have something there when I write.

Thursday 16 March 2023

Dreams and Challenges

Exam, Student, Graduation, University

The two dreams had always been there: be a writer, work as a university lecturer. Yet I was stuck in my role as teacher of modern foreign languages.  And after all, that was the fulfilment of another dream – to be fluent in two foreign languages.

Yet even when I got the kick-start to taking my writing seriously I still dabbled in the foreign language scene. Another ambition was to become a head of modern languages. I did that for six years and finally left full-time high school teaching in 2000. 

My eureka moment about writing led me to establishing a routine, which led me to Writers’  Register, part of the continuing education initiative of the University of Southampton, which led me to doing an MA in Writing for Children and the University of Winchester (at that time rather charmingly named King Alfred’s College). A few weeks after I graduated I received my first publishing contract.

I missed university life, however, and soon found myself applying to do a PhD.  Winchester didn’t offer them at that time but on my tutor’s recommendation I applied to the University of Wales, Bangor and was accepted.

Then came a life of a 600 mile round trip most weeks, living in a house share (postgrad at least), post-lunch coffees in the postgrad room with the theologians, teaching undergrads and postgrads and the challenge of writing a YA novel that aligned with the definition of what a YA novel is, a definition I was trying to pinpoint by studying numerous texts (in many languages and in other Englishes), publishers’ guidelines and the opinions of educationalists and young adult themselves.

As the period of study drew to an end, I began again to realise that I would miss the university way of life, so I started to look for posts in higher education. I secured one at the University of Salford so reduced my round trip to 300 miles. I’m glad to say we have since moved to the North West and I’m really glad we did; we’re near to Manchester, a vibrant and culturally rich town, the cost of living is considerably lower here than it was on the south coast and we’re pretty well bang in the middle of the UK, so nowhere is too far away.  

I’m retired now but I’m still doing a little work now and then for the university, and a lot of writing and publishing. My languages are still bubbling away there in the background – I’ve joined U3A conversation groups for French, German and Spanish. And I’ve now also become a publisher.

I gained my PhD and started my new career in higher education when I was 55. When I was very young and we used to go on seaside holidays to Colwyn Bay I used to dream of going to the teacher training college at Ross on Sea. I sort of got there but overshot a little; Bangor is just up the road form Ross on Sea and it has a university rather than a teacher training college.                             

Tuesday 14 March 2023

The Big Book of Prompts - Dawn Knox talks to me about Writing Prompts today.


Do you use writing prompts yourself? 

I never have a problem finding ideas to write about. The problem I have is finding the time to write about all the ideas I’ve got! So, no, I don’t deliberately use prepared writing prompts. However, there have been several occasions when I have used them, and the consequences have been quite surprising. Each one has resulted in a book – The Basilwade Chronicles, The Macaroon Chronicles and The Crispin Chronicles. I’ve just embarked on a new set of short stories about the members of a zany club who make post box toppers and I suppose they all started from having seen one of the amazing, knitted toppers in my town. So, I rarely search for writing prompts, but they certainly find me.


What are the advantages of using prompts such as those included in the books?  

 On the occasions when I have used writing prompts such as when they’ve been set as a task in one of my writing groups, I’ve found the resulting story is something I would never have come up with on my own. Before I start a story, I usually like to have the beginning and end sorted out but with a writing prompt, I’m more likely to ‘fly by the seat of my pants’ and not worry that I might ‘write myself into a corner’. I suppose at the moment, I’m doing that with my post box topper society stories. In the first story, I set up a ‘villain’ who is believed to be sabotaging the toppers. At first, I had absolutely no idea who he or she might be, but if I’m going to carry on, I need to have an identity for the mysterious A. Godbin, who is quick to complain via email! Have I given them an identity yet? Watch this space!


Where else do you find prompts from? 

 Anywhere and everywhere! An overheard snatch of conversation, an unusual item in a news report, a bizarre or touching historical story, or interesting photographs. There are too many prompts and not enough time to take advantage of them all!



Have you a prompt for today? 

 If anyone is lacking inspiration, here’s a photo I took in a churchyard in London just before the first lockdown! I don’t know why, but this image always comes to mind when I think about writing prompts. Perhaps it will inspire you too!


Anything else you’d like to add?

If you’ve never used a writing prompt, it’s definitely worth giving it a go and seeing if you agree with me, it’s likely to lead you into places you most probably wouldn’t have gone otherwise. Happy writing!

Thursday 2 March 2023

News 2 March 2023

 City, Salford Quays, Skyline, The Quays

Inspired by a local artist

With my Talking About My Generation  hat on, it was my privilege to visit last Saturday the Harold Riley Gallery at the Lowry Outlet Centre in Salford. I talked to the artist’s daughter  Kate, and granddaughter Hannelore. 

Harold Riley was a friend of Lowry and Lowry was also his mentor. Riley is the only artist to have had Nelson Mandela sit for a portrait. He was given the freedom of the city of Salford in 2017.

A full article will be coming out shortly with Talking About My Generation. 

One fact fascinated me and may be of interest to people reading this newsletter. Riley completes two commissions a year to cover his living costs, then he can spend the rest of his time on projects he deems important.  Is this comparable with my own experience? And that indeed of many creative practitioners?

For eleven years I worked as a lecturer in creative writing and I still do a little freelance work for the university. I earn a little from my writing.  I have a pension from the university which adds to my teaching pension and state pension. I’m not rich, but I’m comfortably off. So, I can carry on with projects I deem important and / or interesting even if they don’t make a lot of money or even make a slight loss.  

Thinking about how Riley works has made me see myself as more successful than I’d thought before.     


Writing news

I think I have a title for Peace Child 4: Looking for Butterflies or perhaps even, Finding the Butterflies.

I’ve had a couple of short stories published this month.

You can find my story Out of the Corner of My Eye here: It’s a bit of a ghost story.

Getting it into Perspective is here:  

I’ve made a book trailer for my latest release  Face to Face with the Führer. Incidentally, save the date. There will be an online launch 18 May 6.00 p.m.  to 7.00 p.m.

On Talking About My Generation I have an article about a local exhibition celebrating the 1970s and 1980s. You can read it here: 

I’m selling my Build a Book Workshop book on Kofi. This is all about working with children in school to publish a book. This is an alternative way of buying it.  You pay what you like: Build a Book on Kofi



On My Blog

I’ve had quite a few authors on my blog this month. Liz Cox, Jenny Palmer, Sally Angel Malina Douglas and Allison Symes talk about writing for the Evergreen and about their writing in general.  Janet Howson discusses her recently published A Cue For Murder.     

If you’re living the dream and spending a lot of your working hours writing do you have time for or even need hobbies? I discuss that here. Do take a look at the photo of my lovely choir.

Do we make a difference?  I ask that question here.


 The Young Person’s Library

I’ve added three books this month: 

We Don’t Eat This by Sue Graves and Alan Brown is an emergent reader text about farm animals.  

The Storm Swimmer by Clare Weze is for fluent readers and is set at the seaside. Ginika gets to know one of the sea people. I love this type of fantasy where the new world visits our more familiar setting.  

Igloo by Jennifer Burkinshaw is a beautifully written gentle YA romance largely set in the Alps. In fact, this is this month’s recommend read.

I know both Clare and Jennifer and have in fact published their short stories. It’s good to see them making strides through the writing world. 

Recommended read

Yes, I’m recommending Jennifer Burkinshaw’s Igloo

This is a gentle romance at the same time as being a gentle coming of age story.

Niv does not like skiing nor does she want to go to university. Her passion is for working with wood.  Then along comes Jean-Louis with his one set of problems mainly to do with his dysfunctional mother. Can Niv survive her poor GCSE results? Can her relationship with Jean-Louis continue? Will she regain her mother’s trust and affection? All of this set against a backdrop of snow, mountains and two igloos.

There is pace and tension a plenty in Jennifer Burkinshaw’s Igloo.     




Note: these are usually mobi-files to be downloaded to a Kindle.  Occasionally there are PDFs. This month I’m offering a Kindle file and a PDF of Other Ways of Being.  Mobi-files have stopped working on some Kindle devices, so we’re gradually changing over to the newer type of file. I’m afraid we haven’t updated this to the new sort of file for Kindle yet. You , however, be able to read the PDF on your Kindle.     


Other Ways of Being is my second collection of short stories.  


Read all about it here:

Other Ways of Being is an anthology of stories that ask us many questions about:

  • otherness: Is a stranger a threat or is he just trying to help? It may be as clever as being a fortune-teller but is it helpful?
  • other times: Is the wild woman really a little girl that she used to know? Will they be safe now or should they worry about the bright soldiers marching? Which horror does the deep sleeper hide?
  • other histories: Who was that strange child? How did they manage to feed so many people?
  • other worlds: Can a couple remain together even when their natures threaten to keep them apart? Is a seemingly incompetent wizard cleverer than he seems? What happens when an alien makes a mistake and almost gives himself away? Do animals help each other in their struggle against the damage that humans are doing? Who exactly is the lady in blue? Is Bradley’s the best story ever?
  • our near futures: Can a man survive in a dystopian future if he has no more human contact? What can ATMs do when society goes moneyless? What happens when the money runs out? Just how smart will the smartphone get? Or driverless cars for that matter? Where will we find sanctuary when the extremists start winning? What happens to the clones when the blueprint gets sick?
  • other sexualities and genders: Will we get used to Toni?

Does this collection supply the answers to those questions? That is for the reader to decide.


Find out more. Grab your copy and lots of other freebies

Note, you may have to copy and paste the link.   

And please, please, please leave a review, perhaps on Amazon, Good Reads and / or Story Graph, when you’ve finished.    

Note: Normally my books and the books supplied by the imprints I manage sell for anything from £0.99 to £10.99.  Most on Kindle are about £2.99 and the average price for paperback is £7.00. Writers have to make a living. But I’m offering these free samples so that you can try before you buy.


The Schellberg Project

The posts may be helpful for teachers who are familiar with the Schellberg stories or who are teaching about the Holocaust.  They may also be interesting for other readers of historical fiction.

Sometimes I also write about what might be useful to other writers.


I’ve added two posts this month. In The Little Underground Theatre I discuss my progress in planning the seventh book in the cycle.  And I think this will be its title.

In Megalomania I compare Putin to Hitler – and one or two others. I’m afraid Mr Putin comes off rather badly.  



Some notes about my newsletters and blogs

They do overlap a little but here is a summary of what they all do.


Bridge House Authors For all those published by Bridge House, CaféLit, Chapeltown or The Red Telephone or interested in being published by us. General news about the imprints. News for writers. Links to book performance. Sign up here.


The Bridgetown  Café Bookshop where you can buy my book and books published by Bridge House Publishing, CafeLit, Chapeltown Books and The Red Telephone.  Visit us here.     


Chapeltown Books News about our books. Sign up here.


The Creative Café Project News about the project and CaféLit – for the consumer rather than for the producer.  Sign up here.   


Gill’s News: News about my writing, The Schellberg Project, School Visits and Events. Book recommendations and giveaways. Find it here.   


Pushing Boundaries, Flying Higher News about conferences and workshops to do with the young adult novel. (infrequent postings) Sign up here.  


Red Telephone Books News about our books and our authors. Sign up here.


A Publisher’s Perspective Here I and some other editors blog as a publisher. Access this here.   


The Creative Café Project Listings and reviews of creative cafés. See them here.   


CaféLit Stories Find these here


Gill James Writer All about writing and about my books. View this here.


Gill’s Recommended Reads Find information here about books that have taken me out of my editor’s head and a reminder of the ones I’ve highlighted in this newsletter.    


Gill’s Sample Fiction Read some of my fiction here.


The House on Schellberg Street All about my Schellberg project. Read it here.


Writing Teacher All about teaching creative writing.  Some creative writing exercises. Access this here.  I also invite other writers to provide prompts and work for critique.     


Books Books Books Weekly offers on our books and news of new books. Find them here. 


The Young Person’s Library The children’s book catalogue. Access it here.


Fair Submissions  Find it here.   

Opportunities for writers are added several times a day. Roughly once a month I send it out to a list. If you would like to be on that list, sign up here.  

Happy reading and writing.