Monday 25 September 2023

Write what you know?

That is the advice that is frequently given to writers yet we often rebel against it. Writing what we don’t know often seems more exciting.

Writing what you know can be more authentic

Classic writer Louisa May Alcott wrote a lot of other material before she wrote her famous Little Women and much of that earlier material remains obscure. Whether she actually wrote as much melodrama as her character Jo we can’t be sure, but we do know that in this book and the others that followed about the same characters she was tapping into something with which she was familiar. That authenticity shone through.

But what about historical fiction, fantasy and science fiction?

Naturally these explore the unknown. We can find out facts for our historical fiction but we aren’t personally familiar with the circumstances in which our ancestors lived. For fantasy and science fiction we have to create new worlds. How do we do that? And are they in the end all that new to us? Surely all of this is actually based on what we know?

What would I or even they do in these circumstances?

So, we create our world and our characters. We put our characters into those worlds and predict how they’ll act. Don’t we base that prediction on how we would act in those circumstances? So we are still coming from a position of knowledge. A type of method acting takes place.

When fantasy and science fiction aren’t

Have you noticed that in fact most fantasy worlds relate to our own? They become symbols for our life and society. They act as glove puppets and anthropomorphic animals do for younger readers. They give us some objectivity about our own world. Science fiction often fails to predict and much of it is an extension of what is happening now. Dystopias too are frequently a reflection of our own society and explore what happens when some aspects of it go unchecked.

Using what you know as a tool to find out about you don’t know

We have several tools at our disposal when we do research for our writing. We can look at memorabilia and the physical world around us. We can repeat experience. But when that fails we can project forward and work out how things will pan out. We do that from the point of what we know.

However, what of the “unhiemlich”?

This the German word for “uncanny”.  The “heimlich” is that what belongs to home, the familiar, that with which we are comfortable.  But the “unheimlich” is the unknown, what doesn’t belong to our familiar circle. According to our story gurus most stories start with a call to adventure.  The hero is invited to step outside of their comfort zone and cross a first threshold. They are forced into the unknown.

Can it be that even here we are writing what we know? We know story shape and we know that even in our daily lives we have to challenge ourselves. We also know the fear that accompanies that. So again we are back to writing what we know.       

Monday 4 September 2023

Allison Symes talks to us about being invovled with The Best of CafeLit 12



Many thanks, Gill, for the invite to take part in your blog about The Best of CafeLit 12. I was delighted to have my story, Jubilee, included in the latest CafeLit anthology.


What inspired you to write your story 'Jubilee' ?

Invitations were issued to write a story based around the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and it was a joy to write my tale. I wanted the celebrations to be a positive turning point in the life of my character, Dorothy. I also wanted her to show her family she was still capable of producing surprises. She gets to do both here.

But it was the Jubilee celebrations which turned things around for Dorothy. Without them, she would not have moved on. It was also lovely to write a story with a specific time marker acting as a frame for my story. I don’t often get to do that and it means this story is also historical fiction due to that.


How did you get to find out about CafeLit?

Initially online. I’ve been writing for CafeLit for some time and it is always a joy to have work on site with them. It is even more special when a story of mine is selected for their print anthologies. I also enjoy seeing familiar names and new names in the books. It’s a great balance.


Do you enjoy reading short stories? What’s special / important about them?

Yes. I love short stories and flash fiction and am published in both. There is something about the short form which captures the moment. I love that. You have these moments which could never be expanded out for a novella or novel but would make a charming short story or piece of flash fiction. You have stories working here which could not work in any other format. A moment in time can be lost in the sheer scale of a novel. I also think short stories and flash fiction can be great ways of encouraging the reluctant reader. They may be more tempted to read something short as opposed to something long, at least to begin with. The idea is to get them hooked on to reading.


Tell us a little more about your writing. 

As well as writing flash fiction/short stories, I blog regularly. I write a weekly column for online magazine, Chandler’s Ford Today, often on topics of interest to writers (which can be found at

 I also blog for Authors Electric and More than Writers, the blog spot for the Association of Christian Writers.

I write for and am part of the editorial team for Writers’ Narrative, which is written by writers for writers.

 I also run flash fiction and editing workshops.  I sometimes judge story competitions too.

I was one of the winners of the Waterloo Arts Festival Writing Competition three years in a row. I was impressed with how the fifteen winners each year came up with such different stories when we were all writing to the same theme and word count.

I have had flash stories broadcast on North Manchester FM on the Three Minutes Santa show hosted by Hannah Kate.

I have also appeared on Wendy H Jones’s The Writing and Marketing Show podcast. One appearance there was specifically on flash fiction and it was a joy to be able to talk about that in more depth.

The buzz of being published is a great joy, an ongoing one too!


Author Bio

Allison Symes, who loves reading and writing quirky fiction, is published by Chapeltown Books, CafeLit, and Bridge House Publishing. Her flash fiction collections, Tripping The Flash Fantastic and From Light to Dark and Back Again are out in Kindle and paperback.








News 4 September 2023




Walking definitely helps my writing. I get many ideas when I’m out walking. I also find a spell away from my desk doing some sort of physical activity actually increases my output and improves its quality.

Did you know that Charles Dickens often walked for ten or more miles a day? This on top of quite rigid writing routine. And one other great advantage of going out for a walk: you can see what’s going on in the world and get ideas for your writing. If it’s good enough for my mate CD, it’s good enough for me. 

I’ve taken the Trussell Trust challenge this month to walk for thirty minutes a day and cover more than 42 km in the month of September. So far so good!      

This will raise money for the Trussell Trust   If you’d like to sponsor me you can here. But don’t feel you have to.



Writing news

A few little successes this month. The Best of CafeLit 12 is out now. I edited this and I have a few stories in there. Read all about it at:


There is a write up about the event I mentioned last month at:   

Reedsy has published my story ‘Catbo’. This is a spinoff of my Peace Child series and quite topically is about artificial intelligence. Take a look here:  

I have made Clara’s Story (book two in my Schellberg series) available on Kofi.  Find it here: Pay what you like.   

Meanwhile, I continue with Peace Child 6. I’m now on the second draft which has meant adding a few more chapters. This is nearly always the most demanding of the rewrites. I’m continuing with my set of Tip Sheets for creative writing teachers to use with new writers. New writers will also be able to use them on their own. I’ve created thirty-five so far and I’m aiming for fifty.  I’ve covered amongst other topics, character, story structure, poetic forms, turning your work into gifts, a submission strategy and some about formatting scripts.           


On My Blog

There are quite a few posts on my blog this month.

I introduce you to some of my non-fiction writing:

I have interviews with several of our The Best of CafeLit 12 Contributors: Dawn Knox,    Jim Bates,  Rosemary Johnson, Fleur Lind, Sharon Zajdman  and Stacie Eirich. I also talk to Jim Bates about being our first fast track author.   

I offer some insights to my WIP which has been one of the most difficult projects for me.   

I also take a look at another writer’s blog:

A busy month indeed.  


The Young Person’s Library

I have added just one book this month:

Mermaid Academy, Cora and Sparkle, by Julie Sykes and Linda Chapman

-          A nice easy read for early fluent readers. All about mermaids.  


Recommended read

This month I’m recommending Dawn Knox’s A Folly in Plotlands 

A heart-warming story of romance and survival.

Dismissed from a school where she was neve really that happy but that had been home for her for a long time, Samira Stewart cultivates an unlikely relationship with her estranged grandmother. She has to grow up quickly. She takes care of the ailing old lady who doesn’t deserve the attention that is now lavished on her. Then her brother and uncle really start to make life difficult. She falls in love and a childhood illness almost stops her beloved from staying with her.

Expert story-teller Dawn Knox’s A Folly in Plotland is an uplifting read.  Enjoy!                   



Note: these are usually mobi-files to be downloaded to a Kindle.  Occasionally there are PDFs.

This month I’m offering Fibbin’ Archie, a YA romance that is also a writing experiment.  

Archie has problems with his ears every time he lies.

Archie’s life is full of care: one girlfriend dumps him and then he realises he is actually in love with a girl he had formally despised. Life at home is difficult. He is sympathetic to his grandmother and her new romantic life but the rest of his family disagrees.  Then he finds he has a penchant for mathematics … and his maths teacher has a penchant for him.

Fibbin’ Archie will make you laugh, cry ….and count. It is all written according to the  Fibonacci series.        

 Grab your free stuff here:  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 £8.00. 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.

This month I’ve written about the Lebensborn initiative started by the Nazis. It is terrifying. Read all about it here.

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 books 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.