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How to Write Short Stories by Ashley Lister

I’m honoured to have the brilliant Ashley Lister with me today, to talk about his forthcoming creative writing book, How to Write Short Stories.

I’ve had the pleasure of being taught by Ashley – and having taught him in return. He is a wonderful writer, poet, creative writing lecturer, and a right good chap…

Over to you Ashley…

To my mind, short stories are different from any other kind of writing.

Not only is the short story shorter than the novel, but the novel is allowed to ramble and take the reader on digressions. A short story can’t get away with that. If we’re reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, we’re reading a story where every word must count. There is no scope for the main character to have thoughts on the weather, local politics, or the imagined shoe sizes of indigenous otters. The main character can’t take a trip to B&Q and study wallpaper swatches in the hope of redecorating. Every syllable in the short story needs to stay focused on the purpose of that narrative.

Poetry shares this specificity of restrained vocabulary, where every syllable is vital to the message being conveyed. But poetry is invariably shorter, and to my mind, unlike short stories, good poetry usually has a rhyme such as the one below:

There was an old woman from Hyde
Who ate rotten apples and died
The apples fermented
Inside the lamented
And made cider, inside her insides.

All of which is my way of saying that the short story is unlike any other form of literature out there. I say this with fondness in my voice because I genuinely love the short story. I’ve written hundreds of short stories; I’ve obtained a PhD based on a thesis I wrote about short stories; and now I’ve published a book explaining how to write short stories.

How to Write Short Stories and Get Them Published is the essential guide to writing short fiction. It takes the aspiring writer from their initial idea through to potential outlets for publication and pitching proposals to publishers.

Along the journey this guide considers the most important aspects of creative writing, such as character, plot, point of view, description and dialogue. All of these areas are illustrated with examples of classic fiction, and accompanied by exercises that will help every writer hone their natural skill and talent into the ability to craft compelling short stories.

How to Write Short Stories and Get Them Published is due out in December of 2019. It’s published by Little Brown and you can pre-order your copy using this link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1472143787/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_fpDlDbM5CS66H

Today, because my good friend Jenny invited me to write a blog post about my forthcoming book, I thought it would be prudent to share five tips for short story writing.

  1. Read good stories. Read people who know what they’re doing with a pen. If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely that you’re already familiar with the writing of Jenny Kane/Jennifer Ash: read her books and watch how she demonstrates her mastery of the craft. There is a balance between description and action. There is a strong use of character and dialogue. Watch how she does this, make notes, and try to emulate this sophisticated style of writing.
  2. Read rubbish stories. Like a lot of parents people, I’ve sat through some bloody awful films that my child thought would be entertaining (such as Theodore Rex, and The Cat in the Hat). Rather than grumbling about this, or trying to sleep or better my score on Candy Crush, I’ve used this as a learning experience. What don’t I like about the film? Is the dialogue too stilted? Am I having difficulty empathising with the characters? Is the plot too outrageous? Is the whole thing too dull? I make mental notes as I’m watching and I silently vow to avoid these mistakes in my own writing.
  3. Practice. Writing is a skill. We only develop our skills through practice: therefore it makes sense to practice. Aim for an hour a day if possible. If family, work, or life get in the way of that, steal whatever minutes you can find, and use them to help develop your craft. (I should also mention that my forthcoming book, How to Write Short Stories and Get Them Published, includes lots of writing exercises to act as spurs for creativity).
  4. Be honest with yourself. Once you’ve written a story, read through your work and assess whether or not it did what you wanted. If it was a horror story, do you think it frightens? If it’s a romance, will it make your readers feel satisfied in their belief of the power of love? Is it cohesive? Are there parts that work and parts that don’t work? Does it need a little editing or a lot of editing? Being honest is not simply a matter of saying, “That’s brilliant,” or “That’s rubbish.” It’s a matter of saying, “Does this story do its job?” And if not: “What I can do to amend it so that it does do its job?”
  5. Write the stories. Polish the stories. Send the stories out to potential publishers. And, when you get rejected, send the stories out again and again. Writing is not easy. Publishing is even harder. And remaining positive in the face of rejection is damned near impossible. However, if you believe in your writing, and if you approach the market intelligently, there’s no reason why every capable writer shouldn’t be able to get their work to the audience that needs them.

As I mentioned before, How to Write Short Stories and Get Them Published is due out in December of 2019. It’s published by Little Brown and you can pre-order your copy using this link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1472143787/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_fpDlDbM5CS66H

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Bio

Ashley Lister is a prolific writer, having written more than fifty full length books and over a hundred short stories. Aside from regularly blogging about poetry and writing in general, Ashley also lectures in creative writing.

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Many thanks Ashley,

This looks like a must read for any creative writer.

Happy reading- and writing- everyone,

Jenny x


8 Reasons to go on an Imagine writing retreat

Only a few rooms remain! Reserve your place now!

Alison Knight and I are proud to be hosting Imagine’s second writing retreat at Northmoor House.

8 reasons to go on an Imagine Writing Retreat…

1. Writers need writers! No one understands writing and a writer’s life like another writer. Mutual support is the name of the game!

2. Located in the stunning Victorian manor, Northmoor House, Imagine’s retreat gives you the chance to stay in a home untouched by time (Don’t panic, there is Wi-Fi). You can even indulge in the waters of an original Victorian bathtub…don’t forget your bubble bath!

3. With so many of the manor’s period features still in place, Northmoor is the ideal location for sparking inspiration and dreaming up new plotlines.

4. On the edge of Exmoor, near the popular village of Dulverton, there are plenty of beautiful places to explore should you, or any non-writing friends or partners, wish to. There are miles of good walking land on hand. The pre-historic Tarr Steps are but minutes away, and the cafes in Dulverton are excellent. I can personally recommend the poached eggs on crumpets in The Copper Kettle.

Tarr Steps

5. However, you might not want to stray into the village for food because we have employed an excellent local caterer, who is providing a delicious menu that will cater for all dietary requirements. All food is locally sourced.

6. Come along for a confidence boost! At Imagine we pride ourselves on helping everyone to get their words onto the page. We are here for beginners and experts alike.

7. Meet celebrated novelist Kate Lord Brown! Kate will be our guest speaker on the Tuesday evening.

8. Let’s face it – Monday to Friday in a beautiful Victorian Manor, with time to write, all food provided, plus help on tap, a chance to meet Kate Lord Brown, and the opportunity to share writing ideas over a glass of wine (or two) – for only £550 is a BARGAIN.

***

Full details are available at https://www.imaginecreativewriting.co.uk/writing-retreats 

If you have any queries please email Alison or myself at imaginecreativewritng@gmail.com

 

Happy writing everyone,

Jenny xx


Checking In

Hello there- long time no see. Or should that be long time no blog?

I admit it- I’ve been neglecting you out there in blog reading land. Life’s been rather on the busy side, and my blog has been the main casualty of the severe ‘lack of time’ that afflicts me.

I’m NOT complaining however. Busy in this particular case means amazing things are happening- not life changing or bank balance saving- but amazing nonetheless.

When I became a writer- by accident- fourteen years ago, I dreamed of writing a book that would keep people reading until 2 o’clock in the morning. I wanted to pen the sort of books where people had to read just one more chapter before they went to sleep. Now, all these years later, although I’d love my future books to do that too (apparently, some of my current books have caused such longed for sleep deprivation), I have new dreams…and it’s those I’m working on at the moment.

The first I can share with you- and that’s my desire to help as many new writers fulfill their writing dreams as I can. To give them the confidence I’ve never had- and to show them that if I can write a book, then they most certainly can!

I’m lucky enough to be part of Imagine– a creative writing business I co-run with fellow writer, Alison Knight. As part of that business we tutor new writers through every part of their novel writing process- and wow- do we have some fantastic students on our books. The world is going to get some stonking new talent on its bookshelves very soon.

There is something rewarding about helping others work to meet their writing dreams. All my students’ talent and hard work belongs to them and them alone. I’m just the cheerleader – although without the pompoms and the dubious chants obviously.

What else am I up to?

Well- my latest novel is drafted. It’s a rom/com set on Exmoor, which should hit all your ‘feel good’ buttons. naturally it includes the odd coffee…and there’s the occasional slice of lemon cake too.

When I have a minute I’ll edit it into shape and tell you much more about it. First, however, I have to do something else…but, I can’t tell you what that is. I wish I could- but I can’t. Although I can say its more Jennifer Ash than Jenny Kane, and it might have a whiff of medieval about it….Then there’s the other thing…also Jennifer Ash-ish…not exactly medieval…not even exactly English…

And then there’s something else as well…

That’s it…no more…my lips are sealed. And yes- I know I’m teasing you, and I know that’s annoying- but I’ve been so quiet lately, I thought I ought to wave a small flag to let you know I’m still here. I promise I’m beavering away at the wordage- even if I can’t tell you what words they are!

Happy reading everyone

Take care,

Jenny x

 

 


8 Reasons to go on an Imagine writing retreat

After the wonderful success of our trip to Northmoor House last October, Alison Knight and I are proud to open the booking for Imagine’s second writing retreat…

8 reasons to go on an Imagine Writing Retreat…

1. Writers need writers! No one understands writing and a writer’s life like another writer. Mutual support is the name of the game!

2. Located in the stunning Victorian manor, Northmoor House, Imagine’s retreat gives you the chance to stay in a home untouched by time (Don’t panic, there is Wi-Fi). You can even indulge in the waters of an original Victorian bathtub…don’t forget your bubble bath!

3. With so many of the manor’s period features still in place, Northmoor is the ideal location for sparking inspiration and dreaming up new plotlines.

4. On the edge of Exmoor, near the popular village of Dulverton, there are plenty of beautiful places to explore should you, or any non-writing friends or partners, wish to. There are miles of good walking land on hand. The pre-historic Tarr Steps are but minutes away, and the cafes in Dulverton are excellent. I can personally recommend the poached eggs on crumpets in The Copper Kettle.

Tarr Steps

5. However, you might not want to stray into the village for food because we have employed an excellent local caterer, who is providing a delicious menu that will cater for all dietary requirements. All food is locally sourced.

6. Come along for a confidence boost! At Imagine we pride ourselves on helping everyone to get their words onto the page. We are here for beginners and experts alike.

7. Meet celebrated novelist Kate Lord Brown! Kate will be our guest speaker on the Tuesday evening.

8. Let’s face it – Monday to Friday in a beautiful Victorian Manor, with time to write, all food provided, plus help on tap, a chance to meet Kate Lord Brown, and the opportunity to share writing ideas over a glass of wine (or two) – for only £550 (£50 less if you book before 28th February) is a BARGAIN.

***

Full details are available at https://www.imaginecreativewriting.co.uk/writing-retreats 

If you have any queries please email Alison or myself at imaginecreativewritng@gmail.com

 

PLEASE REMEMBER THAT THE EARLY BIRD DISCOUNT ENDS ON 28th FEB 2019

Happy writing everyone,

Jenny xx


Imagine Retreating

Last week, in the beautiful autumn sunshine, the first Imagine writing retreat to took place at Northmoor House, Exmoor – and what a week it was!

With 6 full-week guests,  4 part-week visitors and 2 very special guests (FaberFaber novelist Kate Griffin and Bloosmbury children’s writer, Dan Metcalf), it was nonstop creativity- be it writing, thinking, reading, tutoring or drawing.

Most of all, it was fantastic to be with so many talented folk in such incredible surroundings.

Our days were split into mealtimes (delicious food was provided by the brilliant Eve- caterer extraordinaire), optional one-to-one tutor sessions with myself or my Imagine partner in crime, Alison Knight, and free time to write.

The most important thing Alison and I wanted to provide at Northmoor, was the freedom to do as much, or as little as each guest wanted. Space to simply be.

Here are just a few photographs of the house, our guests, and a glimpse of the extensive grounds. (With thanks to our guests for sharing these pictures).

Dan Metcalf

Kate Griffin

If you’re sorry you missed out, then keep an eye on the Imagine website. The 2019 retreat date will be posted in the next few weeks.

Thanks to everyone who came along.

It was a joy.

Jenny x


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