There comes that moment in every blogger's life when they think, Why have I never invited this person onto my blog as a guest? I had that moment a few week's ago with womag writer and blogger, Helen Yendall. Helen's own blog, Blog About Writing, is one of the most informative and entertaining I've read and I've been following it since 2012. We also share a love of writing short stories and have shared the pages of magazines, so how has Helen slipped through the net? The answer is... I've no idea!
Anyway, I'm delighted that Helen agreed to be interviewed for Wendy's Writing Now and I know you'll find her answers as interesting as I did.
Weclome, Helen! Can you tell my readers how long you’ve been writing for magazines and which was the first magazine you sold to.
Oh, goodness, this is embarrassing because when I admit this, your readers are going to think ‘what the heck has she been doing in all that time?’ but I actually had my first short story acceptance (a competition win) in Bella magazine over twenty years ago. Bella, sadly, doesn’t publish short stories any more but back in those days, it was one of many magazines that accepted fiction. I really wish now that I’d applied myself much more and perhaps I’d have had many more acceptances but I was a bit of a dabbler at the writing game then.
We hear a lot about the importance of finding your own ‘voice’. Do you feel you have a particular writing style?
When my friends read my stories, they often say that they can ‘hear’ me speaking to them, so I guess my writing style must be similar to the way I speak. I suppose that’s not surprising but it just goes to show that ‘voice’ isn’t something you can fake: it’s just ‘you’, at the end of the day.
Have you noticed many changes since you started writing for magazines?
Of course, there are fewer and fewer of them that accept fiction and that’s the biggest change. They all seem to be full of celebrity gossip now. It’s such a shame that magazines like The Lady don’t even feature fiction any more.
You recently had your first serial, the Air is Sweet published in The People’s Friend magazine. Can you tell us a little about how this came about?
I’d had an idea for a novel set in a chocolate factory for a while (ever since I visited the museum at Cadbury World) and I’d even made a (small!) start and written the first chapter. So when The People’s Friend announced their serial-writing competition last year, it seemed the ideal opportunity to do something with my manuscript. I polished up the first 6000 words, added another character and a couple of cliff hangers and submitted that, along with a synopsis, to the competition (all very last minute!). I was amazed and delighted to get a call from the editor Shirley Blair, in the autumn, to tell me I was the winner. And part of my prize (once I’d written the next two instalments), was to see the serial published in the magazine.
Did you find the serial harder to write than a short story?
It was harder in some ways because it took a lot longer, of course (it was 16000 words in total and some of my short stories are under 1000 words). Also, as the serial is set in 1905, I had to do a lot of research (mind you, although time-consuming, that was actually a lot of fun). But I enjoyed the freedom of being able to write from three different points of view (in a short story, of course, you usually write from just one point of view) and I had so many different ideas for the plot and the characters that I could have written a lot more than I did. The characters came alive for me much more than they do in a short story. In fact, one of the hardest things about writing the serial, was trying to keep to the word count. I could easily have made it 5 or 6 instalments long.
I’ve been following your great blog, Blog About Writing, since I started writing in 2012 and like me, you post once a week. Do you find it hard to think of things to write?
That’s lovely to hear, Wendy. I actually used to blog more than once a week but I just don’t have time to post more often now and yes, you’re right, it does get harder to think of things to write about. I always try to bear in mind that the name of my blog is ‘blog about writing’ and that’s the reason, I assume, that people read it, so even when I’m rabbiting on about tennis or my dog or the other things in my life, I always try to put in something - whether it’s a book recommendation or a link to a competition – that’s relevant to writing. I’ve written over 500 posts now and yes, it’s definitely harder to blog these days!
From time to time you hold competitions on your blog. Can you tell my readers about your latest one, please?
Funny you should mention that, Wendy, yes I do have a writing competition on my blog and it’s free to enter and open to all. The closing date is 12th July, so there’s still time to get your entry in! I picked some words at random and they need to be included in a 100 word story (or poem). I’ve run a few competitions along these lines now and I never cease to be amazed by the creations that I’m sent!
You’ve already published one collection of short stories, Paper Chase, and your latest collection, The Sunshine Board, is out now. Who do you think these stories might appeal to?
Most of the stories have been published before in Woman’s Weekly magazine, so I suppose if you like those kind of stories, or are interested in reading some for ‘research purposes’, then the collection might appeal to you. But regardless of where the stories have come from (and a couple are competition winners rather than womag stories), I really hope that it’s a satisfying read for summer (hence the bright yellow cover!). There’s nothing scary or depressing in the stories – in fact, there’s a touch of humour (so I’m told) in some of them – so the collection would make a nice holiday read, whether you’re on the beach or having a ‘staycation’ in your back garden.
Finally, what next for Helen Yendall? Do you have any plans to write a novel or are you happy to stick with the short stories?
Good question! I must admit, I’ve got a taste for writing something longer, since I finished the serial. Whether that will be another serial or a novel, remains to be seen. I have got an idea but I just need to test it out first - do a bit of research (it’s another historical one) and see if it’s got ‘legs’! (Thanks for reminding me – I need to get on with it!).
Thank you so much for having me as a guest on your blog, Wendy. I’ve enjoyed following your progress from novice short story writer to People’s Friend favourite, then seeing you joining the RNA, completing your first novel and getting an agent! In such a short space of time. It’s not only impressive but inspiring too. Keep up the good work!
Helen Yendall lives in the Cotswolds and works part-time for a children’s charity. Her small claim to fame is that she was once Poet Laureate for Warwick but her first love is fiction. She likes the way it can help make sense of the world and that, as a writer, she can give good people the happy ending they deserve.