Monday, 13 August 2018

Moving On (a bit)

Six years ago, I started writing for the women's magazine market (womags). I've been very lucky and have had a lot of success over that time, with around three hundred stories published. In fact, apart from marriage and having children, the day I made my first short story sale was one of my best ever. This's why I felt very sad this week when I had to tell my favourite magazine, The People's Friend, that I will no longer be able to write as many stories for them.

The reason for this is I really need to concentrate on the novel I'm writing. Most of you will know that I've already written two novels (one of them won the Flash 500 Novel Opening and Synopsis competition and the other recently made the top five of the Simon and Schuster/Darley Anderson novel competition) and I feel that novel writing is the natural next stage of my writing career.

And herein lies the problem. When I wrote my first novels, I continued to write short stories alongside them but I constantly felt guilty. When I was writing my novel, I felt I should be writing a short story and, when I was writing a short story, I felt I should be writing my novel. 

The other problem was whenever I had a break and spent time with a cast of new  characters, a new story plot and, quite likely, a totally different genre to my novels (last week I had stories published in the genres of contemporary romance, rom-com and a swashbuckling period romance)
I found it hard to switch back into my novel characters' heads and write in the style of my genre (suspense).

That's why, now I've started writing novel three, and after much soul searching, I've decided I really need to concentrate on getting this one as good as it can be without distraction. My editor at The Friend is super-lovely and, when I wrote to him last week, he understood why I'd made this decision. He's always championed me and my writing and I owe him a lot. I did reassure him that it was not goodbye it was just au revoir for a little while and I would write him another story just as soon as I can.

Have you ever had to make a hard decision?

Monday, 30 July 2018

The Long and the Short of it - Guest Post Vivien Brown

I am always thrilled when authors who I've met and liked in 'real life' ask if they can be a guest on Wendy's Writing Now. Vivien Brown, who started her writing life as a fellow magazine writer, is one of those lovely people. In fact, it is Viv's third visit to my blog and I'm delighted to welcome her back as part of her blog tour for her second novel, Five Unforgivable Things, which was was published on 26th July by Harper Impulse.

Today, she's here to talk about how she's found the switch from writing magazine stories to novels. This will be of particular interest to those writers who are are struggling to make sales in the ever-decreasing magazine market and are considering writing something longer.

Over to you, Vivien.


After more than twenty years of writing short stories for the women’s magazines, the switch to novels has been a real eye-opener for me. Now I have had two published and I’ve finally proved to myself that I can actually sustain a storyline that’s about a hundred times longer than the ones I’ve been used to… but I’ve found length is far from the only difference between the two disciplines.

1.      How long is a piece of string?

Although I have always loved writing women’s magazine short stories, the womag world is very restrictive in terms of story length. Stories have to fit into a magazine which has a set number of pages, and they have to share space with all the features, letters pages, poems, and, of course, adverts. Editors have strict guidelines about length, so a 1000 word story might fit perfectly on the page that’s been set aside for it, but a 900 or 1100 word story will not. There is sometimes a little wriggle room if the story is too short, in that an editor can choose to fill unused space by using a bigger illustration, and in theory it’s possible to make space for a few more words by not using a picture at all, but generally speaking the only thing to do when a story is too long is to cut it down to fit the page… because one thing you can be sure of is that the page cannot be made bigger to fit the story! The more over-the-limit your story is, the more words will have to go. A scene, a piece of dialogue, a description… if it’s not absolutely necessary, it may have to be cut. And that can hurt!

Novels, I am so glad to say, don’t work that way. How long is a novel? Well, how long is a piece of string? In other words, how long do you want it to be? Because, as a novelist, you can choose! Anything from around 70,000 to 120,000 words is perfectly acceptable, and there are always exceptions to either side of those figures too, depending on your genre and who your publisher is. The word count for ‘Five Unforgivable Things’ went up and down as the book was edited, and finished up at around 105,000, with the odd thousand or two words one way or the other really being neither here nor there. The important thing was to tell the story… and then stop!

In a novel there’s room for that detailed description of the scenery you really loved writing, all the back-story you need to help you add richness and explain motivation, more room for those essential pages of character-revealing dialogue, and the opportunity to include a prologue, lots of twists and turns, and as many sub-plots as you like. That’s not to say you should waffle on to your heart’s content. More words still have to be good words. Readers want action, and characters they can identify with, and emotion in bucket-loads… and we don’t want them to get bored or wonder when the end is ever going to come! But I have definitely found that having that wider canvas to work with, after years of word-counting and cutting, is very liberating.

2.      Characters coming out of my ears!

Apart from the odd un-named waiter or the man driving the bus, it’s almost impossible to get away with having more than three or four main named characters at the most in a magazine story. In a tale that can be read in five or ten minutes, rather than the many days it might take to read a whole novel, there just isn’t time to introduce more, and we do need to give the poor reader a chance to get to know who they all are. In fact, many short stories have just one or two. Imagine a novel trying to do that!

And, as for points of view, writing your short story from more than just one or two is not likely to work. The reader is just getting into one person’s head, starting to understand who they are and what they want, when she is expected to swap to another… there just isn’t time to do it well.

In ‘Five Unforgivable Things’ I have six main characters, five of whom are ‘POV’ characters, each taking their turn to tell their part of the story. By giving them a chapter each before I ‘switch heads’, I am even able to jump back and forth, between chapters, from a first to a third person narrative - something I could never get away with in a short story. There are other minor characters too – people my ‘mains’ talk to at work, friends and relatives, and one or two they might get romantically involved with. In a novel, there’s room for as many as I need to tell the story without them having to be mere walk-on extras. At a rough count, in this novel I have probably got at least a dozen of these, and there’s room, and time, to get to know them all!

3.      No sex please, we’re The People’s Friend!

Themes! This is where the really big difference comes in. And by themes I mean the subjects I am allowed to write about. In the years I have been writing for The People’s Friend I have noticed a slow but important shift in what a story may contain. Not so long ago the characters could not be divorced, nobody had affairs or babies outside marriage, there was no violence, no ghosts, nothing too heartbreakingly sad, and absolutely never any mention of actual sex! I am proud to say I wrote the first baby-out-of-wedlock story and I believe the first disabled-child story for the magazine, so I know things are changing as they try to catch up with the modern world. Some of the other magazines have adopted a more liberal attitude, but even so it would be rare to find anything really tragic or depressing or ‘downbeat’ in a womag story. No nasty accidents, gory deaths, scary goings-on, or blatantly sexual content. It’s not what readers want when enjoying their coffee break read.

I am not saying that novels should be packed with the ‘bad stuff’ but there is room to explore it, and room for it to be resolved, so even novels where sad things happen can have their happy endings. And so ‘Five Unforgivable Things’ reflects real life, warts and all. There is infertility and miscarriage, there are relationship breakdowns, people tell lies and don’t always act as honourably as they might, and there are hospital scenes that just might make you cry, but in amongst all that there is love, romance, friendship, family, career fulfilment, and moments of joy. The book is not ‘about’ the bad things, but they are part of the story, just as they are part of life. I’m not sure I could do all that in a women’s magazine. And certainly not in a thousand words!

Many thanks to Vivien for sharing her experience. To whet your appetite, here is the blurb for her novel.

Almost thirty years ago, Kate’s dream came true. After years of struggling, she was finally pregnant following pioneering IVF. But the dream came at a cost. Neither Kate nor her husband Dan could have known the price they would have to pay to fulfil their cherished wish of having their own family.

Now, years later, their daughter Natalie is getting married and is fulfilling her own dream of marrying her childhood sweetheart. Natalie knows she won’t be like most brides as she travels down the aisle in her wheelchair, but it’s the fact her father won’t be there to walk beside her that breaks her heart.

Her siblings, Ollie, Beth and Jenny, gather around Natalie, but it isn’t just their father who is missing from their lives… as the secrets that have fractured the family rise to the surface, can they learn to forgive each other before it’s too late?


About Vivien Brown

Vivien Brown lives in west London with her husband and two cats. She worked for many years in banking and accountancy, and then, after the birth of twin daughters, made a career switch and started working with young children, originally as a childminder but later in libraries and children’s centres, promoting the joys of reading and sharing books through storytimes and book-based activities and training sessions. She has written many short stories for the women’s magazine market and a range of professional articles and book reviews for the nursery and childcare press, in addition to a ‘how to’ book based on her love of solving cryptic crosswords. Now a full time writer, working from home, Vivien is combining novel-writing and her continuing career in magazine short stories with her latest and most rewarding role as doting grandmother.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Smile Please

A few weeks ago, I  decided to have some new author photos done. Not because I don't like the ones I'm using but because I've had them for a while now and it's time for a change. I don't want to be that person who, on being met in the flesh, has someone whispering after they've left, "They look a bit like their photographs but I bet it was taken a few years ago."

Not that I've ever done that of course :-)

What I really wanted was a photograph that was reasonably flattering while not trying to make me look younger/more intelligent/more attractive. I just wanted to look like the best version of me now (not five years ago).

This sounds easy enough but it actually isn't because I'm not photogenic. Really I'm not. The photos of me that I choose to put on my blog or on social media will have been the only good one out of many duff ones. I hate my photo being taken for various reasons a) in repose, my expression looks hangdog b) I look better when I'm smiling but it always looks lopsided and, if I smile too long, it becomes rictus c) my fine, flyaway hair, means any outdoor shots are a nightmare d) I look awful side view.

Poor photographer.

But then I told myself not to be so silly. I only needed one good photograph - two at most. The other ninety eight could be consigned to the recycle bin. Surely it was possible. With this thought in mind, I put out a query on Facebook. Did anyone know of a photographer who was a) local b) could put me at my ease c) could give me one good picture. I had lots of suggestions, some of whom I had to discount because they were too far away and I don't like travelling. 'Stressed out' wasn't the author image I had in mind!

Then friend and author, Deirdre Palmer, came to my rescue (Deirdre was guest on my blog last week and  you can read her guest post here). She'd recently had some author photos done by a family friend, Sue Kwiatkowska, who is a wedding photographer. Why didn't I try her? I really like Deirdre's author photo as she looks relaxed and natural. It was exactly the sort of photo I'd had in mind, so I bit the bullet and rang her. A few days later Sue arrived on my doorstep with camera in hand.

I was more than a bit nervous but Sue was friendly and professional. It wasn't long before she'd put me at my ease. She established which areas would would work best light-wise (the conservatory, the dining room and a corner of my garden) and then, after a chat to find out what exactly I wanted, the photo-shoot began. Surprisingly, after a very short while, I found that I was beginning to enjoy myself. Sue's a joy to work with and I often forgot there was a horrible camera pointed at my face. An hour later, we were finished and then I had a wait of a week while Sue chose the best ones to send me.

When the link to my photographs dropped into my inbox, I was dreading it. I scrolled through them and there were the inevitable ones that I didn't like (nothing to do with Sue - purely my own vanity) but, in amongst them, were a few I really liked and I'll share my favourites with you here.

I think there's something here for every author eventuality. Now I just need to get a book published!

If you're looking to have some author photos done and live in the South East, you can view Sue's website here.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Who's for a Dirty Weekend? Guest Post Deirdre Palmer

It's always a pleasure to have returning guests on my blog. Today, it's the turn of my good friend and author, Deirdre Palmer. It isn't just Deirdre who is making a second appearance though - her two great books, Dirty Weekend and Moonshine (both set in the 60s) are also having another outing. Check out their fabulous new covers! 

If you haven't already read Deirdre's novels, I'll let her tell you a little more about them. Over to you, Deirdre.

When Wendy heard I was re-launching two of my books, she kindly invited me onto her blog to spread the word. Thanks, Wendy!

They say ‘write what you know’ and that was the advice I had in mind when I wrote Dirty Weekend. It’s also said that if you remember the sixties, you weren’t there. Well, I was there, and I do remember, which made this book a whole lot of fun to write!

Dirty Weekend was taken up by my publisher at the time, and looked after very well, as was Moonshine later. Recently, with the future of those books with the publisher looking uncertain, I took the difficult decision to liberate them from their contracts and send them back into the world with a fresh new look. The stories might be set in the 1960s but the problems that face the characters are universal and just as relevant today.

Without giving away too much of the plot, in Dirty Weekend, Jeanette doesn’t see the weekend in Brighton as just a bit of fun. For her it’s an escape from the unspoken horrors of her home-life. In Moonshine, Beverly’s first experience of unrequited love sends her emotions and actions into free-fall, almost wrecking the holiday on a Torbay caravan site. Also in Moonshine, an unexpected find on a removals job pitches Terry into agonies of indecision when he learns that doing ‘the right thing’ is never that straightforward.

But it’s not all gloom, far from it. Themes of friendship, loyalty, love and sex, run through both books, and there’s a whole lot of laughter, too. At least, I hope my readers find plenty to laugh at!

Here’s a taster from Dirty Weekend.  The grim reality of arriving in Brighton without booking a B&B beforehand has just struck home…

“The room was fantastically grim, Mark thought, looking about. For a start, it was up four flights of creaky stairs and slotted in under the eaves so that you couldn’t stand up in the parts where the ceiling sloped down. The bed was missing a leg and had a fishing tackle box supporting the fourth corner, and the bedspread thing thrown over the blankets must once have had a pattern on it but had migrated into a murky mixture of oranges and browns with no distinction between the two. As for the mattress, well, he didn’t even want to think about that, let alone take a butcher’s at it. He couldn’t see any actual dirt anywhere, but everything in the room was so worn out it must have pre-dated the D-Day landings.
Remembering Terry’s prior claim to this room as his and Carol-Anne’s love-nest, Mark laughed to himself. Terry seemed not to have noticed the state of the place, or if he did, he didn’t care. He definitely hadn’t spotted the fishing tackle box, but there was no point in bringing it up now.
Yes, on balance, he approved of Terry’s version of tonight’s sleeping arrangements. The girls’ room across the road in Pier View was probably a damn sight better than this one – it could hardly be worse – so all he’d have to worry about, providing Jeanette didn’t take it into her head to spoil the party, was getting into Pier View and up those stairs without having his collar felt by the landlady.”
© Deirdre Palmer 2015

Dirty Weekend and Moonshine are available from Amazon.

Deirdre is the author of seven novels and a collection of short stories, writing under her own name and as Zara Thorne.  She is published by Crooked Cat Books, and independently. 

To find out more about Deirde, visit her website

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Choosing the Right Path

At some stage in our writing career, we're likely to come to a fork in the road. A  place where we have to make decisions. Most of the time, these will be small ones: Should I call my protagonist Katie or Ella? Should I write another chapter of my novel or write a magazine story? Would it really matter if I spent the day writing in my dressing gown? 

When this happens, we'll take a little detour and then find our way back to that familiar road.

But, just sometimes, we might see a new path. One which is less defined - its edges overgrown and its destinations hazy. It's seductive. Seductive because it's new. Different. At the same time, its unfamiliarity scares us. 

We look at that path and compare it to the one we're on. This path is comfortable. It's wide and we know where it's going because we've been down it many times before. Why not stay on it? 

It's safe. 

It's familiar.

But then a voice says... take that chance. You might not know it yet but between the weeds on its margins, wild orchids may be growing - orchids you've never seen before. At the end of that new untrodden path, there might also be a rainbow. Who knows until you go down it?

Once, while walking Bonnie, I found myself at this waymark. I could have taken my usual route but something made me stop and think. Why not take the unfamiliar route? It might be longer but, who knows, it might be better.

So I took the path less trodden and, though wild, it was beautiful. That was in February 2012 - the very day I learnt that the school I was teaching in was going to close. It was the year my life changed and I became a writer. I never regretted taking that path. 

This week, Bonnie and I found a field with waist-high meadow grass. A path snaked through it and it was enticing but I was wearing walking sandals and there were thistles and brambles. Eventually, it was Bonnie who decided to take that tiny track through the grass and I followed. 

If I hadn't, I wouldn't have found this. 

Is it any wonder my all time favourite poem is The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both...

Sometimes when we come to that fork in the road we have to make difficult choices. The next time, I won't hesitate... I'll know which path I'll follow.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Ooh... Look at Me!

I look a bit serious, don't I? This is my 'I must concentrate or I'll get it wrong' face. I'd like to tell you that I'm in a recording studio narrating one of my story collections for Audible... but I cannot lie. I was in fact taking part in a demonstration of how to narrate as part of an afternoon talk at Horsham Library. The event was called 'Audiobook secrets' and was part of Love Audio week. It was put on by Harper Collins and audio book publishers, W F Howes. 

It was writing chum Tracy Fells who suggested we went along (she likes to drag me out of the house at regular intervals) and I wasn't sure at first. I don't actually listen to audio books, preferring to read them in print, but then I remembered my husband listens to audio narrations every day on his hour drive to (and back from) work. He'd be interested to know how a book gets from print and into his car and I could report back.

So along we went to said library, not really knowing what to expect... but it was great!

For a start, I got to meet the lovely Katerina Diamond, author of the thriller 'The Teacher', who talked about her path to success. Apparently, she started off by writing film scripts but wasn't brave enough to do anything with them. Then luck shone on her when she won an opening chapter competition. This excerpt was to become the opening chapter of The Teacher. The prize was to finish the novel and be introduced to an agent. Unfortunately (for the agent as it turned out) they didn't like the end result but, undaunted, Katerina took it elsewhere and it was snapped up by agent, Diane Banks.

I also won a novel opening competition... hmm.

We then had a talk by professional narrator, Antonia Beamish. Before she was a book narrator, Antonia was an actress (playing Rita in Educating Rita for a European tour) but, before that, she ran off with a circus. Yes really! Apart from her lovely clear voice, what made the audio companies love Antonia was her skill with accents. As the only accent I can do is the one I was born with, I know that narration would not really be my thing! Antonia is the narrator for all of Katerina's novels, she read an extract from one of them and we were instantly transported.

We had coffee and cupcakes and then sound engineer, Lewis Hampson, asked if any of us would like to have a go at narrating. It involved reading a paragraph into a microphone, Lewis would do something clever at his end and then it would be played back to us. I just had to have a go. Of course everyone was listening, so I just had to pretend they were a class full of children otherwise I would have stammered and stuttered. When it was played back, it was actually perfectly okay but don't you just hate listening to your own voice?

All in all, it was a fabulous event. We had fun, we learnt a lot, we got a complimentary book of Katerina's to take home and it was free! What wasn't there to like. A big thank you to everyone involved.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Fancy a Writing Week in Tuscany?

Oh my goodness! How good would it be to go on a writing course in this beautiful Tuscan mill? Well, if you're free from 11th - 18th September this year, you can do just that on a course called 'Write Away in Tuscany'. Angela Petch is offering her wonderful home in the hills to writers for a glorious week of writing, good food and amazing scenery (sorry for using so many adjectives but it's hard not to after looking at all the photographs). Sadly, I won't be able to attend, as I'll be off on my annual holiday in Greece that week, but it looks absolutely wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that I asked Angela whether she would share some information about this fabulous offer.

Hi, Angela. Thank you so much for doing this interview at short notice. The course sounds wonderful - can you tell us whereabouts in Italy it will be held?

In and around our converted watermill, situated along the River Marecchia in eastern Tuscany, up in the Apennines.  It’s a very unspoiled area and even our Italian friends describe it as “real Italy”.

It looks stunning. Is the course suitable for both new and experienced writers?

Take a look at the course our lovely (and experienced) creative writing tutor has drawn up. Sonja Price has taught for over twenty years. There’s something for all writers. I think we never stop learning our craft.
The course
Novelist and creative writing tutor Sonja Price will be offering six morning sessions to cover the following:

  • How to create credible and interesting characters.
  • Settings to enhance and propel your story. Conjuring up the familiar and the exotic.
  • The art of dialogue as taken from playwriting. Making every spoken word serve a purpose.
  • Plot and story. Creating scenes, maintaining suspense, the story arc, beginnings and endings.
  • Polishing your language. How to edit and cut. Getting published: writing a synopsis, blurb and pitching your book. Agents, publishers v. self-publishing.
  • Extras: techniques, ideas - from head to paper, writers’ block, structuring your time, social media for writers.

I was lucky to host Sonja Price as a guest on Wendy's Writing Now last year. I'm sure she'll be a great tutor and the course covers a lot of interesting areas. How many attendees are you hoping to have?

We have four firm bookings already. I will close the number at ten. I want everybody who comes to receive the individual attention they need.

Your home, where the writing course will take place, sounds idyllic. Can you tell us about the mill and the accommodation?

Records for Il Mulino go back to the 12th century. We restored it twenty years ago. A dream come true for us. We now let it out to holidaymakers and many of our guests return. The three rooms in the mill are already booked. We live in a stable nearby, which we converted in our acre of land that we’ve landscaped into a wildlife area. I mix wild flowers with cultivated and gather cuttings and seeds. All done on a strict budget. It’s more fun like that. I remember friends and places when the plants grow.

There is lots of information and more photos of Il Mulino and this special area on our own website:

Anybody who books from now on, will be accommodated in a pretty agriturismo (or country guest house), within walking distance. All the rooms at Il Casalone are en suite and beautifully appointed. The owners are Teresa (who speaks English) and Alberto (our mayor). Teresa’s father is also a famous truffle hunter and I’m sure we’ll be taken on a hunt in the woods. His claim to fame is that he showed Prince Charles! We shall also be enjoying one of Teresa’s scrumptious meals in her restaurant.

You can read the Tripadvisor comments here

So it seems there will be some delicious food to look forward to.

But of course! Italians live to eat and not the other way around! All meals, snacks and drinks are included in the course price of £650, except for two meals we’ll eat out during the week, including at our village pizzeria. Our area is famous for its cucina. People travel from miles to buy local meat from our butchers;  the sheep farmers up the mountain make cheese, the vegetables are to die for. My husband has a productive vegetable garden and there is nothing like eating one of his tomatoes fresh and sun-kissed. I could easily become vegetarian in Italy: aubergines, peppers, chicory, beans, artichokes…don’t get me started.

You've made me feel hungry! Please could you give a breakdown of a typical day on the course.

Most mornings will start with sessions, as described earlier. Afternoons are free for writing or one-to-one sessions with our tutor, Sonja.  As well as writing, there is the river to laze by, with its refreshing pools. There are plenty of walks too and one of my favourites is to an almost deserted hilltop village called Montebotolino, which features in both of my Tuscan novels. PHOTO
We have also planned a couple of outings to Arezzo and Sansepolcro - ancient towns that should inspire ideas. Transport is also included in the price as we are quite remote, and our chauffeuring services will be necessary. We also include airport transfer, on prior arrangement.

I’m sure we’re all wondering how you come to be living half of the year in England and the other half in this fabulous area of Italy?

Both Maurice and I have Italy under the skin. I lived in Rome as a child and started my love affair with Italy at the age of seven. My husband is half Italian. His mother was a war bride, having fallen in love with a handsome English army captain. We were lucky to meet each other in Sicily where we were both working in the 70’s. We never imagined that one day we’d own a beautiful watermill in Tuscany – we’d only managed camping holidays in Italy when our three children were small. I think we’ve been blessed. We’ve had to work hard but we’ve also been lucky.

It is getting more complicated nowadays to arrange our six-monthly escape from England, as we have four young grandchildren now and another due early August. But flights with a certain airline are not too expensive. I’m returning to England to help my daughter with her baby mid-July, and I’m combining it with my first RNA Conference in Leeds, where our youngest daughter lives. I can’t wait.

Angela Petch has written two novels, inspired by Italy and her Italian mother-in-law’s stories. They are available on Amazon. Until earlier this year they were published by Endeavour Press, but she has returned to self-publishing while she makes her mind up about how to proceed.

You can buy Angela's Tuscan novel TUSCAN ROOTS here: Amazon

Her second novel, NOW AND THEN IN TUSCANY can be bought here: Amazon

In the past months, Angela has also had stories published in PRIMA magazine and The People’s Friend.

If you are interested in booking a place on Angela's writing course, please get in touch with her through one of the links below.

You can find her on Facebook 
Twitter: @Angela_Petch
And she is always looking for new followers to her blog