Wednesday 29 August 2012

Help for New Writers

Wouldn't it be great if all you had to do was sit down and write your short stories? I have realised that, for most of us, to write for a particular market there is more to it than this - you have to learn the ropes.

This post is to help other new writers who are considering trying to break into the Women's Magazine market by hopefully answering some of the questions that I felt I needed to ask before I could start.

Linda's great book of ideas

Over the last few months, since writing more seriously, I have been very lucky to have been in contact with Linda Lewis Linda has written hundreds of short stories for Women's Magazines and as such, has been the perfect person to answer my, possibly very naive, questions. Linda also writes a very interesting column in Writer's Forum magazine called Short Story Success, which has a wealth of information for new writers for this market. Some of my questions and answers were included in a recent issue.
Thank you, Linda for your patience over the last few months and your useful advice.
These are Linda's answers to 
The Questions All New Writers Should Ask
Question:  How many stories should I send at one time?
Answer:    A maximum of two
Question:  I have had a letter back with a comment rather than the standard rejection letter - is this a good sign?
Answer:    Any comments received from an editor is a sign of encouragement. They're swamped with stories and if they take the time to comment on yours it means you're 'almost there'.
Question:   I have 12 stories 'out there' is this enough?
Answer:     12 stories are commendable - but the trick is to have even more.
Question:  Do magazines let you know by post or email if they want to buy your story?
Answer:    The People's Friend lets you know by post, Fiction Feast and The Weekly News by email and Yours sometimes by phone.
Question:  If you have a story accepted, do you mention it in your next covering letter?
Answer:    Not unless you want to say that having an acceptance has spurred you on to write more - keep covering letters as short as possible.
Question:   Should you round up the word count or give the exact number of words?
Answer:     Give as exact a word count as you can. My margin for a 1000 word story would be 960 -1030.
Question:   I sent a story 13 weeks ago and haven't heard anything. What is the average timescale for a reply? The guidelines say 10 - 12 weeks - should contact the magazine or leave it a while?
Answer:    The long turn around might mean that your story has gone to a second or third reading (for a sale there might 3 readings then the editor will read it). If you haven't heard in 20 weeks, you can write a short letter including the date submitted and the title. Don't worry too much about the old stories - write some more!
 When I told Linda about my first sale to Fiction Feast, her response was 'Well done! Now go and write another dozen!'
The Writer's Treasury of Ideas by Linda Lewis is £12 plus p&p. If you buy direct from her website you will receive a free mini guide to short story competitions.

Sunday 26 August 2012


This is why I have not been writing

Today I had planned to make a start on a Valentine story (as I have heard that 6 months in advance is when you should be thinking about sending them in),

Instead I have:

  • Booked a holiday to Kalami (Corfu)
  • Weeded the garden
  • Made flapjacks
Maybe I'll start now...after my cup of tea.

Anyone else have this problem?

Thursday 23 August 2012


I have just finished the re-write. It is now as soft as snow, cotton wool, a cloud, a pillow, a marshmallow and a baby's bottom.

They just have to want it!


I am trying to 'soften' a main character for a story for The People's Friend, as a very nice member of their fiction team has said that they will look at it again if I do this. It is very hard! This will be my third resubmission for them (the others I haven't heard back from yet since the required changes).

I think I have become very stubborn about this magazine - I have made it my mission to have a story accepted.

I just need to be gentle, gentle, gentle...

Anyway, back to the drawing board and I'll let you know what happens.


Monday 20 August 2012

North and South

I am a country girl at heart. Born and bred in the South, with occasional forays to the beautiful Lake District, I am ashamed to say that I am ignorant of most of out major towns and cities north of London. Do I hear gasps of horror?

I am pleased to announce, though, that I have taken the first steps to remedy this and have now visited the lovely city of... Manchester.

My daughter is moving to the area and we were there for two days while she looked for accommodation for her first job. I wanted to immerse myself in the place that was taking her away from me and needed to know that she would be happy in this new city.

My expectations were based on the BBC drama North and South that we both love to watch.

'Margaret takes instant offence to the town and its people. She becomes terribly lonely and hates the dirt, noise and lack of civilisation.'

Yes, I know that this is the twenty first century and not Victorian, industrial Britain, but I still had visions of mills, chimneys and John Thornton striding out of the factory door.

What I encountered instead was a city of contrasts: China Town, the cosy gay area around Canal Street, small exclusive shopping streets and the vast Arndale Centre, the ulta modern, glass office blocks of Spinningfields and the intricate lacing of iron bridges crisscrossing the canal - all set to the continuous rattle of the delightful trams and within a manageable walking distance of each other

Did I like it: yes.  Will I be happy for my daughter to live here: definitely.

All that was missing was a handsome mill owner!

Monday 13 August 2012

Little Rituals

How happy I was to read the article 'Little Rituals' in the September issue of Writing Magazine. This article (if you haven't read it) asks writers about those little things they have to do before they can settle down to write - mine is emptying the dishwasher.

Anyway, the reason I was happy was because in this article, the journalist Patricia Carswell says that she has to have certain cups at certain times of the day. Hurrah! A fellow sufferer!

My family despair at my cup OCD - woe betide anyone who gives me coffee in a tea mug or tea in the afternoon in my morning tea mug!

My husband thinks it is unfair as there are no set rules.

"But this is a thick mug - it must be for coffee!" he says. But no. It's not that simple.

"It can't be for coffee because it is too big," I tell him.

"But I thought it was only thin mugs for tea." Do I hear a touch of despair?

"Thin mugs, unless they are short or the big thick yellow one, which is too thick for coffee so has to be for tea."

He has the patience of a saint!

I must say, though, that after being married to me for two years he is doing very well. There is no longer trepidation on his face when he hands me my early morning up of tea and I no longer feel the need to give him the 'Cup Test' each time I empty the dishwasher. If the mug is wrong, a 'How could you do this to me?' look is all that is required.

These are my mugs. It will be quite obvious, I am sure, which one is used at which time (or maybe it is only obvious to me and Patricia!)

Early morning tea cups

Cofee cups (but not last thing at night)


General tea cups (but not first thing in the morning)

My husband's mug (I couldn't possibly use it!)


Saturday 11 August 2012

Creativity and Dreams

Do creative people dream more often or more vividly?

I dream every night - most of these dreams I can remember when I wake up. Most are good dreams but not all. A recurring dream I have, involves being lost in a city with no mobile and no address book. I can't remember the name of the hotel I am staying in and I feel an overwhelming sense of helplessness.

My mother, who is very creative,  has always had a lot of dreams and they are are exciting and often involve travel. My husband, on the other hand, who works in the engineering industry, never dreams at all  (or never remembers them). Is this significant I wonder?

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Just Get Rid of It

One of the most important things I learnt on my writing course was:

If a paragraph seems wrong on second or third reading - then it probably is!

I find that, often, no amount of tweaking will make it better and have learnt to just cut it out completely or start it again. It's such a relief when the paragraph disappears. I know - I've just sent a big chunk of story into cyberspace!

Tuesday 7 August 2012

A Typical Walk with Bonnie

Wendy and Bonnie are walking along river bank
Wendy: Tra la la
Bonnie: Woof
(Meets nice family with little boy)
Little Boy: (Stroking Bonnie's head) I want a dog like this one Mum.
Boys Mum: (Rubbing Bonnie's tummy) Yes she's lovely. What a good dog you have.
Wendy: (Smiling) Thank you. Yes she is, isn't she. I always think a happy home means a happy dog.

Wendy and Bonnie continue walk
Wendy: Tra la la
Bonnie: Woof
(Meets nice man with Collie)
Collie: (Whispering) What's your problem mongrel dog?
Bonnie: Grrrrr...I'm going to eat you.
Bonnie and Collie fight
Wendy: (Lying) I'm really sorry. I haven't had her long. She's a rescue dog and had a very bad puppyhood.
Nice Man scowls

Wendy and Bonnie walk home. Bonnie is now on lead
Wendy: Why did you have to embarass me like that?
Bonnie: (Looking up adoringly) Woof

Bonnie in the Lake District

And the reason I am writing this: another rejection from The People's Friend and I am procrastinating when I should be finishing my next story!

Monday 6 August 2012

Room 101

Every year, seven girlfriends and I go on what we loosely call a 'walking weekend'. To be fair, we do walk at some point in the weekend and in fact this year (a couple of weeks ago) we did a lovely walk along the Kent and Avon canal.

At dinner, in the pub where we were staying, I happened to say how averse I am to Facebook (I have 2 friends - one being my husband!) and this escalated into what people would like to put into Room 101.

We had:

  • Drivers that won't let other cars into a traffic jam from side roads.
  • On line cards or cards designed on line and sent - which apparently shows the sender has either forgotten your birthday and left it too late to buy a card or can't be bothered to go out shopping.
  • Handbags with tags to show they are designer (wouldn't know about that cos I don't buy handbags very often and the last one I bought was from Tesco!)
The fact that I've forgotten the other three is a worrying sign of senility, I expect!

This, by the way, is my dog. Most of my story ideas come when I when I am walking her.

Friday 3 August 2012

a versus an

Something that's been bothering me (that as an English teacher I feel I ought to know) is the use of 'an' with a word starting with 'h'. In a story I've just finished, I was talking about the hysterical note in someones voice. I wrote 'an hysterical note' but the spell checker thought it should be a hysterical note. I am reading a book at the moment: Patrick Gale 'A Perfectly Good Man'. In it he uses 'an historic' so I'm getting rather confused as to the rules. Any ideas?

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Welcome to My Blog

Welcome to my blog!

I am a very new writer and this is my first attempt at blogging so apologies for any glaring mistakes.

Last week I sold my first ever short story (to Fiction Feast) and thought this would be a good time to start a blog to chart my progress (or lack of it) from total beginner to who knows what.

It was a sad day when the little private primary school, where I taught English, closed but I had no idea how the closing of this door would be the opening of another. Being made redundant gave me a chance to reassess where my life was going and as it coincided with a milestone birthday, it seemed the ideal year to start a new chapter of my life.

I decided to see if I could practise what I preach and took a short on-line writing course. It's called writing classes and I loved every second of it - so much so that the next term I did a second course with them.

I missed the writing when the course came to an end in March and so set myself a task of writing one piece a week and sending it to a magazine or competition. It's taken four months for my first acceptance and now the hard work begins to try and get another.