Monday 29 June 2015

Speed Dating - Inspiration Behind the story

A short post today as I am off on my holidays. We are going on a canal boat from Aldermaston to Hungerford. It will be our third canal boat trip and I can't wait - especially as it appears a heat wave is predicted. You never know, I might even get a bit more of the novel done, in between locks.

In writing news, this was a good week magazine publication wise, as I had two historical stories in The People's Friend Summer Special and a modern one in the weekly. I'm getting to like writing historicals more and more. I choose a subject, choose an era, do my research and then start to think up a story.

Other times, as with my story, The Snake Stone, set in Lyme Regis, it will be the illustration that I've been given that will start the creative juices flowing - how could I resist writing about this man created by one of my favourite illustrators, Andre Leonard.

If you are thinking of writing a historical story for The People's Friend magazine, it might be worth reading what fiction editor, Shirley Blair, says about getting facts right here... it appears that there are some very eagle-eyed readers out there! 

It is often the more recent past, which people might have lived through, or places where readers have lived, that catch people out if the writer doesn't know the area well. To get around this, I will often create a fictional town in a real county. That way nobody can say, "There was never a Woolworths in Carpet Street in Lidbury."

I set my Quaker story, Finding the Light, in a fictional town. This is the beautiful illustration Ruth Blair did for it. The green checked waistcoat is just as I described (you see it's not just the writers who have to pay attention to detail).

Having said all this, I like to hope that a reader will forgive small errors of factual accuracy if they are enjoying the story enough!

My story, 'Speed Dating' in the weekly is, once again, slightly autobiographical. Not that I've speed dated! In fact the story isn't about speed dating at all, but about a woman who finds she has a two hour limit on everything she does - shopping, dinner parties... you name it.  I am just the same and it amuses my friends greatly. Whatever I'm doing, I'm fine for up to around two hours and then that's it... I just want to be back home. Alone.

This, of course, will make the RNA conference that I'm going to in a couple of weekends time very interesting. I am really looking forward to it but how will two days test my two hour tolerance? I could well be the one dropping her glass slipper or turning into a pumpkin on the stroke of midnight...I'll let you know.

Now, though, after a post that wasn't so short after all, I'm off to pack my shorts as the Kennet and Avon canal is calling. When my husband and step-son miss me after two hours, they'll know where to find me. 

Monday 22 June 2015

The Proof of the Pudding - Inspiration Behind the Story

I've realised that it has been a while since I wrote an inspiration behind the story post. This isn't because there wasn't anything interesting to write about my recent published stories - just that with all the lovely guests I've welcomed onto Wendy's Writing Now recently, I haven't had much time.

Anyway, I thought I'd tell you the inspiration behind this week's People's Friend Story, Proof of the Pudding, because it links in with a post I wrote last October. It was called, So What if I Can't Bake and you can read it here. In a nutshell, I had gone to my local restaurant, The Sussex Produce Company, to have a meal and listen to a talk given by Mary Berry. I was desperately excited as I absolutely love The Great British Bake Off, even though it is common knowledge amongst my friends that I cannot bake.

At the start of the evening, we were given a copy of Mary Berry's new recipe book, Mary Berry Cooks the Perfect Step by Step (as part of the package) and then we queued to have it signed. Not surprisingly, the queue was quite long and I had plenty of time to think of something witty or intelligent to say to her once I reached the table. (I have a habit of blurting out rather silly things when nervous). When it was my turn, I stepped up and held out the book. Mary sat there, a picture of elegance, and smiled... and all I could think of to say was, "Hello."

It was a wonderful evening but I had little time to think about it as I had invited a group of girlfriends round for dinner a few days later as my husband was away. I can get into a bit of a fluster when it comes to cooking for large numbers... what would I cook? How much should I buy? Would they noticed if it all came from M&S? It was then that my gaze fell on my newly acquired Mary Berry recipe book. If each course came from her book and it all went wrong, Mary would be to blame, not me - wouldn't she? It seemed like a plan.

I am happy to say that, against all odds, the dinner party was a great success and Mary's Caramelised red onion and rocket tartlets were a triumph. I think my friends were surprised that I had pulled it off but I have a sneaky suspicion that Mary wouldn't  have been.

The whole thing had the makings of a great story, so the next day I sat down and wrote it. It starts off with Deborah wondering what witty, intelligent thing she can say to television chef, Nancy Cresswell at her book signing... I think you can guess what she blurted out!

The story is modelled on my ability to get flustered when cooking for a dinner party (the reason why I don't have them!) but the rest of the story is fictional. When Proof of the Pudding was published last week, I was astonished at David Young's illustration. He modelled it on his own kitchen... but it looks exactly like mine!

Monday 15 June 2015

My Writing Day - Guest Post Julie Shackman

Being a bit of a flibbertigibbet when it comes to structuring my own writing day, I am fascinated by the way other writers work. With that in mind, I decided to ask romcom novelist, Julie Shackman, what her typical writing day is like.

Over to you, Julie.

Is there such a thing as a “typical” writing day for most authors? I would guess not but I generally make an attempt at it!

We have two sons aged 14 and 11, so once I’ve got them off to school, I gather together my notebook and other writing materials and head off to a local coffee shop. I’m one of those authors who finds it really difficult to write at home. There are just too many distractions and I find myself procrastinating like crazy. A coffee shop atmosphere, for me at least, seems to help me be more productive. Other people sitting around me, reading and working, helps me to focus.

I’ll normally sit there with a pot of tea (and sometimes a tasty treat!) for around a couple of hours and write as much as I possibly can in my notebook. Then I’ll head home and type it up on my PC – if I can decipher my hand-writing! In between times, I’ll have a look at Twitter (!) but I’ll make every effort to get as much writing done as I can before the boys get home from school.

I like to try and leave myself a note for the next day, about where I am with my latest novel. If I have a greetings card brief to write and a close deadline for that, I’ll aim to finish that off.

I focus on the boys when they get home from school so once they’re in bed, I like to relax with some reading. I do believe that if you’re not an avid reader, then you can’t be a good writer.

My TBR pile is ever expanding – but that’s another story….!

Thanks for telling us about your writing day, Julie. How would you describe your typical writing day? Let me know in the comments.

Julie is married with two sons and lives in Scotland. She trained as a journalist but writing romance has always been a dream of hers. When she’s not got her head in a book, or drafting one, she writes verses and captions for greetings card companies. Her second romcom, "Hero or Zero" is out now. Julie’s debut novel, is called, “Rock My World” and she’s currently polishing her third romcom, which features a well-known historical figure...!

When single mum Chloe Jones wins a magazine competition to have TV heartthrob Ethan Blake live with her for a month, she thinks her dreams have come true. And the presence of the handsome star in her home and small Scottish town certainly causes a stir. But when Chloe begins to see his true colours, will she find the courage to face him, and admit where her heart truly lies? 

You can buy Rock My World here and Hero or Zero here here


Monday 8 June 2015

Writing Serials for the People's Friend - Guest Post Shirley Blair

As most of you will know, I recently had my first serial, Charlotte's War, published in The People's Friend. Although the timescale from pitching the idea to seeing the serial in print is quite a long one, I enjoyed the whole process and each week would rush off to the newsagents to see what lovely illustration David Young had created for me. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I wrote a second!

Knowing that The Friend is looking for new serial writers,  a couple of month's ago, I wrote an article for Writing Magazine on what fiction editor Shirley Blair is looking for when it comes to serials. Due to word limit, I was only able to include some of Shirley's answers to my questions in my feature, so I asked her whether she would be happy for me to use her quotes in full in my blog. Lovely lady that she is, she said she was more than happy. I have found writing the serials both challenging and rewarding and I would encourage anyone who had been thinking about moving on from short stories to have a go.

In your view what makes a good serial?

We look for a cast of strong, engaging characters who come alive in your head so that you can see them and hear them talking. Together these characters deliver an absorbing storyline with perhaps an unusual setting. Attention to detail in terms of location and period always helps.

Should it include a romance?

Yes. We’ve noticed that sometimes the romance gets overlooked in a serial, but it offers a change of pace, a breathing space in the midst of the action.    

Do you have a preference for viewpoint and tense? (Do you ever accept ones written in first person?)

We prefer a third person narrative in past tense. First person would be single viewpoint, whereas we look for two or three viewpoints telling two or three interweaving storylines, scene by scene. I always liken it to a TV soap in that respect. 

What qualities do you look for in a serial writer?

Commitment. Discipline. Methodical planning. We hope they’ll be flexible and receptive to our input. It’s also helpful if they can understand that their serial becomes part of our publishing schedule and deliver it in a reasonable time; some writers are quite slow which can throw my plans haywire! I know, though, that the stop/start nature of writing a serial for us can be equally frustrating for them.

Do you have a preferred serial length?

Nowadays People’s Friend readers are happiest with serials of four to ten instalments. Gone are the days when we’d offer them twenty-instalment marathons!

What is it that you DON’T want to see in a serial?

Too linear a narrative. As I’ve said, we look for two or three character viewpoints telling their interweaving stories. We don’t want stagnant characters or stagnant action. Then, of course, we don’t want any of our usual Friend taboos of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll!

What is more important in a PF serial, storyline or character?

Oh, always character. You’ll remember a great character long after you’ve forgotten what the story was about. I still have a bit of a crush on a character called Magnus from years ago, though now I can’t even remember which serial it was!

Would you recommend trying short stories before attempting a serial?

Generally yes. The People’s Friend has its own particular style, and a serial is such a commitment, that it’s helpful if both writer and editor have the confidence of previous success to support them.  

Are you more likely to consider a writer who has previously written a short story for the magazine?

Yes, for the reasons I’ve mentioned, because we’ve learned their strengths and built up a relationship, but never say never!

Are there any themes you wouldn’t consider?

Loads! But a quick look at our guidelines will steer you in the right direction. And we’re always more than happy to offer advice.

What is the most common mistake you have seen serial writers make?

The main one is a lack of planning. You know, not thinking out their story in its entirety so we all know where it’s going, at what pace, and how it ends. And then not maintaining the momentum and tension within the story as they write. Some try to get on their soapbox, using their story to make a political point, but that’s not really the Friend’s style. Finally, some forget to give their characters different voices; all you hear is the writer’s voice.

What would you say your role is as an editor?

As editors we’re here to support, to encourage, to communicate, cajole and congratulate. We’re here to handhold as much or as little as we and the writer feel necessary. We always say, ask us anything, it’s what we’re here for. Stuck? Let us help. So I’d say the relationship between editor and writer is one of trust and teamwork.

How much input do you have in the planning process?

Every writer is different. Some come to us with a fully-formed and perfect story that they write with next to no input from us. Others need significant help in shaping and planning the story as a whole, and then again as they write each instalment – but that’s OK. I can’t stress enough that it’s what we’re here for. Ask us anything!
Thank you very much, Shirley, for your lovely detailed answers. If you fancy having a go at writing a serial for The People's Friend, you can find their guidelines here.


Since writing this post, The People's Friend have announced a serial writing competition with a prize of £400 for the winner. Closing date: October 30 2015. Details and entry coupon can be found in the weekly magazine and on Shirley's Fiction Blog here.

Monday 1 June 2015

How Animals have Influenced my Writing - Guest Post Malcolm Welshman

And now for something completely different! Today I would like to give a very warm welcome to retired vet turned novelist, Malcolm Welshman. For those of you who read The People's Friend, Malcolm has become a firm favourite with readers of the magazine with his new vet series 'Tales From Prospect House'.

As a fellow writer for The Friend, and the owner of a cat and badly behaved step-dog, I decided to find out how the animals in Malcolm's life have influenced his writing over the years. If there are any questions you would like to ask Malcolm, please feel free to leave a comment and I am sure he will be more than happy to answer them.

My life has always revolved around animals ever since as a five year old I was allowed to keep two white mice. Within three weeks there were 15 of them!

As a lad in Nigeria we acquired an African Bush dog called Poucher. She got attacked by a wild animal and her badly mauled hind leg had to be stitched up by the army doctor. Watching him operate made me decide I wanted to be a vet. During Poucher’s convalescence she was asleep next to my bed when an army of soldier ants poured through the room, ferociously attacking us. 25 years later I was to write up that experience for a magazine and it became the first feature I ever had published.

While in Nigeria, we also became the owners of an African Grey parrot. She was to be a constant companion for over 23 years. I had just qualified as a vet, when I had to operate on a tumour on her neck to save her life. That too became one of many features about her.

But it was a goose, given to me by a grateful farmer to fatten up for Christmas that really enabled my writing career to take off. One night, Gertie raised a cackling alarm that saved us from burglars. So there was no way we could have her for Christmas lunch. I wrote that tale up as a Christmas special for My Weekly and on the back of that the editor asked if I would like to do a monthly vet series. Of course I said ‘yes’. That series continued for 15 years.

On retiring from practice, I decided to write a novel based on my experiences in practice and the many animals I’ve met along the way. I’ve now written three books, the latest being Pets Aplenty, each one detailing the exploits of a young vet, Paul Mitchell, in his first 18 months in practice.

Even though I’m retired, animals still form an important part of my life and provide endless scope for more writing, Only last autumn when I was rolling back the damaged turves on our lawn caused by a badger seeking grubs, I realised that could be the source of another feature. And a week later it appeared in The Daily Mail.

We’ve a Yorkie-cross terrier called Dora. We were invited to take part in a National Geographic TV show called Leader of the Pack, in which the dog whisperer, Cesar Millan, put three couples through their paces to see which one would be suitable to provide a forever home for Dora. We were the lucky winners. Dora now writes a monthly dog blog on an international website describing the exploits of her Bossman.

It’s still a delight to find more animal adventures to tackle as I sit at my desk and try not to be distracted by the roe deer, jackdaws, badgers and rabbits that weave back and forth across the lawns outside my study window. But then they, like all the other animals that have formed part of my life, are to be thanked for giving me such a great source of inspiration to write.

Malcolm Welshman is a retired vet and author. His first novel, published by John Blake Publishing in May 2011, was Pets in a Pickle. This has a foreword by James Herriot’s son and quotes by Sir Terry Wogan and Richard Madeley, amongst others. The ebook version reached number two on Amazon Kindle’s bestseller list. The second book in the series, Pets on Parade, was published in April 2012 and the third, Pets Aplenty, in August 2014.

Malcolm also writes for several national magazines and has had occasional features in the Daily Mail and the Sunday Times. His vet series, Tales from Prospect House is currently in The People's Friend magazine.

Pets Aplenty can be bought here from Amazon for kindle, audio and in paperback.

You can find out more about Malcolm and his work on his website

Make contact with Malcolm on Facebook and Twitter @MalcolmWelshman