Monday, 26 July 2010

Straight From The Horses Mouth

The opening speaker last night at the Caerleon Writer's Holiday was Woman's Weekly Fiction Editor, Gaynor Davies. (I would like to point out that titling this posting 'Straight From The Horses Mouth' in no way suggests that Gaynor is a horse - far from it!)

But it does illustrate how useful it is to come to events like this. Gaynor spent about 40 minutes talking to us about where many fiction writers fail with their submissions, and what she is looking for. And yes, she IS looking for more writers.

So, what did she have to say? Here's a brief summary:

  • Get to know the reader. Read the magazine. Woman's Weekly uses two complete stories and one serial in it's weekly magazine and then it has ten issues a year of its fiction special, each with about 20 stories in it. The frequency has increased from eight issues a year to ten, because the company is making a profit from it. Proof that the magazine industry can make a profit from short stories!
  • Their readers can range from the late twenties, to the late nineties! The worst thing that ever happened to the magazine, in Gaynor's view, was Victoria Wood's Barry and Freda song, with the immortal lines, "Not bleakly, not meekly, beat on the bottom with a Woman's Weekly, let's do it, let's do it tonight!" (To listen to the whole song, click here.) It put the wrong connotation on who their readers are!
  • Their readers have a conservative outlook and a sense of humour, and when they sit down to read the magazine, they're doing so with a trusted friend.
  • Characters need to undergo a change. Gaynor receives far too many stories where nothing happens. Too often, she said, the opening would tell them of a woman who climbed up into the loft to get her Christmas decorations down, she'd stumble across one, which would start her thinking, and then 1500 words later, she'd still be thinking, and then she'd remember that she wanted a cup of tea and come back down from the loft. The End. I'm sure you'll agree, nothing happened! Stories need the character to resolve a conflict, overcome a problem, find a solution.
  • Don't go into too much detail, pleads Gaynor. Sometimes, writers want to include all of their research, and it gets in the way of the action. One writer started her story at a climatic moment, when a lifeboat was launched (which was great), only then to begin describing in intricate detail the clothing the lifeboat men were wearing. In Gaynor's words, What you leave out, is just as important as what you put in.
On a positive note, here's what she IS looking for:
  • Strong one-page 1,000 word stories. She gets too many 'wishy-washy' one page pieces.
  • Two-page 2,000 word stories. She desperately needs more of these.
  • In the Fiction Special, she can use stories of 1,000 words, 2,000, 3,000 and then any length between 3,000 and 8,000 words.
  • She is actively looking for serial writers. Serial lengths have just increased from 3 parts to 4 parts.
  • Delegates asked about the Twist in the Tale short stories. Gaynor said she was happy to consider them.
  • Another question was asked about submissions. Can you only submit one story at a time? Gaynor confirmed that she was happy for writers to send two or three in at the same time.
Gaynor also played importance on the musicality of the story. The language should 'sound' right and she suggested that the dialogue in a story should be spoken, to ensure that it sounds right, but as I've said before, reading your whole text out aloud, can help you to identify other errors too.

Further guidelines are available from

Good luck!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Short Story Anthology Opportunity for Expats

Are you, or have you been an expat? If so, there's an opportunity for you to see your short story published in an anthology, due for publication to coincide with National Short Story Week. Remember, the opportunity is only for expats (past and present), but the details are as follows:

Call for Short Stories - in support of National Short Story Week
Organised by Writers Abroad

Title: Writers Abroad

Theme: Short Stories on Expat Life, the pains and the pleasure

Contributions: From expat writers (either currently an expat or previously an expat),

Word Count: Anything up to 2,500 words, piece can be flash fiction i.e up to 500 words or short stories up to 2,500. Word count does not include the title.

Submission Rules:
  • All stories must be previously unpublished
  • Submissions should be received by midnight Friday 15th October 2010
  • Submissions must be in English
  • Manuscripts must be submitted in either Word or RTF format (No Docx or other format will be accepted).
  • The approximate word count should be inserted at the end of the story
  • Author name and story Title should be placed in the left header of the document and page numbers in the right footer
  • Manuscripts should be presented with double spacing and Times New Roman Font.
  • Submissions are by email only to
  • Entries are free, only one entry per author plus a short bio of 30 words
  • Successful authors will be informed within two weeks of the closing date
  • It will not be possible to provide feedback on stories but successful stories will be edited and authors may be required to undertake minor changes for publication purposes

Copyright will remain with the author and the stories will be published in an anthology

Good luck!

Monday, 19 July 2010

Conference Countdown

At the writers' circle that I go to, one of our members mentioned that she'd been to the Winchester Writers' Conference recently. As she spoke about it, it was clear to see the enthusiasm and enjoyment that she took from the event. As a novelist, she was trying to pick up any hints and tips to improve her work, and during the day she spent there, a publisher, agent and another writer read a few pages of her work and gave her feedback. She said that when the first told her what she should do to improve her work, her immediate thought was, "and what would you know?" Then, the second person gave her the same feedback. "Conspiracy theory," she assumed. They were clearly in it together. When the third person gave the same feedback again, she finally realised. Perhaps they were onto something after all. And already, since returning home, she's begun making changes and she can see the improvement. She now has more confidence in her work. But she wouldn't have gained this insightful advice, had she not gone to the conference in the first place.

The writing conference season is now well underway. Next week, the Caerleon Writers' Holiday kicks off.
Not only is it an opportunity to learn from the many workshops and talks taking place, but it's a great opportunity to network with other writers.

Incidentally, Lynne Hackles is stepping in to run a series of workshops on writing short stories because one of the other workshop leaders can no longer make it.

Lynne is the author of 'Writing From Life : how to turn your personal experiences into profitable prose." She's also offering visitors to her blog, an opportunity of winning a copy of the brand new second edition of this book, as well as a copy of her "Handy Little Book for Writers" - so why not take a look?

At the Caerleon conference, there are courses on fiction, poetry, true crime, beginning novel writing, advanced novel writing, writing comedy, crime fiction, romantic fiction and how to write non-fiction books. I'm running a course on how to be a positively productive writer. Course leaders and guest speakers include Irene Yates, Alison Chisholm, Steven Wade, Catherine King, Jane Pollard, Marina Oliver, Brad Ashton, Susan Moody, Janet Lawrence, Myra Kersner, Simon Hall, Gaynor Davies (fiction editor at Woman's Weekly) and many more!

Full details of the Caerleon Holiday can be found here.

On 7th August, the Writers' Summer School at Swanwick, Derbyshire begins with a week long series of workshops, talks and discussion.

Speakers include Christina Jones, Roger Ellory, Della Galton, Jean Saunders, Lucy Crispin, Will Randall, Benjamin Scott, John Jarrold, Katherine Parris, Stella Whitelaw, Marion Hough, Caroline Taggart, Mary Wibberley, Pat Belford and many more (including muggins here too).

For more information, click here.

Because of the networking opportunities and the chance to pick up new writing skills and knowledge, consider these conferences as learning or training opportunities, not luxuries.

Look out for any opportunities like this. It doesn't have to be a week-long residential conference. You may find a two-hour workshop taking place in your local library. Perhaps there's a literary festival that operates near you, and they have a writer whom you enjoy coming to do a talk. Often, there is a question and answer session at the end of the talk. It's the perfect moment to ask them for any hints and tips.

If you succeed in getting an article or a short story published, consider putting the money aside to help cover the cost of a conference or a workshop. Think of it as a reward for your success and stepping stone to even more success.

Good luck.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Holidays - A Change Is As Good As A Rest!

It's that time of year when people are getting ready for their holidays, so I just wanted to remind you that there's no such thing as a holiday for a writer. However, it isn't all doom and gloom, because as the cliche goes, a change is as good as a rest, so a change of scene, may re-invigorate your writing!

Here's how:

  • Browse the local newsagents. It may be smaller than your local, or larger than the one you have at home, but it may stock different magazines you haven't seen before. It only takes ten minutes, but it could introduce you to new markets.
  • Buy the local magazines too. You don't have to be a local to write for the local county magazine. Something you do on holiday could be turned into an interesting piece for the local county magazine. As long as it is appropriate for the local readership, it doesn't matter where the writer lives.
  • Takes lots of holiday snaps! You never know, they may prove useful for your articles. And also, holiday snaps can be great research tools too. Take pictures of any plaques or information panels. You can read them later on your computer.
  • Buy any local history books. They can provide useful background research.
  • Place names can provide some great character names!  In the Lake District there's a small hill (ironically!) called Tom Heights. Perhaps he's a window cleaner? What if Tom Heights was afraid of heights (high altitudes, not other members of his family!)? In Shropshire, there's a village called Leebotwood. Whenever I drive through it, I imagine a classroom teacher shouting across a playground full of eight-year-olds, "Lee Botwood stop throwing stones and go and stand by the wall this minute!" Buy the local map and peruse it for interesting character names.  
  • Don't forget to eavesdrop. Go and sit at a beach-side cafe or village pub overlooking the village green. Enjoy a local delicacy, and savour the local chit-chat. You never know what overheard comments may inspire you. (I over heard a couple of weeks ago at a Norfolk cafe, "Of course, we had to throw his third leg away!" (Well, I'm confused, are you?)
  • Why not take an old story that hasn't quite worked and relocate it to where you're staying on holiday? What impact would that have on your characters? How may it change the story?
So if you have a holiday coming up in the next few weeks, don't think of it as time off. Think of it as an opportunity to reinvigorate your writing!

Good luck!

Monday, 5 July 2010

Article Proofs?

Now here's something you don't see everyday. Article proofs. Yep. That's right. A magazine has sent me the page layout proofs of an article I've written, which they will be publishing soon (August issue, I think).

Over the years, I've written several pieces for Cumbria magazine and I've always been sent the page layout proofs for checking. I've never come across it with any other magazines, although I'm sure there are one or two out there that still do this. If you find yourself receiving such proofs, what should you do?

  1. Don't assume that because you emailed your text, the magazine has simply 'cut and pasted' it across to their systems. (Even if they had, you could still have made a submission containing errors!) Reread your text, and ideally, read it out aloud. It's common for editors to 'tweak' an article, either because they feel they can improve something, or because they need to apply the magazine's style to your piece, if you've not correctly identified every stylist nuance the publication has. (Do they use imperial or metric measurements? Are words ending with 'ize' preferred to those ending in 'ise'?) So, you need to check that any changes they've made are error free. (You may not think it, but editors are human too and sometimes, even they make mistakes!)
  2. Learn from any changes. If the editor has rewritten a sentence or paragraph, can you see why they've done it? Is it better than your version? What is it that they've changed that has led to the improvement?
  3. Check any picture captions. I supplied images for my article and the editor has chosen to use two of them, so it is important that the captions are allocated to the correct image.
  4. Double-check your facts. (Again! You should have done this before submission, but if you're offered proofs, this is the final opportunity for correcting mistakes.)
  5. If you spot any errors, be precise. Make a note of what is wrong and what the correction should be. If you have to return the physical page layout proofs, then use a red pen and identify the error and write the correction in the margin. If you have to email errors, then state specifically where the error is and what it is. (First column, fourth paragraph, third sentence ...)
Finally, don't forget to enjoy it! It is, after all, the first opportunity you've had to see how your piece will look when it is published in a magazine.

Good luck!