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!


  1. Humph! Am now sooooo jealous! I will have to b there next year, come hell or high water! Thanks for the post - how great to have Gaynor there!

    Julie xx

  2. PS I meant to say I love that Victoria Wood song! Especially that line.

    Julie xx

  3. Glynis Scrivens27 July 2010 at 08:49

    A really useful post, Simon. Thanks

  4. Thanks Simon.
    I posted a story to Woman's Weekly yesterday as it happens.
    I didn't get the word count right though. Mine was around 1,500 words.
    Oh well.
    I love that song as well Julie. I think it portrays Woman's Weekly readers as having a great sense of humour, although I do see Gaynor's point.
    I think Skoda's image suffered after Jasper Carrot's jokes about them many years ago, and Ratner shares took a nose dive didn't they following that daft remark from the chairman.

  5. Wish I was there. Ill health has stopped me this year. But I'll be there next.
    Fab info about Gaynor. Thanks

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