Saturday, 29 October 2011

I've fallen in love...

... with Wimborne Minster, the dear little town only half an hour's drive from me, which held its first ever Literary Festival today

... with Malcolm of Gullivers Bookshop who organised the event, and indeed with the bookshop itself

... with Martin Brown who illustrates the Horrible Histories, whose energetic talk kicked off the festival. There were lots of kids in the audience for this one. Everyone was given a drawing pad and pen, and he had us all drawing faces, and giving them expressions to make them come alive. Well I'm used to giving my written characters voices and actions to make them come alive, but it was great fun trying the same thing with rough cartoon sketches!

... with the books of Elizabeth Cooke, Imogen Parker and Natasha Solomons . All three authors spoke brilliantly about their writing careers and their books. I already had a couple of their books but ended up buying several more, as you do. My TBR pile is ridiculously high now.

All in all I had a great day out. Three members of my writing class were there too, so we had a lovely lunch together, following which I am sorely tempted to buy this .

A blog reader was there too, and somehow recognised me - Excuse me, but are you womagwriter? she said. My fame spreads. Hello Beryl - I said I'd give you a mention!

Hopefully this will become an annual event. I'll definitely go next year. I had such a lovely day - these local events are definitely worth supporting. I've come back inspired to write more, read more and go to more literary events. Wish there were more hours in the day!

The lovely Malcolm also promised to give Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After a push when it is published. Ebook coming in November, paperback early next year. I'll post more on this later, you can be sure of that!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Historical short stories - guest post by Joanna Barnden

I'm a fan of historical fiction - just as well as that's what I'm writing! I like to read historical short stories too. So when Joanna Barnden, womag writer and historical novelist, offered a guest post for this blog I asked her to do something on writing historical short stories for the women's magazines. Here's the result - many thanks, Joanna!

Please do go and visit her website. She's sold about 150 short stories, and runs writing courses and offers critiques at a very reasonable rate. Her novel is currently with an agent.

Writing historical fiction

Magazine editors are always asking for that terrible conundrum – stories that are both recognisable AND original. Providing such a tale is the great challenge for the womag writer and given the scarcity of original plots, one of the best ways of livening up a story is with its setting.

This is usually thought of as a matter of geography and, indeed, I always urge anyone who has visited (or better still lived in) an unusual place to use it in their fiction, but of course there are myriad places to visit if we consider the idea of setting historically.

Historical fiction is very popular at the moment and whilst it’s a genre that does lend itself to novels, there is room for short stories too. ‘Oh but the research!’ I hear you cry and yes, that is a concern, but in a well written short story centred around an exciting character, a few facts coupled with a decent imagination can go a very long way. With the wonders of the web at our fingertips it’s never been easier to find out about Victorian England or Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Scotland, or even penal Australia – so what are you waiting for?!

Here are a few benefits and pitfalls of historical fiction:


- Readers love learning about new places and, to some extent, facts so use that to give them a world they know little about.
- Social and legal differences in past times can give you a whole new set of tensions to play with. People love historical romance because there are so many more social obstacles in a couple’s way. Equally, historical crime can be fascinating because of differences in the justice system and, perhaps more crucially, in forensic knowledge. A very simple thing like setting a story in a world without phones can make a huge difference to its dynamic.
- Going back in time can also give you a whole new set of personal problems for your
characters to deal with. Going to war is the obvious one, but there are many more – such as going into service, or into the workhouse or being present at a key historical event.


- It is very easy to get carried away with your setting, especially if it fascinates you. Do NOT let your setting dominate and do NOT fill your story with facts. You must present the world as your character sees it, and much of what is intriguing to you as the writer (and to your readers) will be totally normal to them, so present it subtly.
- A strong, engaging character is crucial, as is a decent plot arc. A clever setting is not enough – you still need a vibrant STORY.

So who takes historical fiction?

You’d be surprised! People’s Friend is the only magazine that openly invites historical submissions, both for short stories and serials (though they are a little overloaded with the latter at the moment), but plenty of others will consider it if well done.

People’s Friend like all historical fiction as long as it’s set in a socially recognisable world, so after about 1700.

Women’s Weekly are always on the hunt for originality and are quite happy to consider stories set in any period as long as they are ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’ – a good maxim for any story but especially pertinent for historical fiction which must be vivid and not just a dry description of a different time.

Yours like stories set in previous eras but more ‘nostalgia’ than ‘history’ (though who’s to say where the former becomes the latter!) As a rule of thumb they’d be unlikely to take anything pre-

My Weekly will consider historical stories, though they are still only accepting work from writers previously published with them.

The Weekly News tends to prefer modern fiction, though anything in the last century would probably be fine.

Take a Break are pretty resolutely modern day, though they do welcome a good ghost, so perhaps that offers a historical angle for the clever writer?

So, if you fancy trying out a new era, I’d urge you to give it a go, but do remember that your period, however fascinating it may seem to you, is ultimately little more than a background for your vital story ingredient: your character and their personal, emotional journey.

Great article, Joanna - lots to think about there! I sold a partly historical story to My Weekly once - it was set partly in 1850s Ireland and partly in the modern day. I also sold a ghost story with a historical (WW2) angle to Take A Break's Fiction Feast, so I think you are right suggesting that's the way to go to get history into TAB!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

National Poetry Day today

To celebrate my birthday
which happens to be today
I thought I'd write a post to say
It's National Poetry day!

To give you something new to try
I thought it would be fun
To ask you write all comments in rhyme
This post could run and run!

As you see I'm not a poet
Just as well I know it.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

News round-up

1. NAWG short story competition, closing date 31st October, 1st prize £250, to be judged by Linda Lewis. Entry fee £5, for an additional £3 Linda will provide a detailed crit of your story. Full details here (scroll down).

2. Helen Hunt's next writing workshop is entitled Moving On. To be held on 29th October in Northampton, fee £35 which includes lunch. Full details on her blog here.

3. As part of National Short Story Week (November 7th to 13th) a charity audiobook of women's short stories entitled Women Aloud has now been launched. Two hours of stories for £9.99 - details here. Some top names have contributed stories to this anthology. It's the first time I've heard of an audiobook of short stories and I think it's a great idea! Play them in the car on long journeys or buy as a gift for your mum/aunt/grandmother.

4. And some magazine guideline updates - clarification on required story lengths for Australian That's Life Fast Fiction - the editor buys mostly 700-800 word one-page stories, and 1200-word two-pagers. He also occasionally buys longer stories of about 2700 to spread across four pages.

5. Woman's Weekly Fiction Special is increasing to 12 issues a year from 10. They'll need more stories! Pop over to Helen Yendall's excellent blog here for their latest letter to contributors to see what they do and don't want right now.

6. And while you're looking at Helen's blog, see also her series of Magazine Madness posts in which she describes dozens of markets for fillers and letters.

There you are - plenty for everyone and I've caught up with passing on all the lovely snippets and bits of news people have sent me. Thanks to all who've been in contact lately - much appreciated.