Thursday, 13 June 2013

Guest Post by Helen Laycock

I don't know about you, but I am always fascinated to read about other writers' journeys - how they got started, the different types of writing they tried before they began to find success etc. Most of us on this blog have concentrated to a greater or lesser extent on women's magazine fiction, but here's a lovely post by a writer who targetted short story competitions with a good degree of success.

My husband is a scientist. He sees the world in black and white. His dreams are one-liners and he is unable to picture what is not there. He finds peculiar – and I think is rather jealous of – the imaginary world into which I can slip at any moment. We writers are so fortunate in having not only the real world that ‘everyone else’ inhabits, but an alternative, boundless world which we can tweak to our heart’s content.

I can’t even recall my first foray into writing. It must have been as a child with ‘Once upon a time’.

It was 2005 when a friend of mine, who had embarked on an Open University course in Creative Writing, mentioned that there were writing magazines out there with competitions. By that time, I had quite a collection of poetry and I had also begun to write books for children. Pleased to have a new goal, I began to dabble more in short stories, working to a word count, working to a theme. Having a set number of words was stressful to begin with. What if I got carried away? What if my creativity were crushed? But the more I practised, the more I felt the shape of the story taking form in just the right number of words. Often I write to the absolute maximum. You wouldn’t believe how hard it can be sometimes to lose one extraneous word! Reading winning entries showed me that what the judges were looking for was something that stood out from the pack.

When I first saw my name in Writing Magazine that same year, I was thrilled. I hadn’t won, but was shortlisted in their Annual Love Story Competition with a story called ‘’Til Death Do Us Part’. In the same magazine I was later shortlisted for the Adult Fairy Story which was great fun to write. Other shortlistings include Writers’ Forum with a bizarre story (currently awaiting judging elsewhere) and the Erewash Creepy Christmas Chiller Competition with my first horror tale. One of my stories recently won third place in an Internet competition and that will be included in an anthology next year. I also have a few pieces included in the One Word Anthology, an e-book, soon to become paperback, produced by my online writing group.

Having had a few sniffs round by publishers, but nothing further, I made my children’s books into ebooks. I then realised that I could share my short stories by doing the same. I categorised similar tales together and so became ‘Peace and Disquiet’, a collection of twelve darker stories, and ‘Light Bites’ which, as the title suggests, are more light-hearted compositions. I am no computer guru, but, luckily, my husband is. He helped with… okay, DID all the formatting for me. I made the covers by experimenting with photos. The hardest part was not the writing. It was, and is, the ongoing promotion which requires technological know-how in terms of social networking. (I’m still confused by hash tags and how strangers can see my Facebook page.)

 I have lots more stories. There are a few written specifically for forthcoming competitions, but they will eventually take their places in my next two collections which, again, seem to divide very neatly into those of a slightly unsettling nature and those which are just a laugh. I’ve got the titles ready too. It’s been a wonderful journey, and one that I shall enjoy continuing to travel. One reviewer wrote: ‘This is the work of an accomplished writer, one with true knowledge of the craft’. It tells me that I must be doing something right.

Thanks Helen! We often forget, I think, that writing competitions can be considered a market. Although the number of women's magazines publishing fiction is diminishing, there are as many competitions as there ever were, and winning or being placed in a few can be quite lucrative and a good outlet for your work. If you want help finding suitable competitions, try Sally Quilford's Competition Calendar.

Do check out Helen's books. I've just bought Light Bites and am hoping for some more sunshine this weekend so I can do what I do best: sitting in the garden, reading. 

Helen's Amazon Author page is here


Helen Laycock said...

Thank you, Kath, for giving me a seat at your table!

Yours is a great blog, by the way. Just what I've been looking for.


Edith said...

Great post. Yes I agree, it's always fascinating to learn about how writer's develop in their writing and publishing career. And thank you Kath and Helen for the reminder that writing competitions are another route to follow. Helen, your stories sound intriguing!

Helen Laycock said...

Thank you, Edith.

People that know me as a happy-go-lucky person are very often surprised that I can conjure up such dark tales. Of course, I can't be held fully responsible for unsettling readers. If the Muse leads, I must follow, even if I am wearing fluffy, pink slippers...


Julie P said...

Thanks, Helen. I'm fascinated by other writers' journeys too - it makes people realise how hard writing actually is and that it doesn't all happen overnight!


Helen Laycock said...

It certainly doesn't, Julie!

In my naivety, when I wrote my first children's book, I was already planning an outfit to its film premiere!

As if...

Helen Laycock said...

I've just bought 'Ghost Stories and How to Write Them'.

I look forward to a 'spectre-cular'read!