Thursday, 28 November 2013

Be careful you search for the right blog...

This blog is the womagwriter blog. It's all about writing fiction for women's magazines. You can no longer simply search for the womag blog, or you'll end up shopping for marble and granite.

Feeling vaguely violated. Should have trade-marked my name. :-(

Thanks to Sam Tonge for alerting me!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

If All Else Fails - Guest post from Alan Williams

This needs no introduction. Enjoy! 


Do you ever have one of those days when inspiration for a new story escapes you? I did … and it’s lasted two months.

“Why can’t I think of anything?” I asked my very supportive wife of thirty six years.

“Because you’re thick? … or … because you’re Australian? No wait … it’s the same thing.” Then she smiled one of those special smiles that I’ve come to love so much.

“Yeah. But you’re Australian too, my darling Vegemite sandwich,” I countered, quick as a flash.

“I’m only a ‘pretend Aussie’ ‘cause I was born in England so it doesn’t apply to me.” Then she resorted to that bastion of ladies everywhere. “Maybe it’s because you’re a man with a typical one track mind. In your case there was a major derailment some years ago and no amount of little blue pills that you have hidden in the cupboard can help you with that. Besides, I thought your visit to the Woman’s Weekly Event in Manchester was supposed to unleash your innate brilliance.”

It was true. Being the only male amongst all those other aspiring writers and listening to the lectures had helped. I was surrounded by talent so surely some should rub-off onto me. For a start I’d learnt that stories need both a beginning AND an end. That revelation alone probably explained the room full of rejection slips that I’d been lucky enough to receive. Unfortunately the workshop later on hadn’t gone as well. The combined gasps of horror as I read  my hastily prepared opening paragraph were a little embarrassing. I’ve since heard that Gaynor and three other women are still having intensive therapy sessions.

“Perhaps Womag writing isn’t your forte, Alan,” was the suggestion of one of the presenters after the paramedics had left.

Nevertheless I’d returned to sunny (but boring) France determined to produce vast quantities of quality stories. The trouble was my tiny brain had dried up. I tried to get inspiration from the tele; that new sixty second makeover show for instance. A story based on colours often did wonders? Not so this time though. Squid Ink Green did not inspire me at all.

I switched channels. It was the one day in the month when I was allowed to touch the coveted remote. How about the vivid imagination of a famous secret agent visiting my old stomping grounds Down-Under? I could learn a lot from his sparkling insight into my fellow county-persons and then I could compose the bestest story in the world.

I gave up after two minutes of watching. “They call ‘kids’, ‘ankle-biters’ in Australia he explained, knowledgeably.

“Yeah and every Brit says ‘tickety-boo’ and ‘time for tiffin’” I yelled back at the television.
Let’s see! What else could I try?

Perhaps I could finish that story I began three years ago? The first two lines read ‘The universe ended yesterday. Today was going to be worse still.’ It was no use. I gave up on that idea too after a frustrating two hours.

Alcohol fuelled brainwaves, maybe? No good for me. I’m the only Aussie in the world who can’t drink.
Mind-expanding drugs then? I never touched drugs myself (apart from the 820 little blue ones I bought for a fiver on e-bay) but my darling other half had been a child of the sixties so I decided to try some of hers that were stashed in the kitchen drawer. The morning after saw no change in my creative thoughts. Apparently paracetamol is different to LDS but how was I to know that?

“Why not try some romantic writing?” my lovely wife suggested. “Romance. Women love to read anything about unrequited love and passion. I could help you out …”

“I’m a married man. What do I know about romance?”

The next three weeks were spent sleeping on the couch. My back was killing me and someone had used up all the pain-killer tablets.

Finally, in desperation, I fired up the old Amstrad 464 to go on t’internet. Surely somewhere I could discover a way to ‘relight my fires’. The answer was there in green and white. Cheese! Not the gooey French stuff that is only useful for making the fridge smell or developing new anti-biotics. Equally well Cheddar, or Wensleydale were out of the question since British cheeses are banned by law in France. The answer was Gouda. Yummy-yummy Gouda.

Apparently (according to t’internet), two slices of rubbery Gouda taken at 3.10 in the morning will induce so many nightmares you’ll never be short of ideas again! Simples!! It’s because cheese contains tryptophan (and other cheesy stuff). I’m now in the process of incorporating a vegetarian crocodile into my story about ninja koalas. I’m certain it will be a best seller and plan to send it to People’s Friend next week.

So, fellow Womaggers. There’s no excuse for failing to come up with story ideas. According to a Cheese Board study in 2005, Stilton is great for ideas about talking vegetables and Johnny Depp whereas Cheshire is brilliant for dreams of a more romantic nature. In fact this very enlightening tale is itself the result of a Chili and Mozzarella Pizza I ate at four o’clock this morning so you can see how well it works.

Now I’m off to start my novel. It’s about a very strange Australian. Anyone I know?

Thursday, 21 November 2013


That's how much was raised by the Authors for the Philippines auction! What an incredible total!

Well done to all who offered goodies and services, and to all who bid on items. I need to go and check if I won anything!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Authors for the Philippines

Bidding is now OPEN for all sorts of writer-related goodies, in an online auction in aid of the Philippines. All money bid will go to the Red Cross to help those affected by the terrible typhoon last week.

Here's the link to the auction site but you might be especially interested in lot number 108 where Sam Tonge (she of the last guest post here) is offering a detailed critique of a womag story.

There are all manner of items offered, from books to full manuscript critiques from agents (high bids for this one already!) to offers to give talks in schools. Do go and take a look, and help out this very worthwhile cause.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Guest Post - Sam Tonge - From Novels to Shorts and back again

Womagwriter Samantha Tonge's first novel is to be published tomorrow - Doubting Abbey. Here she talks about her writing journey from novels to short stories and back to novels, and shares with us what she's learned along the way.

Unlike many writers, I started off working on novels and then moved to short stories – most people do it the other way around. So, I have a clear opinion just how much short story writing has helped me with the longer form.

I started writing nearly nine years ago and regularly literary friends suggested I try my hand at a short story. However I found it impossible – even if I managed to think of a beginning, I could never come up with a middle and end, which seems very strange to me now! Then an online friend ran a short story competition for the release of her debut novel in 2010 and for the first time ever I managed to put together an entry. By then I’d written several novels.

Of course, looking back that very first story, it wasn’t the best, but it gave me the confidence to try other competitions. I was short-listed in a couple and in autumn 2010 joined an excellent short story group on the site WriteWords. Here, other commercial short story writers critiqued my work. I learnt a lot and in March 2011 made my first sale. Since then I’ve sold over 80.

So what is the difference writing novels now? I’ve written two more since I started writing shorts – one bagged me an agent. The next, Doubting Abbey, a publishing deal...

1 The first thing I learnt when writing shorts is that clarity is absolutely paramount. Sometimes in the critique group a member wouldn’t understand part of one of my stories, and it was because I’d fleshed out the story in my head, but not put all the detail on paper, wrongly assuming the reader knew as much as I did. Therefore my new motto became “if in doubt, spell it out” – whether that referred to putting in enough dialogue tags or reminding readers of fine plot details.

2 Individual chapters began to take real shape. Rather than looking at the whole novel as one long opus, I considered each chapter as a short story, with a beginning, middle and end. I’d already realized that one fault with my chapters was that I never tried to grab the reader at the start, instead just concentrating on the cliff-hanger as it finished.

3 As I sold more short stories, one editor told me I needed to put more emotion into my work and this really helped me with the novels -  feedback had frequently come back that my main characters weren’t lovable enough, and I think part of this was due to me not making the reader truly ‘feel’ their predicaments.

4 Overall my novel-writing has improved because thanks to creating short stories I’ve written from many different points of view, in various settings and eras. My experience has diversified.

5 I’ve become more laid back with my novels because now the emotional investment in them is smaller. During all those years when I wrote and subbed nothing but books, the rejections took their toll – after all, it was 6-12 months of work being sent back each time. But once I started to sell short stories my bruised writerly ego healed a little and meant that if rejections for the novel came back, hard as it was, I still had my short story successes to focus on. A happier novelist = a better one!

So for those of you who write novels, and are just starting out with shorts, don’t give up – it will benefit your writing in all areas. I wish I’d started years earlier.

Thanks Sam! Best of luck with the book launch. I adore the cover, and will be buying this novel as soon as it's released tomorrow! 

Doubting Abbey - the blurb
Swapping downstairs for upstairs… How hard can it be!? Look up the phrase ordinary girl and you’ll see a picture of me, Gemma Goodwin – I only look half-decent after applying the entire contents of my make-up bag, and my dating track-record includes a man who treated me to dinner…at a kebab shop. No joke! The only extraordinary thing about me is that I look EXACTLY like my BFF, Abbey Croxley. Oh, and that for reasons I can’t explain, I’ve agreed to swap identities and pretend be her to star in the TV show about her aristocratic family’s country estate, Million Dollar Mansion. So now it’s not just my tan I’m faking – it’s Kate Middleton style demure hemlines and lady-like manners too. And amongst the hundreds of fusty etiquette rules I’m trying to cram into my head, there are two I really must remember; 1) No-one can ever find out that I’m just Gemma, who’d be more at home in the servants quarters. And 2) There can be absolutely no flirting with Abbey’s dishy but buttoned-up cousin, Lord Edward. Aaargh, this is going to be harder than I thought…

Monday, 4 November 2013

Guest Post - Helen Hunt gets competitive

As I mentioned a little while back, Helen Hunt is soon to take over the competitions column in Writers' Forum. Here she blogs about how she began writing, and asks for input for her column.

Competitive Edge – new competition page for Writer’s Forum

As some of you will already know, from the January 2014 issue of Writers' Forum, I'll be taking over the competition page from the wonderful Sally Quilford who has been running it for five years now.

Although this blog is mainly aimed at people who are writing for the women’s magazine market, I know that there are lots of you out there who enter competitions as well.

I’ve always had a love of competitions, because they’re a big part of how I got to where I am now. I started off writing for, and trying to get published by, women’s magazines several years ago, but back then I just didn’t seem to be able to get anything accepted.

So I took a detour down the competitions route, and it was there that I had my first fiction success. It was having one of my stories published as a result of a competition that kept me going in the face of what felt like endless rejections from women’s magazines. You’ll be able to read more about that in my first column!

These days I’m primarily a women’s magazine short story writer, but it was competition writing that gave me my first breakthrough and that’s why the subject is so dear to my heart, and I’m so pleased to be taking over this job.

As I prepare to take over the page, I want to hear from you if you’re a women’s magazine writer who also writes for competitions.

How do you balance writing women’s magazine stories with competition style stories? What are the main differences in approach? What do you think the areas of crossover are?

I also want to hear from people who have any competition news, views or queries. Let me know about your competition wins, or any unusual competitions you come across. And if you’re a competition judge or organiser, I’ll do my best to list your competition if you can send details three months ahead.

If you want to get in touch you can email the competition pages at competitiveedge(at)writers-forum(dot)com

I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks very much to Womagwriter for letting me take over her blog today.

You're very welcome, Helen! And best of luck with the new column.

Edited - just found Writers' Forum on Facebook.