Today's guest is Helen Yendell.
1. I know you've had a lot of short stories published now, Helen but I'm betting you still remember your first?
You bet! It was a long time ago, when there were still plenty of magazines publishing fiction (oh, happy days!) but I hadn't yet dipped my toe into the womag water. Encouraged by my Creative Writing tutor, I entered a short story competition in Bella magazine and I was delighted to be chosen as one of the runners-up. My story was a 'twist-in-the-tale' with more than a touch of romance. It was published in the Valentine's Day issue and I was paid handsomely for it. It was such a thrill to see my name, finally, in print.
2. Is there a particular genre within the womag market which you particularly enjoy writing?
Not really. It's very satisfying to have that 'light bulb moment' and get an idea for an original twist-in-the-tale story, so when that happens, I do enjoy writing those kind of stories (because, once you've got a great idea, they almost write themselves!). But mostly, I write character-lead stories and I like to add a touch of quirkiness or humour, if I can.
3. Are you a disciplined writer producing a steady stream of stories, or do you wait until you're in the mood?
I'm getting better but I'm definitely not as disciplined as I should be! One thing that helped me focus last year was a target I set myself, to submit 52 stories (one a week) to the womags. I managed it by the skin of my teeth, by zapping off stories 51 and 52 on 31st December (and, amazingly, both stories sold). I've set myself the same goal for 2015 (they don't have to be new stories. If one story is rejected and I'm able to tweak it and resubmit it elsewhere, then that counts as 2 submissions) and it definitely helps to keep me 'on track'. and writing more stories.
4. I know you've done quite a bit of historical research recently, has that encouraged you to write more historical stories or put you off?
A bit of both! I think it's opened my eyes to the scope there is for original story ideas and settings if you choose to write historical fiction but the research can be very time-consuming. It's probably ultimately more satisfying to write a good historical story but in my experience, it's also much harder work than setting a story in the present day.
5. The right writing snacks are very important - what's your fuel of choice?
I'm a bit of a sucker for tea and biscuits but I do try to limit them, in order to avoid WB (Writer's Bottom).
5. I've heard that some writers use real people and situations in stories to work off frustrations or put something right. Do you ever do that?
I often use my real experiences - good and bad - in my stories. I wrote a story which Woman's Weekly published as 'The Sunshine Board' about someone whose marriage failed after just a few months. That was actually based on me but I changed the 'real' ending and made it a happy one, with the couple getting back together, so I suppose, in that sense, yes I do. And it can be very cathartic.
6. I believe you've published a collection of short stories which includes some previously published in womags, care to tell us more?
Yes, earlier this year I self-published an e-book called 'Paperchase and other stories'. It contains 12 stories and 7 of them have been previously published in Woman's Weekly and are particular favourites of mine, so it was nice to be able to give them a 'second life'. It was a new challenge for me to self-publish and very satisfying to see the end result! And the feedback I've had from readers has, so far, been very encouraging.
7. What has been your happiest or proudest writing moment so far?
There have been so many, it's really hard to choose, but nothing beats getting your first acceptance from a magazine and it took me a long time to 'crack' both Woman's Weekly and, more recently, Take A Break, so those were all very happy moments for me.
8. Can you pass on a tip for other womag writers?
If I can only give one tip then it's this: try to be original. Being able to write well is only half the battle, when you're submitting stories to the womags: fresh angles and ideas are vital, too. The editor of Woman's Weekly, for example, often complains that they receive too many stories about women 'finding themselves' and about retirement, weddings and adoption. Try to write about an unusual situation or a scenario that they haven't covered before and you'll be half way to an acceptance!