Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Interview with womagwriter Alan Williams

My guest today is Womagwriter, Alan Williams.

When did you start writing, Alan and how did you get into writing for womags?

You have probably not heard of me. I’m not one of those names you see in magazines all the time. I’ve been fortunate, however, to carve out a niche market in Australia.
I began writing whilst in a U3A group in Tasmania in, Cygnet, the town in which I taught. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until I was here, in France, that I decided to tackle it seriously and send my stories off to magazines. It was 2012.
I’d discovered Kath’s guidelines on Womagwriter’s blog and sent off two stories I’d written years earlier, to That’s Life in Australia as well as other stories to many of the British magazines. Six weeks after, I sold one of those initial stories to That’s Life so that encouraged me to persist in my writing. Without that initial success I would probably have given up trying by now.

You're a man (you probably already knew that) Do you think that's an advantage or disadvantage when it comes to writing for magazines which cater mainly for women?

To be honest, Patsy, I don’t know. When I’ve been the only guy amongst twenty females at the Woman’s Weekly Events I’ve attended, I’m very conscious of my status. It’s a little intimidating as, despite having been a Science teacher for years, I don’t have a great deal of self-confidence.
Also it’s not the sort of pastime I would boast about to a group of Rugby players down at the pub at lunchtime when they’re sinking a tinny or two … not unless I had a death wish.
I’m proud that I’m a Womag writer and that I’ve had had success in this genre as I respect the readers, the stories and all of the fellow writers that I’ve met. I enjoy what I do.
Not many men read what I’ve written however one did read a Take A Break story from earlier this year. His comment that I must be in touch with my feminine side was a compliment (I hope) and I took it as such. It’s difficult for me to convey the strong positive emotions that I find in Womag stories however, when I can achieve that, I’m very proud.
It’s been suggested that I use a female pseudonym but that’s not me and I think it would still be obvious that I’m a man as I cannot write like a woman. Realistically, I don’t feel it matters to the editor. In fact, that difference in approach may set me apart from the similar style of many other writers. Unfortunately for me, I’m often too different.
Most of my stories are in the first person allowing me to have fun with the characters, toying with idiosyncrasies or personalities. Also the main character is usually a woman, sometimes strong, sometimes a heroine, sometimes apprehensive or scared but generally an average person dealing with the trials of relationships or dramas that happen to us all.

Are you a disciplined writer producing a steady stream of stories, or do you wait until you're in the mood?

I write every day, even if it’s only composing the entire story in my head then typing it up over the next few days. My present problem is the inspiration for stories. I often fall back on song titles to act as prompts, e.g. The Pied Piper by Crispian St Peters or Substitute by Clout, both of which have become fine, strong, but as yet, unpublished short stories.
Most on my tales begin as a title – something quirky that grabs my imagination. For example The Pastel Blue Kangaroo, The Neverwhen or When Gravity Went Wild. I did a guest blog on this site some years ago about this topic. It isn’t a great problem if the editor then alters that title as the story is still there.
If I wake up and feel in a daft mood, then I write amusing pieces (often poking fun at male attitudes). If my wife gives me a kiss, I’ll write a romance. I’m actually a romantic at heart and always have a positive, uplifting ending, whatever I do.

I think I'm right in saying you've had most success with Australian magazines - do you have a connection to that country?

I am an Australian by birth although I lived, with my British wife, in England for 19 years and am now exiled to France since 2007. It would seem that Australian editors see something in my work that doesn’t fit too well with British Womags. I can understand that. My stories, even the romance and heart-warmers are probably too plot heavy for them. It’s a good thing that rejections don’t upset me greatly. And I do know that I’m not in the same class as others like yourself or Della (whom I’ve met a number of times). Christine Sutton has also helped me to adjust my style for Britain although, judging by my meagre success there, I’m a slow learner.
I sent off my invoice for stories 14 and 15 to TL last week so I my writing style seems to suit them as there have been three editors since I started.
Dare I say it, I do believe Aussies have different brains, due to the greater exposure to UV, fresh air, vegemite sandwiches and fairy bread whilst growing up. Not necessarily better, just different. I write a lot of Sixth Sense stories for That’s Life but I do sell them Romance, Heart-warmers, Revenge and Light Bites as well.

You don't live in Australia now though - does living where you do pose any difficulties when it comes to submitting to UK and Australian markets?

T’internet is a wonderful thing and so the Aussie markets are usually okay for me.
Unfortunately the local French Post Office tends to close on a whim, displaying a sign with ‘Exceptional Closing’ proudly taped to the door. Even when it’s meant to be open, it is closed one day in three and was, in fact closed all of August. The reasons, I’m sure, are varied, ranging from the Postmistress breaking a nail to the Postmaster needing to take his pet cow, Alphonse, for walkies.
Consequently posting submissions to the U.K. can be … challenging. More often than not I return home, letter still in hand, saying words that won’t be found in any English-French dictionary.

I've heard that some writers use real people and situations in stories, especially if something has annoyed them. Do you ever do that?

Don’t tend to become annoyed (French Postal Service excepted), so no, I don’t use real people. Occasionally I use myself and my own experiences but what writer doesn’t? Sorry, just remembered my first wife. She often finds herself appearing, usually when something disgusting or horrible is about to happen. Does that count?

Can we read any of your stories other than in magazines?

I do have stories in Anthologies in Australia, Ireland and Canada but they would be hard to track down, I think. I have one story in an anthology, By My Side, with Alfie Dog (along with you, Patsy). The story is Star Bright – a whimsical romance with a touch of magic thrown it. My other taleson Alfie Dog are stories that are otherwise unpublished, written some years ago. However they do include one from my other writing genre – Children’s fiction where I’ve had some publishing success also.

What has been your happiest or proudest writing moment so far?

As is often the case, it would have to be my first acceptance. I’d written a fantasy story about a jilted girl and her grandmother called The Cool, Dark Place. The grandmother surprises the girl by demonstrating a gift – the ability to remove negative emotions and replace them with memories of the girl’s 5th birthday that she had kept in jam jars within a cupboard; the cool, dark place.
That story has been reprinted in Scotland and Canada as well.
To see my ideas and words in print with beautiful accompanying photos was, in itself, magical.

Can you pass on a tip for other womag writers?

I was once told by a fellow writer that I was very brave to have the courage to submit my stories to ‘proper magazines’. It took me some time and discussions back and forth, to understand her own fears. I send off over 100 submissions per year to all sorts of magazines or occasionally competitions. Not just Womags even though most of my stories are written for that genre. Maybe I have a thick skin to deal with the numerous rejections or, more often, hearing nothing but I keep submitting, even to those magazines that have never accepted one yet.
My advice? Don’t be disheartened. Believe in yourself. I know I have a lot to still learn but I’ll continue to try showing editors those ideas and skills that I already have. Maybe one day even Woman’s Weekly will show some interest. You never know unless you try.

Thanks Patsy for asking me to do this. It’s great to be a part of this web community.


Dolores Doolittle said...

Thank you Alan, and Patsy for the idea of this interview - interesting and hugely encouraging.
Ah yes, the thrill of French PO opening times - adds such a frisson to your deadlines... (lived a few years there)

Clair Humphries said...

Fascinating interview, thank you - I prefer writing in the first person too for the same reason. I wish I could handle rejection as well as you (although I wasn't raised on Vegemite so I'm clearly not tough enough!)

Tassie Devil said...

Thanks for your comments, Dolores and Clair,
As for handling rejections I firmly believe that it's the fairy bread rather than the vegemite. Incidentally fairy bread is hundreds and thousands (or coloured sprinkles in the UK I think) liberally covering slices of buttered bread. They have probably been banned in Oz now, not only because of the unPC name, but for it's total lack of any nutritional value. Good for sugar rush though.

Fay Knowles said...

Thanks Alan. You're an inspiration! And thanks Patsy for arranging this most interesting interview.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

What a lovely interview! Thanks for sharing some of your writing life and success with us, Alan.

Tassie Devil said...

Whilst I appreciate the comment, I think inspiration gives me far more credit than I deserve. I just keep persisting with submissions despite the rejections. Woman's Weekly - 48 submissions, 48 rejections. Nothing to be proud of there, I'm afraid. At times I feel like the Eddie The Eagle of the writing world.
and Rosemary.
It was an honour to be asked, especially considering the status of those other interviewees on this site.

Kathleen McGurl said...

Lovely interview, and great to get to 'know' Alan a bit more. I remember you emailing me, Alan, back in the day when I ran this site. So good to hear you've carved out a niche in TL. Hope you soon start having some luck with the UK magazines too - maybe once the editors have read this and know a bit more about you they'll start accepting your work...

Tassie Devil said...

As I said in the interview, I owe you a big thank you, Kath. Your Guidelines helped me to focus on what were the requirements for each magazine plus you gave me a voice here on this site when I was first beginning. I still read your books including how to write ghost stories but find that I've not yet mastered that genre. Still, it's fun to try. Hope your own writing endeavours are succeeding. Good to hear from you again.

Niddy said...

Wonderful interview Alan. Thank you for sharing and good luck with all your future submissions. I've been lucky in the UK but haven't attempted the Aussie market. My stories are cosy so might not suit.

Patsy said...

Thanks, Alan.

I'm looking forward to hearing more about Alphonse.

Della G said...

Alan, I love 'Exceptional Closing'. What a wonderful quirky Post Office, albeit inconvenient. I love the idea for The Cool Dark Place too, I wouldn't mind a read of that some time. Where can I read it? Fabulous. You are doing really great - if that's not atrocious English for a writer. It's a very very tough market, the British Womag scene, as we all know on here. Wishing you all the best for the future. Hard work and talent - you are a master at both - really do pay off.
Della xxx

Anonymous said...

Nice piece. Thanks for sharing