Friday, 15 April 2016

Guest post by womagwriter Ursula Bloom

My 'guest' today is the late, record breaking author Ursula Bloom. She hasn't contacted me directly, but via Curazon Books who are reissuing some of her titles. I'm not sure if all 560 will become available - they're starting with her memoirs and a romance.

This snippet is from 'Wanting to be a Writer' and was written in 1958.

Tips for selling your short story to a magazineIn the writing of short stories today, work often sells because its backcloth is attractive, and more particularly when you come to the big serial. Set your serial in Eire, in the Scillies, or the Channel Islands, and it is far more interesting than in Manchester or Biggleswade. If you are in old St. Malo, or the Cotswolds, the editor will give it a second look. For, believe it or not, readers have to be attracted to the illustrations before they start reading the story, and every editor knows this.

When working on short stories, it is wise for the young writer to look ahead, for having thought before the others means that your work will get in first. If you are thinking of the end of May, remember that is when the Chelsea Flower Show takes place. A flower show is an excellent setting for a story. Articles on the growing of prize flowers, the showing of them, and disclosing how new varieties are invented, named, and placed in their proper forms, all invite interest. Along these lines think when the Tennis Tournament takes place at Wimbledon. Of Derby Day. Lord’s. Remember that the summer numbers exist only for seaside holidays, and all the romantic stories should have the sea as background all the time. Just as it is urgent to remember such occasions as Easter and Whitsuntide. One must be ready for Christmas before the summer has left us, and the story which has association with this occasion is then very saleable indeed.

But the editor himself is the barrier you have to pass if you are to get your work into his paper. For this reason it is very wise to take the trouble to learn something about him, for the better you know his likes and dislikes, his strengths and his weaknesses, then the more likely you are to arrive at the kind of contribution for which he is in search. He will never buy something that he does not like; it is your job to find the subject which he does like.

It is wise to discover first of all the part of the world that he comes from. Whatever we say about it all of us are influenced by our early surroundings, even if we loathed them; there is a certain nostalgic longing for that place where our cradle once rocked, and that lies deep in the heart of each one of us.

It is wise to discover something about editorial antipathies. I learnt this lesson to my own disadvantage when I offered a short story about a cat to a woman editor, who returned it immediately with an insulting letter. She herself detested cats and had a ‘thing’ about them, so she said; for this reason she would never permit any story about them in the paper. It seemed to me to be an extremely bigoted outlook, because in this world of ours there are lots of people who adore cats, many of whom find their pet cat their only real friend in lonely old age. This view, however, did not satisfy the angry lady.

I published the story elsewhere, and got quite a quantity of letters from the people who had enjoyed it, which in my mind proved the woman editor to be in the wrong. Later I discovered that this same woman had a keen adoration for carnations, so I changed a short story that I had written (with her market in view), and transferred the whole situation into a carnation nursery in Nice, and sold it to her the first time out.

To understand editorial reaction to a situation is something it is wise to try and learn. The man who adores his own children may be intrigued by the idea of a child story. The ardent traveller looks twice at the story of a journey. He is attracted by something about life abroad, and although he may insist that why he likes it is because it will illustrate well, really it is because he at heart feels it to be on his own subject.

It pays to discover those little points which may make your work more acceptable to him, and if you are an able writer then there is no complication about changing your backcloth, or your main subject in the story.

Unfortunately not all writers get to know personally the men and women for whom they work. What happens then? The answer is to read the paper strenuously, piercing into the details and discovering from what he produces how he thinks! You have always to allow a certain licence for the lords of Fleet Street, but watch for the small pointers which show how the man himself is really feeling. He does this. He does that. If he constantly refers to Wales, is he a Welshman ? It is easy to discover if he is attracted to old churches, or to modern decorations. To babies or bikinis. Read your paper from a new angle, accepting it as a shop window into which you want to place your goods.

It is something that you will not regret.

Ursula Bloom

Interesting to see what's changed and what hasn't. Will you be following Ursula's advice, or are you already plotting something set in Biggleswade?


Beatrice Charles said...

I've never been to Biggleswade or St Malo so I'm going to have to use my imagination. Unless you have any photos to share, Patsy? But what excellent advice. What I need to do is employ a stalker to spy on the editors of each WOMAG then write accordingly. But seriously, what excellent advice. I shall definitely be following this and avoid Biggleswade at all costs.

Ian said...

Glad you found the advice useful Beatrice. You'll have to let us know what happens if you put any of it into practice!

Teresa Ashby said...

Absolutely loved this, thank you, Patsy. So much good advice there and written in such a cheerful and friendly way. Excellent news that some of her work is being reissued. I'm glad to know Ursula didn't contact you directly though :-) xx

Clair Humphries said...

She sounds great, Patsy - wish I could have met her! I love the cat / carnation anecdote. I've also never been to Biggleswade but I know the Channel Islands quite well so there's hope for me yet!

Geraldine Ryan said...

"Set your serial in Eire, in the Scillies, or the Channel Islands, and it is far more interesting than in Manchester or Biggleswade."

Well. straightaway I take issue with this writer. To say The Scilly Islands are more interesting than Manchester is - well - just plain scilly.

This woman does not speak to me at all - she lives in a white middle-class Christian Britain where everybody knows their place. If you stick to her agenda I'm not sure how many readers will still be with you by the end of your story.

I agree that you have to write well in advance of - say - Christmas, if you want your story to appear at that time of year, and that editors have their likes and dislikes so it's necessary to be familiar with the magazine before you submit. but I think this is something everyone who writes for magazines discovers very quickly.

An interesting read but a piece written nearly 60 years ago about the state of the women's magazine market is something that should be acknowledged, smiled at, then passed over in favour of going to the magazines themselves and reading what is being published in 2016.

Sharon said...

An interesting read from the archives Patsy.

Patsy said...

@ Geraldine, it does show how much some things have changed. Both stories and the readership are different now, in many ways.

Patsy said...

@ Beatrice - I have photos of St Malo, but not Biggleswade - does that mean I'm exotic?

@ Ian, I wonder if there will be a few nostalgia pieces written after this?

@Teresa - that would have been a little alarming!

@ Clair - she does seem as though she was an interesting character.

@ Sharon - glad you think so.

Jan Baynham said...

I loved reading this, Patsy. It was so interesting to see how things have changed. I can imagine all the Mancunians reading this will have something to say! ;-)

suzy doodling said...

I'd find something to like in Biggleswade, now I need to research and find out.

Ian said...

Thanks for the interesting comments everyone!

Patsy - hopefully Ursula's tips will inspire modern short story writers even in some ways she could never have guessed, at the time of writing this.