What a lovely smile to greet us this morning.
I’d like to welcome Wendy Clarke to my blog today. I “met” Wendy on Twitter when I was very new to this form of social media and was delighted to see that she doesn’t live too far away from me in Sussex. I am in awe of her short story achievements. To date she has been published in The People’s Friend, Woman’s Weekly and Take a Break Fiction feast and sold well over 200 stories to these women’s magazines. We decided that as it was Saturday, we would dispense with coffee and open a bottle of Prosecco, which I’d brought back from Tuscany. I know she loves Greece, so it was lucky I had some Feta cheese and olives in the fridge to snack on. ‘Cin cin,’ I said as we clinked glasses and started to chat.
Wendy, how did your success with short story publications start?
Unlike many magazine writers, I started writing later in life. Despite loving creative writing at school, and enjoying teaching it in the classroom, it had never occurred to me that I might one day make it my career. It took an unfortunate event (the closing down of the school where I taught) and an online writing course, to show me my new path.
It was my course tutor who suggested I try submitting some stories to magazines. The course had just finished and, feeling bereft at not having a weekly piece of wring to submit, I decided to give it a go. At first, I had the expected rejections but I didn’t let it put me off. I carried on writing and I carried on submitting then, three months later, I had a letter from the People’s Friend saying they liked one of my stories… hurray! This was followed by a sale to Take a Break Fiction Feast and Woman’s Weekly.
That was the start and, five years on, I’m still writing for them all and have had over two hundred stories and two serials published. I still find it hard to believe!
That is amazing and very inspiring. I believe you write predominantly for women’s magazines and their guidelines are quite stringent. Is there a story you are bursting to write outside of their parameters? Or have you written one already? Have you written anything longer?
I love writing magazine stories. I love their conciseness, their messages of hope and their clear beginning middle and end. When I first started writing, especially for magazines such as The People’s Friend, the rules were stricter: no sex before marriage, no divorce… and certainly no ghosts. Over the years, the parameters have relaxed and, three years ago, I wrote The Friend their first ghost story. Have I ever wanted to write something longer and in a different style? Well, the answer is ‘yes’. After moving on to writing serials, I knew that my next step was to write a novel. It would have been easier to have written it in the same style as my magazine stories, but I wanted a new challenge. My first novel is a romantic mystery and my second is a suspense. It took a while to realise I was no longer bound by magazine constraints but, once I’d found my novel’s voice, it was easy to write in a different genre.
I have to say, I’ve read several of your stories and your writing flows. Your style is very relaxed – you make it sound easy. But, what is the aspect you find hardest to write in short stories?
I guess it must be coming up with new and original ideas week in, week out. With two hundred stories behind me, I sometimes fear I’ve written them all!
I can quite imagine that. I read somewhere there are only seven stories in the world. I suppose we have to think of different themes for these seven stories. Tell me, of all the characters you’ve dreamt up, who is your favourite? If you could spend a day with that person, what would you do?
I’m fond all my story characters but a particular favourite for me is hapless estranged dad, John, who appears in my story, A Christmas Present Called Abbey. He’s pretty cool but really cares for his daughter, even though he has little idea what to do with her when she arrives on his doorstep. I think we could just go to a bar and hang out with his mates… and I could give him some parenting advice.
I think the short story is an undervalued art. What do you think?
Absolutely. Short stories are wonderful. Where else could you get a snapshot into someone’s life in the time it takes to have a cup of tea. What’s not to like?
Could you share three tips for aspiring short story writers?
Grow a thick skin – rejections hurt! Know your market but write what you love. Write, submit… then repeat!
I loved chatting to Wendy – I felt I needed to go upstairs to my study and start writing. Before she left, she reminded me about her Christmas Story Collection, “Silent Night” – a compilation of thirteen festive stories that have all been previously published in magazines. I don’t think it’s too early to order some copies as stocking fillers. I almost wished it was snowing as I waved her goodbye and wished her good luck.