Taking My Hat Off


In a recent blogpost I mentioned adjudicating a short story writing competition for the Scottish Association of Writers. Besides having so many splendid entries from which to choose a winner, judging them was even trickier than it might sound . . .

You see, the competition was for a story aimed at women’s magazines not “The People’s Friend” in particular. Now, the writers among you will know that the “Friend” has a very distinctive style for its fiction: warm-hearted, inoffensive, feel-good, entertaining you might even say old-fashioned.

But I had to assess the stories as simply being entertaining for the readers of any women’s magazine out there, though I wondered if the majority of the stories would be written with the “Friend” in their sights since the writers knew I was to be the judge.

But no. I was presented with a wonderful range of ideas and happily set aside my “Friend” hat to enjoy thrillers, romances, the quirky, the fun, the light and the very dark. But what it highlighted is that when it comes to writing a story it’s not a case of one size fits all. Every magazine has its own style, its own character and its own requirements. For example, “Friend” stories stay within certain boundaries when it comes to marriage, relationships and family dynamics, boundaries which other fiction magazines have happily breached. It must have been challenging to write for “women’s magazines” without a particular target in mind, just as it challenged me to look for general women’s entertainment, and I take my hat off to the writers.

This difference between women’s magazines works in two ways. It means readers can find the style of magazine that suits them, that they’re comfortable with, and stick with it. And it means that writers can target stories very specifically. It’s very rarely that a story written for one market automatically suits another without some small amendments. What’s that old saying: horses for courses? Never a truer word!