Nearly There!

Sometimes we read a short story which instantly captivates, yet it requires just a little more fine tuning on the part of the writer to make it work for us – and our readers.

One story (due to appear in our April 23 issue) which fell into this category was “Love Train”, a charming and intriguing story with a supernatural element. Amanda told me that she came up with the idea for “Love Train” on a trip from Hertfordshire to Edinburgh.

“As I travelled by rail, I imagined a young woman heading to see her boyfriend who lived a four-hour train ride away, and my mind spun with thoughts of how hard it must be to make a long-distance relationship work – but how lovely when it does!”

“My first draft wasn’t a ghost story. It was a tale of a lady in her late seventies, Margaret, sitting next to a young woman, Gemma, my main character, on the journey. Margaret tells Gemma about her happy life with her husband and how, at first, they’d coped with a long-distance relationship. She points out places where they’d met up while they were dating, and other places of importance in their lives.  When they finally arrive in Edinburgh, it turns out that Margaret is the gran of Gemma’s boyfriend with whom Gemma is having a long-distance relationship.

“Then after giving my first draft some more thought I wondered if it was a bit coincidental and, knowing that the ‘Friend’ has recently started publishing ghost stories, I thought if Margaret was a ghost it might make the story a bit different. So I rewrote it with that in mind and sent it off to Alison in the fiction team.”

When we read the first version of this in the fiction team, we wondered if some readers would instantly guess that Margaret was a ghost, just as we had. So I made the suggestion to Amanda to make Margaret younger. This would mean that readers would be less likely to pick up that she was, in fact, a ghost appearing across the generations. With two female characters of the same age, the problem of different eras and giving the reader too much of a clue was solved.

Amanda’s rewrite worked out to perfection. Along with a different description of Margaret, she changed some of the things she’d originally said to reflect more recent times. She had given away too much previously. For example, in the first version Margaret had described meetings at places long gone and had also spoken of a grandchild.

It was a challenge for Amanda to convey that Margaret had led a long and happy life after a successful long-distance relationship without letting the reader suspect her real identity. As I’d hoped, she successfully wrote both description and dialogue to create a successful new version.

Encouraging  writers to rework a “near miss” story into a successful one is an important part of what makes my job so enjoyable – it’s all about teamwork among colleagues and our greatly-valued writers.

As Amanda says, “I was thrilled when the ‘Friend’ liked the new version.”

So will our readers! Make sure that you don’t miss this lovely story.

Alison Cook