Beth’s Work Experience with ‘The People’s Friend’

The day before I was to begin work experience, I sat on the edge of my bed and cried.

I would be leaving home – living with kind strangers who had offered to host me – and working for two weeks. Thinking about it all, I realised I had never travelled anywhere overnight alone before. I’d always been with friends or family. And now, I was so nervous.

The drive from Glasgow to Dundee was terrible. I forgot my prepared lunches and my jacket and had to turn around 15 minutes into the journey to get it; the sky was foggy and therefore bright white and blinding; I could feel myself getting tired on the road to Stirling. I pulled over at services and shut my eyes for five minutes, reminding myself that it would be okay.

When I finally arrived in Dundee, I couldn’t find the home that I would be staying in. I got lost a few times and had to keep phoning the family. When I finally found it, they welcomed me in. Nerves dispersed one by one. This part would be okay.

I got some rest and set my alarm for 6.40am. Not knowing exactly how to get to DC Thomson, I left the house an hour before I had to be there and arrived 47 minutes early.

I sat in the car for a wee while before entering, where reception called down Judey, the production editor from The People’s Friend, to greet me.

Again, the nerves slowly left me. Judey was friendly; she asked me about myself, what I study and where I was staying for the next few weeks.

She knew I was Beth Robertson; I told her that I was 20 years old, about to enter my 4th year of studying Creative Writing, Journalism and English Literature. She told me all about her job. I listened, without paying attention to the maze of a building that we were wandering through.

“I don’t think I’m going to remember how to get out of here,” I admitted. The building is massive, with hallways, twists, turns, stairwells, lifts and people coming to and fro constantly.

Judey introduced me to the whole team and everyone was extremely welcoming. I was going to be part of the fiction team where Alison gave me some copies of the magazine to sift through in the morning; in the afternoon, I read some manuscripts that had been submitted by readers.

Thankfully, at the end of the day she showed me the way out the building and I managed to memorise it quite quickly so I wouldn’t spend hours every morning lost in strange hallways.

The next day, Shirley Blair – commissioning fiction editor – came in and she has been an extremely huge help during my time here. She has checked up on me a few times every day, giving me new tasks, teaching me things and trusting me with real work.

I have had the best time here. By the end of my first day the nerves were completely gone. I felt like I fitted right in and the work I’ve been assigned to do has been exactly what I have been yearning to try. I’ll give you a sneak peek of what I’ve been doing…

Reading manuscripts: As mentioned, I’ve been reading through short stories that people have sent in, regular writers and new writers. It’s been so much fun reading such a variety of stories, giving feedback and even getting to do . . .

Emails: One of the highlights was emailing a writer who sent stories in. We loved the first story but it wasn’t suitable for the magazine. I was allowed to email him with constructive criticism and a few days later I had a letter on my desk. It was so funny seeing something addressed to me since I was only here on work experience! He had sent in another submission. It was great when we realised that we loved this story too AND it was suitable for the magazine. It was chosen to be published! I was allowed to email him with the good news and was congratulated by the team for noticing his talent – but it’s him that should be thanked!

Payment sheet: After emailing him with the good news that his story was going to be published – I had to fill out a payment sheet with all his personal details on it and pass it on to admin. This was a small task to do but it was interesting to see how everything links together in the production line of the magazine.

Subbing Stories: I learned, after a few hours of being quite confused, that ‘subbing’ just means editing a story for grammar, punctuation, clarity and structure. This was an exciting thing for me to do. As someone who spends a lot of my time editing my own writing – and would love to get into editing (or subbing) one day – I loved editing these two stories.

Writing By Lines and Write Ups: This was a really hard job and I sympathise with the team that has to do this every week! By lines and write ups are the bit above the story in the magazine which briefly tells you what kind of story it is & what it is going to be about – without giving too much away. I had to give them four options, even though I don’t think any of them were chosen!

The Book That Changed My Life: I didn’t think I would get to write anything personal for the magazine during my time here but Shirley asked me to write an article about a significant book in my life. You might have seen this column running in the magazine. Someday soon, my piece might be featured so keep your eye out for the very silly book that changed my life!

Choosing Illustrations:  Usually, when the fiction team choose illustrations for the magazine, they read the story and imagine what they want the illustration to look like. They write it all down and send it to their artists who draw what was once only part of the team’s imagination. I think that’s magic!

Sometimes, though, they use iStock images. I was assigned to find one for a story called ‘Living Next Door To Alice’. I spent hours browsing through the website, my finger aching from scrolling, before finding anything that might be suitable. In the end, we decided on a photo that Jim Dewar played with it to make it look light and artistic. It’s for the opening story in the August 27th issue.

Things to do section: In every other special edition of the magazine, there is a section at the front called ‘Things to Do’. In number 129 – released on the 14th September – you will find the section that has been written by me – hopefully! They might decide I had rubbish ideas – either way, I hope you find some nice Things To Do in that month.

Checking the dummy: Every week, a dummy copy of the magazine is passed around to be checked for any mistakes. I got to have a flick through; it was great to be included and trusted with the copy!

Blog posts: The magazine has an exciting blog – which you are reading through right now – and it is updated daily. Every Tuesday, the day before the new issue of the magazine is released, Shirley writes a sneak peek of what’s going to be in the next edition. I got to write the July 9th sneak peek! It was a fun job and so exciting to see my writing up on their website.

I also got to write this blog post which you are reading now. And to summarise it, I will just say how thankful I am for my time here at The People’s Friend. Despite being nervous to the point of tears the day before I came, I can’t imagine not having embraced this opportunity! I have learned so much – the house style, how they choose the order things go into the magazine in, how to work their website, how to navigate some of the fancy Microsoft programmes they use, how they design pages, how to give constructive feedback to authors, to find my way around this building – and I have met so many great people, and realised that I might be useful in a field like this someday. With my head spinning all year on career opportunities, I think I might have narrowed it down a bit . . .

Guest Contributor