Story Starter: Amsterdam Florist

Amsterdam florist

A florist’s shop in Amsterdam. It was taken back in the early spring before that amazing creeper burst into flower. There are lots of Christmas roses. Skimmia. Cactus. A banana plant (I think) inside.

What I like about this is that it’s contrary to what you would expect of an Amsterdam florist. For example, there’s not a tulip in sight. So it suggests, in story starter terms, confounding expectations. Offering the unexpected. Breaking rules. Taking one by surprise.

That all captures what I’ve been trying to coax all of our writers to do over the last several months. Offer the reader new and unusual stories. Don’t rely on the old standards. We want her to pick up her new issue every Wednesday and feel a delicious sense of anticipation. “Ooh, I wonder what the stories will be about this week?” Not have a faintly sinking heart as she ticks the boxes: grandma story, widow story, inherited cottage story…. There are only so many of them she can read and still feel she’s being entertained, and she’ll soon go elsewhere if she’s consistently disappointed.

I’ve been corresponding with a number of new writers this week, some about serials, and some about short stories. And what’s been rewarding about it for me is ….well, actually, a number of things.

One writer who’s been working really hard on developing a serial idea –  it was one of the competition entries, by the way; not a winner, or even short-listed, but it showed great potential. Anyway, she’s drafted and redrafted a first serial instalment, 5000 words at a time, and I loved that she told me how much fun she’s having. That’s what writing should be, and that’s certainly come through in her writing. And what was fab was that today I was able to tell her her latest draft of that first instalment is a yes. Brilliant. Rewarding on two levels, seeing her success, and working with someone so willing to learn.

Another writer, still to have her first acceptance with us, sent me one that looks like being a yes. And in her email, she mentioned another story that she’s writing from one of the Story Starter images, that she feared was turning a bit dark ….But as I said, we’re testing our boundaries all the time, and it’s only by writers offering us the unusual that we can probe and question ourselves, so not to dismiss it to swiftly.

We’ve also just had a conversation here about our long-standing writers. One in particular consistently tries new ideas on us. She doesn’t always succeed, the price she pays for being courageous, but it’s only by being offered this new material that we’re learning as we go what works for us and what doesn’t in this brave new fiction world we’re exploring.

What’s interesting is that it’s enabling us to raise our bar all the time, so that the writers who consistently offer us same old, same old are finding that the traditional surefire winner isn’t any more. And I know who it’s more rewarding to work with.

So be like this Amsterdam window. Surprise us!

Shirley Blair

Fiction Ed Shirley’s been with the “Friend” since 2007 and calls it her dream job because she gets to read fiction all day every day. Hobbies? Well, that would be reading! She also enjoys writing fiction when she has time, long walks, travel, and watching Scandi thrillers on TV.