Lucy chats to Writer Of The Week Wendy Janes, whose second “Friend” story appears in this week’s issue.
Please tell us how you started writing, Wendy. Do you write alongside another career?
My first story for the magazine was published in May. Although I’ve been writing on and off since my teens, it’s only in the last five years that I’ve actually sought out places to publish my writing. During that time, a few of my short stories have been included in anthologies. I’ve also self-published a novel and a collection of short stories.
Last year I came across Patsy Collins’ blog, and the idea of writing for specific magazines really appealed to me. I followed her excellent advice and took time to familiarise myself with the “Friend”. It’s been a lovely experience crafting stories for readers of the magazine, and I’m looking forward to developing more of my fledgling ideas.
In addition to writing, I have two very rewarding careers. Via my freelance proofreading business, I help authors polish their writing for publication. I’m also a caseworker for the National Autistic Society’s Education Rights Service.
Your short story, “Portrait In The Park”, appears in our new issue, on sale Wednesday. What inspired this story?
I often “borrow” stories from my family history, and from my husband’s family history.
When I was growing up, I remember my grandparents and parents telling family stories around the dinner table. My husband and his family did the same during his childhood. The tradition has continued through the generations with our own children and our grandchildren.
I enjoy creating stories for a wider audience by taking elements from some of those well-loved family tales, and I hope readers can feel the warmth and admiration I have for the relations I hold dear.
The inspiration for this particular story came from family history. My mother and I were chatting about portrait painting (we’re both huge fans of the “Portrait Artist Of The Year” television programmes), and she mentioned that when her mother was a child she had been playing in the street one day and an artist asked if she could paint my grandmother’s portrait.
We don’t know who the artist was or where the portrait ended up — or how my grandmother felt about the experience — so I took those tantalising unknowns and let my imagination roam.
I had originally intended the story to be set before the First World War, which was when the real event took place, but my character kept telling me she was far more modern, so I had to listen to her.
“Portrait In The Park” is set in the 1960s. Do you prefer writing stories set in the present or the past?
To be honest, I really enjoy writing both. Some themes and characters seem to belong in a 21st-century setting, while others conjure up a year or a decade from the past.
Researching things like music, fashion and politics from recent history is fascinating, whether I’m taking a trip down memory lane to the 1970s of my teenage years, or discovering what life was like before my birth.
I don’t include all my research in my stories, because that would be too heavy-handed. But I like to weave in songs or references to the culture of the times. I hope the light touch helps readers connect with an era and with my characters.
Who are your own favourite authors, and why?
Maggie O’Farrell, Jo Baker, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Lisa Genova, Adele Parks, Anne Tyler and Anita Shreve are among my favourite authors. My very good friend Christine Campbell is an indie author. Although not a household name like those I’ve just listed, she’s one of my favourite authors too.
Each has a distinctive voice, a capacity to delve into the heart of relationships, and a talent for developing intriguing and sensitive characters. With beautifully chosen words, they transport me into their characters’ worlds.
What are your writing ambitions?
For now I’d like to continue writing stories for magazines. Especially now I’ve been Writer Of The Week!
Waiting in the wings I have a couple of novels, but seeing them through to fruition may take a while. Although I wouldn’t say no to being a famous author, and perhaps being asked to give an interview on Woman’s Hour one day, my more realistic ambition is to write stories that entertain and resonate with readers; tell stories that raise a smile, and on occasion bring a tear to the eye.
Notebook and pencil, or laptop? Kitchen table or study? Blank wall, or inspiring view?
For my first draft I always use notebook and pen. Then for my (many) subsequent drafts, I sit at the PC in the corner of my dining room, where I’m currently typing this.
When I’m in the middle of writing or typing, the blank wall is my preference, and I need absolute silence.
If I have a knotty problem with a plot, I move away from my desk. Usually a walk along our local high street works wonders. It’s not a pretty high street, but it seems to unlock something.
And a P.S. – What’s your one top tip for an aspiring Writer Of The Week?
Try to network with other authors. I think we can learn such a lot by supporting each other and sharing our experiences, and rather than looking upon other authors as our competitors, we can connect with them as colleagues.
For more from our Writer Of The Week series, click the tag below.
If you’re interested in submitting a story to “The People’s Friend”, your first port of call should be our Submission Guidelines.