Our Writer Of The Week this week is Helen M. Walters.
Welcome, Helen! Tell us about your connection with the “Friend”.
My first ever sale to the Friend was ten years ago.
I’d already sold stories to other magazines at that point, but it was still exciting to make the breakthrough into such a well-loved publication.
The story was originally a near miss, but I received a very long and generous letter from Shirley explaining how it could be improved.
Having made the changes, I resubmitted the story and was thrilled when Shirley said yes.
Your short story, “The Crimson Dress”, appears in our new issue. Can you tell us about the inspiration for this story?
The first snippet of “The Crimson Dress” came to me in the form of the conversation between my main character, Marian, and her best friend about whether an item of clothing can really change your life or not.
I then structured the rest of the story around that conversation, by thinking about what must have led up to it, and what could possibly happen next.
“The Crimson Dress” comes in at around 2000 words. Do you have a preference for longer or shorter story lengths, or does it depend on the story?
When I get an idea for a story, I usually know how long it’s going to be instinctively.
I really like doing short stories of around 1000 words — there’s something very satisfying about coming up with something that neat and concise.
But some ideas need more space to breathe than that, and 2000 is a length I write quite a lot of as well.
I think the longest stories I’ve sold have been around the 3,500 to 4000 mark. I might get around to trying something longer one day!
How long did it take you to write this story?
The writing of this story took a few days — not of solid work, but of spurts of writing interspersed with thinking about it and then coming back to it.
Sometimes, if the idea is strong enough, I can write a 1000-word story in one sitting. But longer ones tend to need a few stints to get there.
I always have an ideas notebook on the go. It’s a good place to record flashes of inspiration like a good title, a fragment of dialogue I want to use and so on.
Some ideas will lie dormant in there for some time, and others will get used more quickly.
There are some occasions where a whole story drops into my head in one go and I can just write it immediately. Then I really feel like a Writer Of The Week!
But sadly these moments are rare!
Who are your own favourite authors, and why?
My favourite genre for reading is crime, and I like to get stuck into a good crime series.
One of the good things about a really gripping crime series is that, as well as intriguing and satisfying stand-alone plots in each book, you get to follow the lives of the recurring characters and see how they develop over time.
That adds an extra dimension to the storytelling and keeps me going back to read more.
Notebook and pencil, or laptop? Kitchen table or study? Blank wall, or inspiring view?
I use my notebook for scribbling, but my actual writing is almost always direct to laptop.
When I looked back at my notes for “The Crimson Dress”, unusually I had actually done a sketch. I obviously decided I needed to be able to visualise this one.
The sketch is of Marian in the dress, and at the side I’d written a list of shades of red including scarlet, ruby, maroon and claret, before settling on crimson.
Although I do have a writing desk, these days I usually write at the table in our living room where I am lucky enough to have a view across Cromarty Firth, with Ben Wyvis in the background.
We run writing retreats from here, and people always say how inspirational the view is.
I’m very fortunate to have it all the time.
And a PS – What’s your one top tip for an aspiring Writer of the Week?
If you want to write for the “Friend”, you need to get to know it really well.
I had a lot of rejections when I first started out, and in time I realised it was because I was sending things that weren’t suitable.
Also, bear in mind that needs change over time.
The stories being accepted now are considerably different from when I first set out to become a “Friend writer”.
For more from the Writer Of The Week series, click the tag below.