I recently met “Friend” Writer Of The Week Pat Belford. Her lovely new story, “The Maypole Dance”, is in our May 2 issue.
Pat, a very warm welcome to Writer Of The Week! Please tell us how you began writing.
As a child, I was always writing. Then when my children were young, I used to make up stories for them.
My serious writing began when I was a primary school teacher.
One day I heard that our local radio station was looking for original stories for young children. I sent an everyday story about two characters called Samantha and Mike. The producer liked it, and it rapidly became a series of ten. When they had all been broadcast, I submitted them to some educational publishers who, by good luck, were planning a fiction series for developing readers,
They published four stories as books and commissioned four more for slightly older readers. I later wrote for another educational series, and since then my books have been translated into several languages.
When was your first “Friend” acceptance?
My association with the “Friend” began when I had a tale about a polar bear accepted for the much-loved “Children’s Corner”. The editors — first Margaret, and then Jacki — were lovely, and I went on to write about a dozen stories for that page.
When it sadly came to an end, I began to submit adult fiction and “Here Be Pirates” was my first acceptance.
What was the inspiration behind “The Maypole Dance?”
“The Maypole Dance” was inspired by a true incident.
One of my aunts was chosen to take part in a display of maypole dancing. Her mother couldn’t afford to buy the required gym tunic for the occasion, so she set about making one, but ran out of cloth and had to improvise for the yolk, just like in the story.
I’m not sure when that actually happened, but I thought the 1920s would be a nice setting for this story.
Did you find it tricky to tell such a good story in relatively few words?
My experience of writing very short, 600 /700, word stories stories for “Children’s Corner” has proven invaluable. Now I find it easy to write to a concise word count for adult “Friend” readers. I am comfortable with 2000 words.
It’s set in the 1920s. Do you have a preference for historical or contemporary fiction?
I am fascinated by the Victorians, and I love writing historical fiction. One of my children’s books, which is set in poverty stricken Victorian Leeds, has recently been translated into Turkish. Goodness knows what young Turkish readers will make of that!
Are you a member of a writing group? Do you have friends who are also authors?
I am a member of Leeds Writers’ Circle, a lively group which is believed to be the oldest if its kind in the UK.
We have writers of all genres and a good mix of ages, and I have many friends there.
Every two months we hold a Saturday workshop when several of us who write women’s fiction and magazine stories meet to discuss our work and give help and encouragement.
Three others in that group have been published by the “Friend”.
Notebook and pencil, or laptop? Kitchen table, or study? Blank wall, or inspiring view?
I always start with a notebook and pen, and have small notebooks with me when I am out walking, as well as by the bed, in case inspiration strikes.
Only after I have made detailed notes and written the opening pages do I go to my desktop. Nowadays I have a study overlooking a quiet street and woodland, but when my three children were young I would write at the kitchen table while they played around me.
And a P.S. – what’s your top tip for aspiring authors?
If you get stuck part way through a story, put that to one side and write a scene for a later episode in the same story.
Getting some dialogue going between two of the characters may well spark off new ideas!
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