Jessma Carter On Writing A Series For The “Friend”


As our latest “Friend” series, “Living It Up”, draws to a close, I decided to have a chat with its author, Jessma Carter, all about her writing process.

How did the idea for your “Friend” series come about?

As often happens, I bumped into the story.

I was meeting a couple of friends for coffee and a chat, and learned that another friend had gone into a retirement home.

We began to talk about what we would do, if and when we were on our own. Possibilities ranged from selling our home and splashing the proceeds on renting a flat next to the opera house in Vienna, to buying a mundane small flat in town where we wouldn’t have to drive for essentials.

It is a problem that many will have to face. We no longer live in a world where families stay put. We won’t all have sons and daughters around, as our grandparents did.

Statistics say that we are likely to live well beyond retirement. Will there be reforming of relationships?

I decided to write about three different women from different backgrounds living together.

Two main characters would perhaps underline differences too much, lead to conflict, but three women might mean they all did a bit more juggling with their wants and needs and talents.

The progress of their relationships would have to be slow, so perhaps a series over thirty weeks would allow time for harmony to develop and differences to be, at least, accepted.

Were there any challenges to writing in this format?

The main problem was the word limit of 800 words per instalment.

To have to set a situation, explore it and bring it to an end in that time was a major question for me.

The three would meet, I decided, while visiting retirement flats, giving them a chance to reveal a bit of themselves.

I decided to concentrate most weeks on one of the characters, and vary the main character each week, gradually feeding in information about each one’s background.

How did you get started?

I sent a synopsis to the Fiction team, and have to say a loud “thank you” to them for the time and care they took with the material I sent.

What I had written was a rough overall plan. The women would have a chat after meeting in the retirement flats where they decided they wanted something else; a place which would feel like a home, where they were free to make their own rules.

How did you plan the series?

I had to detail each episode, concentrating each week on a different character — revealing their pasts, their talents, their problems and hopes.

I thought of what each one could learn from the other. Flora could pass on her design skills; Rachel show how physical fitness could be improved; and Abigail, in many ways the privileged one of the three, begin to think for herself.

Any tricky moments?

It was difficult keeping to the plan. It always is, for characters have a will of their own!

And then the series had to end with a probability.

Stories don’t end where the writer stops writing. If they are any good at all, they don’t end at the last word. They carry on in the mind of the reader.

Was Rachel likely to see more of Jack? Did Flora make more of her artistic talent? Did Abigail lose weight and become a keen cyclist?

You can make the story end where you will.

The final instalment of “Living It Up” will appear in our August 15, 2020 issue. Our new series, by Della Galton, begins in our August 22 issue. Don’t miss it!

Could you write a “Friend” series? Click here to find out!


Fiction Editor Lucy is always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, she enjoys working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 150 years of 'Friend' fiction!