Tell us about your story “If Truth Be Told”.
We spend a lot of time in a small French town that has a lot of dogs and some jolly filthy pavements! One day when I was ranting and raving about irresponsible dog owners to my long-suffering husband, he remarked that no-one listening would imagine for a moment that I liked dogs . . . This story was the result, using the tried-and-tested writers’ method of taking a scenario, choosing a couple of characters, and then asking ‘but what if?’.
You’ve had a long and successful writing career. Where did it all begin?
When I was nine we went to live in Egypt for a couple of years. School started early in the morning and finished early, so there were long afternoons to be filled: a friend and I created an imaginary land which had, naturally, its own newspaper: the discipline of producing a regular publication with only two contributors (and a readership of two . . .) was excellent training!
When I started teaching (at nearly 40), I wrote three language-teaching books, but knew that I really wanted to write fiction, so I attended a lecture on writing short stories at a writers’ conference (over twenty years ago now) and started writing in earnest. I still write something every single day . . .
How has the women’s short story fiction market changed over the years?
The acceptable subject matter has changed: when I started selling stories heroines were perfect wives and mothers . . . there were no divorces, no single mothers, no co-habitation and very little alcohol! An editor did ask me once to change a glass of wine to a cup of tea! Although these subjects still need careful handling, they are mentioned here and there!
The other big change is that the number of magazines accepting fiction has shrunk dramatically. More and more have moved to ‘celebrity stories’ and ‘true life’ stories (most of which terrify me!). However, looking on the bright side, there are far more ‘fiction specials’ than there used to be.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
I’ve only recently started reading Clare Chambers’ books, which I love. I also enjoy Richard Osman’s “Thursday Murder Club” series because he portrays older people in such a positive way. I’m also constantly amazed at the detail in JK Rowling’s writing – and hugely grateful for the influence she’s had on many children’s enthusiasm for reading.
Do you have a designated writing space?
My husband and I share what is grandly called the study (in reality a surplus bedroom, now that there are only two of us at home) – his half is very neat and mine is . . . well . . . not.
What advice would you give to people trying to find success in the writing market?
Primarily, persevere! Study the magazine you’re aiming for and follow any guidelines. When I had had many rejections from one particular magazine, the editor pointed out that she never accepted stories written in the first person, which hadn’t occurred to me. Who knew?
Editors are busy: make their life easier by following their rules!
But most importantly, PERSEVERE!
Thank you, Jan!