Our Writer Of The Week is Malcolm Johnson, whose story, “Winter In Wiltshire”, is in Special 252, on sale now.
“Winter In Wiltshire” makes for an atmospheric read. Did the story’s location help here?
I’ve always been fascinated by Stonehenge (where the opening to the story is set) and Wiltshire’s ancient landscape. It’s a county that inspires the imagination and, of course, one of our greatest writers, Thomas Hardy.
You are adept at writing historical stories. Do you prefer this genre to read and write?
Yes – I love books on history and I have read them avidly since I was a child. My idea of relaxation is to settle down with something by Anthony Beevor or Max Hastings. In terms of fiction, Hilary Mantel’s books are unsurpassed in their ability to show what it was like to live in Tudor times.
All of this has provided me with a rich source of material for my stories. The internet is a wonderful place to check out obscure facts; for instance, what Ukrainian Cossacks wore on their heads in the 17th century.
You have successfully written for the “Friend” before. Do you find it an easy magazine to write for?
I’ve had a number of stories accepted, but probably more rejected. In short – no – it’s not easy to get a story accepted by the “Friend”, and if you read the stories submitted by its many contributors, the standard of writing is very high indeed. It’s a challenge every time!
Notebook and pencil or laptop? Kitchen table or study? Blank wall or inspiring view?
Laptop in my case. If it’s a historical story, I do a quick flick through the encyclopaedia of my mind, which contains pretty much every historical situation over the last five thousand years. Then I’ll pick a likely subject and the story takes shape. If it’s a story from contemporary times, then I might be inspired by something I’ve seen or heard recently – for instance, the demonstrable fact that my garden is in dire need of attention.
What’s your one top tip for aspiring writers?
Keep writing, keep submitting and keep reflecting on what your market wants. This is a very tough profession and it takes enormous skill and dedication to sell your work.