Thursday, 27 June 2013

Woman's Weekly Fiction Workshop

I recently attended a workshop at Woman's Weekly's fantastic London HQ. Gaynor Davies, Fiction Editor, Suzanne Ahern one of their favourite serial writers and Laura Longrigg from the MBA Literary Agency all gave fascinating talks.

I thought people might be interested in some of the notes I jotted down. We were there for a whole day, so in future blog posts I may cover other aspects of what we learnt. Gaynor was a lovely lady, very entertaining and encouraging and this is an idea of what she told us. 

Lots of people hearken back to Woman's Weekly as it was decades ago, but they are far more up to date than many imagine, and open to stories set in all sorts of modern situations. However, all stories even tales of crime must have a sense of warmth and demonstrate the best in people. There must be a conflict/crisis which leads to a change in the characters - this is essential - even in a comic story. At the end there needs to be a resolution, ideally not what the reader might expect. A story without a resolution can be described as a 'so what?' story, they receive too many stories where nothing really happens. Character is all important, it drives plot, don't rely on stereotypes.

In serials there is lots of room for experimentation. They look for strong plots not light romance. Recent plots have included frozen embryos, witness protection, scary ghosts, and Rasputin. Serials give room for background and atmosphere but that mustn't dominate the story which must still be about characters and their problems. The best writing states facts but also catches emotions and is not over written, so don't write as if you've swallowed a dictionary. What are the main reasons for rejection? No warmth, too depressing, too much sex, too old fashioned (which told me that you really need to study the magazine before you start writing).

Suzanne Ahern one of their most popular serial writers urged us to write from our hearts in our own style but to listen to the editors who know what will sell. Reading aloud she said would help us to identify the rhythm and flow of a story and would help to spot repeated words and stilted dialogue. One of the main things she does is to think whose story it is going to be. One of the most useful things I picked up was to create a storybook and Suzanne showed us one of hers. It was a simple technique which a seat of the pants type writer like myself would do well to follow. I often leap in to my story and forget exactly what characters and locations look like I get so wrapped up in the plot. Suzanne collects photographs of characters and places from the internet or magazines, and short passages of text which inspire her such as quotes about clothes, food, and the smells of a place. This has been useful for her historicals and for writing about places she has never been to so, for example, she found details of the smell of a river in Elizabethan England to give her writing authenticity and maps of old St Petersburg together with records of the weather on certain days. She keeps all these clippings in a single ring binder which reminded me of the sort of scrap books I used to do for projects at school. I sometimes do something similar but not in a disciplined way so that I have messy scraps of cuttings and bits of photos stuffed into files which get lost and jumbled like my poor brain! It's not rocket science but like so many good ideas is simple and effective. I guess this is about being focussed and organised in our writing, something which I lack often to my detriment. This process of organising information, Suzanne observed helps the story to gestate, like a baby in the womb, and with this research comes real belief in your fictional characters out of which will come patterns in their habits and behaviours as they begin to form into 'real' people.

I hope this has been of some help and if anyone fancies going on the course I'm sure they will get something useful out of it.   

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

First hand research... at the hospital!

Yesterday I had an MRI, a type of scan using magnets. You've probably seen them on the TV. They're like a big, long, round Polo mint and the patient lies down on a slab and goes into the hole. I love the drama of medical romances but as a writer I've not got the benefit of a professional background in medicine to draw on. So I have to use what opportunities I can -- and thus when I'm a patient I try and make the most of it for research purposes.

Nothing dramatic happened at my MRI. Fortunately. At the start was nearly an hour's wait in a hot and claustrophobic little waiting room (they were getting us in training for the claustrophobia of the machine). I had to fill in a long questionnaire making clear that there was no possibility of any metal in my body. Then at last I was gowned up and had to leave everything, including my glasses, in a locker. Wandering around without my specs always makes me feel in another world. I did notice that the giant Polo mint was made by Siemens, in big enough letters for myopic me, so they obviously don't just do washing machines. It does all feel a bit like Star Trek. Futuristic, but in a retro kind of way.

The MRI machine itself was very impressive and very white. MRIs are very tedious but you can't even drift off into a complete day dream as I was repeatedly asked to hold my breath, at which point the thing clicked and banged away. I don't think I appreciated how noisy it is from when I've seen them on Holby City.

Part of treating every patient opportunity as a research trip is finding out info from asking questions of medical staff. It was impossible for much chit chat during the MRI itself though. Too noisy and I don't want to distract people who are concentrating on trying to get their job done. I don't think my characters will be having a heart to heart when one of them is actually on the slab, like I'm sure I've seen on TV.

When I did get a chance to day dream I started to think about a possible romance story set in an MRI department. Magnetic Attraction has a certain ring to it!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Free download for D-Day - Our Day Will Come

My wartime romance, Our Day Will Come, will be free to download today, to commemorate D-Day. It's not showing as free as I type this, but they're always a bit slow. So keep checking back and it will most definitely be free later today (usually sometime between 9am and 10am GMT).

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Changing Times

As you all know it's a time of change at D C Thomson regarding the pocket novels and I think it might be a good opportunity to perhaps give a thought to other forms of writing. I'm sure we've all got an old novel somewhere that we put away that perhaps might need taking out, dusted down and having another look at? There is the short story market to consider too. I know it's a shrinking one but there are always opportunities and it does get your name out there. Then of course there are competitions. I've entered competitions, sometimes been placed, sometimes not, but sales have come as a result of the stories. Anything to keep our writing muscle exercised can only be good.

What does everyone else think?

Monday, 3 June 2013

Love Craft - How to Write Romantic Novels

I have created a short 'how to' book, called Love Craft, which as the title suggests is about writing romantic novels (not necessarily involving Cthulu type monsters!). It is the culmination of all the workshops I've done, and my own experience as a romance writer.

Join me on Facebook tomorrow for the Launch Party where I'll be answering questions about writing romance.