The Write Romantics are compiling an anthology of short stories to be released later this autumn in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust and Cystic Fibrosis Trust. Several writing friends have kindly given their time and talent by providing short stories and we’ve all contributed ourselves. For some of us, this was quite a challenge as we’re novelists; not short story writers. We were therefore delighted to welcome prolific short story writer, Margaret Mounsdon, to The Saturday Spotlight.
Over to Margaret …
As I said to Jessica the two things I love talking about most in this world are myself and writing! So I am honoured to be a guest on the blog and hope everyone finds what I have to say is interesting.
A little introduction for those of you who’ve never heard of me.
My name is Margaret Mounsdon and I have been published in the womens’ magazines, namely Woman’s Weekly, My Weekly, People’s Friend, The Lady and Take A Break’s Fiction Feast. Apart from the UK my short stories have been published in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Norway and Sweden.
I have had 25 light romance novels published and I’m in the process of putting my backlist on Amazon ebooks.
I have won or been placed in several short story competitions and the reason I am telling you all this is not to blow my own trumpet but to let you know it is possible to do this without knowing a single soul in the publishing industry or having an agent, or being able to pull strings with editors, publishing assistants, whatever.
Unlike mainstream fiction when the publishers want to know all about you for publicity purposes, in the short story market it doesn’t matter. You can quietly sell your stories with as much or as little publicity as you like. Different rights to short stories can be sold several times and can become ‘nice little earners’ over the years.
About 14 years ago I had no idea how the published short story business worked. I knew I liked reading them in the in magazines and sometimes I thought I can do as good as that. Eventually I decided to have a go.
I have to say I was not an overnight success. I started writing in the 1990’s and my first short story acceptance was from Woman’s Weekly in 2000. Having said that a lot of my rejected stories have since been re-worked and most of them have found a home so it pays not to throw any of your work away.
Thanks to all those who posted questions. I’ll do my best to answer them.
What do you think makes a good short story?
I like to have a good opening line. It’s important to make the reader want to read on. Some examples of mine are:-
- ‘You find out who your true friends are when you appear at a party dressed as a trifle and custard.’ WWFS
- ‘Don’t I know you?’ ‘ Yes I was once your wife.’ WW
- ‘Private detective seeks assistant – must be discreet, practical and flexible.’ WWFS
- ‘Vanessa stopped stalking Kevin after she left school.’ TAB FF
As you can see from these examples there is a broad range of choice and, as long as you follow the bounds of decency, almost nowhere you can’t go
Do you have any advice on how to crack the short story market?
One way is competitions. They are an excellent way to get in. The Lady magazine unfortunately no long publishes fiction but they used to have a short story competition which I duly entered one year. I didn’t win and I wasn’t placed but I received an email from their fiction editor who liked my story and offered to buy it and it was duly published. All because I entered their competition. Apart from that you must study everything in the magazines, including the adverts. I even completed the crosswords! Up to date market study is very important.
Also Woman’s Weekly run fiction writing days at their London office. I am going on one for serials (a market I’ve never been able to crack) in October.
Any tips on creating a believable romance in a short story?
Believe in your characters. Make them as genuine as possible. Make their problems creditable. Don’t create a situation ‘just because’. Every action has to have a reason.
Do you create characters for short stories differently from the way you create the characters in your novels?
The characters in my novels are much more in depth. I do histories for them and cut pictures out of magazines and supplements etc. In short stories I work more on an idea and go from there.
What type of short stories do you enjoy writing the most?
I’ve been asked by People’s Friend to write a 10,000 long/short story for one of their ‘specials’. They wanted a ‘cosy’ type crime caper. These are great fun. Think Midsomer Murders meets Miss Fisher.
Do you plot your short stories or have an idea and start writing?
I usually get an idea then sit down and get typing. I managed to get a story out of a trip to our local recycling centre, and another when I was in a queue in a charity shop and I eavesdropped on a conversation. Inspiration can strike anywhere so take a notebook with you at all times. Coffee shops are good places to get ideas.
What gives you the most satisfaction; writing short stories or a novel. Why?
I have no preference but if I’ve just done a 42,000 word novella for People’s Friend, I like to take a break and a 1500 word short story makes a nice change.
Do you buy the editions of magazines in which your short stories appear or do you get sent a copy?
Woman’s Weekly send copies. TAB Fiction Feast, My Weekly and People’s Friend don’t, but you do usually get told when your story is coming out. I tend to browse in WH Smith or the supermarket, just in case they’ve changed the dates. Also titles can get changed so you need to double check the magazines.
Tell us more about getting “the call” for your first novel
It was with the defunct Heartline publisher. I’d met Sue Curran at a writing day. She agreed to look at my NWS submission. I was actually out when the call came. When I got back there was an answerphone message asking me to call her. She explained about Heartline and what they were planning to do. I still didn’t really ‘twig’ that they wanted to publish because they were only starting up. When she called back several times more, the penny finally dropped. I was ‘in’. I did a dance round the room and the joy of acceptance never goes away fourteen years later!
Why did you write under a pen name? Have you used this for all your novels?
I only wrote as Clare Tyler for my two Heartline novels. They had another Margaret on their books at the same time and suggested I used a different name. I have only used it once since when People’s Friend had two of my stories in one edition of their magazine and they wanted me to use another name for the second one. These days it’s Margaret Mounsdon all the way.
I have a People’s Friend novella coming out on 28 August. I entitled it Angela’s Return Home. The titles do get changed but it will be under the Margaret Mounsdon name.
Details of my novels can be found on my blog. You can follow me on twitter @SwwjMargaret and on my website through which I can be contacted if anyone’s got any more queries.
Thank you for inviting me to be your guest today.
Thank you for joining us, Margaret. It’s been really fascinating to get a much deeper insight into the short story market which we haven’t really explored on our blog before. We appreciate your time and your advice.
For anyone interested in finding out more about our anthology of short stories, please see our earlier post. We’re running a competition for a book title and you’ve got a little over a week to get your ideas in to win a gift voucher so get your thinking cap on and get emailing!
Enjoy your weekend
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