Tears, tombstones and tittle-tattle

1174820_10201404510706309_1859499988_nI went *fake* camping the other day – I highly recommend it, by the way, it has all the benefits of meeting up with your friends who are sleeping under canvas, drinking wine and talking, but you get to go home and sleep in a warm, comfortable bed when they head off to their tents! My friend and her sister had both read my first full-length novel over the summer and we raised a glass or three to the new four-book deal I’d been offered a couple of weeks before. They asked me, though, if I was at all worried about having enough ideas to fulfil the contract. All I could do was smile and hope the red wine hadn’t stained my teeth too much.

Time is probably my biggest writing issue, fitting it around the rest of life’s commitments; ideas on the other hand crowd my brain and pop up at every turn. Some of them spark plots for full-length novels, novellas or even a series, and others for short stories for women’s magazines – a competitive market which I’ve finally managed to crack.

Everyone loves people watching, right? But my husband certainly thinks it’s a bit weird when we’re watching people inSS102271 a coffee shop and I start guessing what they do for a living, what their backgrounds are and giving each of them a life story. My mum tells me that even when I was tiny, she’d constantly lose me in supermarkets and shops and find me standing between groups of other mothers, listening to their conversations and asking them extremely nosey questions. Now, when my husband discreetly taps the side of his nose, to let me know that my eavesdropping is getting just a little bit too obvious, I tell him that I’m not just being nosey, I’m working!

SS102290Ideas can come from anywhere, take this past week for instance. Last Monday, I took the children to London and, standing-up on the tube, we noticed two impeccably dressed and made-up women with tears silently streaming down their faces. They weren’t talking to each other or wearing black, like they were on their way to a funeral, and they didn’t appear to have just received bad news on their phones. If it had been one woman, I might have imagined a relationship break-up but, with the silent tears and the two of them sitting side-by-side, my imagination was working overtime, trying to work out what scenario that had led to this point. Even the fact that everyone noticed, but no-one said anything, sparked an idea for characterisation – why we act the way we do? Maybe it was because if felt wrong to intrude on their grief, to check they were okay, or because there were two of them, but we all obeyed the unwritten rule of the tube… don’t talk to a stranger, whatever the circumstance.

Later in the week, my husband and I set off for a rare weekend away without the children and we spent a lot of time inAAA IMG_0226 restaurants and pubs, leisurely reading the papers over breakfast and avidly eavesdropping over bottles of Prosecco come the evening. Listening-in to the pub conversations of others is like sprinkling glitter on your imagination and the heated discussion one couple were having, about how there was no way they were letting their son borrow their camera for his trip to Paris with his girlfriend, who they clearly couldn’t stand, left me imagining another host of scenarios. Maybe he’d propose out there, then what would happen to the family dynamic? Or perhaps the girlfriend would prove to be as obnoxious as the parents clearly thought she was and the city of Paris would be anything but romantic! Of course, I’ll never know how the story panned out, but it sparked off an idea for a possible story about what happens when a family member brings someone new into the fold who just doesn’t fit it. Torn between your first love and your family, who would you choose?

IMG_0222Taking a break from eating and drinking, we decided to have a walk up to the Epsom Downs and, on the way back down, the phone’s sat nav directed us through a cemetery. It was quiet and leafy and, as I can never help doing when I find myself in one of those places, I just had to read the grave stones. There was one that really struck a cord – the burial plot of Luke and his Lily. He’d been killed out in Italy in the last year of World War II, she’d died some forty years later, clearly not having remarried. There was a whole life story on that stone, particularly as their three children had left a touching dedication, and she’d obviously raised them alone during a time when being a single mother was even more of a challenge than it is now. There’s definitely a novel in that.

For me, inspiration can be found anywhere and, whilst none of my characters are based on real people, conversations with friends definitely spark off ideas too. If they make a really funny comment, there’s a chance it might appear in some form or another somewhere along the line. So, as the sign says, be careful what you say or you might just find yourself in an eavesdropping writer’s next story!

Jo x

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Short Stories are in the Saturday Spotlight with Margaret Mounsdon

 

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.
 
CIMG2091Over 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.
 
img078I 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.
 
img077Any 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.
 
Fountain.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 blogYou 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.
 
Margaret 
 
 
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
Jessica
 
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