I’m delighted to welcome to my blog a special guest – Linda Lewis – who, amongst other things, is a very successful short story writer.
Linda’s never been interviewed in any of the writing magazines, so this is an exclusive look at the way in which she works!
She recently had 10 stories accepted for publication in just one week. WOW! Given how small the market for women’s magazine fiction is now, that’s pretty amazing.
If there’s a Linda Lewis story in a magazine I’ve bought (and there usually is!), it’s always one of the first I turn to and I was keen to find out the secrets of her success. She’s been very generous with her tips and advice but firstly, I asked her about the 2 new Kindle books for writers that she’s just launched on Amazon:
How to Write Short Stories with Twist Endings
About 90% of what Linda writes contains a ‘twist’ of some kind. Some of her stories are ‘pure twist’ where the whole point of the story is that the reader is deceived (and the twist is revealed at the end) but many have twists somewhere other than the end. These are what gives the story a ‘surprise’ (so beloved of Woman’s Weekly magazine, who often reject a story if it has ‘no surprises’) and stops it from being boring.
‘Twists,’ Linda says, ‘are my forte.’
How fitting then, that she’s written a writer’s ‘how-to’ book focussed purely on twists. I’ve just bought this one myself and I’m looking forward to reading it and doing the exercises.
100 Great First Lines and How to Use Them
One thing that Linda’s never short of, is ideas. She has an ‘ideas book’ but freely admits that she has more ideas than she can possibly use.
This book is a perfect example of a good, original idea. Linda’s published the first lines of 100 of her stories in the first section of the book and invites the reader to use them as a prompt for a story. If you get stuck – or when you’ve written your own piece – flick to the back for Linda’s ideas on how you could develop the idea from that first line and for the ‘reveal’ of what Linda did with it herself.
How it All Began : Sadly, Linda’s childhood wasn’t the happiest and she certainly wasn’t encouraged to write but she was an avid reader. From the age of 7 she would take herself off to the nearby library and, as she got older, English was her favourite subject (partly, she suspects, because she had a crush on the English teacher!)
Interestingly, for someone who writes so much fiction now (her target is 5 stories a month but it used to be 8), Linda started out as a non-fiction writer. She had several tanks of tropical fish and wrote about the subject for magazines all over the world.
Everything changed, unsurprisingly, when her husband Gareth died suddenly. Up until then she’d been dabbling with fiction but with widowhood came a lack of confidence. She found it difficult to work and so writing fiction became both a source of income and an escape from the real word.
Can she remember her first acceptance?
‘Of course. It was from Take a Break and I earned £400. Those were the days when they had a one-page coffee break story in the weekly magazine. The acceptance came on January 9th 1998.’
It was her late husband Gareth’s birthday.
The Writing Process
Linda works part-time and finds mornings are the best time to write, as she’s more creative then. She doesn’t start too early – anything from 8.30am to 10am – and while she’s happy to write non-fiction straight onto the computer, she can’t do that with fiction. She always writes the first draft of a story in longhand. She finds it ‘freer’.
‘I can draw arrows and jot notes in the margin that way. If I write straight onto the computer, I’m too concerned with layout and how it looks.’
When she types up the story, she gives it a ‘good second edit’. She likes to leave a finished story overnight (or longer) before sending it off. Often that’s how the best ideas for improving it will come to her.
I ask about the ‘lure of social media’ and Linda admits, ‘I like Twitter. The in/out ease and quickness suit me.’ But she’s not so keen on Facebook, which she would happily avoid completely if she could.
‘I feel as if I have little choice but I only use it sparingly. There are so many happy stories which is great but sad ones too and I find those too distracting. I have avoided bad news since Gareth died. I don’t read news sections of any papers nor do I watch TV news programmes. So if you’re on Facebook and I don’t make a comment, it’s not because I don’t care, it’s because I DO care. Too much.’
And that brings us on to another topic. Just in case we’re making writing for the women’s magazines sound all too easy, Linda wants people to know that she suffers from depression and that obviously affects her writing. ‘There are times,’ she says, ‘when my stories simply don’t work. I have to wait until I feel better in myself.’
Once she’s reached her quote of 5 stories for the month (October’s has already been reached!) then Linda stops and does something else. She wants to write longer fiction. There’s a novel partly-written, an idea for a teenage fantasy trilogy and she’s has plans for a serial, something she’s never tried before.
Writing for The People’s Friend
It hasn’t all been plain sailing. Linda admits it took her 10 years to get a story accepted by The People’s Friend.
Why so long?
‘I didn’t see myself as a People’s Friend writer. Perhaps I had a mental block. But I felt a fraud, teaching workshops but never having had a story in People’s Friend. So I decided it was time to do something about it.’
Linda set aside a weekend and did nothing but read a stack of People’s Friend magazines (weeklies and the Specials) and analyse them. ‘I read them as a reader and then again as a writer. I looked at the language, the themes, the subject matter. The very next story I sent them, was accepted.’
What sort of stories does she like writing best?
She likes writing from a man’s point of view because it’s easier to be someone so far removed from herself. And although Linda ‘loathes Christmas’ (and February because of Valentine’s Day) she loves writing Christmas stories because she can ‘write about a fantasy Christmas’ – the sort that she’d love to have herself. She’s already sold 3 Christmas stories and 2 Valentine’s stories this year.
Tips for Womag Success?
In addition to using twists and writing from a man’s point of view, Linda suggests, ‘Give someone an unusual occupation or set the story somewhere unusual. I’ve written recently about a man who works in a joke shop and my story in a recent TAB Fiction Feast is about a grandmother on Tinder!’
‘Avoid the obvious settings: charity shops, offices, the home,’ she adds. ‘And think of an unusual structure for the story too, if you can.’
We talk about how sometimes, reading our own stories aloud can make us cry! And how that might be a bit embarrassing but it’s not bad. It means the story’s written from the heart. And that reminds Linda of something else. ‘Put some emotion in your writing. If you can make the writer cry, that’s great.’
Her final tip: ‘Don’t give up! It’s a numbers game. Don’t send one off and then wait for a reply. Start writing the next’. Wise words from someone who’s currently waiting to hear about 20 stories from submissions to Woman’s Weekly alone…!
Other Stuff & The Future
When she’s not writing, Linda loves gardening and singing, animals and painting. She’s hoping to move soon, from Leeds, where she’s lived for the past 7 years, back down to Devon. Her house is already sold, so if anyone knows of rental accommodation in the Exeter area, give Linda a shout, as she needs somewhere to move to – fast!
And please check out her Amazon author page (there are more books on writing, including one specifically for ideas ) and her Facebook page, which aims to ‘help and advise other writers’. She’s more than happy to be contacted via Twitter, Facebook or by email.
Thank you Linda for chatting to me today and for being so generous with your advice. It was fun! All the best with those exciting plans you have for your writing and good luck with your move to Devon!