Guest Post: Writer Linda Lewis (Exclusive!)

linda-picI’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

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!



Twitter: @Writingiseasy



Posted in Guest Post, Ideas, Magazines, Short Stories, Woman's Weekly | 15 Comments

Sources of Inspiration: Atwood, Shakespeare (and cats?)

margaret-atwood-001I went to see one of my favourite authors, Margaret Atwood, on Saturday in Stratford (and, thank the Lord, I managed not to cough).

She’s inspiring for several reasons, not least because she’s clever and funny and at 76 she’s still a working writer who jets around the world (see her schedule here, she’s still in the UK for a few days).

She’d come to the Royal Shakespeare Company because her latest novel, Hag-Seed (great title), is based on The Tempest (which, incidentally the RSC will be staging from next month – and, of course she’ll be zooming back here from North America to see it).

3 things I learned on Saturday about The Tempest, by the way:

1) it’s the most ‘male’ of Shakespeare’s plays. There’s only one female character in it – Miranda. “Even Julius Caesar,” (said Ms Atwood), “has two!”

2) It’s the only play Shakespeare wrote about what he did: putting on a play. (OK there are plays within plays but they’re not the main story. The Tempest, to quote Ms Atwood in the Guardian is “a play about a producer/director/playwright putting on a play – namely, the action that takes place on the island.”)

3) It has more songs and dances and music in it than any other Shakespeare play.

Margaret Atwood’s novel is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series in which well-known novelists were approached (oh, to be ‘approached’!) and asked if they’d write a novel inspired by or based on, one of Shakespeare’s plays.

Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl, for example (ahem, on my Amazon wishlist…), is based on The Taming of The Shrew; Tracy Chevalier (another favourite of mine) is writing something inspired by Othello, Gillian Flynn has got Hamlet, Jo Nesbo, Macbeth.

There’s nothing to stop us doing it too, of course (even if we haven’t been ‘approached’). Shakespeare, after all, famously ‘borrowed’ the plots of other stories for his plays, so if you’re stuck for a plot, why not turn to The Bard for inspiration?

And on the subject of inspiration, I met up with my writing buddy Sally yesterday – in this café, to be precise.


Every quarter we get together to ‘talk writing’ for a couple of hours: to congratulate, commiserate, moan, laugh, swap ideas and generally try to ‘gee each other up’ a bit!

We agreed that we need to be more PROLIFIC!

But how?

In no particular order we agreed that it would help to:

• Get up earlier
• Be less of a perfectionist. Get it written, rather than get it right (at least, in the first draft)
* Resist the lure of social media
• Treat writing ‘like a job’ (eek, that sounds like hard work)

Funnily enough, we were talking about getting a cat yesterday too (because the Cat Protection League was at the venue, with some cats ‘to view’) and when I was Googling ‘be a prolific writer’ (as you do), it turns out that Muriel Spark – a prolific writer if ever there was one (she wrote The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in a month) – advised, if you want to be able to concentrate on your writing, you should get a cat.

Anyone got any other good ideas?


Posted in Books, Finding Time To Write, Novels, Plays | Tagged | 22 Comments

Feeling Autumnal (and under par…)

1273488150I am feeling decidedly autumnal.

In other words, I’ve got a horrible cough which has been lingering for about 10 days.

I apologise to all the people (in ‘real life’) that I’ve been spluttering over. I have tried to keep my germs to myself but every time I think the cough has GONE, it reappears with a vengeance. Bah! My OH also has it, so we are a right pair. I have tried to trace the source of our ailment and I think it might, just might be the ‘dog swim’ that we did a couple of weeks ago.

Yes, I know, it’s mad. Blame the people of Chipping Norton as that’s where it was held and they obviously think it’s quite normal to jump into a lido with your dog (and about fifty others…) and swim around in all the dirt and fur! Whoops.

We’d never seen Bonnie swim and my friend had told me (and I quote), “The first time you see your dog swim, you feel really proud.” So we just had to do it! (And it was a sell-out AND the BBC were there, filming… also in the pool. I wonder if they also got a cough? Perhaps it’s Kennel Cough?)

Anyway, after something of a false start in the main pool, we decamped to the baby pool and she did swim (albeit slightly reluctantly) and we were proud.. for about five minutes. Then we grabbed our clothes, (Him Indoors didn’t even bother to change, he just slung a towel around his waist, a la David Beckham) and we made our escape as fast as we could – and showered when we got home!

But another reason for feeling ‘autumnal’ is the fact that winter’s beckoning and it’s much easier to get down to some writing, I think, when it’s cold and dark and rainy outside. So, I am trying to knuckle down to some work! Tomorrow is Monday and I like Mondays because it’s like a ‘new start’ I am in the middle of an e-book (not short stories this time, it’s non-fiction) and I need to get moving on it. Is it just me, or without a deadline, do you find things just take forever?

If you stagnated a bit over the summer too and want to give yourself a shake and get writing, then you might feel inspired by some of these writing competitions (all free to enter) and ‘calls for submissions’ for October which Cathy Bryant has helpfully published on her website.

Good luck!

Posted in Bonnie, Competitions, E publishing, Finding Time To Write | 9 Comments

What The ?$*@? Swearing in Writing

To swear or not to swear. That is the question.

To swear or not to swear. That is the question.

I went with my mum to see the new Bridget Jones film last week.

On the train, on the way to meet her in Birmingham, I got a text “I am in the OCEAN”. She meant, of course, that she was in the ODEON (she’d not taken a detour to the Sea Life Centre). Ah, the joys of predictive text.

Anyway, what I’m leading to with this rather long preamble, is to say that, much as I enjoyed the film (good job because I’ve already committed to go and see it again this week), there was an awful lot of SWEARING!

Ooh, listen to me, Mary Whitehouse BUT, as it was a Tuesday morning, the cinema was almost empty but the few people who were in there were, like my mum, on the whole, older ladies, who’d gone out to have a nice time with a friend. The references to sex weren’t a problem (and hopefully they didn’t understand some of the cruder ones) but all those ‘f’ words really started to grate.

And during the childbirth scene (hopefully this isn’t too much of a spoiler), when someone suggests to Bridget that she remembers her yoga and she yells “**** yoga!” what should have been quite a funny line just fell flat because, quite frankly, we’d heard it all before. Have the writers (Helen Fielding, Dan Mazer and Emma Thompson) never heard of ‘less is more’?

So, for the fun of it (and because I’ve never, in over 500 posts, mentioned this before), here are my tips (or anti-tips, perhaps?) for using ‘bad language’ in your writing:

* Bear in mind that language is a living, organic thing. Words that were considered offensive say, ten years ago, may be perfectly acceptable now – and vice versa.

* You have no idea which words will offend which readers. Everyone’s different. I remember we read The Cuckoo’s Calling – the first Robert Galbraith novel – in my book club. It contains some pretty earthy language (as do the others in the series) and for one of the (female) members of the group it was all too much. It was all she could focus on during our discussions and had, in fact, caused her to put the book down, unfinished, after only a few chapters.

* If you’re writing for the womags (women’s magazines), I’d say swearing, in any form, however mild, is a no-no. Why? Because it may offend too many readers. You could probably get away with a ‘Blast!’ or a ‘Heck!’possibly even a ‘damn’ or two but nothing stronger.

* If it’s essential to your character that he/she swears, then do you have to use the word? Could you put, instead ‘he swore’ or ‘he cursed’ and let the reader decide for themselves what words might have been uttered? It doesn’t have quite the same impact but there’s no chance of offending anyone that way.

* Maybe it’s just me, but if I read, say, a competition entry and it’s full of swear words, it really turns me off (it feels like the author’s ‘showing off’). But perhaps it depends on your characters and setting. As Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting (and the acknowledged ‘Master of Cuss Words’) says, “I use swear words differently from other writers. People speak that way; it would be pretentious not to use four-letter words while writing about the kind of people I write about.”

Most of us swear (when I’m driving I sometimes sound like I’ve got Tourettes), so perhaps (womags excepted) it’s not realistic to leave swearing out of our characters’ speech. What d’you think?

One more flipping birthday...

One more flipping birthday…

Posted in Blogging, Magazines | Tagged | 11 Comments

Writing Retreat Up For Grabs!

retreatLovely Author Jojo Moyes, who I wrote about here last year is offering her cottage in Suffolk for a week to a writer to “kick-start or even finish” their work.

This is the post she’s put on Facebook:

Are you a writer, and wish you had some peace in which to write? I know what it meant to me when I was trying to get published. To this end, we are offering our cottage, free of charge, for up to a week to a writer – published or unpublished – to kick-start, or even finish their work.
It is fully furnished, welcoming, and set near us in deep countryside on the Suffolk borders. The week must be taken before the end of this year. If you are on a limited income, we can also provide help with travel and food (UK only). (We will even remove the television and turn off the wifi if that helps…)
I can’t guarantee I’ll be around, but if I am I’ll be happy to have a coffee and offer any advice I can. Or you can just enjoy not having to speak to anyone at all!
To apply, simply email us at with no more than 500 words on why this would make a difference to you. All voices welcome.
Deadline: 30 September 2016.

What are you waiting for?! (and let me know if you’re successful!)

On a different note, there’s an interesting discussion over on the womagwriter blog at the moment, (partly caused by yours truly), as it has been ‘revealed’ – not that it was ever a secret – by Douglas McPherson, in one of the articles he’s written about my winning serial, that Shirley Blair, fiction editor of the People’s Friend, is also a writer herself (*gasp!*) and sometimes has stories and serials published in the magazine under a pseudonym.

Now, let’s all just calm down. Can/should we really get uppity about other people who choose to write – regardless of their ‘other’ job? It’s a free country, after all. I read the other day that Nadiya Hussein, winner of last year’s ‘Great British Bake-off’ has been contracted to write 3 contemporary women’s fiction novels for Harlequin…. everyone’s doing it!

Posted in Short Stories, The People's Friend | Tagged | 17 Comments

The People’s Friend Workshop in Bristol – 7th Sept 2016

photo: Shirley Blair

photo: Shirley Blair

I was going to start this post by saying ‘Sorry I’ve been away for longer than normal but I’ve been busy…’ but I listened to an interesting piece on Radio 4 today about how ‘being busy’ has become a badge of honour, a status symbol and a competition (and how we’re all so busy (!) boasting about how busy we are, that it’s actually affecting how well we work), that I’ve decided I’m never going to say it again.

Or at least, I’m going to try.

It’s true though, isn’t it? As they said on the programme, the stock response to “How are you?” used to be “Oh, I’m fine, thanks.” Now it’s…“Oh, you know… busy…”

So, let’s forget the ‘b’ word for the moment. In fact, the only B word I’m going to use is BRISTOL.

Last Wednesday I was the guest author at the People’s Friend writing workshop in Bristol, which was lead by the magazine’s Fiction Editor, Shirley Blair.

I wrote about the last workshop I went to, in London, back in March but then I was a delegate, rather than a ‘teacher’, so of course, it was quite a different experience (but still great fun!).

This time, I was tasked with leading two sessions – one on getting ideas and inspiration and the second, on ‘structuring your story’. I had my trusty (OK, as it turned out – useless) kitchen timer with me, for timing exercises (it looks cute but looks can be deceptive. It clicked away merrily – and rang intermittently – but when it got to the end it just stayed silent!)

It was a lively group of 14, including 3 chaps and as we went round the group and everyone introduced themselves, 3 of the ladies ‘admitted’ to being in their 70s. It was hard to believe and they were the perfect example of People’s Friend readers who might be classed as ‘senior citizens’ but who are certainly not ‘old’. They go to Zumba classes, they drive themselves across cities to get to workshops, they have smartphones and use laptops, they’re active and engaged. Forget out-dated images of senior citizens with shopping trollies, hair in buns, living in isolation in sheltered housing – that’s not your typical People’s Friend reader – and one of the first things that Shirley wanted to stress to the group.

What else did she (and I) say? Ah ha.. well, if you want to find out more, you need to get yourself booked onto a People’s Friend workshop! It would just spoil all the fun if I give too much away.

But I will just say that one of the areas I covered (very quickly!) was ‘Show Don’t Tell’, that writer’s mantra that is the source of much confusion, for novice writers, at least.

To demonstrate how ‘showing’ is much more vivid, involving and ultimately more satisfying for the reader, than simply ‘telling’ him/her what a character is like, I read out two different passages. I’m basically saying the same thing but in the first, I’m ‘telling’ and in the second, I’m (hopefully) ‘showing’:

1. Jean was painfully shy and she’d had a speech impediment since she was a child. She didn’t like to draw attention to herself and if anyone so much as spoke to her, she blushed scarlet and wished the ground would swallow her up.

2. Jean placed the basket on the counter and hugged herself as Mr Dobson rang through her goods.
“Will there be anything else?” he asked. Jean blushed and shook her head. She kept her head down as she counted out her money and passed it to him with a shaking hand.
“Hang about, that soup’s on special offer,” he added. “Two for one. Shall I fetch you another can?”
Jean eyed the door for a second. It would be rude just to nod but when she opened her mouth and tried to speak, nothing came out. She felt her chest tighten and her breath come fast. She managed a small, tight smile. “Y.. yes,” she said, finally.

When we’d looked at that example, I gave the group a piece of ‘telling’ and asked them to convert it into something that was much more ‘showing’.

Emma Darwin – whose blog ‘This Itch of Writing’ I can highly recommend, if you don’t already know it – writes expertly here about how both ‘showing’ and ‘telling’ (or ‘evoking’ and ‘informing’) have their place.

Kitchen timer: its end is nigh

Kitchen timer: its end is nigh

Posted in Blogging, Events, Magazines, Short Stories, The People's Friend | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Living The Dream?

Living the dreamWhat shall I write about? I pondered this morning and then – hey presto! – the postman arrived, with the latest issue of Writing magazine, in which I have an article (page 68). So, I shall write about that.

My article’s called ‘Living The Dream?’ and it’s about how much writers can really earn from writing, compared to how much the uninitiated think we earn.

I’ve written here about how a newbie in my class decided, within a term, that writing was going to be her ‘main source of income’. A flattering reflection on my teaching perhaps (I like to instil confidence!) or, more likely, bless her, a rather optimistic view of how much a new writer can expect to make.

What doesn’t help our cause, of course, is all the wannabees who will write for FREE! (and Lora Bishop’s written an article about that on page 69 of the magazine – opposite mine) and Alex Gazzola writes about it on his blog ‘Mistakes Writers Make’ here.

My own view on ‘writing for free’ is that it’s fine if you’re doing it for a charity, say or you’re a complete beginner, desperate for a few cuttings but after that, you’re doing all fellow writers a disservice if you continue to offer your writing to publications and websites without expecting payment. Because then they’ll expect us all to do the same, fees and rates will drop and drop until, in the end, it won’t actually be possible to earn any kind of living from writing. And we don’t want that, do we?

I was recently asked to judge a national short story competition (very exciting and something I’m more than happy to do). What is my fee? I was asked. That was very difficult. I didn’t want to price myself too highly and risk being told they couldn’t afford me (!) but equally, if I quoted a fee that was too low, not only was I doing myself out of valuable and much-needed funds, I was also lowering the organisers’ expectations of what they should be paying a judge. So, in effect, I was possibly spoiling things for my fellow writers.

In the end, I tried to gauge what they would be making from the competition (entrance fee x number of entries – they told me the number that entered last time – minus the cash prizes) and based my fee on this and also on how long I thought it would take me to read and judge the shortlisted stories and write a report. I was probably too cheap but as I say, not having any prior experience of being paid to judge a short story competition, it was a tricky one!

How do you feel about getting paid for your writing? Or are you so happy to see your work in print, that the money isn’t even a consideration?

PS: There are still spaces on the People’s Friend writing workshops in Bristol (featuring yours truly), Dundee, York and Manchester. More details here.

Writing Magazine

Posted in Magazines, The People's Friend | Tagged , | 23 Comments