I was honoured to be the Guest Author at The People’s Friend Story Writing Workshop on 12 May. The PF has run workshops in London but this was the first one in Scotland, in the magazine’s home city of Dundee.
It was a thrill to approach the DC Thomson building and see iconic cartoon characters painted on the side – as well as being the home of the world’s oldest story paper for women (it's been going since 1869), this is also the birthplace of Jackie magazine, Oor Wullie, The Broons, Dennis the Menace, Desperate Dan and many more.
(Although I have been in a DC Thomson building before, can’t remember whether it was this one or not. When I was 21, xx years ago, armed with my Diploma in Book and Periodical Publishing from (as it was then) Napier College, I had an interview for a position they called ‘Journalist’ but which would have meant working on various magazines in various capacities before finding a niche somewhere. Before I heard whether I’d been successful or not I got a job offer from a publishing firm in London which I accepted.
I must say I had a pang of regret for the road not taken as I talked to enthusiastic People’s Friend Fiction Editor Shirley Blair and her colleagues on the day of the workshop, and I took my Beano napkin from lunch home as a souvenir.)
Eighteen ladies had signed up to do the workshop. The first to arrive told me I looked like Helen Mirren, so that was a good start (although I must point out that Queen Helen is older than me … ).
Shirley told them what kind of stories the Friend looked for and then my morning contribution was to talk about where to find inspiration, with examples from my own work; between us, Shirley and I moved on to show how to develop the original idea into a story.
In the afternoon I talked about structuring a story, and suggested ten things to do if you get stuck. In between these talks attendees were given exercises and some read out what they’d written (all very promising). Shirley’s colleagues Alan and Tracey chipped in with useful comments throughout the day.
The afternoon finished with advice from Shirley on how to be professional about your writing.
I was happy to tell the would-be short story contributors how unusual The People’s Friend is in welcoming new writers, and giving support and encouragement to their regular writers. With a weekly magazine requiring seven stories plus Specials and the Annual they require a lot of stories – which, in a dwindling women’s magazine market, is brilliant news.
The feedback from the workshop was good and another one will be run later in the year. Look out for announcements on The People’s Friend website and Facebook page.