Sunday, 30 April 2017

The world's oldest woman's weekly magazine

On Thursday 27 April I was delighted to be guest author for the seventh time at a People’s Friend story-writing workshop. This was the first one in Newcastle (following three in Dundee, two in York and one in Glasgow) and nineteen people signed up for it. The workshop is organised and hosted by Fiction Editor Shirley Blair. Shirley has been with the publisher D C Thomson for many years, the last twelve as Fiction Editor for the world’s oldest woman’s weekly magazine – The People’s Friend will celebrate its 150th birthday in January 2019!

When I say I write for The People’s Friend people invariably say, Oh my mum/granny/auntie used to read that – and they have a fixed idea in their heads as to what the magazine is like. In some ways it hasn’t changed since their aged relative read it. It does not have celebrity gossip. It does not have lurid real-life confessions. You could still call it wholesome and heart-warming. But it has moved with the times – of course it has; it wouldn’t still be here if its mindset was still in the 1860s, or even the late 20th century. The stories are still feel-good and upbeat but they reflect 21st-century dilemmas and situations. 

So if you have never read the magazine or haven’t read it for some years do give it a go.

And, if you are a writer, let me tell you that Shirley Blair and her team are passionate about stories and encouraging and supportive of their authors – and they are looking for SIX HUNDRED stories a year to fill the pages of the weekly magazine, the specials and the annuals. See their guidelines here.

What’s not to like?

I look forward to reading stories from some of Thursday’s delegates.

This is the format for the workshops:

 When I talk in the morning session about how to find inspiration and develop ideas I give examples from some of my own stories which were published in the magazine. Three of them – Class of ’64, The New Eighteen and Three’s a Crowd – are in a collection called Three’s a Crowd and other family stories, available on Kindle and in print. 

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Six in March

I read six books in March.

A few years ago I read a book called Class by Jane Beaton and loved it – Malory Towers for grown-ups. I thought about it off and on but couldn’t remember the title. Then the other month it was revealed that ‘Jane Beaton’ was actually Jenny Colgan who in the meantime has become a humongously successful romantic novelist (and as Jenny T. writes Dr Who books). There will be six books in this series – the first one has been repackaged as Class: Welcome to the Little School by the Sea and this is the second. It was good to catch up with Maggie, a teacher in the school on the south coast of England but originally from Glasgow, the other teachers and the girls. (But I do think ‘the Little’ is currently being very overused in book titles.)

Brigid Keenan was/is a journalist and former Times fashion editor. In the late sixties she married ‘A.’ who became an EU diplomat and as a result the couple lived in various parts of the globe such as India, Trinidad and Kazakhstan. Fascinating anyway to read about the different lifestyles – but as BK can be very funny and self-deprecating I really enjoyed this. I loved her story of the event that started as a po-faced official banquet but took a different turn when the President of Kazakhstan, after a few drinks, suddenly took off his jacket and asked her to dance – just him and her, in front of two hundred guests...

Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad by Bee Rowlatt and May Witwit
Read for book group. A book of emails between English journalist Bee, and May, an academic living in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein. They were originally in touch so that Bee could write an article but kept up a correspondence which was eventually published to help raise money to bring May and her husband to England. Brings home what living in a war-torn country is like day-to-day … May was in danger every time she stepped outside her house and not always safe inside it. Recommended (but don’t expect a lot of ‘talking about Jane Austen’, I think she was mentioned once.)

Losing it by Helen Lederer
Millie is a writer, middle-aged, single mother, overweight. Her only child, the more serious-minded Mary, is doing research in Papua New Guinea. I enjoyed the part where Millie visits her daughter – their relationship needs a lot of work – wished there had been more of that.
Millie’s behind with her mortgage and owes money to a loan company so when she gets the chance, through a magazine editor she works for, to earn £20,000 if she loses three stone she jumps at it (or would if she could jump). What follows are her efforts to do that – exercise, colonic irrigation, trying and failing to say no to a giant Toblerone etc …

U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton
Haven’t read any in this private investigator series for a long time. This was a corker – what an achievement to keep up such a high standard for so long. I see that V, W and X are now available so must catch up with those. Mine is a hardback copy, bought for £3.00 in the Amnesty Bookshop, Warrender Park Road, Edinburgh – and thence I shall return it, pointing out that the only one on Amazon is priced at £32.97.

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty
I’ve read three other Liane Moriarty books and loved each one (see Big Little Lies review here) more than the last. The Last Anniversary – set on the wonderfully named Scribbly Gum Island, just off the coast of Sydney, Australia – has a very original family secret (or at least the way the secret's been kept is probably unique) and, as usual with LM, a cast of characters you really feel you know and are very sorry to leave. I’ve just started Three Wishes … watch this space.