How a drowned story came back from the dead

Back in 2015, The People’s Friend magazine launched a serial writing competition to find new authors.

Now, the ‘Friend’ is a bit of a legend as far as I’m concerned. It’s been published by DC Thompson (the same company that publishes the equally legendary Beano) for years, it’s been in existence since 1869 and is one of the few weekly magazines in the UK that still publishes fiction. It’s certainly one of the few (perhaps the only) that has a generous ‘open door’ policy for debut writers, where many magazines are closed to those who haven’t previously worked for them.

So filled with excitement at the prospect of breaking into the tricky WoMag (Women’s Magazine) market, I crafted my three part serial.

Set in the Regency period, it had a brave heroine, a sinister boathouse, a hint of romance and a long buried family secret. I wrote, I polished and slid the first instalment into the post.

I waited. Didn’t hear anything. Waited some more. Still didn’t hear anything. As the dayΒ  drew close for the magazine to announce the winners, doubts began to bubble to the surface. Perhaps the writing wasn’t good enough. Perhaps the themes were too dark. Could I do this writing thing at all?

Still, despite my misgivings, come the big day, I checked online, because maybe, just maybe …

I read the list of winners. My name was not there. I read the list of honourable mentions … nothing. It was with a heart of lead that I accepted the fact that all of my hard work, my proofing and editing and extra proofing were to no avail. The ‘Friend’ did not like my story. I licked my wounds and – as we writers must do – tucked the disappointment away and moved onto the next project.

Almost two years later, the story was still languishing on my laptop, unfinished, neglected. I’d looked at the file a few times, thinking I should delete it, clear some space for an idea with potential – after all, where else was I going to sell the story?

Then …

One day last July, I opened an email. At the top was the dictinctive red and white masthead of The People’s Friend. Dazed, I read the note. It was from Alan Spink, a member of their Fiction Team. Alan wrote that although my story didn’t win the competition, they felt it had potential to work for the magazine and would I like to write it up?

Well, what do you think I said?

Within a few weeks, I had the first draft complete and after more rewriting with Alan’s wonderful guidance, the serial was ready to submit to the editor. Now, the wheels of fiction turn slowly, but last November I had the news –

The editor loved the story and it had been accepted for publication.

The first part of The Mermaid of Mortling Hall will appear on 3rd February this year and the story runs for three weeks.

Now, I’m not sure what lesson we can all learn from a story that seemed to be dead in the water, for which I had lost all hope, that will have taken almost two and a half years from its conception to publication.

I’m not trying to fill you with false hope that a story or novel that seemed a no-go will suddenly be plucked from the slushpile and published. In my experience, when most stories are rejected by a publication they stay rejected.

But success can come when you least expect it and through surprising avenues and maybe, finally, it’s just the right time for the Mermaid to swim.

One thing’s for sure. As writers we should never give up, we should keep honing our craft, keep learning, keep improving, keep seeking feedback, keep sticking our backsides to the chair and our fingers to the keyboard.

And if we do that, well, we might just win out.

 

 

 

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40 thoughts on “How a drowned story came back from the dead

    1. Thanks so much JM. Yes, it’s always lovely to receive an acceptance, especially if unexpected. The year before last I entered a short story comp and the notification date was well past, so I thought I was out of luck. Then out of the blue, there it was, an email telling me I’d won first prize and publication – they were just running late I suppose. Best not to expect these things, but nice when they happen. Thank you for the good wishes

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    1. Ah, thank you Kelly! We just have to keep going, don’t we, despite the rejections. and with luck and a fair wind we might just get somewhere in the end. Thank you for the good wishes πŸ™‚

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  1. Congratulations, how exciting! I’ve never heard of getting an acceptance so delayed like this, that really is a surprising and hopeful story. Although it does seem quite normal for a story to be rejected from the first place you send it, only to be warmly embraced by someone else if you keep trying other venues. You never know, just keep trying! The story itself sounds really intriguing, too!

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    1. Ah, thanks Joy. Yes, you’re right. I could quote several examples of this and have a writer friend who’s very good at resubmitting stories. She’s terrifically resilient and seems to get most of them placed in the end. Sadly, I doubt you’ll get to read the story – I don’t think the Friend is available in the US and I can’t share the story on the blog of course. I was pleased with it in the end, though and the magazine staff have been fantastic. Thank you for your good wishes

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      1. One of my goals this year is to practice resilience and persistence in terms of sending the stories out somewhere else as soon as they get rejected.

        And yes, one of the downsides to having a story published in a magazine is that you can’t share it freely yourself anymore, bummer. Well, keep it in mind as a reprint for one of what I assume will be many short story collection books, once you are a famously successful author. πŸ™‚

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      2. Ha-ha! Thank you for that last bit of wishful thinking! If only πŸ™‚
        Resilience is hard and I confess to not having all that much sometimes myself – you have to have the hide of a rhino to keep sending out a story that keeps being rejected and I’m not there yet. Getting better, but not there yet. Good luck with your submissions Joy πŸ™‚

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      3. For me, it helps to remember what it looks like from the other side. It’s not as though they’re sitting down and thinking carefully about whether your one story is good enough for their magazine or contest. They’re looking through dozens, hundreds, maybe many hundreds of stories, of which some large percentage are “good enough” for them, maybe even “excellent,” but they have to somehow narrow it down. They simply can’t say “yes” to every story that deserves a yes. And at that point, it just gets arbitrary. So your story didn’t catch the eye of that one person at exactly the right time when they were in quite the right mood. Maybe it will next time: roll the dice.

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    1. Thanks ao much Mary, that’s really lovely of you to say. Always exciting to see a story in print and knowing the magazine still has such a larger readership every week is the icing on the cake. Thanks again

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  2. Woohoo! Couldn’t have happened to a nicer or more deserving person, so chuffed for you. And what a generous write-up of D C Thompson too. In these days of multinational conglomerates gobbling up smaller publishers, how nice to have a firm that’s stayed true to its traditions.

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    1. Ah, thanks so much Chris – you’re very kind. I’ve known of DCT for some time of course (who in the UK hasn’t read a copy of the Beano?) but I didn’t realise how many publications they still produce and that they’re still run by descendants of the original Thompson family – quite unusual in these days of share holders and corporate buy outs. I must say, they – and particularly Alan Spink – have been a pleasure to work with and I hope to produce more stories for them in the future. Thanks so much for the good wishes Chris.

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  3. How fabulous! Very encouraging story for other authors not to give up hope. Bit like an artist, I guess, sometimes what you create just isn’t fashionable or not quite displayed at the right place at the right time. Wishing you great success

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    1. Thanks so much Tina. Yes, sometimes a story just isn’t a right fit at the time or a right fot for a particular publication but chimes with someone else. Thanks very much for your good wishes

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  4. Hurrah Lyn. You are a great example of the writer who knows that the only answer is to keep going and keep improving and love what you do.

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    1. Ah, thanks chuck. Yes, I certainly try to do all that – no problem with the loving it (I still get excited sitting down at the keyboard) but sometimes the improving seems to happen in fits and starts and the rejections can be a downer when they come. Then something like this happens and spurs me on. Hope you’re all well. We really do need to meet up soon. About to enter GCSE options hell, so wish us luck! Take care pet πŸ™‚

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  5. Great news! I suppose this proves the point that a whole swathe of great stories never see the light of day because they don’t fit a current trend. Yours was fished out in extremis by someone who saw its potential. It’s like a fairy story πŸ™‚

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    1. Very true, Jane. I think perhaps a few years ago it might have been too dark for the magazine but they’re changing the range of stories they accept (though the readers still like an up beat ending) The story re emerged at a good time I suppose. Thanks for the good wishes πŸ™‚

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      1. I keep reading in writing magazines that people want uplifting stories because the world is going to hell in a handcart. Not sure I entirely agree with that, but that’s what they’re saying. Not sure where that leaves many of us writers … Keep trying Jane – I’m sure you’ll find a home for it eventually

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      2. I find that hard to believe as well, since a lot of people are completely oblivious to the future of the planet, many of the others don’t care, and of the rest, some find the thought exciting. There has always been a lucrative market for the safe, HEA ending stories. We shouldn’t be surprised that editors like to stick with what they know they can sell. I’ve sent the ‘dark’ mythological story to Australia, see if they are more relaxed about the ‘disturbing” elements down there.

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      3. I know there is still a market for dark stories, whatever it says in the press – humanity is always drawn to them. Look at the huge popularity of the more graphic crime novels. Do keep trying Jane, I’m sure it will find a home eventually

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      4. The most popular crime thrillers for a time anyway were the Scandinavian ones with slightly unhinged, depressive detectives. Can’t get much grimmer than that! I’ve sent my story to a dark fantasy/horror mag in Aus hoping they are less squeamish down there πŸ™‚

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      5. Very true – Scandi noir is some of the grimmest fiction (and TV) you’ll find. I read ‘The Girl …’ books by Stieg Larsson and rather tired of them towards the end – too much imaginative carnage, too overblown, too much of a stretch of crediblility for my liking. Good luck with the Aus magazine – as a nation they aren’t known for their squeamishness!

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      6. I’m not a crime fan. Only ever make an exception for Simenon. I’ve tried the Scandis but they are unrelieved depression. I was rather hoping the Aussies would be up for it. Since I don’t think it is nasty, there’s a chance they won’t find it nasty enough πŸ™‚

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      7. I don’t read mush crime either. I like a mystery novel, but not the open throated splatter that seems so popular of late. More and more imaginative ways of torturing people? No thanks. Good luck with the Aussies πŸ™‚

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      8. Cheers! Yes, I think the art of torture reached its apogee some time before the Enlightenment when some clear-sighted dude pointed out that the whole process was gross, and they stopped doing it.

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  6. Well done Lynn, sorry I’m late to join in with the congratulations. It has two of my favourite things, mermaids and the Gothic as well as YOU of course! X

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    1. Ha! Thank you dear Pola. Yes, well, you know my love for the Gothic too. Flickering candle light, grotesque characters, dangerous secrets – it was terrific fun to write, I must say. Enjoyed every moment of the process. Thank you for the good wishes πŸ™‚

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