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 day 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?
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.