Wendy is the third author I’m interviewing from the UK. I’m Canadian, so how did this happen?!
Yes, I have had the great honor and pleasure of becoming friends with Wendy, along with Julie Stock and Ben Adams, thanks in large part to a social media platform viewed with suspicion by those who suggest it’s of little use.
In fact, my new friendships with Wendy, Julie and Ben are part of the inspiration behind “Make Friends and Find Your People“.
Each of them have inspired me in many ways, not the least of which is my planned vacation to the UK. (It’s been a few decades since my last visit, so it’s time!)
In this interview, Wendy reminded me of something that I think we, as writers, often lose sight of: just write.
We can’t let ourselves get lost in requirements, how-to’s, and advice. That’s too much thinking and not enough doing.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a place for such things. Much of it is necessary and adds value to the craft and the business.
But write first. Ask questions later.
About your books
T.O. How would you describe your new book?
W.C. The Last Rose is a collection of short stories with a theme of family and friendship. The thirteen stories explore the intricacies of family relationships and the sorrow, love and joy that is shared but not always spoken.
It‘s available in paperback and for Kindle, and would make a great Mother’s Day gift… hint hint! [T.O. Time flies! Is it that time of year already?!?]
T.O. This isn’t your first book. Want to give the first one a little promotion as well?
W.C. My first collection of short stories, published in October 2014, is called Room in Your Heart. This is a collection of stories about love and loss all previously published in The People’s Friend magazine. It was due to the great response to this book by reviewers that I decided to put together the second collection.
T.O. You shared some great news about Room in Your Heart just in the last week or so. Would you like to share the details?
W.C. Yes, it was lovely. A couple of weeks ago, I had an email from an adult education teacher in Austria saying that she’d been looking for the perfect book for her students to read and after much searching had found it in Room in Your Heart. This resulted in an order for several books for her class. To say I felt proud is an understatement! [T.O. Congratulations!!]
T.O. You have a popular blog: Wendy’s Writing Now. There is some debate over whether new writers should start a blog. Some say it takes away from valuable writing time, while others say it’s good writing practice and good for building a following for your writing. What would you advise the new writer?
W.C. It is true that it can be quite time consuming if you let it. When I first started writing my blog, I used to update it three times a week. Now I blog just once a week. This keeps it manageable.
My advice would be to only start a blog if you think you’re going to enjoy writing it – otherwise it will just become a chore.
T.O. For people thinking about breaking into the short story market, what advice would you give them, knowing what you know now?
W.C. There’s a lot of advice out there on how to break into the market, but what I am going to suggest is what worked for me.
Basically, just start writing: write the story you would like to read yourself and write it from the heart. [tweet this]
If you love it, it’s more likely that the editors will too.
Once you’ve done that, read the guidelines of each magazine to get an idea of the story lengths they require (different mags like different lengths). Read a couple of sample stories from each magazine and decide which one is the best match for yours. After that, you may find that you need to make your story longer or shorter to fit your chosen magazine’s brief.
Send your story and keep your fingers crossed! If it isn’t accepted by the first magazine, tweak it a little and send it out to another.
Most importantly, once the story had been submitted, forget about it and start writing another!
T.O. How did you settle on short stories as your chosen genre? Do you find it to be a lucrative market? Did you find it challenging to break into that market?
W.C. I was used to writing short stories after the writing course that I took so, when I finished, I just carried on writing them. I was lucky in that my stories were accepted quite quickly.
The question of whether the short story market is lucrative is a tricky one. If you enter competitions, you can end up paying out more than you win and income from the magazine market is dependent on how much you sell.
My advice is to not give up the day job unless you have additional support, as you won’t be able to live off short story earnings alone.
T.O. That makes it tough for new writers. As you say, you wouldn’t have been able to combine writing with teaching, but at the same time writers should keep their day jobs. Do you see any way out of that dilemma?
W.C. I was really talking about my own experience. As a teacher, I spent my evenings marking and planning and there would have been little time left for writing, but most writers do combine writing with their day jobs.
T.O. Yes, I know what you mean about teaching hours!! Really though, my other day jobs didn’t leave me much time or energy either. But, it’s like I wrote in a recent post about time, even 30 minutes a day will get you a large novel by the end of the year … or two smaller ones.
Wendy’s Story Timeline
T.O. You offer a really handy spreadsheet tool that people can download from your blog, free of charge.
W.C. Wendy’s Story Timeline is the perfect timeline for writers and was created by my husband to help me with story planning.
When you click on the picture (on my blog), it will give you full instructions on how to use it. At the top, it has a date of birth calculator. You simply put in the age of your character in the year your story takes place, and it will calculate their date of birth. Once this is done, you can add their date of birth to the timeline and their age will automatically be calculated against each year—you can do this for multiple characters.
It’s possible to use the timeline for all centuries and there is a column to record events in your character’s life, as well as the major events happening in each year. The timeline is free to use but it would be fabulous if while you’re over there, you were tempted to buy a copy of my story collection as well!
T.O. What’s the story behind the story timeline?
W.C. I was writing a short story set in the present day with flashbacks to WWI. In the story, it was important to know in which year a character might feasibly have married, had a baby, become a grandmother etc. I got into a hopeless muddle (I tried to marry off my lead character when she would have only been eight).
First, I attempted to draw a timeline by hand but it was very scrappy and I kept going wrong so I tried the web. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything there that suited all my needs so I called on my very clever husband (who is good with technology and loves a challenge) for help. The result was Wendy’s Story Timeline – isn’t he clever!
We have launched two editions of the story timeline and have been overwhelmed by the number of blog comments left by writers saying how much they think it will, or has, helped with planning their stories.
T.O. Your personal story immediately captured my attention when I first went to your blog. It sounds like a lot happened, all at once … you got married and the school where you were teaching closed down.
W.C. It was “the big 5-0” and what a life-changer that was! I was still on cloud nine after my second marriage when the bombshell dropped and I was told that I, and the rest of the staff at my school, were to be made redundant. It all happened so quickly and was quite a shock at the time. Little did I know, though, that something so negative could turn into something so amazing – a career change.
T.O. What has been the most challenging part of your career change? What have you most enjoyed? What has surprised you?
W.C. I think the most challenging part to start with was coming to terms with the fact that, after being used to a teacher’s salary, I no longer had a regular income.
But, through the joy of writing, and the support of my husband, I have overcome this.
I’ve enjoyed so many things about my career change, but I think the highlight of my writing career has to be when I held my first story collection in my hand for the first time and thought, I made this – this is my baby!
What has surprised me most is how I feel the same excitement as I did the first time, every time I open a magazine and see my story there, in print.
T.O. Wendy, thank you so much for sharing your time and words of advice! Before we go, where can people find you on the Internet?
W.C. Thank you very much for having me on your lovely blog!
T.O. One last question … What’s next for Wendy Clarke?
W.C. My next big project is my novel. I’m hoping that I can put all the skills I have learnt from writing short fiction into practice with something longer. It is very exciting!
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