An A-Z of magazine life: I…


I is for: Interviews.  Sitting near the features dept, we were privy to snippets of tantalising gossip involving celebs’ behaviour.  I can’t possibly name any names, but it was always riveting to hear that, contrary to their public persona, so and so was a bit of a cow, such and such had screamed down the phone at them, this person had wanted to bring her partner along with her to be included in the feature and had got the right hump when her request was gently turned down and someone else adamantly refused to be photographed for our cover (not right for her image, apparently) – so a perfectly nice pic of her was found through a picture agency and that got whacked on to the cover instead. On the other hand, it was reassuring to hear about people who turned out to be as nice off-screen as they were on.  One such male TV presenter springs to mind.  The features dept came back quite gooey from that particular shoot, not just because he was as lovely as hoped but also because he had sent his driver off to the nearest café while he waited for him, instead of expecting him to sit in his car for an hour or so, as others apparently did.


An A-Z of magazine life: G…

G is for: Gardening.  Another very popular part of the magazine. Many years ago, it was written by someone who enjoyed using words such as “thrusting” (out of the soil) “moist” (said soil, I presume) “erect” (plant stems?) and “creamy globes” (of flowers, I hope) with rather too much enthusiasm for a family-friendly magazine.

I once wrote a short, hopefully amusing feature for the magazine on why I preferred my garden in the winter.  I expected an avalanche of complaints and ridicule but received none. I expect they were all too busy outside.  I mean, it’s not normal, is it? Who else can say they prefer winter over summer? I explained my reasons in great length at the time and I’m not going to bore you with them now (maybe some other time).



An A-Z of magazine life: F…

F is for: “The fish and chip run.”  A colleague who was lucky enough to live near the famous Sea Shell Restaurant in Lisson Grove, which Princess Diana apparently occasionally visited, could be seen most nights, her coat tightly wrapped around her pyjamas, racing round the corner for her takeaway supper.  I was shocked – she was so proud of her appearance the rest of the time. Couldn’t she just have waited and got changed after her mercy dash?  We will never know.

In fact, I have always been puzzled by those who like to change into their pjs or whatever night attire they favour the moment they get home in the evenings. A quick head count in the office revealed there are a lot of them about, surprisingly.  I once got into quite a heated debate with someone who did this.  She had a husband and family – what did they think of it all? I wondered.  Didn’t they think it a bit odd?  A strange example to set her children? I would have been really worried if my own mother had done this, thinking she was quite possibly heading for some sort of breakdown (in fact, my mother wouldn’t even go to the door to pay the milkman if she was still in her dressing-gown). What if her husband suddenly said: “Let’s all go down the pub,” or: “To hell with cooking. Let’s eat out,” or: “Shall we go and see that film tonight?” And what if someone came to the door? “What if they did?” was her only response, which was no answer, really.

F Is also for “Filthy Friday” – a term I coined when we shared office space with the knitting dept and it became clear that, by the end of the week, we were all slightly hysterical from tiredness and the stress of deadlines and also somewhat frisky, lapsing into telling dirty jokes and eyeing up the post boys and any male from the IT dept who was faintly fanciable. Or maybe that was just me.  This bit of frivolity came to an end when we were able to work from home more often and, not surprisingly, everyone’s preferred day at home turned out to be Friday. It’s difficult to be filthy when there’s no one else around to laugh at your double entendres.  Oo-er Missus.

I can’t leave “F” without mentioning “Fiction”, of course. A hugely important part of the magazine (“Famed for its fiction” was a regular coverline back in the day) and my happy place (mostly) for 29 years – that’s just about half my life. What’s not to love about a job which enables you to announce that you read for a living? For an avid, speedy reader such as myself, it was my ideal job. A “friend” once said to me that it sounded really boring to her but she was a nurse, so you can understand where she was coming from and can be excused that remark – just.


An A-Z of magazine life: E…

E is for:  Eccentrics and Egos.  Plenty of both on magazines. The most eccentric person I can recall was a middle-aged woman who dressed as though in a fifties time-warp and marched through the magazine’s corridors, whistling a cheery but unrecognisable tune, her Margaret Thatcher-style handbag carried firmly over one arm.  She was unmarried and I think that had a lot to do with it.  You can’t get away with being eccentric when your husband and family expect you to have dinner ready and the washing machine going through the rinse cycle before you’ve even taken your coat off.  (A married colleague claimed she didn’t take her coat off for at least an hour when she got in from work; neither did she sit down all evening except to eat. As a singleton, I found this baffling and appalling.)

The one ego-related incident that stands out for me (though sadly I wasn’t at my desk at the time) is the one a colleague told me, about the time that a well-known TV presenter, who was in the building to be interviewed by another magazine nearby, came and stood in our office space for several minutes, obviously hoping that someone – anyone – would spot him and possibly ask for his autograph, only for him to be studiously ignored (probably not intentionally – everyone was just too busy, I’m sure), forcing him to shuffle back round the corner where, presumably, he was treated with a great deal more deference.



This was first published on the Womag writers’ website at the beginning of the year as a light-hearted New Year resolutions piece on writing for magazines, using a gym/fitness analogy, since getting fit/joining a gym is often on peoples’ minds at that time of year.  But it’s still only March, so there’s plenty of time to catch up and learn how to GET WRITING FIT FOR 2018!



Power-walk your way to your nearest bookshop. Now, buy as many books as you can afford.  Balance it out by buying an even number and size of books, so that the weight is evenly distributed.

As you make your way home, you can congratulate yourself on two things.  One: The weight of the books is giving your upper arms a much-needed workout.  Two: You can treat it as research but, more importantly, you are supporting your fellow writers and keeping everyone in jobs, from the bookseller to the delivery van driver to the publisher to the editor to their assistant to the cover jacket designer to the printer to the coffee machine vending company to the office cat to… you get the picture.

When you do finally sit down at your desk, remember to take regular breaks every hour. Walk around your desk, walk around the room, walk up and down the hallway, walk up and down the stairs but try to resist walking to the fridge or food cupboard more than once every hour. OK, twice.



Your arms and legs are toning up nicely, but there’s another type of tone: your writing voice.  Make this the year you develop your own unique tone and style. Remember what Oscar Wilde once said: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” Target your chosen market and do your research on them. Buy a few issues of that publication, go online, look at their website, get hold of their guidelines, study their readership (their Facebook page will be great for this) and don’t give up too easily if you receive a few rejections before you hit the mark.



You have been sending in your stories to various publications for months, if not years and you’re still not hitting the mark with them – see above.  Resist the urge to take it all too personally. Step off the treadmill of negativity.  It’s not the fault of the editors. They know their publications inside out and they know what their readers want. They also know about stories that have well-worn themes and are therefore predictable and guessable, with no real surprises. Plots that are not strong enough.  Disjointed stories that appear to be about more than one thing and stories that are too far-fetched.  Keep learning, keep trying and remember to be patient! Editors have to read hundreds of stories, not just yours (though, of course, yours is undoubtedly the best and most important one in the pile), as well as getting on with the many other sides to their job – and all to deadlines!



Don’t sweat the small stuff. House styles vary between publications and no two are the same.  Your job is to provide the words, in a clear and readable manner, preferably double-spaced, with a word count.  Put your contact details on there somewhere and let them take care of the rest.



It takes time to build the perfect body and it takes time to build a good relationship with your editors. Keep it polite and pleasant; don’t be stroppy or difficult. You won’t necessarily get any more acceptances if you are the former, or fewer acceptances if you are the latter, but who wants a reputation for being awkward to deal with? (Bribes won’t work, either, but they will make editors very happy. I like chocolate, btw.)



Don’t get yourself in a spin with words.  There is such a thing as overwriting; a common fault seen everywhere. You may think, why use two words when you can use ten? But editors won’t be impressed with your exhaustive knowledge of the dictionary. It won’t help your story along. It will, instead, halt the flow and befuddle the reader. Less is often more. Many consider Raymond Chandler novels to be among the best. Read them to find out why.



If you have been sitting at your desk, beavering away for some hours (you have, haven’t you? I don’t mean catching up with everyone on social media, either), you will find that you will need to flex your fingers and stretch your neck and limbs.  My top tip: never put food within stretching distance.  Always have it where you have to leave the room to go and find it, thus building in a little more exercise along the way.

Back at your desk, stretch yourself a little with your writing: don’t just stick to the tried and trusted same-old, same-old themes because you’ve had some success with them in the past. Don’t be afraid to test the water with your editors – speak to them and run your ideas past them first (without giving too much away), so that you’re not wasting your time and theirs.  If they’re not suitable for them, try elsewhere. Expand your markets. Flexibility can also mean taking constructive criticism on board and working with your editors to make the necessary changes to improve your story’s chances.



Sometimes, the cut and thrust of the writing business will get you down.  Everyone has their off days.  Take any criticism on the chin – see above. We’re all here to learn. Switch off that critical, nagging inner voice, cut yourself some slack, go into the garden and take it out on the weeds, maybe clear out a few kitchen cupboards as well, then get back in the ring. Raise those gloves.  Slug it out. You can do it; you know you can!



Don’t worry too much about how you are going to get there.  Some have it all planned out and will only ever steer in a straight line, with no distractions; others won’t have a clue and are quite happy to meander endlessly around the byways and tributaries until they can see where they are going. Everyone has their own preferred method.  It’s not a race. Just follow your own course.



When you feel the pull of the computer, don’t fight it.  Push yourself to write something every day.  Get into the habit of a daily workout.  Press yourself to do a little more each time.  Enter competitions, review books online, send something to magazine letters pages.  Build up your writing muscle.

Oscar Wilde (him again; he was a busy boy) wrote that we should always travel with a diary so we would have something sensational to read on the train and Mae West, who also led a somewhat colourful life, is quoted as saying: “Always keep a diary. One day it will keep you.” Maybe your entry will read more along the lines of: “Went to Sainsbury’s, waited ages for the bus, forgot cat food, forced to share my tea with Tiddles, had a bath, went to bed” but my point is that it’s all good practice and life, even at its most mundane and routine, will be fodder to an active imagination. Don’t forget that notebook and pen!



Sometimes we reach a plateau, stalemate, and need a fresh approach to reach our goals.  It can seem we’re never going to get there. At the gym, we would be assessed regularly and our training program adjusted accordingly.  Our trainer would hopefully be supportive and encouraging, too. Try joining a writing group or going on a course. There are many excellent ones out there. You will get valuable feedback and possibly some new ideas.  If nothing else, it’s a break from your normal daily routine and you will likely end up with a few more friends on Facebook.



Because, when you have finished your piece and, even better, had it accepted, you will feel like jumping for joy.  Probably best to do it outdoors, though. Never mind what the neighbours may think. They’re well used to you and your funny little ways by now.































An A-Z of magazine life: D…

D is for: Desks.  At first glance, mine would have won any award going for the tidiest and most organised.  I hated having anything on there other than my computer, keyboard and mouse and a wire tray or two containing my address book, diary, schedule book and a neat pile of manuscripts.  But crack open any one of the drawers (which I always kept locked through shame) and it was a woefully different story.  The accumulated detritus of layers of 29 years’ worth of stale sweets, melted chocolate, crumbled biscuits, packets of tissues, old post-it notes with indecipherable messages on them (that’s right, even I can’t read my own handwriting), long-lost bits and pieces of stationery, grainy photos of assorted leaving dos and retirement parties, old copies of the magazine kept for reasons long forgotten, enough plastic implements to supply the entire building, sachets of salt and pepper, old pens missing their lids and old lids missing their pens…you get the picture.  Every time there was an office move, I lost the will to live at the thought of going through it all, so it just used to end up in a huge plastic sack, only to be decanted straight into the new drawers as soon and as discreetly as possible.  Once, my gleeful boss caught me in the act of transferral and took a sneaky photo as evidence of my slovenly, sluttish ways.

However, with each office move our space dwindled until, with the final one, we had to embrace the delightful “hot desking” (or “agile working” as it’s also known.  Not sure which is worse) and lockers.  No more room for anything other than the bare essentials and certainly nothing was allowed to be left on our desks overnight. I still tried to cram as much as I could into my locker box, of course but most of it had to go and the rest – well, it came home with me when I left.  And it’s still here.