It has come as something of a surprise to me to find my new novel, I Know I Saw Her, a twisting mystery-thriller, on bookshop shelves – one of Eason’s ‘Books of the Month’ for July, in fact, boldly displayed just below Joe Wicks!
This is because I thought I’d had my writing ‘moment’ some years ago, it had passed, and I had gone off and retrained in something else, setting writing ambitions aside.
Back then, already in my thirties and a mum of three young kids, I had just completed an M.A. in Creative Writing at Queen’s University Belfast, and my dissertation piece had grown into a darkish comedy-drama about family life which, to my great delight, was accepted for publication before I’d even graduated. This was followed by a sequel, set in the workplace. The books were pretty well-received, but sales were disappointing and my contract was not renewed. That was it, I supposed. Looking for another way to earn a living, I retrained in Children’s Care, Learning and Development and then in Playwork, and spent several very fulfilling years working with children and young people.
Forced to take time off from my new work to recover from surgery, I was brought a selection of popular women’s magazines and became intrigued by the fiction pages. Who wrote these stories, I wondered – were they produced in-house or could anyone submit? I sent off a batch of three stories unsure if they would even receive an acknowledgement. Weeks later, one of them was accepted for publication. Brilliant!
Tentatively, I began sending off more stories. Eventually, more were accepted. I had too many rejections to count – I once had twelve stories turned down in a single email! But usually there was at least a bit of feedback that pointed out where I’d gone wrong, and those rejections taught me as much and sometimes more than the successes.
With practice, I learned how to write for the discerning readership of what are fondly known as the ‘womags’. Most publications wanted stories that were uplifting – that definitely didn’t mean bland or sugar-sweet; these magazines will often welcome a tale with a bit of grit, but the resolution should not be bleak and should offer hope. Other publications were happy to publish stories featuring revenge, infidelity, a bit of spite and even kidnap and murder, although graphic sex and violence were off limits.
Crucially, writing short fiction for women’s magazines honed my dialogue-writing skills. My first two novels had been monologuish in nature, and while I still think this worked for those particular stories, I don’t believe it would readily find a place in the womags. There, it is important to introduce situations and characters quickly, as complete stories can be as short as 700 or a thousand words, and the most effective way of doing this is through direct speech. Dialogue also brings the writing to life and keeps the prose dynamic.
I have now had almost three hundred short stories accepted for publication plus a thirty-part series, and I’m working on a new thirty-part series scheduled to start later this year. It is necessary to write seasonal stories for a date about six months in advance so I have recently been steeped in Christmas, which can feel a bit strange, but I absolutely love it.
It takes resilience to withstand the inevitable rejections, but this can be cultivated, I believe. And perseverance brings many rewards – seeing your work in print and creatively illustrated and knowing that you are entertaining thousands of readers. Once your story is accepted, you will also receive prompt payment.
Building something with women’s magazines not only helped my dialogue-writing immeasurably, it also boosted my confidence. So much so that I dared to try writing a novel again, which I sent to my former agent, who passed it to my former editor, who said yes! I had my second chance. It’s a new departure for me in terms of genre, but I really don’t think this would have happened without my experience writing for women’s magazines.
The result is I Know I Saw Her, a suspenseful mystery set over a sultry summer. Alice, a stressed-out supply teacher, sees something she wasn’t meant to and cannot let it go. Convinced a neighbour’s life is in danger, and dismissed by police as a crank, she alone must get to the truth – quickly. I was influenced by the celebrated Alfred Hitchcock movie, Rear Window, and by Paula Hawkins’s terrific novel, The Girl on the Train. I wanted to try and capture something of the heat and claustrophobia of the former and the vulnerable-yet-courageous narrator of the latter.
Now that I have a book on the shelves again and am finishing another, will I be giving up writing for women’s magazines? Not a chance! I will keep doing it for as long as they’ll have me.
I thought my writing ‘career’ had been and gone. I’m so excited that it turned out to have a surprise twist or two.
(c) E.D. Thompson
About I Know I Saw Her:
Parnell Park is a quiet, suburban street where not much happens.
Alice from number 25 observes the street’s inhabitants – lives such as Kevin and Kim, the beautiful couple from across the road, as charmed as they are charming. Her own quiet life is hampered by private circumstance, but she craves more.
Then on a visit to London, Alice sees Kim on a passing train. But when she mentions it to Kevin on her return home, he insists that his wife is in the West of Ireland on holiday with friends. But she knows what she saw.
When Alice starts to investigate, her concern for Kim’s life intensifies, and she finds herself in a high-stakes game with shadowy rules, hidden dangers – and unexpected temptations. Set over the course of a sultry summer, I Know I Saw Her is a masterfully told suspense novel about desire, appearances and deception, as compelling as it is creepy, full of unexpected turns.
Order your copy online here.