Virtual Book Festival 2019: Event 3- Writing Serials for Magazines with Kate Blackadder @k_blackadder #VirtBookFest #writing

Hello everyone and welcome to the third event in the Put it in Writing Virtual Book Festival. Today it’s a pleasure to welcome writer Kate Blackadder. Kate writes serial fiction for a woman’s magazine as well as being a novelist. And here in a fascinating feature she explains how she got into serial writing and how it has developed for her since. So over to Kate …

 

One serial writer – 400,000 readers

by Kate Blackadder

 

I’d had a few short stories published in The People’s Friend and elsewhere when I entered the First Instalment of a Serial competition that the magazine sponsored in 2008. As a member of Edinburgh Writers’ Club www.edinburghwritersclub.org.uk

I was automatically a member of the Scottish Association of Writers and this competition was part of their annual conference that year.

I’d never written ‘long’ before but nothing ventured … I remembered something I’d written when having a writing session with friends. We were handed paperbacks at random, asked to turn to a particular page and a particular line number and to start our own story from there.

The book assigned to me was in the horror genre and the line involved a stone which had some supernatural significance, seen through torrential rain. I wrote a page or so but knew I wouldn’t continue because I’d stuck with the genre and it’s not one I like.

But something of the atmosphere of the piece came back to me as I pondered the serial. Cathryn, recently dumped by her boyfriend, could be driving through the rain on her way north to spend the summer on an archaeological dig. Staying in the same lodgings is Magnus, a Canadian film-maker, investigating Viking history and sites – and also researching a mystery in his family tree.

I looked at current PF serials with a writer’s eye. I read the guidelines www.thepeoplesfriend.co.uk/guidelines/ to find out about instalments and chapters and word counts. I had fun bringing in more characters and placing them in a part of the world I used to live, the north-west coast of Sutherland (although I made up place names, and the local big house I transplanted from somewhere else entirely – the superpower of a writer!).

And of course I ended the instalment with a cliffhanger!

Then came the conference and the judging …

The adjudicator, one of The People’s Friend fiction team, began to describe the first-placed entry. My heart raced … Was that mine?

Competition entrants choose a pseudonym and mine was ‘Belle’, the name of a late great-aunt, in whose house I first encountered The People’s Friend although my interest then was only in the children’s pages.

I hope she was listening as her name was read out as the winner.

One of the points the adjudicator made was not about the story itself but the fact that apparently I was the only entrant who had adhered to all the rules, so my homework was worth it, the difference perhaps between winning and not winning.

The prize (of which more anon) was a year’s subscription to the magazine, and the chance to have the serial published – which was a problem. I’d never expected to win so after I’d posted my entry I forgot about it. Now, because I hadn’t written a serial before, they wanted a full synopsis before giving me the go-ahead. Full as in full … what would happen in each and every chapter?

Reader, I hadn’t a clue. Obviously the archaeologist and the film-maker were going to get together but that couldn’t happen until the last instalment. What was the puzzle in Magnus’ background? Why was Sara going to Inverness every week? What caused JD’s accident? I’d set up these and a dozen other questions in the first instalment and now I had to answer them.

It was agony! I had to give myself many a severe talking to when I felt like giving up. I asked a well-published novelist friend for advice and one thing in particular was really helpful – include scenes involving different permutations of your characters so that you don’t forget about any of them.

Eventually – eventually – I wrote a paragraph for each chapter, all thirty-seven of them, and submitted it. Green light! And then it was, almost, like joining the dots.

The serial was published as The Family at Farrshore and it was a real thrill to see it in print over seven weeks with a lovely illustration at the head of each instalment.

The People’s Friend celebrates its 150th birthday this year; a copy is sold somewhere in the world every 3.44 seconds. The readers are not all elderly ladies as is the perception … and, besides, the ‘elderly’ today are not like those of a generation ago as regards fitness and outlook. Sadly, The PF is almost the last (wo)man standing in terms of magazines that take stories. It seems strange in an era when we’re all supposed to be so short of time/concentration that magazines have dispensed with bite-sized fiction.

Back in the day The People’s Friend weekly sales headed for a million (220,000 sales today, 400,000 readers) and their payment to writers reflected that. In the 1880s they ran a serial competition with a first prize of £100, around £8500 in today’s money. Ah well …

Since The Family at Farrshore I’ve had two more serials published, The Ferryboat and A Time to Reap. I had to send long synopses for these but not with the detail required the first time. I’m halfway through a fourth.

The way it works is that you send an instalment and wait for feedback before continuing. You are paid as each instalment is accepted. As the main events in the synopsis have been approved you can’t veer from them and (unless you’ve discovered a glaring error) you can’t go back and change earlier instalments. Unlike those of Charles Dickens or Alexander McCall Smith, who produced instalments every day after the previous ones were already in print (now that would be scary!), PF serials are not published until they’re finished.

As copyright remains with me I’ve sold the serials to a large-print-for-libraries publisher plus I have put them on Kindle myself.

Knowing that I could plot and finish longer stories gave me the confidence to tackle a novel, Stella’s Christmas Wish available here (published by Black & White). So it’s true: something ventured, something gained.

Anne: Thank you, Kate, for this interesting insight into how writing magazine fiction works and it’s good that copyright remains with you and you’ve been able to produce your stories for Kindle and paperback. I’ve read them all on my Kindle and thoroughly enjoyed them. 

Kate Blackadder was born in the Scottish Highlands but now lives in Edinburgh. If you don’t count adolescent poetry (and best not to) she came late to writing but is trying to catch up. She’s had over sixty short stories published in magazines and has been successful in various competitions, winning the Muriel Spark Short Story Award (judged by Maggie O’Farrell) and being shortlisted for the Scotsman Orange Short Story Award and long-listed for the Jane Austen Short Story Award. She has also written three magazine serials and a novel, Stella’s Christmas Wish, published by Black & White.

 Kate can be found in various places online:

Facebook

Twitter

Her Blog

Capital Writers website

 

 

 

Book Review: Stella’s Christmas Wish by Kate Blackadder

Genre: Romantic Fiction

Regular readers of the blog will possibly remember I recently reviewed two previous books by Kate Blackadder. I so enjoyed those two books that when I saw there was another novel available by this author I knew I had to read it.

But even although I was fairly sure I’d enjoy a book by Kate Blackadder, I did have two reservations.

One was, as I’ve said in other posts on my reading preferences, I tend to prefer the main characters in the romance novels I read to be of the more mature variety. This book’s two main protagonists were in their twenties.

And secondly, I don’t usually like Christmas themed books as I often find them to be just too twee and tinselly.

However both reservations proved to be groundless. This book was a lovely read.

The story’s main characters Stella and Ross are young, but they are also engaging and far from naive. Their relationship has faltered and ended, but it wasn’t because either of them wanted that to happen. External circumstances, misunderstanding and a lack of communication have led to their parting. And, after more than a year apart, it is further external circumstances which will force them to confront the feelings they still have for each other.

Both Stella and Ross have problems. They’ve both suffered loss and Stella’s back story is particularly tragic. Therefore they both have depth and nuance. They’re realistic and credible. They’re also likeable. The reader empathises with them and roots for them.

There is also a strong supporting cast. There’s Ross’s grandfather and his mother. There’s Stella’s absent sister and her London colleagues. The author paints them with a light but assured touch and they all bring something to the story. But most especially there’s Stella’s grandmother and her house guest who bring further depth and colour to the narrative.

The portrayal of the setting which is partly in Edinburgh, but mainly in the Scottish Border town of Melrose, also adds to the overall quality of the novel.

The realistic and sympathetic characters, the vivid setting, and the thwarted romance all pull the reader in. And that engagement is maintained by an economic writing style that, in turn, leads to a brisk and satisfying pace. The plot comes to its resolution at Christmas but the suggestion that it’s all down to a wish made upon a decorative Christmas tree star isn’t overdone.

Indeed the Christmas whole element is subject to such a light authorial touch that it only adds to the romance.

All-in-all this is a romantic, feel good, Christmas read. So go on and indulge yourself. It’s Christmas!

Type of read: Got to be on the sofa, by the log fire and the Christmas tree, with mince pies and a glass of fizz within easy reach.

Back Cover Blurb:

Six days before Christmas, Stella must rush home to Scotland when her grandmother is taken to hospital. As she reconnects with her past, old flames are rekindled, and as Christmas fast approaches, Stella begins to wonder if her most heartfelt wish can come true?

Uprooted from her life in London and back in her childhood home of the Scottish borders, Stella is soon faced with relationships which have lain dormant for years. New opportunities present themselves, but will Stella dare to take them…

Stella’s Christmas Wish is published by Black & White Publishing and is available as an ebook.

 

Two Book Reviews: The Ferryboat and The Family at Farrshore by Kate Blackadder

 

the-ferryboat

Genre: Contemporary Women’s Fiction

Entertaining and satisfying stories economically told

the-family-at-farrshore

What I look for when reading a novel, regardless of genre, is good story-telling and good writing. I’m also nothing if not eclectic in my reading as evidenced by the fact that the books I’m reviewing today couldn’t be more different from last week’s review.

Last week it was A Suitable Lie by Michael J Malone, a bleak, challenging and gripping psychological tale that was under the spotlight.

This week it’s two short and yes, sweet, easy reads. And I enjoyed both The Ferryboat and The Family at Farrshore just as much as I enjoy any book that’s well-written and engaging. I enjoyed them a lot.

Both novellas began life as serials in The People’s Friend magazine. This is a long-established UK magazine aimed mainly at older women. Therefore the author’s remit would have been tight and specific. The original target audience would have been busy, mature women who wanted a bit of a positive and uplifting read. And they’d have got that from these stories, populated as they are with contemporary, relatable and recognisable characters. The readers would not be looking for anything provocative, offensive, scary or challenging.

But it’s important to stress that neither of the stories have a formulaic feel to them, and the serialised episodes translate well into the novella format.

The character’s back stories and what’s at stake for each of them are all expertly handled – not easy to do in this relatively short format. It’s easy to see that readers of the original serialisation would have remained engaged.

Both stories involve characters from different generations within a particular family as well as standalone characters so the reader gets several perspectives on the predicaments and situations that are presented. The plots of both books involve strong female leads and credible male characters and all are facing realistic 21st century dilemmas.

All-in-all satisfying, worthwhile and entertaining reads.

Type of Read: With tea and biscuits or coffee and cake and plenty peace and quiet. A me-time indulgence.

Back Cover Blurbs:

The Ferryboat

When Judy and Tom Jeffreys are asked by their daughter Holly and her Scottish chef husband Corin if they will join them in buying The Ferryboat hotel in the West Highlands, they take the plunge and move north. The rundown hotel needs much expensive upgrading – and what with local opposition to some of their plans, and worrying about their younger daughter, left down south with her flighty grandma, Judy begins to wonder if they’ve made a terrible mistake.

 

The Family at Farrshore

Cathryn is delighted to join an archaeological dig at Farrshore, in the Scottish Highlands. Apart from her professional interest in the Vikings, it means she’ll be at a distance from her recently ex-boyfriend, Daniel. Canadian Magnus Macaskill, is in Farrshore for his own reasons, one of which is to trace his ancestry. As they spend the summer lodging with Dolly MacLeod and her husband JD, Cathryn and Magnus are drawn into the extended family and to each other. But how will Cathryn react when Daniel reappears?

 

The Ferryboat and The Family at Farrshore are both available as e-books.