If I were writing a nostalgia piece about my childhood, The People’s Friend, or The Friend as my Granny called it, would be sure to figure. She came to stay with us when I was around six and from that day on it arrived every week without fail until her death, complete with stories, knitting patterns and a line-drawing on the cover that just might be somewhere we recognised.
The Friend was so closely associated with home, I think I always assumed that it was (like my favourite childhood read The Sunday Post) confined to Scotland. And so twenty (or thirty?) years on, when looking at outlets for fiction, I was surprised to find it still going strong and widely available south of the border, even with those same illustrations. (How old must that J. Campbell Kerr be? Aha – the answer lies here!)
A quick read of a few copies (strictly for research purposes!) confirmed it was no more my style of reading than the knitting patterns were my style of clothes, but that didn’t stop me sending in work. Of course my style of writing being closely related to my style of reading, the stories I submitted were never quite going to fit, but I held on to the hope that when faced with my polished prose the editors would feel it was time for a change.
So much for the innocence (and arrogance!) of the fledgling writer. Why on earth would an established magazine want to change a winning formula? I did eventually take the hint and resign myself to the fact that since I couldn’t write this kind of thing, some markets would have to be off limits.
Or would they? A few years ago I started producing some short short stories about an older couple, humorous but not sentimental. I felt they were commercial, but still didn’t quite fit the ‘womag’ market. I touted them here and there without success. Then a few weeks ago, on an impulse, I picked up a copy of The Friend. The first story I read (about an older couple going to a wedding) immediately rang a bell. The ending, for me lacked ‘edge’, but otherwise it was light, witty and a satisfying read. Was The Friend getting closer to my way of thinking?
Then the penny dropped. Never mind my way of thinking, what about theirs? The adage ‘write for the market’ suddenly made sense. I reread the story, then my own, and focussed on the differences. And then I rewrote mine, sans edge.
The story in question has now gone off in its brown envelope, different in tone, but still my story. I don’t feel I have sold out, simply adapted to the requirements of an editor and an audience. I’m not saying it will find favour, but this time I think it has a chance.
Live and learn, I say. Though I’ll still pass on the knitting patterns, for now at least!