Interview with Sally Trueman Dicken, short story writer

Sally Trueman Dicken has had two short stories accepted for People’s Friend magazine.  Here she gives an insight into what inspires her to write and how she achieved success with her submissions.

What made you want to write for People’s Friend?

My grandmother read People’s Friend and I would read the children’s page and some of the stories. As I grew older, I started buying the magazine myself, enjoying the comforting feel of the stories set against the harshness of life.

Recently I decided that I would like to get a story published there as a tribute to my father who in his latter years would tell about his mother and aunt buying the magazine, reading it from cover to cover, discussing the contents and trying out the recipes.

Also, it is a long established magazine with a good reputation. When people told me that it is not easy to get a story accepted by People’s Friend, this gave me the further challenge to get writing. Listening to Shirley Blair, the fiction editor, speak on the topic of how to submit at Swanwick (writers’ course) fired me with enthusiasm.

How did you come up with the idea for the story?

I was interested in the relationship that women have with their hair, how it reflects their personality and outlook on life. As a young woman, I used to have very long hair, which I loved. As I got older it became more and more impractical, so I adopted shorter styles. I wrote about the changing styles through the decades, following the fashion. I wrote about how I felt, as my long hair got shorter and shorter with the passing years and how I felt rather sad about that. I got rather stuck at that point and then it suddenly struck me how very much more sad I would feel if I had lost all my hair through chemotherapy. Then I saw a programme on television about a woman who was making wonderful wigs for women in this very situation and it all suddenly came together by the addition of a special song. It did take me quite a long time to get it all to work in a story.

How did you make the approach?

I began by accessing the submission rules on People’s Friend website. I checked my word count, grammar, spelling, line spacing, right size paper, easy to read font and also that my subject matter matched People’s Friend’s very precise guidelines.

When I felt that my document was as professional as I could make it, I added a front sheet with the personal details requested. Finally, I wrote a personal letter of introduction. Shirley Blair had said that she always likes to receive a friendly letter with submissions, giving a little information about the writer and why they think their story would be suitable for the magazine.  I placed all of this, held together with a paper clip, in an A4 sized envelope and queued at the Post Office to ensure I had the correct postage.

How long did it take from your initial response to getting accepted?

I posted a paper copy of my story off on November 5th 2015 and received it back with a request for some rewriting on February 5th 2016. My tenses needed some work as I had used both past and present with gay abandon, making the story a little confusing. I went through it with a fine tooth comb aided by some vigorous proof reading by my husband and friends and resubmitted it with much trepidation on February 15th.

On February 17th, I got a very nice email from Shirley Blair which said the second half was okay but the first half needing some more reworking on the “show, don’t tell” aspect, also more dialogue. By a happy coincidence, I was in the process of attending a class at Writers Holiday in Fishguard run by Rachael Thomas; one topic was “show, don’t tell”, and that really helped me to see where I was going wrong and gave me lots of practice.

A third version was submitted on February 27th; this time by email as stated, and on March 4th my story was accepted. I was ecstatic. People’s Friend pay on acceptance so soon the money was in my bank account and I just had to wait for my publication date.

When was your story published?

My story, “Flowers for My Hair” was published in a People’s Friend Special, number 124, on sale June 1st 2016, with a lovely illustration that aptly matched the story. Back copies can be obtained from the magazine.

What advice would you give to fellow writers wanting to get their short stories published in a magazine?

Study the rules for submission very carefully. Check the word count is correct and that the work is neatly and professionally presented. I treated myself to some quality computer paper to ensure it looked just right. Check grammar and spelling so that it is easy to read and understand. Study the layout of the magazine you want to write for, how it is set out, how long the paragraphs are, how much dialogue there is and how soon someone speaks. Is it the first line or the fourth? Is there dialogue in each paragraph? How many characters are there?

Write a story that you enjoy writing and that means something to you. Look for current themes that affect people on a daily basis. My story concerned a woman who lost her hair due to chemotherapy and was becoming withdrawn from life. Her family conspired to give her some extra special birthday gifts which made her feel their love and concern and also made her aware of their need to know that she was not giving up. I would describe it as bitter sweet with an uplifting ending.

What’s next for you, Sally?

I have since had a second story accepted and am in the process of writing several more. I would eventually like to write a novel, maybe a cosy crime story in a beautiful setting like Midsomer Murders or a psychological thriller.

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