Career Focus - The World of Writing

Short Story Writing - Adele Ramet

Adele Ramet is the author of many creative writing guidebooks, such as 'Creative Writing' and 'Writing Short Stories and Articles'. She is an experienced short-story writer and also lectures and runs education courses.


The Interview

Name - Adele Ramet

Location - Essex

Family - married for 35 years in June, a grown up daughter and son and a 5 year old grandson

How did you first get into writing?

By answering an advert in my local free newspaper for a typist for a local author. The 'author' turned out to be a freelance writer who, among other things, produced the newspaper's children's column. Initially, she wanted someone for a few hours a week, just to type up the page and send it off to the paper. She lived just few yards from my children's school, so I would walk the kids up in the morning, work until school finished and be there to collect them in the afternoon. Within a very short time, I found I had an aptitude for researching and putting articles together, rewriting copy to fit the space for the page and before long, I took over the compilation of the page, leaving my employer free to pursue her other writing interests. Gradually, I began to have articles and children's stories published in newspapers and comics until, eventually, I started writing short stories.

How did you get your first short-story published?

The first story I attempted was intended for teenage girls and was rejected by IPC Magazines (at that time, one of the most influential publishers of teen comics) with a note stating firmly that the story was not suitable for 'any of our magazines'. That rejection was sufficient to put paid to any ambitions I had to write fiction for a while, until I became involved in running conferences for writers and was fortunate enough to meet Linda O'Byrne, the fiction editor of Bella Magazine. I asked her if she would glance at my teenage story with a view to telling me where I'd gone wrong. To my amazement, she returned the story with recommended alterations clearly marked and advised me to have another go. A mutual friend urged me to rewrite it and send it to Linda at Bella and that was the start of a long and happy association with the magazine's twist story page.

What inspired your books about creative writing and short-stories?

I was involved in running writers' conferences, I had always wanted to be a writer myself and was learning so much from the speakers I was meeting. I had begun lecturing on the adminstrative side of freelance writing, teaching a couple of creative writing courses for the WEA (Workers' Educational Association) and a local adult education centre and was enjoying success with writing short stories with a twist-in-the-tale. I was attending a lecture at a writers' conference, when the lecturer, a very well-published and well respected children's writer said, 'the trick to writing a twist in the tale story is to leave something out, which you then reveal at the end'. This was so totally wrong that I had to bite my tongue to stop myself contradicting her in front of her rapt audience. She then continued with, 'Of course, you don't need nearly such strong characters for short stories as you do for anything else'. This, too, was totally false and it was at that point that I felt there was a real need for a book telling people just what was involved in writing stories with a twist in the tale. I think I just saw it as an opportunity to write about something I loved doing and share information with other like-minded people. My first published book was entitled Creating a Twist in the Tale and went into three editions, much of the information contained in thia book has now been condensed into the revised and expanded 6th edition of 'Writing Short Stories & Articles'. 'Creative Writing' came about really as a natural progression from my adult education courses.

Have you had formal training?

The only writing training has been 'on-the-job'. Over ten years producing various newspaper columns, to length and deadline, numerous short stories, articles, children's stories and of course, my books on writing. I also write course materials and indeed, the courses themselves, for adult education. I had a grammar school education but left at 16 to take up a place with a multi-national company on their in-house secretarial training course. Although a more literary background might have benefited my writing career, I think being able to touch type has probably been one of my greatest assets. Bearing in mind that I started writing in the days before computers when, if you made a mistake several pages into a story, you could end up having to retype the whole thing, that vastly underrated skill has stood me in extremely good stead over the years.

What do you think makes a great short story?

I really think that's an impossible question to answer! We all enjoy different things but for me, the best stories are the ones that move fast and leave you wanting more. I want to know and relate to the main character immediately and become totally involved with them, so that I care how things will turn out in the end.

How long is a short story?

According to literary experts, a short story can be from 50 words -10,000 words. Above 10,000 and it's a novella. Some magazines and newspapers feature competitions for complete short stories in 50 words. However, 50 words don't give you any scope for character or story development, so they are incredibly limited and limiting and in my view, whilst they offer a wonderful opportunity for writers to show off their literary skill, don't offer much satisfaction for the reader. The average short story for the women's magazine market ranges from about 850-2,500 words, depending on the type of story and the style of the magazine. Twist stories tend to be very short 850-1,000 words. Lifestyle/romance tend to be longer and there are still one or two magazines that take serials. Crime, Fantasy, Science Fiction and Literary magazines may take longer stories and there is a growing market for e-stories on the Internet.

Is going on a creative writing course a good route for a novice wanting to get into story writing?

Yes, anyone thinking of writing should definitely check out their local adult education colleges for a creative writing course. I run courses specifically for people who want to write for publication. Others put the emphasis more on self-expression and analysis of classic works, others look at literary form. Some universities offer degree courses in Creative Writing. In my opinion, the most valuable part of attending any creative writing course is contact with like-minded people. Anyone who has the ability and determination to write will gain something worthwhile from attending a course because they offer the opportunity to bounce ideas around, listen to other people's work and gain support from other writers. It is this face to face contact that is missing from so many correspondence courses. My advice would always be to steer clear of anything that guarantees success 'or your money back'. There are no guarantees and there will be a catch to any so-called 'money-back' clause!

where is the best place for an Mum or Dad wanting to write short stories to start - in terms of trying to get their work published? Are newspapers or magazines usually more receptive?

Women's weekly magazines are still the best market for short stories, although it has shrunk considerably over recent years. Dads can write for women's magazines providing they are able to see life from a women's viewpoint. The best known reference book is The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook, published by A & C Black, which gives a complete list of reputable markets, information about manuscript submission, copyright etc. My own books, of course, are regularly updated with the latest market information. Competitions are another very good way in but it is imperative that you check that they are run by reputable organisations. The BBC is currently running a short story competition and their website has lots of market information for novice writers. Look for similar competitions run by national magazines, book festivals etc. and check who the judges are. If they are well-known literary names, fine. If you have to pay a high entry fee and the prize is publication in an anthology that you are expected to purchase, don't bother, it's a scam. Newspapers also sometimes run short story competitions but are less likely to have regular fiction slots and are not a market I would recommend. Local newspapers might be willing to consider specialist columns or non-fiction features but it's not an easy market to break into - you would contact the features editor.

What is the bet way to find out about who to contact at a magazine/newspaper?

The best way to find out who to contact on a magazine is to see if the editorial staff are listed anywhere in its pages. If they are and there is a note stating that they will accept unsolicited manuscripts, read the magazine regularly for several weeks and really familiarise yourself with the style, content, word length, etc. If you think your stories will be suitable for the readership, then send them to the fiction editor by name with a self-addressed envelope for their return. If no editorial staff are listed or there is a note stating that they do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, then the magazine will be put together by staff writers and a pool of professional freelances, so look for a different market until you have built up a portfolio of published work.

In terms of getting paid, broadly speaking what do publications normally pay for a short-story?

Rates of pay vary enormously, not only from publisher to publisher but within the publishing houses, from magazine to magazine. They are also dependant on individual points such as your experience (the more you have, the more you get) and copyright (what rights in the work you sell them). As you become more prolific, you can sell your stories all over the world through syndication agencies and that brings in a better income.

Does writing fit well around having children?

Being able to work from home is a huge advantage when you have children, so I guess, in that respect, it does. Having to stop in full flow to change nappies, pick kids up from school, cook meals, break up fights, etc. etc. I don't know...Writers will write, no matter what! Some parent/authors I know write at night or in the early hours of the morning and say that it's the best time because they never get interrupted by the phone or the doorbell. They somehow take the lack of sleep in their stride. However, I do know one author who, when her children were young, used to lock herself in her study and forbade anyone to try and enter whilst she was working. I wouldn't recommend her parenting skills but she made a fortune from her novels!

How many hours a day do you usually spend writing? Do you have to be quite disciplined?

I've never had the sort of routine that would allow me to devote set times to writing. Since my youngest child started school, I've always had a part-time day job, so I write fiction when I have the free time to do it. Everything else is always written to strict deadlines, so I fit it around my other work. The advice for anyone who wants to write is to write something every day, put it aside then read it and if necessary, rewrite it the next day. Don't let anyone stop you, insist on setting aside the time that suits you and stick to it.

Was it hard getting your first book published? How did you go about it?

I did what I'd advise anyone else to do, I researched the market and discovered that, whilst there were plenty of books about writing short stories, there was nothing specifically about stories with a twist in the tale. I contacted several publishers and they all said the same thing, there wasn't enough interest in that one area of writing. I was convinced that there was and just happened to strike lucky. The then owner of How To Books was looking to expand his writers' guides and had employed a sort of talent scout to seek out new authors. She loved my proposal and recommended it to the publisher. He phoned me to say he wanted to discuss the book and assuming that he would only phone if he wanted to buy, I babbled on at length about what a great book it was and how it was desperately needed and would fill a hole in the market and he'd made the right decision etc. etc. Our conversation ended with him offering me a contract and I phoned the talent scout to thank her. She burst out laughing and explained that she hadn't been able to persuade him about the book and he'd phoned to tell me he didn't want that title but that he liked my style and wondered if I would like to suggest something else! The moral of the story being that if you believe in something enough and have the guts to pitch it to a publisher, you may just get away with it.

Do you have an agent? Do you think they are essential?

It is very unusual for literary agents to represent short story writers or non-fiction writers so, no, I don't have one. Freelance writers tend to work directly with editors, who prefer to build up their own pool of authors who they know they can trust to deliver the work on time, to length and house style in the required format. Syndication agencies could provide a route for prolific writers to sell their work on a worldwide basis. Reputable agencies are listed in the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook. As with everything in the media, check everything very carefully to ensure that any company willing to represent you is reputable and that any contract offered is legitimate

What is the best bit of business advice you have been given?

'Don't give up the day job' and my other golden rule, which is 'Publishers pay you'. It is quite tempting when you see adverts for authors from companies purporting to be publishers. You send off your manuscript and they come back with a very kind letter telling you how much they'd love to print your book but they have no money in their budget for that. However, for a small 'subsidy' or fee, they will print it for you. So my advice is 'Don't pay them, they should be paying you!'

Do you have any words of wisdom for Mums or Dads who would like to become published short-story writers?

Simply, do it! Every successful author I've ever met has, at some time in their lives, combined a busy home life and/or a busy career with writing. As I mentioned before, many of them started by writing through the night or very early in the morning. I know some who combined their writing hours with shift work patterns, wrote during the daily commute or as soon as the children had gone to bed in the evenings. Everyone knows about J.K. Rowling's visits to her local cafe. So don't wait for the right time to write - make time and do it!

More about Adele Ramet

Courses Adele runs

Through Castle Point & Rochford Adult Community College

'Creative Writing for Publication Introduction', Thursday 10-12 at Rochford and 19.30-21.30 at King John School, Benfleet for 10 weeks, followed in January by 'Creative Writing for Publication Workshop' also 10 weeks, same time, same venues.

Adele also runs writing workshops and speaks to groups on a private basis.

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