Posted on 02 December 2008. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
WriteWords talks to WW member Jem, aka Geri
Tell us all about your writing background- what you’ve written, what you’re currently writing.
When I was quite small I used to write plays for my friends to put on in front of our parents – giving myself the best speeches, of course. There were a couple of other of times in my twenties when I gave it another go – I paid to do a correspondence course and got some excellent feedback, but never really kept at it. Then life got in the way. But I think I’ve made up stories all my life – so much so that, probably like other WriteWords members, I’m always amazed when people tell me they don’t do the same. What’s the matter with these peculiar people?
The first thing I ever had published was an opinion piece in ‘The Lady’ for which I was paid £30! I was ecstatic. This would have been about twenty-two years ago now. I’d always wanted to write stories for women’s mags because I used to read them avidly and think I could do better. I soon learned, after many rejections, that I couldn’t necessarily. But I persevered and had my first story published by My Weekly in 1992, closely followed by two more stories in Take-A-Break and that’s life! magazines. I did venture briefly into the realms of teen fiction in parallel to my short story writing but now I am writing short stories and serials for Woman’s Weekly – I’ve had seven serials published this year alone!
Other work besides writing; ie. Editing, dramaturgy, tutoring, and how it works for/against your own writing
trained as a teacher in English and Drama at secondary school level, and then retrained as an EFL teacher when we made the move to Cambridge. When I left teaching – I accepted VR when the FE College I was working in closed down the ‘A’ level dept - I did some creative writing teaching and a course on teaching writing stories for women’s mags but stopped for a mix of reasons. I think, basically, I’d been teaching for too long and I just needed a break from the classroom. I often think I’d like to get back into it but then I pull myself together. I’ve also given a workshop ‘Writing Fiction for Women’s Magazines’ as part of the Cambridge Wordfest.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
Difficult one this. I always say my favourite book is the one I’m reading at the moment. I’ve just finished Sophie Hannah’s ‘Hurting Distance’ – I’ve read all three of her crime novels one after the other (though not in the right order, I realize) and have loved her characterization.
I think I did most of the reading that impressed me and stayed with me in my late teens and twenties, when I wasn’t writing but evolving as a writer and subconsciously deciding on the themes I would be writing about. The early Susan Hill was a great influence, as was Elizabeth Taylor, Alison Lurie, Carson McCullers, Carol Shields, oh, I could go on and on….. More recently I’ve adored Gerard Woodward’s three novels about the Jones’ family: ‘August’ ‘I’ll Go to Bed at Noon’ and ‘A Curious Earth’ and some of the novels of Joyce Carol Oates who’s been writing for years but who somehow escaped me.
How did you get your first agent/ commission/publication?
My first story was embarked on by hand when I was pregnant with my twins who are now 16. It was called Future Perfect, except My Weekly changed the title. It was one of two stories with a grammar point as the springboard. (The other one was about the subjunctive. Honestly, it was more readable than it sounds.)
Then, a year or so later, I submitted a novella – the first long thing I’d ever written to A.P.Watt and got representation from Sam Boyce who worked at that agency before moving to Sheil Land.
But by that time I’d already sold half a dozen or more short stories to various women’s mags as well as winning a short story competition and coming runner up in a Woman&Home short story comp. My first novel “After Harriet” didn’t get published but it led, indirectly, to me being asked to write a tie-in novel for the Channel 4 “Hollyoaks” series, “The Lives and Loves of Finn”.
What's the worst thing about writing?
The ups and downs, the lack of ideas that occasionally occurs, the fear of rejection, the certainty that you’ll never get another idea after this one, the cheque that’s in the post, God where do I start? Like they say on the X-factor - It’s a rollercoaster of emotions.
And the best?
Knowing you’ve just written a crackin’ story, seeing your name in print, the email that pops into your inbox informing you you’ve made a sale, the money (when it finally arrives), writing “the end” and chatting to other writers on WriteWords.
Tell us what kind of responses you get from audiences\ readers.
Well, so far I’ve had two fan letters that have appeared in Woman’s Weekly – one indirectly from a burly sheep farmer in Australia, who’d phoned his sister-in-law here in the UK asking her to send him the latest copy of the magazine because he wanted to know how the serial ended. (That was good!) She was so amused by the idea of her strapping brother-in-law reading the women’s mags that she put it in a letter to the Editor.
What was your breakthrough moment?
I don’t think there’s only been one. I suppose selling my first story to My Weekly – or, maybe, one night at the end of the weekly writing class I was attending, the teacher, Sally Cline – who, early in my writing career was a huge mentor – said she thought I could make a career in writing. I remember riding my bike all the way home feeling absolutely ecstatic. I’m not confident about my writing even now – always looking over my shoulder at the competition – but back then I was very timid. In my class there were people who wrote brilliantly and I couldn’t understand why Sally had singled me out. I still don’t know but I think it might be to do with the fact that I hope I write from the heart and it’s this that comes off the page. Also, primarily I tell storied with beginnings, middles and ends whereas there are those people who write exquisitely in creative writing classes but never seem to be going anywhere.
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