Sunday, 9 October 2016

In which I win an award!

Tonight I had a very nice surprise. I WON the community writing competition at the Hillingdon Literary Festival! And Benjamin Zephaniah, no less, was one of the judges.
Paul and I were invited along to a celebratory reception and prize-giving ceremony in the Antonin Artaud Building at Brunel University this evening, the final event of a packed weekend programme which included masterclass workshops, author interviews and all manner of other bookish talks and panel discussions, as well as outdoor food and market stalls, which included the intriguingly named Poetry Takeaway! Sadly, by the time we arrived, a lot of the outdoor activity was coming to a close but we made ourselves comfy in the lobby area, met the Festival producer Seb Jenner and were given a free drink as we waited to be seated in the auditorium. 

I had been asked, along with five others, to come along and read my entry to a room full of festival-goers and dignitaries (the mayor was there!) – a poem I dedicated to the wonderful nurses who work for the NHS and don’t always get the recognition they so richly deserve. This had to mean that one of us six was soon to be proclaimed the overall winner, but nobody was giving away any secrets at this stage! Having listened to the others read some thought-provoking (and generally long!) stories and poems, most of which seemed to touch in some way on political, refugee or humanitarian themes, my turn finally came. My poem was by far the shortest of the readings but got a fantastic audience reaction, and I was then - quite unexpectedly - announced as the winner!!
Here’s me receiving my prize (a goodie bag of books and a very generous cheque) from local Councillor Markham, an active champion and supporter of arts and culture in Hillingdon.


The competition (titled ‘Writing Local, Thinking Global’) attracted over a hundred entries from people living and/or working in the borough, which included quite a few Brunel students, with entries covering a wide range of genres and themes. Because it was a competition for local residents I entered under my ‘real’ married name of Vivien Brown, rather than as Vivien Hampshire, author, but several of the other entrants were already writers of some kind too, belonging to local writers' groups, as I do, or having taken a creative writing course.

Thirty five of the entries had been chosen to be published in a lovely paperback anthology, copies of which were given away free to festival attendees and should also be available in local libraries etc for a short time. Naturally, I managed to get hold of a few copies to share with family and friends! Here’s a sneak preview of how it looks. I shall be reading it from cover to cover over the next few days!

My goodie bag
The anthology

No sooner was I back home than the Festival organisers had announced me as the winner on twitter. Social media works so quickly these days!

My poem ‘Lovesick’ may have been much more light-hearted than the other entries being performed, yet it raised a few laughs and seemed to mean something to so many of those who heard it – and that to me is just as gratifying as winning the prize. People came up to talk to me at the end, to say how much they enjoyed it and to ask about my own NHS connections (well, I do have a daughter who happens to fit the bill, being a hardworking paediatric nurse at UCLH!) Two midwives even asked if they could use the poem at the local hospital in some kind of pro-nursing publicity.

Of course, I still own the copyright to the poem - but it’s out there now in the public domain, printed in an anthology, and as a competition winner I won’t be able to enter it elsewhere, so here it is. Read it, quote it, stick it on your hospital wall, if you like. Just please credit me as its author and don’t try to pass it off as your own!

Thank you
9 October 2016



By Vivien Brown

I think I'm in love with the nurse in dark blue,

with her glasses, her stockings and sensible shoes.

From my own little cubicle in the end bay,

and with not much to do, I could watch her all day.


Consoling, cajoling, controlling the ward,

so no patient gets hungry or angry or bored,

she swishes the curtains and smoothes out the sheets,

always charming, alarming, determined, discreet.


Infections, injections and incinerations,

pus-covered plasters and last week's carnations.

Dealing and healing, doing what she does best,

while bouncing an upside-down watch from her chest.


Dishing and dosing out dinners and pills,

marking up specimens, mopping up spills.

She passes the bedpans and empties the wee,

then pinches a chocolate to have with her tea.


Taking sprains and strains and all manner of pains

in her stride, her pride in her calling remains.

Yes, my thoughts may be private, but I have to confess

that I’m so glad I opted to go NHS.




Wednesday, 28 September 2016


I've been pretty quiet on the blog lately. That's because I have been working hard on my new novel, details of which are out TODAY!!

'How To Win Back Your Husband' is being published by Harlequin HQ and will be available in January but it's already up on Amazon to pre-order. Here's the link:

Monday, 2 May 2016

When I said my stories can be quite moving...

Having finally moved house, unpacked and set up my writing room, I am glad to say I’m back in the land of regular writing again. It’s taken a while to get back into the swing, and I am certainly not producing as many words as I should, but I’m getting there.

Moving is a time-consuming and stressful experience. From ‘What if it all falls through?’ to ‘Will the cats settle ok?’ to ‘Which room does this box go in?’ to ‘Where did I put the torch?’ it’s great to know it’s all behind us now and things can start getting back to normal.

But one of the oddest things is realising just how much the subject of moving house seems to have crept, quite subconsciously, into my stories in recent months, even when they are supposed to be about something else – bereavement, childhood, friendship, romance. So, when I tell you my stories can sometimes be quite moving, moving house wasn’t exactly what I meant - although it looks like that’s what you’re going to get!

First there was ‘Pictures of Yesterday’, written just as we were putting our own place on the market back in November, and which appeared in The People’s Friend on 26 March. Janet is staying at her gran’s house for the weekend, getting it ready for sale after the old lady’s death. Of course, she is curious to know who will buy it and what changes they will make, although she knows she doesn’t want to witness any of it, preferring to remember things just as they always were. Enter a young and dishy estate agent (mine didn’t quite fit the bill, but this is fiction!) who has come to photograph the rooms. He loves the original features of the old house almost as much as she does and, because this story is more about moving on and accepting change than it is about the sadness of moving out… cue romance!

The next issue of Woman’s Weekly, dated 10 May, will include another of my stories, ‘Fitting’, this time about a woman remembering a childhood friend as she clears out clothes and photos before handing over the keys to her mother’s home to the estate agent. Not so much about the moving process itself this time - but all that packing up, sorting things for keeping/throwing away/charity shops, and coming across keepsakes you haven’t seen for years (and the memories they evoke) certainly rings true.

Coming very soon, in the next People’s Friend Special, number 123, will be another story of mine, at the moment called ‘The Right Move’, but the editor may well change the title before it’s published, as she often does. This one is about a married but childless couple searching for a more suitable home now they are living with two very large dogs. All my own worries about whether to start looking for a new house before or after your own home is sold, and whether you could lose your new ‘dream’ home because nobody wants to buy the old one, come rushing to the surface here, but luckily all ends well, just as it did for us – and our pets!

And, lastly, a story called ‘A Chessboard Garden’ that I wrote right in the middle of the unpacking process and submitted just three weeks after moving in. Once the boxes have been dealt with, and a screwdriver and bit of paint have been put to good use inside, there is often a tangled mess of neglected garden and unmown grass waiting for attention, and some new neighbours to get to know too. The two come together in this story, a particular favourite of mine, which hasn’t even been accepted (yet!)… but I do have high hopes for it!

Last night I re-read and re-wrote an old but as-yet-unpublished story, ready to send it off to a magazine. Although largely a romance, it does involve re-marriage, a teenaged daughter and a house not quite large enough to accommodate them all, so when I tell you its title is ‘Room For Three’ you might just get an idea what theme has managed to creep in, yet again!!

Saturday, 13 February 2016


What a difference that first story sale can make


There are lots of us out here in ‘womag’ land (that’s women’s magazines, for those who don’t know), who are regularly sending off our short stories, with varying degrees of success. After spending many hours, days, sometimes weeks, working on a story, all we really want is to see our work in print and to know that others are reading and enjoying it, but that means finding an editor who likes our story enough to buy it. It’s the only true indicator that we have been recognised as professional writers whose work is worthy of publication - and payment. And what a magic moment achieving that first sale is!
I can still remember how I felt when I received my very first acceptance letter. It was way back in 1997 and the story was called ‘The Real Father Christmas’, about a family feud and how a young boy’s belief in Santa helped to heal it. It was bought by Woman’s Weekly and, along with a lovely little illustration by someone called Katrina Lewis, who I had never met, it filled just one page, yet I was paid the grand sum of £230 for it. For me, this was the turning point in my fledgling writing career. I had won first prize in a national writing competition three years before, and had sent two previous stories to Woman’s Weekly, neither of which was quite right for them, so to get a yes at only the third attempt was pretty exciting. There would be no stopping me now!
In fact, many rejections followed, but the occasional successes kept me going, and after three more (longer) stories in Woman’s Weekly, I managed to break through into other magazines too, with stories appearing in My Weekly, The Weekly News and The People’s Friend, who all paid less but gave me a home for those stories I knew weren’t quite written to Woman’s Weekly’s style. In all, I have now sold more than 120 short stories to UK women’s magazines, and it’s still a thrill to open up a copy and find out how each illustrator has tackled my story and characters, who often look nothing like the way I have imagined them! I’ve even had a couple of ‘fan’ letters from readers who have found something in my stories that’s resonated with what’s going on in their own lives – a great compliment to any author.
In recent years, my writing ambitions have spread and grown, largely down to the confidence and experience my short story successes have given me. Even getting used to the inevitable rejections and deciding not to be put off by them is a valuable lesson in the life of any writer. I have now written hundreds of articles and book reviews, a non-fiction book about solving cryptic crosswords, and several as-yet-unpublished novels, but short stories remains my first love and I can’t imagine a time when I will ever stop writing them. 

So, how do other womag writers look back on their first short story success? Was it a pivotal moment for them too, and what has happened since? I asked some of the UK’s most prolific and popular short story writers to tell me the story of their first womag sale.
Here’s what romantic novelist Natalie Kleinman has to say:  
In May 2012 I sold my first short story to Hjemmet, in Norway, some sixteen months after I first began submitting. I hadn’t appreciated until then what the time frame was, but I was obviously determined to succeed. I had in the meantime been shortlisted in competitions but this was my first sale and I can still remember how good it felt. That, and the £220 they paid me for it. The story was about a play on names where, should the hero and heroine marry (as of course they did) she would have a first name and surname that were in complete contrast to each other. Sounds weird, I know, but it worked and they do say love conquers all. 
My next sale, in October of the same year, was to The People’s Friend, and brought me the princely sum of £75, though I did go on to sell several stories to them, and the fee does rise with the number of sales. All in all I sold thirty stories to magazines as well as having two published in anthologies. It was an amazing confidence builder and led me ultimately to trying my hand at novels and, although I do submit short stories from time to time, my focus is now on my books.

Next comes Leonora Francis, one of very few black writers regularly contributing fiction to women’s magazines, and certainly the most successful:

My first story was published in The People's Friend in 2011. It was a comical story about a granddaughter encouraging her granddad to give up smoking in exchange for her removing her navel ring.  Whilst I thought I had 'made it', my second story with them wasn't published until 2012. Since then I've had over 120 stories published in women's magazines. At first my rejection rate was painfully high, but I can't complain because I learnt something new from each rejection. I still have some of those stories sitting on my hard drive and they make me cringe!
The best lesson I learnt during the entire writing process, for me at least, is to write what you want to write, instead of what you think the magazines want. It's the best way to find your natural voice. Once you've found your voice it makes writing specifically for magazines easier. I receive far fewer rejections than I used to - but I still get them!

I now concentrate more on serial writing and have written 6 serials for Woman's Weekly. I am currently writing one for The People's Friend. I believe the short story form is a good way of learning how to write. Many short story writers have gone on to write very successful novels.

It’s still quite rare to see a man writing for the womag market, but here’s Simon Whaley, who has had huge success with his non-fiction articles and books, talking about his own early ventures into the world of the short story:

My first womag story was published on 5th February 2004. I called it ‘Jungle Jane’, and it appeared in the weekly edition of Take A Break, for which I was paid £300 (they paid £400 for each subsequent story they bought from me for the weekly mag).The story was inspired by my sister who’d been on a girlie weekend with her friends, living it rough on a survival course. It reminded me of those team building exercises you have to do when employers feel staff aren’t getting on with one another. There’s always one person who thinks they’re in charge at these events, and so this story was partly my revenge on those people.

Publication gave me the confidence to continue targeting the womag market, and ‘Jungle Jane’ was also my first success in the Australian mag, That’s Life. Since then, I’ve successfully sold stories to The People’s Friend, Ireland’s Own, Yours, The Weekly News and …  eventually, Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special (although that one did take me nine years to crack).

Not all men are quite so open about their gender when they first pop a toe into the womag water. Rob Nisbet was a student in one of my own creative writing classes (and very keen to make sure he met what he perceived to be the magazine’s requirements) when he made his first attempt. Rob explains:
I sent the story to People’s Friend, complete with Scottish names and a mention of a tartan blanket, thinking that might help - and I received my first rejection! I wasn’t disappointed though. I’d had a rejection letter - from a real magazine!
I reprinted the story and sent it to Woman’s Weekly and to my delight they accepted it.  In October 2006 I was paid £100 and ‘Jean’s Bread Pudding’ took up two pages in a national magazine. I bought several copies, and still have one nearly ten years later. I remember leaving one in the tea-room at work and being encouraged by the post-it-note comments that grew on the cover as it was read again and again.
I chose to submit this story under my wife’s name, with some vague idea that a woman author might be more acceptable to the intended readership.  Whether this helped or not I couldn’t say; I have used my own name in womags many times since then, purely to see my real name in print, but I still resort to becoming ‘Trixie’ if I feel a story is strongly from a woman’s point of view. 
I wrote as a hobby, but that first sale gave me a confidence boost and a focus. Magazines paid for stories that I would have written for fun! There have been many sales since that memorable first story. I’ve won a couple of national competitions, read in art galleries and fringe festivals, and recently had three audio stories recorded by Big Finish for their Doctor Who range. I’m still trying to get agents interested in a novel I’ve written for teens. I’ve had a few encouraging comments but all rejections so far.  But I know that just one acceptance can change everything!

And, last but not least, let’s hear from Wendy Clarke, one of The People’s Friend’s most popular fiction writers. Just wait until you read how many she has written and sold in only four years – a true success story if ever I heard one!

I started sending stories out to magazines at the beginning of 2012 – just a few at first to test the water. After nine story rejections, I had my first sale in July of that year. It was to Take a Break Fiction Feast and I was, of course, over the moon. The story was called ‘Try Saying Yes’ and was the story of a girl whose friend gave her the challenge of going through a whole day without saying no to anything. It was published in November 2012.
My next sale was to The People’s Friend in September of the same year. It was called ‘Dancing Queen’ and was the story of what happened when a ballroom dance class was double booked with a Zumba class (this was me writing about what I know as I’m a keen dancer). There followed several more sales to both of these magazines before I had my first sale to Woman’s Weekly in October 2012 – a story called ‘Too Much to Lose’ about a woman whose attempt to lose weight alienated her from her husband.
Totting up sales and rejections is difficult to do as a rejection to one magazine doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the road for a story. It might take several submissions before a sale. I’ve written around two hundred stories for magazines and, not counting those still ‘out there’, have around twenty that I haven’t sold (and probably never will as they were early ones and not very good!) At the time of writing I’ve sold 160 stories.
Although I still write for the other magazines, I now mainly write for The People’s Friend and have also written two serials for them. They don’t pay as well as the other magazines but I have a great relationship with them and know that they will take most of what I write. A huge plus is that when you start writing regularly for them you are assigned an editor to work with – I love working with mine.
Writing for magazines has been hugely beneficial to me. It’s been a way of learning my craft and without the short stories I would probably never have written my debut novel which I finished last year.

My thanks to all who agreed to share their ‘first sale’ stories with me. There are nowhere near as many women’s magazines publishing fiction these days as there were when I started out, but the ones that do are always in need of good stories, and most will welcome submissions from new unpublished writers. So, if you are still struggling to make your first sale, please don’t give up. Amongst all the hard work and perseverance, there’s still a lot of luck involved too. We all struck lucky… and so can you!



Friday, 29 January 2016

The January Sales

It's sooooo cold outside!
Christmas is long behind us, it’s dark and cold outside, and life’s feeling a bit flat.  Just the time of year when we all need a bit of a boost; something to cheer us up. And that’s where, for many of us, the January sales come in! Seeking out a bargain, sprucing up our wardrobes, doing something that’s fun and makes us feel good about ourselves.
But, for me, January sales mean something entirely different. To any writer of magazine stories, sales mean only one thing – an editor has read one of the stories we’ve sent in, liked it, and said YES! We have sold a story and are going to get paid for it. And that is just as exciting as finding a new winter coat at half price, I can tell you!

I am very pleased to have made THREE story sales during January, each one of them penned months ago and pushed out of mind ever since. Believe me, it’s absolutely no use sitting around worrying about whether a story has yet reached the editor’s desk and if she’s going to like it. The work’s been done and the end result is out of our hands. All we can do is get on and write some more.

Here are the stories of my January sales, what inspired them and how they came to be written, although I’m not going to reveal which magazine has bought them or what they are currently called (Editors often change the title anyway!)

 1.     Last November, Paul and I had been heavily into house hunting. Estate agents were ringing up every day, and we were already on first name terms with a few of them. At the same time, we realised we would have to think about inheritance and make the necessary changes to our wills once we owned our first home together. Combine those two elements and what did I get? A young woman having to sell a house after the death of her grandmother. It gave me plenty of scope to introduce emotion, with the house 
Saying goodbye to the house
evoking treasured childhood memories, and my heroine having to say goodbye, not only to her Gran but to the house too. I knew from the start where this story would fit and wrote it very much with that specific magazine in mind. Luckily, the editor agreed, buying the story just two months after it was submitted. Although magazines contain many stories about family homes and country cottages being inherited by grandchildren, the new owner usually decides to relocate and move in. My ‘twist’, whereby she does not follow the conventional route but lets the house go, accepts the inevitability of change and moves on with her own life, is what the editor says made this story rise above the rest. And the hint of romance with the friendly estate agent, lifting the mood at the end, didn’t do any harm either!

 2.     The second story was a strange one. I started to write it in the New Year, with no idea of what it was about or how it would end. Sometimes that just happens, with an opening line or a random image leading me off into the unknown. By the time it was finished, it was too long for the magazine slot I had decided to aim for, so I had to do some serious cutting – not a bad thing when a story has rambled onto the page with so very little forward planning. By 9th January I had a 2000 word story about… well, so many things. Childhood memories (again), being a twin, having to wear second hand clothes, losing a friend and, years later, deciding to try to find her again. There were all kinds of influences from my own life mixed up in this story – a heroine of my own age, having twin daughters, remembering school life and friendships decades later (a friend’s ruby wedding party had helped with that one), and having to clear out cupboards but not always wanting to throw everything away. I liked this one. It had a feel-good factor by the end, and it was bought by the first editor to see it, just five days after it was submitted, which is pretty rare!

So many to choose from!
 3.     The third story was written purely for fun, way back in June. I like a bit of gentle humour, and this one was based on a family game. You know the kind of thing we all play with our kids – Can you name a fruit or vegetable whose name starts with each letter of the alphabet in turn? What would you be called if you could have chosen your own name? If you were a car, what car would you be, and why? For the game in my story, I chose biscuits. If you could be a biscuit… Well, I love a good choc chip cookie, and I’m quite partial to fig rolls too, which I know are not everyone’s cup of tea. So, we have a group of young boys gathered for a birthday celebration, a harassed single mum and a gran helping out, all sitting together and playing the game, with some interesting results. But humour is a very subjective thing. It’s not always to everybody’s taste. The first magazine didn’t like it at all. ‘Sweet, but with no surprises’ was the verdict after a four month wait for a response. Yet, editor number two loved it – ‘a smashing idea’ she said, ‘and I loved the ending’. So this one has been seven months in the making, and it will probably be another couple before it is published. Patience really is the name of the game… unless it’s one about biscuits, of course!