I'm delighted to welcome my good friend Jo Derrick to my blog today to talk about her wonderful short story collection White Sand Cocoon, and to answer other random writerly questions.
My favourite story in White Sand Cocoon is the last one, The Cleansing. Do you have a favourite?
What a difficult question to kick off with, Alison! It’s interesting that your favourite is The Cleansing, as it’s the oldest story in the collection and was written around the time of the death of my first husband. I think my favourite is The Black Queen, the first story in the collection. I wrote it for a competition in which one of the rules stated that you had to include the following words: A black queen chess piece, a bunch of flowers and a ten pound note. I found that quite a challenge, but thoroughly enjoyed writing the story. My favourite characters to write are children.
What do you find easier to write – flash fiction or longer stories? And is it easier to edit a longer story or expand a short one?
I find flash fiction easier, because I can get right to the point or the essence of the story in the first line. I find it easier to edit a longer story, because I love editing (possibly more than writing!). Expanding stories is difficult for me, which is why I struggle to write a novel. I’m also an impatient person.
What made you decide to set up Yellow Room Press to publish your book?
I thought it would look more professional.
Do you plan to publish more collections of your stories? And will you ever consider publishing the work of other writers?
I want to publish a second collection of short stories I have one ready, but good covers are expensive, so that’s putting me off a bit. I also have a flash fiction collection ready to publish, which was due to be published by Chapeltown Books last year, but the deadline came and went and they didn’t publish. That was very disappointing. At some point in the future, when I’m more confident about the whole publishing process, then I’d consider publishing other writers’ work.
Why do you think mainstream publishers are so reluctant to publish short story collections? And do you think there is any chance that will change in the future?
I hope it will change in the future. I’ve heard many readers say the reason they don’t like short stories is that they want more. They get a taste for the characters and the story, but their appetite isn’t quite satisfied. Short story collections aren’t that popular with readers and I think that’s why mainstream publishers won’t touch them, unless they’re by an already established and popular novelist.
You also write stories for the women’s magazine market. Does that require a different mindset?
Yes, it does. I have to really think hard about their readers and what they want. The People’s Friend rely heavily on setting and like stories to be upbeat and positive. I used to love writing for Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special, but since they demanded All Rights, I’ve stopped. That’s very sad. They took a wider variety of stories and pushed the boundaries a little. I want to write more stories for The Weekly News, but I’ve got out of that mindset recently and need to get back into it. I dearly wish there were more markets for women’s magazine fiction. I used to love writing for Woman’s Realm, which folded nearly twenty years ago now.
I remember that band stories project you did a few years go, where you asked friends on social media to suggest the name of a band and aimed to write a story using them as a prompt every day. Some great stories came out of that. Any plans to do something similar again?
I enjoyed that project, although it was hard work. Yes, I’d love to do something similar again one day. I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot recently.
If you weren’t a writer, what would be your ideal job?
I think it would be an editor for a big publishing company. I would have said librarian, if the role was the same as it was in the 1960s and early 70s. With the advent of computers, libraries are almost unrecognisable and the role of the librarian has become almost redundant.
Do you miss producing The Yellow Room Magazine? I miss reading it! There’s nothing like that in print now.
In a way I miss it, yes. My favourite bit was choosing the stories to go into each issue. Choosing a cover was fun, too. The hard work was always putting the magazine into envelopes, writing or printing off addresses, putting on a stamp and taking to the post office. Then there was keeping track of subscriptions and sending out reminders. I don’t think anyone realises just how hard it is to produce a small press magazine unless they’ve done it. I can’t believe now that the first small press magazine I founded, Quality Women’s Fiction or QWF, once came out bi-monthly. Boy, did I work hard back then!
What do you consider to be your greatest writing achievement?
Another difficult question! I think writing 20,000 words in 4 days on the Solus Or Writing Retreat in Scotland last year has to be up there. Being a regular winner of the Write Invite competition was also very satisfying. I think my greatest writing achievement will be when I get a novel published by a mainstream publisher and I can’t see that happening, to be honest!
Are you still working on your novel? Or have you started something new?
I’ve put the psychological crime thriller to one side for now. There are many different reasons for doing so. I have started something new, but not crime. I’m writing a novel for my own enjoyment and will see what happens. Writing should be joyful and playful.
Do you ever give up on a story you have written, or do you keep submitting?
I keep submitting! The story might have a rest for a few months, but then I’ll drag it out of the closet and tweak it again. I love working on old stories. It tends to be a ‘way in’ to writing something new.
Apart from ‘don’t do it,’ what advice would you give to a beginner writer?
Read as much as you possibly can! Anything and everything from short stories to books on writing to all genres like crime and historical. Read flash fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, magazines etc. Watching all sorts of things on TV helps, too. Our imagination and creativity feeds on all this stuff. There’s a hell of a lot in our sub-conscious to tap into when the time comes to write and we need to keep feeding that sub-conscious on a daily diet of real life experiences, communing with nature and absorbing others’ creative output.
Thanks Jo for answering my questions. White Sand Cocoon is available to buy here