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A New Collection of Questions & Answers about recent publications

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR SUE COOK

Enza Vynn-Cara

Sue is a retired GP living high up in the windswept northwest of England with her husband, five ducks, and a tankful of shrimp. She writes short fiction for women’s magazines, and longer sweet romances with elements of crime, suspense, or peril.

 

 

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

 

Ooooh, starting with the easy questions! I’m not sure there was a definite point. I loved writing poems when I was at school. And when I started university, I wanted more user-friendly textbooks. I decided I could do better myself, and maybe would one day when I knew enough but, of course, I never did. So I guess the urge to write and be actually published grew steadily the older I got, but it’s probably only the last 10 years that I’ve taken it seriously.

Did you start as a short story writer and then transition to novel writer?

I think so, yes. I certainly started writing short stories, and on the first writing course I ever took was told that they all sounded like the start of something longer. I would have been daft not to try writing novels after being told that.

You often call yourself WOMAG writer. How would you define WOMAG genre/fiction?

WOMAG fiction refers to the WOmen’s MAGazine market. In the US, really, there’s only Woman’s World that would qualify. We are lucky in the UK in that we have more women’s magazines that accept short stories. But it’s a world that is all rather lovely really. The mysteries are cosy. Nothing nasty ever happens, or if it does, then the nastiness is given a shiny veneer and leads to something positive. Not so long ago, one of the magazines wouldn’t allow unmarried mothers or divorce, for example. I’m pleased to say that’s now changed.

Do you always address gender-specific themes when writing WOMAG short stories?

Not necessarily. But each magazine is different. The first story I sold was about overcoming loss, and the protagonist was a middle-aged man who had lost his only son. This is a universal theme. Other magazines only want female protagonists (and they have to be strong characters, no victims here, thank you very much). One thing is for sure – no stories dealing with ‘issues’. So you aren’t going to sell a story dealing with abusive relationships or child sexual abuse etc. However, I have recently sold a novella, which has infertility as a male problem. The important theme is not to harp on it and go too deep. In this case, it was the trigger for his change in lifestyle and formed the ‘lie’ of his character arc. He believed that the love interest would want children, so he should not get involved. This being womag-land, they eventually got to talk about this when his cute duck had even cuter ducklings.

When you write your short stories, do you style them specifically for WOMAG magazine?

Absolutely. Remember that first short story I sold? It was to The People’s Friend. For a month, the only thing I read was The People’s Friend. By immersing myself in the stories it publishes, I was able to capture what the editor wanted. I am now in a critique group of other WOMAG writers who know exactly what each magazine wants. They know these magazines inside out, and sometimes their feedback is not necessarily on plot or mistakes so much as style and tone for the market I’m aiming for. This is invaluable advice and crucial to making sales.

The best bit of advice I was ever given about writing to sell was by another WOMAG writer who said “we are in the entertainment business. If we don’t give the editors what their readers want, they won’t buy it.”

 

 

What advice do you have for aspiring writers interested in WOMAG genre? And for aspiring romance writers?

 

Read in your genre. Read lots. And network with other writers who are writing already published in or are targeting the same market. Writers with more experience of the genre will be some of your best sources of advice and help.

You have quite a few pocket novels published, Tara’s African Adventure, The Lady and the Steward, to name a few, and your latest, Murder at the Bakery. What specific event – if any —inspired each of these pocket novels?

Tara’s African Adventure came out of my first-ever safari holiday. It was only a few years ago, as I am a nervous traveller so Africa was off my radar. But my sister persuaded me to go, and I spent the first week in the bush absolutely terrified. It was an open car! No windows or doors! Anything could have jumped in there and eaten us for lunch. The tents were in the middle of the bush with no protection. I’m a pessimist and by the time I got home, I had a very long list of everything that could have gone wrong. Cue suspense novel…

The only other one I can say was specifically inspired by an event was Murder at the Bakery, the bakery being in fact a pie factory. I worked in one of these for a holiday job in my teens and have fond memories of it. So, on my first ever writing course, when I was asked to write a scene based on somewhere I have worked, the pie factory was an obvious choice. And I always wanted to take it further.

Do you use an editor for all your writing? At what stage in your novel writing do you consider hiring a professional editor?

I don’t use an editor for the pocket novels prior to submitting them to the magazine editor. I may run them past my WOMAG critique group, especially if I’m having difficulties with the plot or some other feature. These pocket novels are more like very long short stories than novels and they undergo relatively little editing – all done by the magazine – and are only on the shelves for two weeks. However, before self-publishing, which I am now doing with all these titles, I send them to a professional editor, which costs roughly what I get paid by My Weekly or The People’s Friend.

In your blog, you say you love writing crime fiction. When will we be seeing a Sue Cook novel in this genre? A cosy mystery?

A good question. Murder at the Bakery was in fact a cosy crime, although it’s got a romance added in because pocket novels need a romance. Initially, it was my aim to write pure crime, and writing pocket novels were meant to be a stepping stone to that, as it’s great practice for structuring a novella and selling it to the target market. However, I like writing pocket novels, and I’m not sure now that I’m tempted by all the rigmarole of finding an agent, then re-editing, then finding a publisher, and then editing again and so on. It sounds like terribly hard work for someone who technically is retired.

 

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