Julie's Quest

Hello, and welcome to my blog. My blog is about the trials and tribulations of writing, where we celebrate successes and commiserate our near misses. We tell it like it is here and will do our very best to help you on the road to being published and pick you up after the rejections (they will come!) Whether you are a professional or amateur writer you will find something useful here.

I hope you enjoy reading my posts and will visit again soon.

Happy Writing

Julie Phillips - freelance writer - member of the Association of Freelance Writers - member of the Society of Authors

Monday, 30 November 2009

Christmas Stories

As promised, here are the starts of five of the Xmas stories I wrote last year and sent out this June/July. As you know none of the eight I sent out got accepted, but it's given me something to work on for next year. Yes, I will be trying again - you need to persevere in this game. So if you didn't get any accepted this time, commiserations but you know what one of your new year resolutions will be in January, don't you!

I've included the title and which mag I sent them too (if I can remember! I'm too lazy to look it up on my spreadsheet.)
Have a read and tell me what you think, honestly now - I can take criticism, as long as it's constructive. All the work is copyrighted, and I know that goes without saying, but some people on the net sometimes need reminding of this! Not anyone who regularly follows my blog, I hasten to add!

SECRET SANTA (Take a break)

'Please don't let it be me. Please don't let it be me. Please don't let it be me,' Sandra muttered under her breath. It had been her last year and she was not about to let anyone make her do it again.
She'd tried the usual delaying tactics by insisting that everyone went before her, but it didn't wash with them because they didn't want it to be them either. She plunged her hand into the red velvet bag and rummaged around with her fingers to see if she could feel what was written on the pieces of paper in the bag. She closed her eyes and poked her tongue out from between her lips, her brow furrowed in concentration, She grasped a piece of paper. Every fibre in her body was tingling, signalling that yes, this was the one. She pulled it out and held it aloft triumphantly in her hands. This year it was some other loser's turn to get him.

A CHRISTMAS WISH (Woman's Weekly (I think!)

I'm standing here in the candlelight, staring at someone I don't recognise. I see a reflection in the mirror; her eyes are hollow, underlined by black shadows; her face gaunt as though she could do with a good meal. Her head is shining in the flickering light as I try to imagine her before it happened.
I try to remember her as a child, running down the stairs, her eyes wide with excitement, yelling that Santa had been. She clutches her new doll. It has golden curls tumbling down its shoulders, just like hers. Or as a surly teenager hair cropped close to her scalp - shaved almost; ears pierced in rebellion. Or as a bride, the blonde curls returned, this time tied up with a red ribbon. She's a beautiful princess in white, floating around the dance floor in the safe arms of her prince. Brilliant white snow flakes fall from the sky as she tilts her head upwards to feel the snow on her face as she throws her bouquet of red roses and white lilies over her head, ready for the next lucky bride-to-be to catch.
I look back into the mirror and she is gone. I hold my head in my hands ; I cannot bear to look at myself any longer.


Dear Santa

My name is Holly and I have definitely been a very good girl this year - well, mostly I have. There's so much that I'd like for Christmas that I don't really know where to start. I know that you are a very busy man so I have cut my list down quite a lot. I'm not sure that you'll be able to get me everything that I want - not even a man with your huge magical powers and experience could do it, but I know you'll try your best.
So here goes. I would firstly like it if Tom and Kelly would stop fighting. All they do is scream and shout at each other and then one of them stomps off, slamming the door behind them. I'm surprised the door is still on its hinges. Last week Tom took all of his DVDs away and they haven't been speaking since. It's not a good example to set is it?


'I'm sorry Jack,' Gran said, as I pressed my face against the cold, damp glass of the frosted window pane. 'It's the wrong kind of snow. It's never going to stick.'
But I didn't believe her. There was only one kind of snow as far as I was concerned; the kind you could build snowmen with, make snowballs, and whizz down hills on a sledge in.
My mittens were warming on the Aga in the kitchen of the old farmhouse and my shiny red wellies were standing in anticipation by the back door. Warm crumpets dripping with butter were piled high on a plate and a steaming mug of hot chocolate, my favourite, was waiting for me on the pine table.
'Do you want strawberry jam on your crumpets?' Becky asks me, bringing me back put of my daydream at Gran's house.


'Hey! Watch where you're going will you?' I scowl at the lady carrying her own weight in shopping bags as she jabs me in the shin with the needle sharp edge of one of her bags. She just ignores me and carries on barging her way through the crowd causing mayhem.
'Do you not see me?' I scream after her, standing with my hands on my hips and giving her one of my looks that says 'do not mess with me, woman.'
She stops dead in her tracks, slowly turns around and drops her bags to the floor.
The heat rises in my cheeks as she stamps towards me, pushing a well manicured long finger into my face as the crowds continue to bounce around us.
'It's Christmas you silly cow. Bulldoze or be bulldozed,' she snorts, returning to her bags and snatching them up, disappearing into the throngs.
'And a merry Christmas to you! I shout, my words lost in the buzz of the crowds.

When I was adding these to my post, I was shocked and ashamed to notice some typos and spelling mistakes - and these are on manuscripts I'd edited, proofread and sent out to editors! Whooops! May this be a lesson to you too - read, read, get someone else to read it and then send it!

I just put these examples up for people to see the variety of stories I wrote and to see what people think, really. I am going to be reading through them over December and revamping them to send out to other mags next year as well as thinking up new ideas!

Take care and happy Xmas writing

Julie xx


Olivia Ryan said...

Julie, I thought these were all really good ideas, good openings, and all left me very intrigued to know how the stories continued - so they definitely worked for me. I particularly liked the Secret Santa idea, and would love to know who the individual is, that nobody wants to have to buy a present for, and what happens!
Sigh - it just makes you realise, doesn't it, how very many good stories the mags must receive every Christmas - if yours were rejected, and several other people have said theirs were, too. It's a particularly tricky market as they're only needed for one week of the year. But from your sample openings, I'd say you should definitely try again next year. xx

Julie P said...

Thanks, Olivia

That's really encouraging and I will look at them again ready for next year. There's only 6-7 months to go before we need to send them out to the mags in June/July and that time will soon go.

I think the Xmas market is incredibly competitive as are all the 'special occasion' short story times like Easter, Valentines day etc, anything seasonal really.

I think the trouble with the examples I've given is that I tend to peter out half way through and the story loses its effect! I'm going to work on that and the shocking spelling and grammar mistakes I thought I'd edited out!! I know I'm a much better writer than I was 12 months ago so I know I can improve them for next year - at least I have some to work on and time to do it, so fingers crossed for next year!

Julie xx

Teresa Ashby said...

I agree with Olivia - and I found the Secret Santa one really intriguing too.

And don't be too hard on yourself about finding mistakes. I think that happens to most of us when we re-read something we wrote a while ago.

I thought the beginnings of The Wrong Kind of Snow and Holly's Letter sounded People's Friendish (as long as no one gets murdered or divorced later on!)

Good luck with them next year, Julie - as Olivia said, you should definitely try again.

Julie P said...

Thanks, Teresa!

I hope I manage to find all my typos and get rid of them this time!

I'm determined to take a fresh look at them soon and re-edit them to send out next year. No, no-one gets murdered or divorced! I don't think I sent any to People's Friend this year but I shall try them next year.

Thanks for your encouraging comments.

Julie xx

Elizabeth McKay said...

Hi Julie, I agree with Olivia and Teresa. I thought the stories started off very well and I definitely wanted to read more. You say that you tend to peter out half way through. That's what used to happen to me, so now I don't allow myself to start writing a story until I know in my head how it's going to end. I know lots of writers prefer to start writing and see where the story goes but that doesn't seem to work for me. That's not to say that I don't sometimes find myself changing direction half way through and having a completely different ending. That's okay as long as I end up somewhere! It's like going out for a run in the country and realising if you take the second exit at the roundabout insead of the third you'll end up at the beach instead. All that matters is you've had a nice day out and haven't spent the whole day just going round and round the roundabout. I hope that makes sense! Looking forward to seeing some of these stories in mags next year!

KatW said...

You are incredibly and impressively orgainised and productive!

I wanted to know why the character in the Christmas Wish was so sad. And I really wanted to know who the secret santa was. All good ideas. Keep going with the amount of commitment you show you're bound to get known and accepted.

Julie P said...

Thanks, KatW

I go through phases of being more organised sometimes than others! My organisational skills are flagging at the moment, just after the madness of my first NaNo, but I will have a big sort out of all my writing stuff next week, ready for the coming year, so I start 2010 on the right foot.

I must get a grip on my short stories next year as 2009 has definitely been an article success!

Keep going!

Juile xx

Julie P said...

Thanks, Elizabeth.

I do appreciate all the comments so far, It's so hard when you flag in the middle and run out of steam. I think I will take your excellent advice and plot my stories more so I have a clear idea of what the story is about, instead of going in blind. I need to secure a beginning middle and end - character,problem, resolution - approach.

I have a feeling that I'm going to be doing more hard work over 2010 and I hope to get more short stories published. I know I can do it but it's just going take a bt more time. It's great to have the opportunity to learn from all the best women's mag writers in blogland though. So thankyou all for that.

Julie xx

Suzanne Jones said...

Julie, these are great openings. I'm with everyone else who wanted to keep reading.


Julie P said...

Hi, Suzanne, and thank you. I'm going to keep working on them over the next few months and try and improve them ready to send out for next year.

Julie xx

Simon Whaley said...

Hi Julie

I thought these were great openings - and you're certainly producing different style stories for the different mags.

It just shows you how many ideas there are out there, when you think that Christmas subject stories must be done to death - clearly they're not!

With Secret Santa though, I did wonder what the character would have done if she HAD pulled his name out of the hat! I think that could easily produce a different storyline - heck - why not write both! (When I talk about pulling the same person's name out of the hat two years running - I talk from experience!)

Good luck with them for next year!

Julie P said...

Thanks, Simon

I tried to get a bit of variety into the themes of the stories but as you say - a lot of the Christmas themes have been done to death!

I was disappointed nit to get any of them published but they're something to work on for next year.

The Secret Santa one was my favourite and I did consider two different senarios where she did pull the same name out and one where she didn't!

How are things in Cumbria now?
Julie xx

klahanie said...

Hi Julie,
My apologies for responding so late in the proceedings. I have been visiting folks in Durham and had little chance to get to this posting.
I would just like to echo the above comments.
They were indeed great openings. As we both know, if you can intrigue the reader from the outset, that is a most positive result.
Love your various examples of Christmas aka 'Boxing Day Eve'(sorry couldn't resist) themed stories.
Well done and much happy writing.
Christmas cheers, your way, Gary x

Julie P said...

Thanks. Gary and I hope you enjoyed your time in Durham. Happy boxing day eve to you too!! I love that term.

I'll be working on the Boxing day eve stories ready for next year.

Julie xx