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

Friday, 11 December 2009


I've had a preliminary browse through some Take A Break short stories from the main weekly magazine and not their Fiction Feast specials and here are my findings.

I looked at 14 stories.

All titles were phrases out of the main text of the story and were 3-4 words long.

All titles ended in an exclamation mark! But 3 were questions.

Examples of story titles: "Yes, I'm over 21!" "Leave My Husband Alone." " It's so sneaky." "Do you like it?"

Average length of story they published was 800 words long - so aim your stories this length as they seem the most popular.

I looked at setting and the majority (8/14) took place in someones home or garden. Offices, supermarkets and hotels were popular too.

The age of the main characters surprised me as the vast majority were in their 30s and 40s. I always thought that Take A Break was aimed at the 20's and 30's but now I'm not so sure.

Only one story took the viewpoint of a man; the rest were from a woman's point of view - either having difficulties with their male bosses boyfriends/husbands/partners, or sons!! LOL! ;0)

All stories were in the third person - no first.

Three of the stories started with dialogue, the rest a statement or action.

All stories favoured lots of dialogue to move the story along.

Most stories offered a twist in the tale or a surprise ending.

Most characters are female.

Occupations: mothers, retired, secretaries, waitress/hotel workers, checkout girl, bin men, house sitter, holiday makers.

General story ideas:

Inability to keep the house tidy and ashamed when visitors come.

Mum worrying about how to tell her seven year old daughter that she'd going to have a brother or sister.

Whether to open a letter containing DNA paternity results.

Holiday boredom - going to the same place year after year and female character deciding to ditch her boring boyfriend.

Office girls talking and one in particular claims she has always had worse illnesses and experiences than anyone else.

Mother trying to get her grown up son to move out.

Old school acquaintances meet at the hotel one of them is working in and the other is staying as a guest and is being snobby - I'm better than you.

Unreasonable supermarket manager and put upon checkout woman.

Two women trying to get one upmanship on the other and fighting for the romantic attentions of the bin man.

House sitter getting mistaken for the home owner's wife and being accused of having an affair by a neighbour's wife.

Couple with the dilemma of not wanting their elderly parents to move in with them.

Mother sad that her son is moving out to go to uni.

Bloke having a midlife crisis and acting like he is God's gifts to women.

In all of the stories where a character is making the main character's life difficult they are resolved where the annoying character gets their comeuppance!
A lot of the stories were humorous, but there were some dealing with difficult themes like is the main character's father his real father.

The language in all the stories is simple and straight forward and move along at quite a pace (they have to with only 800 words to pan the story out.)There is a good mix of sentence lengths and the stories are tightly written and to the point. No words are wasted and every word used earns it place by being active and bringing the story alive.


Rosemary Hayes (Got two stories in sample batch)
Elizabeth Dale
Cathy Sibley
Anita Haynes
Sarah England
Elaine Westley
Teresa Ashby (Wooh Hooh!) Got two in my batch of story samples!
Marilyn Fountain (Got two in sample batch)
Fergus McBride
Karen Clarke
Grace Farrant

Looking at the whole magazine, it's very colourful and loud with lots of true life stories and shocking stories of abuse, disease, unfortunate accidents, sensationalism. Think Jeremy Kyle show type incidents and you won't be far off the mark. But they also have quite moving real life stories of how readers dealt/are dealing with personal tragedy and illness like cancer. There have been a couple with poorly kids in. So stories tend to have a modern and 'young' feel about them that the reader doesn't have to work too hard to read - a bit of light relief from life's difficulties.

I've been reading take a break for years (mainly to do the competitions!) But I haven't won anything yet. But I have more recently been studying them hard from cover to cover as research for my stories. If you're going to aim for this publication I would suggest you buy a few issues and look at the adverts and tone of the whole magazine.

Next week I'll post my findings from my Fiction Feast research and possibly The Weekly News.

As I've said before, I've never actually had any stories accepted or published by Take A Break, (I got another rejection from them today, ouch) so this research won't guarantee success but it's a step closer to understanding what kind of fiction works in this magazine. I intend to use my findings to start writing and submitting to them again in the new year.

Have a think about what I've said above and I hope we can all get our stories into Take A Break next year - the challenge has been set!


Suzanne Jones said...

Julie, this information is gold dust. Thank you so much for sharing. This post is incredibly generous of you - especailly when you've obviously put in so much hard work.

I sold one of my very first stories to TAB - many, many years ago. Set in a supermarket (and published under a pseudonym - wish now I'd used my own name). Never managed to repeat that early success, but I have a soft spot for the magazine.

Like you, I've been trying all the comps for years with no luck. But, given a choice, I would prefer to sell them another story.

Thanks again for publishing your research.


Teresa Ashby said...

Blimey Julie, you've been working hard on that. Great research.
It won't be long before you're in there. And you're so right to look at the magazine as a whole and not just the fiction when doing your research x

Olivia Ryan said...

Julie, I am so impressed and feel so humble! Having promised to do similar research, along with you, what have I done so far? Absolutely nothing apart from buying TAB FF and reading a couple of stories ....

So thank you SO much for posting your really interesting results. I can already see, from this, some of the reasons I might be going wrong with TAB - although, to be honest, I aim most of my attempts at the Fiction Feast because I rarely write stories short enough for the main mag. (I knew they wanted stories under 1000 words and I'm not good at them).

I will continue to peruse the Fiction Feast but I'd better not make any more hasty promises about posting my research results (hangs head in shame)! Thanks again Julie and good luck with submitting lots more stories - and getting them accepted! x

Mitchell said...

Thanks a lot Julie. I bought the last issue (man with mid life crisis) and the fiction feast as research, although the latter is unlikely to help me with anything other than what they like as an Xmas story (which is no good to me for the time being).

I had an idea with a twist, female perspective, that I was going to write in the first person, but your research has changed my mind. Third person it will be. Thanks again.

I've actually tried to hunt down a copy of The Weekly News to research but can't find it stocked anywhere

David said...

Thanks for this Julie. This is fantastic research and really helpful. Although as you say it gives us no guarantees of getting a story through it may give us a helping hand. Well done!


Julie P said...

Thanks, Suzanne. I like to share whatever I find out so that I can help other writers too. I'm glad you find the post helpful. I hope we can both get a story or two in there next year - we're certainly going to try aren't we!

Julie xx

Julie P said...

Thanks, Teresa. And well done on your short story success - you truly are an inspiration to the rest of us.

I think looking at the whole magazine, adverts and all, is the only way to get a feel for the target audience, so I'd always advise people to read the whole mag and not just the story. Here's to a fantastic 2010!

Julie xx

Julie P said...

Hi, Olivia!

Don't worry about it! I just had a spare few hours and decided to make a start on the research. I enjoyed doing it and it pulled up some info even I hadn't realised before,so I'm glad I did it.

I think 2010 could be an exciting and successful year for all of us and any info that you and I dig up, I hope, will be of use to other writers as well as ourselves.

Julie xx

Julie P said...

Hi, Mitchell,

Glad that my post has helped - I'm hoping my research will help me too! I was amazed to see that none of the stories were in 1st person - they may well have them in further back than my research went into it, but it's an interesting point isn't it.

I have trouble getting the Weekly News too sometimes. I don't manage to get it every week but when I do it's usually the last copy on the stand! I'm looking forward to researching that one.

I wish you the very best of luck with your short stories too.

Julie xx

Julie P said...

Thanks, David,

I'm so pleased everyone has found my research helpful as that was my main aim - to give us all a bit of help to see if we can get our stories published next year.

All the best with your writing in 2010.

Julie xx

Doctor FTSE said...

Julie . . one tiny quibble! "Bloke imagining he's God's gift to women" isn't necessarily his mid-life crisis. V. often it's his life-long delusion!

Best wishes for your writing in 2010.

Julie P said...

Tee hee!! Dr FTSE!!

I'm saying nothing other than best wishes to you too for 2010!!!

Julie xx

Simon Whaley said...

Hi Julie

This is great stuff. I've sold 3 stories to Take a Break - 2 of them set in supermarkets. It's always the mundane places that readers can empathise with!

Keep up the good work!


Julie P said...

Ta, Simon - I tried my best to give as comprehensive findings as I could -every little helps (to quote a leading supermarket) after all!

There you are then, you're living proof that setting stories in everyday, ordinary places works!

Heres to a successful 2010! Can take a break cope?!!!

Julie xx

Anonymous said...

Hi Julie - really kind of you to share your research efforts with us all. I'm a recent returner to writing after a gap of fifteen years. I'm amazed at how people like yourself and some other writers are so sharing of their expertise and efforts. Well done!I'm not sure if you can respond to this query but if you can I'd very much appreciate it. I noticed you have had a story published in Australian that's life in June - Well done again! I too have had an acceptance for the September issue (Spring I think) I was over the moon but I really don't know when to expect payment. Did you recieve a contributors copy? How soon after publication did you recieve payment? Grat if you can respond but I understand if you can't. Many thanks. Kath