Tidbits - the written word

An Audience with Grace

The first time I had a short story published I was ecstatic.

It didn’t pay a fortune but the real pleasure came from seeing my story appear in print with a glorious illustration to boot.

I wrote several short stories in the mid to late nineties for ‘My Weekly,’ – a long-established, women’s magazine that is still going strong today. Each time I had a story published, I felt that frisson of excitement that any writer gets from seeing one’s words in print.

I was delighted to find myself in the company of such celebrated writers as Catherine Cookson and always pleased to note that I was placed next to her in the contents list. If nothing else, my claim to fame could always be that I was published alongside Catherine Cookson. Having a surname beginning with ‘B’ meant that, alphabetically, our paths were bound to cross.

Most stories were bought as presented and very few changes made. There were the usual in-house edits to make them fit the page at times and the kind editor would add or remove an erroneous comma or typo. However, there were a couple of times when manuscripts were returned to me with requests for more major changes.

On one occasion, I was advised by my editor, Gladys, that a certain story might offend some readers. It was about a dog who had managed to eat a visitor’s dress ring. The description of how the ring had to be retrieved, in secret, need not appear here but you don’t need to be Einstein to guess how I might have told that scene. So, I had to have the dog bury the ring, still in its box, in a flowerbed instead. A much cleaner and far more tasteful scenario that would be more to the taste of my readers it seems.

In another tale, the main character was an elderly widow who was moving house. The story centred on the memories that surfaced as she said goodbye to her home for the last time and in doing so, revealed the answer to a puzzle that had had people guessing for years. 

The character’s status might make my readers sad, I was told, so I must change it. The change meant that we now believed the husband to be either dead or missing throughout the entire story but were then delighted to find him waiting in the car. Did resurrecting him make a difference to the story? It changed it a little but it was a compromise I was happy to make. The story was published.

Perhaps Catherine Cookson had to compromise at times too?

I continued to write short stories in between working on my novels and producing a couple of monthly columns which inspired the blog I write today. ‘My Weekly’ published several more of my stories and I often wondered if my readers liked them or indeed, had any opinions about them at all.

Who were my readers? The magazine seemed to have a large circulation and a broad readership of women of all ages according to its guidelines. I knew my mother read it and of course she loved the fact that I was frequently featured. She still has those magazines in which my stories appeared, I believe. On the whole, I was writing for a group of unknowns – for women over the age of 50 perhaps but for no one in particular. Essentially, they were anonymous.  

One good thing about writing for magazines is that you can buy as many as you want and read as many you want and put it all down to ‘research’. In fact, it is a necessity.

Bent on carrying out some of this ‘research’ I was browsing the newsagent’s shelves one morning when I was joined by an elderly lady. White hair freshly permed, ruby framed glasses perched on the tip of her nose, the woman smiled in a triumphant fashion and plucked a magazine from the shelf to my right. The magazine she had picked was, ‘My Weekly’. I smiled to myself. I knew I had a story in that copy. The elderly lady walked over to the counter to pay and beamed at the assistant.

“I do look forward to my magazine each week,” she confided. The assistant smiled.

“Good is it, Grace?”

Grace nodded as she handed over her change,

“I love reading all the stories, I read them over and over again,” she admitted, “they brighten my day.”

I smiled and picked up my own magazine – I don’t recall what it was. I was just so pleased to have ‘met’ one of my readers and to have heard her say how much she liked the stories in the magazine. Chances are she liked mine as much as any. So, this was who was reading them. This was who I was writing for.

From that moment I had my target audience in mind. I wrote for Grace.

My editor never asked me to change the contents of a story again.

Knowing one’s target market is essential of course and although I will not always be able to meet my readers, I remember and am eternally grateful for my unexpected,

‘Audience with Grace’.

P.S. My Weekly underwent a revamp in 2006, targeting a younger audience. I like to think that Grace has continued to enjoy her magazine just as much.

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow www.theglowstudio.com.


  • Patricia

    This is a lovely story to read on a wet and rainy Friday – Thank you. Your site has made some changes and for some reason they caught me off guard

    Life is pretty in pink!

    It is nice to know one’s target audience and I should think it would create a focus – so a graceful experience to meet Grace.

    I always like coming here and reading your stories….look forward to your novels and other pieces of work to come. Count me as another audience member 🙂

  • Patricia

    I like it!
    I think I am a bit jealous with all the published folks I keep reading – and I am not getting my foot in the door anywhere or being discovered…and I am sure that IT Girl will not help me change my blog design until late July if then – and she has not had time to put the 41 books I have reviewed on the recommended reading list and I can not pay for any changes right now -aargh I am a bit frustrated with myself and the view from my blog which will be 4 on May 1

    I am reviewing a wonderful book on Monday the 18th…just ready to start editing that post….
    ….then again Vered at Momgrind does not change her blog at all and it is a winner for her and her writing career.

    • Deborah Barker

      They do say a change is as agood as a rest but then again, there is no shame in staying the same and as you say, it can work well. I happen to like your blog just as it is – love the ladybird! 🙂

  • Hilary

    Hi Deborah .. that sets the tone for your writing doesn’t it … good for Grace!

    The site is lovely and clear now .. simple to read .. Have a good weekend .. Hilary

  • Katie Gates

    Great post, Debbie. I love it that you met your audience and then wrote for her. I had to smile, too, at the alphabet’s giving you proximity to Catherine Cookson. When my novel was nominated, a few years ago, for the Library of Virginia Literary Award, I got a kick out of seeing the list. There I was, just ahead of John Grisham!

  • cj Schlottman


    Like Deb, I think I know you better after reading this post. What a treat it must have been to meet one of your readers . I don’t always comment, but I read you often and look forward to your posts. Thanks for the good stuff you keep putting out there.


  • Teresa

    Lovely post. It helps such a lot to have your reader in mind when writing for the magazines, even better when you have seen her as you did with Grace and to know just who you are writing for 🙂

  • Anne Galivan

    Hmmm…I doubt that Grace likes her magazine as much…especially if “targeting a younger audience” means throwing in the usual fare you see today with questionable morals and ethics – all for the sake of love of course.

    As someone who more closely fits that original target audience, I’m guessing that the magazine was not what Grace had looked forward to all those years, and too bad for that. But maybe the magazine hired some pollster to find where they could make more money? I can pretty much guarantee you that’s what happened.

    Fortunately, there are still plenty of great books out there…my preference is crime thrillers. Can’t wait for my “summer” to officially start so I can plunge into the pile of books I’ve been saving for months. I’ve been too busy with my family and the college history class I’ve been taking. Need to get to work on my final exam now…

    Popped over here from SITS.

    • Deborah Barker

      Hi Anne, you could be right. As for books, I too have a hoard I look forward to reading whilst on holiday some time in the future. My happiest ‘reading’ memories come from sitting in a caravan, reading a book while the family swam, played football or generally had fun. Happy days!

  • PatriciaD

    I loved your story…so glad to have found you, Deborah. I am visiting from SITSgirls for the weekend “thing”. One day, I’d love to be published, too and maybe I’ll be listed close to someone famous, too. What a hoot that would be. Right now I work on my photography, write my Photoshop lessons (and throw in a few photography lessons, too) but am taking a trip to Alaska shortly. On my trip I plan to write and photograph all the fun stuff to see and do and maybe get that story published.
    I’d love to have you come visit…digitalscrapbooklessons.com

    • Deborah Barker

      Hi Patricia! Thanks for coming by – I will be visiting your site very soon. SITS is certainly bringing me some great new visitors. I am glad I joined. You sound very busy – A trip to Alaska sounds wonderful – I do hope you get the story published! 🙂

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