I am absolutely thrilled to welcome the mysterious Hettie Barton to my blog. Hettie, under her other by-lines, is one of my favourite short story writers. Her new book, which is available on Kindle is called Short Story Secrets – Turning Words Into Money.
I’d already read Hettie’s Handy Hints For An Easier Life. I love how Hettie describes herself as “Hettie Barton Busybody”.
I fell in love with Hettie's forthright manner and her succinct easy to read format, so I guessed Short Story Secrets would also be a good read.
There are lots of how-to guides on the market, but Short Story Secrets is different. Hettie doesn’t tell you how to create characters or write dialogue, but she does tell you how to go about being a writer, from how to present your work to finding your way through the new contracts.
So without further ado, here’s Hettie!
I know that you are a successful writer with publishing credits in the hundreds – and I must admit to being a fan of your stories, so what made you decide to write a book about writing?
I love to read and I love to write – most of all I love to read about writing. So I thought it would be interesting to see if I could write a writing book of my own. I really enjoyed the experience and the words flew onto the screen. Which I suppose proves the old saying that you should write something you’d like to read.
It is very different from other writing books and quite unlike any I’ve read before. In fact it felt like having a chat with another writer about the business of writing. Did you see a gap in the market or is this the book you wish had been about when you started out?
I wish I could say I had identified a gap, but unfortunately I wasn’t thinking that clearly. But, yes, I do wish there had been something similar to this when I first started writing – if only to give me a bit of confidence that I was on the right track and that rejections are normal.
I remember being amazed when I found out other writers got rejections too. Why did you use a pseudonym?
Pseudonyms are brilliant – I have a few. Sometimes, I might use one because I’m writing a different style of story. For Short Story Secrets, though, I avoided using my own name so I could write what I wanted without feeling inhibited. I’ve tried to be as honest as possible in this book as there’s no point offering advice if you’re going to hold something back. If I’d been using my own name I would probably have toned it down a bit.
There is something liberating about using a pseudonym isn’t there. Do you have a favourite writing book yourself?
I have shelves and boxes full of writing books and I love most of them. For short stories, though, I’d have to say Della Galton’s How To Write And Sell Short Stories is a must for anyone writing for the womag market. I also have a spot dusted on my keepers’ shelf for the time you might write a writing book.
That’s a great book to recommend – and thank you for keeping a spot dusted for me. Do you write every day?
Oooh, I don’t. I know I should, but somehow I’ve never quite been able to manage it. Sometimes, as with this book, the words just write themselves – those times are a joy and I can’t wait to get back to the keyboard so I did write every day when I was working on this project. But then I’ll need a rest and I might not write much else for months.
Any writing mascots or charms?
Not as such, but I have to admit to a quiver of nerves when the post office changes the colour of stamps. Especially if they no longer match my envelopes and paperclips. I also like to post my stories from the same post boxes (I have three favourites) – because I’m sure that makes a huge difference to how the editor will judge my story. I always stick my hand into the box to make sure the envelope’s properly in. And I’d never leave a submission in a post box overnight – if the post’s gone I’ll hold on to the story until the next day. Though this last one is probably less superstition and more good sense as I’ve heard some horror stories about what can happen to post boxes and I know I’m not alone in worrying about this. It makes my life much easier when publications accept email submissions.
I had to laugh – the times I’ve almost got my hand stuck in a post box trying to push my envelope down! Which do you prefer writing, novellas or short stories?
I adore writing short stories. I only wish there was a bigger market for them. I love that I can write them fairly quickly (despite being a slow writer). I love that after acceptance they (mostly) get published quickly. And I love the whole experience of going to the newsagent and flicking through the pages of the magazine to see what the story looks like in print. And sometimes (most of the time) I’ll tell the newsagent and everyone who happens to be in the queue that I have a story published in that particular issue. Cool is not my middle name.
That is a lovely feeling isn’t it. And I think Cool could well be your middle name! What comes first for you, the characters or the plot?
This is a difficult one. Most of the time I’m not too sure where an idea has come from. Occasionally it will be something in real life that’s set it off – maybe an overheard conversation, or something that’s happened at work (with names changed to protect the guilty). So I think, in those cases, the idea for the character and the suggestion for the plot arrive together. The only time I’ve really been aware that character comes first is if someone has annoyed me – then I’ll write a story around them. There’s nothing better than getting revenge in print.
Revenge can be so sweet – plus you get paid! What for you is the best bit of being a writer?
Creating something from nothing. Knowing that when a reader picks up one of my stories, I have a direct link through to their mind (which sounds a bit sinister, but I only use this power for entertainment purposes). And actually being paid for it. I still can’t believe people actually pay me for my words.
Well I can. Your stories are lovely and I can relate to that special connection with the reader. And the worst part of being a writer?
The worrying. The waiting. And the email and postman stalking. And the silence from editors (which can be frequent and lengthy). Before I started writing I always thought I was quite patient. Turns out I’m not.
I think that is my worst part too. Has the success of Short Story Secrets taken you by surprise?
It has a bit. When I published it I didn’t really expect much to happen, but it sold a number of copies fairly quickly. It seems to have gone down quite well, too, which was also a surprise. Some readers have sent positive private messages and a few have posted welcome and very kind reviews, for which I’m very grateful. Sometimes people are so lovely.
The reviews are well deserved. So what next for Hettie?
Hettie’s thinking over lots of ideas.
The first is for a Christmas Book (though I’ve probably left it too late for this year). This will be another Handy Hints type book.
I’m also keen to do a book of angry rants – this will be a selfish book, full of some of the things that drive me barmy. I’m not sure it will appeal to many readers, but the older I get the more crotchety I become and I feel the need to tell the world, even if the world isn’t interested. I’ve a feeling having a pseudonym will be a good thing for this one.
Hopefully I’ll manage more writing books, too. Ever since I read Rachel Aaron’s book, 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love, I’ve been fascinated by how quickly some speedy souls produce stories. I’ve been toying with writing about it and maybe mentioning the techniques I’ve found useful. I have a title ready (borrowed – with permission – from a friend’s recent blog post) – now I just need to get the words done.
Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog today, Teresa. I’ve long been a fan and I’m so thrilled to have been able to visit you here.
Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. It’s been a pleasure having you and I’m delighted to know Hettie has more ideas in the pipeline. I particularly like the sound of the angry rants book. I do love an angry rant!