Moulders Lane

How Writers Get Published: The Lure of the Pen – Flora Klickmann (1917-18)

I’ve been looking through another volume of The Girl’s Own Annual and found a series of articles by the Editor, Flora Klickmann, entitled The Lure of the Pen or, how to get rid of all your Romantic claptrap about Being An Artist and write something that will actually Get Published. One of the things I really like about Klickmann’s writing is that so many of the points she makes are just as valid today; and the ideas and suggestions in this set of articles have been incredibly useful in boosting my own glacially paced efforts.

It’s statistically impossible that I’m the only person with my particular set of problems as a writer, so the idea that others out there will also find the articles helpful is probably a good one. With this in mind, I’m going to do a review of each article here with my thoughts on what I found particularly useful. (If you want to read the articles in full, they’re in book form at Project Gutenberg; the American edition from 1920.) And then maybe we’ll all start writing, rather than trying to write!

Klickmann’s first article is concerned with the problem of the would-be writer from the publisher’s perspective i.e. – where you are all going wrong. This was incredibly helpful and a good eye-opener, with Klickmann pulling no punches:

‘In the business of Making Literature … genius is rare. Nearly-genius is almost as rare. The only quality that presents itself in abundance is entirely untrained mediocrity.’

As Editor of a popular monthly magazine, Klickmann reads about nine thousand stories, articles and poems over the course of the year, not including those read by others of her staff. Of all these, it’s rare that more than than about six hundred form suitable material for the magazine: the market is there for the writers, in fact she’d like to buy double the amount she does; but the writers just aren’t producing what she needs.

Rejected manuscripts tend to fall into three categories:

the piece isn’t suited to the policy and requirements of the publishing house, or her magazine;

their subject matter has already been covered by the magazine;

and, the largest pile:

the piece has no marketable value.

The key problem, in this last, is the mindset of the would-be writer, that has to be overcome before any progression from un-marketable to marketable work can be achieved:

‘[domestic service is the only other vocation] where the candidates expect good pay at the very start without any sort of training, any experience, any specialised knowledge, or any idea of the simplest requirement of the business from which they hope to draw an income’

The examples she gives of practitioners in other areas puts her point into very clear perspective: we would find it laughable that an artist would submit a painting professionally, announcing that this is his/her first attempt at drawing; a musician expect to play at a concert when she has had no training; or a dressmaker expect large fees as, without the most basic knowledge, she feels convinced that she could make a dress. Yet Klickmann has experienced all these attitudes amongst would-be writers.

As she goes on to outline, the difficulty with literature is its subjectivity: ‘no matter how you much you try and pin it down, some new genius is sure to break out in a fresh place’. (This comment seems quite prescient, given the development of Modernism over the next ten years.)

Most novices in the above-mentioned fields will recognise and accept that there are specific techniques involved that can be taught and must be practised – what Klickmann calls the ‘mechanical’ processes that are invaluable in assisting the would be artist, musician or dressmaker along the right road towards the longed for goal.’ adding ‘True, such advice cannot make good a lack of real genius, yet it may help to develop nearly-genius, and that is not to be despised.’

Literature, however, is an ‘intangible’ medium – apart from ‘the bare laws that govern the construction of the language’ there are ‘no similar universal structures that will pass on the knowledge needed to write well’. This ‘inability to reduce writing to any set of specific rules’ means that one frequently encounters the amateur writer/poet who sees himself as an Artist, untrammelled by any such mundane considerations as his readers – a type that Wodehouse used to great effect in many of his stories.

Klickmann goes on to point out:

‘despite this prevailing idea that we all possess heaven-sent genius, which is ready to sprout and blossom straight away with no preparatory work .. some training is imperative; and if the would-be writer is to go far, the training must be rigorous and very comprehensive.’

This certainly struck a chord with me – for someone who detests the flights of high Romanticism I seem to have great difficulty in curbing my own irrational leanings in that direction and what I like, and find valuable, in these articles is the way they both highlight, and puncture, my own prejudices. I have always been extremely sniffy, in the past, about formal training for writers for the very ‘writer as Artist’ reason she cites but, after all, what could be more natural, practical or valuable? (Why am I so resistant to seeing prose writing as a craft, as I have no difficulty in seeing art or music, or even scriptwriting?)

What’s encouraging, though, is that that most of the faults in a writer’s work can be ‘remedied with study and practice’; so that, even though your story is nowhere near a work of genius, you will at least be able to produce something that editors will want to publish.

From Klickmann’s considerable experience, the main recurring faults that characterise unmarketable submissions are omissions –

a lack of:

any preliminary training;

specialised knowledge of the subject dealt with;

modernity of thought and diction;

the power to reduce thought to language;

cohesion and logical sequence of ideas;

ability to get the reader’s view-point;

new and original ideas and themes;

the instinct for selection;

a sense of proportion

and in later articles she’ll be showing the would-be author how to overcome these failings.

With all the writing courses, groups and ability to blog these days I’d be surprised if beginners still send their ‘early, crude efforts to editors’ any more; and the unguided or self-admiring ‘small literary coteries’ formed by ‘ardent amateurs’ – another Wodehouse favourite – are probably somewhat more focused these days.  But her comment ‘The craving for “self-expression” is one of the characteristics of this century’ is more true than ever a hundred years later, though the medium that now lures is not the pen but the mobile device.

Writing ‘In Character’

I find it very easy to write characters as a script writer: they seem to spring ‘fully-formed’ and it’s really just a matter of learning about someone that already exists and recording their doings. Prose characters, on the other hand, have to be laboriously created and the results are stiff and dull – I find it very difficult to find ‘a way in.’

This was my attempt to do so by writing ‘in character’ rather than describing a character from the outside. I’ve mentioned, before, an earlier period in my life when I spent time with someone very creative; and it was while re-reading an article by Flora Klickmann that I was reminded of a poem I’d written then.

Klickmann argued that most people wanted a magic wand waving when it came to realising long held dreams and weren’t prepared to pay the price that would actually make them happen. The lines I’d written: ‘The price that must be paid,/I’ve paid in full.’ (to which my source’s response on reading was: ‘Yeah, I bloody have, ‘n’ all’) came back to me and I dug out the poem.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Writing Update

New Year’s resolutions have a way of foundering on the rocks of personal temperament and unforeseen circumstance – generally the former – which is pretty much what happened to the projects I started up last year.  I had a couple of ideas that I thought would not only help me post more regularly but also kickstart me into Writing again, and this post is in the nature of an update for anyone who’s wondering what on earth happened.

The first of these projects was based around something I find interesting and thought you might too.  I have several volumes of The Girl’s Own Annual and, reading about the things that concerned and entertained women a century ago, in 1916, I thought I’d do a little synopsis of the relevant issue each month and add scans of articles on things like the changing fashions – and particularly those on women’s involvement in the Great War.  It seemed to me that, with all the media coverage of Important Battles, it was just as important that women’s battles to keep the country’s homes and industries afloat be flagged up too – and this was to be my small contribution towards highlighting them. Read the rest of this entry »

A Partial Book Review: Middlebrow Wodehouse: P. G. Wodehouse’s Work in Context ed. Professor Ann Rea (2016)

Rather like looking for a word in Chambers, running a Google search means you never know what odd thing you’re going to discover. The latest piece of flotsam to strike my bemused gaze is a new book on Wodehouse: Middlebrow Wodehouse: P. G. Wodehouse’s Work in Context published in January of this year and written by a gaggle of American and British academics. Having read through some of the sections previewed online, I’m rather intrigued to know if anyone’s read it and, if so, what they think?

Although claiming to be examining Wodehouse ‘in context’ it seemed to me that the writers knew pretty little about that context: Read the rest of this entry »

Something for the Tea-break

When trying to find a word last week to describe the delightful medley of Wodehouse reviews I’d discovered at The Aroma of Books, ‘gallumifray’ occurred to me. Unsure if I’d made this up or not, and unable to find it in Chambers, I ran a Google search and stumbled upon this endearingly bonkers site.

Devoted to the celebration and importance of Biscuits in daily life – did you know a survey had found that the varieties of biscuits on offer at business meetings can affect how the meeting goes?? or how many biscuits etiquette requires you to take, when offered with your cup of tea? Read the rest of this entry »

A Wodehouse Gallumifray

Following a link at Honoria’s site, I found this selection of Wodehouse book reviews from The Aroma of Books with some well-chosen quotes that had me screeching aloud in sudden laughter, proving, once more, that there really is no other like him.

I think we should be campaigning for a sticker on any future editions: WARNING ! Reading this book in public can lead to Severe Embarrassment.

Thank goodness only the Aged P. was around to hear me sounding like a macaw that had just had its toe trodden on …

Food, Glorious Food

I have been laid low with a flu-y cold for over a week now with a corresponding lack of interest in life, or even food, but earlier tonight started to wonder what you were all up to.

Wandering round in a desultory manner I found the intriguingly named The Hungry Mouse tucked away on someone’s blogroll and discovered a truly amazing site that made me realize I was starving, in seconds.

There doesn’t seem to be a way of re-blogging any of the posts so you’re going to have to rely on an illness-hampered description but I urge you to go over there and look round.

It’s basically a ton of recipes for gorgeous American food that explains everything with great clarity and, here’s the nub, has fantastic close up photographs of each step by step so you cannot possibly go wrong. It knocks Jamie Oliver into a cocked hat and I’m so hungry after looking through just a few of them, I’m off to review our store cupboards to see if I can make any of the dishes in the photographs.


Profanity and publishing

A piece on the writing standards that seem to characterize our current era from one of blogosphere’s ‘trio of Wodehouse fame’ (Ashok, Honoria, Noel, in case you didn’t know).

He’s sound on trains too.

The Traveller

Let’s talk about swearing in journalism. Once upon a time, there was none, at least not commonplace as it is now. For a swear word to reach print or, heaven forbid, the airwaves, it took long, anguished philosophical debate or monumental carelessness in the editorial process.

I remember as a cadet on the Courier-Mail in Brisbane a rolling argument through high levels and low about publishing a review of a small play called Norm and Ahmed by Alex Buzo, which included its controversial punchline. The play was one of Ozlit’s first forays that I can remember into the fraught topic of race relations. Its dramatic height came with either Norm or Ahmed (it hardly matters which) advising the other to go fornicate, in the Big Word that was considered most shocking in the 1960s.

Maybe we published the review with the word in and maybe we didn’t. I don’t remember. The point here…

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A Wodehouse Conundrum

Sticking my head round the door one evening to wish the Aged P. ‘Goodnight’ before retiring, I found her watching an episode of the rather splendid BBC Jeeves and Wooster series, starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. To my increasing puzzlement I found it was an episode I’d never seen before, despite having the three series DVD box set which proclaims on its cover: ‘The Complete Jeeves and Wooster’.

Casting my mind back to when the series first came on television in the late Eighties/early Nineties, the first two of which I video-taped, leaping like a startled gazelle towards the ‘Pause’ button at intervals in an attempt to cut out the adverts, I seem to remember other differences too. The opening scenes of the very first television episode were much shorter than the box set, easily explained as putting back deleted footage, but there was an episode in the second series which hinged on the acquisition of a water spaniel, which isn’t on the box set; and neither is the episode of the Choir Boys’ Steeplechase which the Aged P. was watching.

Google can’t throw any light on the subject so I’m turning to the international world of Wodehouse.

– Why do the series’ shown on television differ from those available on the DVD box set?

– How many episodes are missing from the box set?

– How do I get hold of the missing episodes?

and, most importantly,

– Why are us Wodehouse fans being short changed in this way ??

Annoyed of Brinkley Court


Looking after One’s Wardrobe in January (1916) – Norma May Hanshew

This is a scan of a fascinating article in the January issue of the Girl’s Own Paper and Women’s Magazine for 1916 that describes how the woman of moderate means met the fashion demands of the time.

A synopsis of the full issue with scans of some of the other articles can be found here. Read the rest of this entry »