Saturday, 1 April 2017

Pocket Novels
My guest on the blog this week is Sandra Mackness who writes as Jill Barry. She’ll be talking about her passion for pocket novels. She's the author of eight romantic fiction novels, a writer of erotic fiction (Toni Sands - Xcite Books) and has written one psychological suspense novel.

Welcome to the blog again, Sandra. I know you’ve just published your seventh pocket novel for The People’s Friend. Have you also written them for My Weekly? I believe they are both D C Thomson magazines.
It’s a pleasure to talk to you and your readers again, Jan. Yes, my latest pocket novel, Mallorcan Magic, brought some sunshine to the bookshelves earlier this year. I’ll say more about My Weekly below and, could I say, please, back copies of all D C Thomson pocket novels are available by ringing FREEPHONE 0800 318 846

Can you tell the readers what a pocket novel is?
A pocket novel is a complete work of fiction, contemporary or historical and, as the name suggests, is the perfect fit for pocket or handbag. Titles change fortnightly, on a Thursday.

I remember you saying you attended a workshop on pocket novels by Sally Quilford. Is that when you started writing them?
I had one rejection before attending Sally’s excellent online course. (This book was revised and published as Love on the Menu by Endeavour Press). As part of this course, I began planning and writing a pocket novel and learnt a lot both from Sally and from my fellow-students. I’m still in touch with writers I met online.

Do you write them alongside your full-length novels?
Sometimes, yes, I’ll set up a new document where I jot down ideas for the next book, maybe write a scene while it’s fresh in my mind. Meanwhile, I can be fine-tuning another work ready to submit. I’m currently hoping to find a publisher for a new novel called Love Thirty while writing a new pocket novel for The People’s Friend.

How would you sum up the differences between your pocket novels and your full- length novels apart from the obvious one about length?
Good question! With the longer version, I think it’s possible to introduce more characters. An author can also afford to give more oomph to a minor character, provided he/she is integral to the plot. I’m not talking about padding in order to increase the word count but I once successfully introduced an extra character when asked to produce a further twenty thousand words. It sounds daunting? Yes, but it got me out of a hole!

Are there any ‘ingredients’ that are essential for a pocket novel?
There are indeed. As in a longer novel, you need strong characters that the reader will identify with. Emotion is particularly important in a romance or family saga and a little humour always goes down well. Dialogue should still push the plot along and reveal character aspects. It’s also important for the author to keep the readership in mind, when hoping to impress the experienced team who’ll be reading the submission.

Does the reader get to know the hero’s point of view as well as that of the heroine?
I think it’s important that the hero gets his say, especially when the other half of the couple is seeing things differently from him, thereby adding to the conflict. It’s good writing practice to begin another scene or chapter when switching to a different viewpoint. But another author might prefer to stay with a single point of view.

Are there any subjects that are taboo when writing pocket novels?
Thanks for raising this, Jan. A pocket novel is aimed at readers for whom family and traditional values are important. So, sordid or offensive subjects should be avoided. This doesn’t mean all sweetness and light and flawless characters! Disappointed dreams in different forms can happen and send a character or family in a different direction to rediscover happiness or success. Thrills and spills, particularly when writing for My Weekly, are a definite plus, but readers enjoy being surprised, delighted and intrigued rather than horrified and saddened.

Is there always a happy ending?
The Happy Ever After, or the promise of one, is a given!

Is there a difference between the pocket novels of The People’s Friend and those of My Weekly? If so, can you tell us what that is?
The links included below will give you the criteria for both. My Weekly pocket novels require a word count of 50,000 while The People’s Friend request a maximum 38,00 words, this difference due to the larger print size of their publication.

Where are readers able to buy the pocket novels?
UK Supermarkets stock them, also W H Smith, but an independent newsagent should be able to order in advance. To take out a subscription, you can contact the FREEPHONE number above.

Are there Kindle and eBook versions of pocket novels?
Readers might find these websites helpful if they wish to download titles to their devices.

Where do you get your ideas?
My career history is pretty varied so four of my stories are (loosely) based on my own experiences and I always ensure my fictional characters are multi-faceted and not carbon copies of people I’ve met over the years! When I wanted to try my hand at ‘cosy crime,’ my other half came up with the concept of pedigree dog theft in a chocolate box village so the result was Puppy Love, a longer, large print version of which is also available in the public library system. Sometimes I draw on holidays to give a sense of place. My latest (awaiting a response from My Weekly) was inspired by my trip to Australia last November, when I attended my son’s wedding. So, prepare for sunshine, kangaroos and more than one gorgeous Aussie male if I receive the editor’s thumbs up! Somebody I meet might trigger an idea because I usually write character led stories. So, perhaps a woman performing a role we might generally perceive as a male one, is perfect for contemporary fiction. The changing role of women from WWI onwards can inspire some interesting historical stories and there’s something comforting about writing in a former era where mobile phones and computers were mere glints in the eyes of inventors yet to be born!

On average, how long would it take you to write a pocket novel?
I’d say three to four months but, if I could concentrate solely on that work in progress, I could probably complete a first draft in four to six weeks. Fortunately, unless writing to meet a deadline, I can choose my own hours but I like to include visits to the cinema as well as meeting other authors and looking round museums, galleries, etc. You could also say Andy Murray is responsible for interruptions to my writing time over the tennis year…

What advice would you give someone about to embark on writing his/her first pocket novel?
It’s important to read what other authors have written so do get hold of more than one pocket novel. The People’s Friend or My Weekly? Decide where your strength lies. Are you more of a saga writer, enjoying family-based dramas? Or do you identify with thrills and spills, twists and turns? A developing romance, of course, is always popular though do, please, respect the individual criteria so you don’t cause an editor to blush! Anything too graphic is strictly taboo.

Please tell us about your current WiP. Is it a pocket novel?
It is. Revising my latest full-length novel has taken my time lately and I also have an idea for a series set in a former era but this latest Pocket Novel is aimed at The People’s Friend. All I can say is, tracks and tickets will be involved on this rocky ride to true love.

Are the submission guidelines for both magazines available on the relevant websites?
Links for both The People’s Friend and My Weekly guidelines are included below.
My Weekly
The People’s Friend

Thank you so much for taking time to come on the blog again, Sandra. It's been fascinating finding out about pocket novels from you. Good luck with your current WiP. I do hope your editor approves and readers will find it on the shelves very soon.
I've enjoyed it, Jan. Thank you.

Thank you for reading my blog. Do you read or write pocket novels? I'd love it if you left a comment about what it is that appeals to you. Thanks! :-)

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.


  1. What a lovely interview - and so interesting. I didn't really know anything about pocket novels before reading this. It is obviously a specific market and that means the writers have to have real empathy with the readership. I agree with Sandra's comments about writing from different viewpoints. This can add depth to both plot and characterisation, as well as cranking up the tension if necessary. Thanks, Jan and Sandra, for this post. Really enjoyed it.

    1. Thank you, Sue. Sandra's answers are so full I'm sure anyone thinking of writing a pocket novel will find the information very helpful. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. πŸ™‚

    2. Jan came up with some excellent questions, Sue. I'm delighted you found the Q and A session interesting.

  2. Lovely to hear your thoughts on our writing world, Sandra, and pocket novels in particular. Sadly here in country Australia I can no longer buy them. I've enjoyed writing pocket novels in the past but now concentrate on Australian rural and outback fiction instead. Look forward to catching up with you Sandra when you return to Australia.

    1. Great to hear from you, Noelene, and I wish you well with your writing. Thank you so much for taking the time to drop by.

    2. Thank you for your comments, Noelene. With your experience as a pocket novelist, I'm sure Sandra's answers struck a chord with you. I'm sorry to hear that you can no longer buy pocket novels in Australia.

  3. Interesting post especially as a fellow pocket novel writer! As you say knowing your audience is crucial. I did notice you mention 38,000 words as the maximum for PF but in the guidelines it actually says up to 42,000 and I know mine usually come in somewhere between 40,000 and 42,000.
    Angela Britnell

    1. Thank you for popping by and commenting, Angela. The audience will vary depending on which publication you're writing for so it's essential to do your homework, I'm sure.

    2. Hi Angela. Thanks for picking up on this. Yes, I was a bit taken aback but I checked with Tracey and she confirmed 38,000 because of the larger print. I have a feeling my last PN was edited as I'd submitted K42 on that occasion.

  4. A very interesting post, Sandra. You've created a great blueprint for taking up the challenge of writing a pocket novel. Thanks!

    1. I'm so pleased you found Sandra's answers interesting, Christina. I look forward to seeing a pocket novel title from you on the shelves some time soon. πŸ™‚ Thank you for popping by.

    2. So pleased you called in, Christina.

  5. I loved reading this, Jan. I've met Sandra a few times but didn't realise the breadth of her work. I really enjoy reading about other authors and how they write - thanks for a really interesting interview!

    1. Thank you, Sara. Yes, Sandra is a very experienced writer of a wide range of genres, isn't she? She's always very supportive of unpublished writers like me, too, and generous with her time and advice. I'm glad you enjoyed the interview.

    2. Trying not to sound too cheesy! I think it's great when we absorb information and advice from other, more experienced authors, then in our turn try to help those who are in the place we remember so well. Thank you so much for the kind comments.

  6. A most interesting, and informative, post, Sandra. Many thanks to you and Jan for it. Reading this reminded me of how much I enjoyed writing a pocket novel for The People's Friend a few years ago, and of how pleasant everyone in Dundee was.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed Sandra's informative answers, Liz. As a writer of a pocket novel, many of the points she made will have struck a chord with you. The people you dealt with sound lovely. Thanks for dropping in.

    2. D C Thomson have a good reputation within the publishing world, which is, I agree, well-deserved. How lovely to hear from authors whose writing I admire :)

  7. Great Post. Just the information I was looking for. Thanks for sharing. From the blogger at

    1. Thank you. I'm glad you found it useful. :-)