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  • Writer's pictureRosemary Gemmell

Writing a People's Friend Serial with Anne Stenhouse

I’ve been neglecting the blog during summer but I’m hoping to continue again with posts that might be interesting and helpful to other writers, as well as occasional updates on my own writing.

A warm welcome, therefore, to short story writer, novelist, and playwright Anne Stenhouse, whose current serial, In a Class of Their Own, is currently being published in The People’s Friend weekly magazine. I’m very much enjoying this fascinating story based on historical fact, although Anne has changed two of the real sisters’ names to Begbie for the purpose of her story.

Anne kindly agreed to share the inspiration behind her story and to provide advice on how writers might tackle a weekly serial for The People

IN A CLASS OF THEIR OWN opens in Edinburgh in 1869 when women are beginning to agitate for inclusion in university classes proper and not simply in extra mural ones. Sophia Jex-Blake, backed by the Begbie sisters, Jane and Megs, is determined to matriculate for classes leading to a degree in medicine that will enable her to become a registered medical practitioner.

Successfully matriculating, however, does little to nullify the outright opposition of most male practitioners and many conservative women. But times are changing, and it is noticed that women are living with illnesses of an intimate nature rather than face the ignominy of consulting a man and this becomes the major plank of my story. It was one of the strongest arguments forcing change.

The inspiration behind IN A CLASS OF THEIR OWN is threefold.

Several years ago, I came across a pamphlet in my local library written by a group of women in Edinburgh about notable women of the city. It included the Stevenson sisters. Most Edinburgh folk recognise Flora Stevenson as there’s a primary school named after her, but she wasn’t alone. Her sisters were also instrumental in furthering campaigns about university education for women, female suffrage and medical careers.

2019 marked 150 years since the Edinburgh Seven matriculated at Edinburgh University and became the first women enrolled students at any British university. Their path was far from smooth, and I can’t say more as some folk reading the serial may not know how the real-life story panned out. I will say that my admiration for Sophia Jex-Blake, already high, was hugely increased as I read around her life and story.

1869, when this serial opens, is such an interesting year. When I was researching CITY OF DISCOVERIES for the People’s Friend’s 150th anniversary story, I unearthed all sorts. That story needed to be set in Dundee and Australia, but my editor and I were hopeful some of the other stories would get an airing later.

How to write a People’s Friend Serial

Many of us writing serials for the Friend started by winning or being short-listed in one of the infrequent competitions they run to find serial writers. That’s how I entered the room with a story set in 1960s Midlothian and based on an incident I remember about Travelling Shows’ People.

If there isn’t a competition running, and even when there is, it would be good to:

Reading guidelines gives the prospective writer a good steer not only about what to include but about what to omit or avoid.

Read the magazine which will give an idea of how the suggestions in the guidelines work out in practice. Things like the number of named characters, pacing and how very strongly the editorial team emphasise that character should be shown through dialogue and behaviour. Introspection is not encouraged. Another issue for the writer is the closing hook: does the ending of your instalment leave the reader hungry for more? Will they buy the magazine the following week to learn what happened next?

Work really hard on the synopsis and first, or sample, chapter. Don’t write on until agreement is reached. If you’re new to the Friend and haven’t been in discussion with an editor about a subject, you may pick on one that is already underway, and your effort would be wasted.

Thank you very much for sharing such valuable information with us, Anne, and I hope to see many more of your serials being published.

Anne Stenhouse writes dialogue rich historical romance with humour and a touch of thematic mystery set in Regency Edinburgh and in London. She also writes serials, mainly historical, for DC Thomson’s People’s Friend magazine and Pocket Novels for their My Weekly imprint.

Anne has been an associate playwright with Theatre Broad of Stirling and has published short fiction and short non-fiction. Anne’s novels are e-published by Lume Books (Courting the Countess) and by Ulverscroft, the large print press, in their Linford Romance Library for libraries. Mariah’s Marriage, Daisy’s Dilemma and Courting the Countess are available worldwide in public lending libraries. A Debt for Rosalie is coming in November 2021.

Anne’s plays were published by Pedersen Press and New Theatre Publications. Alas, both now no more. She has had work performed in The Traverse Theatre, The Byre Theatre and a multitude of smaller venues throughout Scotland.

She is currently working on a proposed Pocket Novel which is set in Regency Edinburgh.

Anne is a life member of the Edinburgh Writers’ Club and a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Society of Authors. You can connect with Anne on the following social media:

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May Day


Oct 09, 2021

Thank you for this fascinating insight! I certainly enjoyed reading 'In a Class of Their Own'.

Anne Stenhouse
Anne Stenhouse
Oct 25, 2021
Replying to

Hi Penny, Thank you so much. It's lovely to hear that a reader enjoyed something. I don't know if you're into pocket novels, but if so, I have one coming out from My Weekly on 28th Oct. It's a little earlier than Sophia and it's about an apothecary and an anatomist. My thoughts must have been medically engaged this year! anne

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