Date work is a big part of my short fiction work, and sometimes it features in my longer works too. I’ve also been known to write the occasional feature as well.
Every month I come up with a long list of topical dates and there’s no way on this earth that I can write a short story, feature or book based on all of them.
For short stories, I’ll choose my favourite 3 or 4, then I’ll noodle with them to see what I can come up with. But what happens to all the other ideas? In the old days, I used to write features. But as I don’t do that now, what else do I do with the ideas?
I don’t just ‘throw them away’. However, I do throw them up for others to have a bash at too. They appear on my blog and on Medium. In the future, some may also appear in a writers’ guide or two, especially if they’re evergreens or if they’ll be topical again in, say, 5 years’ time.
The date work can be historical dates coming up for an anniversary, usually in multiples of 5: 5 years ago; 10 years ago; 15 years ago; and so on. It also includes things that happen every year, sometimes on the same date, like Black Cat Appreciation Day, and sometimes the dates are movable and specific to a certain day that year, like Easter Sunday
Often, though, I also include events that are coming up in, say, 6 months’ time. These can be events I want to attend and write-up in time for next year’s event, and this will include interviews with organisers or attendees or opposers or whatever for a non-fiction feature. Or they can be events I simply want to set a story against.
I was a bit late to my date-work party this year, having taking several months off while I sorted out my publishing schedule and coped with a stupidly busy work schedule. That meant that July, August and September work was all done in March.
When I throw my throwaways up online, some people say, “That’s all very well, but what do I do next with any of those dates?”
So here, I’m going to take one idea and drill down further.
30 July — 6 August 2022 is Cowes Week off the Isle of Wight
What can I do with Cowes Week?
It happens every year, unless there’s a pandemic or other such disaster. That means I can go along this year, or next year if it’s more convenient, and line up photographs, interviews and other information. I don’t have to do that. I just can if I want to.
If I was writing features, I’d also gather together as much detail as I could in advance (of either my trip or the date the article would appear), noodle with some article ideas, and pen a query letter offering an article idea with a certain slant.
If you visit a country or an event and you already have a market interested, people are more likely to talk to you. Especially if you promise to send them a copy of the published piece.
Tip: Don’t promise to let them see it before you submit it, even if they’re the main or only feature. If that’s the only way they’ll agree to an interview, find someone else.
Have a go at brainstorming Cowes Week. Write down everything that you know about it and come up with things you can link to it. Don’t worry about markets yet. Just jot down the slants or ideas and carry on writing as though you were playing word association.
Here are some of mine, completely off the cuff as I write this post:
- Yachts & other sailing boats
- Competitive sailing
- The annual sailing calendar
- The Isle of Wight
- Blackgang Chine
- Osborne House
- Queen Victoria
- Scooter rally
- The Needles
- Coloured sand
When you have run out of things like that, have a go at other aspects you could write an article about. Again, here are some of mine. (Clue: I apply these to most places.):
- Where to eat on the Isle of Wight
- Where to stay on the Isle of Wight
- What to see on the Isle of Wight
- What to do on the Isle of Wight
- Getting to the Isle of Wight
- Getting around the Isle of Wight
- Travelling to the Isle of Wight on a budget
- Walking on the Isle of Wight
- Cycling on the Isle of Wight
- Birdwatching on the Isle of Wight
- Where to take your kids on the Isle of Wight
- Where to go to avoid kids on the Isle of Wight
- Dog-lovers’ Isle of Wight
- Things to do for free on the Isle of Wight
- Isle of Wight on a budget
- Camping on the Isle of Wight
I’ll drill down further by changing ‘on the Isle of Wight’ to ‘in Ventnor’ or ‘in Cowes’ or ‘in Newport’, or ‘in Sandown’, etc.
Then, when I’ve run out of those, I’ll do an online search to see what’s coming up in the next few months. At the time of writing, these included:
- Royal Isle of Wight County Show
- Isle of Wight Pride
- Ventnor Fringe
- Newport Main Carnival
- Sandown Main Carnival
- Sandown Children’s Carnival
- Isle of Wight Garlic Festival
- Isle of Wight Classic Car Extravaganza
- Cider & Cheese Festival @ Isle of Wight Steam Railway
- Isle of Wight Literary Festival
- Wizard Week @ Isle of Wight Steam Railway
- Isle of Wight Mardi Gras
- 1940s Experience @ Isle of Wight Steam Railway
- Summer Concert @ Isle of Wight Steam Railway
- Shanklin Main Carnival
- Shanklin Illuminated Carnival
- Ventnor Children’s Carnival
- (loads of other kinds of carnival)
Now, looking at this list makes me automatically think of new ideas and I’ll add some extras to my bullets, such as:
- Carnival Isle of Wight
- The Isle of Wight Steam Railway
- Children’s Isle of Wight
And then I drill down even further to try and come up with something even more specific:
- an interview with… any of the organisers at any of the events/places of interest
- an interview with… any of the participants at any of the events/places of interest
- an interview with… any opposition to any of the events/places of interest
- 1 3-interview profile on any of the events/places of interest looking at it from different points of view
- a history of… whichever event or organisation
Finally, for me, there are all the travel feature opportunities there, which will include side-bars and box-outs with the latest information for visitors.
If you can think of any, also jot down potential markets as you go along, either specific ones you already know, or vague generalisations.
Here are some magazine examples:
- ‘bird watching magazines’ or Bird Watching or RSPB Birds Magazine
- ‘boating magazines’ or Yachting World or Yachting Monthly
- ‘women’s weeklies’ or Bella or Woman’s Own
- ‘walking and outdoor magazines’ or Country Walking or The Great Outdoors
- ‘cycling magazines’ or Cycling Fitness or Bike Magazine
- ‘travel magazines’ or Discover Britain or British Travel Journal
Don’t forget to also target online publications and websites.
Of course, before targeting any specific magazines, you also need to check that they’re accepting query letters or freelance contributions. Or you may already have some in mind. Perhaps you already write regularly for them.
You may not write features. You may be a short story writer or a novelist. In which case, choose any, several or all of the topics you’ve so far brainstormed and set a story against one or more of them.
Your main character could be a volunteer at Osborne House, for example. Or a driver in the Classic Car Extravaganza. Or a famous author (or fan) attending the literary festival.
You could have a long-running feud between two characters or some kind of other rivalry. Or you might have a regular character or group of characters for whom you’re always looking for stories.
Here are some themes:
- family stories
- romance stories
- crime or mystery stories (Death in Cowes Week anyone?)
- historical stories
- holiday reading
- horror stories
- [enter genre of choice here]
Setting your story against something like Cowes Week, or any of the other topics you come up with, will add colour to your narrative and believeability to your story. The reader will be more interested and your story might make them wish to go to the Isle of Wight.
Also, any market that carries your story (or article) might be able to sell advertising to any of the businesses or organisations featured, or even not featured, to run alongside your piece. That’s an extra incentive for the market to buy your piece in the first place.
One last thing…
If I do find that I go to the Isle of Wight at all, or anywhere, even if it’s just for a holiday, so long as I sell just one story or article as a result, then the whole of my fare, accommodation and travel expenses, including admission and other associated fees, are offset against tax on my tax return.
If the poet also sells a photograph, or if I use at least one with a repro-fee, then we claim all of his expenses too. And he pays more tax than I do.
So if you do decide to pursue something like this, ask for and keep every single receipt.
Over to you…
If you have found any of the above to be of any use, do let me know. And good luck!