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Everyone has a story and so we welcome stories from everyone: we want to include as many different voices in the magazine as possible. You may have never written before, or you may be an experienced writer or published author, but what matters is how you tell it, not who you are. 

  We are looking for true stories written in the first person, with you at the centre of the story. It can be sad, tragicomic or hilarious. It doesn’t have to be about something bizarre or outlandish: the ordinary and everyday things often tell us important things about the bigger world we live in. It can help to imagine you are writing a letter or email to an old friend you haven’t seen for a while.

  If you are interested, please read our submission criteria below. We also recommend reading an issue of FOTS to get an idea of the wide variety of stories we include, their tone and length.

  We regret that at present we cannot pay our contributors as all income from the magazine goes back into producing the next issue. However, we offer each contributor a free ad in the magazine to promote their work, a project, an enterprise or charity.  

 You can either send in a brief pitch (max 250 words) emailed to in a Word document or send us the full story if has already been written. (See submission criteria for a guide to length). 

 We also welcome contributions from illustrators. We send illustrators one of the edited stories along with a brief as to how much space is available. Illustrations can be black and white only.


1. We do not publish fiction.

2. All pieces submitted must be previously unpublished.

3. Most stories in FOTS work well at around 1000-1400 words, so we recommend this length for your submission. Occasionally pieces are longer or shorter – it depends on the story.

4. We read everything we are sent. We will acknowledge receipt but we are a very small team, so please bear with us if it takes some time to read and respond.

We will be considering submissions for Issue 10 from May 2024.

5. Contributors may expect to be edited. We always work collaboratively with you to help present your work in the best possible light.

6. Contributors will receive a Special Issue of the magazine in which their work is featured, with their name hand-calligraphed on a bookplate at the front. 

7. Contributors may write under a pseudonym if they choose, and will have an original pen portrait in the magazine, based on a photo that they supply (in disguise, if necessary!)     

8. We are unable to publish all the pieces we receive. We may also request to hold over pieces for a forthcoming issue.

9. We do not publish pieces involving character defamation or compromise of privacy.

10. Friends On The Shelf is published twice a year in March and October. Issue 10 will be out in October 2024. These publication dates might change.


CHARLIE HIGSON / Writer and contributor to Issues 1, 3 & 9

Here are my tips on how to write something that readers will want to read. These apply to all types of writing – novels, screenplays, short stories, non-fiction, and journalism. In the end – writing is writing, and the bottom line is, 'Grab 'em by the throat and never let 'em go.' (the great Billy Wilder.)

1. Write the kind of piece you’d like to read.

2. Don’t beat yourself up. If you’re overly self-critical, you’ll never get finished. Pretend you're a genius and bear in mind that even the best writers have days when they think their work stinks. Get past it.

3. Give your piece a shape. As simple as beginning, middle and end – intriguing set-up, the story unfolds, leading to an ending that makes you stop and think.

4. Try reading your work aloud. Either to yourself or to someone else. It’s the best way to look at it with fresh, objective eyes and really concentrate on the words and their effect.

5. Write with your senses as well as your brain.

6. In general, write how you talk. Be direct and honest. Speak from the heart. Don’t hide behind folderol and use words you wouldn’t use in your everyday life. Steer clear of fancy, high-falutin’ ‘literary’ language. If you can't imagine yourself saying something aloud, then you probably shouldn't write it.

7. In general, use the active voice rather than passive. Put statements in positive form. Use definite, specific, concrete language … 'The dog ate the sausage.' – rather than, 'The sausage was eaten by the dog.' (unless the sausage is the hero of your story … )

8. Never use a long word where a short one will do (unless you're Will Self).

9. Elmore Leonard gave some great advice that totally goes against what they teach kids at school … 'Never use a verb other than 'said' to carry dialogue.' And – 'Never use an adverb to modify the verb ‘said’, he admonished gravely.'

10. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech that you’re used to seeing in print.


Some sage advice from other writers.

'Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.' Anton Chekhov (in other words – show don’t tell).

'Every story is about people, or it sucks.' – Joss Whedon. (How much more interesting is a photograph of a landscape, with a person in it).

'Try to leave out the boring parts that readers tend to skip.' – Elmore Leonard.

'Omit needless words. If it is possible to cut a word, always cut it.' – George Orwell. (Although he could have made it more succinct, and just said, 'If it’s possible to cut a word, cut it.')


LIZZY NGOTTA / Retired teacher and contributor to Issue 3 & 5

When Rachel and Vick started FOTS, I harboured a wish to write something for it. But I was embarrassed and shy. And also, what would I actually write about? I was lucky. A subject came to me by itself, when, following a bout of the dreaded virus, I chanced on a poem displayed on a hospital lift door. The sentiment chimed so exactly with me, that I came home and started writing straight away. Probably because the feeling was very present and real, the words came easily.

  I have just retired as a teacher, my career for the past 30 years. In my job I wrote a lot – assessments of children, often with complex learning needs, minutes of meetings, policy documents. One thing I am used to doing is trying to express what I mean. What am I actually trying to say? I wanted the parents to recognise their child in my assessment reports. I wanted to bring the child to life, to do the child justice, be true to them. I guess what I’m thinking about here is the audience – the parents, as well as their teachers, and others who work with them.

  I went back to my piece about the poem two or three times, and added bits, changed bits. Mostly I left it as it was. I thought about the audience. Would they relate to it?  I didn’t know. (Editor's note: Lizzy is on to something here – you can’t control what an audience will think but you can try and communicate with them as clearly you can.) 

  Submitting it was difficult. In the end, filled with doubt, I thought, come on Lizzy. You’re a retired person. Time to grow up and be brave. I hovered over the send button for ages till I bit my cheek hard and made myself press it. When Rachel and Vick said they would include it, I felt thoroughly thrilled. Rachel and I worked on it a bit more until we both were happy.  When it was due to come out, I wanted to hide in a hole. But thrilled won the day. And privileged. Big thanks to Rachel and Vick for the idea and realisation of FOTS. 

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