An obvious anniversary (Mistake #81)

You don’t need me to tell you it’s 100 years on from 1914.

The War started in August of that year.

I imagine there are some commemorative special edition publications due out in August, or sooner. I’ll let you know if I hear of any – though I expect they will be fully commissioned.

I would also guess that quarterly magazines will be commissioning now – if they haven’t already done so – for their summer editions.

Monthly magazines will be thinking about this now, or very soon.

You should be thinking about it now too. There are lots of potential opportunities. But there is lots of potential competition too.

So good ideas will be needed, and it’s a mistake to plump for the obvious when you come to devise your anniversary articles. Avoid just writing ‘an article about the war’. Avoid an article ‘looking back at how the war started’. There’ll be dozens of articles like these submitted to editors. In this avalanche of ideas and copy, you need to try to stand out from the crowd.

Instead, think niche. Think about the story within the story. Think of the human angle. Try to look beyond thinking of it all as a mere string of events.

How about looking at how the lives of certain writers working at the time – perhaps just one writer, or perhaps a group of writers, such as female writers or young writers – were effected by the onset and progression of war? Would that be of interest to an arts journal or a literary magazine or a writing magazine?

How about looking at how we ate before, during and after the war? What changed? How did it effect us? Did it have any lasting impact on how we view food today? Were any recipes invented during the war – meals we still eat daily? Any recipe books published? Could something on this be of interest to a woman’s journal, food magazine or general interest magazine?

Try to apply this major world event to any magazine at all. A dog magazine, say: how were dogs’ lives effected during the war? A train magazine: what role did trains or the rail network play during the War years? Find a human story amongst all this too, perhaps.

When you’ve done so, don’t settle for one publication. If you find a story about a notable railway worker during the War, write an article about him for a rail magazine, and a different one for a local magazine / local newspaper (ie local to his town of birth). Get lots of stories from one idea. Rewrite accordingly, according to the market, reangling.

Some of these ideas may prove poor, or research into them may prove fruitless, but you get my drift. Find something odd, curious, different, remarkable, under-recognised, unknown – and see what you can get out of milking it. If you need inspiration, the Europeana Collections 1914-1918 (link at the foot) looks set to offer ideas for thousands of articles.

Remember that the war lasted until 1918. You have four years of anniversaries to work with, as there were thousands of individual events and dramas in that period. One at random: Prime Minister Asquith being forced from office in December 1916. The anniversary of this and other major events may seem a long way off, but there’s no harm in starting to do your research now, and starting to think about the possibilities, or a series of articles, or a book …

Speaking of books, there are many – and lots more being published to coincide with the anniversary. These may be able to help you find ideas and stories for upcoming anniversary-based articles, and I suspect will be an excellent investment when they do become available. Some are below, and I’ll add more as I come across them. Good luck …

Margot Asquith’s Great War Diary, 1914-1916: The View from Downing Street
By Michael Brock and Eleanor Brock – via Amazon

July 1914: The month that changed the world
By Gordon Martel – via Amazon

The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War
By Hew Strachan – via Amazon

The Fateful Year: England 1914
By Mark Bostridge – via Amazon

1914: Fight the Good Fight
By Allan Mallinson – via Amazon

Manual of Military Law: War Office 1914via Amazon

Harry’s War
By Jon Cooksey – via Amazon

To scroll through other books on World War I via Amazon click here and here

NB: The Europeana Collections 1914-1918 looks set to become an extraordinary resource for researchers into World War One.

Comments 4

  • Excellent advice as always, Alex. It's all too easy for writers to think that because there are already hundreds of writers pitching their ideas about big anniversaries, that they needn't bother doing it as well because it's a waste of time. It so isn't if you have the right angle and something more quirky that will stand out.

  • Alex – I'm amazed no-one has left you a comment thanking you for this really useful information, so I'm going to be the first. THANK YOU! I shall be referring to this tomorrow in my writing class, so it's really helpful and hopefully will inspire some of my students to have a go at a WWI piece.

  • Well, exactly! This is one of those occasions where I think there are so many potential ideas out there that it's always worth it – there are enough to go around! Thanks, Julie.

  • Bless you, Helen – actually poor Julie had, but I only belatedly realised that I had her comment (and now yours) in my 'pending' tray … Thanks very much – hope your students found the information useful.

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