Tag Archives: friends

Every writer needs a critique writing partner!

Alison and Denise

Alison and Denise in 2013

‘Critique writing partner’,  ‘writing buddy’ – call her what you will, but I believe every writer needs one. I say ‘her’ because I know of no male author who admits to having another writer read and edit his work before it goes off to the publisher, or is put out in cyberspace. (I suppose I’m now going to be inundated with male writers who have CWPs!)

Alison Morton, author of the highly-acclaimed Roma Nova series, and I are each other’s critics for our books – seven each at present (even though the last two of mine are not quite at publishing stage), not to mention short stories and articles. And when we get our red pens out we can be fierce. But that’s the point. It’s no good admiring each other’s work and not daring to make a negative remark. We always said we wouldn’t dissolve into tears when the manuscript comes back covered in red splodges together with a blunt report. We’re tough ex-businesswomen who can take it on the chin…aren’t we?

RedpengonemadMind you, that doesn’t always mean we don’t occasionally have a small silent weep when the other has pointed out aspects of our novel which requires us to do structural rewrites, especially when it’s something we know very well we shouldn’t have written! But we’re both conscious we need to do the old ‘sandwich’ trick. A few compliments to kick it off, pointing out the weak stuff in between, and a positive note to end on, with enough smiley faces to give us the encouragement we crave. It works a treat.

It’s not all ‘red pen’ with a CWP. Years ago I was dismayed when a couple of agents so nearly took me on with my first novel, The Voyagers, but decided against it. They made the point it was too long for a debut author, and anyway was two books jammed into one. I was already writing what I thought was the sequel and was practically in tears when I Skyped Alison. Without pause she said, ‘Split the two stories, then the one you’re writing now becomes book three, which is then a trilogy.’ As soon as she said the magic word ‘trilogy’ I was thrilled and began to tackle the job – more difficult than I’d imagined but immensely satisfying. Of course she ended up reading both ‘split’ books again as they’d gone through some major changes.

We’re there for each other when there have been rejections (until we decided to go the Indie route), and we cheer the other on when she’s had some great writing news. We’ve become real friends besides writing pals, which I think we both treasure.

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Denise and Alison at the Juliet’s Story launch January 2016

How can a CWP work for you? First of all, it’s not that easy to find the right ‘fit’. Think about the difficulties of finding a life partner! It’s about on that level, believe me. Trust is the most important element after you’ve found a congenial and willing person who’s a damn good writer (even if they’re not yet published). They don’t have to write in the same genre. Alison and I don’t. She writes alternate history thrillers and I write gritty sagas. When we first swapped our manuscripts I said, ‘I would never read a military thriller, Alison.’ She promptly replied, ‘I’d never read a soppy romance.’ After we stopped laughing (in order to have another swig of wine) we agreed it might be better that we don’t write the same kinds of books. There’s no competitiveness and we can look at the other’s story with fresh eyes and hearts.

So don’t rush it. Choosing the right partner can take time, and you must be prepared to give as much as you take. Only then will it work. But Alison and I have both agreed our books are so much better for it.

Good luck!

And we’d love to hear any success stories.

‘Juliet’s Story’ launched!

Denise bannerOne of the great pleasures of writing a book and getting it published is that you have a perfect excuse for a party!

So for Juliet’s Story, Book 2 of The Voyagers trilogy, I decided to once again hold the launch in the University Women’s Club in Mayfair, where I’ve been a member for almost 30 years.

Although publication day is TODAY, I had the London launch Saturday afternoon, just two days ago, which happened to be my mother’s birthday. If only she could have been there – she would have been so proud! (You know how mothers are.)

Celebrating with friends

With Sue Stephenson, Liz Harris, publisher Helen Hart and Gail Alwyn

The Diamonds

With Tessa Shapcott, Terri Fleming, Sue Mackender – The Diamonds

 

 

But I was surrounded and supported by family and friends, and ten other writers, which was fabulous. We had a high tea: sandwiches, scones, carrot cake, tea, coffee and, of course, lots of fizz.

 

 

 

 

 

The audience

 

 

 

 

 

After everyone had made a beeline for the groaning tables and had a good chat with one another, I gave a talk, primarily on the research I undertook for the novel.

One of the more unusual things was being aboard a freighter for a few days. My heroine, Juliet, goes on a voyage to Australia by cargo ship so I felt I had to go through a similar experience in order to breathe in the atmosphere of what it’s really like. My ship was a German one bound for Hong Kong but after calling at Hamburg, I disembarked in Zeebrugge (Bruges). I didn’t want to spend over six weeks at sea as at the time I was running a business, and unlike Juliet had no one to take it over for such a long period.

Denise in full flowThe voyage was a real adventure and telling details, together with some of the incidents which happened to me, have crept into the novel – which is what research is all about.

I sold a ton of books at the launch which won’t go anywhere near to paying for the afternoon, but that’s not the point. It’s a wonderful way of getting your first readers who you hope will spread the word – and write a review!

 

Denise and Alison

With critique partner Alison Morton

 

 

 

But mainly all their laughter, congratulations and love give you a huge boost to set you on your way.

I feel a bit flat now so I need to get the show on the road for Book 3. Another launch looming, methinks.

  

signing

Signing!

UWC team

The cake and champagne team

 

 

 

 

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Juliet’s Story is now out!
Available now from your local bookshop and from Amazon UK  Amazon US  Kobo

Writing is a lonely life…?

Denise UWC launchI completely disagree with the above (though I realise some writers might feel differently).

Writing when one is alone is not the same as being lonely. I’m so happy when writing completely on my own, but a close second is writing in the company of one or a few other writers. It’s a sedentary life sitting on your bottom day after day, but most writers interact with others. Where you write you’ll probably tap into Twitter and Facebook on most days, thus making connections and conversations.

My new diary is already filling up with writerly things which take me outside my writing cabin and into a world of real people instead of my ‘real characters’. Heading the list is the launch of Juliet’s Story, Book 1 of The Voyagers trilogy. It’s to be held at the University Women’s Club in Mayfair on 23 January 2016 (under a week to go!) and hopefully there will be writers, friends and relatives to celebrate with me. (If anyone would like to come, please get in touch with me by Friday by leaving  a comment below.)

In May I’m off to Portugal with three writing friends to stay in a private villa. We’ll have a week there working hard on our novels and catching up in the afternoons for readings and brain-stormings and critiques. Hopefully this won’t clash with the Romantic Novelists’ Association summer party!

In July it’s the RNA Conference which is always brilliant, and I come away exhausted but inspired, and often excited because an agent or editor has asked me to send them a full manuscript of my latest novel.

Then there’s the Historical Novel Society Conference in September in Oxford, which unusually is for writers and readers (Early Bird booking until 31 January!). A few days later I’m joining a small group of writer friends in Gladstone’s library in Chester for four days.

In November we don our sequins for the RNA winter party.

Denise_Alison RNA2015_sm

Denise and Alison

Throughout the year I go to a club in London where writers and media folk meet up every month; I formed The Diamonds writing group a couple of years ago where we take it in turns to meet in one another’s houses and stay the whole day – the host feeding and watering us; I have a regular Skype with my critique writing partner,
Alison Morton, who lives with her husband in France; I attend the London Book Fair…and so it goes.

So I can’t regard writing as a lonely life. But when I read through the above I think I’ll be glad to escape sometimes to my writing cabin for a top-up of loneliness!

 

Julietcover

 

Juliet’s Story will be published on 25 January 2016.
Pre-order now Amazon UK  Amazon US  Kobo

Mayfair launch of Annie’s Story

DSC09939The University Women’s Club in Mayfair is the perfect place for a book launch. I’ve been a member of the club for 25 years and it’s a real home from home for me, living in Tunbridge Wells. So for my London launch of my debut novel: Annie’s Story Book 1 of The Voyagers trilogy, it was my first choice.

I’d had a fun and very successful launch in Waterstones, Tunbridge Wells the month before, but wanted a second one for different groups of people who might find it difficult to get to my neck of the woods. It was a mixture of family, friends, special writing friends, members of Connexions (a course on philosophy I’ve been attending for the last seven years – I’m probably one of the wisest writers I know – just kidding), and, of course, some special UWCub members.

Trouble was, on the Wednesday morning of the launch I woke up not feeling terribly well. Thinking I was just a bit tired and would be all right I packed my overnight case and with my sister, Carole, took the train to London. We were staying the night at the club.

DSC09922Still not feeling particularly great, I had arranged for a few friends to have lunch at the club. The day was so warm and sunny we were able to eat in the courtyard garden which was delightful. I decided not to have any wine, and kept to a light goat’s cheese salad, as did three other women. That evening, getting dressed, I didn’t feel excited as I should, and was beginning to feel a little queasy and light-headed. I knew I’d have to put on an act for about 35 people, 4 of whom had arrived from various countries especially for the launch.

DSC09930Thankfully, it all went well. Everyone seemed happy and enjoying the bubbly and canapés (I didn’t touch either), and the talk was my best one, I felt. The adrenalin must have kicked in!

Luckily, Carole was sharing a room with me at the club as all through that night I was really ill. Terribly nauseous, burning chest pain, back pain, headache, and feeling extremely dizzy. I honestly thought I was dying. Neither of us had a wink of sleep, and around 6am I was so sick she decided to dial 999.

Maybe I wasn’t dying after all as I managed to appreciate three gorgeous-looking paramedics who rushed to the rescue. They confirmed I wasn’t having a heart attack, but after various tests decided I should go to hospital for more checks. I’ve never been in an ambulance before and always thought I would be terrified, but I just wanted to get to hospital as quickly as possible for someone to make me better.

After a bumpy ride we arrived at St Mary’s and had I felt well enough to appreciate it, my room was overlooking a canal with bright little boats bobbing about. We were in Little Venice. As it was, I was still being sick and feeling quite spaced out.

More tests with nurses and two doctors later I was diagnosed as having a severe case of gastritis from a virus, so at least it didn’t sound life-threatening!

I stayed on at the club for two more days, and was wonderfully looked after by the staff until Carole came to collect me on the Saturday and take me back to Tunbridge Wells.

This happened three weeks ago and I’m still feeling an echo of the effects. Doc says it will probably take eight weeks before I’m back to normal (well, normal for me!).

The good thing was that I received lots of emails and phone calls from people telling me how much they enjoyed the launch – and reading the novel! – and were shocked to hear that I’d been whisked away to hospital only hours later.

I’m seriously wondering if I should turn to acting instead of writing…

Answers, please, on a postcard.

 

 

 

At last – the Book Launch!

Denise1It was all going so well.

Waterstones had kindly allowed me to hold the launch of my debut novel as ‘Fenella Forster’: Annie’s Story, Book 1 of The Voyagers trilogy, in their Tunbridge Wells branch last week on the proviso that at least thirty people would turn up, having reserved £3 tickets beforehand.

Launch general

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lure was free wine and nibbles, and three quid off the book if anyone kindly bought a copy. Plus they would get me entertaining them with a scintillating talk and reading a short extract from the novel. What’s not to like?

Mayoral groupArms still twisted behind their backs, old and new friends and ex-business colleagues duly came through the bookshop door. Including the Mayor and Mayoress of Tunbridge Wells. I’d met the mayor once at the Tunbridge Wells Business Forum and just called him ‘Julian’, but was not quite sure how to address the couple when they were ‘on duty’. Luckily, my fantastic critique writing partner and friend, thriller novelist, Alison Morton, was staying with me a few days to coincide with my launch. She made me practice several times on how to greet them correctly and welcome them to the audience. I also had to announce that the Mayor was going to say a few words.

Loving itAfter saying hello and having a quick chat to all my adoring fans(!) and making sure Alison had put a drink in everyone’s hand (she was furniture mover and book and banner setter-upper, wine waiter, photographer, movie-maker, and clearer-upper – thanks, Alison 😉 ). I asked them to take a seat so the talk could begin.

I thanked everyone for coming, and got stuck straight into my talk.

Anyone spotted my omission? Yes, you have it. I completely ignored Mayor Julian and Mayoress Annie. I was ten minutes in when I smiled at the two of them sitting on the front row, and it immediately clicked. My hand flew to my forehead and I said: ‘Oh, no, I’ve forgotten to introduce the Mayor and Mayoress!’

Denise realises

Denise realises the awful truth!

‘I can’t believe it,’ Alison put in from the sidelines where she was pointing her camera. ‘I’ve spent the afternoon rehearsing her.’

Of course, everyone screamed with laughter. So did I, but I turned my face to the wall pretending to sob, then turned round and acted as though we were right at the beginning.
‘Welcome, everyone, and thank you so much for coming to share such an exciting celebration. Also, I’d like to welcome the Mayor and Mayoress of Tunbridge Wells.’ I looked directly at the couple.

‘Thank you so much for coming, Councillor Stanyer, and Mrs Stanyer. I believe you’d like to say a few words, Councillor Stanyer.’

Mayor speaking‘I would,’ he said, grinning as he rose from the chair. He proceeded to give a funny talk on how he and I had first met, and I’d slipped him a copy of my previous book, Seller Beware: How Not To Sell A Business, saying he’d be on pain of death if he told anyone I hadn’t charged him. He said how delighted he was to come to the launch of my first novel.

Everyone clapped. The Mayor and Mayoress queued at the end of the evening and bought two copies of Annie’s Story. And paid for them! All was well.

And on to the signing!

Signing3Signing1

Signing2

Happy author

 

 

 

 

 

 

Signing 7

Signing5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annie's story

 

 

Annie’s Story is now available from
Amazon UK  Amazon US  Kobo  B&N Nook

Acknowledgements of all those wonderful people…

clapping_handsOne of my real pleasures after I’ve finished reading a book – fiction or non-fiction – is to work through the ‘Acknowledgements’, usually found at the back. Because I’m a writer I’m always interested in the name of their editor and the publishing company. It amuses me the way authors adopt flowery prose when they sing their editor’s praises. I immediately wish that particular editor (usually a woman) was my own editor as she always sounds fabulous, going way beyond the call of duty; working with and believing in her author even when the author herself is ready to abandon the project.

Besides the editor, the author will thank her amazing friends and family with the purple-est of purple prose who all tolerate her woes and worries when she faces writer’s block, or is tied to her computer, trying to meet an impossible deadline, and once again is forced to decline an invitation or is two hours late cooking supper. Everyone always seems to rally round and support her.

Sometimes they even say their book could not have even been written without the support, love and understanding of their husbands. I mean, really. That always sounds a bit pathetic to me. Have you ever read of an author saying how she wrote her novel under the most trying circumstances with a husband who had not the slightest interest in her writing and constantly reminded her she was wilfully neglecting him and the family, not to mention the friends who moaned they never saw her?

I won’t tell you where I stand. You’ll just have to read the ‘Acknowledgements’ page which you’ll find at the back of Annie’s Story and make up your own mind. But I’ll let you into a secret…I probably couldn’t have written the story I did without the help of all those wonderful, fabulous, loving, giving, caring people…

Annie’s Story by Fenella Forster will be published 20 April 2015
Available for pre-order on Amazon (ebook and paperback) 

Christmas chats and cheers

Terri, Tessa, DB_sepiaTerri, one of the girls from our small (but select!) writing group invited the other member, Tessa, and me to her Christmas party. Terri lives in an Edwardian mansion in Royal Tunbridge Wells which she and her husband have practically had gutted, to get both the exterior and the interior looking as handsome as the day it was built. Actually, more so, with its mod cons and Terri’s decorating flair.

Terri came to the door looking ravishing in a shiny black-sequined dress with plunging decolletage, showing off her curves to perfection. ‘You’re last,’ she said, as she took my coat and stood while I changed into party shoes. ‘We’re waiting for you so we can eat.’

I looked at my watch. Getting on for eight-thirty. ‘I thought it would just be a drink and nibbles and wouldn’t matter when I arrived.’

‘No, no, it’s a sit-down, so we can have proper conversation.’ She looked at me quite sternly. ‘You haven’t eaten, have you?’

Thank goodness, I hadn’t. Unless you count half a small avocado and a bit of cheese and cracker. She led me into the kitchen where catering-sized casseroles were bubbling away with something which smelt really good and spicy. ‘Vegetable curry,’ Terri answered my unspoken question. I licked my lips in anticipation.

With a glass of Harrods’ champagne in my hand I wandered through the house, as ex-estate agents can’t help doing. Everywhere was decorated just like you see in the ‘country living’ magazines: candles flickered over a Merry Christmas banner as you stepped into the cavernous reception hall; swags of greenery floated across the mantelpieces of several fireplaces and followed the curved banister to the first floor, and a ceiling-sweeping tree stood in the library, dressed in golden birds and white baubles, and a thousand glittering lights. The two candlelit dining tables beckoned me to grab my tray, choose my food, and sit down and relax amongst convivial guests.

Inevitably, Tessa and I sat next to each other and talked about our writing. She’s a published romantic novelist and professional editor, so she always has updated news of what’s going on in the publishing world. Soon some of the other women at the table were drawn into the conversation. Then one of the husbands, an Aussie, had quite an in-depth discussion with us about the difference between men’s and women’s reading matter, and the reasons why. Apparently, men like to cut to the chase in a perfectly logical and linear way (natch!), and women emote over relationships and go off at tangents, thereby affecting their choice of books. Strangely enough, he didn’t come across as chauvinistic, but was telling it as he saw it and was keen to hear whether we agreed. I was surprised he was so interested in the subject, but we later learned his father was a published poet, and he’d even written a few himself. He certainly came out with some ideas and opinions which are sure to find their way into the personalities of my future male characters, especially the alpha heroes!

It was good to know the other non-writing guests were interested in the process and impressed with all the work involved, both during and after the book is finished. They weren’t aware that the writing is one of the easiest bits of the process. The hard work, I explained, is when you think you’re finished. That’s when it’s just about to start.

‘May I top your glass up with more bubbly?’ Terri’s husband asked me, and did so without waiting for a reply. Now that’s what I call a real alpha hero!

Bringing writers together

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We happy band of writers (Portugal writing week)

Some people are marvellous about keeping in touch and bringing friends together, and we writers appreciate this more than most. This is what happened last week when my writer friend Sue invited all the women who’d met for the first time in Portugal last year to her beautiful 14th century home. We’d all shared a villa and had the most wonderful writing week. We’ve kept vaguely in contact, though not continuing the critique which we’d so enjoyed in Portugal and had all agreed was so valuable.

Sadly, Alison Morton, the sixth writer, couldn’t make the pre-Christmas reunion as she lives in France, but happily since then has become a published writer (http://alison-morton.com/). The rest of us had a fabulous time sipping champagne round a blazing log fire (one of the small perks of being a writer!) and catching up on our writing projects. We did remember to send you a toast, Alison.

Since those balmy Portuguese days, we were pleased to learn we’d all made plenty of progress. During that holiday week I’d had an email from Iain Dale of Biteback Publishing saying he loved my book Seller Beware: How Not To Sell Your Business, and that he wanted to publish it, so it was nice to tell the girls who hadn’t made it to my Mayfair book launch that it was now out in paperback and ebook. Gail began an MA creative writing home-study course in September and loves it, Grace is continuing her PhD on the history of slavery, Carol McGrath had her debut historical novel published this year (http://scribbling-inthemargins.blogspot.fr/), and Sue has started a new novel and writes a daily blog within her local writers’ group (http://elsteadwritersgroup.wordpress.com). It shows what a determined lot we are!

Sue was deep in the preparation of a proper sit-down lunch for 45 female friends (no, this is not a typing error) the following day with only one lady whom she employs to help her. We writers were strictly banned from the kitchen. (I love those kinds of rules.) Sue is an amazing cook, and the sheer number of hot and cold dishes she brought to her enormous dining room table (all homemade by her) was mind-boggling.

I was one of the lucky ones staying for two nights. My bedroom window looked out across miles of countryside with nary a building in sight and the room was surprisingly warm, but Sue suggested I switched on the electric blanket, something I haven’t slept in for maybe 40 years or so. I turned it off before I snuggled in, as I had visions of Sue finding a pile of ashes (mine!) the next morning, and I have to say I had the best two nights’ sleep I’ve had in literally years. Maybe that’s the secret for all us insomniacs. I urge you to try it.

But most important of all, stay in touch with your fellow writers. It can be quite a lonely life and I’ve always found that writers are the friendliest people ever. They’ll cheer you up when one of those evil rejections plops through your letterbox, they’ll encourage you to carry on regardless, and they’ll open a bottle of bubbly when that thrilling phone call or email comes through telling you a lovely agent wants to represent you, or an even more lovely publisher wants to publish your precious book.

Happy writing!