Tag Archives: trilogy

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.

Denise-and-Alison-Juliet_launch

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.

How Long Did It Take To Write?

Denise with Annie's StoryWhen I give a talk I’m frequently asked this question – how long did your novel take to write?

I dread that question as I feel I must give an explanation to my answer that it took ten years when a look of amazement hovers over the audience that one book should take so long.

I began writing Annie’s Story in 2005 but it was called The Voyagers. I had a dual timeline, where Annie’s story (small ‘s’) began in 1913, with alternating chapters of Juliet’s story set in 2005. I enjoy reading dual timelines where one is in the present and then drops back to the past, either starring the same character but younger, or another member of the family.

However, the book became enormous. It grew to 150,000 words and no agent or publisher would touch me: a) I was unknown, and b) the book was way too long and therefore more expensive, and therefore a higher risk. It was all very frustrating, particularly as I had a great deal of excellent feedback from the professionals, one top agent so very nearly taking me on. In the end, two other agents advised me to split the two stories. I was devastated as I knew I’d be in for a lot more work and I was already busy with Kitty and her story, thinking it would be a sequel.

Now totally fed-up, I spoke, or rather sobbed it out to my critique writing partner, Alison Morton. She didn’t hesitate. She said, ‘Great advice. Split them. Kitty is Book 3 of The Voyagers trilogy.’ As soon as she said the magic word ‘trilogy’ I was excited. But I was right – there was a lot more work to make them into separate books. Juliet was pretty well there at 100,000 words (though it expanded to 120,000), but Annie was thin at 49,000 so I had to practically write another book on top of hers.

BWcoverDuring these 10 years I self-published a memoir of my time cooking in a sanatorium in Bavaria in 1972 (from Bad to Wurst), ran an 8-branch estate agency I’d set up in 1988, sold it in 2005 to the wrong buyers (a couple of conmen) and wrote another memoir (Seller Beware: How Not to Sell Your Business) which was traditionally published by Biteback Publishing.

Seller BewareNext, I bought the business back with an ex-employee, reluctantly worked in it for several years (I’d sold the business originally to be a full-time writer!) and sold my business partner my share in 2014, finished writing Kitty’s Story at another 120,000 words, and have just finished the first draft of a romantic comedy set in the seventies. Not to mention all the other stuff you have to do as an author and promoter of your work.

So you see I haven’t been idle in the last ten years. But ten years still seems an extraordinary long time when I have to answer that dreaded question.

 

 Annie’s Story is available as an ebook  from Amazon UK,  Amazon US,  iTunes/Apple  KoboB&N NookNookbook UK and as a paperback via any good bookshop,  Amazon UK,  Amazon US and Barnes & Noble

 ‘Juliet’s Story’, the next episode, will be published on 25 January 2016

 

 

 

Restructuring the novel

scissorsWhen I started the novel several years ago I created a dual timeline. The main heroine, Juliet, granddaughter of Annie, goes to Australia to follow in her grandparents’ footsteps (though she has another secret reason for going), and interspersed with her story is her grandmother, Annie, as a young girl, and linking the two stories by way of diaries and letters and events.

Called The Voyagers, this became a huge novel of 148,000 words which no agent or publisher would touch, especially from an unknown fiction writer. Three interested agents suggested the same thing – that I separate the two stories. I was already writing what I thought was the sequel, Kitty’s Story, so I was quite upset at the idea. That is, until my fantastic critique writing partner, Alison Morton (author of the Roma Nova series), who knows my characters almost as well as I do, immediately said: ‘Separate the two and Kitty becomes the third, so you’ll have a trilogy!

As soon as she said that, I knew it was exactly right for my saga. But when I separated Annie and Juliet, the proportion was all wrong. Annie only had 49,000 words; Juliet, on the other hand, had a standard 99,000 words. So I set to and delved deeper into Annie and what happened to her, and she has now evolved as a 125,000 word novel. I’m so glad I took Alison’s advice, as I realised when I was developing Annie’s character and story that she deserves to have her own full-length book.

And because both Annie and Juliet sail to Australia, I was bound to have to go too! Purely for research, of course. More in my next blogpost!