Tag Archives: writing buddies

‘Kitty’s Story’ is published!

Kitty’s Story, Book 3 of The Voyagers trilogy, is finally published! What a labour of love it’s been. If I’d known it was going to take 12 years to write this trilogy I would never have started it. (I did write two or three books in between and ran a business part of that time!)

Book 1, Annie’s Story, and Book 2, Juliet’s Story, began life as one book called The Voyagers. I’d enjoyed writing Annie’s chapters from 1913 spanning to 1930, and weaving in Juliet, the granddaughter, in modern times. But as a saga with two protagonists the book became too long at 150,000 words and no editor or agent would touch it even though I’d got close to being traditionally published. ‘You’ve jammed two books together,’ they advised. ‘Split them into two separate but linked stories.’

By this time I was writing Kitty’s Story, thinking it would be the sequel. I couldn’t make such a radical change. It would be a mammoth task to separate the two. Almost in tears I rang my trusty critique writing partner, Alison Morton (Roma Nova series).

‘Take their advice,’ was her immediate reply. ‘Get the damned thing split and Kitty becomes the third of The Voyagers trilogy.’ She never minces her words.

But as soon as she said the magic word ‘trilogy’ it cheered me up and I began to tackle the big separation. It was more complicated than I’d thought, plus the fact I’d thought the two women’s stories were evenly balanced. Taking them apart I had Juliet at 100,000 words – the right length – but Annie was a novella at 50,000 words. Reading Annie separately I realised she was worthy of her own fuller story. It turned out to be 120,000 words but I was so glad I’d done it. And then I had to finish Kitty.

Writing Kitty’s Story turned out to be a cathartic exercise. Something very sad had happened in my own life decades before, and I never knew why the relationship (of course!) had gone so terribly wrong. I poured a lot of my deeply-buried emotion into the novel and as a writer had the power to create a happy ending. Being in Kitty’s head (I wrote it in the first person) somehow allowed me to lay my personal story to rest and I wonder if other writers have ever felt the same.

On a more positive note Kitty does something I’m sure I would have jumped at had I been a teenager in the Second World War – she is determined to sing to the troops like her idol, Vera Lynn. Joining ENSA in 1941 she travels to Cairo and fulfils her dream. Only things don’t turn out quite as she expects – in fact, just like real life!

Kitty’s Story is available through all good bookshops and from (amongst other retailers) from Available now from  Amazon UK  Amazon US  Kobo  iBooks  B&N Nook

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.

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

 

 

 

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!

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Signing2

Happy author

 

 

 

 

 

 

Signing 7

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Annie's story

 

 

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

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!

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!