Writing Challenge Day 7: Introduce your 'author friend'

On Sunday, I enjoyed a ‘writerly’ Skype with my critique partner, another novel writer, Denise Barnes (a.k.a. Molly Green), who has just sent her latest fiction work off to her editor at Avon Books. It’s the third in a series about sisters in the Second World War; they’re each ‘doing their bit’ for the war effort, often in dangerous circumstances. But of course, their personal relationships, romantic or otherwise, add that special sparkle.

We swap hints and tips, recommend and exchange books, encourage each other about courses and competitions. But the best thing is that we read each other’s work and critique it. Now you have to get on well to do this, so well that you can say things that may seem harsh. But we have to be completely, and sometimes brutally, honest. It’s a pointless exercise otherwise. With both of us going through the same process, we can empathise as well as criticise.

On a practical note, we agree parameters – help on plotting, characterisation, emotion, cliff hangers, layout, social media promotion, structure, early proof-reading for grammar, punctuation, typos etc. While our imagined worlds are quite different, we get really involved in them. It’s spooky when she turns round to me and says things like this about my heroine,’You know, that’s the sort of thing Carina would say.’

Her novels are family and/or wartime sagas, mine action thrillers in an alternative Roman timeline; both sets of books feature heroines finding their ways and, from a writing point of view, direct the narrative. They are all firmly in charge of their story. Denise’s early novels written as Fenella Forster  (The Voyagers Trilogy) cross several continents and times; they’re such absorbing reads!

And at the start of her career, Denise wrote two non-fiction books; one a semi-comic memoir based on her experiences as a vegetarian cook in Bavaria and secondly, a very accessible guide on how not to sell your business.

Luckily, we both have outgoing  personalities and having both owned businesses in a tough commercial environment, we have had to make difficult decisions and say things that were not always welcome. We’re quite nice really!

It’s a bit like any serious relationship: you go on a few (book) dates, get to know them, then take a leap as you move in with them (hand your whole manuscript over to them).

Trust is key: you are handing over your ‘baby’ for another to look at, assess and critique. But hopefully that person will stand as a godparent/patron/responsible adult and help the infant mature into a full-grown adult.

Some techniques

  • You have to trust that they’re good at writing, that they are serious about their writing, and most of all that they ‘get’ your work and critique it with a true heart
  • Firm, honest feedback but no ego-tripping
  • Courage to say the unspeakable/awkward
  • Genuinely want the best for you – grow, to improve, to have successes
  • Happy for the other critique partner when they reach various milestones
  • Sympathise about rejections or when down in dumps

Denise has just finished her second wartime trilogy for Avon/Harper Collins and I’m on my tenth Roma Nova book. Neither of us would have reached this point without the other. If you write, find a critique partner/writing buddy – they’re worth their weight in gold!


Writing challenges so far:

Day 6: How the writing all began
Day 5: What inspired the book I’m working on
Day 4: The setting for the new Roma Nova book
Day 3: Introducing the main characters Julia and Apulius
Day 2: Introduce your work in progress
Day 1: Starting with revealing information 


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

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