I have a new book out and a new writing identity. Come and meet Juliet Bell and read about The Heights. Thrilled to say the e-book is available now from all digital platforms.
Teaching is also learning
In the heart of Shakespeare country last weekend, it was retreat time.
This was the second Developing Your Novel retreat I’ve led with my writing mate and awesome tutor, Alison May.
What a great weekend it was, sharing experiences and knowledge and ideas about writing with a group of like-minded folks. There was a certain amount of chocolate and red wine shared too, of course.
But one part of the weekend always makes me nervous… the manuscript appraisals.
I am one of a number of published writers who work with the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers Scheme, giving advice for writers who are just starting out. Someone did that for me years ago when I was new to this fiction game, and it has always seemed the right thing to do to give back what I can.
The NWS is anonymous, although I confess I have ‘outed’ myself to a couple of people whose books I have worked with. And it’s always wonderful to see a novel I have critiqued go on to be published.
As part of our retreat, Alison and I do one-on-one critiques for all attendees. The recipients say they are nervous about those appraisals – but I think it’s only fair to say, I get nervous about them too.
Because someone has placed their dream in my hands.
It can be hard to sit face to face with someone, knowing I am about to pick holes in their work. But that’s the job. They are asking me (and paying me) for an honest opinion. I try to respect their dreams and give them my very best efforts.
For me, it’s not about saying – this doesn’t work. It’s about asking … how can this be made better? Sometimes I have possible answers to suggest. Sometimes, the simple act of asking questions will prompt the author’s mind to come up with its own answers.
The questions I ask when appraising another writer’s work are the same questions I ask myself when I am editing my own books (as I am doing this week). It’s all about asking … Why did a character do that? Why have I written a scene from that point of view? What does this scene accomplish? How will my character react to that event? And, the most important word in a writer’s kit – Why? ‘Why’ can and should be applied to almost everything.
Knowing the questions is almost as important as knowing the answers – because the right questions give rise to the right answers.
On this retreat, I had a very talented group of new writers – and it was pleasure to talk through their work. There were some really good ideas there. I have even threatened to steal one of the ideas if the owner doesn’t finish what I believe is going to be a very good book. (Just joking about the stealing – maybe??)
Later in the year, Alison and I are doing an Advanced Novel Writing weekend. More than half the places on that course have already been filled by the graduates of the first course – and I am looking forward to seeing the progress they’ve made when we return to Stratford in October.
There are a few places still left for that weekend – so if you have a book close to completion and are looking for some editing advice and help to launch it into the world – check out the course details here.
I am also launching a new manuscript appraisal service for new writers and taking on some private mentoring clients. Details can be found here on this website.
I’ve been teaching in one form or another almost my entire life – and one thing I have learned is that teaching is not easy, and it’s a big responsibility. But it is also the second best job in the world – after being a writer, of course.
And when the two are combined – that really is something special.
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