Spoiled for choice – writer’s support network

My writing has been stalled because I had finished one project and was in desperate need of feedback on the other two.

The project, an article on my airman uncle (A Very Unlikely Hero) had been sent to a specialist blogger. My non-fiction (Writing to a Ghost: Letter to the River Kwai) was being read, as a favour, by a wonderfully meticulous friend and my re-re-re revised fiction book (Border Line) was in a queue to a busy writing friend.Two days ago my writing frustration peaked and I also felt a need of independent professional advice for some tricky chapters. So I sent them off to Sally Jenkins, who had done such a swift and helpful job on the synopsis, agent letter and first chapter of Border Line.

Later that same day the blogger, Pierre Lagacé, of Lest we Forget, http://athabaskang07.wordpress.com came up trumps and starting posting a new blog using parts of my article on my Mosquito Navigator uncle at http://johncustancebaker.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/and-if-by-chance/ I am thrilled with this.

Yesterday my friend, Lesley, came round with a wonderfully annotated manuscript of my non-fiction book and some very good advice.

Today, to my amazement, Sally Jenkins came through with the critique of my tricky chapters in Border Line. Her speed of turnaround only equalled by the seriously helpful advice on my chapters. http://www.sallyjenkins.wordpress.com/

Writing is something of a game of snakes and ladders. Today I am on a ladder. Back at my desk, I feel like a bee in clover – totally happy and busy though spoiled for choice about which manuscript to tackle first. It is this wonderful network of support from people we know and, in this new age, those we have never met that make writing possible.

This state of affairs has been very good for the house. DIY flourished, I have insulated a tricky section of bay wall with thermal lining, put up a pane of secondary glazing and ordered more lining, glazing panels etc.

(And my L reg. Nissan passed its MOT!)

writing critique – real help

A couple of weeks ago I gave my non-fiction project (on Far East POWs) to a neighbour to read and got out my neglected novel Border Line. I’d had a four-month break from it and, as sometimes happens, this gave me the courage to make some radical alterations.

Now I needed someone with fresh, and ideally professional, eyes to read the changes. My options were limited. My writing friends, my other friends and even some relatives had read earlier drafts. I had already shelled out for Literary consultants (extremely useful but equally expensive). However, through blogging I had come across writer Sally Jenkins, who runs a critiquing service.


So I sent her my agent letter and altered synopsis. Following this I sent my first chapter (i.e. all the material I would be submitting to agents). In a remarkably short time, for a very reasonable fee (and I like that I could pay through BACS if I wanted), I received clear, concise, pertinent feedback. Sally also spotted a very important gap in my letter – I’d not mentioned a potential market or similar publication.

This has led me to do some hefty thinking as this is a question I have tried, and failed, to answer before. I know well that my writing crosses boundaries. In Border Line I have written a love story with topical issues (suicide and assisted dying). It is between literary and commercial in style, and readers for my previous two books have been both sexes and mixed ages. Mulling this over and looking at another writers’ website that Sally mentioned, I trawled through descriptions by agents of the types of books they liked. This helped me to focus, as did the fact that I will be talking to a reading group in the autumn about my earlier book Unseen Unsung.

So, I think that the mixture of love, adventure and topical issues would make Border Line ideal for reading groups. Thank you Sally, I shall go into battle again perhaps a little better armed than before.

You might think that after 25 rejections from agents I should be throwing in the towel. However these rejections included 4 requests for the full manuscript, one resulting in some very positive work with an agent. This, in psychological terms, is called random reinforcement, and encourages persistence, and anyway I am too bloody-minded to give up.