My guest today is author Janet Simpson. She tells us what we should never write without, and then shares an excerpt from her new novel, Lost Cause.
What am I talking about? A pen? Laptop? Dictionary? Glass of red wine? I would say probably to most of them, and a definite yes to the last one, but that could just be me! Actually, I’m talking about none of the above. The one thing I would absolutely never write without is a critique partner.
No matter how much you try to distance yourself from what you’ve created, you can’t be objective. Even if you have a niggling suspicion your story is truly awful it’s hard to admit that to yourself. Even if it’s absolutely stonkingly brilliant you still need a second opinion. I find no matter how many times I read a manuscript I miss things. Words read the way I meant to write them, not the way I actually wrote them. Typos disappear from view, and no amount of guessing on my part will get the stupid commas in the right places.
Finding a critique partner who has strengths where you have weaknesses is a godsend. To begin with the relationship is like any other. You’re feeling each other out. You might have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your critique partner prince, or princess. Sometimes you just can’t work together. They might not be ready, or you might not be ready. Are you prepared to overcome your pride and listen to someone else’s honest opinion? Can you put aside your fear of offending someone and let your inner critic out? Most of my relationships have fallen over because the other person didn’t want the truth; they just wanted someone to agree that they were brilliant. They also worried they would offend me and loved everything I wrote. There is nothing wrong with that, but it wasn’t what I was looking for.
I’ve been truly blessed with some wonderfully gifted critique partners. When I started in this game my writing was terrible. I was taken in hand by an online critique group who quickly showed me the error of my ways. I moved on to individual partners. Like any relationships they come and go. Some are only for a season but you learn and grow together and then move on.
Writing is a lonely business that can be soul destroying some days. Another writer understands your trials and tribulations. They can pick you up and dust you off when you get another rejection, be a sounding board for plot ideas, help you overcome writer’s block and best of all celebrate your triumphs.
Good critique partners are hard to find but worth their weight in gold. The joy travels both ways. When I started with my now longest serving critique partner, Sofia Grey, she was unpublished and terrified of me. I had a number of published romance novels under my belt and wanted to pay it forward. Sofia is the pupil who overtook the teacher with half a dozen books of her own in print. When I decided to reinvent myself as a mystery writer she never doubted me for a moment. The relationship we share is much more than I ever expected. She is no longer just a critique partner but a close friend on a shared journey through the publishing world.
Without the support of Sofia and others, my book, Lost Cause, would be another half written story on my laptop. When someone is in your corner urging you on you can achieve almost anything, and with Sofia’s support I have created characters and a book I hope people will love.
Daisy Dunlop thinks heir hunting will be an adventure. The man charged with ensuring her safety thinks it will be murder.
A real P.I. would have thought to get the address before she was running late. Not that hunting heirs made Daisy a P.I., or that she even wanted the title, although having a handgun would be cool. However, she couldn’t imagine any need to shoot people when she was about to tell them they had inherited their dearly departed’s worldly goods.
She slowed down to check the street numbers. Even though she was in the backstreets of Southampton the office and shop fronts along the row were all chrome and glass, swanky and very upmarket. Despite the makeover the developers had done well to maintain the English city’s unique history and charm. She passed twenty-six and stopped, there was no twenty-six B. She tugged her phone from her bag and checked her husband Paul’s response to her SOS. He had definitely said twenty-six B.
The door to the In Bloom florist at twenty-six opened and a blonde stepped out carrying an advertising sandwich board.
“Excuse me,” Daisy said. “I’m looking for number twenty-six B. I’m running late, and now I can’t find the office.”
“Ah, you must be looking for our mysterious tall, dark, and handsome neighbor.”
“So Solomon’s office is near here, then?”
“The entrance is around the side. You can’t miss it.”
Daisy glanced around the corner of the florist. “Do you mean down the stairs? Is his office in the cellar?”
“According to the landlord, it’s more a bespoke bijou basement.”
“Great, a pokey, run-down cave. Why am I not surprised to discover Solomon dwells underground?”
“Why are you looking for him?”
Good question. Daisy considered her options. To work as his slave? To be trained as an heir hunter, family historian, and finder of the lost, because her husband didn’t trust her to work alone? Employee? None of the options appealed. “I’m his new partner.”
“So you know what line of business he’s in? What does sultry Solomon do?”
“I could tell you, but then I’d have to shoot you.”
The blonde’s laughter was light and melodic. “I’m Belinda.”
“If you get bored doing whatever it is you do with Mr. Mysterious, drop in for coffee.”
Belinda’s outfit was definitely more Harvey Nicks than Primark, and her accent indicated she was posh totty. Not the sort that Daisy usually hung out with. However, Belinda had a twinkle in her hazel eyes, and laughter lines around her beautifully penciled and painted red lips.
“I might take you up on your offer. See you later,” Daisy called, waving good-bye and ducking around the corner. She took a moment to tug her ponytail tight, pull her distressed leather jacket straight, and get her breath back, before descending the stairs. A shiver ran up her spine. The black door with the word SOLOMON’S above it in a square blocky font was hardly inviting, and the large brass knocker appeared to be the only way to announce her arrival.
She pushed her shoulders back, grasped the knocker, and rammed it hard against the dark timber a couple of times. The door swung open, and she met the frosty blue-eyed glare of the man in question.
“Hello, Solomon. Lovely to see you too. Yes, I will come in. Thanks for asking.”
“Don’t be a smart-arse.”
“Don’t be an obnoxious pig.” She met his fierce gaze as she stepped around him. “If you keep glowering like that you’ll get wrinkles and a permanent unibrow. How attractive would that look?”
“I don’t care how I look.”
Daisy stepped back, her focus drifting up and down him. His feet were bare. His dark jeans rumpled. His charcoal-colored shirt could use an iron. Day-old stubble darkened his chin and jawline. If his black hair were longer she had no doubt he would have treated it with the same disregard he’d given the rest of his appearance.
“Clearly. So where do I start?”
Solomon shoved his hand in his pocket and pulled out a twenty-pound note. “Coffee shop, across the street. Mine’s black, two sugars.”
“I’m not the bloody tea lady. I’m here to learn to do detecting stuff so I can become an heir hunter.”
“You can start by detecting your way to the coffee shop, and when you get back I’ll give you something else to detect.”
Daisy tried to stare him down, but the Irish git had eyes that made her stomach plummet to her knees, and left her feeling mentally violated when she looked into them for too long. He probably got people to confess to all sorts of things with his death stare. It was a wonder the Americans hadn’t stolen him from the British army and used him as a CIA interrogator. “Fine. Whatever.”
She snatched the money and flounced out the door. When she got back he’d better have something for her to do that was real detective work. Two police cars rushed past, apparently on their way to the waterfront. She stopped at the curb and stared after them. What the hell was going on down at the marina that had the cops so stirred up first thing on a Monday morning?