Writers Jennie Godfrey and Hannah Luckett met on our Write to the End of Your Novel course last year, and quickly became each other’s beta readers and great friends. They both went on to study on one of our selective-entry Writing Your Novel courses. Now they both have literary agents and are working towards publication. They’re here to talk about their writing journeys and offer some practical advice for other aspiring authors looking to forge a writing friendship that is supportive and productive…
Our time at CBC:
Jennie: I started writing last year and joined the CBC six-week course ‘Write to the End of Your Novel’ after applying for the three-month selective Writing Your Novel programme and not getting in (and being devastated!). I threw myself in and realised pretty quickly why I had not been ready for the longer programme.
The course taught me so much about the mechanics of writing a novel while the tutor and peer feedback was invaluable to my re-writing the beginning of my book. At the end of the six weeks, I applied for the three-month Writing Your Novel programme again, and this time, I got in.
What I hadn’t expected to get from the course was a friend who has helped me get through the three-month course, my first draft, getting an agent and lockdown – but in Hannah, that’s exactly what I got too!
Hannah: Lockdown gave me the time and opportunity I had wanted to write for an audience and receive guidance and critique on how to get a novel published. Like Jennie, I embarked on the six-week Write to the End of Your Novel course first and then was accepted onto the selective three-month Writing Your Novel programme.
It was on the first course that I put a post on the forum asking for a trusted reader. It was the best thing I could have done. It was through this post that I met Jennie.
On paper we shouldn’t be friends. Firstly, we are from totally different generations, secondly our novels are entirely different. But we are friends, good friends and it’s made me doubt everything I know about building connections in my life.
Our top tips for writing and nurturing your writing friendship:
Writing can be arduous and terrifyingly lonely, however as we have written our novels, and both found agents during the pandemic with the support and friendship of each other. Here’s what we learned from our experiences that we thought might be helpful to others yearning for their own writing community;
1. Deadlines are your friends
Hannah: Whilst I would love to say that I’m totally self-motivated, that would be a lie. I have a job that takes priority most days and I knew it would be a struggle to juggle my career and writing. Jennie suggested sending our chapters on Fridays with feedback sent over the weekend. This manageable deadline meant that in four months, we had sent each other our entire drafts in instalments and in return had received comprehensive and detailed feedback on the whole novel. My point? Accountability is important, and deadlines sound scarier than they need to be.
2. Give and receive honest feedback
Jennie: Hannah is an incredibly talented writer, one whose work I had admired on the course. The first time she told me that something I had written wasn’t working I felt very emotional – not just because I knew she was right – I also really appreciated that she had the best interests of my book at heart.
For me, that’s the real power of developing a relationship of trust with another writer. In return I made sure I honoured her writing by being completely honest in my feedback too.
3. Read outside your genre
Hannah: I am a fan of novels that tackle modern, millennial relationships. My own novel is a contemporary exploration of friendships, failing relationships and grief. Before CBC I had a rule in a bookshop, if it had a murder in it, it wasn’t for me.
It was a shallow decision, but quite frankly I thought I knew what fiction I liked! However, during the course, I had to read and give feedback on books that weren’t in my preferred genre. Similarly, Jennie’s novel showed me that not all crime novels are the same and every week I found myself drawn further into the story and genre in a way that made me look at my own novel differently.
4. Share your work with different generations
Jennie: My novel is set in 1970s and involves the Yorkshire Ripper. Hannah wasn’t even born then. Not being a true crime aficionado like me, she also had no idea about the Ripper murders. It was brilliant for me to get her perspective on the book – Hannah helped me make sure the story worked whether you were born in the 1970s and a serial killer geek or not.
5. Pool your resources
Hannah: Trying to get a book agented is a full-time job, however, I had Jennie who had advice, tips, but more importantly the most detailed spreadsheet I have ever seen. It was through this incredible piece of Excel wizardry that I saw my agent’s name. I queried with my first two chapters on the Saturday, had a full request on the Monday and was being offered representation (with Emily MacDonald at 42) on Friday. I am indebted to Jennie for all of her hard work because without it I would never have found my agent and the process would have been 100% harder.
6. Celebrate success and commiserate rejection
Jennie: I was in a conversation with Hannah when my first ever full manuscript request came through. It was great to be able to share it with someone who totally ‘got’ what that meant. It was even more helpful to have her mop up my tears when I got the subsequent rejection.
Rejection is hard-wired into the writing experience, but having someone to share it with made it sting less. When I got my agent (Nelle Andrew at RML) she was the first person I told, and when she got hers, I cried.
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