Many months ago, a naive and somewhat rejected amateur writer called Gary was wandering around inside a place called Second Life, an online virtual world, when he ran into a goth girl called Anneke. Anneke was a writer type too, and she told him about an in-world magazine looking for stories.
So Gary wrote a short story that he submitted to the magazine, and they accepted it. That was his first ever sale! (He'd won prizes before this, but never a sale.)
Before he submitted, he sent the story to Anneke to see what she thought. Anneke likes critiquing stories, and she has a natural talent for it. What is most amazing is, not only does she have the ability to improve someone else's story, but she can do it in English. Anneke is Dutch. Astonishing!
And so a habit developed. Every single thing I've written since then, Anneke has checked before I submitted. Every time, she's said something that improved the story. For my short stories that probably didn't take too much of her time, not enough that I feel guilty about it in any case. But then she read my novel end to end and sent me a perceptive and very useful critique. Wow! I fixed the ms as best I could.
Her own writing, in English, her second language, is very good indeed, far better than most native speakers could achieve. I hope one day she submits some of her own fiction somewhere.
In the course of time I met another writer friend of Anneke's. Bill Kirton is a Real Writer. Bill has written plays that people have actually put on. He's had piles of short stories published, and two novels, with more to come. He used to teach creative writing (and Fench) at university. It's scary how much he knows about how to deliver a gritty, tight, solid story.
Bill, a professional, offered to read my novel. He sent me a brilliant critique that pointed out important weaknesses, most of which I'd semi-realized were there but hadn't known enough to know they were weaknesses. I fixed the ms again, as best I could.
I owe Anneke and Bill a lot.
There was never the slightest chance we'd ever meet of course, because Anneke is in Amsterdam and Bill is in sunny Aberdeen. But then I announced I was visiting Europe, so we agreed to converge on London. Which we did, and I, for one, had a wonderful time meeting friends I never expected to be with in person.
I'll have to update this later with a photo; they're all on Anneke's camera.
Bill, the ultimate gentleman, insisted on paying for lunch. He also gave Anneke and I signed copies of his latest book, Rough Justice. I read it that night. Of course I already had a copy of his first book, Material Evidence, on the shelves at home.
What I like about Detective Chief Inspector Carston of the Cairnburgh force is he's a regular guy who just happens to catch killers for a living. Not a trace of detective eccentricity to be seen, but plenty of realistic characters and a murder you can believe in.