Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The New Writers’ Scheme 'Inside Out' Part 5 - NWS Alumni

Since it began, The New Writers' Scheme has launched the writing careers of many romantic novelists. NWS alumni's books are stocked in bookshops and libraries worldwide, they are shortlisted for and win awards and feature in the best seller lists.

Do you recognise any of these writers?

They are all NWS alumni.

Left: RNA Winter party 2010.

In this final part of the series we meet four NWS alumni who tell us about their time in the NWS. A warm welcome to Katie Fforde, Jan Jones, Jean Fullerton and Nell Dixon.

Katie FForde, the RNA's President, found her own unique voice with the help of the NWS.

Katie, tell us about your journey through the New Writers Scheme? How long were you a member? Did the sort of novels you write change while you were in the NWS?

I was a member of the New Writers' Scheme for a long time. It was more generous in those days and you could miss delivering a book for a year if you needed to. All the time I was part of the scheme I was aiming for Mills and Boon. Elizabeth Harrison, who organised the scheme when I first joined told me I wasn't a Mills and Boon writer. Alas, in spite of my best efforts, she was right!

When you started it, did you ever envisage you would be where you are today?

I never, ever envisaged I'd be where I am today. Not that I'm ever quite sure where that is! I just wanted to be published.

What did you learn from the NWS?

I learnt an awful lot from the NWS and the RNA in general. I learned you have to persevere, that no part of a book is 'good enough' it all has to be your very best writing, and that you need to keep the pages turning.

What advice would you give a writer thinking about becoming a member of the NWS for the first time in 2012?

I think my advice is the same as what I learned from the NWS and the RNA. ie, don't give up, never be slapdash, and make sure your strong plot is turning the pages. Don't be self-indulged. If it doesn't further the plot, cut it out, OR, if you love the scene, make it further the plot.

To find out more about Katie's work visit her website at http://katiefforde.com/

Jan Jones writes short stories and serials as well as novels. She was shortlisted for the RNA Love Story of the Year Award 2011 and the Best Historical Romance award at the Festival of Romance 2011.

Jan, tell us about your journey through the New Writers Scheme? How long were you a member? Did the sort of novels you write change while you were in the NWS?

I joined for the first time in 1987 - in those days it was still possible to join in July for half fees and have your mss read the same year! I got a second read, but no take up.

I submitted for the next two or three years before lack of money and an expanding family made writing novels impossible for a while. However, the critique experience had really woken me up to how much difference editing and polishing can make to a script, so when I moved on to short stories I was in a much stronger position as a writer.

Over the next few years I had lots of stories published, but when my main magazine outlet folded, I saw it as a sign to concentrate on novel writing again. I rejoined the RNA in the mid 1990s, submitting contemporaries, regencies, then contemporaries again. Stage by Stage - my debut novel - was finally published in 2005.

When you started out, did you ever envisage you would be where you are today?

Not at all.

Do you think you would be where you are now if you'd never become a member of the NWS?

Goodness, no. Without the support, the passing on of expertise, the friendships, the sheer generosity of everyone in the RNA, it would all have taken much longer. There is also the fact that I met and pitched to my first publisher at an RNA Conference!

What did you learn from the NWS?

I learnt the value of friendly, constructive, impartial criticism. You might not agree with it, but the very fact that someone has highlighted a problem means you need to look at it and decide why it has been picked up on.

What advice would you give a writer thinking about becoming a member of the NWS for the first time in 2012?

Easy - get ready to enjoy yourself! Be prepared to listen and learn and make friends - and also to give back wherever possible. Everyone has areas of expertise that can be of use to someone. The single most useful thing I ever did was to go to my first conference. The joy of spending a weekend with people just like me has never left me. It's why I now run them!

To find out more about Jan's writing visit her website at

Jean Fullerton writes historical romances set in London. She was shortlisted for the 2010 Romantic Novel of the Year Award and recently won the Festival of Romance's Readers Award for the Best Historical Read 2011.

Jean, tell us about your journey through the New Writers Scheme? How long were you a member? Did the sort of novels you write change while you were in the NWS?

I started writing after I was sent on a stress management course and the tutor advised us to take up a hobby. As a life-long reader of all types of historical fiction I thought I’d have a bash at writing a story. Just for fun, you know. Nothing serious!

Anyhow, I sketched out a rough plot on a sheet of A4 and opened my laptop on the kitchen table and typed Chapter One. After just a dozen or so pages the story just seemed to pour out as if someone had shaken up a bottle of cola and undone the top.

I finished that book in about four months then I started another. Again the story flowed. Of course, I had no idea about technique or formatting, I learnt that later, I was just telling the story.

I’d written three books before I discovered the RNA. I joined the New Writers Scheme in 2003 and sent in my second novel. It was through the NWS that I learnt the craft of writing a publishable novel. I was a member of the scheme for four years and had written 10 books before I finally wrote No Cure for Love which won the Harry Bowling Prize in 2006.

Although the period I write has moved forward to the 19th and mid-20th century I have always written Historical so the type of novel I write didn’t change because of the NWS, but the way I write them certainly has. The NWS helped me perfect technical issues such as point of view, showing not telling, dialogue and pace. It also helped me develop my narrative voice and understand story structure.

When you started it, did you ever envisage you would be where you are today?

I had no idea I could write let alone become a published author on my third contract with an international publisher. I’m dyslexic and at school English lessons were torture. The thought of actual earning my living by the written word seemed ludicrous, so as soon as I could, I dropped it as a subject. I only learnt to touch type last year. But, really although I’ve come a long way, no writer can rest easy because you’re only as good as your next book.

What did you learn from the NWS?

I’ve learnt a great deal of things from the NWS about plotting, style, dialogue and characterisation but I think the most valuable lesson it taught me was how to be edited. Someone once said ‘No book is written it’s re-written’ and that is so true. I don’t complete my first draft and send it to the printers, it goes through an extensive editing process, which often involves adding in, taking out or re-writing scenes. The NWS report is very like an editor’s line by line editorial notes and it helps you learn the professional discipline of reworking your story until it is the best it can be.

What advice would you give a writer thinking about becoming a member of the NWS for the first time in 2012?

Join, join, join NOW! It is tougher now than ever to get published, but you only have to look at the number who graduate from the scheme and achieve publication each year, to realise being part of the NWS massively increases your chances.

To find out more about Jean's work visit her website at http://www.jeanfullerton.com/

Nell Dixon writes warm-hearted contemporary romances. She won the RNA's Romance Prize in 2007 and Love Story of the Year in 2010.

Tell us about your journey through the New Writers Scheme? How long were you a member? Did the sort of novels you write change while you were in the NWS?

I was a member for three years. I had two full novels and one partial go through the scheme. All of those books have since gone on to sell to publishers. Originally, I was aiming for Mills and Boon's romance line but realised my stories are a bit quirky and too richly populated to meet the readers expectations for that line. Now I write everything from short novellas for a dedicated sweet romance publisher to longer contemporary romances for my mainstream publishers with a dash of humour and a hint of suspense.

When you started it, did you ever envisage you would be where you are today?

No, I just wanted to be published. I didn't give any thought to what would happen afterwards.

What did you learn from the NWS?

I learned about adding emotion and conflict to my work. I learned to make my endings as strong as my beginnings and it gave me deadlines and my first taste of feedback in a constructive way.

What advice would you give a writer thinking about becoming a member of the NWS for the first time in 2012?

For me it was a big step, I was investing money I didn't really have and making a proper commitment to becoming a writer. To get the most from the NWS you need to be aware of the dedication you need to finish a book, and how you'll feel having someone else comment on your work. If you dream of becoming a published author, are willing to work and love to write then go for it. You won't regret it and it could be the start of the journey of a lifetime.

To find out more about Nell's writing visit her website at http://www.nelldixon.com/

Thank you to Katie, Jan, Jean and Nell for sharing your experiences of the New Writers' Scheme. Your successes will inspire NWS members to persevere with their writing.

To find out more about the New Writers' Scheme visit the RNA website at http://www.rna-uk.org/

Sincere thanks to everyone who has taken part in this series and generously shared their experiences of The New Writers' Scheme.

The best of luck to all those joining the NWS in 2012.


Jan Jones said...

It's been lovely to be part of this sequence of blogposts, so thank you to Kate Jackson for putting it all together. I think what comes over most strongly is that a writer has to believe in herself, to write for the love of it, and to really persevere in order to keep up with the dream.

Lizzie Lamb said...

Thanks for the last part of this stupendous blog, Kate. Its been quite inspirational - in fact I've just come in from a day out with friends and got back down to the WIP. So many wonderful stories about the path to publication, so many hardworking writers. Many thanks to everyone who's contributed and left posts on this blog. I've enjoyed reading them all. The NWS is worth every penny of the subs. Happy Christmas to one and all - and fingers crossed that 2012 is OUR year.

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

This has been an incredible series of interviews and I've thoroughly enjoyed them all.

Thank you, Kate.

Jean Fullerton-East End Girl & Author said...

Thanks, Kate, for a wonderful series of blog explaining the benefits of the NWS.Thanks for letting me be a part of it.

Susan Bergen said...

Well I never! I had no idea these wonderful authors were once NWS, like me.
It makes me believe, more than anything, that it is possible. Just slightly easier than nailing jelly to the wall. Especially with all the wonderful people at RNA helping to hold it (and me) up.
The message I take from this is, just keep going. How inspiring.

Cathie Hartigan said...

My first year in the RNA has been fantastic. I've learnt loads and had the opportunity to look through the industry window. That's invaluable and almost impossible to achieve sitting at home tapping on a keyboard. Perhaps I'll go through the door with their help too.
The support has been awesome. Thank you to all at the RNA that make it possible.

Kate Allan said...

So fortunate to have been part of the NWS and I absolutely credit the scheme as aiding my path to publication. Long may it continue.

Beth Elliott said...

I agree whole-heartedly with the comments about the friendly and helpful nature of the RNA. Thanks to the advice from whoever critiqued my novel on the NWS, it was taken immediately by Robert Hale. In the RNA the sharing of writing know-how is always generous. The committee and readers do so much work to run the NWS and it's wonderful to see so many success stories this year.

Anna Jacobs said...

What an interesting blog series. I didn't graduate through this scheme, but it's just one of the great things the RNA does. Ironically, the year I was going to enter it was the year I first got a novel accepted.

The advice people have given is generous and brilliant. Aspiring writers should read it and take it to heart.

Henriette said...

Many thanks for Kate Jackson Bedford for posting this wonderful series of blogs. It's so interesting to read about people's journeys - they're all so varied, but at the same time have the New Writers' Scheme in common.

Had a splutter-into-my-coffee moment, though, when I read that Jean Fullerton took up writing to alleviate stress... For me, it's had the opposite effect, doubling my stress levels! But I wouldn't be without it.

Jan Sprenger said...

Really enjoyed the series of interviews. Thank you, all.

Rachel Summerson said...

It's wonderfully cheering to hear everyone's stories of their struggles towards success. Congratulations to you all.

Being a member of the RNA is also very good news for those of us who are already published. I remember going to a RNA party, introducing myself to someone from Isis (audio books), pitching my latest book, posting her a copy of said book and getting a contract a week later!

And I've had a huge amount of help from other members, too. As a NWS reader, I'm always thrilled if I can pass on something of what I've been given and help towards a new writer's success.