Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Sixth Day of Christmas - A Butterfly from Kate Johnson

On the sixth day of Christmas a butterfly graces the RNA Tree courtesy of Kate Johnson...

To be honest, the butterfly is only a year old. I bought it at a Christmas market last year, where they had a whole upside down tree covered in brightly coloured gossamer butterflies. It was spectacular; but unfortunately my budget only ran to one pretty butterfly, who now has pride of place on top of the tree. We used to have a gold star, but that kept falling off and had to be lashed in place with a load of ribbons. Before that was an angel, which I believe I made fresh every year out of an old loo roll inner and a ping pong ball. On balance, I think the butterfly is more elegant, yes?

You can follow Kate on Twitter here.

The portal to an alternate world was the start of all her troubles
– or was it?

When Eve Carpenter lands with a splash in the Thames, it’s not the London or England she’s used to. No one has a telephone or knows what a computer is. England’s a third world country and Princess Di is still alive. But worst of all, everyone thinks Eve’s a spy.

Including Major Harker who has his own problems. His sworn enemy is looking for a promotion. The general wants him to undertake some ridiculous mission to capture a computer, which Harker vaguely envisions running wild somewhere in Yorkshire. Turns out the best person to help him is Eve.

She claims to be a popstar. Harker doesn’t know what a popstar is, although he suspects it’s a fancy foreign word for ‘spy’. Eve knows all about computers, and electricity. Eve is dangerous. There’s every possibility she’s mad.

And Harker is falling in love with her.

Friday, December 30, 2011

On The Fifth Day of Christmas - A Pink Porcelain Heart From Chrissie Manby

On this fifth day of Christmas Chrissie Manby brings another ornament for the RNA tree...

My favourite Christmas ornament was made for me by my nephews, Harrison and Lukas. It's an avant-garde sort of bauble - a pink porcelain heart decorated with my initial in blue (my favourite colour) and a generous splash of thick blood-red into which Lukas has carved the word 'love'. The boys were seven and four when they made my heart in one of those ‘paint your own pottery’ shops in South London. Every time I look at it I remember how much fun we had that afternoon. My sister and I drank tea and gossiped while the boys got to work on a veritable production line of gifts for their grannies, their dad, their other auntie and me.  I can still picture their bright blond heads bent low over the painting table as they concentrated hard on making each bauble special and different.

Christmas seems to arrive about every three months these days and my nephews are growing up quickly. Harrison no longer believes in Father Christmas and even Lukas (six) wants to see solid evidence. Still, their excitement as the big day approaches is contagious and I am thrilled to be spending it with them again.  I can’t wait to see Lukas’s rendition of the Holy story (he’s a keen actor) and see Harrison’s Christmas cartoons (he’s a budding artist).  I’ve no children of my own so I feel incredibly lucky to be able to witness such magical moments in their young lives.  I shall treasure their bauble for all my Christmasses to come.

Chrissie Manby is the author of fifteen romantic comedies including Kate’s Wedding, Getting Over Mr Right and Seven Sunny Days.  They are all published by Hodder.  More details can be found on her website: can follow Chrissie on Twitter here.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

On The Fourth Day of Christmas - Liz Fenwick Brings Her Grandmother's Ornament

On the the Fourth day of Christmas Liz Fenwick brings us an old glass bauble for the RNA tree...

Our tree is filled with so many memories that it's hard to choose...the wooden bear from Calgary days, the elephant from Indonesia, the camel from Dubai, The cowboy boot from Houston, the onion dome churches from Russia, painted seashells that children have done, silk China Men from our trip to Beijing, and the list could go on. But for me each year it's the careful unwrapping of the last remaining glass baubles that were my grandmothers. She died long before I was born so each year these fragile pieces connect me to her and to the past.

I remember those childhood days watching the snow falling outside and hours spent dreaming of Christmas lost in the reflections caught in the glass....

I'm now hoping that everyone had a magical Christmas and a wonderful start to the New Year...

You can follow Liz on Twitter here.

Her début novel, THE CORNISH HOUSE, comes out on 24th May 2012...

When artist Maddie inherits a house in Cornwall shortly after the death of her husband, she hopes it will be the fresh start she and her step-daughter Hannah desperately need. 
Trevenen is beautiful but neglected, a rambling house steeped in history. Maddie is enchanted by it and determined to learn as much as she can about its past. As she discovers the stories of generations of women who've lived there before, Maddie begins to feel her life is somehow intertwined within its walls. 
But Maddie's dream of a calm life in the countryside is far from the reality she faces. Still struggling with her grief and battling with Hannah, Maddie is unable to find inspiration for her painting and realises she may face the prospect of having to sell Trevenen, just as she is coming to love it. 
And as Maddie and Hannah pull at the seams of Trevenen's past, the house reveals secrets that have lain hidden for generations. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On The Third Day of Christmas - Jane Odiwe Bring Us a Jane Austen Bauble

On the third day of Christmas Jane Odiwe shares a Jane Austin ornament for our RNA tree...

I love my Christmas tree, and decorating it in my family is the highlight of Christmas. I’ve collected many baubles over the years and choosing whether to have a colour scheme or go for all over vintage colours always causes great debate in our house. This year we’ve chosen silver, gold, and a pale blush pink with clear glass.

I’ve been collecting baubles and ornaments for many years now - some of my favourites include some fragile white porcelain figures, which I bought when my children were tiny. They consist of angels, teddy bears, toy soldiers, toy trains and kittens, amongst others. I love vintage-style glass birds with feathers, and have used some of those on the mantlepiece in a green swag with faux and real roses. Like a lot of RNA members who love shoes, they feature too – I have some tiny shoe ornaments, period designs, ballet shoes, and skating boots. 

It’s very hard to choose a favourite ornament because I have so many that I love, but this year to my family’s great amusement I bought a Jane Austen bauble for my tree. It’s very pretty with a hand-painted silhouette of Jane and strips of Pride and Prejudice can be read through the glass. It really glitters in the light, and is a beautiful new addition to the tree!
Wishing everyone a Happy Christmas and New Year!

You can follow Jane on Twitter here.

Here latest book...

One dark secret can completely ruin a bright future…
After capturing the heart of the most eligible bachelor in England, Elizabeth Bennet believes her happiness is complete—until the day she unearths a stash of anonymous, passionate love letters that may be Darcy’s, and she realizes just how little she knows about the guarded, mysterious man she married…

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On The Second Day of Christmas - An Angel from Jill Mansell

On the second day of Christmas Jill Mansell adorns our RNA tree with an angel...

Here's our favourite ornament, the angel currently touching the living room ceiling as she perches on top of our tree. Years ago when the children were very small, my book sales were nose-diving and my publisher had been forced to let me go. Money was extremely tight and we had none to spare for Christmas decorations. So I drew the angel with ballpoint pen on a square of rubbery foam  bought for ten pence from a craft shop. I cut her out, stapled her together at the back and my daughter painted her with glue and sprinkled her with glitter.

She's been the star of our tree every year since - Christmas just wouldn't be the same without her.

A very happy Christmas to all!!!

To find out more about Jill you can follow her on Twitter here.

Here's her latest book....

When Ellie Kendall loses her husband Jamie in an accident she feels her world has come to an end. But life has to go on and eventually she’s ready for a new start – at work, that is. She definitely doesn’t need a new man, not while she has a certain secret visitor to keep her company... 

Entrepreneur Zack McLaren seems to have it all, but the girl he can’t stop thinking about won’t give him a second glance. Why can’t she pay him the kind of attention she lavishes on Elmo, his time-share dog? 

Having moved to an exclusive flat in North London, Ellie becomes friendly with neighbour Roo who’s harbouring a secret of her own. Between them, can both girls sort out their lives? Guilt is a powerful emotion. 

But a lot can happen in a year in Primrose Hill...

Monday, December 26, 2011

On The First Day of Christmas - A Venetian Ornament from Juliet Greenwood

 The first ornament on our RNA Christmas tree comes from Juliet Greenwood...

This little gondola is my favourite Christmas ornament. 
My family bought it when we went to Venice in the 1960s, when I was about eight. My parents had escaped backgrounds of utter poverty in the 1920s and 30s to become teachers, and so loved travelling. They would pack me and my brother into a clapped-out camper van (Volkswagen, of course) and take us all over Europe for six weeks each summer. We would break down regularly and camp in the wilds, getting caught in forest fires, and every now and again, woken in the middle of the night by suspicious soldiers with guns. That year, we spent a day in Venice, complete with a ride on a gondola. 
Ever since then, the little gondola came out each Christmas to have pride of place on the windowsill as the entire extended family packed into a little cottage in the Welsh hills. When the lights finally broke, we wound new fairy lights to light up the little lanterns so it could continue to be part of the Christmas spirit. 
I love this little gondola because it holds so many memories. It’s very frail, but it still comes out each Christmas to sit in state. It should be a slightly tacky souvenir, but it’s the associations that make it beautiful. It’s inspired at least one story, and I’m sure it will many more. 
And yes, that is Mr Darcy standing next to the gondola. A friend made it as a Christmas card, and it also comes out each year. The beginning of a new memory, perhaps? 

To find out more about Juliet visit her here.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas from the RNA - Liz Harris Shares A Stocking for Christmas..

I still give my sons - now 31 and 32 - a Christmas stocking.

Last year, my younger son’s partner, Angie, came to stay for Christmas.  Naturally, Angie, too, had to have a stocking, and I had great fun filling a stocking for a girl – a first for me.

For obvious reasons, ‘Father Christmas’ decided not to creep into the bedrooms to put their stockings at the end of the beds, but to leave them beneath the Christmas tree.

After breakfast, we all went into the sitting room, and lo, we found the stockings.  But there were four stockings, not three.  The fourth stocking was for me.

And this was a very special stocking.  Not just because it was my first from my sons.  Not just because everything in it showed a great deal of thought.  It was very special because the stocking itself had been made by my non practical older son!

Luke had bought the satin, fur and beads and, guided by his creative partner, Sophie, had cut out and sewn the stocking together. Then he had sewn on every bead individually.  He had not allowed Sophie to do so much as one stitch.

Happily, the first three stockings contained Kleenex, and this was put to good use as I saw the thought and care that had gone into making my stocking.

The stocking adorned the sitting room for the whole of the Christmas period.  I've attached a photo of it - I think it looks pretty good. 

Follow Liz on Twitter here.

Coming out in the New Year...
‘Dark Deception’, a People’s Friend Pocket Novel, is due out on March 22nd, 2012
‘The Road Back’, published by Choc Lit, is due out early in 2013

Please come back on Boxing Day to see how the RNA is decorated on the first day of Christmas....

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

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

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

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

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.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The New Writers’ Scheme 'Inside Out' Part 4 – 2011 NWS Graduates

2011 has been a bumper year for the New Writers' Scheme with a total of eleven members finding publishers for their novels so far. A very warm welcome to four of these, Liz Fenwick, Linda Mitchelmore, Liz Harris and Henriette Gyland who share their NWS journey with us.

Liz Fenwick was a member of the NWS for six years. Her novel, THE CORNISH HOUSE will be published by Orion in May 2012.

Liz, tell us about your novel's journey through the NWS? Did it receive a second read? Had it been submitted before?

THE CORNISH HOUSE was my second novel that went through the NWS and it went through twice. The first year’s really positive comments helped me to revise the book and bring the best out of it. The second year provided more positive criticism, which I took on board before sending it out to the market. The book never received a second read.

What difference did the NWS make to your writing and to you as a person?

The NWS does many things...the first it gives you a solid deadline to work with and this is an important thing to learn to live and work around. It also teaches you that you do have to show your work to others. This leads to the important skill of learning how to take constructive criticism. The feedback you receive from the NWS is intended to improve your work. That doesn't mean it doesn't sting but once your work is out in the wide world people will both like and loathe it. The NWS prepares you for this in a way. It also provided me with a reader who wasn't biased. Unbiased readers are hard to find when you begin.
Do you think you would be where you are now if you'd never become a member of the NWS?

I certainly wouldn't be here yet. I had and still have the persistence needed to become published, but the NWS gave me a push up. By encouraging new writers the RNA gives them a chance to get feedback and the chance to network and learn about the industry. In a sense it gives new writers the chance to become ‘professional’ in a safe environment.

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

Enjoy, work hard, make friends, listen, learn and grow with the feedback that you will receive.

Follow Liz on Twitter!/liz_fenwick
To find out more about Liz's work see her website

Devon based author, Linda Mitchelmore's historical novel, TO TURN FULL CIRCLE, will be published by Choc Lit in June 2012.

Linda, can you tell us about your novel's journey through the NWS? Did it receive a second read? Had it been submitted before?

To Turn Full Circle, is my first historical novel, although I have written six contemporary novels. You can imagine my joy when it went to a second read. Both readers said they thought it would be perfect for Robert Hale so that was where I sent it myself - no agent being required for Hale. I got a huge dent to the ego when it came back within a week! I then told the NWS how surprised I was at this and it was suggested I try it at Choc-Lit - again, no agent is needed. But Choc-Lit do require a male point-of-view so I worked hard at writing one in and submitted it three months later. I was soon asked to submit the rest - much to my joy! - but had a nail-biting six month wait before I was finally accepted. My book is scheduled for publication in May 2012.

How long were you in the NWS?

Too long! is the short answer. I wrote six contemporaries, and all but one went to second reads. I kept getting so close but not quite there yet. But although those second reads were sent to top agents and I received very kind and constructive rejections from them all, I wasn't taken on. In 2004, I was awarded The Katie Fforde Bursary and I'm only too pleased I can now look Katie in the eye, her faith in me justified at last!

What difference did the NWS make to your writing and to you as a person?

I don't know that the NWS has made any difference to my writing as such - I've always been told I have a strong 'writing voice' and I can only write how I write and what I like to write about. I am a seat-of-the-pantser! But always emotion led.

As a person, being a member of the NWS has been life-enhancing. Meeting full members - whether big names or not - I was always made very welcome by everyone - not made to feel less of a writer in any way at all because I was on the NWS scheme and not between covers yet.

I think that my first ever submission went to a second read was what probably urged me onwards, made me believe in myself that I can write and would be published one day.

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

Possibly not as I am at this very moment with a novel contract and being uber-excited at seeing suggestions for book covers! But I was a widely-published writer of short stories for the womag market before joining the NWS so I would still be writing.

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

Get the champagne in the second you send off your submission! There's always that chance that talent and luck will go hand in hand for you and that your first submission will find a top agent and a top publisher and will fly. But, if it doesn't happen like that for you, then don't give up - never, ever give up. Each novel you write will be better than the one before as you hone your craft. If you go to the RNA conferences you will meet a wonderful bunch of women (and a few men!) who think like you, act like, you, share your dreams. A writing buddy can be good, too - healthy competition as you try to best one anothers daily word output! And remember .....champagne is better for the keeping!

Follow Linda on Twitter at

and on the Novel Points of View blog at

Liz Harris's graduation from the NWS happened with two novels being accepted within a week. One novel by ChocLit and the other by D.C. Thomson for a People's Friend pocket novel.

Liz, tell us about your novel's journey through the NWS? Did it receive a second read? Had it been submitted before?

THE ROAD BACK was submitted once only to the NWS, and it got through the second read. When Melanie told me that it had gone for a second read, and later that it had got through, I was absolutely over the moon. It was a wonderful moment.

How long were you in the NWS?

I’ve been a member of the RNA since 2005 (I think), and a member of the NWS since I joined. So that’s 6/7 years. I believe that I joined just before the 2005 Royal Holloway Conference, and then went to the Conference.

What difference did the NWS make to your writing and to you as a person?

A huge difference to both - they are connected. If you want to write, and I did, anything that helps you to improve your skill in writing – and that improvement is something that you can see for yourself – develops your confidence and has a positive effect on the way that you see yourself in relation to the thing that you want to achieve.

The NWS critiques are a master class in writing. I don’t believe that anyone can approach his/her own work with a truly objective eye, and there can’t be a better objective eye than that of someone already published in that genre, someone who is focused on telling the truth with a view to helping the writer to improve, rather than someone who aims to say only what they think the writer will want to hear.

We all have writing mannerisms, just as we have verbal and physical mannerisms, and the NWS critiquer, not blinded by affection and the desire to avoid giving any sort of pain, is the person to point out those writing mannerisms so that they can be eliminated.

No matter how carefully and sensitively the critiquer presents criticism, there will always be pain, but, to quote a familiar cliché, No pain, no gain.

The best critiques begin with praise for what the writer has achieved, and then go on to offer constructive criticism of the areas that need addressing. I have been fortunate to have had some of the best critiques.

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

It’s a very difficult market, and I’m not sure that I would be published. I’d like to couple the RNA with the NWS in this. By learning about the publishing industry, which I’ve done through my membership of the RNA - and very enjoyably, too – I was better equipped in my quest for publication. The NWS helped me to hone the skills that enabled me to take advantage of what I’d learnt through the RNA.

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

Go for it! It’s quite amazing value, and there is nothing – absolutely nothing – more exciting than feeling your book improve beneath your fingertips. You cannot reach this point by yourself, but you can with the aid of the NWS.

Follow Liz on Twitter!/lizharrisauthor

and Facebook

Henriette Gyland's persistence has paid off in 2011. Her novel has been accepted by Choc Lit and she won first place in the Festival of Romance's New Talent Award.

Henri, tell us about your novel's journey through the NWS? Did it receive a second read? Had it been submitted before?

Yes, it's been through the NWS several times before, once where it made up parts of another novel, where eventually I scrapped the other half because it was a different story (and pretty bad too!), and once as a partial. The title has changed a couple of times – and probably will again – and I've even changed the main character's name, plus added a male view point.
I think this particular novel illustrates my development as a writer, from that early idea, badly executed, to something publishable, and although I've never had a second read, I've always found that a constructive first read is enough to go back to it and improve it. There's nothing stopping you from sending it in again later on.

How long were you in the NWS?

As much as I hate to admit it, I've been on the scheme for about 12 years, although in my defence some of that time was spent looking after young children, which isn't exactly conducive to writing. Not in my house anyway!

What difference did the NWS make to your writing and to you as a person?

The NWS readers helped me see where I was going wrong with my writing, but also praised me for the things I did right. I took on board their advice, sometimes grudgingly, and realised later that they were so spot on. On a personal level, because the RNA allows membership to unpublished writers, through the NWS, I felt I was part of something. That was and is really important to me. Writing can be a lonely existence – chatting to fellow writers makes you feel normal.

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

Categorically no. Not sure where I would be, but probably in some dark corner muttering to myself and feeling resentful and left out...

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

Write the best novel you can, and take the NWS reader's comments in the spirit they're intended, as a help. Don't get hung up about not getting a second read. Enjoy being a New Writer and having the luxury to work on your novel for as long as you like. Come to the parties!

Follow Henri on Twitter at

and Facebook at

Thank you to Liz, Linda, Liz and Henri for sharing your journeys through the NWS. Your successes will inspire other members of the NWS to keep on writing. We wish you all every success with your novels.

To find out more about the New Writers' Scheme visit the RNA website at

Information about 2012 membership will appear on the RNA website in mid December.

The final part of The New Writers’ Scheme 'Inside Out' - NWS Alumni will be posted on 20th December.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The New Writers' Scheme - Inside Out - Part 3 - A Reader's point of view

The anonymous Readers of the New Writers' Scheme are its backbone. Without them there would be no critiques. Usually they remain in the background, but today three NWS Readers give us an insight to what they look for when a manuscript arrives on their door mats. Welcome to Allie Spencer, Rachel Summerson and Pia Tapper Fenton.

Allie, can you tell us what attracted you to being a reader for the New Writers' Scheme?

I wanted to be a reader for the NWS because I benefitted so much from the scheme myself and I wanted, as they say, to ‘put something back’. It is such a valuable scheme for unpublished writers as it not only gives technical advice but emotional support and encouragement too – being an aspiring writer can be quite a lonely job!

How many novels do you usually critique a year?

I don’t critique as many as I would like to, because of my own work and family commitments. I also only feel comfortable critiquing rom coms (my specialist area) so I usually manage between four and five a year.

Talk us through how you critique a novel? What do you look for?

I make sure that I read the novel carefully; taking notes as I go, then I sit down and think about what I am going to say in my report.

When I read a ts, I am looking for a strong, imaginative story; excellent line-by-line writing; characters who leap off the page, develop and grow with the story – plus a good dollop of conflict. Essentially, I want a ts that I can’t put down!

I spend a lot of time writing my report and then checking it through to make sure I have said what I need to clearly, concisely, and in a way that the NWS member receiving it can translate my advice into practical steps to improve their novel. My aim is to offer constructive, practical and, where possible, optimistic advice which the writer can use to re-work their book.

From your experience with NWS submissions, what are the key points a writer needs to think about before they submit their work?

There is no getting away from it: writing a novel is hard. Most of us who are published authors had years – if not decades – of honing our skills before we got that much-longed for contract. I think, however, if you make sure you work on all the points I mentioned above in Question 3 plus polish, polish, polish, polish – you will be well on the way to producing a publishable novel.

My agent, Teresa Chris, always says that you wouldn’t produce a quick sketch and then send it along to the Royal Academy to see what they think; instead, you would make sure your picture was as perfect as you could possibly make it. The same applies to novels: the more professional your work appears, the more chance you have of getting it published.

Whilst ‘partials’ are always welcomed by the NWS, if you really want to get that second read make sure your book is polished to the highest standard you can manage.

Also, as well as writing, make sure you read a lot, especially within your chosen genre. There is no better tutorial than reading the market leaders in the type of book you want to write. You will learn an awful lot about the craft of writing and hopefully finish the book inspired and fired-up, ready to create your own masterpiece!

What advice would you give a writer submitting to the NWS in 2012?

The publishing industry is going through a tough time at the moment. Sales are down – especially supermarket sales – and it is going to be harder than ever to get published in 2012. However, there are some very talented people around, and talent and hard work will, in my opinion, always win through. Don’t despair, don’t get despondent – just switch on that computer and get writing. The RNA and the NWS are here to support you (we really do want you to succeed) and we will do what we can to help you get where you want to be.

To find out more about Allie and her work visit her website at

Rachel Summerson, who writes as Elizabeth Hawksley, has been a Reader for about twelve years.

Rachel, can you tell us what attracted you to being a reader for the New Writers' Scheme?

I have benefitted hugely from my membership of the RNA and I wanted to give something back. I’m not a ‘committee person’, but reading and reporting on typescripts is a skill I can offer. I enjoy helping aspiring writers and I’m thrilled when they make it.

How many novels do you usually critique a year?

I usually critique between 5 and 6 typescripts a year.

Talk us through how you critique a novel.
What do you look for?

I read the typescript fast, the way an editor would read it, and make brief notes on each chapter (2 lines max.) to remind myself of what happens: names, dates, places etc., and any page references I want to comment on.

I’m looking for a good story with characters I can relate to.

The most common problems are with plot – which usually shows up in chapter one, that is, not enough is at stake; characters which fail to convince as they should; a tendency for the tension to drop; and a dodgy grasp of punctuation and of how a professional typescript should be set out.

From your experience with NWS submissions, what are the key points a writer needs to think about before they submit their work?

If you’ve submitted a typescript before, make sure you’ve taken on board all the advice you were given the previous year. You don’t have to agree with it but you would be well advised to take it seriously.

What advice would you give a writer submitting to the NWS in 2012?

Please, try and get it in well before the deadline!

To find out more about Rachel's work visit her website at

Pia Tapper Fenton, who writes as Christina Courtenay, is a New Writers' Scheme graduate.

Pia what made you want to become a Reader for the NWS?

I was on the New Writers' Scheme myself for six or seven years when I joined the RNA and I would never have been published without the support I received from the organisers and readers. Their critique helped me to improve and their encouragement made me believe that I could achieve my goal one day, even when I doubted it myself. So when I finally became a published author, I really wanted to give something back to the RNA, and I felt this was one of the best ways of doing that. I have been a reader now for four years (or is it five? Sorry, I’ve lost count!)

How many novels do you usually critique a year?

It varies from year to year, depending on how many submissions there are in the genres that I read.

Talk us through how you critique a novel? What do you look for?

I start by reading the whole manuscript as if it was a published novel, without looking at the synopsis because I don’t want to know what’s going to happen, I want to be surprised. If there’s anything that really pulls me out of the story, I’ll make a note of it (or write in pencil on the m/s if the author doesn’t mind).

I’m looking first of all to see whether the plot works/is plausible, whether I like the characters and can empathise with them (especially the hero/heroine) and whether it feels like a story that’s ready for publication.

If anything isn’t working, I’ll try to make suggestions to improve that particular aspect and to help the author make the novel as good as possible.

Once I’ve commented on the overall story and what I liked about it, I’ll go through it again in more detail and perhaps pick out specific things that need changing or looking at. If the author is new to the NWS, I might comment on things like layout and grammar etc, but only because an agent or editor will expect submissions to be perfect, not because I’m trying to nit-pick.

From your experience with NWS submissions, what are the key points a writer needs to think about before they submit their work?

First of all immaculate presentation – although no one except the NWS reader will see this manuscript, it’s a practice run for when you send it out to agents so it has to be as perfect and professional as you can make it in every respect.

A coherent synopsis which covers only the key points of the story and tells the reader all they need to know without unnecessary waffle.

Are the characters the kind that the reader can empathise with? (Ie. not a heroine who is spoiled and petulant all the way through and doesn’t deserve her happy ever after.)

Is there enough tension throughout the story, or are there some chapters that feel very “flat”, where nothing much happens? Have you remembered the “show-don’t-tell” rule – if there are several pages of telling the reader what’s happening instead of showing it through dialogue or action, go back and change it before sending it off.

If you’re not sure about your grammar or spelling, ask someone else to read it for you before sending it off. Read your dialogue out loud to yourself to see if it really sounds like a normal person talking. I’m sure there are other things, but those are some of the more important ones I think.

What advice would you give a writer submitting to the NWS in 2012?

Believe in your story and write exactly the kind of thing you’d like to read. Don’t try and write like anyone else, just be yourself - I want to hear your voice loud and clear. And don’t write a vampire story because Twilight is popular or whatever, write one because you happen to like blood and gore, otherwise it will show!

To find out more about Pia's work visit her website at

Thank you very much to Allie, Rachel and Pia for talking to us and for giving your time and expertise to the New Writers' Scheme. Thanks also go out to all the other anonymous Readers who contribute to the NWS.

To find out more about the New Writers' Scheme visit the RNA website at

Information about 2012 membership will appear on the RNA website in mid December.

The New Writers’ Scheme 'Inside Out' Part 4 – 2011 NWS Graduates will be posted on 16th December.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The New Writers' Scheme - Inside Out - Part 2 - Inside the NWS

Today's post looks at the New Writers' Scheme from the inside. A warm welcome to current 2011 members, Lizzie Lamb, Debs Carr and Kate Thomson who generously share their experiences of being a member of the NWS.

Lizzie, can you tell us what made you first take part in the New Writers Scheme?

I’d belonged to several writing clubs over the years but few of the members were writing in the same genre as I was - rom coms - and so the feedback I got was often wide of the mark. A friend and RNA member suggested that I join the NWS and get feedback from an experienced published writer.

How long have you been a member?

I joined the New Writers’ Scheme in January 2007 and have been a member ever since. I hope to re-join in 2012.

What do you feel the NWS has done for you?

Initially, the new Writers’ Scheme gave me a target to aim for i.e. finishing my novel and getting it polished enough to send to a reader. Through RNA conferences and parties, I was introduced to other members of the NWS (and published authors) and shared common experiences with them. As I have watched NWS members become published authors it has given me the spur to carry on, hoping that one day I’ll become a full member of the RNA.

The NWS is both a reality check and a support mechanism. It says: “If you’re determined, persistent and willing to learn you could make it as a published writer. Since joining the RNA /NWS I have learned much about how the industry works, what is important and what is peripheral in the writing business. I have also made so many new friends via the parties, and conferences that my personal and professional life is richer for it.

How has it improved your work?

I have learned the importance of striking a balance between plotting and characterisation; an appreciation of how to pace a novel and keep the reader’s interest - the elusive page turning quality - and how to tell my story/take my characters on an emotional journey. In particular I have learned to show the hero/heroine as real people who the reader will worry about, care for and want to see reach a happy ending/conclusion after facing trials and tribulations.

Can you tell us about the critiques you've received?

I have received four in all. Two for finished novels and two critiques on partials. The first novel I submitted almost got a ‘second read’. That's the novel I am currently re-writing and lengthening to 100k words. The critiques have shown me how to improve my writing, how to build up the layers of the main characters and to cut down on some of the secondary characters who were hogging the limelight ! They have given praise where praise is due - for my use of dialogue, witty turn of phrase and the pace of my novel. This has given me the confidence to carry on and finish and further develop my ‘voice’.

Have you submitted the same novel more than once?

I have resubmitted my first novel as a ‘partial’ this year, re-written and lengthened from 83k - 110k words. I hope to finish by spring next year, copy edited and then resubmitted to the NWS before sending it out to agents.

What advice would you give a writer starting the scheme for the first time in 2012?

Have realistic expectations about what the scheme actually offers. It can’t write your novel for you - only you can do that - but it can give some great pointers on how to make your novel better and get it ready for submission to agents/editors.

Remember: the critique is one person’s opinion of your work; read and assimilate what your reader has said - and if any of the points have a resonance for you, then act upon them. A different reader might write a completely different critique of the same novel.

Don’t ask for too many opinions on your work as you can be pulled this way and that, spend years revising and re-editing it and in the process lose your ‘voice’ and get bored with your novel. And it will show.

Write the novel you want to write but with the all the usual caveats; above all finish it - you’ll learn a great deal in the process.

Jersey based writer Debs Carr has been a member of the NWS for six years.

Debs, what made you first take part in the New Writers' Scheme?

I discovered the RNA through sending a manuscript to Hilary Johnson for a critique. In the book the heroine is living in a rundown house and is working on various rooms. Hilary suggested that if I wanted to see a good example of how this can be incorporated into a story I could read Katie Fforde’s book, Restoring Grace, which I did. I then contacted Katie to tell her how much I loved the book and we exchanged a few emails. Katie mentioned the RNA and in particular, the New Writers’ Scheme and I joined as soon as possible.

What do you feel the NWS has done for you? How has it improved your work?

I consider myself very lucky to be a part of such a professional, welcoming association and as well as introducing me to many people that I’ve long admired, I also continue to learn how to improve my writing. I had no idea quite how far my writing had to go when I first joined, but each time I’ve received a report from an NWS reader, I’ve ultimately improved the novel far more than I ever would have done without the report.

Each reader is different and I think I’ve now sent in four different novels to the scheme. The readers pointed out many things from switching points of view, to gaps in my plot, or unrealistic reactions between characters. I believe my writing has improved immeasurably since I’ve joined the scheme and hopefully I’m ‘nearly there’.

Can you tell us about the critiques you've received?

I read each critique as soon as I receive them. I have to admit that each time I’ve submitted a manuscript to the NWS, I’ve believed the book was as good as I could make it. Then to get a critique pointing out for several pages what is wrong with the characters, plot, etc can be a little upsetting (to say the least), but I’ve always put the report down and left it for a while. Once I return to it and read it in a less emotional mood, I can usually see immediately what the reader has found wrong and in many cases ideas how to (vastly) improve the book.

I did have a report one year that said, ‘you’re almost there’ and then I worked on the novel for a year, taking into account the different points the reader had made, submitted it to the NWS Scheme and received back a report that honestly made me feel that I’d spent a year ruining a book. I’ve looked back at that report since and can see the value in it and I always take on board the advice that’s given to me.

Have you submitted the same novel more than once?

Yes, I’ve submitted two novels twice.

What advice would you give a writer starting the scheme for the first time in 2012?
I’d advise to try to send in a completed manuscript and edit it as well as you can before submitting it. Also expect to read some uncomfortable truths about your ‘baby’ in the report. Make sure you read it, step away, take a deep breath and return to the report a week or so later ready to absorb what the reader is telling you and work on your novel once again.

Debs has two stories in the anthology Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After coming out in paperback in late Dec/early Jan. To find out more visit the website

Follow Debs and her writing at

Kate Thomson has seen her writing become stronger since she became a member of the NWS.

Kate, tell us how you came to join to the New Writers' Scheme?

I think I found the RNA and its wonderful NWS from the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook. I thought the chance to get a critique from people who knew what they were talking about was absolutely invaluable, and was proved right when I joined and submitted my first MS.

How long have you been a member?

I've been a member round about 13 years now (lucky for some, perhaps) - a long apprenticeship, but I hope a thorough one.

What do you feel the NWS has done for you? How has it improved your work?

The NWS for me is a knowledgeable and impartial pair of eyes to look at my work and help me to progress my skills. It's also very good at helping me look at my writing in a more commercial way, which I know is a weakness in me.

Can you tell us about the critiques you've received?

Every single one has been brilliant! I really can't praise them highly enough. Most of the time (after I've swallowed the disappointment that my reader wasn't struck that my MS was the best thing they've ever set eyes upon!), I have found that my reader has put their finger on precisely what's not right about the MS, and has phrased it in a way that means I can see what's the problem - and more importantly, lets me come up with ideas to fix it. Even if I've disagreed about something, I have been able to understand what my reader meant and see why they made the comment. Every single time my reader has helped me find ways to make the novel stronger, without dictating what I should do.

Have you submitted the same novel more than once?

I don't think so (13 years - it's hard to remember!), but my general view is that I learn from my mistakes and move on rather than endlessly editing the same book. Each novel is then stronger than the last one and I really do feel now that publication isn't far away.

What advice would you give a writer starting the scheme for the first time in 2012?
Take your time to ensure the MS you submit is as strong as you can make it alone. This means you'll get a critique which can really help to power your writing forwards and doesn't have to tell you obvious things you could find out elsewhere (like how to punctuate a manuscript) and doesn't point out what you already know is wrong with the manuscript but were too rushed to work on. Having said that, my other piece of advice is to get your MS in as early as possible - it really does make a difference to the amount of time your reader will have to read and critique your work (and how fast you'll get your report back).

Thank you to Lizzie, Debs and Kate for sharing your experiences of the NWS. I wish you all the best of luck with your novels and hope that you all become NWS graduates soon.

To find out more about the New Writers' Scheme visit the RNA website at

Information about 2012 membership will appear on the RNA website in mid December.

The New Writers’ Scheme 'Inside Out' Part 3 – A Reader's point of view will be posted on 13th December.