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.


Laura E. James said...

A really interesting read - thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

Jan Brigden said...

What fabulously detailed interviews! Thanks to all three ladies for sharing their views and experiences. They are very much appreciated.

Lizzie Lamb said...

Kate, you've done a great job in presenting our view(s) of the NWS. Looking fwd to reading part three !!

Fenella J Miller said...

Interesting to see NWS from the other side. I think the RNA do a great job for the unpublished at a fraction of the cost of a critique form anywhere else.

Henriette said...

Having been on the NWS myself for years, I can only echo everything Lizzie, Debs, and Kate have said.

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

Thanks for having me here, Kate.

I love reading this blog and was thrilled to be included in this post. I can't wait to read Part 3.

Freda Lightfoot said...

I think all these members should give themselves a pat on the back for working so hard. It's too easy to fall into the pit of despair but they all get up, brush themselves off and write another novel. The mark of a true writer. I wish you all the best of luck.

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

Thanks, Lizzy, Debs and Kate, for taking the time to give us your views. It is a brilliant scheme and I for one wouldn't be where I am now without it. Wishing your all a successful writerly 2012

Christina Courtenay said...

Great interviews and great advice from all of you!

carol said...

I really agree with all of you. The New Writer's scheme is invaluable. I have really been fortunate with my critiques. They are indeed helpful

Unknown said...

Great interviews all and great advice - really interesting on how you all discovered the RNA. I found it it the eHarlequin boards...