Wednesday, December 13, 2017

December's Competition Monthly!

Francesca takes a look at how to stand out from the crowd in a themed contest and has a diverse batch of competitions to enter this month.

Depending on what competition you've entered, you could be pitted against thirty other people, or thousands. If the competition has a theme, this makes coming up with an original idea, one that the judges aren't going to groan at because they've already read fifty other entries with the same idea, quite difficult. Ideas are all around us, and if you're like me, you're forever jotting them down and storing them for future pieces of work. But when having to think of something for a specific subject, the mind can often go blank.

When faced with an empty page, I like to mind map with a spider diagram. I'm sure some of you will already do this. For other, newer writers, hopefully this will help the creative juices flow. The first ideas I have will be obvious, but as the tendrils of the diagram get longer, more obscure thoughts come to the surface, ones that may seem outside the box, but have a better chance of grabbing the judge's attention. Even if the idea seems ridiculous, don't dismiss it out of hand. I find the more connections I make, the more an idea starts to materialise and grow. Sometimes several of the ideas can be used together.

It's too late for Christmas stories now, but it's a good theme to use as an example:

These are just off the top of my head and would normally be more extensive. Coloured pens are optional! Different things work for different people, but it might be worth giving it a go if you're stuck.

Hope you're all inspired by the festive season. Best of luck with the competitions you enter now and in the new year.

Buon Natale / Nadolig Llawen / Happy Christmas!

Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize
Theme: Open, including children's and YA, by women over 21. First 40-50 pages and synopsis 5-10 pages long.
Prize: All shortlisted receive one to one consultations with a literary agent and opportunity to meet other agents.
Closing date: 12 noon, 9 February 2018
Entry: £12

Writing Magazine Dialogue Only Short Story
Theme: No description, only dialogue. 1,500 – 1,700 words
Prize: £200 and publication in magazine / £50 and publication online
Closing date: 15 February 2018
Entry: £5 / £3 subscriber

Flash 500 Short Story Competition
Theme: Open. 1,000 to 3,000 words
Prize: £500 / £200 / £100
Closing date: 28 February 2018
Entry: £7

The Hate and Coat Award
Theme: Darker side of human nature. Three items mentioned must be included. 999 words max
Prize: Winner 50% of entry fees. Shortlisted remaining 50% shared.
Closing date: 28 February 2018
Entry: $15AUS

Dream Quest One Writing Contest (also poetry)
Theme: Open, five pages max
Prize: $250US / $125 / $50
Closing date: 28 February 2018
Entry: $10US

The SciFan Fire and Ice Competition
Theme: Fire and Ice – dystopian / dark. 2,000 words max
Prize: £100 / £50 / £25. Shortlist offered opportunity to be in anthology.
Closing date: 28 February 2018
Entry: £5

The Debut Dagger Award
Theme: Crime. For unpublished writers. First 3,000 words, 500 – 1,000 word synopsis
Prize: £500 / shortlisted get brief professional assessment and are submitted to agents
Closing date: 28 February 2018
Entry: £36

Crime Writers' Association Margery Allingham Short Story Award
Theme: Must satisfy Margaret's definition of a mystery (see site). Up to 3,500 words.
Prize: £500
Closing date: 28 February 2018
Entry: £12

Exeter Writers' Short Story Competition
Theme: Open (excluding children's). 3,000 words max
Prize: £500 / £250 / £100 / Devon prize £100
Closing date: 28 February 2018
Entry: £6

Nottingham Writers' Club Short Story Competition
Theme: Any genre in a chosen season. 2,000 words max
Prize: £200 / £150 / £50
Closing date: After February 1st (see page for details)
Entry: Possibly £5 – To be confirmed

Francesca Capaldi Burgess has been placed or shortlisted in a number of competitions including Winchester Writers' Conference, Retreat West, Meridian Writing, Wells Festival and Writing Magazine. She's had stories and a serial published in magazines worldwide and in three anthologies, including Diamonds and Pearls and 100 Stories for Haiti. She is a member of the RNA New Writers' Scheme and the Society for Women Writers and Journalists.
Write Minds Blog

Many thank, Francesca!

This blog was prepared by blog team member, Louisa Heaton.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Ask the Industry Expert: Literary Agent Kate Nash

Literary agent Kate Nash needs no introduction to many members of the RNA. Kate has attended several RNA events, including the RNA conference 2017, where she accepted pitches from members.
It's a great pleasure to welcome Kate to the blog today. Thanks for accepting our invitation, Kate!

Please tell us a little about the Kate Nash Agency, how long it’s been established, and how you came to set it up.
I set up the Agency in 2009. As a publisher I worked with a wide variety of literary agents and
Kate Nash literary agency, helena fairfax
came to the conclusion that it was the best job in the business. This is because agents have the amazingly privileged position of being able to work closely with an author and drive the direction and success of the author’s overall career. Publishers are of course critical to an author’s success but there remains a potential tension between their interests as a business and the interests of the author. A literary agent’s interests are the author’s interests so we can be there champion as well as having those difficult conversations.
I set up my own business as I felt I was a little too old and opinionated to garner a job making the tea at an established literary agency and wanted to start building my client list right away.

What genres do you represent?
I represent commercial fiction across most genres, namely romantic fiction, women’s fiction, family sagas, historical fiction, crime and thrillers. I also represent some narrative non-fiction.

What services do you provide for your authors?
The Kate Nash Literary Agency is a full service literary agency, by which I mean that we offer representation to book authors across all territories and formats. As primary agent I would handle an author’s work across the World in English language for all book formats. For translation and television / film we work in partnership with specialist agencies: RightsPeople on translation and Collective Talent for dramatisation.

What is it you are looking for when a manuscript lands on your desk? Are there any specific plots or themes you’d like to see?
I’m looking for a gripping, unputdownable read from the opening sentence onwards. When I request to see a full manuscript, it’s usually the best thing I’ve started reading all week, possibly all month, occasionally all year. We get a lot of submissions and I read a lot so I always say to writers that if any agent requests to see more material this is a brilliant sign, even if things don’t move forward with that particular agent.

Do you ever find authors outside the slush pile? If so, how?
I have found a number of my authors from literary events and competitions. I actively try to attend a variety of writing conferences and literary festivals every year, including the Romantic Novelists Association annual conference. I feel that by the time that aspiring writers have the confidence to start attending conferences they are some way down the road in taking their craft seriously. It is affirming for me to engage face to face on all sorts of levels, to be encouraging and be available as an industry professional.

What advice would you give someone submitting to you?
My client list is fairly full meaning that I can only take on a couple of new clients a year but it is really important not to be put off by statistics like that. Finding the right agent is in some ways similar to finding “the one”: you only need one good one and the rest are irrelevant! Few things are as satisfying or as thrilling as a debut book deal for a writer and therefore I will always continue to work with new writers and encourage submissions. This year I’ve had debut success from two RNA members: Lucie Wheeler (The First Time Mums’ Club, HarperImpulse) and Maggie Sullivan (Christmas on Coronation Street, HarperFiction).
It is tough out there for new writers trying to find an agent. There are possibly not enough agents to meet the demand. Don’t take it personally if an agent isn’t interested or fails to get back to you. Agents have clear guidelines and because of the volume of submissions it is really important that writers stick to these to make sure that their submissions are read and lost somewhere in a parallel universe. My guidelines are on the website:

What’s your favourite romance novel of all time?
Pride and Prejudice because of its many other layers of social commentary, character analysis and humour.

Apart from your own authors, which book have you enjoyed the most in the past twelve months, and why?
Clare Mackintosh’s I See You was terrifying and I literally stayed up late into night to finish it.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
My favourite going-out treat is the theatre and now my children are a bit older I’m trying to go to more than just children’s theatre (great though that is).  A good few weekends are taken up with literary events so when I am at home I love to organise family days out but also relax in my kitchen on a Saturday morning, cooking and listening to Frank Skinner on Absolute Radio. I also donate a day or two a month as a trustee  to a publishing charity, the Catholic Truth Society, who publish resources for Catholics in the UK.

If you could describe your working day in just three words, what would they be?
Coffee. Work. Repeat.

Thanks so much for dropping in today, Kate, and for your thoughtful and encouraging answers. Wishing you much continued success with your authors, and we look forward to seeing you at the next conference!

If you've enjoyed Kate's interview, or have any questions or comments at all, please let us know. We'd love to hear from you!

Helena Fairfax is a freelance editor who writes feel good contemporary romances and romantic suspense. Her novel A Year of Light and Shadows tells the story of how plain Lizzie Smith is plunged into a year of mystery involving a missing princess, a false diamond, a doppelgänger and a hot bodyguard.
You can find out more about Helena's books and her editing services on her website

Friday, December 8, 2017

Festivals and Workshops: Essex Book Festival

Welcome to Elaine Roberts with another in her interesting series about literary festivals and workshops.
This month I have interviewed Rosalind Green from the Essex Book Festival. Welcome to the RNA blog Rosalind.

Can you tell us something about your festival, how it came about and how long its been running?

Essex Book Festival has been running for 20 years. Initially Essex Libraries ran it, now it is an independent charity based in the Centre for Creative Writing at the University of Essex in Colchester.

Syd Moore speaking at Colchester Castle

Who are your main speakers this year?

Oh, that’s a secret! We don’t announce our line up until early January. However, I can say that we have a strong emphasis on fantasy and fiction for 2018.

As our blog is for writers can you tell me how your festival would benefit our members?

Supporting new and emerging writers is one of our key aims. And, as such, we host a number of creative writing workshops across the county. Next year we are delighted, amongst others, to be running a Writing for Radio Workshop led by leading Radio 4 dramatist Robin Brooks and our first Sci-fi Writing Workshop in Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker led by Matthew De Abaitu. Plus a Beginner’s Crime Writing Workshop led by Nicola Upsom. Tickets go on sale in January – our advice is to get in quick.

Essex Book Festival

Is there anything to enter (maybe a writing competition), if so could details be provided?

We are in the process of planning next year’s writing competition. Information will be posted on our website in due course.

How about staying over for the whole event. Where can people stay?

Essex Book Festival takes place in 45 venues across Essex across one month so it is difficult to be specific about places to say. One thing we would recommend is booking into the Park Inn Palace Hotel in Southend-on-Sea for our annual Golden Age of Crime Weekend, one of our festival favourites and the location of Nicola Upsom’s writing workshop.

Liz Trenow at Essex Book Festival

What does it cost to attend?

£7 / £5 concessions (under 27 yrs old)

Do workshops/talks fill up quickly?

Very quickly!

How much time does it take to organise the festival?

We work on the Festival all year round.

Dates for 2018: 28th February- 31st March

Link to website:

Email for queries:

Thank you for taking the time to talk to me and I wish the festival every success.

Elaine is a member of the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme and is currently working on a family saga. She has sold short stories worldwide and enjoys attending RNA events such as the London Chapter and our annual conference. Elaine is a great fan of writing retreats either week long by the sea with friends or one-day retreats with fellow writers in her hometown of Dartford. Elaine runs a writing blog along with writer, Francesca Capaldi Burgess called WriteMindWritePlace.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

December Releases

Freda Lightfoot - Peace in My Heart
Paperback, ebook and audio
28th December, 2017

The war is over and Evie Talbert eagerly awaits the return of her three children from their evacuated homes. 

But her carefree daughters and son are barely recognisable – their education has been disrupted, the siblings split up, and the effect on them has been life-changing. Her son has developed serious behavioural problems and with her daughters, there’s jealousy and a nervous disorder that cannot be explained…

Evie’s husband also has problems. Having returned from being in action, he suffers nightmares and fits of rage. He’s no longer the gentle, quiet man Evie married.

Peace may finally be here, but Evie’s family is in shreds. Now she must rebuild a loving home to achieve the happiness she’s always dreamed of…


Mary Wood - Brighter Days Ahead
Historical Saga

Paperback and ebook
Pan Macmillan
30th November, 2017

Brighter Days Ahead is a moving story set against the backdrop of the Second World War, from Mary Wood, author of In Their Mother’s Footsteps.

War pulled them apart, but can it bring them back together?

Molly lives with her repugnant father, who has betrayed her many times.

From a young age, living on the streets of London’s East End, she has seen the harsh realities of life...
When she’s kidnapped by a gang and forced into their underworld, her future seems bleak.

Flo spent her early years in an orphanage and is about to turn her hand to teacher training. 
When a kindly teacher at her school approaches her about a job at Bletchley Park, it could be everything she never knew she wanted.

Will the girls' friendship be enough to weather the hard times ahead?


Jen Gilroy - Back Home at Firefly Lake
Contemporary romance

Paperback and ebook
Grand Central, Forever
5th December, 2017

She has a million reasons to leave. Can he give her the one she needs to stay?

Cat McGuire's return to Firefly Lake is turning into much more than she bargained for. Sure, she missed the crisp pine-scented air and the comfort of having her family around her. But being home makes her feel less like the successful single mom she is – and more like the awkward teen who never fit in.

It doesn't help that hockey-pro Luc Simard is back in town, too. Luc was her childhood crush, the hometown hero who never noticed her, and yet somehow he still makes her heart skip a beat.

Luc's homecoming has been bittersweet. He's lost his wife and his career, but there's no better place to start over than Firefly Lake. Coaching the local kids' hockey team makes him feel alive again, and he thinks his life is complete--until Cat arrives. 

The shy girl he always wanted to protect is now the gorgeous woman who's stealing his heart and making him believe in second chances.

But how can he convince Cat that Firefly Lake is where she truly belongs?


Rosie Hendry - East End Angels
Little Brown, Sphere
14th December, 2017

Strong-willed Winnie loves being part of the crew at Station Seventy-Five but her parents are less than happy. She has managed to avoid their pleas to join the WRENS so far but when a tragedy hits too close to home she finds herself wondering if she's cut out for this life after all.

Former housemaid Bella was forced to leave the place she loved when she lost it all and it's taken her a while to find somewhere else to call home. She's finally starting to build a new life but when the air raids begin, it seems she may have to start over once again.

East-Ender Frankie's sense of loyalty keeps her tied to home so it's not easy for her to stay focused at work. With her head and heart pulling in different directions, will she find the strength to come through for her friends when they need her the most?

Brought together at LAAS Station Seventy-Five in London's East End during 1940, these three very different women soon realise that they'll need each other if they're to get through the days ahead.

But can the ties of friendship, love and family all remain unbroken?


Gwen Kirkwood - A Scottish Destiny
Paperback and ebook


A Scottish Destiny - a gripping tale of love in a heart-warming climate. Book 4 in the series following Moorland Mist, Moorend, and Return to Bonnybrae.

When seventeen-year-old Marie Sinclair travelled to Strathlinn in Scotland in1920 to visit her brother and his new family, all she was looking for was rest and recuperation after the death of Lady Hanley, for whom she had been caring for over the past eighteen months. But when her pregnant sister-in-law is rushed to hospital in danger of the life of her and her twins, Marie is forced to take on a far greater role in the lives of her Scottish family.

And who is Mark Blackford, the new, young Estate owner, who seems only interested in machines and who is struggling under the new responsibilities of running the estate and gathering rent from tenants who are not always inclined to pay? Meeting him on the train to Strathlinn, Marie’s life becomes entwined with his, as friend, help-meet, and, maybe, something more?

Full of complex, loveable characters, and poised at a moment when the world is changing in new and dramatic ways, A Scottish Destiny is a beautiful novel which explores how, in a world turned upside down, the things that bind us continue to do so – family, responsibility and, though Marie dare not whisper it to herself, love.

From the author of Return to Bonnybrae, this is another gripping tale of love in a heart-warming climate.


Margaret Mounsdon - Hungry For Love

Contemporary romance
Large print paperback
1st December, 2017

Louise Drew replaced celebrity chef Charlie Irons when he was let go from his daytime cookery slot.

Charlie's fans deserted the programme in droves and after Louise suffered an appalling case of on air nerves the show folded. 

Desperate for a job she answers an ad and discovers to horror it would mean working for Charlie Irons - a nightmare in the making, but what choice does Louise have? If she doesn't take the job she will be homeless.


Lesley Cookman - Murder Most Fowl

Accent Press
21st December, 2017

A Libby Sarjeant Christmas "Long/Short" story

It is almost Christmas, and pantomime rehearsals are well under way. Once again, local butcher Bob is playing the dame, but the whole production is put under threat when someone sabotages his business. Libby Sarjeant recruits Fran Wolfe to help find the culprit and restore the Steeple Martin pantomime.


Evonne Wareham - What Happens at Christmas
Romantic Suspense

Choc Lit
5th December, 2017

A Christmas to remember

Lori France and her four-year-old niece Misty are settling in to spend the holidays away after unexpected events leave them without a place to stay.

Best-selling author Andrew Vitruvius knows that any publicity is good publicity. His agent tells him that often, so it must be true. In the run-up to Christmas, she excels herself - talking him into the craziest scheme yet: getting himself kidnapped, live on TV.

Little do they know they’re about to make a discovery and experience a Christmas they’re not likely to forget...


Awen Thornber - Foxtrot in Freshby
Romance with Intrigue
Paperback and ebook
Crooked Cat Books
6th December, 2017

When dance teacher Gina Pendleton throws her cheating boyfriend out of her house, she has to find some way of earning extra money to pay the bills. The obvious answer is to offer dance classes at her home, even though she knows this will incur the wrath of the owner of the local well-established dance school.

Her life becomes even more fraught when she is targeted by vandals and intruders.

After she meets Chris Jackson, it doesn’t take her long to realise he is the man of her dreams, especially as he’s also a wonderful dancing partner.

But can she trust him when it appears he is hiding something from her?


Sheila Norton - The Pets at Primrose Cottage: Part 2 New Beginnings
Cosy romance
Ebook (
part two of a four-part serialised novel. Full-length paperback available in April 2018)
21st December, 2017

All Emma wants is a quiet life in sleepy Crickleford, away from the prying eyes of the press who are obsessed with the life she used to lead. She is enjoying her new vocation: the town's most in-demand pet-sitter.

But her journalist friend and fellow animal lover Matt is desperate for a big story to make his career – such as Emma’s true identity… Emma doesn’t want the spotlight, but it keeps finding her anyway.

Can she keep her past a secret and live the life she’s dreamed of? 


Lynda Stacey - House of Christmas Secrets
Romantic Suspense
Choc Lit
5th December, 2017

This year we’re just going to have a nice, normal Christmas…

Last year’s Christmas at Wrea Head Hall didn’t quite go to plan, which is why Jess Croft is determined this festive season will be the one to remember, for the right reasons. And she has plenty of reasons to be hopeful, she’s going to marry the man of her dreams, Jack Stone, seven days after New Year’s Eve.

When family secrets are revealed in hidden letters and two unexpected guests turn up on the doorstep, Jess is left wondering whether her life will ever be the same again.

Can Jess and Jack still experience a peaceful festive season that they had imagined, or are there some problems that even Christmas can’t fix?


M W Arnold - The Season for Love
Contemporary Romance

Passion in Print
16th December, 2017

Believing she was responsible for the death of her husband, Chrissie Stewart retreats from all those who love her. 

A chance meeting with mysterious stranger, single-parent Josh Morgan and his bewitching young daughter Lizzy, breathe new life into her and gradually, she feels able to start to let go of the memory of her lost love. 

Unexpected links are revealed between the two families that strengthen the growing bonds she feels to this man and with the encouragement of her best friend Annie, herself hiding a hidden conflict from Chrissie, she battles with her demons to believe in her ability to trust and love again. 

Everything comes to a head on Christmas Day; which all goes to show that this is truly The Season for Love.


Bella Osborne - Ottercombe Bay Part One - Where There’s a Will
Romantic Comedy

Avon, HarperCollins
28th December, 2017

Daisy Wickens has returned to Ottercombe Bay, the picturesque Devon town where her mother died when she was a girl. She plans to leave as soon as her great uncle’s funeral is over, but Great Uncle Reg had other ideas.

He’s left Daisy a significant inheritance – an old building in a state of disrepair, which could offer exciting possibilities, but to get it she must stay in Ottercombe Bay for twelve whole months.

With the help of a cast of quirky locals, a few gin cocktails and a black pug with plenty of attitude, Daisy might just turn this into something special. But can she ever hope to be happy among the ghosts of her past?


Rhoda Baxter - Snowed In
Contemporary Romance
Independently published
27th November, 2017

Tracey doesn't do socialising. Vinnie is recovering from a nasty break up. Neither of them is looking for a relationship.

When a snow storm forces them to take shelter in the same rural cottage, they find out that they have far more in common than they originally thought.


Helen J Rolfe - Snowflakes and Mistletoe at the Inglenook Inn

Women's Fiction
Independently published
12th December, 2017

As the flames on the log fire flicker and the snowflakes swirl above the New York streets, maybe this Christmas could be the one that changes everything...

When Darcy returns to Manhattan, she’s put in charge of the Inglenook Inn, a cosy boutique hotel in the heart of Greenwich Village. The Inn needs a boost in bookings if it’s to survive the competition, so Darcy is convinced that hosting Christmas this year is the answer. What she doesn’t expect is to meet a face from the past, which can only spell trouble.

Myles left England behind and took a job in New York. It’s a step forwards in his career, and has the added bonus of being nowhere near his family. He’s also hoping to avoid Christmas, the worst time of the year. But when his company puts him up at the Inglenook Inn and he recognises Darcy, it isn’t long before they clash. 

When disaster strikes, can Myles and Darcy put their differences aside to make Christmas at the Inglenook Inn a success?


Helen J Rolfe - The Magnolia Girls
Women's fiction

Paperback (already available as an ebook)
Independently published
27th October, 2017

Fall in love with Magnolia Creek, the small town that draws you in and refuses to let you go...

Carrie has it all: a stellar career, a gorgeous heart-surgeon boyfriend, and an apartment in the city. But when something happens that forces her to question her ability to do her job, the only way she can see through the mess is to get far away from everything. Carrie is thrust into a very different life in Magnolia Creek.

She’s knee-deep in renovations at her house at the top of the hill; she’s sharing time and space with her ex, Owen; and newcomer, Noah, gets under her skin from day one. 

Meanwhile, her boyfriend, Lachlan, is doing everything he can to convince her she belongs 
back in the city with him doing the job she’s worked so hard to establish.

Carrie never had time for anything apart from work but in Magnolia Creek it isn’t long before she strikes up a lasting friendship with Rosie, Gemma and Bella, and when a face from the past turns up offering forgiveness, Carrie realises that everyone needs a little bit of love and friendship in their lives.


Louise Allen - A Scandalous Lady
Regency romance

Independently published (Revised version of the book of the same title by Francesca Shaw published by Mills & Boon.)
1st December, 2017

Pride, prejudice and a shocking secret. Has love any chance at all?

Camilla Knight, has a secret that would ruin her, and her family, if it was ever known. 

She is also becoming increasingly attracted to Nicholas Lovell, Earl of Ashby, which would be delightful - if it were not for the fact that Nicholas is intent on the pursuit of lovely actress Lysette Davide, who just happens to be Miss Knight. 

What begins as a careless wager for Nicholas becomes a tantalising dilemma as he comes to realise that the two women he is attracted to are one and the same. And neither is a fit wife for the Earl of Ashby.


The new releases list is compiled by Sheila Riley. Sheila joined the RNA in 2004 as a new writer. Since then she has written best-selling sagas as Annie Groves. She's a member of the North West Chapter of the RNA and loves to catch up with writer friends at the regular Southport lunches. 

The new email address for monthly publications is:

Monday, December 4, 2017

The New Writers' Scheme

Today we welcome not one, not two, but three RNA members to the blog to talk about their different experiences of the New Writers’ Scheme. We’re delighted to be joined by scheme member, Sasha Greene, schene reader, Jennifer Young, and our NWS Co-ordinator, Imogen Howson. Imogen is up first:

In 2018, the RNA will offer 300 memberships to writers who are not (yet) published, and so who are not (yet!) eligible to join the RNA as Full or Independent members. These New Writers’ Scheme (NWS) members will then have the opportunity to send in a full-length manuscript for a critique from our team of readers, all of whom are multi-published, experienced authors.
As NWS Organiser, I have the privilege of managing the administration involved.  
And it is a privilege.  In the world of writers’ organisations, the NWS is, as far as I know, unique. 
The life of a writer is an isolating one.  And all the craft books, talks, workshops and writers’ forums in the world can’t offer the help that you get from an actual hands-on appraisal of your writing. It’s why personalized rejections can be so valuable (albeit disheartening!), and one of the many reasons why a good agent or editor is worth their weight in gin.
So being in the position of assigning manuscripts to the most appropriate reader, sending the resulting report to the writer, and then hearing the subsequent success stories, is deeply satisfying.
This year, in particular, I’ve had a huge amount of comments from the readers for the scheme, telling me that the quality of manuscripts this year has been particularly good.  I’ve also had a huge number of extremely happy members of the scheme contact me, asking me to pass their thanks to their reader and saying how helpful and encouraging their reports have been.
This year, as every year, I’ve also seen members take their revised manuscripts to publishers, and end up with contracts. Something that the RNA celebrates at our Summer Party in May each year, when the Joan Hessayon Award is given to someone whose book has been through the NWS and has gone on to be published. 
The presentation of the Joan Hessayon Award is a lovely event.  It’s wonderful to see all the members who are ‘graduating’ the NWS, a thrill to see who’s won this year, and always fun to change from writing clothes (pyjamas, anyone?) into party clothes to celebrate with them.
Managing the day-to-day administration of the NWS is, admittedly, less glamorous, but on the other hand, it gives me the opportunity to read emails from members saying: “When I sent my manuscript in for critique I didn’t know any more whether it was good or terrible. Thanks to my report, I now know that it is good, but I also know how to make it better.” 
Or sometimes, which is even more lovely: “This year has been really discouraging, and I’d reached the point where I was thinking of giving up writing. My report has given me so much encouragement and spurred me to carry on.”
I don’t get to put on my party dress and heels and drink prosecco when I read those emails (although I guess I could!). But all the same, knowing I’m part of an organization that not only helps writers become better, but helps them know they’re better, what could be more exciting than that?

Imogen Howson writes science fiction and fantasy for young adults.  She won the YA category of the Romantic Novel of the Year 2014 with Linked, and also won the Elizabeth Goudge trophy in 2008 and 2017.  She’s represented by Mandy Hubbard of Emerald City Literary Agency.
When Immi’s not writing, going to RNA parties, or organizing the NWS, she cooks, runs, reads, and looks after a household of one Church of England curate, two young adult daughters, three cats, and one tiny dog.  She lives in rural Nottinghamshire between a cornfield and a graveyard, and expects aliens, zombies, or both, any day now. You can find out more about Immi on her website or by following her on twitter.

So that’s the NWS from the co-ordinator’s point of view. What’s the scheme like for those who read the manuscripts? Over to Jennifer Young to find out:

I enjoy reading and critiquing other people’s work, so when I saw that the NWS was looking for readers, I jumped at the chance, as a grateful graduate of the scheme, to give something back.

In my time as a reader, I’ve critiqued everything from the tentative words of complete beginners to the polished work of writers far more accomplished than I will ever be. I’ve critiqued a first draft full of beginner’s errors yet which had that certain something that brought a tear to my eye. I’ve felt like a fraud writing comments on novels even as I learned from their authors.

I try — always — to find something good to say about a manuscript and I can put my hand on my heart and say that I’ve never read one where I’ve had to resort to false compliments. To produce a manuscript for submission, even if it isn’t complete, requires imagination, application and effort, and all of them — especially the imagination — show through.

That said, I don’t think it’s fair to shrink from the problems. Just as I pass my own work to beta readers expecting them to be as hard on me as an agent, editor, publisher or reader would be, I will always tell a writer where I perceive that there are problems. I find it difficult to write a tough critique, especially because I know from experience how hard it is to read one, and the last thing I — or any other reader — would want to do is discourage an aspiring author when the game we play is all about persistence.

Of course — and this is something I always stress — judgement is subjective. No matter how hard I might try to be dispassionate, I will inevitably be kinder to someone who writes in my style, or somehow catches my imagination, or even accidentally sets a novel in a place dear to my heart. There will always be a reader who loves a book that I find fault with, or hates the one I adore. It’s like love. A book and a reader require chemistry, and that’s beyond our control.

So my tip for NWS members is this. Don’t be afraid to write what you want. Listen to your reader’s comments but don’t be bound by them. Writing is a craft and craft requires hard work. But never, ever give up.

Jennifer Young is an Edinburgh-based writer of contemporary romance and romantic suspense. She graduated from the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme in 2014 with her contemporary romance, Thank You For The Music. Five other novels followed with e-publisher Tirgearr Publishing, and in 2016 she branched out into self-publishing with a series of romantic suspense novels set in her home city.

Thank you Jennifer. The work of the NWS readers is so valuable to the RNA, but what does the scheme mean to its members? Here’s Sasha Greene to talk about her experience of being in the NWS:

This is my third year in the New Writers' Scheme. It all started a few years ago when I went to a course given by the lovely Kate Walker. She encouraged me to join the RNA, and mentioned the NWS. The midnight deadline for applying was a little unusual, but by some twist of fate I was visiting friends in Canada that year and so I sent my application off on the dot at 5pm in the afternoon!

The excitement upon hearing that I had been accepted was soon replaced by the realisation that I had only written around 10,000 words of the manuscript that I was supposed to be submitting at the end of August. I put my nose to the grindstone (or rather, my fingers to the keyboard), detemined to finish something that I could be proud of. I submitted so close to the deadline that it took a while for comments to be returned, but when they did I sat down and laughed for at least five minutes, as I had made so many of the elementary mistakes I had promised myself I would never do. And my characters always seemed to be eating...

The reviewer was incredibly thoughtful and positive in the comments made, which gave me fresh motivation to take the story forward. The following year I submitted a revised version, and was advised that once the comments had been taken onboard I should try for publication. This year I submitted a fresh manuscript, and also had very encouraging feedback which has spurred me on.

What I really like most about the NWS is how encouraging everyone is. Submitting your work for another person to comment on is never easy, but the reviewers always make sure that the comments they give are constructive. Imogen does an amazing job of organising everything, and we even had a NWS session at the RNA conference this year where we could meet the other NWS members and ask her and a graduate of the scheme any questions we needed to know. All the published writers in the RNA are so incredibly supportive, and go out of their way to help us make the networks that might help us get published. I can highly recommend the scheme to any unpublished romance author who is really serious about trying to make a career with their writing.

Thank you Sasha, Jennifer and Immi for telling us what the NWS means to you. The 2018 scheme will open to new applicants in January 2018, and is expected to fill up quickly. Details of how to apply can be found in the ‘Join’ section of the RNA website.