I flooded social media last week with the good news that my RNA New Writers’ Scheme report was back and I was pleased as punch with such a positive report. Yes, I was showing off. After a couple of years in the writing wilderness (take a look at this post from June) I am delighted to find that my writing is back on form.
However, I feel it’s more than that. I’ve been on the NWS for five years now. In that time I’ve had three good reports and two not-so-great ones. I don’t feel my writing has changed and admittedly the one of the not-so-great reports was based upon a partial submission, however, my writing flow and characterisation, I feel, have remained constant.
So what makes the difference? For me, I think it’s all in the delivery of the report; the ability to provide positive criticism. My first every NWS report was a triumph. I felt I’d cracked it with my first ever novel. There was criticism but my reader had given me helpful tips on how to overcome elements of an unbelievable plot thread, how to tone down a villainous villain. So, encouraged by this positive criticism I went on a Cornerstones Writing Commercial Women’s Fiction Course to try and hone my craft…
…only to discover I really needed to start from the beginning and plot the entire novel again.
So I did. I re-plotted, kept all my characters, changed my heroines’ journeys but ultimately kept their character arcs and produced a much better novel. Only, the report I received from the NWS scheme wasn’t so great. There was a lot of ‘nit-picking’ about whether I had really done my research into certain settings (part of the novel is set in a nursing home) and the one criticism that really sticks with me was that the reader didn’t think this was marketable story as it was set in Yorkshire and I live in Gloucestershire. After which I felt rather deflated and that novel stayed in the drawer for a year.
Last year, I submitted a partial manuscript of the same story I have just received a second review of. I knew it wasn’t brilliant but I wanted to know whether the reader felt the plot had ‘legs’. Thankfully the reader did like the plot but s/he was not impressed with rather a large theme of the novel. Set in the racing world (note I took the advice of the previous NWS reader and set this novel on home ground, Cheltenham being an epicenter for hurdle racing), one of my secondary heroine’s has several racehorses and makes money from this industry. This did not satisfy my reader, however, as s/he felt that my heroine could not make enough money to see her through retirement like this. I hold my hands up; this is my fault as the writer. Perhaps I didn’t make it clear enough that this was a wealthy character, in her late-seventies, widowed three times with incomes coming from property, investment and racehorses. However, this didn’t stop me getting a lecture on the intricacies of the racing world.
Which I ignored.
As a child, I was horse-mad. I dreamed of having my own horse. I lived and breathed for my next riding lesson, hack, even cleaning out the stables. I was bitterly disappointed when my Mother cancelled my lessons, her reasoning being that the stables said I needed my own horse and my parents couldn’t afford one. My suspicions lean far more to her not wanting to take me to lessons on dark, wet, windy nights in the Cotswolds. I grew-up in the next village to Jilly Cooper; I knew about Rupert Campbell-Black long before I should have done. My dear old boss, Alan, was a racehorse owner and a gambling addict. Only racing but my first job of the morning, at the tender age of 20 as an Human Resources Administrator, was to nip around to the betting shop, collect his winnings from the day before and place that days bets. I am not claiming to be an equestrian expert but add in a few days lost in the champagne bar at Prestbury Park and I feel I’ve had enough observation in my time to create some authenticity in my writing. It worked.
All in all, you have created a memorable story set against the background of the horse racing community in Gloucestershire, and it was clear you know a lot about this. I felt as though I was part of that world, so well done!
Maybe I got lucky. Maybe I got a reader who doesn’t know much about horse racing at all. Either way, I ignored unhelpful criticism and created something believable. This latest report recommends I edit and get on and submit to agents/publishers asap. I may not be published yet but I feel much more positive about my writing now.
So, the purpose of this post? Believe in yourself. Take the positive criticism, go with your gut instinct and ignore what you don’t agree with. It’s your story. You tell it.