Brit Writers – a final word

A week ago, and after a surge of concern at the way the Brit Writers company operates in a number of areas, I posted these questions on this blog. I notified the company of those questions in advance and asked for their answers, promising that I would publish any statement in full. I received no answer other than a (second) threat of libel action if I went ahead. So I went ahead.

Since then there has been a torrent of debate and speculation, almost all of which could have been avoided by a simple, clear statement of the facts. No such statement was forthcoming until yesterday, and we printed the text in full here. You’ll notice that the statement is remarkably vague about almost every specific question raised.

So I wrote again to Brit Writers, saying that I would post for a final time today and asking that they give me in confidence answers to all my key questions. I undertook that I would transmit the broad thrust of their answer, but would not release any company names into the public domain. I stand by that undertaking. Although I do now have more facts than have been initially released, I am still well short of a proper understanding of the company – the follow-up answers that they gave me are still frustratingly vague.

What follows, then, is my best guess as to the truth about the Brit Writers. To be clear: I am not in full possession of the facts, so what follows is merely attempt to estimate the reality of the firm’s operations. If I’m wrong in any of my guesses, I stand ready to make a public correction any time the BWA chooses to reveal more. (Also, to be clear, the Writers’ Workshop does compete with Brit Writers on a number of fronts, so I am possibly not an impartial judge, though we have helped and supported the company in the past. You’ll need to bear that in mind as you read on.)

So now to the key questions:

Are there any agents connected with the Agents Division?
Yes, sort of. I think the claims made in the Brit Writers’ marketing literature are probably overblown, but I do believe that the company talks to and engages with literary agents. I also believe that they are in discussions with credible counterparties as regards anthologies of poetry and short stories and that those discussions began prior to the launch of the Division.

Does the Agents Division give an honest assessment of writers’ work?
Yes and no. Brit Writers have told me that they do give an honest assessment to all writers and that probably is indeed their aspiration. I am not, however, persuaded that those making those assessments have the necessary skills to do so and I strongly suspect that the assessments contain more hope-&-hype than they ought to. I would also guess that the Brit Writers’ commercial interests in encouraging writers to pay for various services are not always as clearly presented as I would like.

But there may well be a philosophical difference here. I believe that no book will succeed if it isn’t really good. Some writers get there in a single bound without outside support. Others may benefit from first class editorial work, carried out either by a pro author of quality or by a really experienced publisher. That’s what we seek to offer. Brit Writers, it seems to me, is more focused on marketing than editing. That seems me like a terrible idea, but it’s perfectly valid for different companies to try different approaches. And if they say they aim to provide an honest assessment, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Will Brit Writers refer strong work to agents / publishers?
They’ve told me that they have already done so and will go on doing so when strong work comes along. They will announce details as and when they have anything formally signed up. No announcements to date, but I believe their statements here are credible. It’ll be very interesting to see the nature of the projects to be announced.

Who judges the awards?
According to Brit Writers: The Awards are judged by people at ‘partner organisations’, ‘independent professionals in exchange for services’ and (for the under-16s) teachers and governors. Judges’ names are kept private to avoid harassment by entrants.

These statements I find credible, but almost deliberately murky – and I certainly can’t understand why judges’ names can’t be publicly announced. If the judges are genuine authorities in the field, I think they should be named. If not, they should be replaced. Simple.

Does the publishing programme have top quality publishers attached to it?
Maybe. Brit Writers have given me the name of some of the publishers that they’ve been in discussions with. Those publishers include a broad group of smaller presses, but also include units of some of the UK’s largest publishers and one or two members of the Independent Alliance. Nothing wrong with that list of names at all. It was a strong list.

Having said that, talking to publishers is one thing, doing deals is quite another. We’ll simply have to suspend judgement on this front until we can see some of the book deals being announced. I am entirely ready to believe that Brit Writers are actively and resourcefully seeking good quality publishing partners.

Does the Brit Writers organisation look after its clients?
This, maybe, is the killer issue. I have received, both via this blog and via private messages, a number of serious complaints about things promised and not delivered by the company (or not delivered in a timely way). The list of complaints relates to prizes arriving very late, very poor quality communications, feedback promised and never received, publishing commitments reneged upon and the like.

Brit Writers has acknowledged to me that the organisation of their first awards ceremony was below-par. (Code, I think, for shambolic.) But they also tell me that this was their first huge event and that subsequent ones have run more smoothly. I accept that. Anyone can mess up once.

They’ve also said that some of their prizes were delivered very late, but that they were all, finally, delivered in full. I accept that too.

About some of the specific complaints, they’ve said that there were ‘misunderstandings’ and that the individual’s position was ‘unique’. That may also be the case.

Overall, though, I’m still left with a feeling of unease. Naturally any company will screw up now and again. I know we have. But any good company will seek to make things right, hard or costly though that may sometimes be. That will still leave a small number of born complainers – the sort who’d criticise the sun for not being hot enough – and yet I can’t help feeling that the BWA’s track record is simply not good enough. I just don’t see a company striving to meet its customers interests as assiduously as I think it ought to.

And, for example, the reported experience of Troubador / Matador is unsettling. The reported verdict of Writers’ News. These things leave a bad taste.

What is the Brit Writers’ attitude to open discussion of their services?
A key issue this, for me. Brit Writers have said to me that they hope to avoid ‘the debacle of legal action, which we, as an organisation wholly deplore. However, Brit Writers would like to state that despite being non-adversarial by nature, any organisation or individual must reserve the right to be free from slander and defamation, and enforce this without reserve if and when compelled to do so.’

On the one hand, yes. I wouldn’t expect the BWA to undertake never to sue anyone no matter what.

On the other hand, NO. Brit Writers were by no means ‘compelled’ to threaten me, or anyone else, with legal action, when they could just have called up to correct a factual error (made not by me, but but a commenter on the Word Cloud). Over the last week, the BWA instructed at least one client to withdraw / amend a comment made on this blog, using the force of a Non-Disclosure Agreement to compel compliance.

That approach – and the ethos which lies behind it – strikes me as utterly, totally wrong. Unjustifiable on any reasonable count.

My overall take on the company
The BWA has asked us to withdraw the accusation that it is a “‘scam’ organisation.” As it happens, I have not made this acccusation so it’s hard for me to withdraw it.

But, for what it’s worth, I think that the BWA is not a scam. I think its performance has too often been unacceptably poor, even taking into account the company’s relative inexperience. I think it needs to explain its operations far, far more transparently than it now does. I think it needs to change its philosophy and approach. But those things don’t amount to a scam. It’s not that. There may even be some good motives at work. I think there probably are.

Blog amended 18th Nov:
This article was originally written and posted on 17th Nov and relied in part on a number of written statements made by the BWA, who knew their statements would be scrutinised. Unfortunately, I now have incontrovertible evidence that the company lies, even in circumstances where its claims are likely to be closely examined. Nothing this company says can be taken on trust. Its financial promises are unreliable. The same is true of its literary promises. Writers should avoid having anything at all to do with this company. The whole thing is incredibly sad.
This paragraph replaces a previous, somewhat more upbeat, conclusion to this post. A slightly fuller elaboration of this para can be found in my longer comment below. Please tweet this post. If you have a blog, please link to this post. This post is already #2 on Google for the search term “Brit Writers”. I’d prefer it to be the #1 result.

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  • Like you, Harry, I don’t think the BWA is a scam: I disagree with its focus on marketing instead of writing; I don’t like its use of NDAs, which are not commonly used in publishing; I really don’t like the way they threatened us with legal action, or the way they asked us to withdraw allegations we’d never actually made; but yes, I do think they’re well-intentioned.

    However, good intentions aren’t enough to guarantee success.

    I wish all the writers on the BWA’s publishing programme the best of luck.

  • Harry

    Please note that, since publishing this post, I have been told by a BWA prize-winner that he/she did NOT receive his/her promised laptop, which directly contradicts the statement made to me by the BWA.

    There have also been more instances than I first knew of the BWA using legal threats to stifle comment about the company. It’s really, really not an OK way to behave.

  • Harry, thanks for your research into this. It makes for very interesting reading. I, for one, will be staying clear of this organisation.

  • Helen hardy

    Harry, can’t thank you enough for this post- it articulates everything I want to support about BWA and everything they have done to shoot that support in the foot. I hope they hear the voice of reason loud and clear- we are not out to get them, we want to see their aims suceed, but some of their methods are just not acceptable ways to act.

  • Pingback: Claire King | Brit Writers’ legal action against writers – update()

  • Helen hardy

    And just to be crystal clear before I move on, I don’t care about my late prize – anyone could have done that, I do care about the pile up of broken promises and the resort to heavy handed silencing of reasonable debate.

  • Just wanted to second everything Harry’s said here so eloquently.
    Thanks Harry, Claire, Jane and everybody else involved. Let’s look forward to good things from BWA in future, more transparency, and a lot less legal action.

  • An excellent and considered summary, thank you, Harry. Unlikely to see you in the nick after all, but here is a good organisation to support, if you’ll permit me the link.
    Finally, may I add my own wishes of the very best of luck to all Brit Writers’ writers.

  • David

    What with one thing and another, I’m frankly surprised and dismayed that any solicitor would advise them to pursue the actions that they have.

  • David

    Well done Harry, Jane and Claire for displaying professionalism and aplomb in the face of immense provocation. You didn’t have to, you weren’t being paid for it, and nobody would have blamed you for rolling over and capitulating.

    You have, I think, done your community proud in standing up for what you know to be right.

    I’d be honoured to stand you all a hobnob or two, if ever you’re passing.

  • Harry

    Hey ho. Not at all sure that any solicitor did advise them to take that action. As you say, it would have been poor advice.

  • Echoing all the above. Harry, the dignified, professional and ethical way you have dealt with this situation is the best possible advert for Writers’ Workshop. I’m proud to be associated with you and with all the others who have contributed to this debate with transparency, courage and good grace. All along, we have been clear that our only motive has been to protect and support writers and writing. You have enabled both sides of the debate to be heard and provided a balance of info which is available to anyone who knows how to use a search engine.

    I also would like to add my own good wishes to all the BW winners and writers who are working with them.

  • I want to echo what everyone has said here: Harry, Claire and Jane, you are to be applauded for standing firm, and with such grace in the face of these baseless threats. Frankly, faced with those solicitors’ letters, I’m not sure what I would have done, but you never lost site of the goal, which is to protect writers and promote transparency. I too am not satisfied with the answers given but I don’t believe the word “scam” is relevant. However, the BWA have still got a long way to go…

  • Helen Hardy

    Just realised I forgot to say here for those who haven’t seen my other comments I was 2010 BWA short story winner – so every reason to be enthusiastic about them…

  • Whisks

    Thanks for trying to clarify things Harry, Claire, Jane – you’re truly the Three Musketeers and I appreciate you, your efforts and for stepping into the line of fire; and also others who have tried to find things out along the way.
    BWA still haven’t been awfully clear though, have they? I still don’t know much more about them than I did a couple of weeks ago, but that’s their choice.
    I wonder whether they’ll ever publish those mysterious Top 30 lists from a year-and-a-half ago?
    Heigh ho. Plenty of other comps out there.

  • Hey guys,

    Just thought, if i may, i’d add this blog by Claire Kinton which gives a different view of the BWA than many of us have heard recently.


  • Harry, I’ve just read the update you left today. “Writers should avoid having anything at all to do with this company. The whole thing is incredibly sad.”

    I don’t quite know what to say; but there’s a part of me which is not surprised at all.

    Thanks for all the work you’ve done, and your courage through all of this horrible episode.

  • Thank you Whisks for your kind comments. And James for the link, which – in the light of Harry’s update – makes me feel quite sad.
    I feel now, at the end of this long two weeks, that any writer who does their due diligence on this organisation will find enough information readily available to make them reconsider throwing their money in the wrong directions.
    And that’s a good thing.

  • Claire/Jane,

    I totally agree, i will not be dealing with them. I have struggled quite hard to find anything positive about them over the last little while, which is why i wanted to post that link from someone who has dealt with them.

    I did google them today out of interest and, apart from their own website, there is very little that comes up that would lead you to trust them with your work. I also ‘liked’ them on facebook; i have to say some of the people on there are almost evangelical in their praise for the BWA – but when i have dealt with the WW (several times now) i have done so because i know what i am getting, how much it costs, who is doing it and there are pots of people (cloudies etc) to give me reviews – that’s good business.

  • Hi, Harry, I’ve been following this with interest over the last few days (bit of a latecomer, I know) and found this post balanced and informative. Something has evidently caused you to update it, and I’m guessing you would have provided details if you were in a position to do so — but can you say anything about why the post has changed? Otherwise, it seems, we writers go back to knowing nothing…

  • Harry

    What’s caused me to update it? Simple. Since writing it, I’ve had clear evidence (the testimony of a prize-winner in one instance, documentary evidence from a former partner in another) that the company is willing to lie, in writing, at a time when its business practices and ethics are under intensive scrutiny.

    This is deeply disappointing. Most of the company’s answers have been frustratingly vague and evasive, but at least vagueness held open the possibility of some good truth lurking behind an over-intense desire for privacy. I was willing to give the BWA the benefit of the doubt. But then it emerged that some of its clearest statements of fact are simply false. Falsehoods that could not possibly be accidental, that could only be the product of a deliberate intention to deceive.

    Hence my conclusion. You cannot trust the spoken or written word of this company on any matter. Writers should avoid it. Partners should shun it. The BWA is a good idea gone badly, sadly wrong.

  • PEN are great, or have you seen this?

  • This is dreadful! Given the track record BWA have of lawyering up, I know you wouldn’t have posted this if there was any possibility you could be proved wrong in your conclusions or that they could be considered unjustified. The only conclusion I can personally draw is that you have incontrovertible evidence that you can’t share here. No one could have gone furtheer than you to give BWA a fair hearing. I can imagine your feelings of deep sadness and disappointment.

  • Edwina Fearnley

    Way to go Harry, with thanks to Debi, Jane, Claire and everyone else that has helped us to see this company for what it really is.

  • Soot

    If you feel confident in your beliefs, you should report your findings to other agencies. Granted, this is a British company you are discussing, but it is a small world now days what with technology being what it is. For example, you should consider reporting your findings to places such as the WGA and even small organizations like Movie Bytes. Granted, many of you may be more in line with short story fiction than screenwriting, but it is my opinion that crooks eventually target the screenwriters because they know that so many writers have dreams of Hollywood and they want to play up on those dreams.

    I hope I’m making sense…I haven’t had much sleep…

    Enough said. If you believe you have evidence to warrant these agencies making further inquires – remember, the WGA has clout and may get more answers than you will – then tell them. Sometimes agencies get blacklisted with the WGA simply for failing to provide information. Being blacklisted is not good. It can affect an agency not merely in the US but in the world.

    It is an idea anyway. I’m always full of ideas. Or full of… 😉 Ask Rachel. She’ll tell you.

    good luck – from across the pond

  • Violet B

    I write in my capacity as an educator in light of the concern your recent blogs about BWA have raised amongst our circles. After somewhat lengthy discussions and investigations of our own, we approached the BWA to answer directly to us on the matters you have chosen to raise here. They were more than happy to dialogue with us and we are grateful for this as we are satisfied with their response.

    I have watched BWA grow since 2009 when I attended a Midlands teachers conference where they were promoting their initiative. We have been building since with them.
    I would like to share some thoughts of my own on reflection of what BWA shared with us, that which I have found whilst reading this week and doing some of my own browsing.

    With regards to your statement above ‘to be clear, the Writers’ Workshop does compete with Brit Writers on a number of fronts, so I am possibly not an impartial judge, though we have helped and supported the company in the past’
    Here you admit you are a direct competitor of the BWA. Does it not then make sense that they do not wish to divulge too much information to you? It does to me.
    You clearly had a working partnership until they started the Publishing Programme (PP). Yourself, Jane Smith and the Writing Magazine didn’t agree with their ideas. Over the last year, you have led your team of editors and associates to regularly post your personal ‘concerns’ as a competitor. You have done this to a point where one of your editors ( Emma Darwin ) made a statement on your blog as a member of your staff, hence on your behalf. This statement accused the BWA of forging the Prime Ministers letter of support.
    This was in fact what triggered off the legal action that BWA took as you were accusing them of fraud, which any sensible organization would defend.
    Talking of staff and associates, whilst I have been reading all the various posts, I realized the same names were coming up in discussions repeating your concerns. Aside the usual inner circle which constitutes Claire and Jane and Jonathan (I’ll come back to Jon later! ) I realized the following from your own editorial site: Your staff Debi Alper, Emma Darwin, Tania Hershman, Kate Allen – Should I go on? This core group of staff seems to me to be making sure that your personal opinions are circulated within their networks. Is this right?
    It also transpires that there were 2 types of judges for the BWA 2010 awards. Those who agreed to do it in Kind in return for a service and promotional support and then those who did it for support and payment. Ironically the majority of those who got paid were from Writers workshop. For the record, BWA insist that any judge who put an invoice in (following an agreement to do so), has been honored. So those of you who claim to have not been paid for judging, had not had an agreement to be paid signed, prior to the process. For example – I have seen an email in which it is clear that Debi had clearly accepted non-payment of her service as a Judge and was requesting complementary VIP tickets for the awards night as a concession. Following the awards, Debi then sent a very supportive email to the BWA stating she had a great night. Debi, I would like you to share these emails of support, or I will during the week. How quickly that support changed since the BWA’s PP was announced some months after the event – WHY?

    From what I have seen, over £5k has been paid out to your Writers Workshop judges and listed staff/editors. This is why I found it so interesting that the same people posting on these blogs regularly can be linked right back to supporting the BWA prior to their new Publishing programme starting – can you see the pattern I can see yet? Your staff are your blind followers on here. Makes sense if they have worked for you. I doubt the wider writing community feels the same.
    You insist you are protecting and leading the writing community from the BWA publishing programme – from what exactly? The programme has been closed for new participants since February 2011. Are you really protecting writers or trying to damage the success of the very writers involved in the programme – and at such a crucial stage!

    Upon reading the above post, your personal discontent of the programme has become clear. Although you quite rightly have requested further information re the Publishing Programme and the Agents Division, despite this information being forthcoming and acceptable by yourself, you continue to insist on not ‘being sure’ – again your personal opinion. Your post is contradictory to the information provided to you as it was to me. Here is how I broadly interpret it:

    ‘Are there any agents connected with the Agents Division? ‘
    You accept they have credible partners ( I too have seen evidence of this )

    ‘Does the Agents Division give an honest assessment of writers’ work?’
    You start with ‘yes and no’ and then lean toward ‘suspecting’ and ‘guessing’ otherwise but accept they probably do give an honest assessment (?!?)

    ‘Will Brit Writers refer strong work to agents / publishers?’
    Here you accept they will and shall wait and see.
    If they are willing to share publishing achievements on the PP once contracts and launches have been planned, why wouldn’t they for this venture?

    ‘Who judges the awards?’
    You accept the statement is credible – then go on to refute their choice of practice.
    Once again, a personal opinion.

    ‘Does the publishing programme have top quality publishers attached to it?’
    You accept the list is strong and variable. Here, the core crux of your concerns is actually settled I believe! (I too have seen evidence of this and in more detail to that which you have seen as I am not a competitor)

    ‘Does the Brit Writers organisation look after its clients?’
    You admit that as a small organization they may have some teething problems. Good for you! Any business takes approx. 1-3 years to build a decent following by proving their initiatives with outcomes over time. You are not even willing to let their initiatives go through the first cycle.

    ‘What is the Brit Writers’ attitude to open discussion of their services?’
    Your answer here does not read well and I will refrain from commenting. It is clear to me as explained above why they took legal action and withdrew it upon your own admittance of refuting the said statement.

    You have then closed again with your personal opinion of their approach which isn’t actually unethical – just different and not discussed on open forums. And then the icing on the cake – your admittance to aim to reach No 1 on the Google counter for searches for BWA?
    Please do share the evidence in this ‘oh, so open forum?’

    So, in a nutshell – you have in essence been provided with a justifiable response, more than any competitor would provide to another, yet you persist in this useless campaign to obstruct change. Let them prove they can do it and respect those who want to pay for it.
    Finally – you changed your last paragraph to claim you now have concrete evidence and have pretty much damned BWA. You make particular reference to the matter of a prize winner not receiving their laptop. BWA shared their information with me and from their records it shows that all winners received their laptop, except Catherine Cooper, the winner of the 2010 awards. She received a £10k pay out, contract and regular success thereafter. (Thank you Helen for accepting you had yours )

    Taking your editors down the wrong garden path wasn’t enough for you, you have even started to probe those who have achieved and flourished as a result of BWA. Why have you involved Catherine in this?
    Catherine, I had the pleasure of meeting you and witnessing you sign your contract. What a shame to see you here and sharing your whims of a forgotten laptop! As an educator like me, I hope you can see the unethical approach you have taken here and why I am making a point of sharing it. Do not become part of a campaign that could damage your very own credibility as a writer. You should go direct to BWA re that laptop if you need it so much.

    Moving onto Jonathan and Writers online. This is very interesting! For the 2010 awards, you were given free sponsorship of an awards category (valued between 15k & 20k ), allowed you to share the same stage as Sir Terry Pratchett, promoted you in their awards magazine, emailed your subscription offers to all your networks & offered free entry to all your readers and subscribers. Approx 200 for the 2010 awards. Even though your arrangement stopped with them following the launch of the Publishing Programme, your subscribers were still able to enter for free for the 2011 awards (approx 300 writers claiming to be subscribers and readers of your magazine)– coincidentally one of these was a finalist in the Children’s Stories category and attended the event at Madame Tussauds. By joining Harry’s personal matter since the Publishing Programme started and as an editor of Writing Magazine, I am dismayed at your actions. I can understand why as a competitor they would not want to divulge too much information on request to you as per your own article. They have their own magazine now which provides a wealth of information on what they are about –
    Sign up?

    Now, business disagreements and changes of heart occur. Relationships do break down in the same way yours did due to different modes of thinking. Why not sit back and watch the programme unfold and see if it works? Either way, it is between the Authors and the BWA if it doesn’t pan out as designed. From those who are being published, the journey has already started.
    Let it go…..

    Now, in the spirit of Freedom of Speech and enquiring, I have some questions of my own that have arisen:
    – What is the status of your organization? Can I see a copy of your accounts? I was unable to find them online.
    – Are your ‘staff’ contracted editors or employees?
    – If they are contracted editors, do you have a paper trail you can share on the amount they charge for each piece of editing and how much commission do you make for brokering the arrangement?
    – How do you as an employer ensure that your contracted staff are above board?
    – Did those editors of yours who posed as paid Judges for the BWA 2010 awards, declare the sums they were paid?
    – Some of your ‘staff’ of editors are also working for other editing firms I have found – is it not misleading for you to refer to them as your staff?
    – What evidence do you actually hold that you make so much reference to that is the cause of your whims? Surely, you are one to share more openly?
    – You claim BWA’s marketing and costing is not right. They charge a maximum of £100.00 for a ticket to the BWA 2011 event for some and include unlimited drinks and dinner ( by the way, all award category finalists and their sponsors & guests were invited free) – let’s talk about the cost of your York Festival of Writing. What’s the maximum cost here?
    – Why haven’t BWA commented on your open forum? Integrity and time I would imagine from my experience of them.
    – From an educational point of view – what services do you provide for free to Teachers, Parents and children and then the wider community?

    We have some advice for BWA – choose your partners very carefully in future. We support them and will continue to do so.
    And those of you who have time to sit on here to Plug Harry’s ‘concerns’, why don’t you watch the footage yourself of the awards ceremony here, do your research as I have and make your own judgments. A very diverse audience I must say!!! :

    As an educator of beautiful minds, what I feel I have unearthed here is an attempt to block the very thing that drives growth – CHANGE. The BWA are bringing change to us during a time writers, schools, businesses need it. As an educator for 30 years and coming from a different sector, your gripes are obvious to me. This is a personal matter to you due to your inability to accept progressive change. Your woe is empty.
    I have chosen to write this comment, as I have become stifled at the followers on here who have simply accepted & championed through congratulation, a one-sided personal biased view of a competitor. Where is the sense in that?

    Having seen the change in tone of your posts from calm to more desperate measures – take my advice and take a break.
    BWA were more than happy to answer my questions and I understand Imran himself has offered Martha Williams a face to face interview. Who we choose to liaise with and which manner is a matter of choice. Their choice not to divulge in your forum is a sensible one.

    We have been provided with satisfactory information in light of your questions. We will therefore be posting our comment on other forums as well as ensuring an internal email alert to all educational authorities is made this week re this matter and your intentions.

    You should spend your time writing of things that are of importance to not only the writing community but to society as a whole. Your father was a noble man and would not have spent his time indulging in such banter which could have easily been clarified in private.

  • I’m very busy so will respond in brief to the parts where you have addressed me personally. I am not a member of Writers’ Workshop staff – I am one of their freelance editors. I receive reports from them for which I am paid an agreed percentage of the cost to the client. As I am self-employed, I could well operate in this capacity for other agencies. As it happens, I choose not to, though I do have clients who come to me directly.

    I fully admit I agreed to judge the awards in 2010 without being paid. I’ve never suggested otherwise. Indeed, as I have said publicly since, I was more than happy to support their stated ethos at the time. In fact, I didn’t even know that some of the judges had been paid until I saw their comments on blogs.

    I have nothing to hide, so I’m really not sure why you’re saying you will expose me via my emails. As Zareen knows only too well, those emails say a great deal more about the clumsy way BWA operated at the time than they do about me. In the spirit of co-operation within which we were functioning at that time, my emails will show that I laughed off some of the most embarassing developments (for BWA – not me).

    My timeline reveals all. This is what I posted back in 2010 after the awards when I was still happy to support BWA.
    And this was last week.

  • Since I’ve been mentioned too, I’d like to echo what Debi said: I work in a freelance capacity for The Writers Workshop, I am not on staff. I was asked to be a judge for the BWA and was offered neither payment nor any services in return. I found the judging process confusing and not transparent at all, which is something I have mentioned elsewhere and not something that I have ever come across when judging other short story competitions. I managed to persuade the BWA to offer me a free ticket to the awards ceremony but, as I have mentioned elsewhere, never received the invitation, in print or by email, and only received confirmation that I actually had an invitation that would have allowed me entrance the night before, when it was too late to arrange travel for a reasonable price. I understand that these are admin hitches, that these things happen. I have no reason to believe that Harry, Jane or others here have a reason to accuse the BWA, I know them to be staunch defenders and protectors of writers who are determined to achieve clarity and transparency, and the BWA responses have not lived up to this standard. As a writer, this makes me nervous. I think it is very valuable to air all these discussions and let writers make up their own minds.

  • Violet,
    You obviously did not have time to write a short comment.

    You said “the usual inner circle which constitutes Claire and Jane and Jonathan”…
    You are wrong. I have never had any kind of contact with Harry or Word Cloud until last week. The same goes for Jonathan and his magazine and the same goes for Jane, with the exception of a few tweets and blog views.

    My worries about the different schemes cooked up by BWA are all my own. Except they are not are they? Because there are hundreds of us writers, maybe thousands sharing the same concerns. And there are a very, very, tiny handful of people speaking up against them, which speaks volumes.

    Perhaps if Imran meets up with Martha Williams (who incidentally I do know personally), then perhaps you could go along too and send her my regards.

  • Skylark

    Violet, you are clearly a passionate defendant of the BWA but is it really necessary to resort to personal attacks? You raised some interesting points but your last sentence was nothing other than a cheap shot. Not only that, from what I understand, Harry did attempt to clarify the situation in private and it was only when he was threatened with legal action and his questions remained unanswered that he was forced to bring his concerns onto a public forum.

    I am not a paid employee or a freelance editor of the WW. I am an aspiring author who has used the WW services in the past. I think that under difficult circumstances, Harry has acted with dignity and integrity and this does not surprise me at all as I have known him since 2005 and my dealings with him have always been favourable. He, and his staff/freelancers, have always gone that extra mile to do things that they didn’t need to do, weren’t paid to do but that would help me, as an aspiring author, to achieve my goal of publication.

    You mention the cost of the Festival of Writing – I attended in 2010 when I was seven months pregnant. That detail is significant because when I expressed doubts about how much of the weekend I would be able to attend, Harry went out of his way to offer me various ‘tailor-made’ packages that would allow me to attend for as little or as much time as I thought I could manage. In the end, I went for the whole weekend and it cost me a little under £500. For that, I got two nights accommodation, all my meals from Friday dinner to Sunday lunch, plus morning and afternoon tea, lots of informative and inspiring workshops, speeches, talks, plus evening entertainment and, if I’d chosen to, I could also have had a 1-1 with an agent and a book doctor. Value for money, indeed. And while we’re on the subject of value for money, this year, I paid £295 for a six-week online WW course run my Debi and Emma. They went well above and beyond their remit in the time and dedication that they put into delivering the course and offering feedback to myself and the other participants (11 of us in all I think).

    What I am trying to say is that you discredit all the people who have offered Harry support over the past few weeks, suggesting that most of us are ‘blindly’ following but what I don’t think you realise is that Harry (and Emma and Debi and the other people directly connected to the WW) have earned that support and trust. In all my dealings with the WW, I have come across openness, support and encouragement. That is why I support Harry, not because I am some ‘sheep’ who can’t make up my own mind. And I know that I am speaking for several other aspiring authors that I know who are also not paid by WW but have had nothing but good experiences at the hands of WW’s staff and freelance editors.

  • I think it is very sad, this whole episode, and the sooner it all is allowed to settle down, the better. I am somewhat mystified by the post above, in support of BW – not at the support itself – as it is healthy to have all sides represented in an argument, n’est-ce pas? I am more mystified by the apparent lack of grammar.

    I have never been involved with The Writers Workshop, for the record, in any capacity. But I do know, either personally or by reputation, many of the professional writers who undertake freelance work for them. Their publishing credentials, teaching credentials and/or editing credentials are impeccable.

    So, to any aspiring writers reading this – always do your research carefully, if you are considering paying to enter a competition, or paying for advice on any aspect of writing and publishing. Find out exactly who will be working on your writing, giving you feedback, or advice of any kind. Find out who is final judge of your work. Check their credentials. The Internet is a marvellous resource, and supplier of facts – all of which can be checked and double-checked.

  • Rachael Dunlop

    Violet – you obviously have an extremely close working relationship with BWA as they are sharing so much information with you, including their emails. I do hope they gave you permission to divulge so much here, otherwise you might be getting one of their famous solicitors’ letters. Although I suspect not.

    You will see my name in comments on Harry’s blog, and on Jane’s, and on Claire’s. I have never met or spoken to any of them. I have no professional relationship with the Writers’ Workshop. I do, however, know Debi Alper personally. I well remember the day she pointed me towards the first BWA awards, encouraging me to enter (as an unpublished writer). I remember how she stayed positive throughout the whole shambolic judging process. I remember being shocked to hear that she was not being paid, despite working long into the night to meet ridiculously tight deadlines. I remember that, in typical Debi-style, she insisted she was happy to do it for free because she thought the BWA were doing a good thing, and that all the teething problems would be worked out. She was not offered (as you imply) an either/0r choice, to be paid or to receive ‘services’. It was only later that she found other judges had been paid. All she asked for was some tickets for the awards – not much of an ask, considering all the work she had done.

    The hows and whys of how Debi’s opinion of BWA changed is clearly chronicled online, and she doesn’t need me to speak for her. However, I would like to point out that at every step along the way, she has reminded us all that the writers who find success through BWA should be congratulated and supported. Her only concern is to help and protect writers.

  • Violet, you’ve made a couple of points which I have to address.

    Talking of staff and associates, whilst I have been reading all the various posts, I realized the same names were coming up in discussions repeating your concerns. Aside the usual inner circle which constitutes Claire and Jane and Jonathan

    I’m thrilled by the idea that I am in some sort of inner circle: it sounds so very exciting! Sadly, the truth is a lot different.

    I’ve exchanged the odd tweet and blog-comment with Claire; I’ve exchanged a few emails with Jonathan and Harry over the last couple of years; I spoke on the phone with Harry, once, a couple of years ago; and I spoke at the York Festival in March of this year although my appearance there was organised by Kate Allen, not Harry. I’ve never met Claire, Jonathan or Harry, nice though I’m sure it would be to do so.

    You should spend your time writing of things that are of importance to not only the writing community but to society as a whole. Your father was a noble man and would not have spent his time indulging in such banter which could have easily been clarified in private.

    First of all, Violet, you don’t get to dictate what other people write. Second, Violet, that is what I call a cheap shot. It’s also a logical fallacy: you’re attempting to discredit the man in an attempt to discredit his argument. And you might have forgotten but both Jonathan and Claire did ask Brit Writers some very reasonable questions, by email, which is pretty private: if you remember, they got solicitors’ letters in return.

  • Isabel Rogers

    My father was a noble man too, so I hope that qualifies me to leave a comment here in a way that does not ‘damage my very own credibility as a writer’. Good grief, Violet. Thanks Harry and Jane and Claire. I see David’s hobnobs and raise it to home-made coffee cake (that would work if I understood poker).

  • In a nutshell, all of this does is make me even more certain (as if I wasn’t already deeply convinced) that BWA are best avoided!!

  • Harry

    Hey, I want an inner circle. What I really, really want, though, is some henchpeople. Scary ones, the sort who can say things like ‘Mr Bingham would be very disappointed’ in a convincing way. Ugly SOBs, in fact. Any offers?

  • Whisks


    You seem to possess much private information about BWA (like emails sent to them) yet appear not to be an actual employee, since you say you ‘approached the BWA to answer directly to us’. Who, pray, is ‘us’? Please would you clarify your relationship to them? An ‘educator’ is a little too vague for me – heavens, I’ve helped out with homework now and again, so I’m an educator too.
    You’ve written a very long post so I’d like to mention a few points where I have experience or concerns.

    First, I am amongst their target client base. I entered the 2010 competition in good faith and may or may not have been in a Top 30 for something or other. Guess I’ll never know now for sure.
    But to be clear, I want my hazy Top 30 placement to mean something. I want to be proud to put it on my Writing CV. I have everything to gain from BWA emerging from this well.

    One thing that makes me uneasy: several of the judges whose presence on the panel reassured me that the comp was bone fide, have publicly raised concerns over the process. They judged few or none, their logins didn’t work and BWA didn’t seem overly concerned, yet we are told ’Each entry was judged three times’ (ref: Brit Writers CEO talks back). Which begs the question – who on earth did judge all those 21,700 entries? Or 65,000, if you multiply it by three. Why has no judge come forth and said, ‘yes, I was snowed under, reading entries night and day.’? [If they have, I’m sorry – please direct me to their words]
    Were the others just window dressing? Used for their names and then of no consequence?

    Something that irks me to incandescence, is the repeated invitation to come and talk, our door is always open, blah, blah, blah; and your closing line implying that things would have been easy to clarify in private. Well, yes they would appear so, but from my experience – no they’re not!
    Long before I thought anything might be amiss, I only had little questions: I phoned, I emailed, I was very polite. I happily asked for more information on their Publishing Programme and received nothing. As they continued to ignore my little questions, I became suspicious and so asked bigger questions. I’d learnt by then that BWA wouldn’t answer me, so I tried to work out the answers myself. I have a vivid imagination, as do most aspiring writers, and the absence of simple information (versus info-mercials), merely fuels it.
    Contrast my experience of WW which I’ve mentioned before – open, helpful, accessible, clear.

    I am reminded of ‘Germinal’ by Emile Zola. Have you read it? It’s many years since I did, so please forgive mistakes in my précis: A group of workers is oppressed. They respectfully ask the bosses for a measly pay rise of a few coins. The bosses laugh at them. The workers become angry and organised. They go on strike; their grievances multiply. Calamity follows calamity. By the time the bosses take them seriously and offer the few coins pay rise, it’s not enough any more. Not nearly enough. Much misery ensues. Ends badly.

  • Hang on–that sounds suspiciously like the job you offered me.

  • Debbie Moorhouse

    Yes, it’s so very unreasonable of a prizewinner to expect to receive their prize. How dare they!

  • Can I be charge of the biscuits?

  • Harry

    Yeah, maybe, but how’s your henching? I mean any fool can hand out biscuits. Handing out beatings, though, that’s skilled work that is.

  • AmandaJ

    Quote = VioletB “As an educator of beautiful minds, what I feel I have unearthed here is an attempt to block the very thing that drives growth – CHANGE. The BWA are bringing change to us during a time writers, schools, businesses need it. As an educator for 30 years and coming from a different sector, your gripes are obvious to me.”

    It seems to me you have an axe to grind and are not very pleasant doing it! You don’t tell the people you are accusing who you are, yet you ‘know’ them. You don’t really explain just how you are involved with BWA nor how you are competant to judge BWA as providers of ‘creative writing services’.

    If you or BWA were a plumber or gas fitter, a teacher or a football coach I would ask to see qualifications relating to areas of expertise – what are yours or BWA’s?

  • With my haircut, there’s no need for violence. I just scare people anyway.

  • Rachael Dunlop

    I understood that the position of ‘minion’ was available. I could be a minion. I’m only little.

  • I can raise my right eyebrow in a very intimidating way if that’s any good to you.

  • Violet B. said,

    Your staff are your blind followers on here. Makes sense if they have worked for you. I doubt the wider writing community feels the same.

    I’m an American writer, blogger, and writers’ advocate. I’m not in any way associated with The Writers’ Workshop. Prior to this latest controversy, I’d never had contact with any of its staff (apart from reading some of their books).

    So I think it’s fair to call me a member of the wider writing community–and I absolutely do share the concerns expressed in this blog. In fact, I’ve shared them for some time. I wrote critically last year about the BWA’s Publishing Programme, and I blogged again two weeks ago about the unanswered questions surrounding the BWA’s Agent Division, as well its use of legal threats.

    So I don’t think one can dismiss the criticism found here by claiming that it’s confined to a narrow circle of cronies.

  • I often use the term ‘scary biscuits’. This lot are more like crackers though. A small distinction, but an important one IMO. And not so scary, just very, very stupid.

  • It’s nice to see Violet back. She appeared on Claire’s blog. I asked her some questions about her experiences around the schools programme. She went away and I felt guilty for a while but I’m glad she’s ok and back out there.
    I’m not really inner circle, North Circular at a squeeze, probably more M25 really. I know Claire personally (we worked together once) but everyone else I know only through Twitter or their blogs. I hadn’t heard of BWA or WW until I started to read these blogs and I have no professional relationship with anyone and I’m exactly the person BWA wants to attract – a new writer. So what’s the problem?
    If Violet had clarified her role as an educator i.e. a teacher, head, schools liaison, her relationship with BWA and given some detail of how the school programme worked e.g. how many kids, resources available to teachers, what they do and some examples of how it works in her school, I would have taken that information at face value and said well done to BWA.
    But I’m left curious why BWA would talk to her as an educator (albeit of brilliant minds) about things like sponsorship deals which are usually a matter of private negotiation between parties and yet BWA still seem reluctant to answer some of the more basic questions?

    p.s. as a chartered marketer, £15-£20k seems a lot for sponsorship of an award when the organisation is new and the awards are unknown. Equally I’m not sure why BWA would give sponsorship away for free if they were convinced it had such commercial value?

  • Whisks

    Do we get badges or anything? I might be interested if there were badges.

  • Skylark

    I do an excellent ‘teacher’ stare if that’s any good?

  • Hello Violet

    I’ve decided to speak out and will answer your post in full later tonight.

  • I am absolutely sure that I am ‘allowed’ to say that I despise BWriters.

  • Andrew James

    Hard to disagree with, especially, the last three posts. But as a coda, as someone whose business career was spent in media and marketing and specifically with experience of commercial, marketing-based sponsorship for a time, I know that the ‘value’ of any sponsorship is what someone will pay for it, not the value that the seller wishes to receive for it, be it the Premier League, an arts festival or a local school fete. It’s like buying a house. The seller might believe they have a million pound property, but if the estate agent tells them they’re getting offers of £100-120,000, chances are this is what it’s worth within the open market. So the notion that a £15-20,000 sponsorship opportunity was given away for free suggests that this was its true market value. To believe otherwise is at best ambitious, more likely delusional. And I have no axe to grind, either, Yes, I have attended a WW event and am a member of its forum, the Word Cloud. I have also engaged one of its editors on a professional basis. I did this because, after an assessment of the help for new writers out there, I decided that WW was probably the best placed organisation to help me achieve my writing goals. Beyond this, I have no attachment to WW and, had I felt that a new organisation was better placed, would not have felt any loyalty to WW; after all, I gave them my money and so any relationship remains, in essence, transactional. Thankfully I appear to have made a worthwhile choice.

  • Biscuit, Imran? We have quite a selection.

  • Shelley Harris

    Hard to know where to start…

    Oh, no it isn’t, actually. I’ll start at the part where you refer to Harry’s dad. Please don’t. I don’t believe you have the right.

  • Harry

    Intimidating eyebrows? You’re thinking small, people. I want missing front teeth and callouses on the knuckles.

    But minions? Now, you’re talking. I wouldn’t even mind little ones, so long as you could do an evil laugh.

  • Harry

    Badges? Teacher stares? Sigh.

    Goes off to check

  • Harry

    Wot? I don’t even have a crony now? All this blather, and I have precisely one serviceable minion (albeit somewhat small), no henchpeople I can work with, and now not even a crony.

  • Rachael Dunlop

    I may be litte but I can definitely be scary – ask Debi.

  • AmandaJ

    Do you provide uniforms? I need some new Jackboots what with winter just around the corner.

  • Harry

    Uniforms – much better. Yes, I feel we could work with uniforms.

    And Rachel – please consider yourself hired. I may want to team you up with a somewhat larger minion. I feel I might get a bad reputation if I had only petite minions. But still. You could be the one who cracked wise while your larger partner cracked heads. I think that could really work.

  • Don’t you mean ‘educator’?

  • I have a lot of friends in Crimea.

  • AmandaJ

    You’ve no real experience of hiring henchpeople have you ‘arry? You can’t just go hiring minions without checking their qualifications! Have they even got a C&G in Gruffness for instance? Who did they last minion for, why did they leave…you’ve got to be more thorough.

  • David

    Hello again Victoria.

    You’re on the staff at Brit Writers, aren’t you? You probably ought to come clean, and start your maneuvering now – before it’s too late.

    Don’t you worry that as more and more of the truth emerges, you are going to look really eye-wateringly silly?

    This core group of staff seems to me to be making sure that your personal opinions are circulated within their networks. Is this right? Wrong but, as you know, deliciously ironic, eh?

    You go to the trouble of typing all of that rubbish, and oblige us to wait until the very end before revealing quite what an odious character you are. Poor show.

    Have you followed my advice from our last little chat, and expounded your views to the broadsheet press yet?

    I can only re-iterate what I told you last time: you really do fill a much needed gap.

  • Well Violet, since you’ve addressed me personally, I suppose it’s only polite to respond.
    Your conversation with BWA must have been very thorough. I’m not sure why how assessing Writing Magazine’s involvement with BWA over a year ago came into your investigation, or how it helps your case, but the details you’ve managed to get out of them are astounding – it’s almost like they’ve filled you in on every aspect of their business. If only they had been as happy to share information that would allay everybody’s concerns.

    There is no secret here: we at WM were very keen to get behind an exciting new competition for unpublished writers, particularly when such a good prize was on offer. So yes, of course we agreed to support the prize, which we did by offering advertising, our staff and contributors as judges, editorial material for yourthe BWA’s newsletters and brochures… The figure of £15,000-£20,000 was indeed one that Imran apportioned to the BWA part of the arrangement, so why did they not go to another organisation who would pay that?

    I’m afraid you lose me after “Tussauds”. What is Harry’s “personal matter”? We felt unable to continue supporting BWA after the launch of the Publishing Programme, in December 2010, a decision we reached entirely independently, and which I am now very glad we made when we did. I met Harry for the first time at the Festival of Writing earlier this year, very briefly. What dismays you about my actions? That an editor of a writing magazine should attempt to act in the best interests of writers?
    I attempted to raise various concerns with BWA times during the course of our association, and never said or published anything that I hadn’t previously raised with them in private.

  • David

    “…serviceable minion…”

    I feel this warrants some clarification.

  • I have a *really* strong frown if that’s any good for you.
    Not exactly towering, though I can’t really claim petite either.
    Do you need a rotund frowner?

  • Helen Hardy


    I’m afraid I don’t want your thanks. I would have been glad to hear a coherent defence of BWA and the work they do in schools but your comments are not it. Yes, I received my prize – 6 months late and after repeated false promises on delivery date – which I found rude but put down to teething troubles. As I say above, ultimately that late prize is not important. What I didn’t receive was any of the support, interest in my work or contact / meetings that BWA promised me, and that I had looked forward to as potentially much more valuable to me as a writer. It’s not that I think being a winner entitled me to anything – it’s that BWA specifically and many times promised, in writing, things they did not deliver (most recently although again rather trivially a ticket to this years event as an apology – I was later invited to apply for the privilege of buying a ticket…).
    I did attend the York festival a couple of years ago and had a wonderful and inspiring time, but I don’t know Harry, Jane or Claire personally. I applaud them though for raising real questions very professionally, in the face of legal pressure and irrational reactions.


  • If you need a very small but feisty Scottish minion (think Terry Pratchett’s nac Mac Feegles) sign me up 🙂

  • Wherever I’ve seen you comment in the past, Catherine, you have always come across as very reasoned, polite and professional. I look forward, therefore, to your comments.

  • Nicola

    Inner circle? Oh, please may I join? Especially if there are biscuits.

    Violet, all that’s going on is that a whole load of us are trying to help other writers negotiate the ever-more-complex minefield of publishing. It’s really simple. Well, no, it’s very complex, but the desire to help is very simple. Though hard for some people to understand.

  • Harry

    So far I have one petite minion called Rachel, no cronies and no henchpeople. I’m in the market for more. But you know. Fierce ones. Grrr!

  • AmandaJ

    Mwah, mwah! xxx

  • Rachael Dunlop

    I’m a mini minion, but most serviceable.

  • Oooh me! me! I’m built like an outside toilet and covered in tatoos!!! i even have a skinhead and a black beanie hat! I’d be perfect!! *jumps up and down waving hands* but, err my mum says i’m not to crack my knuckles cos its bad for you and this one guy did it so much that he got arthritis 🙁 so i’ not allowed.

    huh hum *clears throat*

    ‘Mr Bingham say he don’t want to be disturbed’ *furrow eyebrows and pretends to crack knuckles*

  • Harry

    Look, Nicola, no, I’m sorry, but the only henchpeople who put themselves forward seem to be after one thing and one thing only: biscuits. I want you to covet chunky gold jewellery, to wear black shirts, and to know how to use a baseball bat. (Without actually knowing anything about baseball, obviously.)

    And Margaret, sigh, well, OK, you’re hired – because you’re keen and clearly have the right instincts. But still, all this and I’ve got just the two minions, both of whom are on the wee side. I’m worried I’m going to look comical rather than scary. Humph. These are deep waters and I’m not sure I’m man enough to navigate them.

  • Helen Hardy

    Violet, I hope you are still reading and I hope you understand why some of your comments were unacceptable. I fear though that you are just feeling ‘ganged up on’. Please note that none of us are responding by threatening to sue you! If you sincerely wish to defend the BWA or present a different view then please just tell us what they have done for you and why it has been a positive experience.

    Oh, and I mentioned above who I don’t know, but I can second everything Rachael says about Debi who is unstinting in her support for other writers, and other human beings generally. Debi, I raise a biscuit in your general direction.

  • David

    Thank you all for being so forthcoming with the facts. I feel greatly comforted.

  • Harry

    Amanda – Grrr is good. It’s very good. But the mwahs? I mean, in a minion? No. Just no. You’re fired. Rachael, thank goodness for you. We may be a small team, but I think we’ll be a good one.

  • Whisks

    Did I hear that right? You’re in the market for crones? Now you’re talking.
    OK, I’ll get over the missing badge (given time and counselling) as long as you’ll let me cackle. I’ve got a broken tooth somewhere and a nasty cough. No wart on my nose yet, but I live in hope.
    I’ve said ‘boo’ to many a shocked goose and jumped quite a lot. Did I mention I’m awfully good at coughing? Curdles your blood. No, really.
    I’ve also learned to curse in many different languages which has proved useful over the years.
    Any use? Aw, please? Can I be third crone at least?

  • Tweets flooding in with offers of henching. People are offering from belief in the cause, not just for the biscuits (welcome though they are). It seems the only thing that’s transparent about BWA are their ridiculous attempts to discredit everyone else.

  • Nicola

    I do know how to use a baseball bat. Also, I played cricket for my university. And I could probably find a black shirt somewhere. Is that enough?

    And I’m very sorry to be trivial but really, in a nutshell, it’s all been said. Harry, Debi, Claire, Jane and others who’ve commented here work tirelessly to support writers. This all started with trying to ask questions on behalf of those writers. And that’s still going on.

    Now, pass the biscuits. Please.

  • AmandaJ

    But I don’t think it has all been said – just who are BWA and what qualifications do they have to judge others writing? Everyone skirts around it but really just what do they know?!

  • Hello Violet

    Since you have brought me into this discussion I feel I have to comment. Although the BWA shared a lot of information with you they don’t seem to have given you all the facts. I also need to state before I continue, the laptop is not the issue, it’s the broken promises I object to.

    In a recent statement by the BWA we were told that some of their prizes were delivered very late, but that they were all, finally, delivered in full. Unfortunately, in my case, this is clearly not true and as you so rightly point out I did not receive a laptop.

    I think the question… ‘Why did I think I was entitled to one?’ should be raised. The answer is below, taken directly from a letter I received from the BWA upon learning I was a finalist…

    If you win:
    1. You will be required to give a 30 sec acceptance speech. Please bear in mind that there will be children in the audience and the event will be filmed and may be televised later, therefore please do not say anything that may cause offence.
    2. You will receive a trophy, at which point you will also be photographed and required to give a short media interview back stage.
    3. You will be asked for an address for your laptop prize to be sent to.
    4. Should you be the overall Brit Writers’ Unpublished Writer of the Year Award 2010 winner, you will receive a dummy cheque for £10,000 on the night (for security purposes) and the funds will then be transferred by BACS into your account within 30 days.
    5. If you are a winner and also part of a BWA member school, then your school will receive £5,000. This will be organised between the headteacher of your school and the BWA.
    6. You may be approached by publishers or agents who wish to sign you up. You may wish to accept such an offer; however you are under no obligation to do so. If you require independent advice from us, please let us know.

    With regard to point 3 above…
    I was told by Imran in a meeting a ‘state of the art’ laptop would be sent to me if I was a category winner. I wasn’t told the overall winner was excluded. As winner of ‘Best Stories for Children’ I was a category winner and as such, entitled to the prize.

    Violet you wrote…
    ‘You should go direct to BWA re that laptop if you need it so much’.

    I did.
    When the laptop never arrived I enquired if there was a problem. I wasn’t told it wasn’t part of my prize, in fact I had an email from Zareen explaining the laptops were due a month after the award ceremony (email dated 28th August) and that the laptops would arrive soon.

    In my next communication I was informed the offices had been burgled and all the laptops had been stolen.

    Some time later Zareen explained the laptops had arrived and they’d been given to a school.

    It was only in a recent conversation with Zareen (25.10.11) that I was informed I was not entitled to a laptop. Up until this point I had been enquiring where it was.

    Just as a matter of interest, did the BWA share any information with you about point 4 in the list above regarding payment of the prize money within 30 days?

    Violet you wrote…

    ‘I hope you can see the unethical approach you have taken here and why I am making a point of sharing it.’

    I’m a little confused by this comment, when did telling the truth become ‘unethical’.

    As for your last comment to me…

    ‘Do not become part of a campaign that could damage your very own credibility as a writer.’

    Could you explain what you mean by this?

  • Catherine,

    I’m amazed. You’ve not received the prize you were promised? That’s awful. And yet this is the first you’ve said about it, as far as I can tell.

    There are very few people who would have kept so quiet; there are very few people who exhibit the calm dignity that you do. I hope you get your laptop soon. And many congratulations on your publishing success: it wouldn’t have happened if you’d not written a really good book.

  • Nicola

    Amanda, you’re right. But those questions have been asked and I couldn’t think of any new way of putting them! Of course, we should continue to ask them, I quite agree.

  • Nicola Morgan

    Catherine, I second Jane’s comments. Your behaviour throughout has been impressive. I would also love to hear the answers to your last two questions.

  • AmandaJ

    I just meant, it’s all bee a bit ‘pussy-footing’ hasn’t it? I know someone who entered via Writers Magazine in the 1st year – there was no real background or evidence of competence then from BWA except for the judges they named. Then the whole thing dissolved into farce and lots of the judges put their hands up…so just who are BWA and what’s with their ‘pyramid agency’ scheme for schools at £500 a go?

  • AmandaJ

    Wah! I’ve been sacked? Already…I’ve not even had time to leave a boot-print on a face!

    You’ll be hearing from my older brother!

  • Thank you, Catherine. Your dignity and restraint is impressive and worthy of great respect. For BWA to treat you – their greatest success – so shoddily speaks volumes. I’m intrigued by your comment about the prize money and would love to know more. Are you saying you didn’t receive the £10,000 within 30 days? Surely not!

  • Rachael Dunlop

    Their offices were burgled? They may as well have said the dog ate their homework.

  • Thank you, Catherine, for your candour. It must be very strange to have someone you have met in person appear on a forum like this and speak to you in the way they did. Thanks to the professionalism of your response I do not think your credibility is in any doubt.

  • sorry, excess bold!

  • AmandaJ

    Tee hee! That’s exactly what I thought. 😀

  • Wow, just wow. I didn’t think there could be anything else left to come out.
    Thank you so much for speaking up Catherine. I don’t want to be a parrot, but your behaviour and professionalism have always been impeccable. And even more impressive that you never spoke out when you have been treated so shoddily.
    I hope you get everything BWA promised you, and then some. You deserve it.

  • Whisks

    I’ve just realised that Violet B is an anagram. I shouldn’t say, really I shouldn’t.

    Shall I? Oh, go on then.

    Violet B = Evil Bot

    Or live bot. Or vile bot. Take your pick.

    *runs away*

  • Sali Gray

    I would like to offer my services, Harry. I can be rather fierce and I don’t like biscuits! However, I have this rather unpleasant gag around my mouth, which seems to prevent me from talking 🙁

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  • Oh, Sali! I presume you have taken legal advice re that gag. If not, you might think about contacting Society of Authors. They do know all about BWA so may be able to offer you advice even if you are not a member. It must be very frustrating for you not to be able to share your experiences.

  • Amazing, isn’t it? Just when you think you’ve heard the worst. The legal threats, the lashing out at anyone who dares to ask questions or criticise them … it’s clear now that these are all devices to deflect attention away from what they have done. Hearing this, everything clicks into place; they certainly have plenty to hide.

  • Sali Gray

    Thank you, Debi. I was planning to see my solicitor, but I have had to prepare for a succession of events recently. Things should quieten down soon… but I can certainly fit a few phone calls in 🙂

  • A Disappointed Writer

    I am continuing to be extremely disappointed by this whole thing, over and over again.

    The 2011 awards had lots of promises but so many were not delivered. Last minute change of venue (cock-up), late start (cock-up). Food was pretty awful (cheap, cold and not a lot of it) and the wine worse. Whole event had a real Blue Peter feel of over-enthusiasm. People were sent rather bullying emails beforehand telling them to mention Brit Writers in their speeches….big up the organisation. No one should be directed in this manner. Nibbles and ‘mingling with agents’? We were all shuffled out without any of that.

    As for Violet B’s anagram….I think it more likely to be Maria Potter. Disgusting to offer veiled threats like ‘lose your credibility as a writer.’

    There is some sly, nasty and amateur stuff going on under the surface here. Not all of it very clever – Violet B, indeed.

    Saw Catherine Cooper at the awards and she did indeed seem a very inspirational soul. May she rise and rise. Laptops taken from office? What a load of crap! Also, I did have a chat with someone very close to the organisation at the ceremony and their comment? ‘Lots of passion but you can’t trust ’em.’

  • Good luck with that! I hope you hear something that reassures you of your safety, which must come first. BWA have made legal threats before that could never have been sustained if they were challenged, but you need to take care.

  • I’d make quite a hefty minion, albeit a bit on the short side. But I can’t wear chunky jewellery because of my bad back. I assume you are an equal opportunities Overlord. I know my rights.

  • I suspect I wouldn’t make a very good hencher. But I will happily make everyone lovely packed lunches, if that’s any help.

  • Helen Hardy


    Thank you so much for speaking up, and congratulations on your well deserved win and success. I knew that BWA had broken endless promises to me (a category winner they never met), but am truly shocked that they have also done so to you, their ‘star’. It is just typical of the way they shoot themselves in the foot over and over again.

    BWA – when you break one promise, you look slapdash. When you break another, you look rude. When you break lots you look incompetent at best and outright liars at worst. This is just one excellent reason that your winners, the people who should be your best advocates, are speaking against you. That you then act surprised and / or threaten legal action says all anyone needs to know.

    Now I need to resume my life away from a computer!


  • Harry

    Well done to one and all.

    To Claire, to Jane, to Jonathan, to Debi, to Max, to Victoria, to Catherine – and to absolutely everyone who has chipped in with honesty, dignity and courage.

    Short of extraordinary new developments, I’m not going to post again on this topic. I’ve said all I need to say and, indeed, between us all, we’ve done what needs to be done. Biscuits all round chaps. And minions – forward march!

  • Alan

    Gosh amighty. All been said by the look of it, except as I was browsing one thing occurred to me that I think hasn’t been said. There has been much said about a post from someone called Violet. I don’t know who most of the people here are and also I am not one of Harry’s enforcers, but “Violet” appears to say that she has seen personal and private electronic correspondence (email) from at least one person engaged by the BWA as a reviewer or editor revealing details of the commercial arrangement and also has stated that she is not employed by that organisation.

    Now forgive me for being a stickler (or don’t, it doesn’t matter) but that seems to me to be a contravention of the Data Protection Act which governs the dissemmination of electronically held personal data which cannot be disclosed without express permission. Unless express permission was sought and given, expressly, that is. When posting on forums in heat and passion it is often interesting what pops out in the detail when reading with interest and without heat or passion.

    Of course I may have misunderstood or even misread and I allege nothing in any event, but I have often seen careless emailing and posting accidentally reveal naughty little secrets, if naughty little secrets they be. People should take more care. After all, you never know when you might piss someone off enough to threaten you with legal action.

  • Thank you Helen for your kind words and congratulations.
    A belated congratulations on your win too.

  • David

    I am not a lawyer, and therefore don’t know what I’m talking about.

    As I understand it a normal private correspondence is ‘owned’ by both parties in that correspondence, and therefore unless you have signed something that specifically states that you won’t publish the contents of a letter that you sent or received, you are under no legal obligation to seek permissi… Oh… wait… I see what you mean.

    Good point.

  • Hi Alan and David – as I was the person Violet referred to in her threat to reveal the content of my emails, I thought I should reply to you. The point is, I don’t really care about Violet’s identity. I do accept that s/he has access to my email correspondence with BWA and I hereby relinquish my right to privacy re these emails. She – or they – are more than welcome to splash them all over the net.

    I know they won’t. They know that I know that too. Violet may or may not know – it doesn’t bother me. They can publish and be damned – only they are ones who will be damned, as they are well aware.

  • Alan,
    It’s a professional area of interest to me as a Chartered Marketer. Fines of up to £500k can be made so small companies that fail to take adequate measures to prevent DPA breaches place themselves at great risk.
    I’m not a DPA lawyer but I did a bit of work with an organisation this year which touched on this area so I’ve some knowledge. I think it comes down to the exact nature of Violet’s relationship with BWA and the terms on which BWA holds information.
    ‘Violet’ implies rather than states she is not an employee of the company by saying ‘we approached the BWA to answer directly to us’ but she (or the organisation she works for or represents) may have an association or third party relationship with BWA that entitles her to see certain information.
    On Claire Kinton’s blog, she has a comment which includes ‘ The illogical and unreasonable approach taken by the forums you refer to is exactly what caused us to react. We have a duty of care that we robustly uphold in practice and hence followed up the claims made.’ which implies, to me, some kind of working relationship or association possibly as a third party or partner organisation. Without knowing what that relationship is, and the terms on which they work together, it’s impossible to say whether DPA has been breached or not based on the relationship aspect.
    Violet has chosen not to clarify her role and relationship with BWA. I don’t really understand what an ‘educator’ is at a meaningful level or whether her duty of care is a professional or moral one? I don’t think this vagueness helps Violet to establish her professional credentials and argue her case but that’s her decision.
    BWA aren’t registered with the Information Commissioners Office so it’s not possible to see what type of information they’re holding and for what purpose. Companies that fail to notify are subject to criminal prosecution but they may well have gained an exemption so we can’t imply anything by them not being on the list. Neither do we know the basis on which people or companies agreed for their information to be used.
    In the light of all this, it cannot be implied or suggested that BWA are in breach of DPA in any way.
    However, it does seem highly unusual for what would normally be considered commercially sensitive information e.g negotiations or payments made to suppliers (even at just a headline level) to be shared with and placed on a public blog by anyone especially someone who is probably not directly employed by the company. One might argue that information of this kind isn’t data or that it was being revealed in good faith. Personally I just don’t think it’s good business practice.

  • Alan


    You are probably right in what you say. More properly I should have said “could be a contravention”, but as I was clear I was making no allegations in any event it amounts to the same thing. I don’t think that you have to be registered with the Information Commission to be bound by the common law aspects of the DPA. I am not a lawyer either, although I do work with them a lot. I do occassionally hold large quantities of private data on my systems and have been advised appropriately.

    As you also mention, it is rather cavalier to blog someone’s personal or business information like this. I wouldn’t do it. My point was principally about people becoming annoyed and that threatening legal action is a two way street.

    In any event Debi has, quite sensibly, declared that she doesn’t mind. Legal action is most unpleasant and it seems to be the right move. She has been clear that she means that in this particular instance and concerning the particular emails cited she doesn’t mind. Anyone reading this holding any of her data shouldn’t take it as carte blanche to reveal all without asking her first, I should say. That isn’t what she said.

    Heigh ho.

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  • For anyone who is still following this, there is a double page spread in today’s Times (money section). There are also some further shocking revelations from Catherine Cooper in comments on my blog post.

    The irony of this is that neither Catherine nor I (to a far lesser extent) had gone public with these details before – not until Violet’s contribution on this thread tipped us over into being absolutely clear about our experiences.

  • Yes, companies still need to follow DPA. It is likely BWA have a exemption on registration with ICO but I don’t know the full extent of their business activities to give a definitive answer. DPA is an area where people should always err on the side of caution in revealing any information and seek advice if unsure.
    Whilst I was being strictly fair to Violet, I do think “Violet’s” interjection has proved very unhelpful to BWA.

  • Sally Zigmond

    Nothing to add except to say I have been following this whole sorry story with great interest. I had a bad feeling about BWA right from the very beginning and nothing I have heard since has altered my opinion–most of it from the BWA itself and those who defend their behaviour.

    On the other hand, everything I have heard from the mouths or rather, pens of Harry, Debi, Claire, Jonathan, Jane and others, including the admirable Catherine Cooper, is clear, verifiable, honest and reasonable.

  • Hear hear!

  • susie
  • Brit Writers is now promoting a company which will publish your e-book to Kindle in return for £99. This is something one can do for oneself for nothing, so I’m not quite sure that this represents good value for money.

    (Victoria Strauss has tweeted that the website for this service, New Age Publishing, is registered to a lawyer who has appeared on Dragon’s Den touting a parking-ticket avoidance scheme. I am delighted by this, for no particular reason.)

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  • Rachael Dunlop

    I remember that episode of Dragons’ Den. To present a money-making scheme that even those entrepreneurs found distasteful is quite a feat.

  • Serena

    Is anybody else concerned that the BritWriters are now promoting AmericaWriters on their Facebook page?? Is this about to go global?

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  • Robert

    I am a former member of the BWA’s Publishing Programme. Also, I worked for a short time as a Publishing Consultant for them. Having waited ten months to receive payment for work done in January 2012, I am now struggling to get a refund. Regarding the Publishing Programme I long gave up and found my own deal. Promises upon promises have been made but not substantiated. I will be taking the BWA to court, as will, a whole bunch of others. Strongly recommend that everyone avoids any dealings with the BWA. In my eyes they have proven themselves incompetent and although not intentionally a scam, may as well be regarded as such. I wish I had never heard of them. Imran Akram is a man of many an empty word.

  • I personally contemplate the reason you branded this
    specific blog, “Brit Writers – a final word | Write Edit Seek Literary Agent”.
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