Patrice Lawrence is the judge for the Young Adult and childrens’ category in the London Writers Awards. Patrice’s debut YA novel, Orangeboy (Hodder), was greeted with a critical and prize-winning storm. Indigo Donut (Hodder), Patrice’s second novel, met with great reviews and was Book of the Week in The Times, The Observer and The Sunday Times. We discuss the importance of a critique group and structured support.
You’ve been part of a writing critique group a bit like the London Writers Awards. Can you describe what it was like?
Initially, joining a critique group was terrifying. I had no confidence in my skills and everyone else had more knowledge about the craft and process of writing than me. Giving your work up for critique feels like offering up your heart on a plate with a sharp knife next to it. Gradually, though, I allowed myself to trust the other members, understanding that everyone wanted the best for each other. I learnt when to accept opinion – often when it was unanimous! – and when to put it aside. Sometimes, I put critique aside for a while then come back to it later when I knew it was right.
How did being part of writing group scheme benefit you?
It would have taken Orangeboy longer to be published without my critique group. Thanks to them, I eventually divested the manuscript of a terrible subplot and changed the perspective from third person to first which enabled me to inhabit the character and see through his eyes more vividly. However, I have learned so much from critiquing other people’s work – particularly about structure, plot, point of view and characterisation.
How does writing in a group compare to writing alone?
I don’t consider a critique group is ‘writing in a group’. What it has helped me do is to keep writing, even before I was published. Knowing that I am expected to deliver work twice a term makes me actually write things! As I get into my third YA, My critique group is where I can test and ask advice on my plot points, opening chapters and characterisation.
Why do the London Writers Awards matter?
There are increasingly more opportunities for talented writers including under-represented writers, but they are often targeting writers who have polished manuscripts ready to submit to agents. However, for writers with limited opportunities for MAs and writing courses, the Awards are a much needed opportunity. Not only will they develop writers’ skills, they will, through peer support, give ongoing encouragement and provide opportunities to meet the gatekeepers to publication.