Claire King


Brit Writers’ legal action against writers – update

Posted on: November 17th, 2011 by Claire - 26 Comments

If you have been following this blog the last couple of weeks you’ll have seen that Brit Writers Limited contacted me via their solicitors, threatening legal action for comments (unspecified) which they deemed to be potentially defamatory.

I was one of three writers to be threatened in this way.

They requested that I removed all references to and mentions of Brit Writers from my blog.

I politely declined, having taken legal advice, on the grounds that I do not believe I have made any defamatory statements.

After several days with no news, today the Brit Writers have issued a public statement, the first paragraphs of which follow (my bolds):

“Brit Writers has decided to withdraw its legal action against Writers’ Workshop, Claire King and Jane Smith. We felt compelled into this course of action because of the accusation that the Prime Minister’s letter of support to Brit Writers was fraudulent. Subsequently, this accusation has now been withdrawn for which we are grateful. We would further request that the accusation that Brit Writers is a ‘scam’ organisation also should be withdrawn.

In keeping with the spirit of generosity and good will Brit Writers are more than happy to answer any questions from anyone; however we refuse to indulge in internet mudslinging particularly since we are sensitive to the interests of our partners and writers.”

Since nowhere on my site or elsewhere have I claimed that they forged a letter from the Prime Minister, nor have I called them a scam organisation, I was still no clearer as to why I was threatened with legal action. I contacted Zareen at BWA, asking for some clarification. Also, welcoming their comment that they are willing to answer questions, I asked again for responses to my initial questions.

Zareen responded to me with this:

The matter that was being investigated was in respect of you falsely accusing and promoting Brit Writers as being a scam – i.e. Brit Writers is filed under the ‘scam’ heading of your website: 

What Zareen was referring to (I do not have a scams section on my website) is that a post was tagged with the tag ‘Scams’.

Why do we tag our blog posts? So that people searching for the content of the post, even if it isn’t explicitly mentioned in the post, can find the post. So, for example, in this instance, anyone searching for “Is Brit Writers a scam?” Would have found my post. And they would have seen in the comments, several comments from myself and others saying that we do not believe it to be a scam.

Whatever. On Zareen’s request, and so as to avoid any confusion, I have removed the tag ‘Scams’ from that post. However I am disappointed that I have not had any kind of apology for the accusations and legal threats levelled against me and the attempts to push me, through fear of litigation, into removing perfectly legitimate blog posts.

Zareen went on to say “We feel your questions have been answered in the statement and within the further response which has been sent to Harry this afternoon.”

I disagree. I found the statement mostly rhetorical and vague, and what I and others were after were some specific answers that showed transparency, competency and credentials.

I replied, inviting Zareen and BWA therefore to either respond to my questions, or decline to respond. I am writing this in the assumption that they will decline to respond. But if they do respond with more specifics I will post them here, of course.

In the meantime, I think Harry Bingham has had the most in depth response to these and other questions, so I shall hand you over to his blog for his summary of what we’ve got.

Finally, I should add that Zareen said:

“Brit Writers and the people who work in this organisation would like to extend an invitation to you and any other interested parties to come and participate in dialogue that involves advice and support for one another so that we may mutually benefit from each other’s experience and thereby add value to the writing community at large. We hope that you will accept the hand of cooperation offered as a fellow colleague and reciprocate in kind.”

I’m going to have to decline that invitation. Just because a dog that has bared its teeth at you is now wagging its tail doesn’t mean you should give it a bone.

And now I’m going to get on with what my blog is actually supposed to be about – writing.

26 Responses

  1. Christopher says:

    I applaud you, Claire.

  2. Well put, Claire. And let’s see how the organisation and its writers fare. Perhaps we will see one of them on the Booker shortlist in years to come. Only time and all that. Good luck to their writers.

  3. Debi Alper says:

    It seems to me that BWA don’t know about the old writer’s adage to show, not tell. For some reason, that doesn’t surprise me.

  4. Jane Smith says:

    Claire, you’ve behaved with dignity and grace in the face of some quite ridiculous provocation, and I applaud you.

    As for Zareen and the BWA: they didn’t even bother to notify me that they were withdrawing their threat of legal action until I pointed out that they hadn’t. I learned about it by finding a new blog post up on Harry’s website. It’s hardly rocket science to use the contact form on my website, is it?

    Zareen has now emailed me the good news (!), but only after Harry copied me in to an email exchance he had with the BWA.

    There’s nothing like professionalism, is there?

  5. Rachael Dunlop says:

    You have gone above and beyond the call of duty in trying to unravel this tangled web. Rest assured that anyone reading these posts has the requisite information to make up their own minds about whether or not to get into bed with BWA.

    I am rather disappointed, though, that a legitimate source of writing procrastination is coming to an end along with these discussions.

  6. Damn it, Claire! We’re not going to get our prison writing circle going now. What say we both commit a little larceny and spend a little time inside? Or maybe ABH, if you fancy a little more exercise? I’m game if you are.

  7. Janetyjanet says:

    “Brit Writers has decided to withdraw its legal action against Writers’ Workshop, Claire King and Jane Smith. We felt compelled into this course of action because of the accusation that the Prime Minister’s letter of support to Brit Writers was fraudulent.”

    And this is a business organisation involved in writing? Because, with my pedant head on, if you read the two sentences grammatically correctly then they are actually saying that they WITHDREW their legal action because of the supposed accusation…

    They obviously need a good copy editor for their communications!!

  8. Pete says:

    Well done Claire in raising the issues and refusing to be beaten by empty threats of litigation.
    I think that the fundamental question for me has been answered. As a new writer, would I want to submit an entry to their competition and would I want to work with them in any capacity?
    The answer to both, based on the information given (or more importantly not given) by BWA, and the way they conduct their business is a resounding NO.
    I can’t imagine myself working with any organisation that seems incapable / unwilling to establish the credibility of the organisation, answer simple questions or substantiate its claims whether it be in the world of publishing or anywhere else.
    BWA has had ample chances to explain how it works and has done everything in its power to avoid doing so.
    I cannot see how this is a sensible business approach in an industry which relies on reputation and good will.
    BWA has a very ambitious programme and only time will tell whether their approach is indeed visionary or just hot air.
    In the meantime good luck to all their writers.

  9. A graceful last post Claire. Let’s hope the next we hear of BWA is all positive.
    And yes, good luck to all their writers

  10. Steve Moran says:

    Well I don’t think you should remove the tag “Scam” because your correspondent clearly doesn’t understand the use of tags on messages. Such a tag merely, as you point out, indicates that the post deals with the question of scams. I suggest that if they are that “hard of understanding” then their judgements about text submitted are not worth much. Their attempt to co-opt volunteers into their business is a bit rich too.

  11. David says:

    Brit Writers (when they come to learn about social media, SEO, the difference between a ‘tag’ and a ‘category’ and so forth) will probably realise that they’ve done themselves a disservice by asking for that tag to be removed.

    Henceforth, if anyone searches for ‘is Brit Writers a scam’ they’ll be far less likely to happen upon the conversation in which it was concluded that they aren’t.

    That said, they don’t seem to be an organisation that is afraid to do itself disservices.

    I sincerely hope that they look after all of the genuinely talented people who cross their threshold with rather more care.

  12. Charlie says:

    I don’t care anymore if the BWA is kosher or not – I don’t want anything to do with a company who hold in such low regard the very people they claim to support.

    In 2010 Brit Writers’ Imran Akran 2010 says on Jane Smith’s blog How Publishing Really Works that:

    “The BWA discouraged entrants that were rejected early in the competition from making their results known publicly, especially via online forums as this would be detrimental to their credibility as writers”

    A statement I still find unacceptable a year later. I can’t see any reason why it would have damaged anybody’s credibility not to have progressed to the latter stages of the competition. The belief that it shames us to have our work eliminated stands in stark contrast to probably the most important advice given to new writers: rejection is part of the job.

    Today we’re told via Harry Bingham’s Writer’s Workshop Blog that BWA withholds the judges’ details so they can’t be pestered by participants in the competition. The Bristol Short Story Prize and the Bridport Prize (also open to unpublished writers) name their main judge(s) openly on their websites. I’m sure they get the odd unpleasant contestant, too, but at least they have the good manners to expect us to be professional.

    Maybe I am too sensitive, but add this to the marketing of their services to unsuccessful competitors and I can’t help wondering what exactly the people at the BWA think about aspiring writers.

    As far as I’m concerned, until they start showing respect to us, I’ll pass.

    • I’ve been a named judge in the New Writer non-fiction comp since the beginning of October and have received no correspondence at all from prospective entrants. Neither have I ever been pestered in the other comps I’ve judged.

      The Bridport Prize, one of, if not the, top short story prizes in the country, always name the judges early on in the comp.

      Occasionally an entrant will email a judge after a comp, trying to get some feedback, but the simple answer to that is to tell them that it’s not part of your remit as a judge to give individual feedback (unless it is of course).

      • Charlie says:

        Thanks for sharing that. I had been wondering after commenting how many judges are hassled at all. At the end of the day, many writers enter comps in the hopes of winning, being published and progressing in their career. I think a reputation for pestering judges would be detrimental to future success.

  13. Much respect for standing your ground!


  14. Debi Alper says:

    Re Sally’s experiences as a judge – it’s odd isn’t it? Because in 2010, the BWA judges were named and I was one of them. In fact, in order to help promote BWA and its stated aims which I supported wholeheartedly, I blogged extensively at the time, saying I was judging the adult fiction category. None of the entrants ever tried to contact me.

    Anyway, I share Claire’s wish to move on now. Kudos to Claire, Harry, Jane et al for the dignified and courageous way you have handled this deeply unpleasant situation over these past weeks.

  15. Phillip Wand says:

    I hate bullying threats of litigation

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