Natasha Holmes was a mentee on WriteMentor’s summer mentoring programme. During the programme, she edited her upper Middle Grade novel THE CHANGELING with the help of author Emma Finlayson-Palmer, and since then has received representation from literary agent Megan Carroll at Watson, Little Ltd.
Natasha shares her experience of WriteMentor’s mentoring programme and why she believes it’s important for writers to be supported in their publishing journey.
What made you apply for the WriteMentor summer mentoring programme?
It was a no-brainer. I’d been lucky enough to work with a mentor before on an Arts Council funded activity and found it an invaluable experience. The opportunity to work on a current manuscript with a mentor’s expertise and get it into shape for an agent showcase was like that shimmering crock of gold at the end of the rainbow – of course I was going to chase it.
What was your experience like?
Truly brilliant. I was lucky enough to get picked by Emma Finlayson-Palmer. My manuscript was not in good shape, I was still finishing the 1st draft when I applied and wrote the ending on the same day Emma requested the full. I was genuinely shocked when she picked my ms to work on. She was amazing at guiding me through all the plotting, character and background work I needed to do. It never felt daunting but opened up new vistas on my story. I’ll be forever grateful for her shrewd suggestions and the cheerleading she did to help me through the querying process.
Tell us about your writing journey to date.
I like to learn by doing (and reading obviously). I’m from a theatre background and have over twenty years of experience making theatre for children but that doesn’t mean I know how to write a book. I took a sabbatical from theatre in 2017/2018 to give myself time to explore a new artform. That’s when I was lucky enough to get an arts council grant – I couldn’t have funded it otherwise.
Initially I did an Arvon residential course, worked with Liz Flanagan as writing mentor for 9 months, joined my local writers’ group and then gradually picked up more and more online learning through twitter and WriteMentor. I love developing my writing practice through workshops and benefit enormously from being part of a creative learning community.
Can you tell us a little more about the book you worked on and signed with?
The Changeling is an upper Middle Grade magical realism/fantasy – it took a while to find exactly where it sat between upper Middle Grade/teen and Young Adult – that was something Emma really helped with. The concept is that Georgie is an angel but she doesn’t know it, as she was mistakenly born to ordinary parents in Grimsby. One day, in the shower, Georgie discovers two large growths: one on each shoulder. The lumps grow through puberty as she experiences increasingly strange, supernatural events. Georgie enlists her best friend, Vinita, to help solve these mysteries but their joint investigation unravels a terrible family secret and an impossible choice between two worlds.
It’s an ambitious premise because I wanted to make it unclear as to whether the supernatural events that take place are real or a fantasy of Georgie’s own making. It’s possible for Georgie’s perception to be entirely true or a product of her own creation that enables her to process the emotional fallout from discovering her father’s illness.
What is your best piece of writing advice that you learned on the programme?
Oooh tricky…there were so many. I think the reverse outline was the biggest revelation because I’m a pantser at heart but going back through my story and pulling out what every chapter was doing and working towards really helped me to see: what was essential, what was fluff and what needed a hell of a lot of work. And then there was mapping out: overlapping the fantasy and Georgie’s contemporary world and noting the crossovers and thinking about how I could exploit them further…impossible to choose between them.
Why do you think mentoring is important for writers?
Mentors are best placed to help you with your writing journey – they’ve been there and are still working at it too. To have a professional writer cheering on your manuscript, believing you have an important story to tell…well, in those early drafts that means EVERYTHING. It might even be the genuine crock of gold.
Natasha is a writer of children’s fiction with a background in theatre based in Yorkshire. She was awarded an Arts Council grant to research a dystopian MG fantasy with children which resulted in, The Spies of Ornia. She was a WriteMentor mentee for 2019 and is a member of the Penistone Writers’ Group. The Changeling is her third novel.
Follow her on Twitter: @TellTaleHeart
(Image credit: Gavin Joynt)