Author Dale Hannah was a mentee on WriteMentor’s summer mentoring programme who worked on his Middle Grade novel with the help of mentor Emily Critchley. Dale is now represented by Lynnette Novak, literary agent at The Seymour Agency, with his novel currently on submission in the United States.
Dale chats to WriteMentor about his experience of the programme, his publishing journey, and why he believes mentoring is important for aspiring writers.
What made you apply for the WriteMentor programme?
I had always planned to apply for the WriteMentor programme but in the end I didn’t need to because I won a place by being shortlisted in the WriteMentor Children’s Novel Award. It was a great bonus, and I was delighted when Emily Critchley expressed an interest in mentoring me.
What was your experience like?
Emily was incredibly supportive. She went above and beyond in her support of me and my story. The advice and contacts she shared with me were invaluable. The fact that she was also mentoring two other people, that I had met previously, meant that I never felt alone. It was an enormously supportive time and one I will always remember.
Tell us about your writing journey from start until now?
My writing journey has been an incredibly long one. I started to take writing seriously well over ten years ago and have had a number of successes on the way; longlistings for The Times Chicken House Prize and The Bath Novel Award, winning the Writing Diversity for Children Prize, winning a Northern Writers’ Award as well as winning places on the Penguin WriteNow programme, the DHA workshop for under-represented writers and Undiscovered Voices. Early on in my writing journey, when my focus was Young Adult writing, I got agent representation. In the end things didn’t work out too well, so shortly after this time I began to focus on Middle Grade writing. I didn’t realise how much I would enjoy writing for a younger audience. It’s fair to say I also underestimated how difficult it would be. I am passionate about writing funny stories with heart.
Can you tell us a little more about the book you worked on and signed with?
The Curse of the Weird Wolf is a story about a young boy, Stanley Wilde, who’s related to a family of werewolves. Unable to transform, Stanley has to spend his fullmoons alone and locked in a cage hiding from parents who would love nothing more than to eat him! Essentially, it’s a story about difference – a boy growing up to find he doesn’t really fit in, he’s not like his other family members and he just wants to be normal. Part of his character arc is learning to accept difference and embrace it – celebrate it even! As well as being funny, I also hope it’s uplifting and entertaining.
I remember the day Stuart announced he would be in touch with details of agents who had expressed an interest in our stories. I was absolutely convinced there would be no interest in my weird wolf story. I was delighted when 5 requests came through. I spent a week or two getting the manuscript prepared to the requirements of the individual agents – they all wanted different things!
Of the 5 agents who expressed an interest, two I never heard back from, two rejected and one – Lynnette Novak from the Seymour Agency in the US asked for a video chat. I was very nervous and when she called I got a real grilling. It felt like a formal job interview, there were lots of questions about where I saw myself in the future, other books in progress, how long I took to write, where my ideas came from (this really stumped me!) and the editorial process. At the end of the call she told me how much she loved my story, how when she started reading it she just had to finish it and call me. It was a little bit weird, as well as refreshing, to have someone show real passion for something I’d written. She then finished by offering representation, which I accepted.
I was very nervous at the prospect of accepting representation from a US agent because I know nothing of the US market and how things work over there. Lynnette and the agency have been fantastic though. Lynnette and I spent several weeks editing the story. I discovered the British words and phrases you can’t use in the US market because they’re just not understood, words like; wellies, onesie, sausage roll, trainers, boot (of a car), biscuit, sweets, and many more that I can’t recall. Finally, we worked on a number of blurbs and pitches of varying lengths ready for subbing to publishers – I learnt so much and it was a really rewarding experience. The novel is currently on submission in the US.
What is your best piece of writing advice that you learned on the programme?
Less is more! Apparently, I tended to overuse dramatic punctuation. My story was littered with punctuation marks and ellipses…! Emily made me realise you really don’t need so many of them. I think it was a rookie mistake – I assumed that children’s novels would need lots of them.
Why do you think mentoring is important for writers?
For the reasons outlined above! As a writer you really can’t see the wood for the trees. It is of huge benefit to have someone experienced in writing who can read through your work and highlight the mistakes you’re making. Knowing when the plot isn’t working well enough, where setting detail can be enhanced, where characterisation is a bit flat and can be improved, as well as highlighting mistakes, places where humour doesn’t work, and parts of your novel which lead to confusion – Emily spotted all of these and more! I am very grateful to Stuart and the WriteMentor team for giving me the opportunity to take part in the mentoring programme, my novel was so much better for it and it ultimately led to agency representation.
Dale Hannah, an award-winning writer from the North of England, has dreamt up stories for as long as he can remember. He is passionate about writing stories that are funny and engaging with positive messages about hope and family. When he isn’t writing, he works as a teacher of English in a High School.