Becky shares her experience of the programme, what she learned along the way, and it how it encouraged her to get her work out there – resulting in her signing with a literary agent.
What made you apply for the WriteMentor programme?
I’m forever re-writing picture book stories from different angles to find the best version. This means I dither around without really getting my work out there. My confidence has waned over the years and the mentoring programme seemed like an amazing opportunity to help me move forward with my writing. So, I hastily re-wrote a picture book story from yet another angle and whizzed it off.
What was your experience like?
Jon was unbelievably kind and encouraging all the way through the process. His super-speedy feedback helped me shape three picture book stories in all (he has since helped with more!). Plus, he was on hand throughout the exciting process of submitting to agents. He was the best mentor I could have hoped for!
Tell us about your writing journey from start until now.
I started writing, aged eight, after penning a (terrible) pop song in the playground. After that, I scribbled (terrible) stories about ghosts and guinea pigs, before moving into (really terrible) poetry.
While studying to be a primary school teacher, I fell in love with picture books. I hastily wrote and illustrated* my first ever PB and sent it off to a publisher. *By ‘illustrated’, I mean drew horrendously!
It was rejected (obviously) but I liked the idea of working with words and pictures. So, I changed universities, completed an MA in Publishing and spent many wonderful years editing children’s books and licensed magazines, in London and Bath.
After my children started school, I freelanced as a children’s writer and editor. I tried to write picture books again but soon found myself in the slush pile. So, I dived into lots of writing courses and workshops…and here we are!
Can you tell us a little more about the book you worked on and signed with?
I’d been toying with ‘The Pet Princess’ for a few years. An earlier version received a mention in one of the SCBWI Slush Pile challenges, but I wasn’t happy with it. So, I re-wrote it in the form of a guide book. It’s about a dragon who gets increasingly more frazzled as he discovers his pet princess is not as perfect as he’d hoped. Jon was the first person to see this version of the story, along with two other picture book texts that I’d re-written in a fit of creativity at the start of Lockdown 1.
Half-way through the programme, Jon encouraged me to think about submitting to agents. So, I did. When I received an offer of representation from Paul Moreton (of Bell Lomax Moreton), Jon and I bounced emails back and forth with LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS BECAUSE WE WERE VERY EXCITED! 🙂
Paul represents a multitude of amazingly talented authors and illustrators, and he also happens to be one of the judges of WriteMentor’s 2021 Children’s Novel Award (Picture Books).
What is your best piece of writing advice that you learned on the programme?
Gosh, there are so many. I suppose, for me, having a voice of reason (in my case, Jon!) ask difficult questions, like: “But what is this story really about?” helped me think about my writing on a deeper level. As a natural pantser, this is something I hadn’t always given enough thought to previously.
Why do you think mentoring is important for writers?
Writing is SO competitive and SO hard and SUCH a rollercoaster, that having someone championing you all the way through is amazing, not only in terms of helping you progress with your writing but also for your overall confidence and emotional well-being.
Jon was really great at offering all kinds of writerly advice along the way. I’d never worked with someone so closely on my writing before and I loved receiving feedback at every stage of the process. Jon was also a brilliant voice of reason for my muddled brain and I’m so happy to say that we’re still in touch…I even get to read his wonderful stories now, too.
I’m incredibly thankful to Jon, Stuart, Florianne, Paul, my 2020 mentee Picture Book group, my fabulous critique group, SCBWI and all the amazing workshops, festivals, courses and competitions that have helped me over the years (including WriteMentor’s very own Picture Book course, led by the lovely Clare Helen Welsh).
You’re all superstars…Thank you!