After a degree in Art History turned out to be even less useful than predicted, Louise Finch fell into the charity sector and has stayed there for over a decade. She’s worked across issues such as local communities, women’s rights and youth, many of which have influenced her writing. 

Alongside crafting Young Adult novels, she has mastered the absolute basics of numerous other creative pursuits. She gets most of her thinking done while hiking with her two tiny dogs. 

Louise’s novel, The Eternal Return of Clara Hart, was shortlisted in the WriteMentor Children’s Novel Award 2020 and went on to list in several other competitions. Over summer 2020 she was mentored by Emma Finlayson-Palmer and Carolyn Ward. 

What made you apply for the WriteMentor programme?

In short, I knew I needed help! Like so many writers-in-training before me, I’d written my book, edited it to death, and knew something still wasn’t right.

At the same time, thanks to the pandemic, I was furloughed from my job for three months and my partner’s business lost all its bookings overnight. I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands and needed a distraction from everything going on in real life. The WriteMentor summer programme in which mentors generously give their time for free to aspiring writers was the solution. I hoped it would give me focus, encouragement and expert support.

What was your experience like?

My experience on the programme was so positive from start to finish. I was incredibly lucky to get to work with two mentors, the brilliant Emma Finlayson-Palmer and Carolyn Ward who, in addition to being experienced writers, editors and mentors, are two of the loveliest and most encouraging people you could hope to meet.

It also connected me to the ever supportive YA Mentee Class of 2020. As every writer knows, having other writers to share the ups and downs of this journey is vitally important.

Tell us about your writing journey from start until now?

I only started to write in 2018. I grew up in a family where a career in the arts was actively discouraged, so I hadn’t written fiction since I was a teenager, but I’d never lost my love of reading, knew I had plenty of ideas, and believed I might be able to get some of them out on the page. 

I wrote three drafts in quick succession, all YA novels. The first two were relegated to the back of the (virtual) drawer never to see the light of day, but the third felt like it had promise.

After a couple of years devouring writing courses and about nine months of edits on my third book, I began to query agents, including a flurry of submissions when I was shortlisted for the 2020 WriteMentor Children’s Novel Award. Although I received a handful of full requests, all the excitement came to nothing and I embarked on my summer mentoring feeling like this might be the novel’s last shot.

A few months down the line when I was just wrapping up the last few edits on my novel, I received an email from Becky Bagnell at Lindsay Literary Agency asking to see my full manuscript. A few days later she suggested we meet via zoom. A few days after that I signed on the dotted line, knowing without a doubt that my manuscript was in the best possible hands.

As every writer knows, having other writers to share the ups and downs of this journey is vitally important.

Can you tell us a little more about the book you worked on and signed with?

The Eternal Return of Clara Hart is a dark, contemporary YA with a speculative twist. It’s about a boy trapped in a time-loop, reliving one tragic Friday over and over again as he tries to prevent the accidental death of a classmate at the end of the night. 

Although it takes place in the now mythical setting of a party, it’s a story about feeling trapped and yearning for connection, so I hope it might resonate with people who’ve lived through the last year!

What is your best piece of writing advice that you learned on the programme?

One transferrable piece of advice I’ll take forward into every new project is that it’s never too late to brainstorm ideas and reconsider what you know about your story. The first exercise Emma and Carolyn set for me was to create fresh character profiles. Although I’d done it once before at the planning stages, going back to it was hugely helpful. When I was done I felt like I knew my gang of made-up weirdos better than ever and certain sticky scenes became magically unstuck.

Why do you think mentoring is important for writers?

Mentoring is such a gift for writers. Often we go on courses, we swap our 3,000 or 5,000 words and we gain and give feedback on scenes or chapters. Although chapter-by-chapter feedback is also important, very rarely do we get the opportunity to have our full manuscript read by more experienced writers. Almost never do we get the chance to have expert eyes on a full manuscript multiple times and help us get to grips with issues within the structure or characterisation.

Free and affordable mentoring as offered through WriteMentor is especially important. It sometimes feels like you need to spend a fortune to get ahead as a novice writer and that’s a massive accessibility issue, disadvantaging writers on lower incomes and ultimately impacting whose stories make it into print. I’m so grateful to Stuart and Florianne at WriteMentor for making this opportunity available to writers year after year and to Emma, Carolyn and all the other mentors for taking precious time away from their own writing and being so generous with their expertise!

WriteMentor truly is the most supportive community for any new writers and I’m so glad I found it.

Twitter: @LouFinchWrites