Summer Mentoring Programme – Mentor/Mentee chat with Amy Beashel and Julie Farrell
Amy and I have gained so much from this incredible community, and we wanted to give a little back by way of having a chat about our experience on the summer mentoring programme – we hope you enjoy!
*This chat was originally on Twitter and has been collated into this post*
JF: To kick us off Amy, I wanted to ask you how you discovered Write Mentor? What made you decide you wanted to be a mentor?
AB: A friend of mine – the brilliant @Tess_JMack – had taken part in previous years and really rated it. Having not long been published, I was really keen to (apologies for the cliche) “give something back”. While I’ve never had an official mentor I’ve benefited from the support & advice of some fantastic writers over the years. Eg the encouragement & writerly wisdom I’ve received from @stellduffy has been a consistent boost. I guess I really want to offer that same generosity.
What about you? Had you been involved with Write Mentor before you applied?
JF: That’s so wonderful! I hope this chat goes a little way to giving back, too. I’ve been a part of the community since almost the beginning really. I couldn’t believe these brilliant people were helping out other writers for free. I had no money for professional development – so it made such a huge difference to have these kinds of rare opportunities – Write Mentor has always been a trailblazer on the accessibility front.
I applied to the scheme once before, in 2018, but the manuscript wasn’t finished and I didn’t get a spot. In hindsight I wasn’t ready! The amount of feedback you get from a mentor is so valuable, I think you want it to be for your best work, to get the most out of it. I felt completely different when I applied last year. I knew in my bones I was ready for it and that it would help me cross the finish line.
What did/do you look for in a mentee?
AB: I’m so glad you applied again! When I was reading the applications I was looking for writing that would make me sit up in such a hurry to contact the mentee & ask for a longer sample that the water would cascade over the top of the bath (I read all the applications in the tub!) I love straight-to-the-gut kind of writing – which is what I REALLY felt with yours. Obviously the outline was important too. I needed to see the story was going somewhere with interesting believable characters who I could fall in love with. Being able gauge what kind of insight I might be able to bring to the book was also key. It certainly made me better appreciate the agent / editor experience. Because there genuinely is a moment of connection with some stories that just aren’t there with others.
It’s really not only to do with how brilliant a writer the applicant is (though you are obvs brilliant!). Any writers out there, don’t give up when you receive rejections. A rejection honestly doesn’t mean your writing isn’t good. It just means you haven’t found your person! Re what I was looking for in a mentee personally – I wanted someone willing to WORK. So much of writing is rewriting. I say this as someone who has just dumped 80k of a draft to start again from scratch. It can be heart-breaking. I wanted someone who wasn’t afraid of that… or even if they were afraid, they’d do it anyway. You were that person! Not that I wanted you to take on all or any of my suggestions, but you did need to be open to them. And you really were. Also, someone nice is good. And you’re nice. Very nice. So, yeah, I lucked out with you.
So, switching that around, what were you looking for in a mentor?
JF: Thank you! I felt like the lucky one. I think a lot of the same things. I did a bit of research. I knew I needed someone who was good with voice (I had three strong voices to wrangle including my own!) And who wasn’t afraid of a bit of darkness (there’s themes of grief, trauma and mental illness in my novel, although there’s a lot of light. Also someone prepared to do a full read at least once – someone who wanted to sink their teeth in because they felt strongly about the story. There were a couple of mentors I felt would be a great fit. When I asked questions in the YA twitter chat I really clicked with you. It felt like a sort of magic, honestly. Plus, The Sky is Mine just blew me away. The voice was one of the strongest I’d read, and the story SO important. It really spoke straight to my heart. I was over the moon when you picked me! So many happy tears.
AB: It honestly feels so weird to be on the other side of this kind of chat as an author! Face with tears of joy I was so excited to work with you.
JF: Aw, jees I knew I wouldn’t make it through this dry-eyed!
AB: Always good to make someone cry HAPPY tears.
JF: I feel very lucky and am so grateful that we paired. It was such a positive experience and I’ve grown so much from it.
AB: Without going full love-in, me too!
JF: So before this gets too weepy! I’d love to know how you found the process of giving feedback? (I’m sure it wasn’t too hard to be critical of the ms – did you see your edits impact/shape the novel with each revision? Of which there were many and you are an angel for reading them!)
AB: Your MS had so much that was great in it! It was really interesting to be doing the editorial work on someone else’s MS. Some things were more immediately clear than others. Eg. Giving both voices equal weight. Doing the edits took longer than I’d expected because as you work through the story, your thoughts about what could be done differently earlier in the book might change so it’s a constant back and forth. It was fun though, trying to look analytically at someone else’s work is definitely less pressured than doing it for you own!
Talking about those possible changes over zoom was really exciting because I could see the story expanding to take in these new ideas – not just mine, but yours too. Because the more we talked, the more thoughts you had. Honestly, 99% of it came from you, and that was my favourite part of the whole experience, watching you thinking through your already fantastic book and doing the work to make it even more so.
JF: Thank you!
AB: So dare I ask, how was it receiving the notes?
JF: It was so good! Your feedback was always so clear, so considerate and it was clear you knew the story. It was totally a woods for the trees situation for me! You really helped me to take a step back and see the bigger picture. I think there were only a couple of your suggestions I didn’t take on board – pretty much all of it made sense to me. You gave me the confidence to write in a new arc for Jess which I’d originally planned but decided not to, because I’d been afraid would make the story too ‘big’. But really it tightened everything up beautifully. At first I felt so overwhelmed by having to make such a big change, but I knew in my heart it was exactly the right thing. So I let it percolate for a couple of weeks, made notes, brainstormed (which you made incredibly fun!) and I only sat down to the task once I felt sure of where I was going. (It still took me by surprise as writing does but I felt like I had the bigger picture at that point). You went above and beyond with several reads – I hope I did you justice with each revision!
AB: I LOVE brainstorming. It’s the most fun part. Nothing is wrong. Everything is possible, which of course is true in the rest of writing too, but in brainstorming, it feels more so.
JF: Totally! We can break the rules there. I really learnt how to write in a lot of new ways purely from your line edits and taking on board your feedback. You are an excellent editor! I think the best thing overall, is having someone to go to, with any question, big or small, to be objective when you can’t be. It’s the hardest thing getting distance. Plus, when someone knows and loves your character like you do, that’s the BEST feeling. Such a motivator.
What was the most challenging aspect for you? Were there any surprises?
AB: Same as in all other areas of my life… TIME! Face with tears of joy It was over the summer, I was working on my own stuff and looking after my 2 kids during a pandemic. So it was a lot. But because it was fun and you were equally all-in, it was invigorating to be working with you. The pandemic also meant we couldn’t meet in person. It would have been fun to get together and have post-its or index cards scrawled with plot lines scattered across the floor. One day… I think the biggest surprise was how invested I became in both you and #WeAreFractals. It became as important as my own work to me. And I’m so thrilled for you that you’ve been shortlisted. AMAZING!!!!!
So, what advice would you give anyone looking to apply next year?
JF: Thank you for giving it so much time and care! Make sure you’ve taken a couple of months away from your manuscript before a fresh read/revision before you submit. You want to send your very best work – to give you the best chance of being chosen but also to get the most from your mentor. Also, you should ideally have had a beta reader or a Crit partner (CP) Read it by this point. I cannot stress enough how important it is to listen to feedback. People give it with the best intentions (and freshest eyes). It’s absolute gold dust.
You don’t have to take it all – let it sit a while if you need to – but do hear it and ask why it’s being given. There’s usually a reason. Apart from that – believe in yourself! You wrote a book! You owe it to yourself to give it everything you’ve got.
What about you? What advice would you give budding mentees/mentors? And will you be back??
AB: Do it! For mentees: everything Julie said. Research the mentors. Take part in twitter chats prior to application so you can be sure you’re subbing to those most like to connect with your book. And if you’re not successful this time, keep working and try again! Resilience is key! For the mentors, the same: Do it! It’s such a rewarding experience. I’ve learnt so much about writing, editing, mentoring. And, bonus, I’ve made a really good friend.
Yes!!! Having had several months away from my WIP, I can’t tell you the perspective time can give you. I’m always scared to leave something in fear of missing out on an opportunity by not getting it finished ASAP, but I’m learning the benefits of taking slower.
I’d love to mentor again next year.
Anything I can do better? (be brutal – I’ve banged on about resilience and taking feedback so lead by example and all that!).
JF: I’m so pleased to hear that! Whoever gets you is very lucky indeed! I think there’s always something everyone thinks they could do better/differently. I know that we both struggled to climb into this exciting new thing with LIFE going on. We’d literally just fallen into the pandemic, we were adjusting to that (you have two gorgeous kids you were home-schooling on top of doing your own writing and edits, omg)! My mother in law was in the final stages of terminal illness – it was a LOT.
I think we could have been a bit kinder to ourselves. (So many ‘I’m sorry but’ messages and we both had to push things back a fair bit so we actually continued on for another month (I think?) which again was above and beyond. You were so kind to me, and we’re very similar and we beat ourselves up for tiny things and I know we didn’t want to let each other down. But far from it – I found an amazing new friend, an incredible support in the toughest of times, who’s basically a superhero. And the best champion I could have dreamt of. I have no doubt I wouldn’t be in the shortlist for the #WMCNA if it wasn’t for this programme. So for next year, be your wonderful self, be kind to yourself – and enjoy it!
AB: Ok, I’m crying now (into my superhero cape, obvs). And as I’ve said before YOU did all the work. You totally earn your place on the shortlist. XXX
JF: Thank you! I really don’t have even helpful criticism – you were just so good and always checking in to make sure I was okay with your feedback, and asking how revisions were. It felt like you had my back 100 %
AB: Just to reiterate one final time what a great experience #WriteMentor was for me, especially as I got to work with you. It’s such a great scheme for everyone involved so big thanks to Stuart and the team. And to you, Julie, for being so open, hard-working and fun!
JF: Thanks to you for being an amazing mentor! If there’s anyone out there swithering, just do it! It’ll be such a rewarding experience. Thanks to Stuart & Co also, and to you for your diligence, honesty and passion!