Lucille Abendanon grew up in Norfolk before emigrating to South Africa when she was 12. After an MA in International Studies, she hit the road again and has called Vietnam, Thailand, Turkey, and The Netherlands home. She returned to the UK recently, determined to give her three boys a slice of the rural childhood she enjoyed. Lucille blogs about living abroad and her travels at www.expitterpattica.com and has contributed to numerous anthologies about expat life. 

Lucille describes her experience of the WriteMentor Spark programme, where she worked with author Lindsay Galvin to receive ongoing developmental editing, writing advice, and direct feedback on her historical Middle Grade novel.

What made you apply for the WriteMentor programme?

I had recently completed the Writing for Children and YA course at Curtis Brown with Catherine Johnson, and had about a quarter of my book written. I knew I needed to knuckle down to write the rest, but with three kids and life in general, I needed someone to make me accountable to get the words down. Someone from my writing group told me about WriteMentor, and came across Lindsay Galvin. I knew she would be a great fit to mentor me as we both write historical fiction. So in June 2020 I began the Spark programme. Knowing that a successful author who I respected was waiting for my words was brilliant in boosting my work ethic! 

What was your experience like?

I must admit I was pretty nervous when I submitted my first few thousand words. I had visions of being told, ‘honey, you’re delusional, just stop the madness!’ But Lindsay was so nice, so warm and really encouraging. From then on I looked forward to sending her my pages each month because her feedback was always gentle, considered and spot on. 

Knowing that a successful author who I respected was waiting for my words was brilliant in boosting my work ethic!

Tell us about your writing journey from start until now

Writing has always been part of my life. I feel like the ambition to be an author has always been there. I won a writing prize when I was seven, and used to write elaborate plays set in space that my family would perform at Christmas time, complete with cardboard box space suits! But it’s only been in the last seven or so years that I finally began to feel like I had something to say. I began writing regularly (and publicly) when I started my blog Expitterpattica.com in 2014.

We were living in Istanbul, my son was a toddler and my second son was on the way. We had lived in Vietnam and Thailand before Turkey, and I wanted to write about living internationally, raising kids abroad and how that impacts, challenges (and benefits) them. My blog took off quickly, and when we moved to South Africa in 2012 I was writing for expat publications, travel magazines and contributing to expat anthologies. We moved to The Netherlands and my third son came along. All of a sudden I was a few years from 40, and something just clicked and I thought, ‘Right, I have got to write this book that’s been in my head for a decade!’

But life got in the way, as it does, and we moved to the UK and the book was put on the back burner again. About a year later I heard about the selective Curtis Brown course, and I just knew I had to go for it. Being accepted at the end of 2019 was a giant leap in the right direction, and that’s when I really settled down to write the book. I met my incredible writing group on the course. I can’t stress enough the wonderful support, tough love and friendship to be gained from a good writing group. Their feedback was instrumental in getting agent interest, no question.   

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

My book is Middle Grade historical fiction, and is inspired by my grandmother’s time in a Japanese concentration camp in Batavia (modern day Jakarta) in World War Two. The story has a bit of everything: adventure, mystery, a brave female main character who has to overcome her own obstacles to survive, a cruel General who howls at the full moon, a snobbish frenemy turned bestie, and a hapless python. But beyond that the story is about friendship, belonging, what it means to be born in a country that will never be yours, and leaving your heart in many places.  

My Oma was a little Dutch lady with enormous spirit, and we were very close. I used to visit her in Holland and we’d talk endlessly about her life during the war. She was always so open about it, and never said no when I wanted to go over everything for the millionth time! On one visit she drew a map of the concentration camp as she remembered it. I was living in Asia at the time, and using her map managed to find the neighbourhood in Jakarta where the camp had been. The bungalow she shared with 60 women and children is still standing. I called her from outside and said, ‘You’ll never guess where I am…’ 

It has been such a privilege drawing on her life to write this story, and I think she would have approved of the end result.   

I was really lucky because I had early agent interest. The elation that there were real life industry people who wanted to read my story was the boost I needed to finish the manuscript during lock down. I signed with my agent in March which was a dream come true. When the offer came through, I called my husband from the car in tears, he thought I’d had an accident!     

It has been such a privilege drawing on her life to write this story, and I think she would have approved of the end result

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

Even though our time together was short, Lindsay gave loads of great advice. Sometimes it was in the line edit where she suggested a small tweak that just gave that little more detail, or added nuance. So many times I thought, ‘Ohhhhh, that’s how it’s done.’

Lindsay was also really encouraging about the need to write diverse characters. There are so many nationalities in my story, I was – and am – worried about getting it wrong. Her experience and guidance was greatly appreciated. 

Why do you think mentoring is important for writers?

Mentoring can be beneficial for so many reasons. It provides feedback, makes you accountable to a certain number of words each month, and can demystify the writing and querying process. But there are also times when you just need to sit down and do the work without input from anyone else. It’s different for each person and changes throughout the writing process. For me personally, I wanted accountability, but mentoring also felt like a solid step towards taking myself seriously as a writer. Showing my words to an established author – and receiving encouragement and constructive feedback – made me just that little bit more confident that I belong in the writing world too.

Instagram: @lucille.emmeline

Twitter @lucilleemmeline   

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