“The encouragement and praise I received…spurred me into believing more in the voice of my protagonist, and I’m thrilled to have finished the first draft. “
Rachel Rivers Porter describes her experience of WriteMentor’s 5-week WriteCharacter course with author Emma Read
Tell us a bit about yourself as a writer
I am currently in the final month of the brilliant WriteMentor Summer Programme. Writing is so competitive and there are so many ups and downs (and the downs always seem so deep!) that I was jumping for joy when my comic MG story Nanny Palmer’s Super Scooter was chosen by the wonderful Tasha Harrison. What an amazing opportunity and blessing! Thank you! My dream has always been to become a writer. As a teenager on summer holidays, I would be tucked into a sand dune scribbling in a little red notebook while my family played golf on windswept seaside courses. Reading that evening’s instalment to an enthusiastic audience fuelled my passion to entertain through my stories.
After a degree at St Andrews, I enjoyed teaching for many years. What was the most fun was role play and inspiring pupils to use their creativity and achieve more than they thought they could, but my own dream never left me and I didn’t want to get to retirement and wish If only. I left teaching to focus on writing full-time after a helpful Penguin Random House Writers’ Academy ‘Novel in Progress’ course.
I was thrilled when my YA story, Kiss of the Tsunami was longlisted by The Times/Chicken House Fiction Competition 2016. Set in the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, the dual narrative gives the different perspectives of an English girl and a sea gypsy who are searching for their families. Whilst researching the fascinating Moken sea gypsies who can free dive for up to five minutes, I discovered they escaped the tsunami because of their indigenous heritage: when they saw the sea receding and fish jumping on the sand, they remembered ancient stories of The Laboon, ‘the seventh wave that eats whole villages.’ Since self-publishing Kiss of the Tsunami, I have enjoyed school visits and giving workshops using art and poetry, and it’s a thrill to read wonderful reviews and know that the book appeals to adults as well as teenagers.
In 2020, I was short-listed for Penguin WriteNow Open Day and DHA Open Day for Under-Represented Writers. I have MS but I have been blessed with continued good health, and my energetic golden retriever makes sure I go for walks every day. She is so funny! She has many traits which I’ve given to the dog in one of my two current manuscripts. Perhaps the dog or the super scooter will help me to find an agent who will steer me to a publishing deal — I hope so!
What made you decide to do WriteMentor’s WriteCharacter course at this point in your writing journey?
This year, I began writing a story with a dog as the protagonist and I thought the WriteMentor WriteCharacter course would be really helpful as I loved Emma Read’s book, Milton the Mighty, and her arachnids are such real, fun characters. The course was excellent and Emma gave tips on crafting believable characters, whoever they are.
In what way has the course helped shaped your writing and/or yourself as a writer?
An exercise on the WriteCharacter course that I particularly enjoyed was when you had to write your main character into a story with a well-known villain. I chose the White Witch who was trying to trick the dog into being pulled away from his owner by tempting him with a plate of chips. It was great fun to write and helped me to create an emotional connection so the reader has empathy for the protagonist and is rooting for the character. The encouragement and praise I received when I posted it in the group chat spurred me into believing more in the voice of my protagonist, and I’m thrilled to have finished the first draft.
What was the best piece of writing advice you learned from WriteStart?
To distinguish between a character’s WANT and their NEED. Emma explained how a character’s want is tied in with their main goal, but in order to grow and develop throughout the story the protagonist needs something else which should create more internal emotion. She gave an example from Toy Story when Woody wants to get back to Andy, but he needs to learn to share. I used this advice in my story because the dog’s need for food stops him achieving what he wants: to escape and find the young girl whom he loves.
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