“The WriteStart course might only be five weeks long, but it packs a huge punch and is essentially a masterclass in how to craft a novel.“
Author Laura Collins describes her experience of WriteMentor’s 5-week WriteStart course with author Jenny Pearson, and how it helped her secure agent representation
Tell us a bit about yourself as a writer
I started writing about three years ago after approximately forty years of procrastination! My background is in publishing and so I knew all too well the skill and hard graft it takes to write a novel and how few reach publication. It took me a long time to learn that trying and failing was better than not trying at all. I love writing funny stories and putting my characters in absurd situations that reveal something about the world and how each of us can find our place in it. For me, humour is the best way to convey a serious message. Plus it’s ridiculously good fun to write!
What made you decide to do WriteMentor’s WriteStart course at this point in your writing journey?
Panic! Fear! Self-doubt! I’m only partly joking . . . When I signed up for the course, I was deep in the weeds of rewriting my funny middle-grade mystery, Extra Ordinary, and was at a point where I had picked my manuscript apart and didn’t know if I had what it took to put it back together.
Let me explain…The previous month, I’d been lucky enough to be accepted on to the WriteMentor summer mentoring programme and my brilliant mentor, Meagan Dallner, kindly explained to me what I already suspected: my book was 20,000 words too long and needed a new, far simpler mystery. I agreed with everything she said and launched myself into the rewrite. Just like in stories, though, things got worse before they got better. A few weeks later, despite Meagan’s reassurances and faith in me, all my fears about my ability as a writer resurfaced. I had well and truly entered the dark night of the soul!
I knew I needed to reconnect with the heart of my story, so when an email from Stuart pinged into my in-box telling me that Jenny Pearson was leading a new course, it was obvious what I had to do. Jenny’s books are warm, witty and the embodiment of writing from the heart. I knew if anyone could help me reconnect with my story, it was her.
In what way has the course helped shaped your writing and/or yourself as a writer?
The WriteStart course might only be five weeks long, but it packs a huge punch and is essentially a masterclass in how to craft a novel. I wholeheartedly believe that no matter what stage you’re at as a writer, you’re still learning, and this course has something for everyone. Jenny is so fun and engaging that you can’t help but be swept up by her enthusiasm and energy.
At the end of the course, I sent Jenny an extract from Extra Ordinary, and luckily, she loved my concept and writing. Her feedback gave me exactly the confidence boost I needed to keep going. Under Meagan’s watchful eye, and thanks to many an early-morning and late-night writing session, my manuscript slowly came back together. Soon after, I completed my rewrite and was thrilled to sign with my fantastic agent, Sam Copeland at RCW. I’m so proud of the finished manuscript and can’t wait to send it out into the world.
What was the best piece of writing advice you learned from WriteStart?
Character is everything, especially in writing for children. No one remembers a story because of the plot, so the reader must root for your protagonist from the very beginning. If they don’t empathise, sympathise with or idolise your character (or all three) by the end of the first page, you’ve missed the boat!
I’m busy outlining my next book and have printed out this advice and stuck it on my noticeboard. It doesn’t matter what interesting stuff happens if your reader doesn’t connect with your character. Keep your protagonist front and centre of everything that happens in your manuscript and your story will shine.
Ready to start your story?
Join WriteMentor’s online WriteStart course, for anyone starting a new story. Over five weeks, author Jenny Pearson, Costa Children’s Book Award shortlistee, will guide you away from a blank page towards the first spark of an idea.
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From that first spark of a story idea to submitting a polished manuscript to literary agents, WriteMentor’s online courses support children’s writers throughout their writing journey. Advance your craft and gain insights from published authors.