“I think the best piece of advice from the programme is to be open to change.“
Author Nadine Holland describes her experience of WriteMentor’s summer mentoring programme, working on her Picture Book manuscripts, and how it led her to agent representation
In July 2020 I decided to start writing a book. Prompted mostly by boredom I sat at my laptop and began to pen my magnum opus – a horror novel that would curl even Stephen King’s toes. But there was one problem. I hated it. Writing about horrible things, weirdly, made me feel horrible. So instead I decided to do something more fun and less murder-y and I wrote down a story I’d made up for my daughter to try to get her to sleep. And that…I loved.
From then on I was hooked and started writing picture book after picture book, but I quickly realised that I needed some help. So, I turned to Twitter and found the most wonderful community of like-minded souls, all eager to share their stories with the world.
Polishing rough stones into diamonds
WriteMentor was a name I kept seeing on the Twitterverse and so I decided to check them out and saw the Children’s Novel and Picture Book award. I entered a LOT of manuscripts and was pleasantly surprised to have three long listed and a couple of reader favourites. I was a little shocked because I honestly had no idea whether any of my work was actually decent.
Prompted by this and a whole bunch of agent form rejections, I decided to apply for the mentoring programme because I needed someone who could tell me where I was going wrong, so that I could polish my rough stones into shiny, shiny diamonds. I knew, immediately, that Meredith Vigh would be my top choice because we had a similar black humour and I had a gut feeling that her straight-forward approach would be just what I needed.
Using industry insights to remodel stories
Incredibly, she picked me, and after doing a happy dance we immediately got to work on my manuscripts. One thing you need to know about Meredith is that as well as being fabulously supportive she does not sugar the pill, and it was clear that there was a lot to work on.
But her industry insights were so constructive and she helped me to cut through my hubris to see how I could remodel my stories to create stronger, funnier, and more structured manuscripts. Meredith really put me through my paces and at times I found it really tough, being confronted with your own shortcomings will make anyone feel uncomfortable, but I stuck with it and was so proud of what we created.
Receiving agent representation
Miss Rooter’s Computer, a rhyming interplanetary tale, was the first story we finished working on. When I saw a new agency (specifically for teachers) open to submissions, I got over excited and decided to submit it, along with another manuscript I had written during Clare Helen Welsh’s picture book course. In the meantime we continued working on other manuscripts and after a month I sent a nudge to the agency.
I decided to take a chance and along with the nudge I also sent some of the newer manuscripts we had finished. Amazingly, Kate got in touch to set up a meeting and in August, 13 months after writing my first story, I signed with the Tyild’s Agency to represent Miss Rooter along with the book I had written on Clare’s course and a third that I had worked on with Meredith, Metal Mo.
Changing her writing for the better
I have no doubt that the work I did with Meredith has fundamentally changed the way I write. I am more discerning and have a greater intuition for the types of stories that might have commercial appeal. I think, through a process of osmosis, I have absorbed all the information and course corrections Meredith gave me and I now use that to create holistically better work.
An invaluable opportunity to learn from others
I think the best piece of advice from the programme is to be open to change; almost all of my books had pretty major rewrites. That second set of eyes on your work from someone on ‘the inside’ is absolutely invaluable and the opportunity to learn from more experienced writers, for free, is incredibly generous and something which I hope to return as soon as I have enough useful knowledge to share.