In conversation with Florianne and Melissa

Florianne Humphrey and Melissa Welliver interview one another about behind-the-scenes at WriteMentor, their roles supporting children’s writers, and what it’s really like to work for Stuart…

Melissa: Tell us what your author bio would say. Who is Florianne and where does she come from?!

Florianne: I write Middle Grade, Young Adult, and adult fiction across a range of genres. A recent writing achievement was a YA short story published by Northern Gravy. Some fun facts about me: I’m a Francophile and Francophone who loves cheese, German Shepherds, travelling to new countries and stockpiling books (600 and counting, all in teetering stacks on the floor of my childhood bedroom). I’m working hard to make daily yoga practices a replacement for a personality and, like any freelancing millennial, I can’t live without my laptop. Although I like to think I’m a fairly good writer, I genuinely struggle to tell the time from an analogue clock, I frequently take the wrong turn (geographically, not philosophically), and, if there’s an available surface, you can be sure I’ll trip up on it.

M: How did you start working at WriteMentor?

F: Ahem, listen up…my WriteMentor origin story…it starts in 2019, when I switched on my phone after watching Spider-Man: Far From Home in the cinema. A Twitter notification popped up – I’d been matched with author P.M. Freestone for the WriteMentor summer mentoring programme, my second attempt at applying. Once the programme ended in the September, I wanted to stay involved in the lovely writing community. Stuart is clearly psychic because, only a few weeks later, he advertised for a marketing role. Another WriteMentor application later, and I was honoured to be named WriteMentor’s first employee. 

M: Tell us about a typical day working at WriteMentor

F: Blood spiked with coffee (no milk, no sugar), I usually start the day checking messages from Team WM, which feature a lot of Star Wars GIFs and dad-joke level puns. At this point, Stuart has probably posted one of two things in our Slack group: either a) a new spreadsheet b) a new idea to make WriteMentor bigger and better. It’s the inbox next. Two years on, and it’s still exciting to get emails from agents, editors, publishers, and authors, all of which are a reminder of how WriteMentor is in the thick of it when it comes to the world of children’s publishing.

After that, and sorry for the cliched marketing-speak, there is no typical day. Although as with any job there are moments of mundanity (admin, please step forward), my role at WriteMentor is incredibly varied, and I get to flex different muscles. For example, designing promotional material with the help of my BFF, Canva, or my arch-nemesis, Photoshop; laying up the magazine on InDesign; chatting to a brilliant guest on our podcast while freaking out that I haven’t switched on the microphone; hosting an event on the Hub, our membership platform; organising the next round of online courses; writing a blog post (like this one…ohh, meta!); updating the website; or working on the next strategy to expand WriteMentor’s reach and help as many writers as we can.

M: What is the best thing about working at WriteMentor, apart from working with me of course?

F: The best thing about working at WriteMentor is that we all have a shared passion, whether that’s the people who take part in our events and courses, our Hub members, the publishing professionals we collaborate with, or Stuart and…yes, you Melissa! We all love books and, in particular, writing them. As a writer myself, I’m extremely lucky to work for a company that champions storytelling, and does so in such an inclusive, all-encompassing, and vibrant way. At WriteMentor, I’ve found a support system of the loveliest, like-minded people to help me along my writing journey – and I get to make a living out of it, too. That’s a rare and shiny thing!

M: What is one thing you think people don’t know about behind-the-scenes at WriteMentor?

F: ‘Mr Nice Guy’ Stuart is secretly Darth Vader…I joke, there are no dark secrets to reveal. As well Star Wars references (mine are pretty weak, as you can tell), Line of Duty also crops up a lot. And that’s because we’ve decided that I’m Kate Fleming, Melissa is Steve Arnott, and Stuart is Ted Hastings, commanding officer of AC-12. The similarities between a fictional police anti-corruption unit and a real-life writing organisation end there, but it’s good craic to refer to Stuart as ‘the Gaffa’. 

M: What is your current writing project?

F: I’m currently submitting a Middle Grade ghost story, which means I’m jumping out of my skin with every unread email that pops into my inbox. If you know, you know.

M: Why kidlit? In terms of writing and in terms of your work at WriteMentor?

F: In terms of writing, kidlit always contains some element of joy, whatever the genre, which has kept me buoyant even through hard times (hello, global pandemic…). And it’s this same joy that can be found in the writers and industry professionals that work hard to bring these stories to children. It’s lovely to be part of that. And in terms of WriteMentor – again, the kidlit community is so friendly, and I think the very best of them can be found through WriteMentor (although, I’m bias).

M: If you could invite any author to interview for a WriteMentor event, who would it be and why?

F: This is SUCH a hard question. We already work with so many amazing authors, but I’ll have to go with a particular favourite, Maggie Steifvater, a US-based YA author of incredible series such The Wolves of Mercy Falls and The Raven Cycle. I’ve met her at a few book signings and a full-day course in Edinburgh (yes, I’m a big fan), and she’s not only a talented writer but an engaging public speaker who has tonnes of insights, advice, and experiences to share. So, the ideal interviewee! 

M: Is Stuart a good boss?

F: Word in from Stuart…if I don’t answer ‘yes’, he’ll condemn me to a purgatory of eternal spreadsheeting…

Of course he is! Anyone who knows Stuart will agree that he’s a top lad, and one of the most genuine people you’ll ever meet. I’ve got a lot of admiration for Stuart’s strong values, his respect for everyone, his endless determination, his creative ideas, his kindness…less so for his dad jokes. Jeff Bezos may be sitting on a net worth of 192 billion, but he’s got nothing on the Gaffa!

M: What are you reading right now, and would you recommend it?

F: Cassandra Clare’s Young Adult historical fantasy series The Infernal Devices. I love re-reading childhood favourites at Christmas for some cosy festive nostalgia, and the Shadowhunters are old friends who I think everyone should meet!

Quickfire round

Dog writing assistants or Cat writing assistants? Dogs, always dogs!! Dog writing assistants will sit loyally by your feet, while cat writing assistants will sit on your keyboard.

Go writing snack? Chocolate chip Snack a Jacks or salt and vinegar Snack a Jacks, depending on whether it’s a sweet or savoury day.

Love Triangles, yay or nay in YA? Yay!

Notebook or laptop? Laptop. I need it surgically removed from my hands. 

Drafting or Editing? Drafting. Editing sucks. 

Florianne: What is your author bio now, and what would you like it to be in 10 years time?

Melissa: My author bio currently reads as: debut author; hype-woman of WriteMentor; and all round dog lover with one bassetoodle under my arm (sometimes literally). And I mean, that’s pretty cool on it’s own. I don’t actually think I want things to be too different in 10 years time! If I can still say I have the fabulous WriteMentor community around me, then maybe just a couple more doggo friends and a few more novels under my belt would be lovely.

F: You’re a long-time WriteMentor stan. Tell us about your WriteMentor journey to date.

M: Oh gosh! If anyone remembers these, I did some of the original twitter Peer Pitch contests Stuart ran in, I think, 2017! This was before I had an agent and before I knew how to pitch – but with the help of the awesome kidlit writing community, I came second and had a brilliant high-concept logline I could take away with me! And I landed an agent around 6 months later. I also learned how to ACTUALLY use twitter – only took me 8 years. Off the back of that I stayed in contact with Stuart and when I saw him post about the WriteMentor Summer Programme a year later, I signed up. That was essentially the beginning of four years of volunteering with WriteMentor, and meeting four of my fabulous mentees. I also did a fair few of the WriteMentor courses in that time (by ‘a fair few’ read: I did them all. I RAN OUT OF COURSES) while I was on a grueling 3 years of submission. My old day job was working for my family business in payroll solutions (so glamorous!) but that work dried up when the pandemic hit in 2020. I was really a little down on my luck by the time I saw the WriteMentor assistant job advertised: no book sales across multiple years, projects, and by that time agents. I was out on submission but fearing the worst, and my bank balance was screaming at me. So I thought: I love Writementor, what’s the worst that can happen? The same week Stuart offered me the job, I sold my first book in a traditional deal (but as with all publishing things, I can’t talk about that for 237 years, so back to WriteMentor!). It felt like after 8 years of writing seriously, things were finally coming together! And WriteMentor was a huge part of that – I went from working in programming, to unemployed, to working full time with lovely writers and editors and creating all the stories. Felt surreal at the time, ever after a global pandemic!

F: What has most surprised you about your role at WM?

M: I think the most surprising thing has been just how many opportunities WriteMentor is constantly creating and seeking out. Florianne will agree with me here – we often have to talk Stuart out of offering quite so much so we can focus on and improve what we have! But we are always looking for more ways to give back, probably even more than you realise – check out our scholarship pages to see what else we can do for you, or look over at our podcasts, blog pages, and free courses for even more accessible content. Mind blowing!

F: What has been the trickiest area to navigate in your role?

M: I was going to write this as a joke but actually it’s totally true – SPREADSHEETS! The amount of organisation needed to run the dozens of courses, competitions, scholarships, applications, mentoring programmes, podcasts and even the blog is staggering. Plus, the learning curve for the Stuart-Gold-Standard of spreadsheets is immense! That said, I’m now a convert. I know, I can’t believe I’m admitting that in black and white. But I will shout it from the rooftops: I LOVE SPREADSHEETS!

F: If you had to give one fun fact about WriteMentor, what would it be?

M: Well I see you’ve already dished about our Line of Duty obsession, so I will go with my OTHER favourite thing – our writing chat! As well as being able to do a super fufilling job at writementor, it’s a job where the gaffa not only allows breathing space for your own writing, he actively encourages it. Me, Florianne, and Stuart have a Writing Chat section of our Incredibly-super-duper-professional online work space, and it’s a great place to celebrate and commiserate the highs and lows of writing life, as well as ask advice on tricky plot bunnies and even do sprints together. Also, Florianne started watching Star Wars for the first time(!!!) the other week and we have a running commentary in there about her reactions, so it’s not ALL super serious writing chat! We’re a really close bunch of friends as well as colleagues, which is (I think!) a really fun fact – just call us Han Solo, Leia, and Luke (Bagsy Han Solo!)!

F: Describe Stuart using only Star Wars terminology.

M: Stuart sometimes thinks he’s a few decicreds short of an Imperial Credit, and that’s why he hired us two Zabrak engineers to help get the hyperdrive into shape, but in all honesty Stuart is the captain of this Corellian Light Freighter and we’re just his humble crew. He’s a great boss that’s equally as good at tackling a pod of TIE-Fighters as he is dealing with a rogue C3PO unit with a damaged memory box. Plus there’s always time for a chat in the Cantina after work and a glass of spotchka or three.

F: Not only are you a WM team member, but also a published (!!!) author. Tell us a bit about your book, and how do you balance writing with your role?

M: I know, I still can’t get over it when people remind me of that!! I said a little about my writing journey above – and I have the Publication Diaries over on the blog, for anyone interested in life after signing on the dotted line – but I will tell you about my little book baby, The Undying Tower. Decades after the discovery that a small percentage of the population has stopped ageing, the Avalonia Zone is in crisis. From overpopulation to food shortages, the ‘Undying’ have been blamed for the state’s problems, banished to the fringes of society, and punished for every minor infraction. When sixteen-year-old Sadie takes the fall for an attack by a rebel group, The Alchemists, she suddenly finds herself wrenched away from her quiet life and from her ailing father. Armed with little help and even less knowledge, Sadie is thrust into a cold and cryptic ‘correctional facility’ – The Tower. Here she’ll have to rethink everything she’s been told about the Undying population in an attempt to save the life she knows, protect a group of unlikely friends, and give voice to the voiceless in a society on the brink of catastrophic upheaval. The first in a daring dystopian trilogy, The Undying Tower descends into the dark side of immortality and champions fighting for what’s right, especially when the world is against you. And it explores the answer to the question: what if living forever was a death sentence?

Sounds super dramatic when I write it all out, and it kind of is! I’ve had a lovely bunch of support from my pals over on the WriteMentor Hub too. They’re a great bunch, so really WriteMentor makes it easy to balance writing with the day job. I mentioned this a little in an earlier answer, but the Gaffa is very supportive of our writing, plus I run sprints weekly on the WriteMentor hub which makes things even more integrated and easier to keep creative! I’m very lucky.

F: What is your best procrastination technique when you’re meant to be writing?

M: Well – and I’m sure lots of writers will agree with this – my house is never tidier than when I have a deadline. I have been known to do ANYTHING to get out of writing – as the saying goes, I hate writing (sometimes!) but love having written, so a lot of the time I really do have to put bum in seat and turn off the wifi. Failing that, I may or may not play long bouts of Civilization VI online. Maybe. What? Me, not writing? Not sure who said that…

F: What book do you wish you had written and why?

M: See, I don’t re-read books (as has been discovered by the old “which book would you bring to a desert island” chestnut I’ve been asked a few times on various podcasts this year!) so I think I’m quite happy only having written my own books. I love to read without knowing much about the plot, so if I chose a favourite, then it might mean the story wouldn’t mean as much to me. But obviously if we are talking money, I’ll take The Da Vinci Code for £133 million, please, Florianne. Cash or cheque is fine.

F: What would Sadie, your main character from The Undying Tower, think of WriteMentor?

This is a GREAT question! Sadie is a synaesthetic artist, so she loves colour and is very creative. She’s also quite lonely, so I think she would love the community here at WriteMentor. I think she would probably want to write a manifesto to reach out to other kids her age about the plight of the Undying, plus she missed out at her chance to go to university, so maybe she would enjoy our new WMLit course! She could study online and no one would have to know who she really is… otherwise, she might like to look at the picture book courses, but probably more to meet writers that she can illustrate for rather than the actual writing bits.

Quickfire round

Plotter or pantser? I used to be full on Pantser, then I learned that plotting is actually, like, useful?! but I still like a little mystery in between key scenes… Let’s say Plantser!

Kindle or paperback? Blasphemy I’m sure but back when I was skint at uni I got a second hand kindle and it saved me literally hundreds of pounds when buying classic novels from my course reading list, and I still use it to this day for discounts… sorry team kidlit!! I do usually buy a physical copy if I enjoy the kindle edition though if that helps.

Pineapple on pizza, yay or nay? UGH NAY! Nope. Nooooooo. Nuh uh.

Writing drink – coffee or wine? How does that poorly-attributed phrase go? “Write drunk, edit sober”? To be honest I usually just chug some ice cold water when writing, but I will say that I don’t like coffee and am partial to a glass of wine. Take from that what you will…

Star Wars or Star Trek? SORRY STUART but my Dad was a huge enough Trekkie that my first words were “Daddy, space!” while I pointed at Captain Jean-Luc Picard on the telly so… Trek all the way!

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