“It’s significant that I spent twelve years and four novels writing mostly in isolation, and after eighteen months working on a fifth novel with two different mentorship programmes, I signed with an agent!”
Author Becky Orwin shares her experience of the WriteMentor summer mentoring programme
Becky Orwin was brought up in Chesterfield, by a mum who loves books and a dad who loves films, and ended up loving stories in all their forms. Her favourite stories are those that provide the most thorough escape from the everyday; full of magic, adventure and preferably a few good jokes. She started writing her own versions of these stories aged thirteen, and spent most of her teenage years scribbling until the early hours of the morning.
She has a BA in English Literature and an MA in Creative Writing from Newcastle University, and lives in Newcastle upon Tyne with her partner. These days, she prefers to write by daylight.
After making the longlist in WriteMentor Children’s Novel Award, Becky applied and secured a place on WriteMentor summer mentoring programme, mentored by author Liz Flanagan. She shares her experience and how it helped her secure agent representation.
Tell us about your writing journey from start until now
I finished my first novel aged fifteen, and sent it off to a handful of agents, confident that my future as a millionaire bestselling author was secured.
That is not what happened.
I spent the next thirteen years writing four more novels, which collectively lost more than 25 competitions and received over 200 agent rejections. With every story, though, I felt like I got a bit closer – a shortlisting here, or a full MS request there.
But by the time rejections were pouring in for my fourth novel, I just didn’t really know what else to do. I felt like I’d taken on board all the feedback I’d ever been given, learned so many writing and story-craft lessons, and still – nothing.
Then in early 2020 I saw an advertisement in the New Writing North newsletter for something called Writers’ Block North East – a development programme intended to help writers start, finish and refine a novel within a year. I applied and got on, and spent the next few months planning and writing my fifth novel, with endlessly helpful workshops, support and mentoring from the Writers’ Block team.
At the end of the year, I entered the earliest version of this new story into two competitions. For the first one, I got nowhere (cue OH GOD WHAT IS THE POINT OF ANY OF THIS I’LL NEVER GET PUBLISHED MY DREAMS ARE DEAD AND I AM A FAILURE etc.). But for the second – the WriteMentor Children’s Novel Award – I got longlisted.
What made you apply for the WriteMentor mentoring programme?
Not long after the longlisting, I saw the WriteMentor summer mentoring programme opening for applications. I had a first draft that seemed to have potential but clearly still needed some work, and I wasn’t confident that I knew what the work was. I tend to write in a bit of a bubble, and with the previous two stories I’d written, I’d received feedback from competitions or agents highlighting big problems in the manuscripts, which had seemed frustratingly obvious in hindsight. This time, I suppose I was hoping to get the hindsight up front!
What was your experience like?
Fantastic. I was partnered with Liz Flanagan, and she was just amazing. The format of the summer mentoring programme is quite loose, which gives the mentor and mentee loads of freedom to find a structure and pace that works for them. I could tell from my first conversation with Liz that she could see exactly what I was aiming for with my manuscript, and the feedback she gave me was always clear, constructive and really insightful.
Can you tell us a little more about the book you worked on and signed with?
It’s an upper-MG supernatural adventure story about a boy who can see ghosts, the poltergeist he befriends, and the demon they accidentally release!
What is your best piece of writing advice that you learned on the programme?
Something I kept returning to was that Liz asked me how I wanted the reader to feel at the end of my story and – crucially – what the characters needed to go through, in order for the reader to feel that. I found thinking about it in those terms really highlighted places where scenes, emotions or stakes could be pushed or deepened.
Why do you think mentoring is important for writers?
I think there are loads of obvious benefits to having other pairs of experienced and knowledgeable eyes on your work, but something I didn’t realise before being mentored was how important it would be for me, as a writer. To have someone to talk through a story problem with; to tell you that this rewrite actually, definitely improved a scene; to reassure you that this is not a terrible story when you lose faith; and to excitedly share those rare, precious nuggets of good news with – was invaluable! Put bluntly, I think it’s significant that I spent twelve years and four novels writing mostly in isolation, and after eighteen months working on a fifth novel with two different mentorship programmes, I signed with an agent!
Working with a children’s author, receive ongoing developmental editing, writing advice, publishing insights, and direct feedback on your manuscript to help you elevate your writing craft to the next level