“Mentors can be your cheerleader and a new writing buddy who will help boost you through the times when you might be struggling, and celebrate your successes with you”
Mentor Emma Finlayson-Palmer and her mentee Debbie Roxburgh chat about their experience of WriteMentor’s Spark programme
Emma, what made you decide to become a mentor?
Some years back I was mentored by the fabulous Tamsyn Murray, and I also had advice from the lovely Olivia Levez on how to critique ahead of my first critique group. I learnt so much from both experiences and really wanted to be able to share what I’ve learnt (and still learning) along my journey with other writers. I absolutely love working with other writers and the buzz it gives me to see writers progressing and developing in their own journey.
Debbie, what made you decide to sign up to the Spark programme as a mentee?
Writing had always been a very solitary process for me but after going to the Winchester Writers’ Festival several years ago, I discovered there was a thriving on-line community I could be a part of without having to travel (Driving to unfamiliar places stresses me out. And yes, I have a satnav but we don’t have a good relationship!). I was also at the stage where I wanted an experienced eye on my work before I started querying again. I came across WriteMentor and their Spark programme through Twitter. Emma ticked a lot of boxes for me and so I applied to work with her on a YA book I’d written.
What have you both learned through mentoring?
Emma: I’ve learned a lot about my own writing, and how I approach planning. Through working with others my writing have evolved and developed as the feedback I give helps me see things in my own writing. I love being able to talk through ideas and brainstorm with writers. I’ve discovered just how much of a buzz it gives me to work with writers and sharing the love and excitement for constructing stories.
Debbie: I’ve learned a lot about my writing strengths and weaknesses. I’ve discovered how much I enjoy the whole collaborative process of discussing the plot, my characters, where my book would sit in the market et cetera, et cetera. Bouncing ideas around is fun and hugely beneficial and having someone who knows my book inside out to call on for support and advice is invaluable. Oh, and my editing skills have improved A LOT!
Why should people consider mentoring as a way to develop their writing?
Emma: Mentoring can be hugely beneficial to a writer. Mentors can help guide you in directions you might not have thought of, or help give a fresh insight into your story. Sometimes you need outside help, and someone who doesn’t know your writing as well as you so they can provide a new perspective on things. Mentors can be your cheerleader and a new writing buddy who will help boost you through the times when you might be struggling, and celebrate your successes with you.
Debbie: Having a mentor has given me the confidence to believe in my writing. As a writer it’s incredibly difficult to step back and ‘see’ your story from a different perspective. The mentoring process offers that all-important perspective and has helped me get my work as polished as possible before the querying process. Emma is a mine of information and having recently returned to her with a lower MG book I’m working on, I’m excited at how the story is developing. Whenever my in-box pings with her latest feedback I’m raring to get stuck into the editing process.
Emma, where do you see Debbie as a writer in 10 years’ time?
I see Debbie as a published writer with many completed stories under her belt. Her dedication and passion for words is obvious in the beautiful writing she crafts, and her infectious enthusiasm means she would make a fantastic editor and mentor, and maybe she could be a Spark mentor herself.
Debbie, where do you see yourself as a writer in 10 years’ time?
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’d like to be traditionally published, although I’m well aware that the children’s market is increasingly tough to break into. I hope to get an agent and potentially do some mentoring myself. Above all, I’ll still be scribbling away and creating new characters because I don’t know how not to.
Finally, sum up your experience of mentoring in one sentence
Emma: An absolute honour and joy to be allowed to read and help people shape their writing into the best stories they can be.
Debbie: It’s like handing your precious baby over to a carer for the very first time – stressful and nerve-racking – but then you wonder why on earth you didn’t do it sooner.
Working with a children’s author like Melissa, 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.