“[Mentoring] is such a generous act, and it means, for writers particularly, that you feel a little less alone, that maybe your dream isn’t quite so distant, because someone is there to signpost the way.”
Jan Dunning, author of Young Adult novel Mirror Me, shares how her confidence grew thanks to WriteMentor mentorship
What made you apply for the WriteMentor mentoring programme?
I applied for the WriteMentor summer programme in 2020 because I’d managed to get a few drafts of my novel down and I wanted fresh and experienced eyes on it before I submitted to agents. Olivia Levez was a mentor that year. I’d loved her book The Island, and when I read that she was looking for speculative stories, contemporary retellings and ‘anything with a Black Mirror vibe’, I felt we might be a good fit.
What was your experience of mentoring like?
The experience was very positive. Olivia really responded to my work. First, she wrote me an editorial letter detailing elements that she thought were strong, as well as areas I could develop. Her belief was incredibly encouraging, and luckily, our ideas aligned. As I redrafted, she generously read extracts and let me test out ideas, and with every editing pass, I felt the story becoming stronger and more polished.
Tell us about your writing journey from start until now.
It was my childhood dream to be an author, however life got in the way and I only started taking my writing seriously in recent years. I first took the plunge at Lou Kuenzler’s workshop at City Lit – Lou is brilliant teacher and I learned loads in a short space of time, especially about the benefits of critique, something I remembered from art college days. I did courses with GEA and WriteMentor and through connecting with those communities, my confidence began to grow. I was lucky enough to sign with my fantastic agent Anne Clark in 2021, and after a few more rounds of edits, Mirror Me went on submission in early 2022. It’s my first novel for teens – before I wrote it, I’d experimented mainly with picture books and MG – but I think writing for teens suits me. I remember that time so vividly – it’s such an intense period of figuring out who you are, very rich in potential for fiction! In terms of my writing life, I write as often as I can, fitting it around my other work as a photographer and art specialist teacher.
Can you tell us a little more about Mirror Me?
Mirror Me is the story of Freya, a 16-year-old photographer who hides behind her camera to avoid engaging in real life. However, she’s forced out of her safe existence when her dad marries Belladonna Wilde, a former supermodel with supernatural powers of persuasion and sinister intentions involving Freya’s family and dark secrets from the past. It’s a retelling of Snow White, with a dash of Dorian Gray and The Devil Wears Prada thrown in, and it asks some big questions about beauty standards, ‘perfection’ and influence today. My editor was Linas Alsenas at Scholastic, and it comes out on June 8th this year!
What is your best piece of writing advice that you learned on the WriteMentor programme?
Probably the most important thing I learned during my mentorship was to stay open-minded and receptive to feedback. It’s always hard to hear what isn’t working, but I’ve found that if I sit with feedback for a while, sooner or later it starts to make sense. I also learned, perhaps reluctantly at first – to let go of the outcome and enjoy the process. Obviously, I had hoped to be snapped up by an agent immediately after the showcase, but in reality it took a little more time and quite a few more drafts. Fortunately, mentoring gave me self-belief and a toolkit of practical skills to keep me going.
Why do you think mentoring is important for writers?
I think mentoring is important in any profession. To have someone in your corner who is a little further down the path, sharing their wisdom, giving encouragement, answering questions – it’s such a generous act, and it means, for writers particularly, that you feel a little less alone, that maybe your dream isn’t quite so distant, because someone is there to signpost the way.
Read more from Jan…
Mirror Mirror, on the wall, who’s the FIERCEST of them all?
Jan Dunning studied English and art at university, where she set her heart on a career with words and pictures. The plot took an unexpected twist, however, when she was scouted at Glastonbury festival and became an international fashion model instead. Jan spent the next decade striding down the runway, flying around the world on photo shoots and startling her friends and family on billboards for Gucci, Garnier and Gap. Finally realising she had more to say behind the camera, Jan trained as a photographer and art teacher and began writing fiction. She now lives with her family in Bath, dreaming up ideas in the studio at the bottom of her garden, with help from Misty, her cat.
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