“There’s no way I’d be in this position without the help of WriteMentor and the support of the incredible community, which has extended way beyond the actual programme. I feel like I know more about myself, my writing and the industry.”
Author Zoe Scott FitzGibbon shares her experience of WriteMentor’s summer mentoring programme
Developing writing craft
I applied for the WriteMentor programme basically because I had no idea what I was doing. I started having a proper go at writing over the pandemic, as so many of us did, and I found the writing part incredibly easy in the absolute activity void of lockdown. A first draft tumbled out of me in about two months, and then…well, then I was stuck. I knew it wasn’t nearly good enough and needed serious work, but seeing how to make it better was completely beyond me. I had some feedback from being longlisted for the Times/Chicken House competition, but even with some solid suggestions I had no idea how to go from where I was with the story to where I wanted to be. Like, ok so the voice is at times too adult…but at what times? Where? Just tell me where to fix it and I’ll do it! I was way too close to the book to see where the faults were, and I was desperate for someone to point them out to me so I could have a go at addressing them.
Enjoying the collaborative process
My mentor was Philip Kavvadias, the world’s best cheerleader. The whole process was super collaborative, with him asking what I wanted to focus on and treating me as an equal contributor rather than the lost little baby that I thought I was. He came back to me really quickly with pages of notes plus line by line annotations, and as I started responding to them it all started clicking. Suddenly I was spotting things that I didn’t think worked, and was putting forward the case for changes that Philip hadn’t thought about. I was noticing things! I was understanding things! I was making things better!
Connecting with fellow writers
I’d also not had the opportunity to connect with other writers much before WriteMentor, and Philip was super proactive in introducing me to his networks. The mentee online meetings were also great as I got to meet other writers in similar positions to myself, and to share work in progress and ideas. I’m still in touch with some of them a year later, and it’s been so exciting sharing the lows and highs of the submission process with them. Even though we’re in direct competition, it feels like a super supportive community where everyone wants the best for each other, and a win for one is a win for all.
Learning about the publishing industry
My book was titled Viola Bluebottle and the Pirates of the Faded Memory, and at no point has anyone suggested a shorter title. Please do, I’m so bored of typing it out/saying it. Maybe my number one piece of advice from this process is to choose a snappy title…although my current work in progress also has a very long title, so clearly I learn nothing from my own mistakes. Viola Bluebottle is the book I signed with, it’s a book I learned a huge amount from writing, but it’s not a book that I think is that relevant to the current market so I’m not expecting it to sell. And that’s ok! It’s about a kid, Viola, who decides that the perfect fix for her parents’ deteriorating marriage is a luxury cruise trip. What Viola doesn’t expect is to end up accidentally stowing away with some magical pirates alongside her new nemesis, and learning a lot about family, friendship and giant sea monsters.
Support from the writing community
About a month after the end of the programme I signed with Annette Green, and I’m just coming to the end of the first draft of my second book. Unlike with my first, I already have so many ideas about where the weaknesses are, where things can be made stronger, funnier, more concise, more relevant. I also think that it’s very relevant to the current market, so I’ll probably be a bit more upset if nothing happens with this one. There’s no way I’d be in this position without the help of WriteMentor and the support of the incredible community, which has extended way beyond the actual programme. I feel like I know more about myself, my writing and the industry. Plus I have new friends!
Zoe Scott FitzGibbon
Zoe grew up in rural Scotland and Wales, where she spent her weekends swimming in the sea, reading books and writing a series of pirate stories. A former children’s librarian, Zoe loves working with schools and community groups to create fun, engaging projects. She now works in community arts in Leeds, where she lives with her partner and her enormous cat, Tula.
Zoe’s debut Viola Bluebottle and the Pirates of the Faded Memory has been longlisted for the Times/Chicken House competition 2021, and was selected for the WriteMentor summer programme in 2022. She is currently working on a funny, ghoulish Middle Grade adventure about the multiverse, and hopes to one day land herself in a universe where she can write (and talk to children about writing) all day every day.
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