This time last year I was in the thick of preparing our move from Germany back to the UK. My wife and I had work lined up and I think we’d even managed to find the house we ended up moving to. I was looking forward to being back in the UK for lots of reasons, English bookshops and proper fish and chips being somewhere near the top of the list. Writing-wise, I hoped that being back in the UK in time for the publication of LOoBW would mean I would be able to take advantage of any opportunities that might arise. Like appearing at my first Lit festival or being invited to appear on a panel with three of my favourite contemporary short story writers.
As soon as I knew we would be moving to Lincolnshire I searched the internet for writing organisations in the area and immediately discovered the brilliant Writing East Midlands. From the WEM website:
Writing East Midlands supports and champions writers from the region. We work with schools, community projects, prisons, libraries and cultural centres to encourage everyone from the wide range of communities across the East Midlands to become involved with writing and literature. Our activities include mentoring, our Write Here! residencies, creative and career development courses through The Writing School, and our touring live-literature event, The Lyric Lounge. We celebrate the wealth of writing in the region through the East Midlands Book Awards and the Writers’ Conference, among other activities.
One of the key ways they support emerging writers is through the Writing East Midlands Mentoring Scheme. Three times a year they invite applications for a much-prized opportunity to be guided and advised by a writer selected to best fit the goals of the successful mentee. As the WEM website says:
A well-matched mentoring relationship can give momentum to writers, helping to develop their craft and their awareness of the market they wish to enter. Our mentoring scheme will offer support and advice to 3 writers each year that, in our view, are able to demonstrate great promise and commitment. The scheme matches the selected writers to sympathetic, established, professional writers.
The last deadline was back in January and I emailed out my application, in which I described my writing achievements to date and the goals I had for the immediate future, along with a short sample of my work. I chose to send the opening section on my novel in progress. About a month later I was thrilled to discover I had made the shortlist.
A two-part selection process followed: a Creative Development Planning workshop during which I met the other five shortlisted writers, and a formal interview a week later. The three-hour workshop was designed to make sure we all had a clear vision of what we wanted and expected from a prospective mentor and also what we expected of ourselves in terms of goals for the next twelve months. The workshop was provided at no cost to those of us attending and I can honestly say it was one of the most helpful things I’ve done to help my development as a writer. Sitting on the train from Nottingham to Sleaford after completing the workshop, I read through my notes and was struck by how tight and focused my view of the next twelve months or so had become. I had a plan where previously there had been a vague idea of how to progress after the publication of my story collection.
A week later I was back at the WEM offices in Nottingham for the interview. The questions challenged me to explain and justify my all aspects of my work but it was also a genuine pleasure to discuss my writing and what I hoped to achieve to a panel so enthusiastic and interested. I left feeling equal parts elated at having received such a positive response when talking about my novel (usually any discussion of my novel is met with rolled eyes and nodding from my nearest and dearest) and certain that I had ballsed up the interview by failing to talk about two of the three goals I had set myself during the CDP workshop. That night I told my wife all about the interview and concluded by saying that I reckoned I had fallen at the final fence. In true writer style I chalked the whole thing up to experience and continued with the editing of said novel.
The following Friday I was surprised and delighted to get an email telling me that I had been selected as the first mentee of 2014. By the following week I was discussing a preliminary list of possible mentors. During the process of finding the mentor best placed to help me achieve my goals, I looked carefully at my goals and I feel this extra effort has more than paid off. WEM have helped me find a terrific mentor who I am sure will be able to help me negotiate the road ahead.
I plan to blog about each stage of the process and next up, following our intial meeting, I will reveal who my mentor is and what my goals for this coming year are. In the meantime, if you are an emerging writer who lives in the East Midlands, applications for the next mentee slot are due to open soon with the next CDP workshop and interviews due to take place in the summer. I urge you to sign up for the WEM newsletter and to apply as soon as the application window opens. Even had I not been selected, the CDP workshop and the interview were both great experiences that helped me to clarify just what I wanted from the next year of my writing life and you never know, someone has to be the next successful applicant. It might as well be you.