Thoughts from the writer’s desk…

What I’m looking for in a mentee

I am over the moon to have been selected as a mentor for WriteMentor’s 2021 Summer Mentoring programme and can’t wait to help a fellow writer take their next brave step towards making their writing dreams a reality.

A bit about me

I am an LGBTQ, disabled and neurodivergent writer from South London who lives and breathes middle grade fiction. I have a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing and an MA in Children’s Literature, but perhaps more importantly I am widely read and hugely enthusiastic about great middle grade books.

I do not have a long and impressive backlist but I know a bit about taking the bull by the horns and getting the job done! I started writing my WiP in February 2020, signed with my brilliant agent by the spring and had a 2-book deal by Christmas. None of that would have been possible without the help and insight of other writers and now I’m keen to give back.

So what am I looking for in a mentee?

First and foremost, I am looking for a Middle Grade writer who feels they have taken their book baby as far as they can. You need to be ready to receive feedback before putting in the hard graft over the summer! Whether you feel the writing industry isn’t for you or you’re chomping at the bit, you must be open to constructive criticism so that together we can make your book shine.

And what about the manuscript itself?

I dip my toe into the Chapter Book and YA pools, but I’m most comfortable in Middle Grade territory. To give you a sense of my tastes, some of my favourite recent reads include the ‘Adventures on Trains’ series, ‘Nevermoor’, ‘The Good Hawk’, ‘Orphans of the Tide’, ‘Malamander’, ‘Voyage of the Sparrowhawk’ , ‘Where The World Turns Wild’ and anything and everything Katherine Rundell! As you can probably tell, I like pacey adventures with colourful casts of characters and loads of heart. Whether your work-in-progress is fantasy, historical or contemporary, I’d love to give it a read. I am particularly keen to work with other #ownvoices writers or on books with great representation so if you think that’s you, please consider submitting to me but if that’s not you, don’t let it hold you back from applying.

And what isn’t for me?

I’m not into sci fi so there if that’s your jam, there’s likely to be someone better placed to work with you than I am.

What’s your mentoring style like?

I’m friendly, honest and approachable. I like to start big by getting beneath the skin of how a story works before delving into the finer detail. If you have a particular need or disability, I’ll be led by you and if there is something in particular worrying you about your manuscript, we can certainly discuss that.

Any pressing questions I didn’t answer here? Get in touch with me via Twitter where I’m @Emilie_London.

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The right place at the right time…

2020 was the year when writing came back into my life.

Fifteen years ago, I arrived at university fresh-faced and eager to learn following a childhood of writing stories on my mum’s geriatric word processor. I completed an undergraduate degree in English Literature with Creative Writing, followed by an MA in Children’s Literature. Both courses had plenty of enjoyable elements and on my MA especially, I was privileged to be taught by some fabulous children’s writers. However, the writing workshops left me full of self-doubt. My writing didn’t fit into the oft preferred genres of poetry and short stories and ultimately, I decided writing wasn’t for me.

Fast forward ten plus years and a career in teaching and writing was an itch that still needed scratching. I’d started drafting a Young Adult novel in my spare time and it was then that I discovered WriteMentor online. Taking a massive leap of faith, I signed up for the Crawley WriteMentor weekend led by the ever-generous @Aishabushby. The experience is one I’ll never forget. I was suddenly amongst people – including a published writer and a literary agent – who took my writing seriously and thought it could be published. The impact was immense.

From there, I caught the WriteMentor bug! I attended Lindsay’s (@LindsayGalvin) weekend in Brighton where my current Middle Grade WiP was born in a writing exercise, and then a third weekend in Croydon. I quickly signed up for the SparkMentoring scheme where Lindsay reads and feeds back on 5000 words of my writing each month, then the online April weekend where I ended up meeting my agent, the fabulous @LaurieEmWrites. I was a convert to the WM way!

With Lauren’s belief, editorial experience and vision, and the keen editorial eye of Lindsay and other wonderful writer/editors like @BrittonBookGeek and @FinlaysonPalmer, my writing has been on a journey. There has of course been practical changes like a sharper insight into pacing and a firmer knowledge of how much descriptive detail to give, but the biggest change I can identify in my writing is in terms of how seriously I now take it.

WriteMentor is a fantastic community. I’ve met so many fellow writers who relentlessly champion one another’s writing and who have encouraged me to view myself as a writer. Whilst I’ve a long way to go, their input has helped me really commit to making my dreams of being published a reality. WriteMentor is led by the absolutely awe-inspiring @StuartWhiteWM and I encourage every #kidlit writer to check them out, and to draw on affordable editing and mentoring services like those offered by @BrittonBookGeek and the @WordWitches whenever you can. There’s something about pouring your hard-earned money into your writing that helps you start taking it seriously.

Most of all, write. Write for you. Write what you enjoy. Just write.

Top 5 Middle Grade reads of 2020

2020 blew me away with the calibre of Middle Grade on offer! With so many amazing books to choose from, I had my work cut out narrowing it down to five but in no particular order, the results are in…

5 ‘Where The World Turns Wild’ by Nicola Penfold

A speculative adventure with an incredible sibling bond at the heart of the story.

This debut had me hooked from the get go! I was really rooting for the protagonist Juniper and her little brother Bear on their adventure through the abandoned ‘wild’ outside of their city home. I find some dystopian and speculative fiction too didactic or ham fisted but ‘Where The World Turns Wild’ was so full of heart and beautiful description, nothing could be further from the truth here.

4 ‘Good Hawk’ by Joseph Elliot

A rich and fantastical saga set in a re-imagined ancient Scotland.

I have to confess to being sceptical when I heard ‘The Good Hawk’ had a learning disabled protagonist and was not #ownvoices as this is usually one of my pet hates when it comes to disability rep but Joseph Elliot fully won me round. This exceptional novel is best described as masterful with a plot that kept me turning pages. I’ve already pre-ordered the sequel!

3 ‘Orphans of The Tide’ by Struan Murray

Unforgettable. A masterclass in plotting.

I have been GUSHING about this book to anyone that will listen! Another masterful debut, ‘Orphans of The Tide’ plunges you head first into The City when a whale washes up on a rooftop. If you like your MG a little dark, a little complex and your plot more than a little twisty, this one is for you!

2 ‘Voyage of the Sparrowhawk’ by Natasha Farrant

A well deserved winner
of the Costa prize.
A summer on the high seas and
the waterways of bygone England.

Words cannot express my love for this story! In many ways the tone of Farrant’s writing is that of a classic children’s book. This may not to be everyone’s liking but I was totally swept along by the main characters’ adventures aboard the gorgeously described Sparrowhawk. There was a real sense of freedom to this novel and it gave me a longing for escape. Perfect.

1 ‘Hollowpox’ by Jessica Townsend

The third instalment of Townsend’s magical series.

Oh. My. God. This book was PERFECT in everyway! Jessica Townsend transports us to the crazy yet glorious Deucalion Hotel and then detonates the Hollowpox bomb, with Wunimals everywhere falling pray to the pandemic. What I really loved about this third instalment of the cracking ‘Nevermoor’ series was the freedom protagonist Morrigan has to explore her identity as a Wundersmith, undertaking her own research in the dark belly of WunSoc. If you haven’t read any of this series yet, what are you waiting for? I’m currently listening to the first book (Nevermoor) again on Audible – such a treat!

Pre-orders that I am excited for

As 2021 gets underway, I’ve lined up a host of Middle Grade that I can’t wait to get my hands on.

  1. ‘Maggie Blue and the Dark World’ by Anna Goodall
Guppy Books brings us a
new story of friendship and courage.

As soon as I saw this cover, I knew I had to have this book! This is the tale of Maggie Blue who sees her enemy dragged through a window to another world! With the help of stray cat Hoagy, Maggie is determined to save her fellow student, whatever the cost.

Anna Goodall isn’t an author I’ve read before but I am always up for trying new things, especially when it comes with a premise like this and a giant cat on the cover!

2. ‘The Orphans of Shipwreck Island’ by Struan Murray

Struan Murray is back
with a brand new adventure!

The moment I finished the final page of the brilliant ‘Orphans of the Tide’, I had to hunt out the sequel. That’s the sign of a truly great read! I will be on tenterhooks until the 4th March to find out what has happened to Ellie and Seth now that they’ve defeated the Enemy and are on their way to a tropical island.

3. ‘Show Us Who You Are’ by Elle McNicoll

#OwnVoices author Elle
McNicoll always packs a punch

‘A Kind of Spark’ was an absolute gamechanger for the #kitlit industry. Unapologetically neurodiverse, McNicoll is my heroine and her debut moved me – and many others – to tear. Never afraid to show the dark as well as the light of Autistic life, McNicoll is back with a new standalone. This time protagonist Cora must take on the shady Pomegranate Technologies. Last time around, this incredible Scottish writer claimed Blackwell’s Children’s Book of the Year spot and their Book of the Year prize! This time I’m sure we can expect another runaway success.

4. ‘The Hatmakers’ by Tamzin Merchant

Fantasy adventure with
laugh our loud humour

Sometimes there is such a buzz about a new book that you just have to check it out. This was ‘The Hatmakers’ for me. I have been heard so many people rave about Merchant’s story of a magical milliner from a long-line of hatmakers that I had to place an order and see what all the fuss is about! It sounds like there is a mystery to solve at the heart of this sea-faring adventure and I do love a good twisty mystery!

5. ‘The Weather Weaver’ by Tamsin Mori

“Essentially a Moana tale for Shetland!”

Tamsin is another Bell Moreton Lomax writer and when I found out her debut was set for release on the 4th March, I was quick to click ‘preorder’.

Described as “a coming of age story, intertwined with island myths and hidden magic”, The Weather Weaver tells the story of 11-year old Stella who returns to Shetland to spend the summer with her Grandpa. I loved how dark this one sounded with a Grandpa lost in grief and a sea-witch closing in…

6. ‘The Shark Caller’ by Zillah Bethell

Can Blue Wing brave the
deadliest shark of them all?

Not long to wait for this one with a release date of 4th February! When I heard the line “I want to be able to call the sharks. Teach me the magic and show me the ways”, this new title soon found it’s way into my basket.

Set in Papua New Guinea, Bethell tells the tale of two girls and their incredible adventure under the sea.

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