Thursday, 17 May 2012

Writing Mentors - Elen Caldecott

On Tuesday this week, I felt like a proud godparent. Two talented writers that I've been working with (and 13 others, that I haven't!) launched their anthology, Writes of Passage. I stood in Foyles Charing Cross with a glass of white wine, a label on my front declaring me to be a tutor and watched as agents and editors hustled to speak to 'our' writers.
Julia Green and agent Jodie Marsh

These students will always be special, as they are the first ones I tutored on the MA Writing for Young People at Bath Spa Uni. I say tutored, because that's what it says on my pay slip. But that isn't really what it felt like. They already had talent, technique and an excellent work ethic. So, I felt more like a mentor. My job really was to drink tea, read attentively and listen while they found solutions.

I love the idea of mentors. I have been very lucky as a number of writers who's careers are further along than mine have taken the time to listen to me, to give advice and say 'that's normal, we all feel like that'.

My own MA tutor, Julia Green (who has a new book out this month Bringing the Summer!) was such a graceful mentor. She told me I had to re-write the first half of my novel with such kindness that I left her office grinning, not crying.
Me and the anthology editor, Sarah Benwell

Other writers have given me wonderful pieces of advice; Marie-Louise Jensen told me about the Scattered Authors' Society, through which I've come to know some wonderful writers. Liz Kessler has been fab at making this industry feel like fun when it can so easily grind you down (see her post on her love affair with Twitter, somehow everything she works on feels like that). Actually, there's lots of great Liz-advice to choose from, but my favourite was during a discussion of commercial books: 'write whatever you want, but then stick wings or a tail on it'.

Molly Drury, Maudie Smith and Sarah Benwell
I remember wondering when I was a teenager how 'schools' of art could arise. At the time, the idea of working with other people, sharing with other people seemed impossible - I kept my angsty poetry close to my chest. But now, it seems obvious. You help people who can learn from you because you have been taught by others. And soon, your pupils will become teachers themselves. There's a lovely sense of inheritance to it; Julia Green was helped early in her career by David Almond. In a way, myself and my students are still benefiting from his mentorship.

Of course, there are writers who would rather stab themselves with their HB pencil than work with others, but I think they are in a minority. The students who launched their careers on Tuesday are joining a very welcoming community of children's writers and we are all the better for that.

Have you had a mentor, and how far back can you trace your 'sense of inheritance'?

For more info about Elen and her books, go to:
www.elencaldecott.com
Elen's Facebook Page

15 comments:

Vanessa Harbour said...

Wonderful post highlighting the importance a mentor can play. Congratulations to all at Bath Spa

Sue Purkiss said...

Mine was Vivian French, who taught a module on children's writing on a course I did at Bristol (the Certificate in Creative Writing - now sadly defunct). Without her enthusiasm, encouragement and generosity, I would never have got started on writing for children. I teach writing classes now in the community, and they are very much influenced by the teaching I had on that course - in particular from Julia Green, always so nurturing and appreciative!

JO said...

Paul Dodsgon - I won a place on a mentoring scheme at Exeter uni, and he took my rather turgid travelogue and supported me while rewrote the whole thing about 5 times, making it the book the best book I can possibly make it (and it has had some wonderful reviews, so it was worth it!).

It was his honesty that made a difference - if one bit worked, he told me so - and then listed all the things that didn't. But he always believed I could do it - so I did!

Elen C said...

It's amazing the difference a good mentor can make to your confidence (and skill level!), isn't it? And how nice that we have Julia in common, Sue!

Abie Longstaff said...

Actually Liz Kessler has been rather fab to me too and I have secretly (and totally without her permission) appointed her my unofficial mentor. I also love her writing which helps - you have to have confidence in your mentor.
It's so lovely to think that someone has taken the time to read over something I've written and is willing to help me onwards with it.

Che Golden said...

Steve Voake mentored me on the Bath Spa MA course. No matter how bruised and shattered my confidence was, I always left his office smiling. The support and the encouragement of a well-respected author can make all the difference to a writer just starting out. We need more mentors! And they need to give out their mobile numbers which, for some bizarre reason, Steve refuses to do. I don't understand it, I promised I would ration myself to 20 calls a day?

Elen C said...

Abie - that is hilarious!

Che, hmmm, mentors on speed-dial, that would be something!

Adonis Devereux said...

Yes, congrats to all involved!

Island Writer said...

Mentoring must be an incredibly satisfying thing to do - to watch and nurture talent, to see it blossom. Congratulations Elen, on a job well done.

What a wonderful programme the MA Writing for Children is! Congratulations to all anthology contributors. I there any way I can obtain an electronic copy? It's not on Amazon and I live in a land far, far away...

Elen C said...

Island Writer - hello! No, the anthology isn't really intended for sale. What happens is that the publishing world is sent a copy in advance of the launch, then, at the party there's a bit of 'speed dating' going on to see who'd like to read more. It's an exciting way to do it!

Liz Kessler said...

Love this post! For me, the idea of 'writing mentors' is part of the whole thing that I love about the writing community - that we are all beginners at some point, and when we are, we gain knowledge and inspiration from others. Then when we get to their position, we pass it on to the next wave of people entering the business. It's very 'pay it forward' and I love it.

And THANK YOU for the lovely comments, both from you and from Abie. Am very honoured to be appointed 'unofficial mentor'! :)

Sally Nicholls said...

Julia Green was my first mentor too - she was wonderful! I still tell everyone who asks that the Bath MA was the best thing I've done for my writing career ...

Carole Anne Carr said...

I would just LOVE to have a mentor!

Stroppy Author said...

How far back? CS Lewis. He taught my PhD supervisor. I think Tolkien taught him, too, but CS Lewis was *his* PhD supervisor.

That makes me look much older than everyone else.... You shouldn't have asked that 'how far back? question, Elen!

Elen C said...

Stroppy, that's brilliant!
I knew a writer who was taught by F R Leavis, but CS Lewis is much cooler!