writing

Author Mentor Match

Years ago, I wrote a story. It was short and messy and confusing. It was about a desolate house, a haunted lake, a girl whose brother has magical dreams and a mysterious man who needs her help.

Years ago, I wrote a comic. It was also messy and confusing. It was about a boy who uses a strange Alchemical ritual to save his beloved brother from dying.

Not so many years ago, I had a baby. Then I had another. I stopped writing. Sometimes a story would pop up into my head: what did the girl do in the house beside the lake? How would the Alchemist work their magic? I had no time to put the stories down on paper, but they never quite let me go.

Then in an online mother’s group, another member saw I liked reading, and recommended a book that her friend had written: Wintersong. I picked it up from the library and I fell in love. It was so atmospheric and beautiful and romantic. And I started to think of my own stories again. What if the girl at the lake and the Alchemist were in the same story? What if I actually tried to write it down this time?

I wrote in a notebook in my breaks at work, at the park during playdates, at night, at every spare moment I could steal away for myself. The first version of AT THE LAKE’S EDGE was just as messy and confusing as anything else I’d written. I edited it, and polished it. I had no idea if it was good. I knew I needed help with my work, but I had no idea where to go next. I didn’t have any writer friends and the thought of showing my precious story to a stranger was completely terrifying.

Beautiful animation of my characters by Alexandra Huffman

Then one night, while I was scrolling randomly through my phone in the dark as I put my children to bed, I saw a link for Author Mentor Match. One of the mentors was asking for a book that sounded really similar to mine. I decided I’d try out. Applications closed in a week so I spent that time madly preparing. I polished my draft again. I wrote a query. I wrote a synopsis.

I logged in to the twitter account I’d made for writing, but never used because I was too shy. I talked to other hopefuls. We swapped queries and first pages and cheered each other on. And the more I talked to other writers, the less scary it became. Some of us made backup plans and promised to swap work if we didn’t get in. And that- making links with the writing community- is something that’s been invaluable in my journey as an aspiring author. Some of the people I met in those weeks before submitting to Author Mentor Match are now my dearest friends.

I narrowed down a list of mentors who I thought would be perfect for my work. Applications opened. I wrote so much in the form that apparently I broke it (oops!). I hit submit. I waited and waited. I got a full request the day after submissions closed. I danced a little. I sent it. I waited some more.

Then I got an email. Not from any of the mentors I’d chosen, but another mentor. She said everyone had passed on my work but she loved my story and wanted to work with me. BUT– she thought my story needed work. Like, a lot of work. And here’s the big part of AMM that I will yell about forever: good writing is rewriting (and rewriting and rewriting). Was I willing to take my 80K baby and tear it apart and write it all over again? I was.

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The original opening I sent to AMM
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My revised opening scene after AMM

AT THE LAKE’S EDGE was very much a book of my heart. It was also full of purple prose.  The pacing was somnambulantly slow. The love interest just sat in a chair in his room and yelled at everyone. There was a curse that kind of made sense- if you squinted. A magic system that didn’t really make sense at all. But buried in all that was a good story, I just had to dig it out.

I told my mentor I was happy for her to be brutal. I wanted to hear her honest opinion about what wasn’t working. After her edit letter, we brainstormed together and then I rewrote the whole story. It was like taking a house, knocking it down, and building it again. Same pieces but a very different shape. From the rewritten version I did another big revision, restructuring the pacing of the start and completely changing the ending.

Getting a mentor was one of the best things that happened for my work. I’m still amazed that she saw the potential in the draft I submitted. But it wasn’t magic. I was willing to do a lot of hard work. To listen to her advice. I cut and changed so much and I still miss so many of those old scenes and characters! (They don’t call it kill your darlings for nothing). But in the end, after months of very intense revising, I had an amazing book that was so much better than I knew I was capable of writing.

And I did go on to get an agent, but please don’t see that as the only marker of success as a writer. Writing a book, rewriting it and revising it is an amazing achievement on it’s own! An agent journey is a whole other story.

So. If you’re thinking of entering, here’s my advice… Be prepared for hard work and to really look ruthlessly at your story. Reach out to other writers, because these are your colleagues and you’re all in this together. Have a backup plan: what will you do if you’re not chosen? Find other opportunities, line up potential critique partners, go to workshops.

And above all, be kind to yourself. Writing a book is amazing. Sharing that book with anyone is amazing- and brave.

Good luck xx