Fourteen writers from across the UK have been selected to take part in the inaugural All Stories mentorship programme for underrepresented children’s book authors.
Catherine Coe pictured right, a freelance book editor who launched the scheme in March, said the mentees are from a range of underrepresented backgrounds—some identify as BAME, some as LGBTQ+, some live with a disability—and they write in a wide variety of genres, including comedy, thrillers, mysteries, historical and adventure. Four are writing picture books, six are writing middle-grade books and four are working in the YA area.
Each mentee has been matched with a freelance professional children’s book editor. “The standard of applications was so high that the mentors had a really tough time choosing their mentees,” said Coe. “And, being All Stories’ first year, I believe this is the tip of the iceberg. It indicates how many talented people might be out there wanting to develop their writing, but are unable to access support. Each mentor chose the writer they would be working with and were looking for promise in the writing and a spark that ignited their interest and passion. Often this was a fresh, original voice and writing full of heart.
Coe is mentoring Thomas Thomasson, who is working on a middle-grade book. The other writers and their mentors are: Melissa Abraham (picture books), mentored by Jon Appleton; Dawn Amesbury (middle grade), also mentored by Appleton; Tracy Curran (picture books), mentored by Natascha Biebow; Jo Dearden (picture books), mentored by Helen Mortimer; Alison Dunne (middle grade), mentored by Jenny Glencross; Hannah Ekekwe (YA), mentored by Genevieve Herr; Rebecca Ferrier (YA), mentored by Tilda Johnson; Ikuko Ishiwaki (picture books), mentored by Niamh Mulvey; Suad Kamardeen (YA), mentored by Emma Roberts; Mitchell Kamen (middle grade), mentored by Lucy Rogers; Lily Kerfoot (middle-grade), mentored by Sara Grant; Reba Khatun (middle grade), mentored by Kathy Webb; and Tasmia Tahia (YA), mentored by Nicki Marshall.
Each writer will be mentored for six months. They will also be invited to webinars on voice, effective characterisation, pitching their manuscript and accessing the industry as an underrepresented writer, and will receive a year’s membership to the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.
Coe works as a freelance editor for publishing houses, agencies and with début authors, and thus has seen how the industry is being “skewed” by writers who can afford to pay for MAs, mentoring or manuscript reviews. “I’m really passionate about trying to address privilege in that way,” she said.
She first received funding from ALCS and later from Arts Council England (ACE).
“ACE said they were keen to see this kind of initiative for people who can’t afford to access help,” she said. “They are seeing funding requests for specific underrepresented groups across the board, and not many for creators who can’t afford access.”
To reach out to applicants, Coe approached all the regional writing agencies as well as libraries and library groups. She is, for example, working with Pen to Print, a creative writing programme set up by Barking & Dagenham Libraries.
Coe received 70 applications in total. An editorial committee—made up of All Stories patron and author Patrice Lawrence, some of the editors and Coe herself—took a first look at the manuscripts, then the editors chose who they wanted to work with.
Coe said she was not being “too dictatorial” about how the mentoring process should work because the applicants were all at different stages with their stories. But she added that she would keep an eye on how the relationships developed.
“I am both thrilled and honoured that we will soon be helping these writers and their voices to rise up, and I can’t wait for the world to see just how talented they are,” she said.
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