A bisexual woman with an anxiety disorder, a care leaver and a woman suffering from a genetic condition are among the 11 unpublished writers to be part of Penguin Random House’s next WriteNow programme.
The scheme, in its second year, will see each of the 11 writers work closely with a Penguin Random House editor over the course of a year to develop their manuscript and get it ready for publication.
Of the 12 inaugural WriteNow mentees last year, two have won publishing deals so far – carer Charlene Allcott, who secured a contract with Transworld for her first two novels, and call centre worker Geraldine Quigley’s first fiction, Music Love Drugs War has also been bought by Penguin General.
The next 11 WriteNow mentees are aged between 22-37 and hail from LGBTQ, BAME and other marginalised communities.
With non-fiction propositions are Mohsin Zaidi, a 32-year-old gay Muslim man whose says his experiences, including coming out to his religious patents, have “confronted him with what it means to be truly-under-represented’.” His memoir My Own Jihad recollects the challenges of poverty, identity and isolation he experienced as a child and a university student. Also penning a memoir, called Being Mutant, is 37-year-old Polly Atkin from the Lake District, who was recently diagnosed with Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) and Genetic Haemochromatosis (GH) and will write a personal and cultural history of both “widely misunderstood conditions”, meditating on the impact of living in a rural location.
Writing children’s novels are 25-year-old Beth Lincoln from Durham, who describes herself as “a bisexual woman with an anxiety disorder and solid baking skills”. Her fiction A Plural of Swifts aimed at 9-12-year-olds, will explore the enigmatic Swift family, whose children are named and defined by a single word picked from the dictionary.
Rashmi Sirdeshpande, 33, from Buckinghamshire, is writing a children’s picture book called Never EVER Give a T-Rex a Book, a “bonkers” story about the power of books and what might just happen if a T-Rex learnt how to read.
While youngest on the scheme, 22-year-old Nevin Holness from North London, is writing a young adult fantasy fiction about someone with the same experiences as her: black, British and overcoming their disadvantages.
“I think it’s vital that black boys and girls read stories about themselves where their blackness isn’t an affliction, where otherness is normalised, and that while things like sexuality, religion and race are central to the character, it isn’t necessarily the crux of the story,” she said. “My experience as black woman in this country is complicated and multifaceted, so I intend for the stories I write to be, too.”
Also writing in the young adult genre is Kirsty Capes, 24, a care leaver from South West London. She will write about growing up in care and how this makes children feel inadequate in The Hatchling.
Writing commercial fiction is roo, and LGBTQ+ writer from Yorkshire, now living in Birmingham. Their novel, Sarah’s Sister, is a first-person story told by the sibling of a child who was stolen from a swimming pool in the early 1990s.
Lorraine Brown, descended from a Jamaican father and Welsh mother, a part-time school secretary from London training to be a psychotherapist, is writing commercial women’s fiction The Paris Train. The story of Hannah and Simon follows this seemingly happily married couple in their thirties whose lives are turned upside down when they become separated on a night train and end up in different European cities.
Completing the mentees are Shannon Eden, 23 from Mytholmroyd in West Yorkshire, who is writing historical literary fiction Jellyfish in the Sky, set in a small coastal town in Texas, Costello, in 1942 and Burhana Islam, 25, from Newcastle, who is writing adult fiction entitled Sticks and Stones, which will follows Hassan, a young Syrian refugee fleeing the terror of warfare in his homeland and Lemara Lindsay-Prince who is writing a fictional short story collection about growing up in West London.
Zaidi said: “It is important not only that under-represented communities see authors like them but that they read stories like their own. Our society consists of worlds living side-by-side but near invisible to each other. I intend to explore the divides that exist between us all framed within my own journey.”
Tom Weldon, c.e.o. of Penguin Random House UK, said the company’s aspiration with WriteNow was to publish the stories which aren’t often told, but which need to be. “Both the level of talent and the richness of ideas from our mentee writers this year are remarkable; really underlining the importance of a programme like WriteNow in seeking out and bringing these voices to the fore,” he said.
To date the WriteNow programme has welcomed 300 writers to six regional events across the UK, from Newcastle to Bristol, and received nearly 5,000 applications from writers around the country.