Nine new writers have been chosen for Penguin Random House UK’s third WriteNow mentoring programme, including the scheme’s first ever illustrator.
With works in the pipeline ranging from deeply personal memoirs to fantastical stories featuring mermaids and monsters, author mentees will each work closely with an in-house editor over the next year to develop their manuscript and get it ready for publication. The scheme’s illustrator mentee will be matched with a designer who will support them in building up their portfolio of picture book artwork.
The group will be PRH UK’s third intake of mentees since the scheme's launch in 2016, since which time it has gone on to earn the publisher accolades including The Lord Mayor’s Dragon Awards for Regional Impact and Innovation of the Year at the UK Social Mobility Awards.
Represented in a host of different genres and categories, including non-fiction, literary and commercial fiction, children’s publishing and picture books, its latest pool of diverse writers are aged 24 to 47 and have works in progress including: a literary tale set on a remote island in the North Atlantic; a story centred on the escapades of a group of young British Asian women at a cooking school; a part-memoir, part self-help guide for people who prefer Twitter to therapy; a picture book adventure featuring a mischievous ghost on a mission; and a darkly comic memoir of one writer’s journey through love, loss and London life.
In adult fiction, Annie Kirby, 47, from Portsmouth, will be working on her novel The Hollow Sea, described as literary fiction "with a smidgen of supernatural mystery", following a woman struggling to come to terms with her childlessness on a remote but spectacular island chain in the North Atlantic. With personal experience of chronic depression and anxiety, a personality disorder and psychogenic involuntary vocalisations and movement, in the book she also touches on mental health. "Applying for the WriteNow programme was a huge step in accepting that my conditions are not only part of me, but also part of who I am as a writer and can enrich the stories I tell instead of being something shameful that needs to be hidden away," she commented.
Priya O’Shea, 33, based in Leicester, recently left her job after a decade working for a global technology company and will now be focusing on writing The Good Indian Girl's Cooking School. Branded commercial women’s fiction, it centres on a group of young British Asian women (who are not particularly interested in cooking) and their adventures at a cooking school. O’Shea said she had applied for the scheme for the chance to share stories of "a uniquely complex generation of British Asians and to play my part in bringing more female Asian characters into mainstream women’s fiction".
Four non-fiction memoirs are being written as part of the WriteNow programme: Alex Bertulis-Fernandes, 24, who works for BBC Creative and lives in North West London, will be working on a non-fiction memoir described as "self-help for people who prefer Twitter to therapy". Half Indian, quarter English and quarter German, and managing life with anxiety and depression, it focuses on what it’s like to be a mixed-race woman in your twenties navigating mental health issues.
London-based Emmett de Monterey, 41, is penning a memoir about growing up gay and disabled in London between 1990 and 2005. In the book she will share her journey to find an identity between these two labels, in a society that often prefers the disabled to be invisible and write about his experiences with the media as the subject of two BBC documentaries when he was 11.
Lauren Aitchison, 29, living in Garmouth, Scotland, will also be concentrating on a non-fiction memoir. Kiss with a Fist is billed as "a story of surviving love when it's trying to kill you and the heartbreaking truth that domestic abuse doesn't always manifest itself in the way you think it might". While sharing her own story of survival, it is punctuated with facts, figures and psychology to reach out to other victims. She commented: "I've created something we need. An account of domestic violence that isn't abuse porn or ending in a gruesome, gratuitous murder, but an everyday account of the life of a woman who goes home to an abuser every day. And how I got out."
Mindfulness teacher Donna McLean, 46, will be working on Small Town Girl, the Scot's "darkly comic memoir of the writer’s journey through love, loss and the rich tapestry of London life". She said: "I’m a working class woman, and I have lots of responsibilities and limited income. People like me don’t always have the resources externally and internally to push forward with writing. Programmes like WriteNow nurture the quiet but persistent little voice inside that says “I can do this” and connects you with like-minded, supportive people."
In children's, stay-at-home dad Gareth Peter Dicks, 37, living in Nottingham, will be developing several children’s picture books, mostly in rhyme "with a quirky edge", one of which The Ghost Upon The Hill is about a ghost boy who does not want to share his house and tries to scare a new family into leaving.
Lisette Auton, 37, based in Darlington will be focusing her efforts on The Wrecklings, a middle grade adventure novel about the search for family and where you belong, with a strong female disabled protagonist at its core. "I didn't think I could be a writer because as a disabled person I didn't see myself in the books I wanted to read. If we want to let children know that their lives are valid and valuable and that they can be writers, then their lives must be reflected on bookshelves," she said.
Sally Anderson, 39, will be the WriteNow's first illustrator. As a full-time mum of four, she has had to squeeze her love of drawing into her evenings, PRH said. With a "lively, loose and expressive" illustration style, she uses lots of colour, sometimes integrating collage, but, usually working in pen and ink with watercolour; she will be using her time on the scheme to work on her illustration for children and has said she wants to depict children in her work who are "seriously underrepresented", such as the ginger mixed race children.
To date, 30 mentees have joined the programme, with 450 writers and illustrators receiving direct one-on-one editorial or design feedback and taking part in one of the nine regional workshops held around the country. Six writers from the programme have been offered publishing deals with Penguin Random House imprints, with the first book from a WriteNow author published earlier this year (The Reinvention of Martha Ross by Charlene Allcott) and other upcoming publications from WriteNow mentees including Music Love Drugs War by Geraldine Quigley (Fig Tree, January 2019), A Love Story for Bewildered Girls by Emma Morgan (Viking, February 2019), The Grassling by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett (Allen Lane, March 2019) and The Million Pieces of Neena Gill by Emma Smith-Barton (Penguin, July 2019).
Siena Parker, PRH UK's head of Creative Responsibility, said: "When we launched WriteNow back in 2016 we didn’t really know what to expect. We never imagined that three years on we would have six books in the pipeline from writers discovered through the scheme. It’s been a total pleasure and privilege to work with so many exceptionally talented writers, and I can’t wait to welcome ten new faces to our WriteNow family."