Need Some Adventures in Fiction? Get an SFF Great to Mentor You!
At this very moment in time, I’m typing in my writing room (dining room) surrounded by literary-themed works of arts (posters of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings fly covers) while an agent considers my latest book. That’s the dream, isn’t it? To have a professional in the industry give thought to the baby it took years to deliver.
Adventure Part the First: Stasis
It took years to get to this point. Back in 2007 I said to myself, “Right. I’m going to be a writer.” I wrote a book. It wasn’t picked up immediately and hailed as the greatest work of speculative fiction of modern times. I was a little bit flabbergasted, because it was exactly the kind of book I liked to read.
I’ve been an English teacher since I graduated all the way back in 2006, so I wondered if there was something I should learn about this new career path I’d chosen. This unknown path that keeps trying to throw you off it each time you make a tentative step forward; only to set off another booby trap and explode your other leg. I decided I needed to find a map to save my remaining limbs.
Adventure Part the Second: Trigger
Living in France at that time, all the maps were written in French (and called cartes, which, homophonically, wreaked havoc with my head. And I’ve never even had a horse) so I stopped messing with metaphors and enrolled with The Writers’ Bureau, a correspondence writing course all in English. I was plunged into a new world of unknown things and revelled in learning for several months. One of the short stories I’d written for an exercise won second place in competition*, and the novel I’d developed over the course was later picked up by a small press and published**, which was a dream come true—but many, many years later in 2014. By then, I’d written five complete novels, half-written another four, and churned out nearly thirty short stories—yet my rejection letters were already in the hundreds. Despite the successes from the correspondence course and the amount I’d learned, clearly I was still missing something. And that something was something I couldn’t define.
Adventure Part the Third: The Quest
Come the year 2015 and I came to the conclusion that if I wanted further my writing career by defining that something, drastic action were needed. So I did what any sane person would do at that juncture; I uprooted my entire family from our comfortable life in the Monts d’Or of south-east France and exchanged it for one of the exciting unknown in Britain.
Actually, it wasn't completely unknown; I’d been accepted onto a mentoring scheme by Adventures in Fiction, a London-based company for writers whose raison d’être is helping us to get published. With the first draft of your manuscript complete, Apprenticeships in Fiction offers a complete mentoring programme, working one-to-one with a mentor who’s known in your genre.
Adventure Part the Fourth: Surprise!
My mentor was Liz Williams, a respected figure in the SFF community because of her intelligent and thought-provoking science fiction. Several of which lined my bookshelves, so finding out she’d be reading my grimdark sci-fi book and helping me get it up to a publishable standard was a whole new level of fandom geekery.
Far from being too starstruck to work competently with a famous, favourite author, Liz put me immediately at ease and her passion for writing and teaching, as well as the genre as a whole, was inspiring. Plus, despite its numerous (oh so numerous) flaws, Liz liked my book! I’m not ashamed to admit that, when I left our first meeting in Glastonbury and waited for the bus back to Bristol, I danced a wee jig of joy. From feeling my work and abilities had stagnated, I felt I’d found a way to finally work out what that something was—because I’d be working with a real person in real life and real time who would help me every step of the way. As a teacher myself, I think I always knew it; there’s no better way to learn a subject than by working with an expert
Adventure Part the Fifth: Climax
Eighteen months later, thanks to Adventures in Fiction and even more so to Liz, an agent is considering my book. It’s been a remarkable journey, and as much as I love travelling along this pitfall-bestrewn path, it’s even better with a map, because now I can do a little sight-seeing on the way, safe in the knowledge I’ll reach my destination eventually.
And that’s the dream, isn’t it?
* Killing of Innocence, Dark Tales Magazine
**Legacy of a Warrior Queen, Top Hat Publishing.
Adventure Part the Sixth: Reversal / Resolution
The aforementioned agent at the top of this post finally declined, but not without first saying my work has “imagination and intelligence”, so there’s a fist-bump right there. That quote came from a lovely long and detailed letter explaining why he was passing on my ms, and that’s so rare that I’m taking it as a win. Said letter is now framed and pointed-out to anyone who pops over for coffee. Got to take pride in those rejections and keep on submitting! (That’s the ‘Resolution’ part of the ‘story arc’, which this post loosely follows 😄)
Also, I’m back in France! I missed the trees in the Monts d’Or too much, so I made everyone up-sticks (again!) from the cobbled streets of the cider-drinking city to be back amongst them. Evidently, I was an Ent in a past life.