SPECIAL FEATURE #WriteMentor Q&A Part 2

W&P’s Deputy Editor, A M Dassu  talks to Emma Read, a mentor of the WriteMentor programme and Lydia Massiah, a mentee.

#WriteMentor is a triad of writing opportunities, including a voluntary summer 1-2-1 mentoring programme, a children’s novel award with low price/free entry to allow access to all writers, and home of the Spark⚡️ continual, professional, development programme for writers at all stages of their career.

SCBWI wanted to know how a programme like this works from an organisational angle, and a mentor and mentee’s perspective. In part 1 A M Dassu interviewed Stuart White. In this issue, she talks to Emma Read, mentor of the programme and Lydia Massiah, a mentee.

Emma Read – Mentor

1. Why did you become a mentor?

Writing a novel can be a lonely process and it’s not always easy to surround yourself with like-minded people. Not everyone can afford a writing course or a retreat and for some, meeting other writers in person can be difficult. I was one of the lucky ones though, and fell in with the right crowd. We set ourselves up in a fantastic online group and supported one another (as we still do) brainstorming, giving feedback and moral support. Without this wonderful group of people, I doubt very much I would be in the position I’m in now. I was very aware how lucky I was, so when Stuart approached me to join WriteMentor I knew it was my chance to give back.

2. How many people did you mentor and what did you work on?

I had one mentee – the super-talented Renee McAlpine, and together we worked on her query package: the first three chapters of her MG novel, plus her cover letter and synopsis. Synopses, I think, are one of the hardest things to write by yourself – they suck the magic out of your story, magic you’ve worked hard to create, and sometimes, because a writer knows the story so well it can be hard to see the wood in amongst all those beautiful sub-plot trees.

With Renee’s chapters, I focused on making the narrative deliver to the max on those opening pages. As we know, agents receive hundreds of submissions each month and making an immediate impression is crucial. This goes for the cover letters too – this is often the first thing an agent looks at and it needs to be crisp, professional and effective.

3. What did you enjoy most about mentoring?

I chose Renee because I loved her story and her writing, so working on the book with her was a joy from the start. It’s a funny MG, which is absolutely my thing, and her humour was pitch perfect – I literally laughed out loud the first time I read her opening line! Helping Renee see the strengths of her manuscript, and watch it grow, was very rewarding. I also loved being part of her journey – in the most un-altruistic way I lived vicariously!

4. What was the most challenging thing about mentoring a fellow writer?

Renee was a dream mentee. She worked really hard on the tasks I set her and got where I was coming from with my suggestions and feedback. But this is a highly subjective business and I always try to make it clear when providing feedback that my comments are based on my opinion and experience only. There is rarely a ‘right’ way to write and we’re all continually learning.

For me, the biggest challenge is finding the right balance between mentoring, my own writing and other commitments. Stuart is always reminding us to look after ourselves as well as our mentees!

5. Would you mentor a writer again?

Absolutely! In fact I am one of the mentors for the WriteMentor Spark⚡ programme and am very much looking forward to diving into my mentee’s words and worlds. I imagine it will be a different experience again, as I will have the opportunity to build up a longer term relationship with my Spark mentees and hopefully get to know their manuscripts and writing almost as well as my own.


Emma was once a very sensible biologist. Now she uses her transferable talents such as attention to detail, patience and fine motor skills to extract Lego from under the sofa. And of course to write children's books. Her favourite things in the world are: badges, Death On The Nile, hats, foxes, deserts, desserts and Buck Rogers. Her one regret in life is never having trained to be an astronaut.
Emma’s debut novel Milton the Mighty will be published by Chicken House on June 6th 2019, and was shortlisted for the 2017 Bath Children's Novel Award.

Find Emma on Twitter @emmydee73 and Instagram as ediereadie


Lydia Massiah – Mentee

1. Why did you apply to the Write Mentor Programme?

For a while I’d been struggling to take my work to the next level. Writing courses usually require financial outlay, time and commitment away from home — and finding all three is hard! Most of my writing friends were at a similar place developmentally and had given masses of support already, so I needed advice from someone further along in terms of experience: someone who would be properly critical, and whose view I could trust as being well-informed. I hoped the WriteMentor programme would help accelerate my learning, to make me a better writer.

2. What skills did you gain from being mentored?

I think you have to be in the right place with your writing to be receptive to guidance, which maybe I wouldn’t have been a year ago. It was certainly a steep learning curve, but also remarkably liberating, as I began to play around with ideas. My main focus was intensifying the emotional conflicts of my characters, as well as upping the tension throughout the novel. And I had to learn to be more concise, to pare back my story to its essentials. (Still struggling with that to be honest!)

3. What did you find challenging about being mentored?

There’s always resistance when you begin any editing process, but the more your writing receives feedback, the easier it becomes. Luckily I was able to meet my mentor, Kathryn Clark, in person. She was very empathetic, and her manner of teaching felt like a dialogue. Also, she was completely right about everything! The challenging part was coming up with solutions to problems she’d highlighted. However, it was such a stimulating process, that I became totally enthralled, especially as I saw how much better my writing became. Making changes to my over-long novel within the time-frame was challenging, but it was thrilling to see my ideas intensify.

4. Did the mentoring help you achieve your goals?

My work emerged slimmer, tauter, and more powerful as a result of Kathryn’s editorial input, as if it had been through several months at the gym! I was totally unprepared for how fast my ‘luck’ began to change. My revised opening was shortlisted in the Wells Book for Children competition (and finally came 2nd) and those same chapters attracted attention from an editor at a publishing house. I quickly signed with an agent, and exciting things are in the pipeline!

I’m hugely grateful to the WriteMentor scheme, to Stuart White for creating it, and to Kathryn, for all her wisdom. It’s been my turning point!

5. What are your plans now?

To survive edits without thinking too closely about my half-written follow-on story and other ideas that keep popping their heads up. I’m in new territory again, and it’s quite scary. When this is all done, I want my readers to love this story as much as I loved my favourite books when I was young. And then I want to do this all over again.


Lydia Massiah always wanted to be an explorer, following rivers to their source and finding wondrous places, and even though she was raised in a Midlands town, she cultivated opportunities to discover. One way was reading, which eventually took her to study English at Exeter College, Oxford, and afterwards to train to be an English teacher. She still has an urge for adventure. By creating wonder and excitement for readers, she hopes to take them to unfamiliar worlds too.
She's fortunate enough to be represented by Jo Williamson, from Antony Harwood. Her teen novel about a cave will emerge next year...

You can find out more about the programme here:

WriteMentor: https://write-mentor.com/2019/01/20/writementor-2019
Novel Award: https://write-mentor.com
Spark ⚡️: https://write-mentor.com/writementor-spark


A. M. Dassu is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures. She writes contemporary fiction and is currently planning her next book.
Contact her at deputyeditor@britishscbwi.org
You can find her on Twitter @a_reflective and Instagram @a.m.dassu

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