All Stories, a free mentorship programme for underrepresented children's book writers was launched on 30th March 2021. Here, the sixth in a series of interviews with All Stories mentees, Deputy Editor, A. M. Dassu speaks to Mitchell Kamen to find out more about his writing and experience as a mentee.


Can you tell us a bit about the book(s) you’re writing? (Age range, genre and anything else you’d like to tell us.)

My work in progress is a mythology-inspired fantasy set in a fictional area of North London. The protagonist, Charlie Lincoln, makes an eyelash wish for his family to be whole again. What Charlie doesn’t know is that he is part Fey and that he has family in the fairy world. His wish tears open doorways that have been closed for millennia, unleashing the fairy world onto an unsuspecting community. This story is middle grade, with family at its heart, and deals with that sense of ‘otherness’ which can be present when growing up mixed-race or feeling different in some other way.


Sounds amazing! How long have you been writing for?

I have always loved stories and writing. However, seven years ago, I started to keep track of all the ideas I was having and documented them in a tiny A7 notebook. I then chose my favourite idea from that notebook and have been teaching myself to write ever since.


What made you want to write for children?

This is the second book that I have written. My first was longlisted in a competition for WriteNow 2020. As well as receiving great advice from experts, the prize for being longlisted was a one-to-one chat with a Penguin Random House editor. I spoke to Louise Grosart, the editorial director at Ladybird, who gave me feedback and suggested that I try to write a middle-grade story. I did and actually realised that I had been a middle-grade writer all along. It’s just so much fun! I like the unfiltered ideas and think it is important that children don’t have to wait until they are adults to see characters like them in fiction.


Yes it is! What has your writing journey been like up to this point?

Instead of practising on short stories or taking writing courses, seven years ago I decided I would write a book. I mean how hard could it really be? Through trial and error and the free resources which I found on the internet I have gradually improved over the last few years. I haven't paid for any courses or taken any degrees on the subject. Instead, I’ve been stubborn and taken the long way round, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I spent five years writing and re-writing a YA story before I submitted it to agents, received a lot of rejections and then, as a last-ditch attempt, decided to it to WriteNow. As a result of that I am now in an amazing writing group which meets weekly to review each others' work. Since joining, my writing has improved immensely. Being selected as one of the winners for All Stories has improved my confidence and my current work in progress is already looking much better.


What are your goals for the mentorship?

Through my mentor’s guidance and the various panels which Catherine Coe has organised, I am learning so much. By the end of the mentorship, I want to have a finished manuscript with characters that feel a little more 3D. My goal beyond that is probably the same as every other writer, which is to be published and become a full-time author, but I know that could be many years away.


What’s it like to have a mentor for your writing? Is it what you expected?

It is honestly even better than I thought – my mentor is Lucy Rogers, who is fantastic and has helped me immensely already. There is often a temptation, when you finish a draft, to think that it is completely finished and that it requires no further work. That, of course, isn't true and Lucy has helped me to identify where extra words are needed and what might need to be restructured, so Lucy, if you read this, thanks!


What are your thoughts on representation in children’s literature?

Provided it is ‘good’ representation then it is essential. Literature should be a mirror of the real world and our world is a diverse and beautiful place. This competition (All Stories) and others like it are testament to the fact that things are moving in the right direction. There are more and more authors sharing their stories from unique viewpoints and perspectives. But for real change and ‘good’ representation we need more diversity, knowledge and empathy in the industry as a whole.


I wholeheartedly agree! Who’s your favourite author and why?

My all-time favourite author is the late, great Terry Pratchett. His unique sense of humour and immense imagination are what brought the Discworld series to life. He had the ability to talk about modern issues in a fantastical world without preaching and my lofty ambition is to become even a fraction of the author that he was.

Mitchell Kamen has always felt in the middle as a mixed-race person. He writes books for children because childhood is hard enough, but when you look and feel different it can be a whole lot harder. Mitchell lives in the West Midlands and is writing a story about a mixed-race boy and his family as they deal with their world colliding with another. Mitchell can be found on Twitter @NAA_Mitch and on Instagram @mitchellkamen.

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