ACW

ACW

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Being a mentee - by Fran Hill

I am learning to be a mentee.  As a teacher, I’m used to mentoring others. But this time I'm the one who has to sit down, shut up, listen and learn.

I find the sitting down bit the easiest.

Q. Why a mentee?

A. Earlier this year, I joined a programme run by Writing West Midlands called Room 204. It develops ‘emerging’ writers, offering a year’s training, opportunities and mentoring.

Q. Why is it called Room 204? Is it like Room 101 in Orwell’s 1984 with rats and everything?

A. Writing West Midlands is run from Room 204 in its office block. There are no rats, although there is a mouse on each office desk.

Q. Who is mentoring you?

The Room 204 programme offers three meetings with the programme’s director: a writer himself, but also a strong advocate for new writers.

Q. Have you had your first meeting?

Yes. Meeting 1 took place in a coffee shop, one of those with Pretensions. The milk came in minuscule bottles and the leaf tea was served in a teapot masquerading as a piece of puzzling technology. I finished up with the leaves in my cup. I was already embarrassed and the mentoring hadn’t even begun.

How do I drive this thing again?


Another thing: traditional English breakfasts were served only at the weekends, and this was a Tuesday. Much of the weekday menu featured items drizzled in maple syrup and faux sophistication. My mentor had Something with Egg on Top which looked like a surrealist painting.

The other customers were either young, trendy professionals who could operate fashionable teapots, or babies in state-of-the-art buggies, accompanied by their early twenties mothers in gym wear who’d lost their baby weight before they left the delivery room.

Despite all these potential physical and psychological barriers, I found Meeting 1 a turning point.

Q. Why was it a turning point?

A. I’d never talked for an hour about my writing life with someone who knew nothing about me as a person. He began by saying, ‘Tell me about your writing and what kind of writer you think you are.’ As I rambled, he listened, made a few notes, said ‘hmm’, and asked occasional probing questions.

Q. What happened next?

A. I had an epiphany, which tasted a lot better than his Something with Egg probably did.

Q. How come an epiphany?

A. I realised why I’d always had trouble describing what I did as a writer. This is because, after my long ramble, he picked gentle holes in what I’d said, how I’d defined myself, and how I was ‘marketing’ my work. He challenged the writer identity I’d created. What do you mean, you’re a comedy writer? I thought you said your serious writing often got the most positive feedback? Why do you say you want to write a comic novel? Why not just write a novel and let people decide whether it’s funny? Don’t over-define yourself like that. Why a comic poet? Didn’t you say you won that prize for a serious poem? Why are you trying to pigeonhole yourself as a certain kind of writer, especially when you write in different genres and styles? No, that doesn’t make you a less effective writer. That makes you more effective. You don’t have to have a label.


It was like therapy. I realised that having someone from outside my usual circles invite me to talk about myself as a writer – someone who really listened and didn’t yawn or look over my shoulder – was freeing.

So, I’d recommend it, especially if you’re struggling with your writing identity or the way forward. Find another writer who doesn’t know you from Adam or Eve personally. Talk about yourself, then ask them what they heard.

One tip: prepare to be challenged.

Another tip: go to a café with proper teapots.





 Fran is a writer and English teacher from Warwickshire. You can find out more about her writing, and decide for yourself what kind of writer she is, by checking out her website here

22 comments:

  1. Thanks for the tip re cafe's with teabags. I'll remember that. Oh and the rest of the blog was insightful as well

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    1. Hey! Nothing wrong with tea leaves! The best cafes will provide a tea strainer though. ;-)

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    2. Thanks, Wendy. Always glad to give advice about cafes. I'm quite an expert.

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  2. Crumbs, well challenged I think Fran. Glad you had an epiphany even if the teapot defined nonsense at its best. Great blog.

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    1. Thanks, Maggie. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, I was very challenged. But in a good way.

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  3. Brilliant insight, as ever. For what it's worth, I think you are funny to your bones which means you never have to try to be. I hope your mentor also added a post-script that you are unique and amazing,

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  4. Great tips, Fran. I've been thinking about labels recently. People give us labels or we label ourselves. It can be restrictive. Sue

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    1. You're right - restrictive is exactly what it is. I feel a lot freer now to just say 'I'm a writer, and sometimes I write this, and sometimes I write that ....' without feeling I have to be a certain 'type'.

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  5. I'm going to miss your blogs, Fran. Lots of novels have laugh-out-loud touches, don't they? Your talent for humour will never go to waste. Good luck and God bless your careers as teacher and writer.

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    1. That's kind, Veronica. Thank you so much.

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  6. That sounds like a great idea Fran.... Scary but good.

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    1. There's a lot that's scary about the writing life, if you ask me!!

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  7. What a wonderful opportunity, Fran.

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    1. I'm trying to make the most of it while it lasts, Adrianne!

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  8. Loved the teapot and stuff with maple syrup drizzled over it and the wonderful 20-something mummies! Yes you are naturally-funny-in-a-good-way, Fran. I think you pencil/pen/computer knows that and will take you along that path adding wonderful humour to the serious stuff - which is a great way to write. Happy mentee-ing!

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  9. I will miss your posts too - they always make the day brighter. Very interesting re your mentoring. Oh and I promise to stop yawning and looking over yous shoulder when you talk about your writing ;)

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    1. Ha ha - I thought if I wrote it here, you'd recognise yourself, without my having to confront you directly. Glad that's sorted between us. :)

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  10. Thanks, Fran - I love the idea that we don't have to pigeonhole ourselves. I'll miss you!

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    1. Thanks, Fiona. I guess there are people who will want to be pigeonholed (in a nice way) - there are bound to be writers who say 'I only write crime' or 'I only write non-fiction'. That kind of pigeonholing is okay, if it's helpful. For me, I was just a mass of confusion about what kind of writer I was!

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