Teachers: people who have the capacity to make you or break you. Both my parents are teachers: aside from their literal invovlement in the making of me (although I don’t like to think about this too much) they have continued to support me in various ways throughout my life, never giving me the answer, but providing me with guidance and allowing me to make my own decisions. In addition to my parents, I’ve been lucky enough to have come across a handful of really wonderful teachers: some of whom have had the necessary teaching qualifications, some , experts in their field, I have paid to impart their wisdom so that I might benefit from it and others who were simply giving enough of their time and energy to mentor and guide me in their area of interest. Most of what I know has been derived from a combination of osmosis – watching and listening to how these people do what they do and knowing when to ask for help.
When I decided to cast off the shackles of a corporate career and embark on a life of writing and freelancing, I knew that there were things about my new, intransient, unrealiable state of living that would heckle my control freak tendancies. In true control freak style, I mapped out a plan complete with a heady objective of where I wanted to be in five years time. Happy with my blueprint for success, I began researching how to achieve it (are you getting a picture of the type of person I am?). It all hung around the novel I had begun to write four years previously and that was now about to take centre stage in a life previously devoted to money making. And therein lay the rub: this plan, so carefully constructed, was all based on a series of words (all 15,000 at the time of intervention) that, barring myself, only my mother had read. What to do? I needed help, a second, unbiased, professional opinion about my writing and I found it in the form of Jenn Ashworth (also know as The Whipcracker on this blog).
At the time (although it hasn’t changed too much since then) I had a real desire to change my life and just enough self belief to send her an email and ask if she could help. Her reply, friendly and polite, suggested we meet to discuss the process of ‘creative mentoring’ and asked me to send a sample of my writing. This was duly done and I waited with some sense of trepidation of what the meeting might hold, hoping feverishly that she wouldn’t say it was complete crap and that I might be better not attempting to articulate the contents of my head at all. Anyway, long story short: she didn’t say that. She said that we could work together and booked me in for five sessions. My mentoring sessions with Jenn, then gave those first six months of ‘not being an employee’ a vague structure and some much needed respite from my life as a new mother. Suddenly I had deadlines and critques from which to learn and improve from. I now had an excuse, or a reason, to make writing one of my priorities: which basically meant I sacrificed the ironing and gave myself permission to write. And I began to approach my writing differently: I learnt techniques to balance out my writing and engage the reader more effectively, I developed a better feeling for structuring my novel and each chapter within it. I honed my characters into three dimensional people. In essence, I got serious about the business of writing and knew that if I was to acheive my dream of being a published author, I was going to have to be as self motivated and focussed as Jenn was. Six months later I was accepted on to the Distance Learning MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University which, overjoyed though I was, meant giving up my mentoring sessions with Jenn – too many cooks and all that. But I don’t think I would have got here if it wasn’t for Jenn. She was always positive, extremely down to earth, incredibly patient and unfailingly generous in the transfer of her considerable and instrinsic knowledge of ‘what works’. She was never obtuse in her commentry, giving only the practical advice and guidance that a new writer like me so desperately needed but was too afraid to ask for and I never felt belittled or unworthy of her time. In short, she was, and is, the perfect kind of teacher, and I say this with the authority that only the daughter of a headmaster and a lifelong association with various academic and training instutitions can have.
We’ve kept in touch since, and was thrilled to find out that in the last month, she has teamed up with the poet, Sarah Hymas, to set up brand new creative mentoring service called The Writing Smithy. Apparently they’re offering a range of different services for writers and aspiring writers including the type of creative mentoring I received. However, you don’t have to be Lancashire based to access their expertise: they’re also offering mentoring at a distance via skype and / or email, which is not too dissimilar from the MA I’m now doing, although probably a darn sight cheaper.
Writers of all levels and at all stages, if you haven’t had your face burnt by the glow that this blog post has emitted in praise of Ms Ashworth, you might want to check out her new venture, The Writing Smithy (it’s linked above but you can also find it at www.thewritingsmithy.co.uk). It may be the best thing you ever do.