Today, we welcome Liz Taylorson to the RNA blog.
When I was offered the chance to take part in a novel writing group run by Writers’ Block North East (based in Middlesbrough) part of the experience was individual mentoring sessions from a creative writing tutor. I’d never been mentored before, and I didn’t know what to expect. In my imagination, my mentor was going to sit next to me as I wrote, encouraging me when it was going well and sympathising when it was going badly, as well as deducing exactly what I should do when I got stuck. Perhaps an occasional cup of tea and a cake would be involved along the way too? I envisaged someone who would be a cross between Yoda, Miss Marple and Mary Berry.
Laura Degnan, my mentor, looked nothing like Yoda, Miss Marple OR Mary Berry. Before we began, she asked to see the first few pages of my current work in progress and a summary of the plot, chapter by chapter. This meant that I had to write a proper summary of the plot that could be understood by somebody other than me… and suddenly, before I’d even had a single mentoring session, I was beginning to see the weaknesses and flaws in my plan for myself, the places where I hadn’t considered how I was going to get from event a to event b, the parts where I was telling, not showing and the bits where, frankly, it was a bit dull. The first mentoring session had effectively taken place before we’d even shared a single cup of tea!
When I did get to sit down with Laura, we met in the tearoom of the local art museum which was a perfect setting. It was casual enough to feel like two friends chatting rather than a teacher/pupil setting, but had ample space to work at a table and plenty of light to work by – and plenty of tea! I opened my notebook, took up my pen and waited for Laura to tell me what to do next with my novel; how to brighten up the bits where it felt a bit dull – only she didn’t actually tell me anything. She asked me questions. Lots of questions. Questions like: “Why does your story have to take place in this place and time?” “What else is your heroine prepared to do to succeed – how far could she go?” or “What are the dramatic consequences of her reading those letters?”
Instead of the truthful answer which was: “Well, the dramatic consequences of her reading those letters are that I get to put in a nice historical parallel to her situation in Chapter 4,” I suddenly began to realise that perhaps the answer should be more along the lines of: “Well, the dramatic consequences are that this is when she realises that the priceless painting in the library is a forgery AND I get to put in a nice historical parallel…”
Without giving me a single idea of her own, or actually telling me to do anything at all she encouraged me to raise the stakes for my own characters and suddenly my story started taking off in several different directions at once. Instead of talking about a problem to a third character, the protagonists were fighting about it; instead of worrying endlessly about what she should tell her ex-boyfriend, my heroine was telling him the wrong thing only to have him turn up and confront her about it; instead of looking at a beautiful house in the distance and wishing they could visit, my characters were exploring it.
So, in my experience, being mentored didn’t mean I was told what to do (or even what not to do), it meant being guided to discover what to do for myself. It was a wholly positive experience, I enjoyed every minute of it and came out of my sessions buzzing with new ideas. Yoda, Miss Marple and Mary Berry had better watch out …
Liz's debut novel, The Little Church by the Sea is available now.
Can Cass ever find her way in Rawscar? What secret does Hal have to hide? And is there ever such a thing as a truly fresh start?
Find out more about Liz here:
Liz has always surrounded herself with books. As a child, she was always to be found with her head in one and she still has a bookcase full of her childhood favourites to this day. (She once read The Lord of the Rings thirteen times in a row, cover to cover!). All through childhood and adolescence she wrote - mainly historical romances involving impossibly perfect heroes. All this reading and writing led to a degree in English Literature (and another book-case full of books) and then a job as a cataloguer of early printed books for a major University Library.
Children (and then cats and chickens) interrupted her bibliographic career, and having given up library work Liz started writing fiction and hasn’t stopped since, joining the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme to try to learn how to write novels properly in 2015. She has also written some short stories, with one "The Second Princess" winning a competition in Writing Magazine which led her to think that maybe publication wasn’t a pipe dream after all.
The publication of her first novel, The Little Church by the Sea, published by Manatee Books in November 2017 is a dream come true.
What a lovely interview, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your writing journey and the part your mentor played. Thank you for sharing!
This is fascinating, Liz, I must try asking myself some difficult questions! x
Thank you for sharing your experience with us.
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