Wednesday, 29 June 2011

To Mentor? Or not to Mentor?

As I said in my last post, Gap Years was mentored.

I entered a competition, run by Exeter university. We had to submit some writing, and tell them what we hoped to learn. I sent a short story that had grown from the travels, and said I hoped to learn more about using life experiences as a basis for story. Paul took a step back, said the travels were interesting in themselves, could he read my first efforts. Can't say I sent gave it to him eagerly - I'd reached the point of knowing it wasn't publishable. Expected him to come back with a thick shit-sandwich (this is wonderful, but would be really really wonderful if you changed the whole thing, it will be wonderful).

It wasn't quite that bad. He made me look at it as a book that said as much about me as the places I visited. Eek - who wants to write about themselves? (And here I am, now, writing a blog!) I had to look at how it felt to be older, and female - he was surprised when I said I was, often, invisible. And that invisibility has its advantages.

So, home I went with some serious thinking to do - which was, in the end, much more challenging than the writing. I practised scribbling about myself in notebooks - words that will never see the light of day (promise), just to free up my thinking. He was right; I knew, deep down, the minute he said it, that he was right. I didn't have to like it, but I agreed with him.

So there was a bit of kicking and screaming (well, chocolate and wine) and then I settled down to rewrite it Gap Years. And yes - it is almost unrecognisable from the old plod from one scenic location to another. I'd drooled over the Taj Mahal skated over the man with the gun in Lucknow - he's given a prominent corner in this version. Ditto being abandoned outside a massage parlour in Kerala. Snakes and leeches in Malaysia. It is a significantly better book.

Would I go for a mentor again? Yes - if I had a piece of work in need a good shaking. Would you? I think you need to begin with the draft of something, even if it's rough round the edges. Mentors don't provide inspiration, but they can take your inspiration and nudge you into turning it into something people might want to read. That's surely worth some uncomfortable thinking.