As I’ve mentioned before, I’m lucky enough to have crime writer, teacher and BBC correspondent Simon Hall as my mentor. But what I haven’t done is express the difference having a mentor has done to both my work and my confidence.
Last year I attended Winchester Writers’ Festival as another unpublished author. As a stay-at-home mother of two I didn’t have the finances to support a long term course in creative writing and, having taken an eight year break between finishing my degree and starting to write seriously, my confidence was somewhat lacking. Enthusiasm, drive and ambition I had in abundance but confidence, not so much.
Then, on the last day of the festival, I joined Simon’s novel writing workshop. Afterwards I railroaded him (he will politely deny this) into giving me his business card.
I asked for his details because he was a fantastic teacher. I learnt more in that one day than I had in the past year of research (no doubt music to the ears of those taking his crime writing workshop this year! You’re in for a treat, believe me.) I knew, after that course, that I could learn an awful lot from this man.
I had a vague, unrealistic hope that he might agree to read my submission material and give me a few pointers. What I didn’t even let myself hope for, let alone believe, is that he would spend the next year mentoring me through skype and email, becoming a friend and confident.
Shortly after the festival he sent me a message on twitter, including the four words that would change how I viewed myself, my work and my prospects for the future. Those four words were: “You have the talent.” He has continued to encourage me ever since, knowing when I need a pick me up, and also knowing when I need a jolly good kick up the backside.
I would need thousands of blog entries to tell you all of the techniques and strategies he has taught me to help improve my work. Most crucially of all, however, is that he has always made sure I improve the work myself, however frustrated I’ve been (remember foreshadowing?) He has guided, advised and helped me hone my voice to a level I never knew I was capable of, but he did.
No doubt Simon will be blushing as he reads this, and if asked will tell you that he really didn’t do that much; something he’s said many times when I’ve thanked him for his help and generosity of time (and we all know how precious a commodity that is.) But let me tell you this; I would not have the self-belief I have, nor the confidence in my writing, were it not for his patience, encouragement, guidance and wisdom. I am essentially a nobody; the fact that he has taken time out of his insanely busy schedule to help me, when he didn’t have to, means more to me than I can express.
So thank you Simon Hall, you superist of super chaps. I am thoroughly looking forward to buying you a well deserved pint at Winchester and I hope those taking your course this year realise just how lucky they are.
And if you are taking his workshop and he asks you to close your eyes, then breathes on the back of your neck; don’t worry – he’s done it before, he’ll do it again, and his techniques (however startling) work miracles.