Writers offering mentoring are popping up everywhere at the moment. Is it just a trend or is there something special that established writer mentors can offer new writers? I’ve been running Gold Dust, a mentoring scheme for writers, for three years. I set it up because I’m asked so often by new writers how to get published, how to get an agent, and then much more importantly – how to structure their novels and non-fiction books. I couldn’t possibly read all the full length novels that were being shown to me; I realised there was a need for detailed, sustained, one-to-one advice that wasn’t being offered on MAs or other writing courses.
For Gold Dust I decided that I’d only use well known writers with a long track record of publishing, writers who teach on Creative Writing MAs and have a generous nature, wisdom and experience to offer. So much of any writer’s life is about keeping going, recovering from set-backs, getting over creative blocks, facing new challenges. I wanted authors as mentors who’d been through all of that, and triumphed, so that they would offer encouragement and support to newer writers going through it for the first time.
Gold Dust is unique in that we don’t use editors, or inexperienced new authors as our mentors. I really value the life-long experience of the Gold Dust mentors and I think relying on such a prestigious bunch is what makes the scheme distinctive from others out there. All our authors are represented by agents of course, and are at liberty to recommend a new writer to an agent – I leave that up to them. I’m always happy myself to do this, if I believe in a writer’s promise.
We have lots of names that readers will recognise, and no hidden surprises – we only use the mentors featured on the site. These include four Booker short-listed novelists Michele Roberts, Romesh Gunesekera, Sarah Hall and Andrew Miller. Also two professors of MAs in Writing (Michele Roberts and Jane Rogers). Our writers have been nominated for, or won, or judged, the Orange, the Whitbread, the Governor General’s Prize, the Costa, the IMPAC and many others. They include well-known authors and biographers such as Louise Doughty, Lesley Glaister, Kathryn Heyman, myself (Jill Dawson), Shelley Weiner, Kate Pullinger, Carole Angier, Michelle Spring, Sally Cline, and two acclaimed screenwriters, Jacquetta May and Shahrukh Hussain. We’re expanding at the moment to offer writers in different regions or genres: Tim Pears is our first novelist working in Oxford; biographer and social historian Midge Gillies and award-winning crime-writer Jim Kelly now offer mentoring in Ely, Cambridgeshire.
The price might seem steep but that’s why we can offer writers of this calibre working individually with new writers. Gold Dust has had lots of successes so far, despite being very small and just three years in the running – two of our new writers have already signed up two-book deals; many have got agents and one just won a national writing competition, coming first out of 27 thousand entrants! We put un-edited testimonies on the website from Gold Dust ‘graduates’ so that those interested in applying can get a feel for what we offer. I can honestly say that to date nothing but praise has come our way.
I do try to pair up new writers with the writer of their choice. Not everyone is accepted – it’s competitive. Again, I think we might be unique in taking this tough view but Gold Dust is for those who are serious, committed and talented. It aims to be the ‘gold standard’ among mentoring schemes, and I think we’re right to be selective.
‘I will never forget the experience. Sitting with Jill Dawson at Wicken Fen café, talking with someone who believed in the characters and world I was creating and – as importantly – believed in me as a writer. Focusing tightly on the work but also roving widely over our reading and writing experiences and exploring how they related to our own lives. Jill helped me to capture immediacy in my writing and stay true to my own voice. She is perceptive, direct, energetic, quick to question a character’s dodgy motivation, equally quick to celebrate what works. Thank you Jill.’