Jill Dawson is widely recognised as an exceptional tutor of Creative Writing. One of the first courses she ran for the Arvon foundation in 1988 was instantly acknowledged by the director, Stuart Delves, as special: ‘Jill Dawson ran an excellent course, producing some of the best results I’ve witnessed (and Arvon has a superlative track record)’
Jill continues to tutor for the Arvon Foundation and her most recent course, taught with her friend and fellow novelist Kathryn Heyman was described in terms as superlative as her first:
“Jill and Kathryn, your course had the best feedback of any course we’ve run – seriously! ‘Brilliant’, superb’, ‘above & beyond’, etc.”
– Centre Directors, Ted Hughes Arvon Centre, Lumb Bank, Yorkshire
As well as tutoring for the Arvon Foundation, she has taught on the UK’s most famous Creative Writing MA (at University of East Anglia, Norwich, where she held several fellowships, including the Creative Writing Fellowship).
In 2013 /2014 Jill will be teaching for the Faber Academy, the Guardian/UEA masterclasses, The Arvon Foundation at The Hurst and in Marrakesh for Creative Escapes. She will also be working individually with new writers for Gold Dust (www.gold-dust.org.uk), the mentoring scheme she set up in 2007. Gold Dust pairs new writers with highly acclaimed, award-winning authors and includes the best writer-tutors in the business.
In the early 1990s Jill worked as a freelance editor and compiler of anthologies of poetry and short stories. She had a gift for recognising talent, publishing for the first time the young author Ruth Newman. Ruth was still at school, but went on to publish a novel 15 years later. Jill also published for the first time a short story by a young author called Malorie Blackman in a book she was editing for the Women’s Press: School Tales. Malorie of course went on to be a hugely successful writer for children and to become the Children’s Laureate. Appearing in this same anthology – the first book Jill worked on – was the equally young novelist: Joanna Briscoe.
Jill also recognised the early work of writers such as the novelist and short-story writers Ali Smith and Emily Perkins. The anthology Jill edited for Virago in 1992, The Virago Book of Wicked Verse included the poet Patience Agbabi and the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, at the time little known in the UK, who since went on to win the Nobel prize for poetry.
In 1995 Jill gained a Masters with Distinction in Creative Writing from Sheffield Hallam and published her first novel soon afterwards. Her teaching has taken place in Universities and communities throughout the world. As well as the UEA, she has taught Creative Writing at Amherst College, USA; the National University of Singapore; the City University of Hong Kong; Byron Bay Writers Festival; Skyros, Greece; Galle Literary Festival Sri Lanka, Ubud, Indonesia, and for the Faber Academy and Guardian/UEA master-classes in the UK; as well as three years tutoring for the Sunday Times Oxford Summer School at Christ Church, Oxford University.
She has offered master classes and workshops at many different festivals all over the world and for many MAs in Writing, including Birkbeck, Sheffield Hallam, Bath Spa University, Middlesex University, Sussex University and the National Academy of Writers.
She has also taught many unpublished writers who have gone on to have successful careers: James Scudamore, novelist, long listed for the Booker; Jane Rusbridge, author of three novels; Cherise Saywell, novelist, author of two novels; Elizabeth Silver, novelist, to name a few. Steven May, former Arvon director credits her with his decision to become a writer: he has published two novels and been short-listed for the Costa Prize.
Jill was part of a team that developed the Escalator awards for new writers and has been a long time Advisory Fellow to the Royal Literary Fund. In 2006 she received an honorary doctorate from Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge, in recognition of her work.
‘Jill’s intuition on every level is astounding. Her delicately balanced comments have given me the confidence I’d always hoped for’
– Ruby Speechley, mentored by Jill
‘My mentoring experience with Jill Dawson and Gold Dust was fantastic. Jill was honest, positive and extremely supportive and most of all (which surely is what we want from a mentor) has helped me discover the right direction for my novel to go in. I have learnt a huge amount, both about the art of writing and my own writing. It has been a joy to be mentored by her.’ – – Joanna Parry-Gokce
Jill Dawson on GOLD DUST
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.’
– Chris Buckton