“You are in,” said Farhana over the phone one afternoon, informing me about my Middle Way application. I was waiting at the school gates when the call came in and my eyes filled up. I had been knocking on many doors for acceptances and finally here was one, swinging wide open.
The email that followed later explained how it would work. The Middle Way Mentoring was a two-year programme where the mentees would attend masterclasses each month alongside one-to-one tutorials. Since I had chosen short stories as my specialism, the programme had matched me with Rebecca Burns, an immensely successful short story writer and novelist. Having her as my mentor felt like a huge privilege since I had first seen her as one of the short story judges at the Leicesterwrites festival.
“So, what do you expect from these sessions?” she asked at our meet-and greet-session. It threw me off a bit. I was gearing up for passive instruction and here she was inviting me to jump into the driving seat. It was the beginning of a nurturing relationship that continues to this day.
If my one-to-one mentoring was cosy, the first masterclass led by Kerry Young came as a cold splash on that chilly Saturday afternoon in March. Her thought- provoking questions were like barbed wires, forcing us to re-examine our writing in an intensive three-hour class. That evening, I came back exhausted but delighted at the level of stimulation generated by the discussion. On the slack chat we all conceded that this had set the bar high for the rest of the classes.
The subsequent sessions were all illuminating in their own way. They gave us a 360-degree view of the writing world in its glory: how the publishing industry worked, the power of social media and finding our place in the literary landscape.
I found the programme’s digital session particularly invaluable as it unveiled the power of social media to access the book community network. It came as a godsend during the Pandemic when social interaction was mostly online giving me access to lots of virtual literary events and discussions with fellow writers.
The 2019 flash fiction festival was one of the top events of the programme, almost like stepping into a whole new world. It was a brilliantly organised event where we were introduced to the language of “Flash” in a genial atmosphere filled with friendly faces. I have been hooked to the form since.
If the field trips gave us exposure, the classroom was like a second home. As a cohort, we hit off right from the start. Supporting each other, the banter during the masterclasses acted as a balm to soothe the various crises in our personal lives. Often, due to childcare issues my kids came with me while I attended the masterclasses. I was worried about what the others may say, only to find them spoiling my two with biscuits from the snack table!
The programme has been instrumental in giving me the time and space to reclaim my identity as a writer. I learnt not to feel guilty about leaving my children when I was writing and attending sessions. Most importantly, it taught me to take pride in my work.
Publication success is fickle and a writer’s life is solitary, writers need a strong support network to keep them sane. Middleway mentoring programme has given me the resilience and the camaraderie to sustain this arduous but satisfying life of a writer. I am grateful to have discovered my path alongside a supportive peer group, who made this journey with me.
Compared to my 2018 clueless self at the start of the programme cut to a 2020 “me” with a plan in place, I can say with immense pride that this has been a great experience. But, as a much-loved mentor rightly said at the Middleway mentoring showcase, Platform 2021, “The Journey has just begun”.
Asha Krishna lives in Leicestershire and writes short stories and flash. She discovered home-schooling during lockdown but gave up as soon as her kids went back to school. She has been published in the Leicester Writes anthology, Flash Fiction Festival anthology and 100 words of solitude. She enjoys running and travelling.