It isn’t easy being a beginner writer trying to turn long-held dreams of a literary career into reality. You step into the world of writing to find that the literary landscape is vast, the goal you hold for yourself is sitting far off on the horizon, and a confusing tangle of paths is spread out across the plain that stretches between you and your destination. How do you know which paths will lead to the fulfilment of your aspirations? Where do you turn if you need help with plotting out your route or getting equipped for the journey?
I was in this position back in 2018 when I applied for a place on the Middle Way Mentoring Project (MWMP), a two-year professional development scheme which aimed to advance the craft and careers of Midlands-based Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic writers. As I wrote in my application for the scheme, I had potential but wasn’t always executing my ideas very well because (a) aspects of my craft were underdeveloped and (b) I lacked confidence in my voice. Further, as someone that had spent decades secret-scribbling and shelving writing dreams because the whole being-a-writer business felt too daunting, I was also uncertain about how to navigate the complex world of publishing. My hope, therefore, was that the MWMP, with its combination of mentoring and masterclasses, would help me to ‘break through to my best writing’ and give my work a chance to succeed when it came to submitting it for publication.
The programme, I am pleased to say, did not disappoint. Beginning with the mentoring, each mentee was allocated an experienced writer to mentor them one-to-one during the first year of the programme. My mentor was Kerry Young, author of Pao, Gloria, and Show Me A Mountain. How we utilised our mentoring sessions was left up to us, and I used mine to get targeted support with my work-in-progress, a novel (now) titled When You’re Smiling. For the first session, Kerry put lots of thought and time into understanding my vision for my novel, and for myself as a writer. We then spent each subsequent session focussing on different elements of my writing, which meant that there was continuous improvement in my craft and progress towards my goals across the six sessions. The quality of my story-telling and the authenticity of my writing improved noticeably as a result of Kerry’s input, and I really couldn’t have wished for a better mentor.
Moving onto the masterclasses, these took place across the two-year span of the scheme. Generally speaking, although there was some crossover, the first year of masterclasses were delivered by the mentors and focused on different aspects of craft and form, whereas the second year’s masterclasses were delivered by relevant industry experts and expanded outwards to cover a wider range of need-to-know subjects for early-career writers (such as the route to publishing, how to apply for funding, and how to edit your work). This included masterclasses from Farhana Shaikh, the programme leader, who also shared generously from her considerable experience as a writer, publisher, and arts leader in all of the sessions. The range of the masterclasses, especially those from the mentors, helped us to explore and experiment with many different forms of and approaches to writing, which I found greatly enriched my craft, especially when I applied the learning from the sessions to my work-in-progress.
Finally, the mentees themselves proved a treasure trove of knowledge and support. Each of us brought to the table different writing styles, reading interests, and life experiences, and thanks to their willingness to share these I felt my development was further enriched. Also, together with the programme leader, the mentees created a positive, accommodating, and nurturing space in which it felt safe to be vulnerable and take creative risks, without which true creative growth might not have been achievable. It was always a joy in spend time with my fellow mentees when we gathered for the masterclasses, and I was forever in awe of their talent, so my highlights of the scheme had to be seeing our writing published side-by-side in the MWMP anthology In The Middle and sharing a (virtual) stage with them at the two showcase events we held at the end of the programme.
All these different aspects of the programme came together to give us a holistic development experience, and by the time I finished the programme, the quality of my work, my belief in my writing voice, and the strength of my identity as a writer had all soared to a whole new level. I have now reached the final editing stages with my novel and, thanks to the programme, I had the confidence to submit my writing to further schemes, which resulted in me reaching the final stage for the DHA Open Week and getting early interest in my novel from an agent. I am now certain that, equipped with all that MWMP has taught me, I will be able to navigate the tangled paths of the literary landscape to reach the horizon and my goal of a long-term writer career.
Nazira Vania is a Leicester-based writer. She has recently finished writing her first novel, When You’re Smiling, a story of family, faith, and football. Her work can be found in the Leicester Writes Short Story Prize anthology 2018 and in the anthology for the Middle Way Mentoring Project, In The Middle.