I don’t remember how I found out about Penguin’s “Write Now” programme but Tara probably sent it to me. Since she pitched her book on periods and secured a literary agent, it’s made her even more determined that I’ll sell my own book too, bless her. We regularly check in with each other to see how editing is going (it’s just staring at every sentence you wrote just a few months ago asking yourself, “Is this shit?”)
And so, a few months ago, I entered 1000 carefully curated words of my book into a writing competition run by Penguin Random House. It’s a simple open call for manuscripts from people from marginalised backgrounds that they run every year. That qualification “from marginalised backgrounds” made me pause, but I filled in the application form honestly and they accepted it so they obviously agreed I fit the bill.
They received 1700 entries. From those entries, we were whittled down to 150 people and divided into three groups of 50. Each group attends a workshop and mine was in Liverpool. I’ve never been to the city before - I was supposed to go two years ago but got as far as Glasgow before realising I had full-blown flu and had to stay at my pal Lauren’s house vomiting for 48 hours. So Liverpool has always been the one that got away, city-wise. My lovely mum came along with me and spent the day on an open-top bus and exploring local churches while I went to my workshop.
Folks, it was amazing.
Former #WriteNow mentee Geraldine was at my table - her book comes out in May next year - and she was fabulous. She got up and said a few words, all of them amazing, but mostly that we wouldn’t really care if we got through to the next round because we would learn so much today. The possibility of today was more exciting than the day she signed her publishing deal.
There were Q&As from writers, literary agents and editors. We learned how publishing contracts, advances and royalties work. We learned how to write a cover letter and a synopsis (though I felt I had a tiny head start thanks to Laura J Williams).
Most importantly, we had a 20 minute one-on-one with an editor from Penguin. We’d sent an additional 5000 words in advance for them to read and they’d be giving us feedback. My slot was at 2.05pm, as was Shaun’s - he was a northern lad at my table who had made sure to connect with all of us on social media before the big day. “How’s the coldsore?” he asked cheerfully, as he joined me at table seven that morning.
I was sweating before my one-to-one. I had a short list of questions I’d been thinking about for weeks. I was ready to fight for the lines she wanted to cut and justify every one of those 5000 words.
When I sat down with Mikaela, we shook hands and she let out a sigh.
“Well, Lauren. What a privilege it was to read this.”
She had no negative feedback for me. She just wanted to talk about the book and where I was going with the story. We blethered for the whole 20 minutes and she answered my questions. The legal issues around writing a memoir were my biggest concern and after chats with different editors, I left feeling really confident that I know where my book is going.
When my 20 minutes with Mikaela were up, I went through to the room where they were serving tea and coffee and burst into tears. I hadn’t realised how little confidence I still had in my writing until that moment.
So, what’s next?
On the 5th of October, they’ll start whittling us down even further. We’ll receive an email either saying we haven’t been successful, or we’ll be asked for the rest of our manuscript, which has to be submitted by the 22nd of October. In December, Penguin will announce the 10 people they’ll mentor for the next year.
And Geraldine was right. Being picked as one of the 10 to be mentored from 1700 people who entered would be incredible. But they’ve already given me the tools I need. I just have to finish writing the damn thing.