Fantasy Writing Mentors

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
After going through a fallow period with reading matter borrowed from my local library, I recently hit pay dirt by finding some of my favourite authors' books just sitting there on the shelf, waiting for me to come along!

Philip Pullman's La Belle Sauvage and the latest story in Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano series The Overnight Kidnapper are like settling down to catch up with old friends. I was also fortunate to find a novelist new to me, Amanda Coplin, whose debut The Orchardist is superbly written—likely to be one of my favourite reads of 2019.

Thus furnished with good reading, I'm time travelling to an alternative Oxford, 21st-century Sicily and the Pacific Northwest in the early 20th-century. It makes me feel sorry for people who don't read.

Laying abed last night, I wondered who'd influenced the authors I was reading and if they'd had a writing mentor. We've previously discussed influences on our writing which can happen with stuff we like or admire the technique of and which makes you think differently, a benign effect that you want to pass on in your own work.

Mentorship is different, for you're seeking a good match of personalities, some reciprocity where the guidance is given appropriately. All the same, you might learn some harsh lessons, so it would be wise to pick someone whose wisdom you trust.

For the purposes of this fantasy, I've chosen mentors who I esteem, but also who I think I'd get on with; there are some authors I like who I'd probably fall out with if I met them—for all sorts of reasons, including morality, drug use and politics.

Also, I've brought some scribes back to life!

Here are my fantasy mentors:

Crime Genre: James Lee Burke or Dennis Lehane

Literature (whatever your definition of this is): Alice Hoffman or Justin Cartwright.

Short Stories: Guy de Maupassant or Michèle Roberts.

Poetry: Mary Oliver or Pablo Neruda.

Song Lyrics: Diane Warren or Mark Lanegan

All of these writers have complete control of their medium, and they haven't forgotten to include enchantment in their words.

Who would you like to lend you a helping hand?

Books are the best mentors, I think. I've had real help here in the past; members generously sharing insights and feedback, and it has been invaluable. Peter helped too...a pop-up sub type- thing we had here back in the day before we called them pop-ups; held in-house. I count that mentoring.

But books are mentors, and victims beta readers are a real boon. Though I've never asked one to read a WIP in entirety. The only person who is ever going to make me do what I can is me. Not for lack of inspiration or admiration of the work of others, or thinking for one second they don't have something new to teach me, but rolling that particular boulder up the hill, that's my job alone.

I do a bit of tutoring in Eng Lang/Lit and the curriculum doesn't half do literature, and children a disservice, telling them this is HOW to understand a thing. As if they could get it 'wrong'. So that they can become afraid of books for no reason. Likewise, there is an aspect of writing mentoring, full stop, that I mistrust as alien to the nature of the writing beast.
Whether we be teacher or student (I think we're always both, it matters not the path), there is experience and wisdom to offer, and always room learn/share more - we learn as much from those we seek to enlighten, simply by being open to a new way to envision the purpose.
Always both. Teachers have to be students, or they're not fit for purpose. No experts. Only experience. The mentor, like a teacher must give the student space. The writers I most admire, their books are my mentors. Dorothy Dunnett comes to mind, but that's a talent so stratospheric, and visionary, I don't see how she could mentor, except through her writing itself. 'A blessing on the printer's art, books are mentors of the heart.'
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Last night I read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K Jemisin. I would love to talk to her about those ideas. That was one of the most interesting and unique fantasy worlds I've ever visited. But if I could hand pick a writing mentor it would be Alice Mattison, author of The Kite and the String. I ever have a dream of one day doing the MFA program at Bennington College just on the off chance I might get her as my tutor.
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