• Jon Cox

Let's Mentor Again, Like We Did Last Summer

So, I’m to be a mentor again for the WriteMentor 2021 Summer Programme – and I couldn’t be more excited. Amid all the darkness of 2020, my involvement with this amazing scheme was a beacon of heart-warming loveliness. I couldn’t pick between two mentees so chose to work with both of them. And what an amazing experience it was. I honestly feel that I got as much from the process as they did. In fact, it was such a success that I’ve developed meaningful friendships with both of them and we regularly help each other out with stories even now. (Yes, they help me now as much as I help them!) One of them was signed by an agent late last year (and I’m sure the other is soon to follow).

I can’t wait to get my teeth stuck into this year’s entries. But why would you want me as a mentor? Here’s a bit about my background, and what I’m looking for.

My experience

I’ve been around the block a bit. I’m well into my 6th decade now, and have done a fair few jobs in that time. I worked in publishing for most of my early career – for a literary agency, as a rights specialist in adult publishing, and then for around a decade for Time Out, largely as an editor of travel and other guide books, with a bit of writing thrown in.

I then retrained as a primary school teacher, and worked in London schools for another decade or so (mainly in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2).

For the past three years I’ve been a freelance teacher/tutor and writer of children’s stories. Although I’ve focussed primarily on picture book texts, I’ve recently completed my first chapter book.

Since January 2020, I’ve been represented by Lucy Irvine at Peters, Fraser and Dunlop. I’ve lived for the last 30-odd years in London.

What am I looking for?

I am very happy to consider writers from anywhere in the world, though my knowledge of UK publishing is definitely better than that of any other market.

What I’m hoping for in a mentee is three-fold.

Firstly, I want to see writing that sings, that fizzes, that zips across the page. I want to work with a writer who LOVES words as well as wants to tell stories. I want to read texts that positively vibrate with life. Rhyme or no rhyme – I don’t mind. I used to write a lot in rhyme, but rarely do now. If rhyme’s your thing, do it. Just be aware that it’s REALLY hard to do well.

Secondly, I am looking for stories that move me emotionally – that doesn’t mean they have to be serious, subject-wise. I love a lyrical story, but, equally, I like nothing more than to be rolling around the floor laughing after reading a text. But I do want stories that pack a punch. The worst feeling after reading a text is ‘so what?’.

Thirdly, I want a mentee who’s keen to learn and responsive to feedback. None of us likes to hear that someone doesn’t get something we’ve put our hearts into. But, there’s not one writer who has ever picked up a pen or keyboard who doesn’t need and benefit from measured, perceptive feedback. Seek it, embrace it, build on it.

Having said all that, don’t forget that this scheme is about potential. If you got 10/10 for each of the three points above, then you really don’t need me or any other mentor. Writing can be a lonely, insecure business. If I’ve learned anything in the last few years, it’s that the bonds between writers are absolutely key to persisting and thriving in this world. I look forward to forging some more this summer.

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I am delighted to say that I will be working as a mentor on the WriteMentor 2020 Summer Programme. I hope to find a budding picture book writer who feels he or she would like help to develop up to thr