Nine new writers and one illustrator joining third Penguin WriteNow mentoring programme

WriteNow aims to find, mentor and publish talented new writers from communities under-represented on the nation's bookshelves.

The 2018 WriteNow mentees

Since WriteNow launched in 2016, over thirty mentees have joined the mentoring programme, with 450 writers and illustrators receiving direct one-on-one editorial or design feedback and taking part in one of the nine regional workshops held around the country. 

Six writers discovered through WriteNow have already been offered publishing deals with Penguin Random House imprints. The first book from a WriteNow author was published earlier this year (The Reinvention of Martha Ross by Charlene Allcott). Upcoming publications from WriteNow mentees include:

Several other writers who have either taken part in the mentoring programme, or been shortlisted, have also been acquired by other publishers.

From deeply personal memoirs to fantastical stories featuring mermaids and monsters, this year’s mentees’ works span non-fiction, literary and commercial fiction, children’s and picture books. These include a mysterious literary tale set on a remote island in the North Atlantic; a story centred on the escapades of a group of young British Asian women at a cooking school; a part-memoir, part self-help guide for people who prefer Twitter to therapy; a picture book adventure featuring a mischievous ghost on a mission; and a darkly comic memoir of one writer’s journey through love, loss and the rich tapestry of London life. 

Over the next twelve months each writer will work closely with a Penguin Random House editor with expertise in their genre in order to develop their manuscript and get it ready for publication.

This year’s WriteNow mentee cohort also includes our first ever illustrator, with the programme casting its net more widely and opening to children’s picture book illustrators for the first time. The illustrator will be matched with a designer who will support them in building up their portfolio of picture book artwork.

Siena Parker, Head of Creative Responsibility said:
'When we launched WriteNow back in 2016 we didn’t really know what to expect. We never imagined that three years on we would have six books in the pipeline from writers discovered through the scheme. It’s been a total pleasure and privilege to work with so many exceptionally talented writers, and I can’t wait to welcome ten new faces to our WriteNow family.'

Our 2018 WriteNow mentees are:

Square photo of Alex Bertulis Fernandes

Alex Bertulis-Fernandes is 24 years old and lives in North West London. She is writing a non-fiction memoir.

Alex is half Indian, quarter English and quarter German. She works for BBC Creative, coming up with different ways to advertise BBC shows. She also creates art, including a piece that went viral after her tutor suggested she ‘dial down the feminism’. She is currently managing life with anxiety and depression, with varying degrees of success.

Currently between the titles Am I A Useless Shit? and The Worst Time of My Life (So Far), Alex’s book is about what it’s like to be a mixed-race woman in your twenties navigating various mental health issues. It’s part memoir, part self-help guide for people who prefer Twitter to therapy.

'When I saw WriteNow advertised I hadn’t written in over a year, convinced that nobody would ever want to read my work. The WriteNow application process gave me the impetus to start writing again. With each round getting published has seemed less like an outlandish dream, and more like an achievable reality.'

Annie Kirby, a WriteNow mentee

Annie Kirby is 47 years old and lives in Portsmouth. She is writing literary fiction.

Annie is originally from Bournemouth in Dorset. She works part-time at the University of Portsmouth, researching cybercrime awareness. Her favourite things to do are listening to audiobooks while going for long runs beside the sea and hanging out with her dogs and rescue cats. Last year Annie curated a literature project about mental health, the artist Edward King and Portsmouth wartime history. She also blogs about childlessness.

The Hollow Sea is about a woman struggling to come to terms with her childlessness on a remote but spectacular island chain in the North Atlantic. It’s also about mental health, whales, seals, the sea and fairy tales, with a smidgen of supernatural mystery.

'I live with chronic depression and anxiety, a personality disorder and psychogenic involuntary vocalisations and movements. There’s a huge stigma attached to these labels, and I work hard to appear ‘normal’ to avoid being discriminated against. Applying for the WriteNow programme was a huge step in accepting that my conditions are not only part of me, but also part of who I am as a writer and can enrich the stories I tell instead of being something shameful that needs to be hidden away.'

Square photo of Donna McLean

Donna McLean is 46 years old and lives in Folkestone, Kent. She is writing a non-fiction memoir.

Donna is a proud mum of twins, a mindfulness teacher, mental health trainer and activist. She is Scottish but now lives by the sea where she loves walking her two dogs.

Small Town Girl is a darkly comic memoir of the writer’s journey through love, loss and the rich tapestry of London life. Her ordinary world collides with the extraordinary forces of the British state and an accidental activist is born.

'I’m a working class woman, and I have lots of responsibilities and limited income. People like me don’t always have the resources externally and internally to push forward with writing. Programmes like WriteNow nurture the quiet but persistent little voice inside that says “I can do this” and connects you with like-minded, supportive people.'

Emmett de Monteray

Emmett de Monterey is 41 years old and lives in London. He is writing a non-fiction memoir.

Emmett has Cerebral Palsy and is gay. Originally he trained in theatre design at Goldsmiths, but switched careers six years ago. He previously worked as a psychotherapist in private practice as well as in the prison service.


Titled A Special Education, Emmett’s memoir is about growing up gay and disabled in London between 1990-2005. It is about the journey to find an identity between these two labels, in a society that often prefers the disabled to be invisible. Emmett also writes about his experiences with the media as the subject of two BBC documentaries when he was 11.

'I started to write in order to express some of the loneliness and alienation that I felt, and from that grew a determination to find a place for myself. Sadly, asserting your right to exist as a disabled gay man is still seen as a radical stance, but the experience has also given me a perspective on more universal questions.'

Gareth Peter-Dicks

Gareth Peter Dicks is 37 years old and lives in Nottingham. He is writing children’s picture books.

Gareth is a proud gay man and stay at home dad, living with his partner, two huskies and their two adopted children. He is originally from a small village in Northamptonshire, where he once ran his own theatre school. Gareth has written musicals, produced a couple of albums of his music, and had a song played on BBC Radio Two.

Gareth is developing several picture book stories, mostly in rhyme with a quirky edge and including characters from monsters to modern pirates to cake bakers. One mischievous tale, The Ghost Upon The Hill, is about a ghost boy who does not want to share his house and plots to scare a new family into leaving.

'I want to be part of the reason children love books and stories and WriteNow seemed like an amazing opportunity to help me share mine with the world. My lifestyle and experiences are represented in my work and I felt I could use these to create clever and thought-provoking stories.'

Laura Kay

Laura Kay is 29 years old and lives in London. She is writing upmarket women’s fiction.

Laura lived in Sheffield for 6 years, where her book is set. She likes to run, but exceptionally slowly and this year she completed the London marathon at a pace which can only be described as ‘leisurely’. Laura works for the Guardian’s community team and lives with her wife and their two cat lodgers.

Malcolm is about a woman called Ally who, after being dumped, moves back up north to live with her parents with her ex-girlfriend's cat Malcolm in tow. She is reintroduced to a childhood friend in similar circumstances and together they elaborately plot to win back their exes. The book follows Ally’s struggles to rebuild her life while training for the brutal Sheffield half marathon.

'Growing up and throughout my twenties I have always found LGBTQ characters in books to be few and far between and those which exist tend to be sidekicks, plot devices and sadly in the case of lesbians, inexplicably dead or dying. I think WriteNow is fantastic opportunity to get a foot in the door of a world which often appears to be completely closed especially when trying to develop and create a queer character's story.'

Lauren Aitchison

Lauren Aitchison is 29 years old and lives in Garmouth, Scotland. She is writing a non-fiction memoir.

Lauren worked in retail and customer service for 15 years before getting a job as a communications assistant this year. She lives with her boyfriend, and their dog and two cats.

Kiss with a Fist is a story of surviving love when it's trying to kill you and the heartbreaking truth that domestic abuse doesn't always manifest itself in the way you think it might. Lauren’s own story of survival is punctuated with facts, figures and psychology to reach out to other victims, both past and present, and to those who don’t understand why victims stay.

'I've created something we need. An account of domestic violence that isn't abuse porn or ending in a gruesome, gratuitous murder, but an everyday account of the life of a woman who goes home to an abuser every day. And how I got out.'

Lisette Auton
Credit: Paperboat Photography

Lisette Auton is 37 years old and lives in Darlington, North-East England. She is writing children’s fiction.

Lisette works two days a week in a family jewellers and the rest of the time as a creative practitioner, specialising in working with underrepresented groups. Lisette is also a spoken-word performer and theatre-maker. She has a rescue dog named Harper Lee.

The Wrecklings is a middle grade adventure novel about the search for family and where you belong, with a strong female disabled protagonist at its core. In a lighthouse run by a Captain who keeps a kitten in his beard, Alpha and her friends work with mermaids to steal from ships. When a dangerous stranger arrives Alpha must choose between betraying her friends and braving the world outside.

'I didn't think I could be a writer because as a disabled person I didn't see myself in the books I wanted to read. If we want to let children know that their lives are valid and valuable and that they can be writers, then their lives must be reflected on bookshelves.'

Priya O'Shea

Priya O’Shea is 33 years old and lives in Leicester. She is writing commercial women’s fiction.

Priya is a mother of two young boys who mostly do what she asks them not to. She recently left her job after a decade working in a global technology company. When she’s not writing she’ll be baking, reading, playing transformers or pretending to be a dinosaur.

The Good Indian Girl's Cooking School is about a group of young British Asian women (who are not particularly interested in cooking) and their adventures at a cooking school. What starts off as lessons in making traditional curries to impress any potential suitor, quickly turns into something much more. The women face difficult decisions about what is expected of them and what they want for themselves.

'There is something fascinating about the impact of growing up with two distinctly different cultures but as an avid reader I struggled to find experiences and characters that I could truly relate to. I applied to WriteNow as it offered a chance to share stories of a uniquely complex generation of British Asians and to play my part in bringing more female Asian characters into mainstream women’s fiction.'

Sally Anderson

Sally Anderson is 39 years old and lives in Chesterfield. She is an illustrator.

Sally’s day job is being a full time Mama of four and most of her time is focused on her family. Her love of drawing is something she squeezes in during the evenings.

Sally illustration style is lively, loose and expressive. She likes to use a lot of colour and sometimes integrates a little collage. Her work is usually pen and ink with watercolour. Sally likes to be playful in her illustrations.

'Picture books have always been my inspiration and I feel I have a strong purpose to illustrate for children such as mine - the ginger mixed race kid is seriously underrepresented - and I am just the woman to put these images onto the page.'

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