Penguin Random House invites 12 writers from under-represented communities onto year-long mentoring programme

WriteNow 2017 mentees

Twelve exceptional writers from across the country are joining Penguin Random House UK’s year-long mentoring programme, WriteNow, which aims to find, mentor and publish new writers from communities currently under-represented on the UK’s bookshelves. 

This includes writers from a socio-economically marginalised background, LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer) or BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) communities, as well as writers with a disability.

Each of the twelve writers is being paired with a mentoring editor from Penguin Random House with experience and expertise in their genre.

Together, the writers and editors will develop the manuscripts to make them the best they can be and ready for publication. 

Over 2,000 writers applied for WriteNow last year, with 150 invited to attend regional events in London, Birmingham and Manchester where they heard from editors, literary agents and authors including Jonathan Coe and Malorie Blackman. The twelve writers announced today were selected from that group based on the quality of their writing.

Penguin Random House cares passionately about finding new and under-represented literary voices. The company developed WriteNow in partnership with writer development charities Spread the Word (London), Writing West Midlands (Birmingham) and Commonword (Manchester) to help make books and publishing more inclusive.

Tom Weldon, CEO, Penguin Random House UK, said: “Books play a unique role in society. They spark conversations and bring people together through new ideas and perspectives." 

“Our role is to seek out voices that speak to all of society and make sure those books and stories are for everyone. That’s why programmes like WriteNow are so important.

“My proudest moment last year was attending WriteNow in Birmingham and I am really excited that we have the opportunity to work with these talented writers over the next year.”

Mainga Bhima, Editor and WriteNow Mentor, Penguin Random House UK, added: “We’re thrilled to be able to work with this group of exceptional writers, each with a distinct voice and a brilliant story to tell. The industry and our audiences need stories that reflect the multitude of experiences within our communities."

“Our job over the next year is to help refine their manuscripts, supporting each of the writers as they develop their stories and work to position their books in the market.”

Ruth Harrison, Director, Spread the Word, commented:

“It has been amazing to work with Penguin Random House on WriteNow, helping to discover talented writers. More than ever, we need to be reading stories that reflect the diversity of voices and communities from across the UK."

“Spread the Word is looking forward to seeing how these mentee writers and their books develop and progress, and to continuing to support each of the writers who has come through the programme.”

Find out more about WriteNow and our commitment to making publishing inclusive here.

#WriteNowLive London
#WriteNowLive London
Emma-Jane Smith Barton
Mainga Bhima, Editor and WriteNow Mentor
Mainga Bhima, Editor and WriteNow Mentor

Emma-Jane Smith Barton

  • Emma is 35 and a second-generation British Pakistani woman living in South Wales, where she grew up. She is a secondary school English teacher, currently at home with her first child and focusing on her writing. She says her work is inspired by Meera Syal and Bali Rai in particular, commenting “their work resonated with me and showed me that I could write characters like myself, and those around me”.

  • Her book Black Moon is a young adult novel, telling the story of a fifteen-year-old British-Asian, Neena, who is tormented by grief and guilt after her brother’s death. Black Moon explores the themes of identity, belonging and the impact of mental illness on relationships.

“I’ve been hugely inspired and encouraged by the WriteNow process so far. It’s been so exciting to be a part of and an extremely validating experience for me as a writer. The feedback I received during my one-to-one at the insight day resonated so deeply that – combined with the editor’s encouragement – it gave me clear direction and courage to complete the draft of my YA novel.

“Programmes like WriteNow are vital to find new voices and stories that aren’t being told or heard. For writers, such programmes provide encouragement, validation, guidance, and focus. They nurture talent and help writers find and build their voice. For literature and readers, these programmes help to fill gaps to provide a fuller representation of the society we live in today. I’m so excited to be a part of this programme!”

Benjamin G. Wilson

Benjamin G. Wilson

  • Benjamin is an LGBTQ writer and performer, currently finishing a degree in Creative Writing at Falmouth. He has previously worked as an air steward, knitting teacher and nature ranger. 

  • His book Dispatch from the City of Orgies is a literary novel, combining fact and fiction. The book weaves together a number of narrative strands including the formation, maintenance and dissolution of a polyamorous relationship between addicts, the reality of sexual violence for many queer men in London including details of ‘Grindr killer’ Stephen Port murders.

 “I want this novel to be published! I feel a real responsibility to my community to tell this story.

“A lot of my writing life has, till this point, felt incredibly risky. As a crazy person with no qualifications, austerity has not made being an artist easy.  Choosing to write has often meant turning down work which has meant, in effect, living unsure if I could keep my flat or feed myself…but this novel in particular has involved a lot of emotional risk. Being told that the work was good, and that it could reach people, has meant the world.”

Nazneen Ahmed

Nazneen Ahmed

  • Nazneen is a British Bangladeshi Muslim, mother of a 2-year old boy, co-carer and a historian of migration & religion at University College London.

  • Her book The Strange Children of Spittlefields is a fantasy fiction novel for young adults set in the 19th century between London, Gujarat and East Bengal.

“Just having my story noticed by Penguin Random House has given me the self-belief to think of myself as a writer, and focus on getting my book finished and out there, neither of which seemed possible before. I have also met some inspirational writers who have become very close friends. These friendships have formed the basis of a support network, which is really valuable, as the writing process can be very solitary.

“We need more diverse books that can speak to the diverse society that is Britain today (and Britain of the past!) But there are so many barriers to being published as a “minority”, not least that the publishing industry itself is still so predominantly white, straight and middle-class. Schemes like WriteNow reach out to those who wouldn’t otherwise be heard by the industry because they don’t have the right kind of tools, knowledge or contacts, and that’s crucial to getting more diverse books out there for us all to read.”

(Photo credit: Laura Cuch)

Charlene Allcott

Charlene Allcott

  • Charlene was born and raised in London and now lives in Brighton. She works part-time as a carer for young people in a residential care home, as well as caring for her 3-year-old son who has autism.

  • Charlene is writing women’s fiction. Her book The Reinvention of Martha Ross is about central character Martha losing her husband and her home in one weekend. Determined not to end up a single mum in a dead end job, she and her friends create a definitive list of what she requires in her perfect man.

“Programmes like this are important because I didn't know it was important to me until I found it. I had no idea of the size and the strength of the barriers that I had allowed society to create for me.”

Nelson Abbey

Nelson Abbey

  • Nelson is 36 and was born in London to Nigerian parents. He is a media executive and journalist, and once upon a time was a city banker.

  • His satirical non-fiction book Think Like A White Man is a self-help gospel for black people trying to navigate the corporate world.

“I am inspired by James Baldwin, Sister Souljah, George Orwell, Chinua Achebe and Richard Littlejohn. And I am inspired by them all for the exact same reason: they all have something meaningful, dangerous (to some) and important to say. And they have an unconventional and immensely enjoyable way of saying it.

“WriteNow has helped me grow in confidence to the point that I am confidently able to call myself a writer. From the mentoring programme I want to learn how to get my book into shape. And on the shelf on both sides of the Atlantic.”

Geraldine Quigley

Geraldine Quigley

  • Geraldine has lived in Derry, Northern Ireland, her whole life and works for Axa Insurance in a call centre.

  • She is writing historical fiction. Set against a background of friendship, music, recreational drug taking and strong family bonds, Music Love Drugs War tells the story of a group of friends in Derry during the Hunger Strike in 1981.  

“There is room for everyone's story, and all genres, but I want to see stories that reflect real life, real ordinary people and the challenges they face.

“WriteNow told me that I am a writer and that my work is important. They made themselves completely accessible, with no pressure financially and for me that was huge. That access has shown us that publishers and publishing can and should be for everyone.”

Elizabeth-Jane Burnett

Elizabeth-Jane Burnett

  • Originally from Devon, Elizabeth-Jane is currently a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing in Birmingham. She is also a poet and critic as well as creative non-fiction writer. In her spare time she is a keen wild swimmer and environmentalist.

  • Her book A Dictionary of the Soil is both a memoir and nature writing book, weaving details of the Devon landscape where Elizabeth-Jane grew up alongside a consideration of human and soil health.

“Without these programmes, the status quo, in terms of the demographics of who and what gets published, is unlikely to change. We need to hear other voices to contribute to cultural change, and to help prevent writing from being an elitist luxury.”

Rebecca Pizzey

Rebecca Pizzey

  • Rebecca is 24 and was born in Suffolk, and currently lives in London working for a small independent drama & music magazine publishing company.

  • Her crime fiction book The Secrets of My Aristophanes is about loss and how we deal with its hold over us.

“There needs to be a cacophony of voices from all walks of life, and the contents of bookshops need to represent the wonderfully diverse population of our planet.

“I love learning things when I read, so, while they’re great in their own respects, I don’t want to read too many more books about privileged, hungover young men or a middle class romance in the Cotswolds. I want to read about countries I have never visited and religions I hardly know. I want to be taken by the hand to experiences I have never had.”

Emma Morgan

Emma Morgan

  • Emma is 46 and originally from Guernsey but now lives in Liverpool with her partner.

  • This is Clotilde, this is Grace is an ‘anti-romance novel’ about three women in their thirties living in Leeds, one gay, one straight, one bisexual, and how two of them fall in love with the same girl.   

“[Programme likes WriteNow are important because] they give opportunities to people who might, for whatever reason, lack confidence and feel that getting published is an impossible dream.”

Manjeet Mann

Manjeet Mann

  • Manjeet is 26 and originally from Walsall in the Midlands. She is an actress and playwright.

  • Her book Flying Solo is a verse novel for young adults, telling the story of 15-year old Indian girl Amber who has a passion for running.

“I think there are a lot of writers out there that like me are scribbling away at a manuscript and hitting a brick wall. If it were not for the mentoring programme I would not have applied.

“The mentoring programme will give writers like me the confidence to hand over their work knowing it doesn’t have to be finished and perfect.”

Katie Hale

Katie Hale

  • Katie is 26 and lives in Cumbria, just two doors down from the house she grew up in. She is a published poet and runs freelance poetry workshops in schools.

  • Set against a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland, My Name Is Monster is a literary novella about what it means to be a woman in a world where there are no men. Struggling for survival, a woman grapples to assert herself over a feral child, who dreams of creating a new society with herself in charge.

“I think it’s so important to engage with people who feel underrepresented in any area of life, but particularly publishing. In an industry that often feels very London-centric, the regional insight days are a great way of opening up opportunities to people like me, who don’t always feel able to access the same level of opportunity as those in London.”

Christine Bougham

Christine Brougham

  • Christine from Liverpool is 57 and has cerebral palsy. She first gained paid employment at the age of 42, and is now studying for a Masters Degree in Creative Writing.

  • She is writing a memoir about her own life growing up with cerebral palsy, called The Girl With The Woman Behind Her Eyes. She says that “at its heart this book is about not giving up on yourself just because you feel disadvantaged or in some way less able.”

“The Write Now process has greatly boosted my confidence in my ability as a writer and, more importantly, reaffirmed that I have an important story to tell.  It has reignited my passion for my current writing project and made me determined to finish it.”

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