Building on the success of last year’s inaugural WriteNow campaign, Penguin Random House has invited eleven unpublished writers from a range of under-represented communities to join its second year-long mentoring programme.
Over the next 12 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. All eleven mentees hail from a range of different communities under-represented on the UK’s bookshelves, whose voices, stories and perspectives need to be better heard. Chosen on the exceptional quality of their writing, their books span a fantastic and diverse range of genres, from literary fiction to children’s picture books, and non-fiction memoir to short stories.
Now in its second year, WriteNow is already achieving real change. Recently two writers from the inaugural mentoring programme were offered publishing contracts just six months into their mentorship: Charlene Allcott has secured a publishing deal with Transworld for her first two novels, whilst Geraldine Quigley’s first novel, Music Love Drugs War has also been bought by Penguin General.
Tom Weldon, CEO of Penguin Random House UK, said: “Our aspiration with WriteNow is to publish the stories which aren’t often told, but which need to be. Both the level of talent and the richness of ideas from our mentee writers this year are remarkable; really underlining the importance of a programme like WriteNow in seeking out and bringing these voices to the fore.”
WriteNow is a nationwide campaign launched by Penguin Random House UK to ensure the books and authors we publish better reflect the society we live in, including writers from BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) or LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer) communities, writers who have a disability, or come from a socio-economically marginalised background. Established in 2016, to date the programme has welcomed 300 writers to six regional events across the UK, from Newcastle to Bristol, and received nearly 5,000 applications from writers around the country.
Beth Lincoln is 25 years old and lives in Durham. She is writing children’s fiction.
Beth is a bisexual woman with an anxiety disorder and solid baking skills. She’s into magical realism, cryptozoology, queer activism, and horror films.
Beth’s novel, A Plural of Swifts, is a children’s novel aimed at 9 to 12 year olds. Exploring the story of the enigmatic Swift family, whose children are named and defined by a single word picked from the dictionary, it incorporates elements of magical realism, murder mystery and family drama.
“Reading the WriteNow application form, it felt like someone at a table in a crowded café was beckoning me to come sit with them. To me, the strength of the LGBTQIA+ community is in solidarity, celebrating difference and the authentic self, which is what WriteNow is all about.”
Burhana Islam is 25 years old and lives in Newcastle. She is writing adult fiction with YA crossover potential.
Burhana is a Muslim English teacher working in a predominantly white-working class area of Newcastle, faced with battling misconceptions associated with Islam. She wants to positively influence a generation of children and help them develop a sense of empathy they can apply to their wider world experience. Titled Sticks and Stones, Burhana’s book follows Hassan, a young Syrian refugee fleeing the terror of warfare.
“After studying English Literature at university, focusing specifically on children’s narratives and poetry, my love for stories is something that my students share. I applied to WriteNow because I believe that the characters they ought to be fighting for are the very ones they don’t initially identify with.”
Kirsty Capes is 24 years old and lives in South West London. She is writing young adult fiction.
Kirsty is a care leaver. Her book is an account of growing up in care, and the many ways in which kids in care can feel inadequate, insufficient or simply ‘other’. The Hatchling is a working-class suburban novel following two young girls as they come of age with all the odds stacked against them.
“Foster kids are underrepresented in all walks of life, including literature, and when they are present they are damaged or antagonistic. I would hope that, with the help of WriteNow, my novel will go some small way towards changing that narrative.”
Lemara Lindsay-Prince is 29 years old and lives in London. She is writing a fictional short story collection.
Lemara is a self-proclaimed proud Londoner, who interweaves her experiences of growing up in West London throughout her stories; building on themes of blackness, queerness and her West Indian heritage to paint the way she has always seen London. Lemara's work, currently titled Callus, is a short story collection about a family that unravels after the grandmother - the matriarch of the family - passes away, and they can't find her will.
“Whenever I start scribbling down notes or ideas, I’m always thinking about its larger potential and say to myself is this the beginning of my book - the one I’m too nervous to start and make excuses not to write. The term writer is one that I’m starting to embrace and feel confident in defining as part of who I am and what I do.”
Lorraine Brown lives in London. She is writing commercial women’s fiction.
Lorraine works part-time as a school secretary and is also training to be a psychotherapist. Growing up in Potters Bar, with a Jamaican father and Welsh mother, she was the only mixed-race pupil at her primary school. Lorraine’s book The Paris Train is aimed at the commercial women's market and is the story of Hannah and Simon, a seemingly happily married couple in their thirties whose lives are turned upside down after becoming separated on a night train and ending up in different European cities.
“This is such a wonderful opportunity for me to take my writing to the next level and to get my manuscript into the best possible shape. I’m committed to developing a successful career as a writer, so getting advice from publishing professionals is just a dream.”
Mohsin Zaidi is 32 years old and lives in London. He is writing a non-fiction memoir.
Mohsin is a Pakistani, Muslim gay man whose experiences, including coming out to his religious parents, have confronted him with what it truly means to be ‘under-represented’. Mohsin’s memoir, My Own Jihad, recollects the challenges of poverty, identity and isolation he experienced as a child and university student;
“It is important not only that under-represented communities see authors like them but that they read stories like their own. Our society consists of worlds living side-by-side but near invisible to each other. I intend to explore the divides that exist between us all framed within my own journey.”
Nevin Holness is 22 years old and lives in North London. She is writing young adult fantasy fiction.
Nevin applied for WriteNow because she wants to shape a narrative about someone with the same experiences as her: black, British and overcoming their disadvantages. Her book is a fantasy coming of age story about carving your own path, learning to forgive yourself, and becoming your own hero when everybody around you is determined to make you the villain.
“I think it’s vital that black boys and girls read stories about themselves where their blackness isn’t an affliction, where otherness is normalised, and that while things like sexuality, religion and race are central to the character, it isn’t necessarily the crux of the story. My experience as black woman in this country is complicated and multifaceted, so I intend for the stories I write to be, too."
Polly Atkin is 37 years old and lives in the Lake District. She is writing a non-fiction memoir.
Polly was recently diagnosed with Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) and Genetic Haemochromatosis (GH). Polly’s literary memoir, Being Mutant is a personal and cultural history of both disorders and the first memoir to deal with these widely misunderstood conditions. Reflecting on living with chronic illness, Polly also mediates on her home in the Lake District and the impact of a rural lifestyle on how she manages her illness.
“I'm a published poet, but writing non-fiction is very different, and having support and guidance through the process would be phenomenally helpful. I think WriteNow will provide the perfect environment for this.”
Rashmi Sirdeshpande is 33 years old and lives in Buckinghamshire. She is writing a children’s picture book.
Rashmi is a mother to two children under three and a lawyer turned writer with a passion for languages, yoga and social impact. A British Indian whose family in India are from a traditional temple background, she has a foot in two worlds and feels this contributes greatly to her writing. Rashmi’s picture book, Never EVER Give a T-Rex a Book, is a bonkers story about the power of books and what might just happen if a T-Rex learnt how to read.
“WriteNow is a fantastic mentoring opportunity for diverse writers who are unfortunately still poorly represented in children's books. Children need to be able to see themselves and the people around them in the books they read and not just in culture-driven or issues-based narratives. It's not about box-ticking "diversity". It's about normalising representation.”
roo is an LGBTQ+ writer from Yorkshire, now living in Birmingham. roo is writing commercial fiction.
Their novel, Sarah's Sister, is a first-person story told by the sibling of a child who was stolen from a swimming pool in the early '90s. Moving between tragedy and comedy, it explores themes of losing and finding family, life outside the gender binary, and how to make the best of being a flawed human in an uncertain world.
“WriteNow is such a brilliant, supportive thing. Writing is hard work, and takes time, and involves emotional risk. It means a lot to have someone in your corner, reassuring you that your story is worth telling. I've had such useful feedback so far - my book feels real now, and I want to make it the best it can be.”
Shannon Eden is 23 years old and lives in Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire . She is writing literary historical fiction.
Shannon identifies as queer, and likes to include LGBT+ characters in her writing, who she sees as still underrepresented in all storytelling mediums. Jellyfish in the Sky tells the story of a small coastal town in Texas, Costello, in the year 1942. It follows the story of two friends, Arturo and Noah, who rekindle their friendship, and eventually fall in love, after a devastating hurricane hits the town.
“WriteNow is a great opportunity to get me started on the career path I want to follow. It will be great to have a mentor to help me improve as a writer and give a fresh perspective on my work."
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