Penguin Random House UK hosts 150 aspiring authors at three regional WriteNow events

WriteNow event
  • 150 writers from under-represented communities
  • 17 authors including Elif Shafak, Francesca Martinez, Bernardine Evaristo, and Alan Johnson
  • 10 literary agents
  • 3 booksellers
  • 3 cities – London, Newcastle & Bristol

This September budding new writers from all over the country joined us in London, Bristol and Newcastle for one of our three free WriteNow events to learn more about how to get their book published, and for 10 exceptional writers – the chance to be mentored by a Penguin Random House editor for a year.

After over 1,700 applications to this year’s WriteNow programme, over 150 writers were invited to one of our three events for a taste of everything they need to know about how to get published. Each event included a variety of different talks and workshops from authors, literary agents and publishing experts – with subjects ranging from de-mystifying the publishing industry to the nitty-gritty of how to write a covering letter to a literary agent.

The day also included the unique opportunity to have a one-to-one session with one of our 30 editors involved in the programme to receive feedback on 5,000 words of their manuscript. 10 exceptional writers from this group will go on to take part in a year-long mentoring scheme, working with Penguin Random House to make their manuscripts the best they can be, with the ultimate ambition of publishing these new writers.

The fantastic line-up of authors speaking at each event included names such as Elif Shafak, Afua Hirsh, Fox Fisher, Alan Johnson, Bernadine Evaristo, Kit de Waal, Francesca Martinez, and Joe Earle; who talked to writers about their own experiences of getting published, their approach to writing and what advice they would give to new writers.

WriteNow event
Alan Johnson, Kit de Waal, Tom Weldon, Nadia Shireen, Susie Day, Bernardine Evaristo and Joe Earle, take part in an author panel at WriteNow Bristol
WriteNow event
All Bristol images credit Nick Wilcox-Brown

Speaking on her own experiences of moving from journalism to writing non-fiction, Afua Hirsh said: 

It’s really important to get away from the idea that there is just one kind of writer from one kind of background. I thought I couldn’t be a writer because I didn’t fit the profile of what I expected a writer should be. But I was wrong – anyone can write, and there are so many ways of being creative.”

Francesca Martinez commented on the importance on believing in yourself as a writer:

My dad always says to me, if you’ve got something to say, you’ll find a way to say it. To me, writing is a form of play, joy and innocence. It is important to cherish that in ourselves and not to let it get bashed out of you.”

Bernardine Evaristo said that two things are important for new writers, community and connections:

It’s very hard to be a writer in total isolation. When working on your book, it’s important to find your support group. You may or may not share your work with them, but it’s good to be in contact with other people. Develop the connections that you need to move your career forwards.”

Charlene Allcott, one of our 2016 WriteNow mentees, spoke particularly eloquently about the positive impact the programme had had on her self-belief and confidence as a writer. She told other writers in the room to grab each opportunity they were given with both hands:

You are here because you have something to say, something that Penguin Random House think people want to hear and no matter how much further you go in the process do not give up that seat.”

One of 50 writers at WriteNow London
One of 50 writers at WriteNow London

WriteNow was launched last year as part of a nationwide campaign to seek out, mentor and publish new and under-represented voices on the UK’s bookshelves, including writers from a socio-economically marginalised background, LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer) or BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) writers, or writers with a disability. Writers attending the three events came from across the UK – from Edinburgh to Plymouth – and all 150 had an incredible diversity of ideas, perspectives and stories to tell. Amongst others, these included:

Burhana, living in Newcastle and writing Young Adult fiction

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.

Abbi, living in South East London and writing poetry and non-fiction biography

Abbi is 24 years old and lives with a genetic bone disease called osteogenesis imperfecta (OI). Abbi uses a wheelchair and experiences chronic pain because of her condition. She learned to use fiction (both reading it and writing it) at an early age as a distraction from physical pain, and now hopes to pursue her ultimate ambition, to write.

Kaja, living in Bristol and writing fantasy fiction

Kaja recalls the joy she felt when she found her first LGBT+ book in a charity shop at the age of 15: “As a closet lesbian also exploring my gender identity, it was the first book I could relate to, which made me feel normal and less alone”. Now Kaja hopes to provide that “feeling of belonging” to others in the LGBT+ community and include LGBT+ characters in other genres. She loves fantasy books, and wants to bring a variety of LGBT+ characters into a genre in which they are not yet widely represented.

Alex, living in Newcastle and writing science fiction

Alex is from a working class family in Tamworth and works in a zero-hour minimum-wage service industry job. Whilst his own background influences the perspective from which he writes fiction, he also feels excluded from the informal networks that allow people to access the publishing industry.

Simi, living in London and writing commercial fiction

Simi is a 20-year-old Creative Writing student studying at Brunel University London. She has been in love with stories and storytelling for as long as she can remember. Born in Nigeria but raised in the UK, Simi wants to be an unapologetic black female voice in writing that makes people listen, and challenges stereotypes.

98% of attending writers said that participating had made them feel more confident and positive about their future as a writer:

 “I really felt that we were being spoken to as writers not just as participants. Even if I don't get through I've finally got the confidence to pursue my writing and the discipline to see it through.” (London)

I feel empowered to continue to rewriting the novel I submitted but also to continue sharing my own authentic experiences and worldview. I feel like so many doors are open to me in the literary world where I wouldn't see them before.” (Bristol)

I feel a booster shot of optimism! I feel so much more confident moving forward.” (Newcastle)

 “I'm totally inspired after today's event. I can't wait to go away and write more/ continue the edit of my novel.” (Bristol)

 “I loved being in a room full of diverse people and knowing that there are people out there in the publishing industry working hard and opening doors for under-represented new writers.” (Writer attending the London event)

Press Enquiries

For more information on this story please get in touch via our media contacts.

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more